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Cannabis Drugs

Cannabis in India: Bhang

“I mean, you can just Google it.” I say, proving this by Googling “Where to buy bhang in Delhi”. 

“Look – it even has Google Maps results.” I show DH. He’s unimpressed and seems blandly tolerant. He trails along behind me on all of my missions, patiently accepting them and never interjecting with any of his desires. It’s infuriating.

I visit the bhang store in Noida twice. I recognize the alleyway the second time, tucked near a major freeway, by the cow standing at its intersection, lazily munching on trash, surrounded by a parking lot full of motorbikes and the odd car. There are piles of rotting refuse dotting the crumbling sidewalk. 

The street sellers joke with each other, and the sound of laughter punctuates the constant beeping of horns. The air smells of frying dough, rot, and gasoline.

Noida is an industrial suburb of Delhi, and, as I find out later, is located in a different state from Delhi. DH ends up in lockdown there, eventually, unable to secure food or water reliably for three weeks until we arrange to have him illegally smuggled over the city and state border into Delhi. 

But this is before that. Before the pandemic. Before the lockdowns. This is November, 2019.

And now, all that Noida means to me is bhang. 

Bhang

Bhang is an edible preparation of cannabis originating in India. It’s primarily used in Northern India. Bhang is part of ancient Hindu tradition dating back to 1000 years BC. Though cannabis is illegal in India, bhang is an exception to this rule. It’s commonly ingested during the Indian holiday Holi, but still sold at other times, for both religious and medicinal purposes.

Though I’m sure some people buy it just to get high.

I’m pretty sure this is the first time that I have purchased cannabis explicitly sold for religious purposes. I probably have had some Rastafarian dealer in the past, but none spring to mind.

Bhang is simply ground cannabis, fashioned into balls called “bhang gholis”. Usually it is then mixed with other things to sweeten it, or put into a lassi. But I do not want sugar, it’s a dangerous drug. Adding sugar to drugs tends to magnify any negative impact they have. 

Every Indian I have told this story to thinks I’m insane and very tough for consuming it straight.

I walk up to the location shown on my Google Maps and find a customer there purchasing. Standing behind him, I see a tiny room, with all sorts of religious paraphernalia and many prominent swastikas adorning it. The room is only connected to the street by a window with bars on it, making it look something like an old bank teller.

The bhang maker sits inside on the floor, with a circular tray full of balls of wet cannabis in front of him, neatly arranged in a spiral on the tray. 

He rolls a few more tightly, and folds them into a folded sheet of newspaper for the customer, who pays him. It’s nighttime, and too dark for me to see how much money the customer gives.

The customer looks at me as he walks away from the window and passes me, narrowing his eyes. I wonder whether he is shocked more by my gender, the color of my skin, or that I am wearing a pollution mask. The air quality in Delhi is the worst in the world. I looked at the Air Quality Index today, and saw a readout of 999+. That can’t be good. Little do I know I’ll be wearing masks for the next few years.

Then it’s my turn. I pull down my mask. Looking at the balls I try to calculate how much time I have left in Delhi. I underestimate, and come back to the store a few days later for a re-up. The second time I arrive, there are no other customers and I see that the bhang seller is ritualistically rolling and placing the gholis on the tray. The care and reverence reminiscent of counting rosary beads or writing out copies of the Quran.

I hold up five fingers to the seller and say “Panj”, not knowing whether or not he speaks English. “Panj” is the only number I know in Hindi, as it’s the same in Persian… though it is also the only number I know in Persian, now, as I’ve forgotten the rest. 

He raises his eyebrows, and I get the feeling I am asking for a large amount. 

He rolls the five balls into the newspaper for me, and says, in English: “Fifty”. I get the feeling I am being charged more than the previous customer, and later my Indian lover in Bengaluru tells me that they should cost 1 rupee, 2 at the most. I don’t mind the Gori tax.

Handing over fifty rupees, which is roughly .69 USD at the time, I want to ask him the questions I would ask a budtender in any other legal situation where edibles are being sold. I want to know how powerful they are. I want to know the milligrams of THC. But none of this is possible.

The water in them soaks through the newspaper. I think, briefly, about where the water comes from. Is it tap water? Will this be the way I fill myself with parasites?

I turn away from the store and get back on the Delhi Metro, which has a stop close to the shop. It rattles me across the tracks to my temporary neighborhood. The stop on the other end has me walking 20 minutes in the dark through a neighborhood in the southern part of Delhi to get back to the place where I stay. I make a mental note to again look up “Where to buy bhang in Delhi”, maybe there’s somewhere closer. There isn’t. I can feel the water leaching into the paper and start to think of the ink, as well, adding to the impurities that might affect the experience. 

As soon as I get back, I transfer the balls to a plate, peeling the now wet newspaper from them. The paper is written in English.

I’ve had enough cannabis, and enough edibles in my life to know to break off a tiny piece of one of the balls, to test, roughly a quarter of it.

You can always take more, but you can’t take less.

The material is rough, it seems to me that not just the flowers were ground into this, that it contains the whole plant, which has been pulverized with a mortar and pestle, and then mixed with water. Over the next few days the water evaporates and leaves the balls more fibrous and easier to handle.

It turns out that half a ball is a good amount to take at one time. At first my tolerance is low and I consume that amount in a day, but then it quickly catches up and I’m eating a half-ball every five hours or so.

It is so bitter it triggers my gag reflex. 

After the first bite of the first ball, I pull the rest into small pieces, put them at the back of my mouth, and swallow them with water to avoid the taste. 

And so, I am pleasantly and consistently high for the rest of my time in Delhi. It’s mellow, and even when I push the limits and swallow a ball whole, it’s not overwhelming. The weed was clearly grown outdoors using heirloom strains, and hasn’t been bred for potency.

It’s probably this that makes me completely miss that the Red Fort is closed on Mondays, and incorrectly time it for my last day in Delhi. I never see it.

But I do see the Taj Mahal, and even high as a kite decide that it is totally overrated.


Posts about edibles:

Happy Pizza

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5: Sonoma County, California: Tweaker Pool

6: Sugar: Gateway

7: Buying Drugs in Iconic Places


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