Saturday, 25 August 2018

INDIA: Malana Grows Best Cannabis In The World

India’s Parvati Valley is well known among travellers for its psychedelic parties and free-flowing hashish that originates from the ancient village of Malana in North India’s Himachal Pradesh region. But if you look beyond the haze, you’ll find a treasure trove of legends, intrigue and unanswered questions.

Nestled in the peaks of the Himalayas, Malana is surrounded by steep cliffs and snow-capped mountains.

Travellers have long been drawn to this village of nearly 1,700 inhabitants, staying for days on end amid the cold gushes of wind and rows of dark green deodar trees to consume what locals consider the holy herb and what outsiders see as a way to free the mind.

The famed and award-winning Malana cream. This cannabis resin or hashish is renowned both for the hand rubbing-technique used to produce it and for its reportedly remarkable intoxicating effects. But go to Malana to try to make sense of the myths surrounding the village.

Legend has it that some of Alexander the Great’s army took shelter in this isolated village in 326BC after they were wounded in a battle against Porus, a ruler in India’s Punjab region.

These soldiers are often said to be the ancestors of the Malani people. Artefacts from that period have been found in the village, such as a sword that reportedly rests inside the temple.

However, genetic ties to the soldiers have not been studied or established. In fact, many of the locals I spoke to had no idea where this myth originated.

The big claim that Malani people have descended from Alexander the Great’s army has become a widely accepted truth, but I have not found any real backing to it.

There are some weapons and other things that can be found that have raised these links, but there is no evidence to this story, said Amlan Datta, a filmmaker who has spent a decade working in Malana.

But these theories are fuelled by locals’ noticeably different physical features and their language, which are unlike that of any other local tribe, adding to the enigma surrounding the Malanis and their identity.

They speak Kanashi, which is considered sacred and is not taught to outsiders. It is also spoken nowhere else in the world.

Bhaiji is a polite way of saying brother, which is a fairly common way to address men in Himachal. Though locals understood when I spoke to them in Hindi, their responses in Kanashi were incomprehensible to me.

A study of Kanashi is currently being undertaken by Uppsala University in Sweden, led by professor of linguistics, Anju Saxena.

Kanashi qualifies as a definitely endangered, as an unwritten and almost undescribed language, It belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family, and in all the surrounding villages, Indo-Aryan languages are spoken, which are completely unrelated to Kanashi.

This raises interesting questions concerning its prehistory and its linguistic structure.

Even getting to Malana is a journey into the unknown. There are no motorable roads to the village, and it took me about four hours to trek there from the village of Jari at the bottom of the Parvati Valley.

The approach is steep yet breath-taking. It wasn’t long before I started passing Malani people distinguishable by their light brown hair, light brown eyes, long noses and a distinct wheatish or a golden-brownish complexion of skin.

Most of whom were traditionally dressed in light brown robes, caps and hemp shoes. To me, they looked more Mediterranean than Himachali.

As I entered the village, I came to a group of teenagers who casually inquired whether I was interested in buying some hashish.

Though cannabis has long been the backbone of this small village’s economy, it has led to a host of socio-cultural issues, such as young children being involved in the drug trade.

This is perhaps why, one year ago, the village deity Jamdagni Rishi – who is locally nicknamed the Jamlu Devta and is a great sage in Hindu mythology decreed through his spiritual spokesperson the Gur that all guesthouses across the village would be shut, leaving the village open to outsiders only during the day.

Jamlu Devta is an important figurehead in village governance, a political set-up that has long baffled researchers and visitors who cannot comprehend how such an advanced form of governance exists in this quaint and remote Himalayan village.

Malana’s unique democratic system is said to be among the oldest in the world, and, similar to the Ancient Greek system of democracy, it consists of a lower house and upper house.

However, it has a uniquely spiritual twist to it: ultimate rulings rest on the upper court, which includes three important figures, of which one is the representative of the local deity, Jamlu Devta.

Devta is the ultimate word and we have a set-up of a council and three political figures of sorts, one of whom – the Gur, or the vessel who is possessed by Jamlu – communicates to us the decisions of Jamlu Devta, explained Rohan, one of the hashish-dealing teenagers.

Datta had told me about a local legend that said Jamlu Devta once inhabited Malana, which he was gifted by the Hindu god Shiva. There are two temples in the village, one dedicated to him and the other, to his wife, Renuka Devi.

As I walked through the narrow passageways of this ancient village, dotted with wooden and brick houses, I entered the large courtyard, where the lower court gathers, and a temple dedicated to Jamlu Devta. It was sight to behold against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.

The temple, with wide wooden pillars, intricate doors and a host of bones, skulls and other sacrificial animal parts on one wall looked intriguing. But there was a warning sign outside demanding INR 3,500 On touching of this holy place of Jamdagni Rishi.

This sign is an outward demonstration of another tradition that is very apparent in Malana: a quest to preserve the purity of the village.

People across Himachal Pradesh will tell you that the Malanis are known to restrict contact with outsiders, particularly in terms of direct physical contact. A tourist was personally warned to keep my distance by the driver who had brought me to Jari earlier that day.

Although he did see some of the younger generations hugging or shaking hands, most people here still strongly hold the taboo of touching outsiders.

When heI went to pay for a bottle of water, the shopkeeper asked him to leave the notes on the counter instead of handing them to him directly.

The tourist learned that marriages must take place within the village; transgression of this norm invites social boycott.

Well aware that outsiders aren’t welcome, he felt like an intruder as he kept probing people to find out more information about the village.

Himachali people in general are warm and chatty, and they love to share stories and meals with visitors; in Malana, however, long conversations with locals were rare.

Descending from the hills and coming down from this otherworld, the tourist acknowledged his position as a traveller who would forever be on the outside of this mysterious Himalayan hamlet.

Whether he liked it or not, the locals hadn’t taken him in, and he needed to respect their culture.
But now, weeks later, he looks back on his quest to unfold the legends of Malana, he came to the realisation that the very beauty of my experience was based on the essence of mystery, the unknown.

Cherishing that very quality of Malana finally has led me to a newfound appreciation of this strange, cold land of enigmatic people.

Lurking in the North east Kullu range, Malana is completely isolated from the monotony of India’s city culture. This remote village is mainly known for it’s charas, and has over time drawn hashish lovers from all over the world. But Malana is so much more than that.

Malana is famous for Malana cream, a strain of Cannabis hashish which has high oil content and an intensely fragrant aroma.

Malana Cream is a hash made from heirloom cannabis grown in this remote area of the Parvati Valley. In Amsterdam, the stuff sells for $250 per tola, which is 11.66 grams of hashish.

For the locals, cannabis is a religion. There is nothing else that grows in the valley except cannabis. Unlike other mountain villages where people farm potatoes and peas, Malana grows only one plant—cannabis.

Infact, the stretch of cannabis fields in the whole of Parvati valley is quite unbelievable. They are seen growing wild everywhere. So, the livelihood of all Malani people depends on those 3 months of cannabis harvesting from September to November.

There are approximately 7000 people in the village and almost each and everyone work together during the harvesting time.

But, the Malanis learnt the art of cannabis rubbing quite recently. Prior to that their only source of livelihood came from selling sheep wool.

Many hash retailers label hash as Malana Cream to increase profits. Yet, the real stuff is so popular due to the quality of the beginning cannabis strains.

The heirloom varieties grown in Malana are naturally high resin producers, making hash extractions from the plant all the more potent.

Some claim that hash made from Malana plants contain 30 to 40% THC, which is pretty darn high considering many Indian cannabis plants produce between 5 and 8% THC per plant. The hash itself is dark black and has a bit of a chewing gum consistency.

The world knows of the sweet pleasures of the Parvati valley. Malana cream has won the Best Hashish title twice, in 1994 and 1996, at High Times magazine’s Cannabis Cup.

The village is a stoners paradise branded in travel and ganja-hunting literature as the exotic and alluring“ Malana and the Magic Valley

For hundreds of years, the tiny village of Malana was just a speck lost amid the grandiose mountains of the Indian Himalayas.

Nestled at 2,700 meters (8,859 feet) between the higher reaches of the lush Kullu Valley, Malana used to be a four-day hike from the nearest road.

Its laws, tradition says, were laid down by the village god Jamlu. People elected their own parliament and disputes were settled in their own court. Villagers would run in terror if an outsider showed up. India didn't even know it was there.

Malana has become one of the world's top stoner destinations, and a symbolical battleground for India's fight against 'charas,' the black and sticky hashish that has made the village famous

But Malana is hidden no more. For centuries, the villagers have been growing the plant that has made Malana one of the world's top stoner destinations, and a battleground - at least symbolically - for India's haphazard fight against 'charas,' the black and sticky hashish that has made the village famous.

In 1985, the Indian government gave in to international pressure and banned the production and consumption of cannabis. Possession of a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of charas - a THC-rich extract derived from rubbing out the resin from freshly cut marijuana buds - is punishable by a minimum 10 years' imprisonment.

In the sleepy mountainous states of North India, marijuana has grown indigenously for hundreds of years. Local lawmakers and officials say the plant is part of their tradition and for those who live in steep, remote villages, cannabis is the only cash crop they can grow in harsh weather and geographic conditions.

Maheshwar Singh, a local lawmaker and the descendent head of the royal family of Kullu, said a look at the old tax books shows that the plant was legally cultivated and sold for decades before India's drug law.

'It was a multipurpose plant for these people,' said the burly, cheerful 67-year-old, pointing out the local usage of hemp fibers in making ropes and traditional 'pula' slippers that continue to be the only footwear allowed for pilgrimages.

The people of Malana have to haul ration and wood for kilometers (miles) to get it into the village. Though a shabby road has cut the arduous trek to only an hour and a rope-way is being used to transport heavy cargo, the villagers still spend half the year collecting essentials from nature. The other half is spent in hibernation as the bitter winter buries the village under snow.

Every morning, Gori Massi slowly starts the trek to her field, sometimes singing to herself as she walks up a rocky trail. Walking at a pace of a 20-year-old, the wrinkles on her face and hands are the only indication of her age; she is 80.

It will take her an hour to get to her plants that are hidden far away from the village near the forest line. She will sit there all day, curing high-potency marijuana buds and rubbing them between her palms to juice out the resin that smears her hands black.

After collecting about 20 grams (0.71 ounces) of gooey hashish that would fetch her anywhere between $50 to $150, she decides to call it a day. And prays the police spare her fields this year.

'Wheat and other grains don't grow on this land,' Massi said. 'Nothing else grows here. We have to live like that, and whatever plants we do have are cut down by the police. What can we do?'

The aromatic 'Malana Cream' - a variety of oily hash produced in the village from higher-potency plants with hybrid seeds - has earned legendary status among pot smokers around the world.

Consumed mostly with tobacco, in a joint or a chillum, the pungent hash has found its way into coffee shops in Amsterdam and won the High Times Cannabis Cup at least twice.

In India, this fame has meant an influx of foreign and local tourists into Parvati Valley, a group of mountains around the Parvati River near Malana, that has grown each year in the past decade.

'It's just become a destination for international cool people, stoners, hikers,' said Florent Dupont, 32, as he sipped tea and rolled a joint in a guesthouse.

'People know they can get the freshest, nicest product,' the filmmaker from France added.

The valley is teeming with young Israelis, many draped in colorful shawls and wearing their hair into ropey dreadlocks, who come for a therapeutic experience after years of military service.

Singh said it is this frenzied popularity of local hashish that has exploded the cultivation of cannabis in the valley. In 2016, the local government estimates 240 hectares (593 acres) of land in the region was used for cannabis cultivation, producing more than 12,000 kilograms (26,455 pounds) of hashish.

The real numbers are much higher as plants are grown on steep edges of high mountains that are impossible for the police to reach.

While the rising demand and price of charas has benefited the villagers, it has also led to a slight increase in prosecutions and prompted the government to send machete-wielding police and forest personnel on long treks to destroy a small percentage of the marijuana fields.

Villagers claim they have an understanding with local officials, who tell them to push their fields away from the village and into forest land, where they cannot be prosecuted for a field that's not on their land. Police strategy has mainly focused on destroying cannabis fields on forest land.

The few villagers who have been arrested and are serving time for trafficking have been picked up in cities like New Delhi, Chandigarh and Goa.

But it is impossible to destroy mountains full of weed. Singh, who has visited Malana several times during election campaigns and is revered by inhabitants because of his royal lineage, said the government needs a different approach to tackle the problem.

'I feel they have a reason to stick to that plantation because that is the only way they can earn their living,' Singh said. 'The Government of India had made a policy that they would be provided some alternative employment. But that we have not been able to do.'

In Malana, Massi's middle-aged son Jabe Ram is preparing to take a statue of the village god Jamlu on a pilgrimage across the daunting mountain of Rasol to bathe it in holy water in a temple in the neighboring valley. It will take him five days to return. One man from each household in the village must accompany him, as is tradition.

It means they will be five days away from the fields and rubbing. But Ram isn't worried; the harvest season will go on for another few weeks.

'They want us to completely stop growing marijuana. But we keep sowing it,' Ram said. 'If the government helped us in some way and protected us from hunger and cold, we would maybe consider stopping. Obviously, we are not going to go hungry. Even if we have to go to jail for it, so be it.'

Tourism Observer