There are some journeys we undertake for fun, some are an escape, and some happen because we have to. Then there are those journeys that cannot be helped. There are some strange truths about this world of ours that need to be encountered in flesh and blood.
Malana was one such journey. We were curious about that civilization thriving on that small side of a mountain, cut off from the rest of the country, complacent in its solitude. We are no junkies, we are no anthropologists, we are no hippies. We were merely travellers of curiosity. We were excited. Excited like that little child whose eyes light up when he sees the balloon-seller arrive in the street with colourful balloons hoisted up his bicycle. We don’t see balloon-sellers anymore. And so we went to Malana.
Last we talked, I told you why the ‘Aryan’ natives of Malana practise a twisted racism. Why they wouldn’t want people to trek 15 kilometres just to look at them? The balloon-seller never allows children to pick his balloons till they have paid him. When bubbles burst, it is usually more than just beliefs that are shattered. And more often than not, the beliefs have cracked up long ago, it is only a plastic bubble that remains.
There is nothing much to do in the village. You see houses. You see hill people. Houses made of wood and stone. That’s the only unusual thing you see. And maybe the fact that the old man sitting in front of his house crushing some green shrubs on a grinding stone is not making pudina chutney but is wielding Malana cream, the way the Europeans taught his ancestors centuries ago.
We saw a huge colourful tent at base of the valley. It was a rave party. There weren’t many people yet. But the psychedelic music that played reverberated through the entire valley, and through our hearts. It drew you towards it. Like the rhythmic beating of drums somewhere in the distance. One could almost imagine a dark muscular African tribal single-mindedly beating on a drum. Without rest, without relent.
We didn’t go. We stood on the edge. We didn’t take the plunge.
Spotting an interesting hillock of green with large stone cave-like boulders on it, we decided to explore it. Suddenly we heard little Malana children shouting and running helter-skelter. We tried to retreat in haste. A lanky thirty-something man appeared and questioned us. That stone boulder was the temple of their god—Jamlu devta. Even the Malana people are not allowed to touch it!
After looking here and there in awe, indulgently clicking a picture or two, and justifying to ourselves that this was one of the more momentous moments of our lives, and that we had actually done some very interesting things in life, we realized there was nothing more we could do.
“Madam, cream?” a thirty-plus bearded man, who had caught our eye, called out. Almost whispered.
The elders who were sitting with him whispered among themselves. The only word I could catch from their conversation was “jeans”.
After the deal, he offered me an extra portion in his outstretched hand. I dared not take it from his hand for fear of touching him. I offered my open palm. He put the cream in it, but inadvertently he touched my palm. My heart skipped a beat. Not even a lover’s touch is capable of producing the jerking current I experienced in my head. Had I er…defiled him? I stole a glance at his face, dreading to see his reaction. He didn’t look up. He was silent. He was busy packing the rest of the cream in his bag. I had seen the plastic bubble.
The Bull-Fight minus the Bull
While returning from the trek, when we were walking down a narrow stretch, we spotted a mountain woman appear from the other side. She was looking intently in our direction. We smiled at her. She smiled back. I still couldn’t make out her intentions. Then our eyes fell on the little bundles of white fur walking furiously behind her. At first it seemed there were only a dozen of them. But as they neared, we realized there were…well…there were sheep as far as our human eyes could see. On one side of the path was an elevated ground covered with rough grass and mud, and on the other side…well, there was no other side, it was down below.
There was no room for the sheep and us together. The lady signalled to us to get aside. The sheep couldn’t be stopped. There was a long queue following her. We four girls too were in a queue; I was the last.
There was a small step in the elevated earth on one side. One could climb up. My friend in front ascended the step. So did the girl behind her. But the pretty woman ahead of me refused to. Her shoes were slipping. And so was my time. The sheep were nearing. They were impatiently rushing ahead.
I called out to her to hurry up. She tried. Slipped again. I was behind. And the sheep seemed to have my behind in their mind. The non-chalant expression on the face of the mountain woman had vanished. So had the colour on my face. I shrieked, “Will you bloody give me way?!”
The first sheep was 1 metre away. Our eyes met. She quickened her pace and lifted her head high. She had horns. From that distance, all I could see was the tip of the horns. Everything else had blurred.
“Go! Go! Go!!!!” I pushed Dainty Shoes up the little plateau. She was up in a second. True, in times of crisis, unlimited energy flows through our veins. I ran. The horns missed my posterior by 3 inches. But we weren’t done yet. The sheep was following me up. I cried in panic.
The sheep had climbed up and was glaring at me from my feet. Worse, the others had started following her. The lady made a ‘cluck’ sound and tapped her stick on the ground. The sheep withdrew. But my heart was still in my mouth. We stood there at the edge of the mountain. Watching the now-stirred sheep pass by. There were hundreds of them. We waited for 10 minutes. There was a collective sigh when we spotted the old black dog.
Driving back through the extremely potholed and dusty road from Malana to Kasol, we were eerily silent. A numbing hush had fallen over the group. We were back. We had seen Malana. We had the cream. At night, sitting on the terrace with people we barely knew, we kissed Malana. It was the only fitting end to the journey. The culmination of a climax exhaled out in smoke rings across the dark blue sky.
I don’t have any tips, any suggestions to give to anybody. It’s not a museum tour. You create your own journey. How it turns out is exactly how it is supposed to be. If you are not happy with it, you look inside, and make another journey till you find that happiness. Or maybe something like that. Chalo, now that I feel deep and preachy enough, I can go and think of my next journey.