BY: CAROLINE ROLF
Nine thousand feet up the Indian Himalayas, small villages thrive on what little is able to grow there. What is able to grow in the wild has police searching the cliffs with saws to stop its illegal harvest. But the villages keep moving their fields higher to escape the raids, making it difficult to trace the producers. If you take the three-hour hike up the mountain, you will find villages like this one, where cannabis plays a key role in the survival of thousands of families.
Cannabis in India has a long history dating back thousands of years. Sadhus – Hindu holy men who travelled to the Himalayas were some of the first to create charas – a type of hashish that is considered some of the world’s best. These men gained quite the hippie following through the mountains in the 1970s, who met locals smoking the plant, so they began making charas too. Sure, Lord Shiva may have been the first to meditate on the snowy peaks and feed on ganja flowers, but today it’s all about business and survival for the villagers.
The business is in Cannabis indica, and business is good. During harvest, the buds of marijuana create the concentrated hash by villages that complete the long and tiring process of rubbing the plants against their palms and collecting the residue. It takes about 50 buds to produce 10 grams of charas and can sell for up to 20 dollars per gram in the West. The hash continues to gain value every year.
The value in cannabis cultivation has forced many villagers into the practice out of financial necessity. The workers live in extreme conditions and many of the farmers have never harvested anything legal in their lifetime. Still, the Himalayan communities are very proud of their hard work, and every step from the gathering to the use is instilled with spirituality.
“Nearly 400 of the 640 districts in India have cannabis cultivation,” says Romesh Bhattacharji, ex-Narcotics Commissioner of India.
The production of tons of charas each year translates into the financial support necessary for food, shelter and education. But because of its illegal nature, there are no official numbers for cannabis production. So why not shut this cannabis operation down for good? Indian authorities do not have the time or the numbers to regulate a drug trade that is as intricate and advanced as this. Despite the ban of cannabis in India in 1985, these communities continue to live peacefully in parts of the Himalayas that can support the growing demand for charas in large Indian cities and the Western world alike.
Image sourcing: news.nationalgeographic.com