Since the time I have taken to the pen about 3 years back weaving it through my myriad experiences and stitching in to mosaics of colours, places, people and countries ; the northern frontiers of our country Himalayas have always remained center stage in all these mosaics. Himalayas being the progenitor of all themes associated with India’s culture, art, ethos and living hence this geographical enormity functioning as a beacon for all else to follow. The initial years of my service saw me moving across the length and breadth of these ranges soaking in all the experiences with the eagerness of an avid traveller. ‘Malari’ is one such place in the high Himalayas nestled in the remote corners of ‘Dhauli Ganga’ valley of district ‘Chamoli’ /Uttrakhand which I had become acquainted with in the early 90s. This tiny place is tightly ensconced in the famous ‘Nanda Devi Bioreserve’ close to the Tibet autonomous region (TAR). Positioned about 60 kms from ‘Joshimath’ this region has many feathers in its cap to boast of for a new comer.The place is preceded by a ‘Cliff hanger’ approach all along the ‘Dhauli Ganga’ river flowing in its gay abandon. It is considered as one of the most dangerous road sections of the country.
The towering forests of ‘Dhauli Ganga’ valley instills awe, respect and fearall combined into one. Due to the difficulties and risks involved, this is one of the lesser travelled roads in the Himalayas .The hazardous, narrow and spine chilling road snakes mainly all along the rapids of river ‘Dhauli Ganga’ matching all its contours. Much of the road is bordering the deep and steep gorge of this valley hacked out of a stone cliff face. Through a series of harrowing switchbacks and slopes, the cliff hanger climbs from approximately 6150 feet from Joshimath to Malari perched at a height of about 10,000 ft, a difference of 4000 feet in gradient in all its high altitudinal beauty. A sheer drop on one side could fling the riders 2000 feet down in the dangerous and mighty ‘Dhauli Ganga’ should they throw caution to the winds. With little or no margin of error for the drivers, the difference between life and death could be wafer thin. It is not for the faint hearted to plan a sojourn over here.
Nearly everybody has heard about the famous ‘Valley of flowers’ in this part of Garhwal, but hardly anybody is aware of the ‘Valley of perfumes’ which is dwelling close to the region of ‘Malari’. The region’s air and environment slowly and steadily gets enmeshed in a mix of aromatic hue as a rider finishes his or her perilous journey on this cliff hanger and closes on to Malari. The valley during my tenure in the early 90s was close to the civilian traffic due to want of ‘Inner line permit’ from the SDM of Joshimath being close to the Indo-Tibet border. As stated above a traveller’s olfactory senses are given a royal treat by the wafting aromas lingering in the air of this valley rendering a surreal experience for him to carry throughout his life, hence the reason for me to pen down this article with twins aims in mind—firstly to act as a catalyst for a wanderlust to take on the road less travelled and secondly to expose the travellers to the rich bio-diversity of this remote corner of India. Malari is inhabited by the Indo-Mongolian tribes often known as ‘Bhotias’ –scheduled tribes of Uttrakhand. The ‘Tolchas’ are the individuals residing around Malari and the ‘Marchhars’ inhabiting the higher reaches. Given the extreme isolation of Malari and the excessive snowfall it experiences, the area is inaccessible throughout the winter season.
In actuality the Malari population transfers down below for the winters to places of lower altitude like Joshimath and Chamoli. Whereas the area of Malari seems quite quaint, however the villagers are quite well to do cover more than enough by the government schemes of welfare and reservation. Almost the whole of Malari domesticates Himalayan herbs which have lots of medicinal properties and also aromatic qualities rare to be found anywhere inthis part of the sub-continent thereby triggering a tremendous demand in the hinterlands of our country. With an elevation of about 3048 meters /10,000 feet situated in the Dhauli Ganga valley of the Nanda Devi Bio reserve, Malari is still unexplored by the modern standards of tourist culture. One is mesmerized by the twin distinct features of Malari as he or she approaches the place ---firstly the wind swept look of trees and its branches molded in a typical fashion and secondly the slate roofing of its outdated homes. The winters are extremely cold with the summers being calm, and balmy in their overall effect. The place is best avoided in the monsoons where instances of cloud bursts and consequent disasters await an unsuspecting traveller.
Given the sheer remoteness of the area not much is offered by way of tourism toa wanderlust. But none the less the region promises plenty of adjuncts to tourism in the form of famous treks like the ‘Nanda Devi trek’. Located about 20 kms from Malari at ‘Lata village’ this trek when combined with another famous trek to the ‘Dronagiri’ mountain (the peak famous for providing the ‘Sanjeevenibootito Lord Hanuman ) can be a life time of an experience. The ‘Malari-Munsayri trek’ is another feather in the cap of this region which a traveller will find hard to resist. Traditionally previous to the arrival of latest transportation means in this area the tribals of Malariin addition to ‘Milam’ utilized this course for their social /financial interactions.The community of Geologists will particularly cherish this dangerous trek for it goes by a spot known as ‘Lapthal’ ,the place fossils of outdated marine life could be seen as unquestionable verification to the way in which for million years the Deccan plate remained separated from the ‘Asian structural plate’ with a sea within center of this general area.
About 18 kms from Malarithe famous Niti village of India is found placed bordering the Tibetan border. Niti village is without any doubt one of the final repositories of the Trans –Himalayan traditions and customs that are none the less practiced with devotion by the Bhoti populace. Coming to the ‘Valley of perfumes’ that is abound with aromatic plants about which this write up is mainly concerned with ,it goes without saying that the peak of ‘Dronagiri’ from where lord Hanuman plucked the famous ‘Sanjeevnibooti’ to treat a fallen Lakshman takes the cake as its brand ambassador . Aromatic plants have always played a key role in the lives of the tribal people living in the high mountains of our northern region by providing them a rich source of food as well as being their so called ‘Family doctor’. The Himalayan center of plant bio diversity is a narrow band of diversity of flora lying on the southern margins of the Himalayas. The Indian Himalayas are home to about 8000 species of vascular plants of which 1748 are known for their unique ‘Medicinal properties’. Numerous cultivated and wild plants have been utilized as curative agents since ancient times for their herbal properties as well as natural ingredient for cosmetic industry.
Of all the herbal cum aromatic plants that have a worldwide foot print, Genus Artemisia has approximately 400 species distributed throughout the world including the temperate regions characterized by herbs and shrubs. Numerous members of this genus are used as traditional medicines and many show biological, hepatotoxic, anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and activities. In the Himalayas 19 species of Genus Atremisia are recognized to be of some credible value to include A. Absinthium, A. Dubia, A. Dienmis ,A. Maritima,A. Roxburghinia, A.Japonicato name a few. This plant is also used ethno botanically. Natives of ‘Nubravalley, Lahauletc use the leaves from this genus to treat wounds on the legs of donkeys and yaks. In the ‘Humla’ district of Nepal the whole fresh plant of A. Gemilini is externally ground and applied as a paste to treat headaches, boils, pimples etc. Similarly plant A.Martimais used by several Himalayan people to treat stomach problems for expelling worms.This plant is found in abundance in Malari area known to be rich in many medicinal properties.
A.Japonica essential oils and found in Malari as stated above is used to function as both an insectide and as incense for aromatic purposes. In fact Uttrakhand state has the unique distinction of establishing the country’s largest aromatic garden in Nainital district known by the name of ‘SurbhiVatika’ under the aegis of ‘Forest research center’ Lalkuan in an area of 3 acres with about 140 odd species of aromatic plants to reckon with. The plan of the state government is to expand it to about 45 hectares. This aromatic garden has a ‘Tulsivatika’ which contains more than 20 species of Tulsi to include Rama Tulsi, ShyamaTulsi ,VanTulsi, KapoorTulsi as well as African and Thai Tulsi to boast of. All in all the area of our northern frontiers can be definitely worth the journeys with the quaintness of places like Malari thrown in. In fact India should take a leaf out of China’s border management policy and try dovetailing and making common cause of the local or state policy with that of national policy thereby populating more such areas for better border management in the long run. Sure the journey is hard and grinding to such off beat places but as the saying goes --- ‘The hardest mountain is to climb within’. Rest is all a cake walk.
(The writer is a retired army officer and can be contacted on his firstname.lastname@example.org)