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Himalayan Hashish
#1
It was a cold day, but sunny and bright, and the deodar trees stank of cedar oil as they soared hundreds of feet into the air on either side of us. Only Himalayan mountains could have out-scaled such enormous trees, which they did, with treelines and snowlines visible through the foliage, their sides dotted here and there with inviting temples and houses built from wood.

All that’s necessary to be able to live in a house in India is to find a place you’d like to live and announce to the people already living there that you want a house. This was our plan as we climbed up through the orchards and into the forest on the mountainside above Manali. We were following a crystal stream, it’s banks edged with meadowsweet and water mint. We decided to stop to eat and drink and took our chance to pick some of the herbs, planning to use them as a floor-covering to keep down the dust of the hut we would no doubt be living in for the next couple of months. It was perhaps only ten minutes before an Indian boy came past and asked us why we were there, speaking English to a standard I would never be able to reach in Hindi. We explained ourselves and he sprinted off at full speed, instructing us to walk slowly back down the path when we were ready. At some point people with an available house would meet us.

What seemed to be an entire extended family were blocking the path with smiles and friendly engagement no more than a quarter mile down the hill. We were shown into a stone and wooden hut containing two rooms. The first held a bench, some shelving and a well-placed tandoor stove with two circular holes in the top that functioned as cooking rings, the idea being that the circular cooking vessels would form the seals. The second room was much larger, with shuttered windows and fretwork cupboards built into the walls. It was filled to the rafters with a mound of apples that seemed to be somehow defying gravity. This apple pile, we were told, would be rapidly moved if we decided to inhabit the building. We all sat together on the lawn outside and eventually agreed a price of RS10,000 for a six week stay for the two of us. Firewood, which I had every expectation of collecting for myself and fully realised would be necessary, wasn’t included. At least twice a week, one of the boys would be walking down to the town three miles away with a large rucksack and was more than happy to return with anything we wanted, although milk, honey, apples, eggs and wild mushrooms were available from the farms and forest on our doorstep.

All were happy with this arrangement, RS10,000 amounting to 125 pounds sterling, or two pounds and seventy pence per day for two people to stay in a detached, wooden, mountainside house with a burner and local guides and supplies at our fingertips.

We wandered into the forest to collect pine cones for fuel and make use of the al fresco toilet facilities. Sunlight in Himalayas lasts only a fraction of the day due to the astonishingly steep valleys and the height of the trees. We had only an hour before we’d have to return. As we were bobbing across the pine needles grabbing and collecting the fallen cones, an old man wearing a Kullu cap approached us. After exchanging a few pleasantries, he asked if we wanted charas, the infamous, spicy hashish for which the entire valley is famous. Although we’d both have loved to say yes, it seemed unwise to get a reputation on the bush-telegraph before we’d even spent a night in the place. He seemed surprised by our refusal yet remained friendly, establishing where we’d taken our residence and explaining that he came this way daily and would see us again. We walked back down to the hut in the deepening gloom, wondering if we’d been too open with him.

Our house had been swept from top to bottom and in the place of the apple-pile there was a double bed with a straw mattress around two feet thick. The quilt on top was almost the same weight and depth. Thanking everyone concerned, we threw our large bundle of herbs across the floor and filled the tandoor with cones and got it lit, running briefly outside to check if any inhabitants of the long-disused chimney would rush out for our amusement. As the fire died to a brilliant red glow we retired to our bed and laid in each other arms, smelling the mint and meadowsweet mixing with the odour of the now removed maturing apples. Monkeys called from the forest and dogs began to howl. The large lizards we’d seen sunning themselves in groups on the outside walls apparently spent their nights between the stone and the wooden boards that formed the interior of our room. Intermittently, for reasons best known to themselves, they would run diagonally, vertically or horizontally as the mood took them, around the outside of our room. Falling asleep, this caused in our minds strangely geometric dreams of sombre reptiles hosting unimaginable thoughts in the darkness around us. But these dreams were only marginally stranger and more alien than the real situation we had now put ourselves into.

The morning sun caused a beam of brilliant light to extend from a tiny skylight down through the cloudy air of the room onto the herb-strewn floor. This pencil-thin beam began at the door and during the day traveled across the herbs, ending next to the bed as evening time arrived. We soon began using it to tell the time, placing different numbers of pebbles on the floor corresponding to the hours of the day.

We’d used almost all the cones we’d collected in a single night, so I grabbed the hessian sack we’d found and wandered up into the forest to collect more fuel and answer a call of nature. There were enough cones back in the hut for her to boil water.

Searching outwards in a spiral from areas previously covered, I came to a small clearing in the centre of which was an indica plant in full flower, so perfectly positioned that it may have been planted there deliberately. In truth there were plants everywhere, but mostly sativa, plus a few stunted, gnarled ruderalis. The plant in front of me was as perfect as a picture-book Christmas tree. Five feet tall, growing without constriction in any direction, fractally symmetrical. I grabbed a bud around the size of a thumb and rubbed it between my fingers. There were one or two white seeds, but immediately the flower fell apart, leaving a stalk and small twigs on my palm. I discarded these and raised my hand to my face.

I smelled mango, roses, pine resin, cut grass, sunlight, undergrowth, caramel and peach. A few moments later, I’d stripped the buds from every stalk and had around a pound of wet, stinking cannabis bud crammed into my coat pocket. Illogical paranoia and eagerness to show off my find made me return to the hut, where I found that not only was spiced chai ready to drink, but she also had a surprise which all but aced my own.

The Indian man in the Kullu cap had been past and had gifted a disk of black, flexible charas the size of a saucer. I crammed my bud into one of the cupboards in the bedroom wall to dry and was soon sticking together an enormous seven-skin doobie made with the last few papers which had accompanied our drum tobacco purchase many months ago.

Then we sat and smoked spiced, fruity Indian charas and watched the beam of sunlight move across the floor, both as high as bats.
'The trouble is, we think we have time."
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#2
Heart 
That's a happy ending right there
>> [04/03 04:32 AM]Fenrir:bunch of drama queens in my head <<

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#3
The human fleas living inside the straw mattress waited exactly one week before they began investigating the fresh meat laid on top of them. Or perhaps our body-heat made them hatch. Regardless, they made themselves known on the eighth night.

Stoned again, we blew the candles out and snuggled under the quilt, listening to the wind from the forest and the mountain and the lizards shuffling inside the walls. Fleas seem to move in groups like cows, pushing one another forwards, egging each other on until a single brave individual makes a giant leap and then the others follow. This involved a gentle tickling from the nape of our necks. Not enough to actually tickle and not enough to force any movement from our snoozing bodies. But we could tell it was happening, or at least we were having very vivid dreams about it.

They seemed to gather in our hairline like hobbits at the edge of Mirkwood, surveying the landscape, testing for foes, checking for danger even as they plotted their schemes. Then suddenly, one or two would break cover and make a run for it across our foreheads, diving gratefully into the hair around the opposite ear. Then, once they knew the law of the land, they would start to feed. Fleas suck blood from the human body in a more or less straight line, with usually three distinct piercings of increasing size, often referred to as breakfast, lunch and dinner. Unlike ticks or leeches, which are vile but aren’t actual vectors of infection, fleas can carry serious diseases. Even if we’d known they were sterile, the delay between extinguishing the candles and us falling asleep was longer than it took for the fleas to become brave enough to venture out. Just as we were entering the land of dreams we could feel them crawling, hopping, insinuating themselves between clothing and bare skin, lowering the tips of their piercing mouthparts from their brown carapaces and sucking happily at our juicy western flesh. 

Two days was all we could take.

Our Indian friend had been coming around daily and we’d struck up a good friendship. He taken to bringing us bags of challi, or maybe shally, which is a resinous wood taken from the stumps of felled cedars. It lights with one spark and burns hot for a long time. He been inviting us to his house every time he came and after two nights of being eaten alive we took him up on his offer without telling him about the fleas.

An hour’s walk through the forest brought us to a traditional Kullu house, the first floor wider than the ground floor due to a balcony on three sides. He had two cows, his wife, his mother, one son, three grandchildren and an Englishman living with him, plus a Tibetan terrier with absolutely boundless energy. Soon, we were all sitting together, minus the terrier which wasn’t allowed inside, in a powder-blue room with a tandoor in it’s centre, drinking chai made with the milk from the cow that was sticking its face through the window to check out the newcomers. We ate curds, dhal with rice and chapati and a delicious goat-meat curry that had been cooking all day.

After the meal, the Englishman passed a chillum around the room and we all got nicely high. Not wanting to use all his charas, I produced what was left of our once saucer-sided disk and began building a joint. The Indian reached out and grabbed the hash, showed it to the Englishmen, laughed and threw it into the fire.

“Tandoor quality” he said, much to the amusement of everyone else but to my own mortification, since I now had nothing to smoke.

“Do you know where I can get some more?” I said to the Englishman. Everyone in the room roared with laughter, but I couldn’t understand why until the English lad spoke again.

“He’s got five and a half kilos of it under his haystack”, he said. At this point, I started laughing too.

It transpired that what we’d been smoking was Z-grade rubbish, although it had tasted fine to me. A few minutes later, various grades of processed oily hash, sticks of finger-charas and charcoal-coloured Manali cream were presented for purchase. Apparently, top grade charas had virtually no vegetable matter within it whatsoever, being composed entirely from the sticky resin from the buds. This pimp-grade hashish oxidised extremely quickly in the air and its quality was judged by the colour difference between its black outer surface and the colour revealed once it was broken apart. I snapped the piece I was holding in half, revealing a yellow-green centre. I again smelled the mixture of mango and herb that had come from the plant a week or so earlier. I immediately purchased one tola of it, around 12 grams, for RS200, or about three pounds and fifty pence. Over the next few weeks I tried every hash the man had, including an opiated version brought to the house by someone from Malana (more of this place later) which was as black as coal and didn’t so much produce a couch-lock as a floorboard lock.

Filled with various curries and breads, drinking rice chang or milking the pretty-eyelashed cow whenever we wanted more chai, we all sat around on the balcony smoking what is, as far as I’m concerned, the finest, freshest, most incredible hashish in the world. They promised to show us how the charas was made, take us on a visit to the infamous Malana (which I was more than a little concerned about) and guide us on a three-day trek to the temples we could see from the bedroom. When we went to sleep that night, the terrier sneaked into the room and slept between our feet.

We hoped we wouldn’t give it fleas.

FYI, I have six months from this particular diary, so if anybody want to read more just post a reply and I'll keep adding sections.

We’d relocated to the Indian’s place and were living in his ‘spare house’, a hut with a balcony on all sides of one large room which stood on stilts and was entered via a wooden ladder made from flat steps driven into a single wooden post. At the end of his land, which amounted to around half an acre of fairly fertile-looking soil, there was a small frame covered with hessian sacking. This was for number twos and was called the ‘big toilet’, distinguishing it from the ‘little toilet’ which was anywhere you could piss without being seen. The Indians found it hilarious whenever we walked to the big toilet carrying our roll of tissue paper and simply couldn’t understand why we didn’t just clean ourselves with water as they did themselves. Before I used it the first time, I’d noticed that the big toilet was always referred to in hushed and serious tones, as though it was nothing to be sniffed at, so to speak. Inevitably, the time came when I had to experience its charms for myself.

Off I went with my toilet roll under my arm, leaving behind lots of knowing smiles and mocking giggles. It was quite a meditative walk. The first thing that struck me was just how low the top of the frame was. You had to squat and shuffle in sideways. I arranged my clothing to allow this, you can fill in the blanks yourself there, and shuffled across the disturbingly damp wooden lid to position myself over the central hole. This is when the second thing struck me. The wooden lid was made from several parallel planks nailed at right-angles onto two more planks. I realised with horror that these latter two planks were on top of the others and therefore supporting everything. In other words, the surface I was squatted on was underslung and held above god knows how many gallons of used curry purely by the strength of however many nails had been driven through the wood. I glanced through the central hole and saw liquid shimmering in darkness, with what looked like a purple-pink film of thin oil on its surface at least thirty feet below me. This pit was as deep as a well. I was aware that the big toilet was used by the entire family and didn’t want to miss the hole, but westerners aren’t used to having to ‘aim’ their output. This however was the task before me and I shuffled and readjusted like a sumo wrestler making his preliminary movements. Around the ends of the wooden planks, I saw one or two woodlice and those orange specks of mould that have always in my mind indicated rotten wood. The mosses and liverwort sprouting around the edges weren’t particularly reassuring either. Eventually, I was happy to see my aim was in fact, good.

I recalled without pleasure that the last time I’d seen myself from this POV had been in Goa, where I’d been at a bar on the beach and needed to do the same thing. Their hut had been much more substantially built, made from wooden boards and seemingly fashioned on two stories. I’d entered at the top floor and been faced with the usual Indian-style toilet, in this case built into a raised wooden box that doubled as the squatting platform. Mounting this and performing the requisite operation, I’d felt an unusual breeze of hot air. Being as I was on a tropical beach, I didn’t immediately think much about it. But in the next moment it came again more forcefully, this time accompanied by a grunt from beneath me. One tends to investigate such things. Gazing down between my legs, where my output was fairly advanced, I saw the muzzle of a pig stretching up from the sewer-pipe. Its teeth were parted and its lips hungrily extended as they reached eagerly for the stool like an esculent addressing a Cuban cigar. Not having been warned about pig-toilets, this was a shock. I wouldn’t have been any less horrified if I’d discovered a tapeworm the size of an anaconda thrashing around below me. Crimping with terror, the pig only got half of it and the bar owner got an ear-bashing which he found simply hilarious. I, on the other hand, ended up with a stomach-ache and fifteen minutes of ridicule from a bar full of people, most of whom I’d never met. Apparently, the lower story of the toilet housed three pigs, one of which had been competitive enough to scale the half-pipe in its eagerness to consume a fresh western-quality stool. Any attraction I had towards Goan sausages ended abruptly as a result of these revelations.

Back in the Himalayas, remember that, I finished up, managed to clean myself with tissue from a cramped, crablike squatting position and edged out sideways from under the sacking, perspiring slightly and feeling lucky to be alive. The afternoon was to be spent making charas and yes, the next thing I did was thoroughly wash my hands.

Sometimes, if your hands are dirty, you can rub them together and create little dark worms on your palms. High-grade charas isn’t made like that. If you simply collect buds and grind them together, having removed any stalk or twigs, you will end up with a fibrous resin which can get you very high when smoked, but high-grade charas isn’t made like that either. You can make a very passable charas from the buds on the many acres of plants which grow more or less wild all along the valley. But this still isn’t how you make high-grade charas. For the really good stuff, the cream as it’s called, you have to walk up to the top of the forest almost to the snow-line, where the alternately frozen and sunlit environment forces the lone plants that grow there to produce excess resins as a kind of anti-freeze. The buds are patted gently but firmly against the palms of both hands without crushing them enough to release chlorophyll. Any vegetable matter is then carefully discarded. This is continued until both palms are thick with dark resin, at which point a tiny piece is nipped, rolled or pinched off and used to collect the rest by pressing, in the same way one might collect pieces of blue-tack. Although yield from such plants tends to be high, they are widely distributed and getting to them involves clambering over giant nettles, barbed vines and perilous pathways. It isn’t something to attempt without a fully experienced guide. But luckily, not only did we have two of these, we also had bags filled with delicious Indian morsels and a few bottles of rice chang to boot. So off we went, keen as mustard, having deliberately resisted the usual midday chillum session in order to maximise our chances of survival. When we were about a hundred yards away from the house there was a yelp from behind. The terrier managed to slip its collar, escape from the post we’d chained it to and sprint towards us wearing a shitfaced grin.

It was allowed to accompany us, essentially because we couldn’t be arsed to take it back.

******************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

We were surrounded by enormous cedar trees, giant nettles with sycamore-shaped leaves covered in visible stingers and grey cliffs dotted with monkeys. The dog was evidently of the opinion that each of these monkeys must be urgently bitten asunder as a matter of personal honour, but short of it sprouting wings, this was clearly not going to be a simple task.

Every one of us had found a lone plant in relatively close proximity and we’d therefore established a coloured mat rolled open on the pine needles as a base. We returned to this from time to time to eat bhajis, top up on tangy rice beer, or compare yields and techniques by displaying the resin on the palms of our hands. We periodically relocated everything as the nearby plants were exhausted. After an hour or so it became evident that there was substantial labour involved in creating even a small amount of fibre-free resin and I began to wonder whether I’d manage to collect enough to satisfy just one day’s smoking.

As we again managed to harvest everything within a hundred-metre radius and collected our belongings to move further afield, two unusually dark-skinned Indians came through the forest towards us, both with a rolled-up rug over one shoulder and a colourful woven bag hanging from the other. They were grinning widely and speaking in sing-song Hindi in a manner that I’d come to associate with light hearted commercial enterprise in this part of the world. After a few moments of conversation with the new arrivals, one of our guides turned to me and told me I could try their charas for fifty rupees. It emerged that these two gentlemen would lay a small carpet and cushion in a comfortable place, upon which their customers would recline. They would then pack a chillum with hashish of the customer’s choice and brew tea whilst the customer became as stoned as stoned can be. They were from Malana and my guide assured me their hash would be “very nice smoking”. This service, which was evidently their means of employment, was being offered at approximately a quid and was something I managed to resist for about two seconds, having realised it was likely to be even better value than an extendible back-scratcher from poundland.

They were both highly attentive, moving aside any stones or branches which might cause discomfort and making absolutely certain our heads were laid in the correct position on the tubular cushion at the top of the rug. My girlfriend and I laid next to each other waiting for this unexpectedly pleasant experience to begin. Several different forms of hash were shown, with one of our guides finally choosing for us, after a slightly suspicious discussion in mumbled Hindi that concluded with cheeky smiles. A pair of ornate clay chillums were loaded with pea-sized pieces of jet-black charas and what looked like cheap cigarette tobacco. We put the chillums between our second and third fingers and cupped our other hand around in the manner we’d been taught. Each was lit for us. We puffed once or twice to get the thing hot and both took deep lungs full, holding it as long as possible. We managed to do this only three times before it became clear that we were not smoking ‘ordinary’ charas.

To the sounds of Indian mirth, hands appeared to retrieve the chillums before they fell from our fingers and we both collapsed slowly backwards onto the cushions. Laughter was all around us, together with what really did seem like a booming noise that was the drug taking effect. I gazed into the sky, watching buzzards the size of ironing boards soar over the tops of the deodars and felt a wave of ultimate relaxation and euphoria spread out from my head into every part of my body. My teeth, fingers and toes were buzzing with a variety of pins and needles which was completely free of pain and absolutely pleasurable. I seemed to weigh thousands of tons and felt myself sinking endlessly into the carpet under me. I slowly turned my head and saw my girlfriend was similarly affected and smiling from ear to ear. It was as though I was laid in some sort of elastic hammock having warm, round boulders laid carefully in my lap. Down we sank, without moving. I could feel my every muscle slacken and sag on my bones, my tendons briefly attempting to keep everything taught before they too relaxed. We were in a condition of infinite comfort, the only sensation from our bodies being those of bodily pleasure in a world entirely free from physical or mental pain of any sort. I fought to keep my drooping eyelids from closing on the scene.

I raised my head with some difficulty and saw every face split with happy smiles and proxy enjoyment. They were all sitting cross-legged in typically Hindi asanas, bright clothing contrasting with the deep green forest, unfathomable Indian conversation flickering back and forth. We were in an oil painting, a record of something which had happened countless times. In the trees monkeys chattered, birds called out to one another, the dog occasionally barked. Reality, dream and art touched and merged.

It was a timeless moment before I was able to raise myself on my elbows to accept the proffered cup of hot chai. “Special charas” said one of our guides. No shit, I thought. I would later have it explained to me that what we’d smoked had been a mixture of Malana cream, opium and a plant which I never saw, but which sounded very much like either henbane or nightshade, certainly a variety of solanacea.  The overall effect had been spectacular. We refused another fill purely on the basis that we might never leave the mountainside if we indulged again. It was obvious that the resin on our hands was all we would harvest that day and began packing up, very slowly, whilst saying our goodbyes and exchanging thanks for a truly transcendental experience. I was still in something of a dream as we descended back to the house.

The dog, however, wasn’t quite so chilled. A group of monkeys had come quite close, probably attracted by the possibility of food or leftovers. One of them appeared to be taunting the dog rather effectively from the limbs of a massive deodar. Eventually the terrier could stand no more and bolted towards the tree. The monkey, for some reason, was spooked by this and together with its companions made off through the branches. A few moments later, we spied the dog pursuing the primates up a steep stone outcrop in the middle distance. It was clear the dog had set itself an impossible task and we all laughed at it as the chase approached a sheer cliff face where the monkeys would certainly be able to make their escape.

Back in the house, we drank and ate as we picked our harvest from our hands. I’d managed to collect an amount roughly the size of a broad bean, not too bad and certainly enough for a chillum or too. “Morning time” said the Indian, having been told of my earlier experience and presumably not wanting me to waste what I’d gathered by tying it on. We were recounting the actions of the dog and laughing at the futility of its hunt just as it came prancing proudly into the room.

It had a dead monkey drooping from its jaws.
'The trouble is, we think we have time."
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