Suraj Prasad* lives a slow, uneventful life as a hotel owner in a picturesque village near Kasol—a quaint town tucked away in the hills of Himachal Pradesh’s Parvati Valley. The middle-aged, well-built man exudes the calm confidence of one who is content with his life. “For you, city life will be heaven, but for me, this is our own little paradise,” he tells me, mounting a vessel carrying vegetarian momos on a gas stove in his dimly lit kitchen. “I once went to Delhi, couldn’t withstand the heat and ended up coming back with an inflammation. I now never think about leaving this ‘hash hotel’.” Outside, his wife is busy chopping carrots, onions and tomatoes for the day’s dinner for their guests, soaking in the afternoon sun, as snowfall from the previous night glimmers in the sunlight.
Among locals as also tourists, Prasad has earned the reputation of being a legendary hash peddler, farmer, manufacturer and distributor. The town, thronged by hordes of north Indian youngsters and Israeli tourists, is known as ‘Little Amsterdam’ for being the unofficial hash capital of India. It is a smoker’s paradise, where one can roll a blunt almost everywhere in public (with dedicated smoking sections in a few cafes and hotels). It is so normalised that one can ask most taxi drivers, restaurant owners, bartenders, waiters and guest house managers for marijauna, who will gladly sell it to you or arrange for it for a small commission. Currently, in India, possession, trade, transport and consumption of marijuana (among other narcotic and psychotropic substances) is banned under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act of 1985, and is a criminal offence.
In Prasad’s village, almost everyone knows his address. With a variety of hashish priced between Rs 800 and Rs 8,000 per 10 gms, he is known for his quality merchandise. Though weed grows naturally and abundantly in the nearby Parvati Valley, it needs someone with “an expert’s eye” to understand the difference between varieties. “With experience, you begin to identity the best leaves, sort them as per the species, and crush the leaves to make hash oil. The eventual quality of the stuff depends on the quality and quantity of the oil used,” he says, shuffling from Kishore Kumar’s Bollywood classic “Chingari Koi Bhadke” to some psychedelic rock music—the sorts most of his customers like.