On The QT

Malana- A Step Back in Time

Blogger: Katie Burke

As the Lohsar celebrations wore on it seemed there was simply no teaching to be done in the monasteries as all our little monks were busy celebrating too. So we decided it was time we took a trip. We had first heard about Malana from some volunteers who had since moved on. All we knew was that it was a small village that could only be accessed by hiking for an hour and a half from outside the town of Jari about six hours away. Oh and that the locals believe that all non Malana people to be inferior and impure so although they are happy for you to visit you are not permitted to touch them or any of their buildings. To do so would result in a fine of 2500 rupees. But it doesn’t end there, the fine goes towards the purchase of a lamb which is then slaughtered as part of a purification ritual to put everything right once again. Needless to say we could not wait to go.

On a crisp Friday morning eight of us clamored into a seven seater taxi and headed for the hills. Leaving at 8am we didn’t reach Jari until at about 1:30PM. But the beautiful scenery en route more than made up for the time spent in the car. Just outside Jari we had to inform the authorities of our intentions to hike to Malana which involved showing our passports and signing in…exciting. The authorities then pointed our driver towards the entrance to the trek 9km to the North.  We assumed we’d be there in minutes but we assumed wrong as our taxi driver beeped his way ( in India the car horn also functions as a break, an indicator and hazard lights) around one death defying hairpin bend after another. At one point his phone began to ring, we all eyeballed one another as if to say “He wouldn’t would he?” but of course he answered and had a lovely chat all the while negotiating the road of doom.

Eventually we made it there, thankfully unscathed. After seven hours in a car we were dying to stretch our legs and the trek to Malana was the perfect antidote for our stiff limbs. After taking some necessary photos under the green arch which read “Way to Malana Village” off we went.
Initially it was a more or less completely vertical hike but once that was over the rest of the route, though challenging was very doable, even in my Aldi bought hiking boots. Every time I stopped for a gulp of air and water I was richly rewarded by the most beautiful mountain views all around and this made the whole experience even more enjoyable and worthwhile.

When I heard the satisfying crunch of crisp white snow under my foot I knew that we were close. I looked up and all that lay between us and the wooden houses on the hillside ahead was a blanket of thick white snow. With some minor slipping and sliding as well as the odd fall and consequently wet backside we made it to the village.

The first sight we encountered was three colorfully dressed beautiful old women washing their clothes at a what appeared to be a public pump, laughing and chatting all the while. They noticed us and smiled, then returned to their chat. Other locals smiled at us briefly and then proceeded to search for the best possible route around us to avoid accidentally touching us as the passed.

We knew there was a guesthouse in the lower village and that the man who owned it was called Inder. What we did not know was how to get there. Fortunately everyone we asked pointed us in the same direction, unfortunately this direction was; down the hill on the opposite side of the village across a winding icy path littered with houses we could not lean on for support and villagers coming in the opposite direction that we couldn’t so much as brush against. This was going be fun.

Like a family of ducklings one after another we cautiously waddled and slipped our way down the hillside. To add to the fun a group of local little boys decided to follow and jeers us for their own entertainment. It became a total farce as the eight of us stumbled, tripped and fell down the hill narrowly missing buildings and laughing at our own misfortune to a chorus of little boys shouting “No touch! No touch!”. Then out of nowhere an old lady appeared and gestured for us to a enter a house with a large black cow lying in the doorway. We had finally found Inder’s.
Once inside things finally calmed down. We were given two rooms, one upstairs one down. The rooms were simple with one large flat mattress across the floor, lots of bedding and not much else. We changed our clothes and all came together upstairs in a dark square room with a wood stove in the centre and a TV in the corner. A small baby slept wrapped in blankets in another corner and two young girls watched a Bollywood movie. No one seemed in any way put out by our presence. The old lady, who we discovered was Inder’s mother and grandmother to the children, brought us all some much needed warm sweet chai. We sat around chatting and getting comfortable while the girls continued to watch their movie and the baby continued to sleep.

After awhile the elusive Inder arrived and turned out to be very welcoming and amicable. He appologized for his absence informing us that there was a religious festival going on and that he had been praying. He also mentioned that all the men in the village had been sleeping in the temple each night and fasting each day throughout the festival. It all sounded very interesting but also caused us to become selfishly worried that there would be no food for us. But sensing our distress Inder assured us that we would all be eating later. He also promised to show us around the village the next morning.

After what seemed like an eternity enormous plates of food came through the door served by Inder’s mother and wife. We were ravenous as we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. The enormous plates were laden with lots of rice, delicious black dahl and as many chipattis as we could eat. Eating a tasty hearty meal, sitting on the floor of the warm dark comfortable little room with the smell of burning wood in my nostrils, surrounded by Inder and family with the hum of Bollywood music in the background….it was all a little surreal. By then it was 9PM and there was little left to do except go to bed, so we did. Despite being on the floor and sharing with three others, it was one of the most comfortable sleeps I’ve ever had and the others must have felt the same because we all slept for 12 hours straight!

The next morning, once my eyes finally adjusted to the glare of white snow and sunlight combined, I went to the roof with the others for breakfast. We could see the whole village around us. With snow everywhere and the mountains in the background it was truly beautiful. Breakfast was served by Inder’s wife passing plate by plate out of an upstairs window to an awaiting Inder who brought the plates to us, it seemed this was the normal process. We ate the most delicious potato parenthas while Inder’s brother and his wife sold some of us some warm socks they’d knit themselves.

After breakfast Inder showed us around. He told us that there were two thousand living in the village and that the people were originally of Greek descent from the time of Alexander the Great. He showed us each corner of the village which comprised mostly of houses, one shop and six or so temples. The tour did not take long but was fascinating especially just to see the beautiful colourful people going about their daily lives completely isolated from the rest of the world..except for the odd in congruent satellite dish here and there.

We returned to Inder’s to say our goodbyes and some of us also bought beautiful woven blankets which Inder’s mother had made. Our whole stay cost just over 200 rupees each…under €3 but as we set off to hike back down the hill I couldn’t help but feel that the whole experience was invaluable and would be one I’d always remember.



Blogger: Katie Burke - Adventures in India
Katie is an aspiring writer who is originally from Galway. She has been travelling in India for the past two months. She has had an eclectic journey including everything from experiencing the culture shock of  Delhi to teaching baby Buddhist monks in Dharamsala and so much in between. This blog covers  the highs, the lows and the hilarious of each site and situation visited and reveals the madness that is India from the naked eye of a first time visitor.
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