About 10,000 feet above sea level, we reached the outskirts of the village of Malana, and I was almost sure I had traveled back in time. Not only did the landscape lack the structures you see in modern civilization, but the customs did as well. My cousin explained to me that Malana was a village that has lived in isolation for thousands of years. They speak a completely different dialect, are relatively secluded from the rest of the world and have their own rules and government. Anyone not from the village is viewed as untouchable, which is why we could not immediately enter the village. If any of us happened to touch anything in the village, we would have to pay a penalty to pay for the purification that includes a goat’s ritualistic sacrifice and payers to their special deity.
On the outskirts of Malana, we were introduced to one of the villagers who was dressed in a helmet, shoulder and chest piece, tunic, belt, arm and leg guards, and ironically, a set of shiny Nike sneakers. The Greek warrior with Nike sneakers used hand gestures to guide us to a set of mud buildings a little outside the village, where we were allowed to stay.
We woke up at dawn to the sounds of sheep and a visit from the head of the village. One of the men with him explained that he was one of only two guys in the village who could speak Hindi (India’s native language) and they would negotiate a price that would allow us to enter and tour their village; however, there were regulations involved. We could not take any pictures, and we were not allowed to touch anything or anyone or we would have to pay a fine of 1,000 rupees, which is about $17, for the sacrificial goat.
As we toured the village, the guide explained to us that as outsiders, we would have to stick to designated paths. Similar to the city tours you see in Rome and every other metropolis, the guide gave us the scripted history of Malana as we followed him. “Malana has its own social and political structure unlike anything in the area. We have our own language, our own gods, and our own customs. We follow our customs very rigorously and we don’t mix in with the other communities. That is how we have maintained our unique culture over thousands of years. We only change as much as we need to survive, but we don’t want change,” the Hindi-speaking guide explained to us. “It is believed that we are the descendants of runaway Greek soldiers from Alexander’s army who took refuge in this remote area and stayed back after Alexander left.” The guide kept talking as we followed the narrow trail through the village, which was surrounded by the houses of villagers with mountains in the backdrop. Malana was able to stay this way because the people of the village shy away from foreigners, while also remaining self-sufficient. Ironically, I happened to notice a satellite dish hanging from one of the villager’s homes while we were walking by.
Our guide took us to the center of the village where all judicial matters are handled. The Greek-style government of Malana consists of an upper house and lower house, with some members who come into the position by birthright and others by election. After that, we were taken up a hill to a randomly located convenience store. The guide informed us that buying provisions from the store would help replenish the village people of the God they worshiped, and it was necessary for us as visitors to do so.
The tour ended there, where we bought some rice cakes, tea biscuits, and a local specialty: weak rice wine. Everything had random prices that made little sense. After that, we had to leave. Most see Malana as a village that has retained its culture and identity because of isolation, but perhaps times are changing for the village. The people we encountered on our trip seemed to encourage some presence of visitors to keep its commerce alive. Why else would there be a boy wearing Nikes, a Hindi-speaking tour guide, and a convenience shop directed towards visitors?