A peek into the real time action behind Himachal’s charas trade.
For more than a decade now, Parvati Valley has always made the news for narcotics, raves, drug trafficking and consumption. This is a known fact and perhaps one of the country’s most formidable (un?)spoken truths. But they say you have to see it to believe it, and I did both.
The first time I was visiting Tosh and Kasol I was left to my own devices and I understood the veracity of this assumed image. It was as easy as it was possible to get high in this valley. Every shop, whether it sold clothes, jewellery, knick-knacks, souvenirs or simply groceries; every hotel, every guest house and practically every other local could either directly sell or show you how and where to score from. Not just hash, but also hard chemicals such as MDMA, Coke or Magic Valley’s favourite drug - acid. It was appalling to learn that a Kirana shop was making more profit out of the stamps and hash it sold than it did from selling household goods. It was appalling and yet believable.
In the lap of India’s marijuana haven
This time I bumped into a friend who told me that her boyfriend wanted to try some charas, and as they sat chatting about it in a café in Tosh, a local who overheard them came to their rescue.
I had experienced something similar during my first visit when a café caretaker came up to my boyfriend offering us a chillum, and in the next few days I understood that this was the first step to selling hash - making your potential customers have their first smoke as a friendly gesture. With more time we understood that what they make you smoke isn’t necessarily what they sell to you.
But it was almost too easy to get your hands on it.
On the way to the village in the middle of an excruciating trek, the babas, the rented car drivers, everybody was openly and directly asking tourists, “bhang chahiye?” (Do you want hash?) Drugs were everywhere, in every little corner of the valley and so were scams. How was this happening? On my second visit, I learnt more as I sat amidst a group of people who were not just insiders, but participants in this trade and had a very different story to tell.
The hands of a charas maker. Image source: insighthimachal.com
What to us is a drug, to them is their livelihood. Suitable in terms of altitude, direct sunlight and cold weather - three things required to grow marijuana. Himachal Pradesh provides the perfect playground. Growing naturally, the returns from selling hash is triple what these villagers would make were they selling vegetables or crops like the majority of farmers and villagers across the rest of India. Naturally, charas was intrinsic to their culture as it was to their habits. Every child opens their eyes to an expanse of willowing charas farms, ripening under the mountain sun. Children aged 5 spend months rubbing hash, sitting amidst their mothers and aunts. Women, who don’t consume hash, are a chief force in its production. Bhaiji (whose guest house I was living in) explains that this is because women and children have softer hands, therefore producing much better quality stuff than men. Good hash was dependent not just on the crop, but also on how well and long it had been rubbed, and the best variety is known as ‘Cream’.
This had become such a chief component of their lives that the men I spoke to almost unanimously said that though they advised their children not to smoke it, they knew it was logically impossible. Unlike the society that I come from, hash here wasn’t taboo. It was what they had been nurturing and cultivating for decades.
Teens growing up amongst wildly sprouting weed
The reality was that these villagers weren’t anything like Escobar or the vile mafioso that controlled an entire system, but were innocent farmers simply selling what grows around them. The rudimentary nature of their business was obvious in the open culture and dialogue around charas in their society. A man told me his son stole a tola of hash from the cupboard where they keep their ‘maal’ and went to an older boy in the village offering the tola (which sells at Rs.4000) for 20 bucks, so that he could buy candy. We all laughed, but it became clear how absolutely natural and acceptable a situation like this is to them. Agriculture is ubiquitous across India’s countryside with Himachal being no exception. The difference lay in ‘what’ they cultivated and that it was illegal. They were locals, and from them I learnt about every scam that was going on, right from the heart of the valley’s most sought after village Malana, to the drug mafias in Russia who brought in chemicals.
Covered in clouds of smoke
Bhaiji talks in a low voice, punctuating and gesticulating amply. “Tum bacchon ko ice kyun pasand hai? Woh gobar hai,” (Why do you kids like ice? It’s garbage) he says referring to a kind of charas that had NCR kids going bonkers for years now. I understood that this highly-priced and much in demand variety was actually the trashiest hash there is on earth. A frenzy that was perpetrated and fuelled in Malana, it was a way to make use of the worst produce they have. Everyone who smokes is aware that good charas is soft, the softer and stickier the better the hash. Most (and chiefly young Indian) consumers are often just happy with a decent viscosity, having no other knowledge about the plant or the drug. Using this to their credit, locals began using a machine called the isolator to put to use plants that weren’t potent enough and couldn’t be used to produce much quantity had they been hand-rubbed. The isolator which comes with two filters compresses all virtually useless plants and the remnants from whatever is set aside, to be hand-rubbed, using the weight of ice blocks - hence the name ice.
Many kids have been willingly paying as much as Rs.5000 to Rs.6000 for a tola of this variety, which actually sells at a higher price than the allegedly good quality stuff. Such was the irony behind Malana’s great and undisputed image as the haven for good charas, and today every village has followed suit. If you hear another Delhi kid yapping about `red ice’ saying, “This maal is sooooo good, it’s sooo strong my throat hurts,” abstain from taking a puff. The throat hurts because it's shit. It’s like the scrap chicken that road side Chinese stalls use.
It was an eye opener to find out what really goes on behind the scenes while sitting in the courtyard of a family home, which had thrived through selling hash. It would have perhaps felt less real, were I reading these things online. But I was hearing them roll out (no pun intended) of the mouth of a man who had quintals of hash stored in that very same house.
This was just the tip of the iceberg. I was going to find out so much more.
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 and Sarah Saha