The lush valleys of India's northern state Himachal Pradesh are filled with verdant farms. Apple trees cascade mountainsides, massive cauliflower blooms soak up the sun on terraced hillsides, and clusters of cannabis plants weave through the landscape.
Foreign visitors to Himachal Pradesh are left speechless by the area's stunning, mountainous terrain. Stoners are left especially speechless because that terrain is completely choked with marijuana. Most farmers have bud growing throughout or around their properties.
"I haven't planted it," farmer Fareed* told me at the Himalayan Trout House in the Nagini village of Himachal Pradesh. "In between the trees it grows wildly without putting any seeds."
Fareed has owned a farm near Chandigarh for 15 years. He grows flowers, bitter gourd, papaya, mango, rice, and more. At 4 AM every day, Fareed goes to the vegetable market to sell his produce. You'll find marijuana plants growing at his farm, but you won't find any in his truck for sale.
"Anything that involves dealing, when you're making money off of it, that's when you can get fucked," said Delhi resident Umair who owns a farm in Punjab. "Lots and lots of people are in jail for that, including foreigners."
Those who stick to growing and consuming marijuana appear to have no problems with the police, although it's not technically legal.
"It's a very grey area. It's a very big country and difficult to actually implement laws. It's not affecting anybody and it's not bothering anybody, and if it's part of your tradition and your custom, no one can stop you," Umair said. "We have all of these babas smoking openly all the time. It's part of what they do."
It isn't weed they're smoking, however—it's charas. Instead of drying cannabis plants, people in Himachal Pradesh prefer to rub the plants to extract a sticky resin to mix with tobacco or throw in a vaporizer.
"This is a little bit cleaner. Weed is genetically modified to increase the THC levels," Fareed said. "This is natural. There is no modification done to increase the THC levels."
Passing through the small hill villages of Himachal Pradesh, you'll come across women in colorful headscarves gracefully managing back-breaking manual labor. Teens in Western clothing walk down the single-lane streets. Elderly men chat idly on storefront steps and pay no mind to the cannabis plants towering over their heads.
"People don't give a second thought to it. It's not like, 'Ooh, weed!' It's very natural," Umair said. "In the villages, they don't really get into smoking it. It's more about bhang. You make a paste out of it and mix it with milk or something. You digest it instead of smoking it. It's a much heavier high and a much longer-lasting high. It's a very numbing high."
While villagers prefer drinking the local goods, there are people who smoke the state's rampant green.
"The people who are really into smoking, they know which valley they like and they'll stick to that. Every place has its own style and flavor," Umair said.
Himachal Pradesh may be the charas mecca, but you don't have to make an epic pilgrimage to find something to smoke in India.
"[Cannabis] grows everywhere," Umair said. "It grows in Delhi, if you have to."
*All names have been changed to protect sources' identities.