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Based on my travel last week, a small piece I wrote for travelers who are already aware of Malana Village but need more information on how to reach the elusive village and how the experience might be like.
Standing isolated from the outside world for several hundreds of years, the mystical Malana village is gradually but reluctantly opening its doors to the outside world. What once used to be less than a hundred families surviving within their own cocoon with no external incursion, the village today has close to 250 families with population nearing the three thousand mark. The encroachment of modernity is quite evident with the presence of mobile towers, electricity, satellite dishes, and televisions (at least on paper). The journey to the village which once involved hours of arduous uphill trek is now merely a ninety minute uphill walk to the top, thus, alluring many more visitors and tourists than it earlier did.
With your base at Kasol, one can either take a bus or a taxi to a small town called Jari which lies 11 kms from Kasol, translating to roughly 45 minutes by bus. Buses ply every 30 minutes between Kasol Chowk and Jari and the road in itself can’t really be called among the smoothest ones. With a ten rupee bus ticket in hand, listening to the ear splitting clattering emanating from every hook and hinge on the bus, you know that this journey to the village won’t be forgotten soon.
Once in Jari, head straight to the Taxi Union booth (no buses on this route) to book your taxi to either ‘Bridge Four’ or ‘Naarang’. Bridge Four is more for the thrill seekers who are searching for excitement and adventure than for the faint hearted ones. It’s a steep climb to the top which can be completed in about 3 hours if your legs are in good shape. The taxi takes about 45 minutes to an hour to drop you till Bridge Four and will cost roughly Rs.450-500. The journey isn’t a very rough one barring a few patches, courtesy the development program in the vicinity initiated due to the massive construction of the Malana Hydro Power Project.
In case you prefer a safer and quicker route to the village, keep heading straight from Bridge Four, towards Naarang. A direct taxi from Jari to Naarang would loosen your pockets by Rs.600-700 and takes about 1.5 hours (From Bridge Four, further 45 minutes uphill). The road post Bridge Four is bad to begin with and keeps getting worse the further you drive with more treacherous, steep, rocky and muddy patches all along.
Once dropped off at Naarang where the climb to the village starts, you will be on your own usually with not a soul in sight (this largely depends upon the weather). The first 5 minutes involves going downhill and then crossing the torrential Malana River with the help of a narrow bridge in a decrepit condition. The climb thereon is fairly easy with a few exceptions every now and then with rain turning the cobbled patches into wet and slippery zones. Maintaining a constant rhythm throughout the climb, one can expect to reach the outskirt of the village in 45-60 minutes.
Upon your arrival, almost the first thing you notice and difficult to ignore are the young local males of the village vying for your attention hoping to strike a deal with you involving the world famous Malana Cream or any of the other variants handily stuffed into their pockets at all times. They will call out to you to join them and indulge in what can almost be called a ritual for which majority of the travelers undertake this entire expedition.
A single uphill path leads you right through the village towards the top where you will encounter most of the guesthouses on your way, namely, Malana View GH, Dragon GH and Cosmo GH (in order). One should at all times try to follow the path and not tread elsewhere as someone watching you will immediately direct you back on it. These guesthouses offer rooms at a cost of Rs.100-200 and provide very basic, not so clean accommodation consisting of a double bed with a common toilet facility. Take extra care in not touching any of the walls of the few temples you will come across while on your way up, failing which, you might have to shell out Rs.1000 as a fine. In case you are a Vodafone user, it makes sense to switch off your mobile as they don’t have coverage in the area. Idea, Reliance and Airtel seem to be somehow managing to survive. The idea of charging your mobile goes for a toss with electricity playing hide n seek sometimes days on end at a stretch. Hence, be prepared to be unreachable to the outside world as long your stay permits!
Few general stores are dotted all along the village stocking almost every basic item one might need. Six seven year olds will smilingly follow you asking for biscuits, toffees or chocolates. Sensing your hands going to your pocket, they will cup their hands and stand at a distance so you can throw the item for them to catch so as to avoid any contact with us ‘achooth’- the impure or the inferior. As per the locals, these guidelines are followed more stringently with Non-Indians. In popular belief, people of Malana consider themselves as the descendants of some Greek soldiers in the army of Alexander the Great who were too tired to return back and decided to settle there after a series of campaign along the banks of Beas River to defeat the Indian king Porus in 326 BC. Later in the evening while conversing with a local young man, I realize how debatable this topic is, when upon probing about the subject, he wickedly exclaimed, “Ask any person here who Alexander was, and they won’t have the slightest clue!”.
As the sun retreats behind the two mountains across the village and with electricity gone for countless hours already, stillness and tranquility engulfs the entire region.The Malanis retire to their rooms and blow out the candles in their rooms one after another as if in a determined pattern and the entire village casually drowns in darkness. It’s a perfect time to give your legs a much needed rest and indulge in some boundless chatter with the locals. Inevitably, the conversation will lead to Hashish and the numerous questions associated with it. As claimed by the locals, the year 2012 hasn’t looked very promising as Israelis form more than 70% of their clientele every year, and this time around, a majority of them decided to skip India as a travel destination. Locals blame the incident which unfolded in Delhi few months back wherein the wife of an Israeli Diplomat was injured in a car blast in broad daylight. Owing to this reason, the locals believe that Israelis fearing for their safety have hesitated in travelling to India. This could be a small case in point where we can see that even a small society which prides itself on sustaining on its own with no outside help or access for centuries, somehow gets affected by such developments in another city several hundred miles away.
Having spent a night in Malana, you might not want to delay your departure beyond noon the following day. In case you already have an arrangement with the Taxi driver who dropped you the previous day to Naarang to return and pick you up from the same point, you are good to go. But in case you don’t, the entire walk downhill from the village to Naarang remains a gamble since your return to Kasol now depends upon the probability of finding a shared Taxi or any kind vehicle at Naarang. The descending walk from the outskirts of Malana to Naarang will roughly take 30 minutes. Once at Naarang, look out for any vehicle willing to take you to Jari on a shared basis – usually for Rs.100-200 per person. For refreshments, walk 5 minutes towards the right to a small tea stall stocking crisps and aerated drinks. Upon arriving at Jari, head to the bus stop and take a one hour bus to Kasol.
The entire journey and back is nothing short of spectacular and inspiring. In the name of progress and development, an ancient civilization with a unique identity is gradually being infected with vices of the modern world. It makes you wish that the accessibility to the village remained as inconceivable and onerous as it once was. The irony remains in the fact, that travelogues and trip reports such as these on Malana Village opens its doors to innumerous travelers every year, thereby, calmly and perilously resulting in the village losing out on its unexampled identity.