As cannabis becomes more accepted and commodified in the west, it can feel like a new product. Slick dispensaries and vacuum-sealed packaging betray the plant’s multi-millennia history. Himalaya Charas is a type of hash, and this village is said to produce some of the best in the world.
Cannabis grows naturally in India and along the slopes of the Himalayas, so even though it’s illegal it’s nearly impossible to patrol effectively. Charas is a type of hash, made by rubbing the resin from the bud against hands then rolling it into a ball. Locals have used charas as a medicine, perhaps as long as 4,000 years. Even though people in this region use this plant and it’s byproducts, and have for centuries, most of the farmers are new, and only turned to the risky business out of necessity. There’s big money in charas. It can go for upwards of 20$ a gram in the west, but most of these farmers lead simple and secretive lives. Farmers collect as much cannabis as possible before snowfall makes the journey to the fields too dangerous.
Producing charas can take hours. It takes about 50 grams of bed to produce one gram of charas. While this is clandestine work now, cannabis was not only legal centuries ago, but an important part of this regions agricultural makeup. The earliest recorded use of cannabis as medicine comes from China, over 4,000 years ago. The cannabis then probably looked a lot like this cannabis. It’s likely it even grew in a very similar place.
Life is simple this far up. Because of bad weather and poor infrastructure, the comforts of modern life, like electricity, are not always guaranteed. Every year, these farmers move their fields higher and higher up the cliff face to avoid raids from the police. This village is inaccessible by road or plane, so they’re more secure than many of their neighbors.
To support themselves, these farmers sell the charas they produce to tourists, or to people who come in from bigger Indian cities. Every year, more charas smoking spots open in cities and in the mountains. While cannabis has grown in the Himalayas forever, it was this group of elders who taught the next generations how to cultivate cannabis, and how to make charas. They brought back the cannabis tradition, even while they faced legal threats.
After thousands of years of living with the plant peacefully, India made cannabis illegal in 1985. Since then, cultivation and production of cannabis has only grown across the country. More and more villages like this one are turning to farming cannabis. Forced to work in the shadows, these farmers have formed tight communities high in the mountains. But the ubiquity of the plant and futility of prohibition means they may have a legal enterprise on their hands some day. It’s hard work with long days. But these villagers do it for sustenance, and still find time to celebrate the joyous parts of life.
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