“Not lucky enough”, was the first thought I made as soon as I opened my eyes early that morning. I was bearing a hope that a fair day might had been reserved for me, but the only thing I peered at from my room’s window was an inauspicious, dismal sky pervading all over the valley of Manali. It was about a week already I was residing in Manali waiting for that fair day, but it was apparently not going to come. So was I finally resolved to head for the lofty Himalayas, notwithstanding the discouraging force of the brutal monsoons I was likely to encounter up there.
I got my backpack loaded onto my back, and I started walking down Manali’s quiet lanes towards the bus-station. I made the necessary stop at the market to shop my food provisions for these next days I was to spend up the mountains, and I was boarded on the bus right on time for departure. Our destination was the Israeli-party-village of Kasol. It took several hours of uncomfortable driving up and down the sketchy roads of Manali and Kasol valleys, till, by early afternoon, the time for me to get off had finally come. I then found myself standing alone by the side of the road at some point about 5 km before Kasol and a little after a village named Jari. I just had come there by bus from Manali, and now I had no other mission than to return to Manali by the means of my legs this time. And by that time I could have no clue of what awesome adventures I was to come through in order to do so.
I took that road descending down in to the ravine, and I was soon crossing that bridge over the bulged Kasol River. I then had not much to do, but just follow the road for some 15 km up to the trailhead to Malana village, whereby I was intending to overnight. I was lucky enough to locate some derelict paths going straight uphill through some picturesque, little villages, perilously built right on the edges of steep cliffs. The harsh inclination of those paths made that part of the trip quite exhausting, though the unmatched beauty of the villages and the fascinating views to the interwoven in thick clouds, outstanding mountains all around, as well as the good portion of way I got to save avoiding the lengthy detour of the road, made them really worth to follow.
After I reached back to the road, I found myself at 1700 amsl, and the road now was ascending smoothly along the east slope of the ravine. That was a really nice and serene stroll. The road was barely used by any vehicles at all, there were virtually no human settlements all along its length, and apart from some minor logging operations and a small hydroelectric power station, there was no sign of human presence either. The ravine’s natural charms were phenomenal, and again, it was fortunate to even receive some short intervals of sunshine every now and then. The weather, however moody, had been decently dry for the whole day, and I was feeling nothing but grateful for it. Though that was soon to sharply change when I, after all, reached the trailhead to Malana right by sunset time.
Malana is not just any village. It rather is a very, very weird village. Living isolated up on a remote plateau deep in the Himalayan mountains, its inhabitants receive minimal contact with the outer world, thus their origins remain a mystery and subject to speculation. Their language, Kanashi, even though it recently, and quite arbitrarily, has been classified as a member of the Sino-Tibetan language family, is completely unintelligible to any other peoples. And their lifestyle, customs, and public institutions resemble in nothing those of their neighboring Indian, Nepalese and Tibetan populations. There is a number of different theories and legends attempting to describe whence they come. The most common one – and the fancier as well – of them states that they descended from Alexander’s soldiers who took there refuge after deserting their army in the Indus Valley. That belief is reinforced by the similar to Greek Cities, democratic-fashioned system of governance used by the Malanis. The village is basically governed by an 11-member council who act as delegates of the all-powerful, village-protector deity, Jamblu Devta. As being his favored people, Jamblu Devta does not allow the Malanis to come in any physical contact with outsiders, who are considered inferior and untouchable. Likewise, the outsiders, even though allowed to pass through the village, are not allowed to touch any of its inhabitants, nor anything that belongs to them. In case of that rule’s violation, the perpetrator shall be asked to cover the expenses of a sacrificial ceremony, aiming to purify the touched person or object, and thus appease the exasperated Jamblu Devta. The problem is that, in fact, he shall not be really asked but rather forced, as not the Indian law, nor any other external jurisdiction is applicable within the Malanis’ territories. And that’s also where my problem was about to be begotten.
Back to the story, I took that sketchy, steep trail up to the Malana Plateau… The sun plunged behind the earth, abandoning those mountains in an outright misty darkness… The skies soon broke apart releasing a rampant storm above my head… And I was still going up, looking in desperation for a spot I could find shelter at. The uneven, rough and covered in thick shrub ground, made the possibility to find a decent spot to pitch my tent to seem not as an imminent one. And then, suddenly, through the gloom of the night appeared something like a stone structure towards the end of my torch’s range, some few meters away off the trail.
I approached. It was a little shack probably used as a livestock-sty by the Malanis during the winter months. I was already well aware of all the above-mentioned curiosities of those people. I stayed for a few moments contemplating upon my idea. “Look”, thought I: The village is still a couple of kilometers away. No animals have obviously been set to sleep over here for many months at least. The hour is late and it’s raining as crazy. Should anyone for any reason want to come down here now…? Nah, this is definitely going to serve as an ideal lodging for me tonight.
The rusty hinges of the shack’s wooden door creaked upon me pushing it open. It was dark and smelly, but fairly warm and dry. And most importantly it was empty. There was only a handful of some sinister-looking, giant spiders, whose locations I took notice of right away as I entered by their twinkling in my torch’s light eyes, and I kept thereafter checking up frequently so to be sure that they will show no will to investigate closer those new objects in their environment. I pitched my tent on the driest ground I found, laid my sleeping bag open inside, put some dry clothes on me and hung the wet ones on the shack’s joists, trimmed all my stuff neatly, made a cup of tea and lit a cigarette, and started to work on my dinner.
Go to Part 2⇒