High Times In The Himalayas

A local man walking through some of Malana's many cannabis cultivations. A road will soon connect the town to civilization. (Photo by Joel Elliott)A local man walking through some of Malana’s many cannabis cultivations. A road will soon connect the town to civilization. (Photo by Joel Elliott)MALANA, HIMACHAL PRADESH, India — Half a dozen men, all in their 20s, began to stir as the first rays of sunlight broke over the snow-capped Himalayan peaks and warmed the interior of their guest house. They had been smoking hashish and drinking whiskey until the early morning hours.

Within the first hour of daylight, they lit up and began smoking again. They would not stir from their spots until sleep overtook them, a cycle they had established over the past couple of weeks.

This is the vacation many drug tourists experience in Malana, an ancient village of 1,600 known internationally for its “Malana Cream,” coveted as some of the best hashish in the world. Most villagers can speak just enough English to facilitate a hashish sale.

“Do you want charas [hashish]?” one man asked a visitor.

“No charas, no thank you.”

“Charas? Malana Cream? You want.”

“No, thank you.”

He looked confused.

The mostly illiterate residents of Malana make their living from cultivating cannabis, or “charas,” and have almost no other industry. Decades of mafia domination and a desire for quick cash has reduced a village with a rich history spanning thousands of years to little more than a drug production facility.

This is something O.P. Sharma would like to change. Sharma, once a farmer, then a narcotics officer, and now a freelancing anti-drugs activist, seeks not merely to eradicate cannabis from the area, but to provide the villagers with alternative cash crops as well.

“For the last three decades or more these people have been cultivating cannabis almost exclusively,” he said. “These people have never grown anything which is legal.”

News of the extent of Himachal Pradesh’s drug cultivation broke in 2006 when Iram Mirza, a young journalist with CNN’s local affiliate, went on an undercover reporting trip through the region. She found that thousands upon thousands of acres of unclaimed forest land in the mountains were being used for cannabis cultivation. European and Israeli drug mafias pulled all of the strings.

Similarly, a recent tour of the mountains and ridges surrounding Malana revealed scores of terraced fields full of cannabis.

“The cops come and raid with 100, 200, 300 men with swords, cutting down charas wherever they see it, but it’s only once in a blue moon, and they never find the good plants,” said a drug user named Sumit (who asked that his real name not be used for fear of arrest).

Despite the fact that the hashish they cultivate ultimately becomes some of the most prized in the world, people in Malana live in squalor. Raw sewage flows across paths in the middle of town. Health and education facilities are poor. Many villagers suffer from eye and skin infections. Drug use begins at a very young age.

One reason for the village’s lack of infrastructure is that the villagers receive only a tiny portion of the returns from their crops. Buy a tola, or 10 grams, of the best hashish in Malana, and you’ll pay $30. But once that same hashish makes its way to Delhi, the price increases threefold, while the rate in Goa is 10 times the original sale price.
“In Amsterdam, it’s like a vintage car,” Sumit said. “Dealers can name their price.”

In this system, the transporters and dealers, not the cultivators, make most of the money. Sharma hopes his plan will show the Malana villagers it is possible to make a decent living growing something other than cannabis. For the first step of the plan, Sharma secured a $3,900 grant from Sai Engineering Foundation Shimla to purchase almost 6,000 pounds of sweet peas and beans, which he gave to 225 of Malana’s villagers to be planted.

Sharma figures a husband and wife farming team in Malana can make about $935 per year growing beans and sweet peas, versus what he estimates as a $1,000-per-year return on cannabis cultivation. He hopes the fact that his alternative crops are legal will persuade villagers to turn to them.
It won’t be easy. Mirza is betting 60:40 odds — against Sharma.

“It’s a herculean task,” she said. “You see, cannabis is such an intrinsic part of their culture. It’s just growing out there; you can’t control it. I saw fields — entire mountains covered with it — 3,000 acres of land under cultivation. Why would an average farmer go for an alternative crop?”

Only this summer’s harvest will reveal the project’s success.

– Article from GlobalPost on July 8, 2009.

Comments

11 Comments

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  6. Anonymous on

    I was living in Malana for many years. There is NO mafia at all. Everybody is free to do as he likes. Malana was a model of democracy for 2500 years, they are proud of their style of living, and they look for high quality for everithing: clothes, houses, food (the best ghee in the world), and, of course, charas. Now the indian governament is building 3 dams on Malana river, destroying this place and the life and culture of the people living here. At 3000 m. s.l.m. only cannabis grow enough to give them some money that this new fucking world wants.
    And mr. Sharma is convinced that charas is a dangerous narcotic. Maybe his cannabinoid receptor system doesn’t work well…

  7. chris on

    I spent a couple of weeks in Manali in 1975 and enjoyed it very much. The best hash I smoked was bought from an American who said he’d rubbed it himself in Manikaran (Parvati valley). I’d never heard of Malana, but found this cautionary tale, which is quite a good read :

    http://outside.away.com/outside/features/200501/malana-drug-trip_1.html

  8. George Lenard on

    Legalization and regulation would strike a large blow to organized crime and the illegal drug trade, if the G20 would comply? The fact of the matter is until the separation and legalization of cannabis is made, the failure of the efforts to stop the ever increasing amount of consumption of highly addictive manufactured drugs like heroin and cocaine and the further derivatives there of will continue to fail. Growing marijuana is that your finished product is cured and trimmed and ready to consume! Not so with cocaine or heroin, ther farming part of this process is only the beginning, there is a manufacturing process for each of these highly addictive drugs that it takes to process the plant in to the consumable powder! Legalize cannabis and the viability of those then selling illegal drugs increases ten fold?

  9. Anonymous on

    Just watcht the documentary “I WANT MY FATHER BACK”

    About indian farmers who commit suicide due to the lack of yields the GMO / DUPONT has supplied tainted and modified seeds that kill the soil and earth, DUPONT ARE KILLERS. They had better keep farming cannabis. I have a house in NEPAL and have learned that besides it having the best hashish in the world, there is one other viable crop for villagers, and that’s HEMP.

    Cannabis was made illegal in NEPAL in 1974 , when the USA governement paid the KING 40 million dollars to make hash illegal. But it’s still a tolerated substance here, the cops really don’t punish users, just smugglers. Same in India, where they have government shops that sell ganja and hash. The fertilizers would be derived from DUPONT which has a monopoly on the seeds and fertilizers one can obtain. thru the banks where the farmers get their crop loans, so NOONNO it would be a baf idea to stop farming cannabis. There are still some unchartered plots in Nepal , as I’m sure there is in India.. Why not farm hemp, fucking politicians have no idea abouts it’s viablility…… it’s really pissing me off.

  10. Adimus on

    Why would these farmers want to change to those beans and peas? Cannabis is easy to grow and would rarely fail as a crop and you get $1000 a year whereas peas and beans are harder, requiring more time and effort (and likely money for supplies) and you get $935. The fact that it’s illegal doesnt really matter for them since their crops are rarely getting chopped down and is likely less frequent then crop failues and yield losses in legal crops. The fact that the dealers and transporters are the ones making the highest percentage of the profit is a little irrelevant if the farmers are still making more then they would for legal crops.

    How about instead of trying to make them grow something else, you just ask them to grow a different cannabis variety (i.e. hemp) and then you can buy it from them to make paper, clothes, fuel, food, etc.

    I can’t help but notice that if cannabis was legalized price would likely drop and then these farmers would want to switch to something else for higher profit.

  11. Anonymous on

    How about getting rid of the mafia? I am sure those beans and peas have a good chance of being the same GMO seeds they push in India. So instead of using a crop that is indigenous to the region bring in something that requires chem ferts and pesticides to survive. Then the farmers have to use the $950 they make a year to buy the chems. Where does that leave them?