I Found Out My Father Smuggled Cannabis From Afghanistan to Amsterdam
Photo courtesy of Jerry Beisler / Regent Press 
Drugs

I Found Out My Father Smuggled Cannabis From Afghanistan to Amsterdam

He was the “Bandit of Kabul,” who savoured full moon parties in Goa, legal hash shops in Nepal, cannabis oil experiments in Afghanistan, and smuggling missions to Amsterdam on Asia’s hippie trail of the 70s.
SJ
Mumbai, IN

Jesse Beisler was five when his dad, Jerry, first came into his life. Jesse was a love child who grew up in San Francisco under the watchful eye of his mother. Before he met his dad, the only thing his mother had told him was that he was called the “Bandit of Kabul.” 

Only years later did he find out that his father was actually one of the biggest, most well-connected and free-spirited cannabis smugglers on Asia’s hippie trail in the 70s.

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“My father had a wild life and lived to his fullest, right until the day he passed away,” Beisler, now a 47-year-old businessman, told VICE over the phone. 

Jerry died last October from a sudden heart attack. He leaves behind a legacy of outrageous escapades, exhilarating adventures and stories filled with good friends, better music and the best hash (a concentrated form of cannabis widely smoked across Asia).

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Jerry Beisler during his days on the hippie trail. Photo courtesy of Jesse Beisler.

The hippie trail refers to the path taken by members of the hippie subculture who escaped the clutches of western capitalism to explore alternative lifestyles between Europe and South Asia – mainly India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan – from the mid 1950s to the late 1970s. 

As detailed in his memoir, Bandit of Kabul: Counterculture Adventures Along the Hashish Trail and Beyond, Jerry Beisler from Berkley, California, embarked on a thrilling journey along this trail in the early 1970s with his girlfriend Rebecca Wlpf, who later became his wife. 

The book, published by Regent Press, and Jesse, both tell VICE how the duo’s departure came just as the U.S. government, under President Richard Nixon, was cracking down on cannabis. At the time, Asian countries were either yet to draw up laws on drug use or did not have enough control over its consumption. 

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Jerry was drawn to the hippie trail when, as a musician and promoter in California, he was at a party that got raided because officials could “smell marijuana.”

He and Rebecca then decided to head down the trail that thousands of people were taking as a rite of passage. Their first destination was the Indian state of Goa, “a counterculture Nirvana.” 

In his book, Jerry wrote, “If the hippies ran Disneyland, it would be a lot like Goa – with sex, some herb to smoke and the greatest mango lassies you ever tasted. It would be real life, not the plastic, future-modern society that stifles freedom with conformity and bourgeois boredom.”

In Goa, Jerry and Rebecca found accommodation in a house with a giant white heart on its roof, appropriately called the “House of Love.” 

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Jerry and Rebecca's "House of Love" in Goa. Photo courtesy of Jerry Beisler / Regent Press.

They grew close to their neighbours – who happened to be legendary Bollywood actor Shashi Kapoor and his wife Jennifer – and even frequently took boating trips together. The pair also partied with other hippies they met along the trail and adjusted to a primitive lifestyle of relentless mosquito bites, frequent power cuts and water with no heating. 

Sometimes, Jerry wrote, the local cop would “drop by our house with his own coconut chillum contraption and mooch a little hashish to smoke.” 

Here, he also met a man he called “Montreal Michael,” who was armed with numerous books on extracting cannabis plants that he inherited from his mother – a scientist who worked for the United Nations – and an experimental idea to brew his own oil concoction (that would later become popular as hash oil). Montreal Michael would soon become a key player in Jerry’s career as a cannabis grower. 

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Jerry and Montreal Michael on a boating trip with Eight Finger Eddie, one of the first hippies who stumbled upon Goa in the 60s. ​Photo courtesy of Jerry Beisler / Regent Press.

In 1971, Michael headed to Afghanistan to put together his extraction operation. Jerry had plans to go there to ride horses anyway, so they decided to make the trek together.

“We talked about a plan to transport hashish from legal Nepal and Afghanistan to quasi-legal Amsterdam. If only the countries in between didn’t carry a sentence of ten years of hard prison if caught,” he wrote.

As Jerry mulled over the proposed hash smuggling mission, it also became clear that a long-term life in Goa was an unrealistic goal. Many hippies began using a highly addictive and sedative synthetic drug called Mandrax to get through the night, and smoked hash through the day. Others revelled in the escapism of psychedelics. But, as Jerry put it, “this fantastic feeling of ‘freedom found’ was compromised by the primitive lifestyle and the spread of lice and disease. The time to move on was quickly approaching.”

So Jerry and Rebecca travelled on, first to the opium dens of Bombay, then to an isolated Taj Mahal – where rumours of Pakistan plotting to bomb the monument meant they were the only visitors – and the festive bylanes of Varanasi, where, as Jerry put it, “aside from the strange attraction of the death trade in Varanasi, another attraction was that cannabis shops were legal in the city.” The pair got married in Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal.

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Jerry and Rebecca at the Taj Mahal during the India-Pakistan war in 1971. ​Photo courtesy of Jerry Beisler / Regent Press.

“I remember that Pakistan and India were at war as we made our way to Bombay,” Rebecca told VICE. “So, we had to drive through the bumpy roads at night with 22 suitcases and not a single streetlight or car headlight on.” 

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Although the journey was harrowing, Rebecca said her time in India with Jerry was magnificent. “We visited a palace with a human-sized chess board as big as a football field, stayed at a bird sanctuary where we saw pelicans, and experienced the festival of colours [Holi] in India,” she reminisced. 

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Sadhus doing chillum hits with hash at the Shiv Ratri festival in Nepal in the 70s. ​Photo courtesy of Jerry Beisler / Regent Press.

“Then, we went to visit our friends in Nepal. I still have a poster from Inn Eden in Kathmandu, which had a legal hashish shop where you could openly sample and buy 20 different kinds of hash.”

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Inn Eden, a legal hash shop in Kathmandu, Nepal where hippies went to score. ​Photo courtesy of Jerry Beisler / Regent Press.

In Kathmandu, Jerry met “Dutch Bob,” who had connections with diplomats who were willing to look the other way so their operation could run smoothly. 

On his first hash smuggling trip to Amsterdam, Jerry wore a white linen suit, which soon became his official uniform on his trips as an “international businessman.” 

After a quick layover in Bangkok – where they encountered second-rate weed and pimps who worked with sex workers who could shoot tennis balls from their vaginas – Jerry and Rebecca made their way to Kabul in Afghanistan in 1972. 

Here, they found a home in a British mansion that also housed other immigrant families who’d found their way to Kabul as they traversed the infamous trail.

In Kabul, Jerry recruited a cast of colourful characters to help him with the Afghanistan-to-Amsterdam hash smuggling mission. Many of them introduced their own tricks and techniques to the trade. 

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One of them was Billy Batman, who was rumored to have brought hashish to Paris in the 1920s for the famous “Lost Generation” of writers and artists that allegedly included Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and, if Jerry was right, “the hash brownie creator, Alice B. Toklas.”

“Billy had invented what he called ‘The Batman Technique,’” said Jerry in his book. This technique involved stuffing a hash pollen between heavy vinyl records, heating it up and then tapping it with a shoe mallet to make the “most perfect form of hashish imaginable.” 

Another technique was painting Buddhist deities on wafer-thin disks of hash that would ensure they stealthily slipped through customs. Sometimes, the hash was concealed and smuggled in traditional Tibetan rugs. 

Other times, customs officials were bribed to pin the blame on others caught carrying smaller quantities of hash, who were anyway facing a sentence for their stash. 

But the system truly fell into place with the introduction of false-bottom suitcases. Hash would be stuffed into their suitcase linings, which were removed and then glued back on. 

Things didn’t always run smoothly, though. 

Although Montreal Michael collected and assembled what he called the “U.S. Steel of hash oil factories,” their first successful attempt at extracting cannabis oil was short-lived. 

“Michael hit the switch and there it went – drip, drip, drip – golden-honey hash oil,” Jerry wrote in the book. “There was probably five inches of the stuff in the first of the output containers we took outside to the front yard of the house. We smeared it on doobies and tried it in pipes. We celebrated. Then, KABOOM!!” 

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The hash oil lab exploded, nearly killing everyone there. Luckily, the group managed to escape unscathed, even if they had to answer to a nosey policeman.

It wasn’t the only close call he had in Kabul.

“He [Jerry] told me about a time when he was trapped by a group of bandits in Kabul while on his way home in a bumpy taxi,” the younger Beisler told VICE. “They wanted his money and might have even killed him. Luckily, their dog Kachook (an Afghan mastiff bred for fighting) was with them.”

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Jerry and Rebecca's dog Kachook. ​Photo courtesy of Jerry Beisler / Regent Press.

In his book, Jerry recollected, “We were fighting for our lives when Kachook came flying through the open backseat window, and I heard the most fearsome snarl that I have ever heard coming from any animal. It got everyone’s attention when he latched on to the arm of the man nearest to where he landed, nearly tearing it off.” Kachook’s frightful bite was enough to send the bandits scattering. 

Soon, however, Jerry’s time in Afghanistan came to a sudden end.

He was celebrating the release of an old friend from Afghan prison with a hookah that needed three ounces of hash just to fill the bowl, when the cops came knocking. Turned out, the king of Afghanistan had been overthrown by his brother Daoud Khan, and all foreigners were told they could either leave alive or get killed in the crossfire. 

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Baba Cou was the patron saint of hash in Afghanistan, with revellers often chanting his name before taking a hit. ​Photo courtesy of Jerry Beisler. / Regent Press

Meanwhile, one of his friends was believed to have been killed by Charles Sobhraj, a serial killer notorious for targeting travellers on the hippie trail, befriending them with hash or hard drugs, then beating them up or slowly poisoning them, and stealing their belongings. Another friend he called “Dean the Dream” also encountered Sobhraj at a shady hotel in New Delhi, but narrowly escaped.

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For many years after, Jerry shuttled between his ranch in California – where he began to bond with Jesse and grow some of the highest-quality organic cannabis strains – and Kathmandu.

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A strain of cannabis grown at Jerry's ranch in California. ​Photo courtesy of Jerry Beisler / Regent Press.

This continued until Nixon’s war on drugs eventually convinced the president of Nepal to criminalise cannabis in 1976, something Jerry believed was responsible for the opioid crisis that would take over the country.   

And even then, the incredulous stories never ceased. Jerry wrote about how he flew airplanes to dinner reservations without a license, participated in shamanic rituals, and even braved treacherous rides into the jungles of magic mushroom-filled Indonesia. 

“He was also a great musician, and spent a lot of time with icons like Bob Dylan and David Crosby,” said Jesse. “He always had the craziest stories and was full of surprises. When he passed away, I found out through a letter he left me that I had a sister I never knew about. I lost someone I loved, but he gave me someone else to love in the process.” 

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Jesse Beisler along with his son and father Jerry Beisler just before he passed away. ​Photo courtesy of Jesse Beisler.

For Jesse, his father will always be a well-connected, kind-hearted musician with a penchant for wild adventures. For Rebecca, her ex-husband’s legacy lives on through his cultivations and connections in both music and marijuana. 

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Jerry Beisler will always be remembered for his marijuana, music and spiritual sojourns. ​Photo courtesy of Jerry Beisler / Regent Press.

“Travelers came to Asia for many reasons – the adventure, the spiritual discovery, the romance, the exotic culture, the sex and drugs,” Jerry wrote in his epilogue.

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​Photo courtesy of Jerry Beisler / Regent Press

“What you found depended on who you were. As for us, we traveled to Europe with the maddest of the madcap hippies, happened to land in Goa, where, shortly thereafter, my sweetheart and I lived the life – from Amsterdam to Afghanistan, from the Northern California foothills to the high Himalayas of Nepal, from Indonesia to Jamaica. Our days of wild adventure and our nights of watching full red moons sink into shimmering, placid seas were as inevitable as breathing.”

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Jerry, Rebecca and the crew of friends who became family along Asia's hippie trail. ​Photo courtesy of Jerry Beisler / Regent Press.

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