Charas is the name given to hand-made hashish in India. It is typically grown in the Himalayas and is an important cash crop for the locals.
History of charas
Charas has long played an important role in Indian culture and was venerated as being one of the aspects of Lord Shiva. Charas has been used for thousands of years, and was even sold in government shops (along with opium) in the days of the British Empire. It was as much part of Indian daily life as chai or chapatis.
Despite this long history, charas was made illegal in the 1980s and draconian sentences were introduced. Even mere possession had a mandatory ten year prison sentence. These laws have now been relaxed but still Indian police make use of the threat of jail to extort baksheesh from anyone caught smoking.
Even at the peak of the crackdown charas was still popular and it remains so today, especially amongst Indian sadhus. Many smoke it in clay pipes called chillums and before lighting the chillum they will call out of one the many names of Shiva in veneration. The government even imports a ton of charas for the sadhus during the Kumbh mela, or festival of holy men.
Today the best place for hippies or other travellers to smoke charas is Manali and its surroundings in the northern mountainious state of Himachal Pradesh.
Charas was first exported illegally by professional drug dealers like Henry de Monfreid. Today many backpackers support their travels by smuggling some home with them to sell in the West.
The best charas grown in India comes from the mountains. For this reason the place has become very popular with backpackers and those involved in drug smuggling. The best charas is made very high up away from the police and is known as cream.
Cannabis grown in high altitude conditions is known to be particulary strong. Potency can be related to natural selection of wild strains in harsh conditions. At high altitudes the ultraviolet radiation is strong and Cannabis exposed to ultraviolet radiation produces substantially more THC (the main mind altering compound). It has been suggested that THC is produced as a defense against short wavelength ultraviolet light.
Charas is made by rubbing ones hands through the flowers and is long, tedious work. The resin sticks to ones palms and by the end of the day one has harvested perhaps 8 or 9 grams of charas. The faster one works the lower the quality of charas. Hence to make cream it is necessary to go very slowly and it is only possible to make a few grams a day.
This ancient art is disappearing under the pressure to capitalise on the domestic and international market for charas.
Charas is typically smoked through a chillum and although tobacco is also mixed in the effects can be very strong, even occasionally psychedelic. It is much purer than regular hashish in the West though and as such a steady charas smoker may get through 10 grams a day. This weight is approximately a tolla and at source will cost around 5-10 dollars, depending upon the quality. Cream, which is of higher quality, will cost about 20-30 USD in India. Sometimes it is adulterated with shoe polish and dung.
Effects are similar to regular Hash and Marijuana which is available in the West but the content of the active ingrediant THC is much greater therefore the effects can sometimes be almost narcotic. Users report a strong dream-like experience where a feeling of warmth and relaxation is experienced. Users often become very laid back and relaxed. Strong feelings of hunger (called Munchies) begin after smoking. A person can be recognised as a Charsi (person who regularly uses Charas, referred to as a pot-head in the West) by their glazed bloodshot eyes, heavy eyelids and sometimes slurring of speech. In Pakistan Charas is sometimes called Gardaa and is available in large A4 size sheets.
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