On reaching Malana village, one of the most immediate things to strike the eye is the trash strewn all over the slopes. According to my travel companions, this is a recent phenomenon; just five or six years ago the issue did not exist. In that time, the increasing exposure to modern products and packaging, along with a surge in tourism, has created a problem that is now critical.
Excessive Tourism Has Led To Restrictions
As we venture deeper into the village, the rise in tourism becomes apparent also in the sheer number of guesthouses that have sprung up over the last few years. The villagers of Malana occupy traditional wooden houses, expertly crafted without the use of nails; these new brick and cement buildings, while often brightly colored and beautifully decorated, are a jarring contrast.
The tourism problem has become so severe in recent years that village elders have become deeply hostile to it. Recently, it was reported that the god of the village, Jamlu, came to an elder in a dream and issued a dire warning against the tourists sullying his pristine, untouched land. Since then, tourists have been banned from staying overnight, save for in a handful of homestays owned by locals. The guesthouses owned by outsiders have all been closed down.
Loss of Cultural & Geographic Isolation
The increasing loss of isolation over the last decade or so has many negative consequences, although it also comes with various attractive benefits that make the process a double-edged sword for the local inhabitants.
The road – built over the last few years and currently undergoing surfacing with tarmac for the first time – has brought many modern amenities within closer reach of the inhabitants. Packaged food and drinks, distilled spirits, gasoline and even solar panels regularly make their way up the winding road to its end (which still stops several kilometers short of the village itself, requiring a two hour hike).
At that point, most items will complete the last leg of their journey via a mechanized pulley and trolley system, its cables stretching clear across the valley. Whatever is not transported that way may be transported by mule, or on one’s back.
Full modernity is still some distance away, but the developments so far have already brought increased numbers of tourists, and increased opportunities for the ecology of the region to become irreparably disrupted.
The Threat to Local Landrace Biodiversity
One of the biggest threats specific to Malana and other cannabis biodiversity hotspots is towards the landrace cannabis varieties that have thrived there for centuries, if not millennia.
Introductions have been occurring for years, by many accounts – but as travel to and from Malana becomes more frequent, opportunities for introduction of foreign material become ever more likely.
The more that introductions of foreign genetic material occur, the more chance there is that introductions will significantly alter the local genepool. If that occurs, prized traits that have been carefully maintained for centuries may be compromised or lost entirely.
Right now, we know very little about the true complexity and diversity of cannabis – we’re just beginning to scratch the surface. We have basically no reliable, thorough documentation on exactly what the local genepool consists of, how many introductions have occurred over the years, and what their effect on the local genepool has been.
Thus, it’s absolutely imperative that introductions of foreign genetic material do not occur in Malana, if the unique diversity there is to be preserved (or at least, not compromised any further).
Combating Malana’s Trash Problem
Pollution – from discarded and burnt plastics, as well as waste and emissions from gasoline and other hydrocarbons – threatens the health of the local community as well as the wider ecosystem. Plastics are officially banned in Malana, but this has apparently had very little effect.
The fertile soil of Malana, rich in minerals and organic matter, is also threatened by the mounds of discarded waste scattered on the hillsides. For centuries, the only materials to be discarded would mostly have been biodegradable (food scraps, old textiles, and so on).
Now that modernity has brought so many permanent waste products with it, the locals have taken some time to catch on to the fact that an entirely new approach must now be developed towards waste management. For one thing, they are quickly discovering that burning the trash leads to more problems than it solves.
To fight against this intractable problem, various initiatives have been set up to attempt to reduce the problem of trash in Malana. An interesting one that we learned of during our time in Waychen involves a 15 mile hike with plastic trash bag in hand, so that nature lovers can experience the wonder of the Himalaya while making an extra effort to conserve it.
There is also a fundraiser currently ongoing to raise the needed funds for building a waste management system in Malana. The organization behind it is responsible for the posters now visible throughout Malana calling for trash removal. Lastly, a group called Waste Warriors has been active for several years in a door-to-door collection project in Malana and neighboring villages.
If you make the effort to reach Malana, it is vital to take with you a sense of respect and reverence for the local environment and culture. Do not litter, and under no circumstances should you bring cannabis seeds (or any other seeds, for that matter) to Malana with the intention of planting them. If you have time, you may wish to consider getting involved in one of the cleanup operations now being implemented.
This unique ecosystem, with its tough yet vulnerable inhabitants – humans, animals and plants alike – is being threatened by the encroachment of industrialized civilization, and if steps are not taken to mitigate against it, its issues will only increase.