Intoxicating India, part two; Bhang

Bhang is a form of marijuana.

Marijuana is illegal in India.

To be precise the law divides between large and small amounts where it concerns marijuana, a small amount being less than one hundred grams will get you a fine of around a hundred pounds for possession, if you are lucky, while more than one hundred grams will get you a much stiffer sentence.

As with many things however this seems to be treated as something of a guideline rather than an actual law.

Bhang actually is the leaves and buds of the female cannabis plant ground into a paste with spices,( mainly pepper it seems) and ghee (purified butter), in a pestle and mortar.

Bhang has a very long history in Hindu culture, especially in the north where some of the world’s best hand rubbed hashish, called Charas is produced. Bhang is imbibed at major festivals, such as Holi and used as an aid to spirituality and meditation by many people as well as a simple relaxant. Rural Rajasthani men are more than likely to have a chillum with them rather than a pack of cigarettes, a chillum being a conical pipe used to smoke marijuana.

Bhang has been in use for centuries. This long history makes it very difficult for the government to totally ban the use of Bhang so it gives out permits to grow marijuana and even sells it through legal outlets known as Bhang shops. The product is sold as powder: often used in ayurvedic treatments, small balls known as Bhang goli, Bhang lassi or Thandai, a milk and curd based drink laced with Bhang and good old fashioned space cakes.

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Bhang goli is not even considered a drug and on trains in the north you will often see men rolling their Bhang in their hands to help make the long journeys more bearable, on the train to Varanasi we were sat in the same block as a prisoner in shackles with three armed police guards but this did not for a second stop the locals rolling their balls of Bhang. Goli (pill or candy in Hindi) are also sold ready made in different sizes. The size we bought were roughly the size of golf balls and cost a paltry ten rupees (12 pence sterling) each. A quarter of one of these foul tasting monstrosities will knock you right out for the night and leave you waking the next day with a head thick as anything and reactions still a bit like a zombie’s. The reaction in the body is not like eating other forms of marijuana, it is more like a mild sedative.

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“When in Varanasi you can see many men down at the ghats engaged in the preparation of Bhang,” the guidebooks tell us, well, in a week we didn’t see a single one, but we did find the Bhang Shop. Down a back road away from the touristy area is a small hole in the wall place covered with an iron grate containing a window, behind that window sits a man selling the ready made balls in three sizes and the dry, ground Bhang to an exclusively Indian clientele. The shop is not marked in any way but has a constant stream of people coming up to its window.

With India being, as it is, a very cheap country, you do indeed here get more Bhang for your buck.

Lucien Grey

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