Malana: A Himalayan village shrouded in myth

India’s Parvati Valley is well known among travellers for its psychedelic parties and free-flowing hashish that originates from the ancient village of Malana in North India’s Himachal Pradesh region. But if you look beyond the haze, you’ll find a treasure trove of legends, intrigue and unanswered questions.

Nestled in the peaks of the Himalayas, Malana is surrounded by steep cliffs and snow-capped mountains. Travellers have long been drawn to this village of nearly 1,700 inhabitants, staying for days on end amid the cold gushes of wind and rows of dark green deodar trees to consume what locals consider the holy herb and what outsiders see as a way to free the mind: the famed and award-winning Malana cream. This cannabis resin or hashish is renowned both for the hand rubbing-technique used to produce it and for its reportedly remarkable intoxicating effects. But I’d come to Malana to try to make sense of the myths surrounding the village.

The ancient village of Malana in India’s Himachal Pradesh is known to outsiders for its hashish (Credit: Credit: © Sauriêl Creative | Samantha Leigh Scholl/Alamy)

The ancient village of Malana in India’s Himachal Pradesh is known to outsiders for its hashish (Credit: © Sauriêl Creative | Samantha Leigh Scholl/Alamy)

Legend has it that some of Alexander the Great’s army took shelter in this isolated village in 326BC after they were wounded in a battle against Porus, a ruler in India’s Punjab region. These soldiers are often said to be the ancestors of the Malani people. Artefacts from that period have been found in the village, such as a sword that reportedly rests inside the temple. However, genetic ties to the soldiers have not been studied or established. In fact, many of the locals I spoke to had no idea where this myth originated.

“The big claim that Malani people have descended from Alexander the Great’s army has become a widely accepted truth, but I have not found any real backing to it. There are some weapons and other things that can be found that have raised these links, but I am certain that there is no evidence to this story,” said Amlan Datta, a filmmaker who has spent a decade working in Malana.

But these theories are fuelled by locals’ noticeably different physical features and their language, which are unlike that of any other local tribe, adding to the enigma surrounding the Malanis and their identity. They speak Kanashi, which is considered sacred and is not taught to outsiders. It is also spoken nowhere else in the world. During my visit, I referred to some of the men I met as ‘Bhaiji’ (a polite way of saying brother), which is a fairly common way to address men in Himachal. Though locals understood when I spoke to them in Hindi, their responses in Kanashi were incomprehensible to me.

The residents of Malana are said to be descendants of Alexander the Great’s army (Credit: Credit: © Sauriêl Creative | Samantha Leigh Scholl/Alamy)

The residents of Malana are said to be descendants of Alexander the Great’s army (Credit: © Sauriêl Creative | Samantha Leigh Scholl/Alamy)

A study of Kanashi is currently being undertaken by Uppsala University in Sweden, led by professor of linguistics, Anju Saxena. “Kanashi qualifies as a definitely endangered, as an unwritten and almost undescribed language,” Saxena told me. “It belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family, and in all the surrounding villages, Indo-Aryan languages are spoken, which are completely unrelated to Kanashi. This raises interesting questions concerning its prehistory and its linguistic structure.”

Even getting to Malana was a journey into the unknown. There are no motorable roads to the village, and it took me about four hours to trek there from the village of Jari at the bottom of the Parvati Valley. The approach was steep yet breath-taking. It wasn’t long before I started passing Malani people – distinguishable by their light brown hair, light brown eyes, long noses and a distinct wheatish or a golden-brownish complexion of skin – most of whom were traditionally dressed in light brown robes, caps and hemp shoes. To me, they looked more Mediterranean than Himachali.

Malanis speak Kanashi, a language that is considered sacred and is not spoken anywhere else in the world (Credit: Credit: © Sauriêl Creative | Samantha Leigh Scholl/Alamy)

Malanis speak Kanashi, a language that is considered sacred and is not spoken anywhere else in the world (Credit: © Sauriêl Creative | Samantha Leigh Scholl/Alamy)

As I entered the village, I came to a group of teenagers who casually inquired whether I was interested in buying some hashish. Though cannabis has long been the backbone of this small village’s economy, it has led to a host of socio-cultural issues, such as young children being involved in the drug trade. This is perhaps why, one year ago, the village deity Jamdagni Rishi – who is locally nicknamed the Jamlu Devta and is a great sage in Hindu mythology – decreed through his spiritual spokesperson (the Gur) that all guesthouses across the village would be shut, leaving the village open to outsiders only during the day.

Jamlu Devta is an important figurehead in village governance, a political set-up that has long baffled researchers and visitors who cannot comprehend how such an advanced form of governance exists in this quaint and remote Himalayan village.

Malana’s unique democratic system is said to be among the oldest in the world, and, similar to the Ancient Greek system of democracy, it consists of a lower house and upper house. However, it has a uniquely spiritual twist to it: ultimate rulings rest on the upper court, which includes three important figures, of which one is the representative of the local deity, Jamlu Devta.

“Devta is the ultimate word and we have a set-up of a council and three political figures of sorts, one of whom – the Gur, or the vessel who is possessed by Jamlu – communicates to us the decisions of Jamlu Devta,” explained Rohan, one of the hashish-dealing teenagers.

Malanis’ distinct physical characteristics are reminiscent of those seen in Mediterranean populations (Credit: Credit: Jenny Matthews/Alamy)

Malanis’ distinct physical characteristics are reminiscent of those seen in Mediterranean populations (Credit: Jenny Matthews/Alamy)

Datta had told me about a local legend that said Jamlu Devta once inhabited Malana, which he was gifted by the Hindu god Shiva. There are two temples in the village, one dedicated to him and the other, to his wife, Renuka Devi. As I walked through the narrow passageways of this ancient village, dotted with wooden and brick houses, I entered the large courtyard, where the lower court gathers, and a temple dedicated to Jamlu Devta. It was sight to behold against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.

The temple, with wide wooden pillars, intricate doors and a host of bones, skulls and other sacrificial animal parts on one wall looked intriguing. But there was a warning sign outside demanding INR 3,500 ‘On touching of this holy place of Jamdagni Rishi’.

This sign is an outward demonstration of another tradition that is very apparent in Malana: a quest to preserve the ‘purity’ of the village. People across Himachal Pradesh will tell you that the Malanis are known to restrict contact with outsiders, particularly in terms of direct physical contact. I personally had been warned to keep my distance by the driver who had brought me to Jari earlier that day.

Malana’s unique democratic system is said to be among the oldest in the world (Credit: Credit: © Sauriêl Creative | Samantha Leigh Scholl/Alamy)

Malana’s unique democratic system is said to be among the oldest in the world (Credit: © Sauriêl Creative | Samantha Leigh Scholl/Alamy)

Although I did see some of the younger generations hugging or shaking hands, most people here still strongly hold the taboo of touching outsiders. When I went to pay for a bottle of water, the shopkeeper asked me to leave the notes on the counter instead of handing them to him directly. I also learned that marriages must take place within the village; transgression of this norm invites social boycott.

Well aware that outsiders aren’t welcome here, I felt like an intruder as I kept probing people to find out more information about the village. Himachali people in general are warm and chatty, and they love to share stories and meals with visitors; in Malana, however, long conversations with locals were rare.

Malanis are known to restrict contact with outsiders (Credit: Credit: © Sauriêl Creative | Samantha Leigh Scholl/Alamy)

Malanis are known to restrict contact with outsiders (Credit: © Sauriêl Creative | Samantha Leigh Scholl/Alamy)

Descending from the hills and coming down from this otherworld, I acknowledged my position as a traveller who would forever be on the outside of this mysterious Himalayan hamlet. Whether I liked it or not, the locals hadn’t taken me in, and I needed to respect their culture.

But now, weeks later, as I look back on my quest to unfold the legends of Malana, I have come to the realisation that the very beauty of my experience was based on the essence of mystery, the unknown. Cherishing that very quality of Malana finally has led me to a newfound appreciation of this strange, cold land of enigmatic people.

By Mehk Chakraborty 22 August 2018

Roopkund is a lake in India famous for the mysterious ancient skeletons that float in its waters

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It is rather unnerving to stand over a lake and see a huge pile of skulls and bones tangled up under the water’s surface. You’re left wondering who are they, and most importantly how they got here in the first place, for this lake is 16,000 feet above sea level with nothing but ice peaks and frozen glaciers surrounding it.

This frozen, shallow lake, tucked away deep in the Indian Himalayas, offers such a sight every year when the ice melts and reveals the human remains of more than 300 unfortunate individuals who rest at the bottom of Roopkund, better known as Skeleton Lake.

This “splendid” view is available to any trekking enthusiast who would dare to walk the steep route that climbs out from the heart of Lohajung’s dark forest in Uttarakhand, India, and pursue the five-day trekking adventure up to the glacial lake that sits frozen for most of the time in a small valley high up in the Garhwal part of the Himalayas.

However, for one month, when the temperature is friendly enough, the ice starts to melt and the surface starts to be see-through. Then, the bottom of the lake that is six feet at its deepest point shows what lies beneath this small and seemingly typical natural wonder. It’s a death pit full of skeletons and not just that, but hair, nails, spears, knives, and jewelry, preserved by the frost as if it was only a few years since these souls met their demise and mysteriously found their way to the bottom of this lake.

Scientists, anthropologists, and historians have tried to unravel this mind-boggling mystery. In 1942, when the lake’s contents was first discovered by a British forest ranger, they were believed to be recent humans remains of unfortunate Japanese soldiers passing through the mountains. The ranger stumbled on a human skull peeking through the snow just outside of the lake, so based on how it was preserved with a full set of hair, he simply assumed the most likely scenario. When he shortly found more bones nearby and skeletons below the frozen surface of the lake, he filed a report.

 And at first his assumptions seemed logical. But no investigation was made about the bones and no one knew who they were, how long they had been there, nor what had happened for that matter. So clearly, in times when a war was still raging, the authorities shared the same initial belief that these were the remains of a military battalion passing by through the mountains toward India. But after a more thorough investigation on site, when spears and all kinds of different ancient weapons and trinkets were found lying right next to the bones, all those first impressions went down the drain and it was clear that a full study of the remains needed to be done.

For a time, the mystery remained unsolved and many theories about what had happened were set in motion. Landslides, epidemic, and ritual suicides were only a few of them. People even went as far as to accept a local belief about an ancient goddess laying waste to a group of people who defied her. According to the legend, this goddess was so infuriated by a group of travelers who dared to pass and tarnish her intact sanctuary up in the mountains that she flung iron-like hailstones over these petty disrespectful humans, killing them on the spot.

Which was actually not so far from the truth, for recent studies found clear marks of round-shaped blows to the skulls and their shoulders as if they were struck from above.

An expedition led by a team of Indian scientists with a couple of Europeans went to the lake in 2004  in order to take samples and investigate. With the advancement of DNA testing, it was now possible to examine the bones and some of the preserved human tissue. The popular opinion was that the skeletons were the remains of individuals who died from harsh weather and sudden storms over the years on the mountains and slid with the snow into the lake, which prevented the natural process of decomposition.

However, while they found the bodies differentiated in terms of height and body type, the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit in the United Kingdom found almost all of the remains to be from the same time, around 850 A.D. Moreover, they found two distinct body types with similar DNA. One group of shorter individuals with smaller and thinner bones, and one completely the opposite. Which led them to believe that it must have been a group on pilgrimage or some kind of expedition in the mountains that hired some local guides. Unfortunately for them, trapped in a valley and with shelter nowhere to be found, a baseball-size hail storm killed them on their way. At least, that is according to the latest scientific research.

According to the traditional Himalayan legend of the ancient goddess, a king was traveling with his pregnant wife, his family, their servants, his musicians, and several others who wished to join them on a pilgrimage to the Uttarakhand’s Nanda Devi Raj Jat festival in India that only happen once every 12 years.

They hired locals to help them get there, but along the way, and despite locals telling them otherwise, they angered the goddess Nanda Devi with their loudness and were punished for it. But most of all, within the group there was a pregnant woman who allegedly gave birth on the goddess’s sacred land. According to local customs, a newborn was the greatest sin of all, so she sent out a storm of hailstones “hard as iron” and killed them.

While we don’t believe this was the wrath of a goddess, it certainly was the fury of something that killed these hundreds of people.

A legend at least in part explained the mystery long before science did. That is, until further notice and more investigation shows something entirely different. A scientific or academic institution should pursue this, for unfortunately every trekking passer-by picks up a bone or two as a souvenir, and very shortly there might be nothing left to be studied.

 Brad Smithfield

The Laxminarayan Temple, inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi, was the first large temple built in New Delhi

The Hindu temple Laxminarayan, or Birla Mandir as it’s otherwise known, is a major attraction in New Delhi. It was inaugurated by Gandhi and is dedicated to the goddess Lakshmi, who is the goddess of wealth, good fortune, health, and prosperity, and the god Vishnu, also known as Narayana, who is a principal deity of Hinduism.

The architect Baldeo Das Birla (Birla Group of Industries) was in charge of the construction, and together with his sons, he finished the temple in 1939. Because it was constructed by this architect, who was the leading business tycoon of India, it received the name Birla Mandir.

It is situated on Mandir Marg, which is near the place known as Connaught in Delhi. The Mandir is surrounded by other, smaller side temples dedicated to other important gods and idols, including Lord Krishna, Lord Shiva, and Lord Buddha. The Laxminarayan was the first large temple to be built in the city and it is spread over 7.5 acres and has many little temples, several amazingly sculpted fountains, and a large garden filled with sculptures crafted in Hindu shapes.

It is the first large temple of this type built in New Delhi. Author: electro_n1k. CC by 2.0

As a major attraction, the temple draws in many tourists and devotees, particularly at the time of the Diwali, and Janmashtami festivals. It also houses Geeta Bhawan, dedicated to Lord Krishna for discourses, where visitors can learn about Hindu mythology and educate themselves about this beautiful culture. During the festivals, the place is crowded with devotees who come from all over India to pray to the Hindu Gods and receive their blessing.

It was built by the Birla family. Author: PIVISO. CC BY 2.0

The construction of the temple was under Pandit Vishwanath Shastri’s guidance. Swami Keshwa Nandji performed the ceremony at the opening, and the foundation stone was laid by Maharaj Udaybhanu Singh. It was inaugurated by Gandhi in 1939, who had just one rule, that people from all religions would be allowed to go inside. This temple is the first of many built by the Birla family. They designed temples in cities throughout India, and almost all of them have the name Birla Temple.

As a major attraction, the temple draws in many tourists and devotees, especially during the festivals. Author: Geoff Stearns. CC BY 2.0

The layout of the temple is similar to the buildings designed in the Orissan style, which makes it look very exotic. It has three tall towers made of red sandstone, and the tallest one dedicated to the main gods is 16 feet high. The walls inside are decorated with magnificent carvings depicting scenes from Hindu mythology.

The Towers of the Temple. Author World8115. CC BY 3.0

There are also numerous symbols and quotes written on the walls from the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. More than 100 artists from Benares worked on the carved icons of the mandir. There are many guest houses near the temple and inside for visitors and international scholars who want to gain knowledge about the Sanskrit religion. The small temple dedicated to Buddha in the compound is filled with fresco paintings in which his life and deeds are described.

One of the carvings on the walls of the temple depicting a scene from Hindu mythology. Author: Geoff Stearns. CC BY 2.0

The shrines of the goddess Lakshmi and Narayana are in the highest tower, standing in the middle of the temple, and is the most visited of them all. The statues in the mandir are made of marble by the most prominent artists, brought from Jaipur. The premises of the temple were made by Kota stones, which were brought to Delhi from Kota, Agra, Jaisalmer, and Makarana. The temple is open to the public the whole week, and it is most visited between February and April, when the weather in the city is at its most pleasant.

One of the Hindu symbolic fountain statues at the temple. Author: Geoff Stearns. CC BY 2.0

It is built facing east, which is the most important direction in the Hindu religion, connected to the sunrise. The many sculptures and statues add to the beauty of this amazing place.

The well done artificial landscape and cascading waterfalls make the Laxminarayan Temple a perfect place for solitude and contemplation.

By Marija Georgievska

Top 10 Places For Foodies in India

Top 10 Places For Foodies in India

 

Food lovers can go any distances to quench their lust for a delicious meal. And when travelling comes as an added bonus, who would deny the chance to such an awesome way of life. India is a diverse country, be it in terms of religion or culture or beliefs. Why would food diversity be left behind? India serves a unique savour for each taste bud and hence disappoints no one.

All you foodies out…

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Top 10 Places For Foodies in India

Food lovers can go any distances to quench their lust for a delicious meal. And when travelling comes as an added bonus, who would deny the chance to such an awesome way of life. India is a diverse country, be it in terms of religion or culture or beliefs. Why would food diversity be left behind? India serves a unique savour for each taste bud and hence disappoints no one.

All you foodies out there, It’s time to run your eyes through the top 10 places in India which are no less than a paradise for you.

10. Amritsar

Amritsar is a delight for all desi food lovers. Get ready to taste ample amount and pure quality of ghee, butter, milk, buttermilk, curd in the famous dishes. And if these are the key ingredients, don’t get shocked on putting some extra weight. The dhaba culture and authenticity of the place will surely make you it’s food addict.

9. Delhi

Delhi is the heart of India and hence is obligatory to turn every heart happy. From authentic cuisines to regional fusions, Delhi does it best. No matter what type of food you like or what flavors your taste buds crave for, you just need to know the right place in Delhi and it will be all set to satisfy your hunger urge.

8. Goa

 

As happening Goa is for a vacation, as food friendly it is. The sea food here is specially amazing and carries a unique taste owing to its local preparation. So the next time you visit Goa, do ensure that the reason is much more than just beaches and parties.

7. Kolkatta

 

Spicy food and rather sweeter sweet-dishes – Kolkatta is a love to fall for when it comes to foods and flavors.  Famous Bengali cuisines include variety of fish and desserts like sondesh and rosogulla. Are you not tempted yet to have a bite?

6. Jaipur

 

Jaipur is a city of royalty , grandeur and magnificence. And once you get the taste of royalty, it tastes nothing less than an addiction. The authentic Rajasthani food served with amiable hospitality is all what you need for a bellyful and satisfying meal.

5. Darjeeling

 

Darjeeling is famous for its tea gardens. And you can try almost any and every type of tea here. Apart from that, some special dishes like British breakfast are prepared here which are perfect to enjoy the beautiful surroundings that Darjeeling offers.

4. Hyderabad

 

Anyone visiting Hyderabad might not know anything about it but Hyderabadi biryani is like the essence of its soul. The appetizing flavors of spices make it irresistible. During the festive season of Ramzaan, more such delicacies are served.

3. Mumbai

 

Indians are so crazy about street food as it includes all the yum flavors to fulfill the urge of a hungry stomach. And Mumbai is so freaking good at making mouth-watering street food. Vada pao is a staple dish which finds its origin in Mumbai. A must try!

2. Lucknow

 

Lucknow is famous for 2 things only. First is the respect and hospitality they treat their guests with and second is their world famous Kebabs, a paradise for non vegetarians. Mughlai and Awadhi cuisines are the USP of Lucknow.

1. Sikkim

 

Momos had their origin in north east. And Sikkim’s variety of momos (dumplings), Thukpa(Noodle soup) and Phagshapa(Pork fat) keeps itself all set to amaze you. So when in Sikkim, you know what your food order should call out for.

Personally i’m an Indian food FANATIC so when Isha at letusgoto.com asked to do a guest post on here, i couldn’t say no! Check out their site if you need even more travel inspiration. As always safe travels guys!

POSTED BY: TRAVELNPLEASURE DESK