Arriving in India was one of the biggest culture shocks of my young life. Aged 18 and having just completed my first year at university I really didn’t know what to expect from a country famous for its chaotic streets as well as its beauty. I wasn’t disappointed. Almost immediately after stepping out of Delhi airport I was greeted by a symphony of horns and shouts mixing with a thousand alien smells.
I was about to embark on one of the craziest few weeks of my life. Who would have known that one of the most special moments on this adventure would involve Cannabis and the famous ‘special Lassi’. In this reflection of a personal experience i had with my friend Tom in the ancient town of Khajuraho I’ll take you with me on one of the most memorable Cannabis experiences I’ve had in my entire life.
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The Special Lassi
Cannabis and India have been long associated with each other. Making its way into the sub-continent between 2000 and 1000 BC, Cannabis is intertwined with Indian history. Unlike other historic cultures, populations in India used Cannabis for its psychoactive effects as well as for the structural properties of Hemp. Cannabis and its effects were even written about in sacred texts, such as the Atharva Veda, which also alludes to the god Shiva being a fan. In India, Cannabis can be mashed up and used as a substance called Bhang, a milky substance made up of the leaves, buds and stems of Cannabis plants.
This Bhang substance can be added to milk and et voila, you have a bhang lassi, or special lassi for tourists. These drinks are often unregulated in their strengths and it is not uncommon for unsuspecting tourists to go from 0-60, especially if they ambitiously ask for an extra strong one. It was drinking Bhang lassis that myself and one of my best friends Tom had a truly unforgettable experience on a trip to India a few years ago. An experience that started my love affair with Cannabis.
The Indian Trip: Cannabis in India
Tom was on his gap year and I had just finished my first year of university. I had promised him at some point that if he decided to go to India, I would pop out (ah student loan money) and visit him for a few weeks. I met him in Delhi and we toured around the so-called golden triangle in Rajasthan. If you’ve never been to India and have the chance to go… go. I have never been to a country so beautifully steeped in history, culture and kindness and of course the food. Cannabis is illegal in India, but seemingly omnipresent.
At every city we went to, someone offered us bhang or ganja. In many places we were stung by bad Cannabis. One gram we bought I’m sure was just tea leaves, but we smoked it in Tom’s Elephant pipe that he’d picked up at an airport. Nothing happened. At one point a taxi driver sold us some weed and joined us to smoke it, eventually forgetting that he had the rest in his taxi. We hadn’t had the best luck, that is until the last week of our trip.
After two weeks of driving around some of the most beautiful cities we could find on the map, we were stuck with how to spend the last few days of our trip. A French traveller that we’d met in Ranthambore had suggested a little town called Khajuraho. Khajuraho is most famous for a group of Hindu and Jainist temples that have intricate sculptures of people in various sex positions.
There are many theories as to what these temples were for, one being that the sexual images are on the outside, meaning people had to leave behind their desires before entering the temples, but they have now become a tourist hotspot. Tom and I cycled around a few of the biggest temples, taking pictures, but we were mostly concerned with the storm cloud that had been shuffling in over the city all afternoon. We cycled back towards the high street, dropped off our bikes and looked for somewhere to take shelter as the heavens began to open.
One More Please
Storms in India take on gigantic proportions, making the drizzle of England seem pathetic: Like comparing being soaked by an inconsiderate driver passing by a puddle to a full blown precipitation tsunami. The only shelter we could find was a little bar on one of the high streets that had a large tarpaulin smoking area full of fellow tourists huddled in and waiting for the storm to pass. A waiter came over and gave us a menu, handily plastered with stock photos of cocktails we couldn’t really afford. “If you like, we do special Lassis?” The waiter said to us, with a knowing grin. At this point in our trip, we hadn’t actually come across a bar that actively promoted special Lassis, and we still weren’t one hundred percent on what constituted “special”. “It’ll make the rain pass quicker,” was all the waiter said, so we ordered one to share.
It went down easy. Too easy. The thick milky texture and the all too familiar taste of Cannabis oil blended perfectly together. After finishing the first in 6 shared sips, we ordered two more. One each. Not completely sure of what they would do to us. After being stung by the fake Cannabis earlier we were certain that they were going to be very weak. 20 minutes later though, as the rain grew stronger and played out it’s ever more percussive sounds on the tarpaulin we were both quite certainly stoned. We chatted for a while about all of the usual travel chat: people back home, girlfriends, university hopes etcetera, etcetera.
We were both having a great time, laughing and relishing this moment. Tom and I had been very close at school and it was great to feel like we were building back up that special bond. The waiter came back over with two more special Lassis, still beaming. He placed them down then beckoned us towards the entrance to the bar. “Come outside, you have to see this.” Tom and I looked at each other and stood up in unison. Whatever it was that was going on outside, we would follow this waiter. To us he’d gifted us the best drink of the holiday, so out we went into the storm.
The Storm and the Parrots
Now, I’m not too sure exactly how high we both were at this moment in time, but something genuinely quite magical happened. Above our heads the storm was in full swing, great forks of lightning seemed to split the sky in half. Illuminating the grey, monolithic clouds which were now no longer ominous, but beautiful plooms of whirling mist. What seemed like hundreds of parakeets, spooked by the lightning, or just having a ball, were all leaving their nests in the trees on the side of the road. Little green dots, floating, swinging and darting about above our heads, lit up by the flash-bulb bursts of lightning, giving their wings a neon buzz. Their calls and chatters underscored by the great rumbling of the thunder storm. I looked over at Tom and he was staring with his jaw dropped all the way down to the floor.
“Is this genuinely happening, or are we tripping balls?” I asked, half joking, but half worried that we were in some shared hysteria. The scores of townspeople around us stunned in silence at the scene above seemed to answer my question. It was truly magical. I’ve seen some incredible things before. I’d seen plenty on this holiday alone, but this blew them all out of the water. The parakeets were flying in formations, like Swifts do back in England. Synchronised patterns underneath the bright lightning sky. We stood there for about twenty minutes, not caring that we were drenched by the rain, but in awe of nature’s humongous flex above us. After a while, the storm began to die down and the parakeets became a little quieter too, as if they knew their show was drawing to a close. We both made our way back under the canvas and didn’t speak for another ten minutes, stunned by what we’d just seen. “Let’s head back to the hotel,” were the only words I could muster. Tom nodded and we went outside to grab a Tuk-Tuk.
The tuk-tuk home was almost as magical as the sights we’d just seen. We were both now quite high and the wind and rain brushing our faces as the tuk tuk shot through the narrow streets back towards our hotel was an experience. Slowly coming down, we both reflected on what had been an absolutely incredible end to our Indian experience.
Cannabis has always been key to some of the best experiences of my life, getting high with friends, watching a show, but this was by far the most beautiful experience I’ve had on the drug. In fact it may even be one of the most beautiful moments of my life. Of course, the only issue is whenever I tell people about it, it just sounds like I was incredibly high and hallucinated a thunder storm in a city of sex temples, surrounded by hundreds of parakeets. Tom knows it happened for real though… and now you do too.
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