Travel story contributor: Jitadiya Narzary
The driver said it was the longer route. We gleefully paid his dues and asked him to be off. We saw a few villagers, just descending from the top and with no sign of fatigue whatsoever. So we started ascending, hoping to retrace footsteps of those lost Greeks. Yes, I said Greeks. Sounds confusing? Well, let me take a step back.
I was trying to reach the Malana village with a few friends. Now the question is, why this village in particular? Well, it is known all over the world because it produces some of the highest quality cannabis in the world. But that’s not I went there for. It’s the inhabitants of this village. They are an inscrutable lot. They prefer to keep their affairs to themselves until recently they hardly interacted with the outer world, until the first reason “globalized” them.
Anyways, coming back to the trek, within five minutes we realized that we might have overestimated ourselves. The steps were steep and even in late March the winter was still very much present in those upper reaches of Parvati Valley. As we moved upwards, the last patches of green made way for reddish brown winter vegetation sprinkled occasionally with white flakes of snow and nourished by semi frozen streams. We often fooled around those streams, trying to locate an easier way to cross them but thankfully every time we found a fragile bridge, mostly some wooden planks laid across the streams.
It was still early morning and the biting cold and exhaustion was making it a bit difficult to progress, making us take frequent breaks. Finally we reached a point where there was no road ahead, or even if it was there, it had been turned into a mini glacier. The rest of the path was visible on the other side but the thick stretch of ice was steep, slippery and with no support in between. After contemplating for 10-15 minutes we finally decided to take the risk, came close to slipping and rolling down the slope and finally managed to cross it with a huge sigh of relief.
Rest of the trek was comparatively simpler but the village itself was buried in thick snow. Also, the route we choose took us to the wrong side of the village and it took 45 minutes more to reach the village, not before I almost got buried in soft ice, twice!
The village in itself apparently is unique in terms of the architecture of its wooden houses and temples. India never ceases to surprise! Just when you think you have seen it all, it will come back with something that will catch you completely off guard. The secluded Malana village also turned out to be one such spot where time stops and you get transported to an entirely different era.
According to some experts the inhabitants of this village have significantly different facial features and they also have a distinct dialect. Their customs and culture are also completely different from the people in the surrounding regions. This is the reason that has created a very interesting myth about them. They are believed to be the remnants of the Alexander the Great’s army that invaded India 2300 years ago. It is speculated that some of them could not return and decided to settle down in this secluded region for safety and they continued to live here for hundreds of years while the world around them changed continuously.
To be honest, our laymen eyes and ears could not spot much difference. But we did notice a sense of unease in mingling with outsiders. There is a noticeboard at the center of the village warning the visitors not to touch the locals. Also, at present they consider themselves to be high born Rajputs, the Greek story notwithstanding. So, most of them will ask if you are a Rajput, even if you ask for water. They practice sort of a democracy which is believed to be among the oldest in the world. As a matter of fact there is no conclusive evidence to prove this theory of Greek origin, but nevertheless the myth persists and it makes this place mythical, magical and beautiful.
Coming back to the present, after a lot of searching we found one restaurant buried in several feet deep snow. A narrow entrance in the form of a tunnel had been dug to enable people to enter the dark wooden inn. The owner Harish Thakur was kind and professional enough to offer parathas, pickles, steaming hot cups of tea and drinking water to all of us without asking anyone’s caste. The tangy tomato chutney was especially unique and unlike any other we’d tasted elsewhere in the world. After reviving ourselves, we bid adieu to this one of a kind village and this time we chose the easier route for exit, which was a much simpler trek on the other side of the village. While buses do not exactly ply on this route, thankfully we also found a shared car waiting and hopped in. Waiting for us?! Perhaps.
The trip had just begun and Kasol was waiting, but we’d already had one of the literally headiest treks of our lives!