Malana, known for Malana Cream, the most sought-after forms of hashish across the globe, has kept outsiders and the Covid-19 pandemic at bay — an uphill task for the ancient Himalayan village where the legend of Alexander the Great lives on — when the entire country is battling with the second wave.
The coronavirus is no stranger to Himachal Pradesh with a positivity rate above 30 per cent in half of the state. But the naturally secluded village Malana, with no motorable roads, in the far end of Parvati Valley has been saying no to strangers virtually since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.
One of the largest villages in Kullu district, it had a population of about 2,350 where the banned cannabis is the source of prime livelihood.
But so far not even a single Covid case has been reported from Malana, say doctors. Also, not a single person in the village has been inoculated.
Health workers say the village head has barred their entry to the village. The locals, known as Malanis, believe only with the permission from the local deity, Lord Jamlu, the outsiders will be allowed to meet them.
Malana village, surrounded by snow-capped mountains, is located 45 km from Kullu town. Its nearest road is seven km down the hill that was constructed in 2007.
Before the road, the village, nestled at 2,700 meters (8,859 feet), is accessible only through three passes — Jari, Rashol and Chandrakhani — which can be traversed only on foot with at least three overnight stay through breathtaking snow-capped mountains, lush forests and the rugged landscapes.
Malana panchayat head Raju Ram said the locals were allowed to leave the village only in case of an exigency.
“Also the outsiders are barred from their entry to the panchayat owing to our self-imposed tough restrictions on their movement. We don’t need the vaccine as there is no case of coronavirus so far in the entire panchayat,” he said, adding, “even our deity has warned us against the vaccine”.
Contrary to the village head’s claims, a senior doctor, requesting anonymity, told IANS that since the locals don’t interact freely with outsiders, even with the inhabitants living in the nearby areas, it is somehow difficult the access the exact situation there regarding the viral epidemiology.
“Even Asha workers (health activists), who belong to the area, have not been allowed to enter the village, what to talk about of a visit by a team of doctors. We are trying to convince them through local self-help groups and NGOs to allow their random health screening only,” he added.
The Malana inhabitants, who proclaim themselves as descendants of the Greek king, are very sensitive to their cultural heritage and religious beliefs. They considered outsiders an untouchable.
The locals say they don’t believe in wearing face mask, maintaining physical distance and adhering to other health protocols. They say such restrictions are against the wishes of the deity.
“The people of Malana have their own beliefs. The local deity has the final say in their day-to-day activities. We will try to persuade them again to get them inoculated,” local legislator Sunder Thakur told IANS.
Malana, which is on the international tourism map for its rich legacy of culture and traditions, was burnt down in January 2008. With the help of the government, the villagers re-built it.
Notorious for its illegal cultivation of high-quality cannabis and frequented by foreigners, Malana and its nearby villages have their own “government” and all disputes are settled by the people on their own. Their courts even have power to pronounce capital punishments.
It has an “upper house” and a “lower house” with elected and nominated members.
The “upper house” has three permanent members and eight elected members. The permanent members are lifelong members selected on the principle of reincarnation.
The “lower house” comprises senior adults of the village. All village-level issues and disputes are discussed by the ‘kameti’ or government. In case of no consensus, the matter is referred to Lord Jamlu for settlement.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)