“Malana Cream”, a brand of hashish—hyped to be the best in the world—is named after Malana village where it is produced. Shadowed by the Himalayan range, this village of about 1,700 inhabitants was otherwise mostly known for its hostility to outsiders. It was almost a republic unto itself.

For centuries, Malana was isolated from rest of India due to the forbidding terrain and villagers’ belief system that categorised outsiders as untouchables. However, new power projects in the last two decades have increased access to the village. Drug traffickers saw the potential and turned the meagre village economy into a centre of lucrative hashish trade.

About 60 per cent of Malana’s population comprises children who mostly found play, herd sheep, and collect firewood. With easy access to cannabis, many boys start experimenting with hashish and alcohol in their early teens, eventually getting addicted. Education has now made inroads, but the lone govenrment school struggles to find teachers. Kanashi, the language spoken only in Malana, is known as the “language of the devils” to outsiders and has no resemblance to any other Indian language or dialect. September-October is the harvest season when even children as young as six  help in extracting hashsish.

This once isolated community is now exposed to the outside world through televisions, mobile phones, and tourism.

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Malana was inaccessible until recently because of its forbidding terrain, a cryptic language, and a belief system that prohibited interaction with outsiders.  Their form of self-governance traditionally resisted any interference from the Indian government. Guided by the ancient rules laid by their local deity, Malana follows one of the oldest forms of democracy in the world.
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Eight-year-old Neha gets ready in the morning to go to school in Jari, the nearest town from Malana. During harsh winters, many locals move down to other areas in Himachal Pradesh to graze their sheep. With them, children move to warmer schools. 

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Men gamble during the annual fair held on August 15.

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September-October is the harvest season, during which women and children join men in the farms to make hashish. Cannabis leaves are rubbed to extract its resinous content.  After a thick layer of oil settles on the palm, it is creamed off to form balls of hashish.

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A woman offers incense to a passing religious ceremony.

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For centuries, smoking hashish has been part of the culture, both for religious and recreational reasons. Under sustained pressure from the United States since the mid-1960s, the Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) of 1985 criminalised the use and cultivation of cannabis. The local police now conduct annual drives to destroy the fields.

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As a large crowd gathers at a ritual dance during Fagdi, an annual autumn festival, boys climb a tree to get a better view.

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Boys play on rooftops, mostly made of tin and concrete. A massive fire in January of 2008 swept through parts of Malana, destroying the traditional architecture of houses built with wood.

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A teacher reproaches Neha for not completing her classwork. Most children speak and understand Kanashi, a language distinct from Hindi and other Himachali dialects. In Malana primary school, there is just a single teacher who speaks Kanashi. This affects the
schooling system.

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With television, cellphones and the government making inroads, the children of Malana struggle to adapt to changing times. Many are educating themselves and trying to wean themselves and their families from the stereotype of “drugs and devils”.

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A cow plods through the fresh snow after a sudden snow storm.

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A masked boy dances during a festival.

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Malana boys gather in the evening to roast a freshly slaughtered lamb on a hillside.