Kullu-Manali attracts over 35 lakh domestic and foreigner tourists annually and not all are fascinated by the mountains, glaciers and rivers of the valley – some of them visit the Himalayan valley in search of “Malana Cream”, the world’s best charas.
Former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal once said: “When I was giving my introduction to a representative of Israeli senate in an international conclave, he left me stunned with words that he has listened about Kasol in India where high class marijuana is available. He shared his thought that a large number of people in Israel after completing mandatory military services rush to Kasol in Kullu to relieve themselves by puffing marijuana.”
Over 98% of the tourists visit the valley to enjoy nature and adventure sports. Still, some tourists are reported to have visited the valley only for charas. Such tourists prefer staying in remote villages for a long time period. Police, who don’t want to put a negative impact on the tourism, frequently lay nakas in such areas to search for the vehicles and pedestrians. As many as 161 foreigners have been booked under NDPS Act in last 15 years. The number of domestic tourists is even more.
This doesn’t mean that all tourists visit Kullu-Manali for charas. Majority of tourists, both Indian and Foreigners, do not know that charas is produced in Kullu and is available here. Some people here say though charas put negative impact on youth but it is helping in rise in tourist footfall.
A large number of local residents and politicians have been demanding to legalize cannabis cultivation, but fearing its misuse to make charas has forced lawmakers to make strict rules under NDPS Act.
High on charas, foreigners bring notoriety to land of gods
What attracts lakhs of backpackers from abroad to Kullu valley every year? The beautiful but rugged mountains of Himalayas, the serenity of Kullu valley or the flavour of Malana cream, nobody knows this. Every year many of them go missing, killed, murdered or arrested for many reasons which is still a big mystery.
Nearly 20 foreigners have been lost in the valley since 1992. None of them could be traced. Almost all of them went missing while trekking or in search of nirvana. Some died of drug overdose and some died while trekking. Reasons of death of some tourists could never be known. The search operation for some who went missing years back is still continuing.
What is the reason behind mysterious disappearance and killing of foreigners in Kullu Valley? According to owner of Negi’s Himalayan Adventure in Parvati valley, Chhape Ram Negi, who has been launching search and rescue operations for past twenty years, ignorance of exact route, straggling from group, being high on hashish, lack of proper equipments and not hiring local guide are the main causes of them going missing or killing on the rough mountains of Kullu.
“Sometimes foreigners go trekking alone without a trained guide and gets deviate from the route. Narcotic intake could be another major reason. We have noticed that many tourists get deviate from the group and go missing forever. We have found many of them but others could not be traced till today. They may have lost forever,” he said.
Negi, who is familiar with every corner of the Indian Himalayas, said if some precautions are taken care of, the accidents can be minimized.
Some recent shocking cases like Italian national Galeno Orazie, who was staying in Malana without visa for last seven years and French national Mark Hamieau who was living in Kullu for last 30 years without having any travel documents, were pointing towards other possibilities. According to police, some foreigners might be escaping from them after visa expiry. Police hinted out that some of them were indulged in smuggling while few may be hidden and lured by cheap hashish in the valley.
What about the security of tourists from abroad?
Whether the tourist is domestic or from abroad, all are treated equally. According to the tourism department, Travel agents, guides, hoteliers and all those associated with tourism are being given training on hospitality and management. Lessons on ‘Atithi devo bhava’ (guests are gods) are being given to them. “All possible arrangements have been made at all tourist spots to provide them a secure environment. Foreigners are enjoying the friendly environment of Kullu-Manali but cannot comment on those indulged in anti-law activities. More and more foreigner tourists are coming to Kullu every year. One can see the presence of police everywhere. The extra police force is deployed during peak season. That makes them feel safe. People of the valley are also very friendly.”
Police said they have been advising foreign tourists, again and again, to hire the skilled guide before starting trekking; otherwise, they may go missing in the mountains. “We have eliminated the trend of full moon parties and now we are very close to root out the charas from the valley,” a police official said.
Cheating in drug trade: Not Malana Cream; Nepalese charas sells in Himachal
The increasing cases of chars seizure in Himachal, especially in Kullu, despite police and state government running several programmes to destroy the cannabis crops has left the agencies clueless for years.
After some Nepalese were arrested while smuggling charas consignment from Nepal to India to sell it in the name of “Malana Cream” in last few years, police fear that a large quantity of charas being supplied in the market may have been sourced from Nepal.
Sapna and Rani, both residents of Kapilvastu district of Nepal, were travelling from Nepal to Manikaran in Parvati valley of Kullu in a bus on July 26. Both had concealed 9.8kg of charas in plastic and wrapped it around their body. They were arrested by Kullu police. During custodial enquiry, the accused confessed that the charas was sourced from Nepal.
In a similar case, a Nepalese woman was arrested from Kasol after police recovered 9.08kg charas from her possession. There are many such cases where police and narcotics control bureau arrested smugglers who gave them clue that charas was brought to Himachal from Nepal. Ironically, there is possibility that many smugglers and peddlers are being duped by selling them cheap Nepalese charas in the name of Malana Cream.
Kullu superintendent of police Gaurav Singh said there is possibility that a large quantity of charas available in the market or being smuggled does not belong to Kullu. “The area under cannabis cultivation in Kullu has decreased over the years due to strict law and police action. Police destroy cannabis from hundreds of bigha of land every year. The availability of charas in the market somewhere raises doubts that from where it is being sourced actually. Nepalese charas is also being smuggled to Kullu,” he said.
Kullu, especially Parvati valley is notorious worldwide for production of world’s best charas, a cannabis resin. The charas produced in Malana, known as Malana Cream, is the world’s most expensive charas which fetches Rs one lakh to Rs ten lakh for one kilogram. On the other hand, charas produced in Nepal is of inferior quality and is very cheap. The greed to earn easy money is encouraging Nepalese to smuggle charas from Nepal to Himachal, particularly, Kullu, to get a stamp of Malana Cream so that the contraband gets many-times high price in the market.
Gaurav Singh said people, charas peddlers and even police, may fail to detect the difference between Nepalese and local charas until examined in laboratory. “There is small difference in structure and appearance. Experts can detect the difference by just seeing or touching it. The charas produced in Kullu has high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content. We are not just fighting with locally produced charas but also with the ones being smuggled from outside,” he added.
Kullu police have already started anti-cannabis and anti-drugs campaign in the district where at least one person is being arrested daily under NDPS Act. Police are laying frequent nakas at key places. District police chief himself is conducting recce in different places to get clues of the contraband. Meanwhile, police are organizing awareness programmes in villages and are encouraging people to help them in fighting the war against drugs. Police will soon restart its cannabis destruction campaigns in the district.
Malana man fights odds to weed out charas stigma
Makes jam with wild strawberry and sells in outer markets
In a corner of Malana village is a small house where an illiterate person is doing something which is going to be a golden chapter in the history of this village which otherwise is nestled in darkness of notoriety for production of charas — the Malana Cream.
Paras Ram is weaving dreams for better Malana after replacing the bitterness of charas with the sweetness of his unique jam which he processes from wild strawberry. Having failed to yield any crop from the fields at altitude of over 9,000ft and disappointed by cheap prices for peas, most of the Malana villagers see charas as only option to make money but Paras Ram has something else in his mind. He is the only businessman in village who sells farm products in Delhi and other markets.
“A foreign tourist who was staying in Malana taught me how to make jam with wild strawberry and how to use it for commercial purpose,” says Paras Ram, who got his first large purchase order from Delhi last season. Paras Ram collects strawberries from jungle, deploys labourers and sometime purchase it from other villagers at rate of Rs 100 per kilogram and prepares its jam only by adding some sugar to it. He fills it into 200 and 250 gram bottles and sells for Rs 250 each. “Foreign tourists are mad for my jam and are keen to pay over Rs 500 for a bottle.”
Demand for this “Malana Jam” is growing constantly but some small utensils, limited working hands of family, a small chulha and just one-month-long season for extraction of berries are not able to make all customers happy. “I’m a poor person. My customers pay whole money in advance to help me prepare jam. A hotel in Shimla has also given me advance money to prepare jams for them.” According to him, collecting tiny berries is not a work of few people, so he spends on hiring labourers. His jam is unique as he adds no preservatives and chemicals to it.
Paras Ram hardly speaks good Hindi and knows only Kulluvi and Kanashi language. He said he had tried hand on peas farming few years back but had to suffer losses worth Rs 25 thousands for cheap prices for it. “We were given Rs 6 per kg of the peas after carrying the product down to highway in lower Parvati valley. It was a big joke for growers who were looking at this crop as an option to charas,” he said.
“I found that not only my jam was tasty, it was good for digestion system and panacea to trigger appetite. The drawback is berries season last only for one month and I have little time to extract them and process them,” he explains.
He added that he got applause for his initiation from Kullu police and administration and many other families are also looking for optional business scopes here. Sources said Amlan Datta, maker of Bom, a renowned documentary on Malana, had first introduced the ways of making jams, pickles and sell them in outer markets during his visit to the village. Malana villagers have been alleging for years that government has failed to generate self employment in Malana and is destroying their only option of earning — cannabis cultivation.
“Let us live with charas or give livelihood options”
Having failed to generate income sources by trying hand at various options, the residents of Malana who are said to have mastered themselves in production of world’s best charas have started a mild agitation for their rights.
“Let us produce charas and let us live with notoriety. We are ready to face any legal action. We shall continue this trade for our survival. We are helpless and are ready to go jail,” a Malana resident Lal Chand said while showing the cannabis plants that are growing wild around the village. “Police, government and entire world call Malana the village of smugglers. But do any of them know that we are neglected as if we are not the part of our own country. And if we stop producing charas, we will starve and we will not be able to pay school fees for our children.”
When charas was the subject, at least 50 villagers, came forward to give their opinion close to Jamlu Devta’s temple. Mangal Ram, one of them, shouts “Every year police come and destroy our cannabis fields. We watch all this helplessly. Government has done all possible to bring notoriety to our beautiful village. But nobody came here to share our pain. We need money for school fees, ration, electricity bills, mobile connection, clothes, shoes and everything required to live. Did anybody offer us alternate option to earn money?”
When asked about dependence of village on charas for their livelihood, the villagers said 100 per cent of them are directly or indirectly linked to cannabis cultivation, helplessly. “We know charas has become stigma for our religious village. Whenever we gather for any function in the village, we talk about this issue and everybody makes unanimous consent on giving up charas trade if government comes up with other honest option to earn money,” another resident Ganga Ram said.
Villagers, fearlessly, showed some of the cannabis fields near the village and said many Malana residents, including women, are jailed in Chandigarh, Delhi, Himachal and other states after charas was recovered from their possession. Hari Chand, one of the intellectuals of the village, said, “This process of cannabis production, destruction by police and arrests will continue till the end of the time. Police will follow their law. Government will continue making policy. NGOs will keep earning money on the name of helping Malana people live better life. But nobody will find a middle path and frame policy to replace charas slowly by other options.”
Villagers blamed that government and administration have fooled them in the name of giving facilities. They blamed hydel project managements in the vicinity of the area for showing them dreams of development and giving employment. They also alleged that a social worker made them fool by convincing them to grow peas and earn good money but later their produce was bought for Rs 3 per kilogram. The villagers have very less agriculture land and available land too is not worth cultivating vegetable. Being situated on high altitude where snow covers the land for half of the year, only one crop a year is possible in Malana.
Anti-drugs drive force diminish traditional cuisines in Kullu
After cannabis, Kullu has gained notoriety in cultivation of poppy. Police and anti-narcotic agencies have initiated drives to eradicate both cannabis and poppy from Kullu but indirectly the anti-drugs drives have resulted in extinction of many traditional recipes of the district.
People of Kullu have been cultivating poppy to obtain its seeds which are used to prepare a variety of cuisines including famous Kullu “siddu”. As the authorities have imposed ban on production of poppy which can be used to produce opium, brown sugar and heroin, farmers have left its production. A large number of people have been booked in last few years for cultivation of poppy and the anti-poppy drive is still continued. This strict action has led to disappearance of poppy seeds from the kitchens and people are missing the fragrance of its cuisines.
According to police, they are committed to eradicate cannabis and opium from entire district as both are being used to prepare contraband drugs. Himachal government has also started some statewide cannabis destruction campaigns in recent years. Authorities know that plants of cannabis and poppy are used by people to cook local dishes and prepare many household things like ropes and slippers. But its misuse by drug mafia has made them destruct all available plants to minimize possibility of making drugs out of it.
“Everybody used to grow some poppy to get its seeds which are edible. We use it to prepare siddu, parantha, femada and many other items. As police is taking strict action, everybody is afraid of cultivating poppy,” said a farmer from Bhuntar. Police in recent years have booked owners of private land where poppy plants were found cultivated. Sources said that area under poppy and cannabis cultivation in Kullu has reduced over the years.
Another farmer from Barshaini village said, “Now nobody cultivates poppy to get its seeds to prepare cuisines. I think some people are into its production only to prepare drugs. Honest people too fear police action as it is very difficult to convince police that the crop is only to produce edible seeds.”
Czech Republic, Turkey, Hungry and Spain are the top producers of poppy seeds. The small seeds are used as condiment to prepare variety of sweet and salty cuisines. People in Kullu, where seeds are not available, have replaced poppy seeds by other items like nuts of peach and walnuts.
Drug trade put 161 foreigners behind the bars in Kullu
The greed of making easy money by supplying drugs to tourists, selling to youth or smuggling to other states and countries has destroyed many families in Kullu. 161 foreigners arrested under NDPS Act in last 15 years have also contributed in earning notoriety to Kullu.
The cannabis cultivation season has started on the hills. Police claim that its cannabis destruction campaigns have controlled the cultivation in district but the police accept that cultivation is still continuing. Increasing cases of recovery of synthetic drugs are new challenge before police which keep making new strategy to finish the menace.
Kullu police have arrested 1,936 persons in 1,798 cases for possession of drugs from January 2003 to March 2018. Of the arrested persons, 161 are foreigners. Most of the foreigners are from Italy, US, UK, France, Israel and Nigeria. In almost all cases, they had come on tourist visa and were carrying drugs. Many of them have been convicted and some were deported. In some cases the accused were also charged with visa overstay.
Police said six arrested accused were minors and 78 were women. “Most cases were registered for possession of charas and some cases were registered for possession of drugs like brown sugar, cocaine, heroin, LSD and MDM. The main thing of concern is increasing cases of synthetic drugs. Synthetic drug is being supplied in small quantities to the tourist places. We have arrested some kingpins and some more are under our radar,” a police officer said.
Sources said that foreigners encouraged people in Kullu to cultivate cannabis to produce charas decades back. They targeted the illiterate, unemployed and poor people in remote villages. According to sources, there were some foreigners who used to fund the locals to produce charas and were taking consignments out of the state themselves. The easy money coming from trade lured more people to adopt this practice. Police keep an eye on the foreigners who stay in villages and sometime in huts in isolated areas, away from civilization. Despite being strict on drug trade, peddlers and smugglers, police are struggling to root out the disease from Kullu.
“All police stations and posts have been directed to increase the nakas and patrols to clean up the mess from district,” police official said, adding that police are taking help of technology to identify the land under cannabis cultivation. “Police are destroying cannabis crop every year. We are taking help from locals as well. The cultivation is decreasing every year. We are now educating people that how drugs destroy future of youth and how it ruins the families if somebody is caught indulged in this illegal trade.”
Police seek local cooperation to fight drug menace
In an effort to completely root out the menace of drug, liquor, gambling and other crimes from Kullu, the district police have started a campaign “Sahbhagita – Hamari aur Apki”, where police are seeking cooperation from local residents and are educating them to fight the social evils that have broughtnotoriety to district.
Considering that making Kullu drugs free is not possible without local cooperation, the police officials are reaching out to the villagers, especially in charas affected areas, and are requesting people to help stop charas to destroy the young generations. The villagers are being convinced to be part of the social cause and control illegal selling or buying of liquor, cultivation of cannabis and poppy, gambling and other crimes. For this, police are conducting workshops in villages one by one.
Police said, “Catching criminals and putting them behind the bars is not a permanent solution. But we have to educate the people and make them responsible to get long term results. We are also educating people with help of street plays. We are requesting people to connect with police and this campaign socially. We are happy that the panchayats have started taking strict steps in this regard which has encouraged us to continue the campaign.”
Charas production and its smuggling is the main challenge before Kullu police. Increasing cases of smuggling of synthetic drugs into district and supplying them to tourists is another challenge. Many villagers are into cannabis cultivation while many others smuggle it to other states to get good prices. The police are seeking cooperation from the villagers to control cannabis cultivation and stop drug smuggling by social awareness and helping police by providing vital information about the smugglers.
What is Malana Cream?
The Charas produced in Parvati Valley of Kullu, particularly in Malana village and its surroundings, is better known as “Malana Cream”. As the charas produced from the cannabis grown in the valley has high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, it is considered the world’s best charas and is also the most expensive charas.
How old is cannabis production in Himachal/Kullu?
Cannabis is growing wild in Himachal for centuries. Cannabis used to be the essential part of kitchen garden in front of each house of Kullu decades back. The people then had no clue about its psychotropic properties and commercial use. They used to cultivate it to make ropes, shoes and other products. The hemp of the cannabis was used to make cloths. People slowly got to know about its seeds which had medicinal properties and were used to cook several cuisines and “chatni”.
How hybrid cannabis entered Kullu?
Europeans have been cultivating cannabis for decades. Holland, where government gives liberty to cultivate and use cannabis to a certain extent, is blamed for introduction of charas in Kullu. Few decades back when tourism started growing in Kullu and foreigner tourists started visiting Parvati valley, a foreigner who found the environment good for cannabis production brought hybrid seeds from Holland.
How Kullu became an international hub of contraband charas?
A few poor residents of Parvati valley were lured by foreigners to sow the Holland seeds and produce cannabis in their fields. Then they taught them the procedure of extracting resin from leaves to make charas. The charas was not sold domestically but was bought by foreigners at cheaper prices. Kullu had not much employment options and most people were illiterate having no knowledge of the impact of charas on society. The easy money from charas trade motivated other families to adopt this profession. Meanwhile, more foreigners got to know about the successful charas production in Kullu valley and they started visiting the valley for trade and to hire more people. Foreigners discovered that the quality of charas grown in Parvati valley was much better than that of Europe. It was an Italian national who started residing with people of Malana, who otherwise do not accept the presence of outsiders, and he taught them many techniques of charas production. Many years later the security agencies had arrested him under the Foreigner Act. Till now, Parvati valley, particularly Malana, had become an international hub of “World’s Best Charas”.