Charas is the name given to a hashish form of cannabis which is handmade in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Jamaica. It is made from the resin of the cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica). The plant grows wild throughout Northern India along the stretch of the Himalayas (its putative origin) and is an important cash crop for the local people.
History of charas
Hashish has been used across the Indian sub-continent for medicinal and religious purposes for thousands of years, and was sold in government shops (along with opium) during the times of the British Raj and in independent India until the 1980s (marijuana and bhang is still being sold in parts of Rajasthan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province of Pakistan).
Charas plays an important and often integral role in the culture and ritual of certain sects of the Hindu religion, especially among the Shaivs — the sub-division of Hinduism holding Lord Shiva to be the supreme god (in contrast to Vaishnavs who believe Lord Vishnu is the supreme god)—and it is venerated by some as being one of the aspects of Lord Shiva.
Despite this long history, charas was made illegal in India under pressure from the United States in the 1980s and severe sentences were introduced for cultivation and trafficking of charas. Even the mere possession had a mandatory ten year prison sentence. These laws have now been somewhat relaxed; however, charas has remained a popular medium for police to extort money from consumers of the drug.
Even at the peak of the crackdown, charas was still popular and remains so today, especially among young professionals and Indian sadhus. The Naga Sadhus, Aghoris and Tantric Bhairava sects smoke it freely as an integral part of their religious practice. Many smoke it in clay pipes called chillums, using a cotton cloth to cover the smoking end of the chillum and inserting a tightly packed pebble-sized ball of cannabis as filter under the chunk of charas. Before lighting the chillum they will chant the many names of Shiva in veneration. However it is fast regaining the popularity it once enjoyed with younger generation of India regarding it as a recreational drug of choice. It is freely available in several places around India especially where there is a strong affluence of tourists (Goa, Delhi, Rishikesh, Varanasi, etc.). Although charas can be found in several places around India, its manufacturing can be traced only to specific locations in India such as, Parvati Valley, (Kasol, Rasol, Malana ("Malana cream"), Kashmir as well as several other places in the northern India. In southern India there are also several places where charas is manufactured, but the quality leaves a lot to be desired.
Charas can be found in many places around India simply because there are people that take charas from the "source" to distribute it in areas where there is a substantial demand of it (usually areas with a lot of foreigners). The nominal price of charas in these areas is substantially higher than in the places where charas is made. There is also a large amount of charas that is illegally exported across to Europe.
High quality hashish in India comes from cannabis grown in the mountains. The variety from Himachal Pradesh is considered to be of the highest quality throughout India. It is easily available in Shimla, Naldera, Karsog, Narkanda, Kullu & Rampur—practically every area in Himachal Pradesh. For this reason, the Indian subcontinent has become very popular with backpackers and drug smugglers.
During hand-harvesting, live cannabis plants' flowering buds (as opposed to dried plants/buds) are rubbed between the palms of the harvesters' hands, and by the end of the day one has perhaps 8 or 9 grams of charas. The faster one works, the lower the quality of charas; hence to make "Malana cream" it is necessary to go very slowly and make only a few grams a day. Nowadays production of cannabis in the Himalayas has increased with growing demand for Malana cream; the ancient art of manufacturing is disappearing under the pressure to capitalize on the domestic and international market for charas.
High quality charas were also produced in Nepal and sold in government monopoly stores in Kathmandu until the government gave in to international pressure and got out of the business in the 1970s. Rolpa district in western Nepal was a production center, with ganja and charas both an important cash crop in this extremely isolated, underdeveloped and impoverished region.
Mixtures with tobacco
Charas is smoked, usually mixed with cigarette tobacco and rolled back into the cigarette blank. Cigarettes that burn longer due to cigarette paper/tobacco qualities are preferred for mixing and smoking charas. To smoke charas in a cigarette, cigarette tobacco is taken out and refined using hands to make it into smaller particles. Tobacco leaves with less moisture are easier to crush. Charas is then heated to make it soft; this is often referred to as "cooking". The objective is to dissolve the charas in the tobacco to make a mix while wasting minimum smoke value (meaning heated only enough to make it soft without burning it into smoke). Once mixed with the tobacco using hands it is filled back into the cigarette blank. The cigarette is tightly filled back to ensure maximum smoke in each puff. Commonly, filtered cigarettes are preferred such as: Benson & Hedges, Dunhill, and Gold Leaf. The very act of mixing tobacco and charas is referred as "Jodi" meaning the marriage of tobacco with charas. The match stick to which the charas is stucked is known as "saaqi". Beside from cigrattes, charas is smoked in sheesha mixed in flavour.
Rolling paper is also used to smoke charas. Charas with tobacco mixture is filled into the rolling paper to make a joint.
Charas production in Kashmir
In the Indian State of Kashmir, Charas is made from dried cannabis leaves. marijuana leaves are sievied on a silk cloth to get charas.The Charas is placed into a cornleaf, and after that a wet cloth is placed over corn leaf and then put the corn leaf in fire until it gets baked and then by twisting the leaf the material is pressed into the shape of a corkscrew. The colour ranges from black to golden brown, depending on the quality.
Differences in hashish from the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia
Hashish from Lebanon, Morocco and other countries in the Middle East and Central Asia is a popular alternative over Indian Charas from the Himalayas due to price and availability. It is prepared differently, mostly by sieving dried cannabis plants over a gauze or fine sieve. The fine powder is then pressed into bricks or plates, ready to be exported. However, what is smoked locally is similar to black charras or gardaa and is sometimes called sputnik, for its less tiresome effect compared to the regular green or red export hashish. The tiresome effect is believed to come from the amount of leaf matter that adulterates the export hashish, but may also be due to the presence of male pollen. A similar kind of Hashish is also found in the cannabis steppes from Kazakhstan to Western China (Xinjiang). It is sometimes sold in its uncompressed form as yellow "pollen".