Malana is a fucking weird little place! We’d read about it and kinda knew what to expect when we rocked up, we knew we weren’t allowed to touch anything, but no amount of reading about it will prepare you for it. It’s certainly an experience. Women will jump away from you, screaming, and children will look at you with disgust and make noises at you like you’re some manner of disfigured circus freak. I’m not even shitting you, Malanis think you’re so spiritually unclean that if you come into physical contact with them or their possessions it’ll contaminate them too and you’ll have to pay ₹2500 so they can buy a goat to sacrifice to their deity, Jamlu Rishi, as part of a purification ritual. We travelled there from Manali, it’s pretty easy to get there if you consider two buses, a taxi, and an hour’s hike up a fucking hill at 2650 masl easy.
Okay, a bit more than an hour in my case. Because altitude. Oh yes. I will continue to blame the altitude for my abject lack of fitness and certainly not my penchant for deep fried street and food and Hello to the Queens. As we entered the village and made our way up to the guesthouses above the village we were loudly reminded by everyone that everything was off limits to our grubby little paws as they shouted, “Don’t touch anything!” in between trying to sell us “Cream” which is apparently considered to be the finest charas in the world. Theo tried greeting staring villagers, calling out, “Namaste! to them. They just glared. It felt hostile. I jammed my hands in my pockets to make my intentions to absolutely not lay a finger on anything abundantly clear and we arrived at Cafe Muzik where three incredibly stoned blokes invited us to sit and, eventually, after a lot of waiting whilst they attempted to ascertain the difference between their arses and their elbows, sorted us out with a room.
There are four guesthouses here where outsiders can stay and touch things to their heart’s content. Muzik, which was where we ended up, Dragon, Moonlight, and Chand. They’re all same same but different. They have simple menus, comfortable enough beds, common areas, and someone from the village who wants to sell you charas. Turns out they’re allowed to initiate physical contact, such as shaking hands etc, as long as they then wash their hands properly when they get home. As for the whole Malana experience, Jess hated it; the incompetence of the stoners that ran the guesthouse and the reactions of the locals when she wandered three metres from them infuriated her. Theo was a little more chilled but he’s generally a more chilled kinda guy. I wasn’t sure. As a non-smoker I wouldn’t even get to reap the hash related benefits of the region, I’d just get to be treated like scum for a couple of days. We hung out under a tree overlooking the village and talked about our options, whether we should bail in the morning or give the place more of a chance before deciding that it was an interesting place and another day wouldn’t hurt.
The thing about this place though is that everyone is stoned off their tits to the point that conversation doesn’t venture too far past incomplete sentences and inane grinning. Despite this we managed to extract some information off the guys at Muzik. I’ve no idea how accurate it is, it’s difficult to glean info when a large percentage of the communication consists of giggling. But basically, Jamlu Rishi use to live here about a 1000 years ago and made a bunch of rules and since then Malana has answered to no one. He’s really really powerful is ol’ Jamlu, but when I asked if he was more powerful than Shiva our host just smiled and said, “No one is more powerful than Shiva.” The village claims total independence from everywhere else on account of them considering themselves superior to everyone else in the world. Literally the world. You can imagine what that does to the attitude of adolescents brought up to think themselves above everyone else. They’re the oldest democracy in the world and speak their very own language, called Kanashi, which is apparently completely different to every other language and dialect in Parvati Valley perhaps on account of their self imposed isolation. They told us it was unwritten and very very difficult to learn. I’m sure it is, probably more so when your entire brain is wrapped in an impenetrable cloak of Malana Cream. That was about as much as I couldn’t get from them. They’d obviously exhausted their seven foreign word limit for the day, you could practically see their thought processes grinding to a halt and all of their attention was required to reload the chillum and giggle a lot.
The following morning’s alarm clock was in the form of a very angry old lady hammering on our bedroom door and shouting a lot at the suitably obscene hour of 7am. Clearly she was trying to smash the wrong door down and at least had the good grace to look a tiny bit sheepish when an equally irate Jess flung the door open, but that didn’t alter the fact it was 7am and we were now very very awake. I mean, it wasn’t a bad view to wake up to to be fair. Not the shouty geriatric. The valley. This region, fucking stunning, so lush and green and beautiful. I’d still rather not be fully functioning before the guys were willing sell us some breakfast but it takes the edge off, though my stomach made a noise angrier than the old lady when we were told that breakfast wasn’t possible until 10am. Stomach generally requires attention within the first hour of functioning or I become Hulk. A smaller, whiter, very polite British Hulk, but the point being I needed to eat something before I got too hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry. We asked if there was anywhere we could eat at this hour and were answered with giggling, shrugs, and a “maybe in the village?” Me and Jess exchanged glances and said that we didn’t think they liked us very much in the village. More giggling. A bit of head shaking. I thought Jess was going to nut them. Fortunately the seemingly less baked people up at Dragon were already serving food so we hung out up there for a bit whilst we waited for Theo to emerge so we could have a little stroll up to the waterfall. You couldn’t get omelette though. It was on the menu at every guesthouse but the whole village seemed to have run out of eggs.
Ah, the waterfall. A little bit of peaceful sanity. We were followed by a dog who we didn’t dare try and pet until we were sure no one could see us. He probably didn’t belong to anyone but why take the chance? If I’m going to have to fork out ₹2500 for a goat then I don’t want to hand it over to the village for a sacrifice. I want to take it home and call it Billy and walk it in the park and teach it to fetch sticks. Though goats would probably make pretty shit pets that’d ruin your sofa and eat all your houseplants. Like cats. Yeah. Goats and cats make pretty similar pets. But anyway, after we’d relaxed and reset by the waterfall we headed back to the village to buy some provisions for tomorrow’s trek, and guys, seriously, this is something you have to do before you die. Do a skydive, see the Pyramids, walk along the Great Wall of China, buy shit in Malana. It’s different. You’re not allowed in of course, you have to stand in front of the shop and tell the guy what you want whilst very carefully not touching anything. He puts everything in a paper bag for you, you have to put your money on the floor, he’ll retrieve it and put your shopping and your change on the floor and only when he’s stepped back can you pick your stuff up. You can’t take anything directly from his hand and he can’t take anything directly from yours, as long as it’s still attached to your filthy, spiritually unclean mitt it’s contaminated. I accidentally stepped on a hosepipe which resulted in a woman launching herself as far away from the pipe as possible whilst screeching. I’m lucky I didn’t have to buy a goat, she was genuinely distressed. But at least everyone seemed a lot friendlier today. Heading back up to the guesthouse, we got chatting to a group of guys who were trying to set up a cafe which consisted of a tarp that we weren’t allowed inside, and a gas stove. We bought a chai off them and they shared a chillum.
They made us sit on the floor at first, telling us it was “Malana culture” until someone showed up with some chairs which they wiped off at least. Thanks guys. I’ve already been sat in the dirt for five minutes but cheers for cleaning the chairs which I’m going to position my now-filthy arse on. Jess leaned her bag against one of the chairs, they asked her to move it so they could pick the chair up to clean it. I’m not even shitting you. But they were quite interesting to talk to and we asked them what happened with the touching thing when they left the village. They said that people rarely do but if they do head “downside” then touching is ok, their deity can’t see them there. The usual buying ritual was performed. Money and chai were placed on the floor and each party picked up their new possessions. And watching them share a chillum! Ok, so they wrap this gauze called a safi around the bottom and they gave the foreigners their own safi. They took a hit, unwrapped their safi and placed the chillum on the floor for the others to retrieve. They took their hit, removed their own safi and placed it back on the floor.
They also told us that they only have one crop harvest a year in autumn and they make the hash by rubbing the weed between their palms. The crystals eventually become the world famous Malana Cream, the brown, squishy stuff which I really wanted to fashion into tiny T-Rexes but wasn’t permitted. And yes, you can get pretty fucking high making charas. Anyway, it started to rain and given that we weren’t allowed inside anywhere to take shelter we headed back to the guesthouse, taking our chai cups with us because they didn’t want to touch and dispose of something we’d drank from. It’s fucking weird. They were so nice and pleasant to us, but we knew that they thought we were inferior and spiritually filthy, so much so that they wouldn’t touch anything that something we owned was touching.
This treatment gets pretty old pretty quickly to be honest. The men will greet you and almost politely keep their distance. Boys will sneer at you like they’d rather lick a sadhu’s nipple than have you within ten metres. Women and girls will scream, literally scream, and nearly fall over themselves in their efforts to get away from you, fleeing in terror, no matter how careful you are to leave a sufficient gap between them and your obvious uncleanness. Guys. Get a fucking grip. I’m British. I want physical contact with a stranger about as much as I want to be stabbed in the face. I wondered why they accepted visitors to the point they allowed four guesthouses. Gone are the days when you had to loiter around the village perimetre and wait for someone to invite you in so they must want visitors so they can sell them Cream, but a lot of villagers still went out of their way to make you feel unwelcome. I was in their space and of course I was absolutely willing to abide by their rules, but despite kind of knowing what to expect it was exhausting.
I decided would counter this exhaustion by attempting to fit as much food into my trap as possible as we tried to find out whether we could hike from here to Rashol on our own without getting horribly lost in the Himachal wilderness for days, or if we should pay a bloke to escort us. We were at Moonlight Guesthouse, dissecting a siddu each, which is basically a momo on steroids with an unacceptable pastry to filling ratio, and talking to a bloke with a gammy eye. Apparently he didn’t have much problem when he first arrived at Malana and the villagers had no qualms about him setting up a guesthouse here as he’s very high caste. I’ve no idea how he proved this to them. I doubt they carry ID cards. But he’d been here for years and his opinion was that if we didn’t hire a guide we’d probably die in a ditch somewhere. Okay, he didn’t say that but he didn’t fancy our feeble foreign chances much. His mate had a little more faith in us.
“It’s easy,” he told us, “For me it is three hours. For you?” he shrugged, “Maybe six.” Ok, well that was better than a certain demise in a field. Everyone we spoke to after that had mixed opinions. It was 50/50 as to whether we’d make it in one piece or spend the rest of eternity roaming the hills, most probably in erratic circles. Later in the evening we ended up at Chand’s Guesthouse where the owner there told us a bit more about the village as we scoffed khichadi which is apparently “dhal, rice and potato all mixed together.” Turned out we couldn’t get omelette anywhere because chickens and eggs had been banned in the village since last December. We asked why and he just replied, “It is just different culture here.” I’d never wanted eggs so much in my life. He told us that chickens, eggs and wine were all banned. He specifically stated wine. Aaaand now I wanted wine. I’ve no idea if you’d be allowed to bring a cheeky bottle of vodka in but it wasn’t worth the risk, there are some hefty fines if you’re caught breaking the rules and I’m particularly un-fond of fines, especially when I’d just formulated plans to purchase large quantities of eggs and wine at the earliest available opportunity.
Honestly though, I wasn’t too sad about leaving Malana. I’m very glad we came, I’m also glad we spent two nights rather than leaving the next day. I don’t know if I could stay any longer, there are few things more disconcerting than trying to shuffle down a steep, muddy slope without stacking it face first as humans scream and flee from you and for one brief second you wonder if there’s a bear or a dragon or something behind you before you realise that what they’re running from is you. Also, we were told by the idiots at our guesthouse that you weren’t allowed to take photos and this isn’t true. You can’t photograph the temple but everything else is fair game, so we missed out on a lot of cool photos. If you’re planning to visit take enough cash, your thickest skin, and if you’re partial to a smoke perhaps pack a spare pair of lungs.
Malana, Parvati Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India
Stayed at: Cafe Muzik