“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 have 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 to the mountains, and I was boarded on the bus right in 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 into 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.
“What a cosy shelter I made for myself”, I kept thinking over and over while I stood there, under that straw-awning outside the shack’s door, looking at the rain falling and enjoying my noodles-and-vegetables meal. And then, all of a sudden, an angry voice blared out of the silence from behind, and I saw a torch-light approaching towards my whereabouts. In no time, that short, middle-aged bloke was standing in front of me.
Imagine now this picture: Me standing up with my torch aforehead lighting straight into that guy’s face, and still eating apathetically, directly from the saucepan using a big knife – as I’d forgotten my fork. And he screaming and swearing at me furiously in some alien-sounding tongue with some few English words in between. The situation – I could understand – was quite bad. And it became much worse when, at a moment, without thinking much, in an attempt to calm him down, I did to him: “relax man, it’s ok, don’t take things wrong”, patting him at the same time on the shoulder. Holy shit, the man got enraged, completely out of his mind. He stayed there another minute or two ejecting a torrent of unintelligible to me stuff out of his mouth, and then, calming down for a second, he concluded in English: “This Malana – no touch – touch, give money – no give money, Malana kill!”
The very next moment I was standing alone again, watching my angry visitor scampering up the trail towards the village, contemplating his last words, and finishing off the last mouthfuls of my meal. Thereafter I started working on what was to be by far my packing-time record ever. It could not have been more than a couple of minutes, and my tent was down, all my stuff thrown anyhow inside my backpack, and I disappeared out in the rainy night, looking for shelter once again. I could well imagine the villagers all together coming down to me in a procession, carrying fire-torches and winnowing forks, while chanting praising hymns to that god of theirs. So I moved cautiously through the bush towards the village and detoured it, ending up on the trail coming to the village from the opposite direction. The rain had fortunately stopped by the time I got there, but the terrain was again as camping-unfriendly as it was before. It took me yet another hour or so of looking around, till I finally found no other spot to camp, but one marginally wide enough, right in the middle of the trail.
Next day was a new, glorious day. It was due to the villagers, who were bypassing my tent going to their farms or wherever, that got me aware of its advent. Despite their being careful not to touch my tent, they showed no sign of aggression or other interest against my person. So, after having a good breakfast and packing up slowly, I judged there would be no danger heading back to the village for having a look around. Right I judged. They were, of course, examining me curiously, but I don’t think the had any suspicion of me possibly being the culprit of yesterday’s sacrilege, or even that any such had happened at all. Luckily, I caught no sight of yesterday’s lad, cause if I had so I’d be in need to employ one of my emergency plans, ranging from insisting I had just come from the opposite way and I know nothing, to start running as fast as I could.
The village was an amazingly picturesque one. It consisted of a quite tight agglomeration of mostly wooden, two or three storey houses, with slab paths laid in between. Its inhabitants are estimated to count around 1700 individuals. Even though they don’t like to be touched, the most of them very much like to be taken photos, in many cases posing readily without even being asked. To earn their living, they breed cattle and sheep, they fleece strangers who happen to violate their rules, and, most rewardingly of all, they cultivate weed. I seriously have never seen so many marijuana-trees accumulated so tightly. They were everywhere inside the village and all around it in a great radius. Pretty much as olive-trees would be in a Greek village, or vineyards in Bordeaux Region. And that thing is pure dynamite! I found out when a young man sitting by the side of the path was kind enough to pass me that joint he was puffing phlegmatically. Since I had touched it he wouldn’t take it back either. So, being stoned as the Great Wall of China, I then left the village heading towards Chandrakhani Pass.
The trail to the pass goes off the main trail leading west of the village at a point (32.06116 77.25470) at 2775 amsl. It then follows the streamlet steeply straight up till it reaches the pass at 3645 amsl. I had packed quite light. So I should be carrying about 12 kg of weight, if it wasn’t for all the moisture nested inside my backpack after the previous day’s storm, which must have added at least another 3 kg to it. For the first half of the ascent, the sky was fairly clear, even letting me to receive some short spells of sunshine and marvel some magnificent views of what I was leaving below me. About half the way, as expected, the sky turned black once again, and in no time that monsoon’s fury was unleashed in an unruly manner upon that part of the Himalayas. It kept pouring and pouring, and up and more up I kept clambering toilsomely the steep, muddy trail.
By the time I finally reached the pass, the rainstorm was at its fiercest. Despite all that water, though, I was highly satisfied with having now to walk on even ground. And notwithstanding all the views being well hidden behind the dense fog, my whole being got reigned by that exalted emotion the limited visible surroundings had designed for whosoever was to experience their grandeur. And I surely was the only one! All in awe I was ambling along that high ridge, hearing nothing but the hissing wind and the falling water, and only seeing water streaming through the grassland covering the ridge and some lonely cattle regarding me bewildered, appearing every now and then through the all-pervading whiteness of the foggy atmosphere.
It was late afternoon, time to get some rest. I chose an elevated spot next to a cairn I found to use as a wind barrier. I pitched my tent and dug a trench around it in an attempt to drive the streaming water away. And in I roosted, making a rewarding meal, and hoping the storm is going at some point to give out.
Five o’ clock in the morning, I was sitting awake and sleepless inside my tent, still hoping. It was an utter disaster! Not only did the monsoon not give out, but it turned manifold as wild by dark’s advent and kept raging throughout the entire night. My tent was certainly not the best one could have. It rather was quite the worst – I had bought it new for 8€ in Kiev. It didn’t have an outer layer, so I was always carrying with me an extra tarp of mine to reinforce it at every situation needed. And despite its cheapness, it was a damn proud tent! Nearly a 100 nights I must have spent in it throughout the period I had it in my possession. And it had survived many storms and hardships of various sorts. But all heroic achievements must at some point take a tragic end. And that was the end of my poor tent. The poles broke, the fabric was torn, the floor cleaved… and loads of water were penetrating in my nest. I could do nothing better than cover the best I could all my permeables, and wait for the first light so to get the hell out of there.
So I packed everything that dawn into my soaked backpack, which would then weigh at least 30 kg, and down I rolled, abandoning my tent to rest in peace on that high ridge, perfectly worthy a burial place for that honored tent. The way was long. I was walking as fast as I could and the rain didn’t stop for a second the whole day. By early afternoon, soggy down to the marrow, I had made it to Rumsu village, whereat I soon found someone to drive me back to Manali. I was all exhausted and frustrated, and my spirits were harmed and daunted by the time I was falling like a log on my dry bed. Next morning I woke up fresh again. Those bewitching images of the wild Himalayas were circling around my thoughts. And that overpowering lust to leave this boring, safe world, for that wild, marvelous one up there, had come upon me once again.