A mystical village in Himachal breaks many stereotypes.
The four-hour-long trek had me doubled over, gasping for breath. Maybe it was the trek, maybe it was the fact that I was I was 3048m above sea level. Six snow-capped peaks lay before me at eye level while I stood on the seventh, smoking the best stuff in the world, from the top of the world.
I was on a high, literally.
I was in Rasol, a village that became the stage for the most unique experience of my life. Be it in terms of beauty or intoxication. And this was possible because I wasn’t just living in any guesthouse. I was living in a house that belonged to a family who practically owned Rasol. There is only one way to be affluent in Parvati Valley - hash trade.
Home in Rasol
My friend of many years had recently shifted to Himachal. Having already visited the valley more than thirty times in the last 7 years, he had now become one of them. It was because of friendships that he had forged with this family that my stay was possible. I wasn’t a tourist, I was a guest; to a family of six brothers all of whom had built a fortune cultivating and selling charas. Herein lay my opportunity to experience this weird village as an insider, paying a paltry 300 bucks for a three day stay and absolutely nothing for the food, much less for the hash and a peek into the lives of these people who are otherwise aloof from city folks.
Signs inscribed on rocks and tree barks, or plastered in front of the local temple gave me an idea about the culture and dynamics of this society. Though it wasn’t until I was actually living with them that I began to grasp the logic behind their societal laws.
No country for city folk
I asked one of the brothers about their untouchability code, measuring my words with caution careful not to let them feel that I was ungrateful or dissatisfied. I understood that untouchability, or considering outsiders to be untouchable, was something that had been introduced only recently. Seeing the damage that had been caused to lower villages like Kasol and Tosh because of drug addiction brought in by visitors, the natives of Rasol had decided that it was best to keep away from tourists inviting only very trusted people into their homes. I was an untouchable in this pure land. It was confusing because at one hand they were welcoming and generous and on the other, they didn’t want any sort of physical contact with me.
Chillums and chilling. Image source: dawn.com
Evenings at their home comprised of gallons of ginger lemon honey tea that we all drank together, passing chillums in circles. I noticed that the locals would stretch out their right hand, resting the elbow on their left palms, their heads bowed respectfully as they removed the saafi (a piece of gauze used as filter), politely asking me to use the one kept aside for outsiders. We never ate on the same plates and the few handshakes I exchanged were only in the dark of the night, away from suspecting eyes of the villagers, as I thanked them for the hash or whatever goodies were being bestowed on me as a sign of hospitality.
I tried to come to terms with this alternate world as I walked around the village and took in the silence. I passed the temple dedicated to Renuka Mata, reading the huge sign board warning me of the exorbitant fine I would have to pay if I so much as touched the walls, much less enter it.
As days went by, I realised that while charas was just a recreational drug for city folks, for them it was part of their culture and cuisine. This became clear when we paid a visit to the oldest brother’s house and as a welcome sweet he offered me a spoonful of a brownish-white sticky liquid that looked like molten copper. It was fresh honey mixed with hash that locals consumed to keep themselves warm during the cold snow-filled months in the village. I dug in and with every passing second the honey melted in my mouth, feeling like someone was pouring a warm sweet liquid right into my heart. As we moved on to lunch, I found myself straining to understand what they said through their thick Pahari accents, and ended up relying on my friend for translations. I learnt that all the weed that grew in and around the village wasn’t even what they cultivated for charas, but were wild crops that they used to make pakodas. I asked them if I could try some later in the evening, but in a village this high up in the mountain, supplies weren’t easily available. Nobody was in the mood to trek down for hours to acquire a little besan (gram flour). “Next time,” Bhaiji smiled and said to me.
“So where are all the plantations that our charas comes from?” I asked.
“Meening” Bhaiji explained, pointing to the top of a peak that looked unconquerable, then added “Yeh jo Malana cream hai, yeh sabh dhong hai. Unke charas bhi Meening mein ugta hai, humaara charas bhi Meening mein ugta hai,” (This hype about Malana cream is a gimmick. They grow their charas in the fields of Meening and so do we). It was true. There was practically no difference between Malana cream and Rasol cream, except that Rasol sold it much cheaper. I was told that Rasol was only second to Malana in terms of charas production.
Weed weed everywhere
Standing at the edge of one of the top most houses, I looked down and realized that the entire village was built on a steep slope. Was it even possible to build houses here? Bhaiji explained that it isn’t. Before erecting a house everyone has to construct something called a `Danga’, which is a flat platform jutting out of the edge of the mountain. It was hard for me to imagine how people were living, eating, cleaning, working and going about their lives in constant suspension.
In many ways they were way ahead of us. Consisting of no more than a hundred families, their marriage and governance laws were much more egalitarian and non-discriminatory. The head of the village or Sarpanch ruled in conjunction with his wife, making it a gender-equal society. Weddings were a simple understanding between the bride and groom that required no grand ceremony or ritual, but were marked by the simple act of the girl not returning to her maternal home at night, and of course with her consent. In short, almost all intra-village marriages were love marriages. This was happening in a tiny village away from our eyes, in a country replete with honor killings and mob lynching.
For three days I lived with people who in common urban lingo would be written off as drug dealers, but who were essentially just farmers struggling to fight a stigma that they weren’t even aware of prior to outside contact. While trying to conserve their culture from intrusion by the likes of me. I understood how the culture of one village can be another society’s crime. And as I lay on the danga of their home watching the sun disappear behind the mountains, I understood why they would try to keep us away. Because all we have done is ruin our own habitat and were now slowly encroaching on theirs.
1. The trek to Rasol begins from Challal which is a 20 minute walk away from Kasol.
2. Drop your luggage at any of the travel agencies in Kasol for Rs.20 per day and carry just enough for your stay there.
3. You can trek almost hands free by availing the span (where Challal ends) that’ll deliver your luggage to Rasol directly.
4. Rasol has no alcohol or meat.
5. All guest houses come with a public kitchen so you can save money by cooking your own food.
6. If you’re an adventure freak you can climb higher up from Rasol to Rasol-Kutla for a more secluded stay.
7. Carry cash because there’s no network for internet transfers.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Suman Quazi
Photographs by Suman Quazi