Inside India's hashish oasis ++REPLAY++

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Published at : 21 Jan 2021
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(22 Dec 2016) LEAD IN:

Deep in the higher reaches of the 'Valley of Gods,' nestles a well-knownIndian secret that is hidden no more.

The tiny village of Malana, a mere speck on the grandiose mountains of Himachal Pradesh, is a bucket list destination for Marijuana smokers and a symbolic battleground for the Indian Government's fight against drugs.



STORY-LINE:

For hundreds-of-years, the village of Malana governed itself through a village parliament comprising of a lower and upper house, and three permanent members.

Laws were laid out by the village god Jamlu, and disputes were settled in the village court.

Foreigners and anyone apart from upper caste Hindus are not allowed to touch the villagers, houses, temples or religious rocks. If they do, there is a fine of about $80 and a lamb has to be sacrificed to purify the place.

Visitors are confined to guest houses on the perimeters of the village. The number of guest houses has mushroomed over the last 5 years from about five in 2012 to more than 12 now. These guest houses are owned by the people of Malana, but run by people from other parts of the state.

It used to be a four-day hike to the village and people would run and hide in their homes if a visitor were to show up.

Now only an hour-long trek from the closest road, the village of about 3,000 has become notoriously infamous for cultivating and producing cannabis.

Every morning, during the cannabis season, 80-year-old GoriMassi slowly makes her way up to her marijuana fields.

It takes her an hour to get there. Her plants are hidden far away from the village near the forest line.

She will sit here all day, curing high-potency marijuana buds and rubbing them between her palms to juice out the resin that smears her hands black.

Collecting about 20 grams 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.

"We have to haul wood and rations a long way to get it up here," says Massi. "Wheat and other grains don't grow on this land. 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? Those are the kind of problems we have."

After being thrust into the limelight with an increase in foreign and local hashish tourists, the government has tightened the screws on Malana.

Teams of police and forest officials have been given the annual duty of trekking tens of kilometres up the mountains each day to destroy illegal plants.

Jabe Ram, Massi's son and one of the three permanent members of the village council says: "They want us to completely stop growing marijuana. But we keep sowing it. What can we do? We have to feed ourselves and earn a living. 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."

Local officials are well aware of 'charas,' or hashish, as the cannabis plant has grown in the region for years.

Maheshwar Singh, a local lawmaker and the descendent of the former Royal family of Kullu says a look at the old tax books of the area would show that cultivation of cannabis and opium was legal until the passage of the National Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act in 1985.

It was an integral part of the people's lives.

"They used to use the fibre of this 'charas' plant for making ropes to tie their cattle," Singh says.

Parvati Valley, a group of mountains around the Parvati River near Kullu, has seen an influx of foreign and local tourists in the past decades.

Last year, more than 600 drug-related arrests were made in Himachal, a 200 percent increase from about 200 arrests in 2005.





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