Connect to share and comment

High times in the Himalayas

The people of Malana are poor, illiterate and grow some of the world's best pot. That may be about to change.

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.