Prepared from the leaves and buds of the female cannabis plant, Bhang can be taken in many different ways. The most popular in north India is mixed with Thandai, a cool milky drink, or in pakoras taken on the festive occasion of Holi. The Government in Rajasthan has even made its sale legal. In fact, it is a source of revenue from those who successfully bid for the vending rights.
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Doctor Bhang, real name Chander Prakash Vyas but known popularly as Babu, is the third generation of a family holding these rights since the early 1970s. You can have bhang in many forms at his shop: in chocolates, cookies, sweets, buttermilk and juices. The dosage comes in ‘baby’ and strong portions; the former is for those just starting out. Or for Japanese and Koreans because they have small eyes, and they will not return if they can’t handle it says the ‘doctor.’
Does Bhang have any merits too? Oh yes, says my host. In his own words: It has full power, no shower, no toilet for 24 hours. It is best for long journeys, desert tours and camel safaris; instead of bobbing up and down, a camel ride will feel like a flying carpet. It elevates moods, even causing mild euphoria. It stimulates the appetite, and even serves as a mild aphrodisiac. A middle aged, doped out guy came to serve me the drinks; he turned out to be Babu’s grandfather. How does he manage to look so young? By having Bhang daily; he has not been to a doctor in 45 years. Incidentally, someone captured Babu’s sales spleen on video and posted on YouTube (see link at bottom); it ran exactly as he spoke to me also. Talk about being well rehearsed.
Babu warned me against trying Bhang in places like Varanasi and Pushkar though. They make it look better in appearance but mix it with Dhatura, a kind of LSD. It can lead to blindness. Babu does not sell Bhang powder as people cannot get the dosage right; an overdose can cause craziness.
But I faced no such problem with Girdhari Lal, one of the seven authorized vendors in Bikaner. He happily sold me 100 grams of the powder for Rs. 100 (US$ 2). In fact, he only sells raw Bhang. He was also selling it wet, rolled up like a small ball, for Rs. 10 each. He was making this paste on a flat mortar stone which had developed a depression being in use for 50 years since his grandfather’s time. Girdhari Lal himself has been manning the stall for 35 years. The ball used to sell for five paise at one time. Don’t expect any discounts though; the annual licence fee of Rs. 800,000 (US$ 16,000) has to be recovered also he says.
I saw a customer popping in a few of these balls in succession; doesn’t he get a high and pose a hazard to others? No, said Girdhari Lal. On the contrary, Bhang calms the mind and makes it stable. It helps focus, reason why many lawyers and judges consume this regularly. It is good to sit for hours meditating to Lord Shiva. Unlike someone under the influence of alcohol, a high on Bhang means you will sit peacefully in one corner and not wake up in a drain.
Bhang is apparently more popular in holy cities because Brahmins, the holy class, are not allowed to consume alcohol or tobacco. And Bhang comes with the blessing of Bhole Shankar, or Lord Shiva.
Why does everything ‘not-so-healthy’ have a justification?