The last words that came out of the English backpacker's mouth were, "Make mine extra strong." Well, that and, "Ugh, it tastes like the bottom of a garbage bag." He had chugged the entire weed milkshake in less than ten minutes. A single layer of thick, greenish-brown sludge remained on the bottom of his glass, too gross to swallow.
We were sitting on bright cushions surrounding a round table in a small hippie shack in India when the sweat stains under his armpits began to grow bigger and bigger. Our nonsensical conversation fell silent, and his giggly highness gave way to shaking arms, tingling toes, and a dripping forehead. His bottom lip hung down with saliva, drooling like a dog, and his eyes became blurry. He had to remain focused not to fall off the sofa. "Home," was the only word he could utter.
Photo by Sabrina Brackx
He tried to stand up, but his legs seemed like they were made from jelly. And that's how I ended up piloting a guy twice my size through the dark streets of the temple city Hampi in the middle of the night. After a lot of pulling, dragging, and a very awkward search for the key to his room in the pockets of his too-tight jean shorts, I dropped him on the mattress of his hotel room. He spent the next three days and nights there bound to bed and toilet, vomiting the longs from his body.
The world is rife with tourists who spend every day in search of new kicks, local drugs and all that is forbidden. Tough tourists often overestimate themselves. They order a Cambodian happy pizza with extra toppings, or buy two pieces of spacecake in an Amsterdam coffee shop rather than one. It all seems like good fun at first, but then they pay the price for their presumptuousness with a weed hangover that would impress even Snoop Dogg.
An original cannabis recipe can turn a city or even a whole country into a tourist magnet. In India, it's a weed milkshake that brings all the boys to the yard. Bhang lassi is a drink that's made of yoghurt or milk, nuts, spices such as cardamom and cinnamon, rose water, and—yes—cannabis, ground and mixed with water, then formed in the shape of balls.
The weed shake may attract many tourists who love to go 'out with a bhang,' but it has been an important part of Hindu culture for centuries. On holidays such as Holi in March (Indian New Year, best known elsewhere as that day when adults let their inner child go crazy and pelt each other with colored powder) and Shivatri in February (the holiday of the god Shiva) every Hindu in the North of the country—especially in Varanasi—drinks one of these shakes. Even the small kids get a bhang candy to join in the holy high. The weed grows in the Himalayas and is being sold in government-run bhang shops, but theoretically comes from above, from the Gods.
Photo by Sabrina Brackx
Since 1000 BC, bhang (literally meaning 'cannabis') is the communion wafer/sacramental bread of India: a piece of the god of destruction, Shiva. According to mythology, he is our universe's very first hippie god.
In ancient Hindu texts, the gods churned an ocean of milk in search of an elixir that would make them immortal. Once they found it, they ran off with it and spilled a couple of drops of the immortality water along the way. At each of the places where a drop was spilled from the pot, miracles occurred. Shiva, poisoned by a toxin called halahala that came free while churning the ocean, went to one of these miracle places in the mountains. There, he found bhang (weed), ate it, and was healed. The plant became his new favorite snack, and from then on, he passed his days being stoned and in deep meditation.
Hindus in Varanasi bond with bhang for spiritual reasons. They drink it to honor Shiva, to meditate better, to get closer to God, and to wash away their sins.
Bhang is also used in ayurvedic medicine. It is said to cure nervous disorders, skin diseases and wounds. In Medieval times, soldiers used to drink bhang before or after battle, just as Westerners drank hard liquor from flasks. It was said to give them an adrenaline rush, so they felt immortal and invincible, and lessened pain.
But bhang is so embedded nowadays that a lot of Hindus—especially men—use it more often than just on holidays. The spiced drink cools them down on hot days, but they also just like the whole 'being stoned' thing. A tourist gets one or two weed balls in his shake, but a local easily puts in ten.
Shiva is the reason why Hindus love to drink themselves high, and that Rastafaris on Caribbean islands have dreadlocks and smoke ganja. Ganja is Hindi for 'compressed female buds' and Shiva also had big 'jatta' (knots) in his hair because they were said to give him power. When Britons took the Indians to the Caribbean islands to work on sugar plantations, they brought their religion with them.
When you're in India, and in the distance you hear someone singing a song that starts with "Gang Bhang", there's no need to be afraid that you accidentally stumbled upon some sort of kama sutra cult. They're singing about their God and ganja at the Ganges, and they're probably just high.