Flashback #9 – Malana, India – 1996

Another slow week for riding here in southern France, so I’m continuing to find old, scanned photos and put them to work. This entry is another on the ‘self-propelled’ theme started with the Annapurna Circuit last month.

In the summer of 1996 I was in India, having spent a year in Australia, trying my damnedest to save enough money to continue traveling. India in the ’90s was a pretty good place to stretch your dollar and I ended up staying nearly 3 months, mainly in the Himalaya of the far north. While waiting for the Manali – Leh road to open in June, I (along with my new-found group of Israeli friends) did a 3-day hike from the Kullu valley to the Parvati valley, and Malana, the weirdest village I have ever visited.

But first a picture of our group. The guy on the left is VJ, our guide, a total necessity in the Kullu Valley, at least for us. I at least had no map, and no real idea where I was or where I was going (the story of my life in general as well…).

Jari Trek

But at least I had hiking boots. Sara (2nd from left) had plastic sandals, which really didn’t work too well in the pouring rain we got our first day in the valley. I’m sure the views are amazing as well, but we just caught mini-glimpses of the Himalaya when the clouds cleared. But for all that, it was very nice being up in the quiet mountains, after several weeks of crowded, polluted, dirty, did I mention crowded…?…India.

A picture of Veejay, in the fields outside the village.

Now for Malana. Here is a condensed version of its Wikipedia entry.

1. Malana is one of the oldest democracies in the world.

2. Malanis believe they are descended from Alexander The Great’s army.

3. The town is ruled by a deity named Jamblu Devta.

4. People in Malana consider all non-Malani to be inferior and consequently untouchable. Visitors to Malana town must pay particular attention to stick to the prescribed paths and not to touch any of the walls, houses or people there. If this does occur, visitors are expected to pay a forfeit sum, that will cover the sacrificial slaughter of a lamb in order purify the object that has been made impure.

(note: I can attest to this no-touch rule. Once, when buying something at the ‘store’ I had to leave my money on the floor for the guy to pick up, replacing it with whatever I was buying. Another time we were walking through the village in a group and I was accused of touching something or somebody, probably because I was in the end of the group and therefore unseen. After much finger wagging and shouting I was let off the hook.)

5. Malana grows the best pot in the world.

(note: I’m not saying whether I can attest to this or not…)

Next is one of my favorites pictures from my travels. Check out the ragged clothes on these guys, as well as the pop bottle glasses of the man on the right. They are making yarn, presumably from a slaughtered sheep, bought and paid for by a touchy tourist!

Malana Weavers

This is a youthful me, overlooking the deep valley we were about to descend into.

After Malana we spent a day in Jari, lower in the beautiful Parvati valley, stuffing our faces for the last day of walking, up to Manikaran, a holy place for Sikhs, strangely (Sikhs don’t live around here). I hiked alone, choosing the opposite side of the river, and had a most excellent day of walking and talking (mainly to the dog that followed me the whole way up…).

And this generous man and his family, who gave me tea and biscuits and made me sign his guest book…

From Manikaran we took a bus back to Manali, and a few days later I think the road cleared of snow and we were on our way into magical Ladakh.

For more on this trek, and many more, check out Trekking in the Indian Himalaya (Lonely Planet Walking Guide)

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