Cannabis has been popular in the mountainous regions of northern India for many thousands of years. It’s consumed in a variety of forms, such as bhang, which is made from mixed cannabis plant matter, ganja, which is just the buds, and finally charas, which is a traditional form of hash made from the resin of the finest cannabis from high altitudes. This is the most highly revered form of traditional Indian cannabis, and is often said to be one of the best forms of hashish produced anywhere in the world. Charas, and cannabis in general, are associated with the god Shiva. It is used today in the towns and villages of the Hindu Kush mountains, and used more broadly by followers of Shiva in the region. In these areas, charas is commonly smoked in a tobacco mixture rolled into a cigarette, but more traditionally from a chillum pipe, particularly by smokers searching for spiritual connection to Shiva. Charas from the Hindu Kush mountains is popular in many cannabis cultures throughout the world, fetching high prices in the coffee shops of Amsterdam. It is somewhat harder to find in the US, taking a backseat to other forms of hash and concentrate.
Charas is made using a unique process that distinguishes it from hash made in the rest of the world. Unlike the Moroccan method of that begins with drying the plants, traditional charas is made by hand rubbing the resin from live plants. With clean hands warmed by the Indian sun, buds are gently rolled between the hands like dough. Resin collects on the palms, and is then formed into a ball of dark brown hash. The process is labor intensive, taking a full day of work to make 6 grams using these traditional methods. Charas is often made from a mix of whatever strains grow in a particular area of the Himalayan foothills, with higher altitudes generally yielding higher quality and more indica leaning composition.
Cannabis was legal in India until the late 1980s, when the nation was pressured by the growing international war on drugs to stamp out such practices. The effectiveness of prohibition in India has been limited at best, with the industry booming in the decades since in response to a growing international market. These charas producing areas of northern India are now host to an ongoing pitched battle between traditional cannabis farmers, and police who climb the mountains to chop down as much of the fields as possible. The Indian government has long been pressured and paid by the west to stamp out traditional cannabis culture in the region. However, in an environment where charas and ganja are part of the ancient culture, it is an uphill battle. The mountains protect the cannabis farming villages, making it very difficult for police to access, and once they do, even more difficult to chop down whole fields. In addition to dealing with determined farmers, police are faced with the fact that cannabis grows abundantly in the wild here. The industry as a whole shows no signs of disappearing. Often, charas production is the sole source of income for mountain communities who depend on nature for almost everything else they need – these farmers won’t be giving up any time soon. The police go through the motions because the Indian government is paid to do so by Europe and the US, but often themselves go home and smoke cannabis provided by these same communities. Efforts towards legalization in India have been budding in recent years, but still have a long way to go.
Recently, I had the chance to try some traditional Indian-style charas from goddessdelivers.com. When I first saw it, I was surprised by how different it looks and feels from any hash I had encountered before. In the past, I had only seen two basic types of old school hash - soft, loose bubble hash which is basically pressed kief, and dark green, hard as rock, hockey-puck style hash. This traditional charas is a dark brown, nearly black in color, and is sticky and stretchable with the texture of saltwater taffy. The smell is intense in a unique way, very different than the sour and sweet aroma of modern concentrates. There is a strong fresh pine aroma bordering almost on spearmint. The taste walks a fine line between piney and fruity, at first tasting similar to the initial pine smell, but finishing with a tropical sweetness after a brief hint of lime or grapefruit citrus in the middle.
The effects make a gradual ascent, felt immediately but not reaching their full potential for about 10 minutes. Once they have fully set in, the high is relaxing and mostly body oriented. It can be very strong, and I had to learn my limits the hard way multiple times, due to the delayed effect. Eventually, I realized all I needed was one or two small hits before putting it down, waiting 10 minutes, and reassessing. The effects are steady, and long lasting. Overall it settled into a place in my daily routine, usually using a small amount to boost my late night anti-insomnia efforts. It could easily be rolled into a joint, but that’s not my style so much these days, so I smoked the charas mainly out of a small chillum. I picked off small pieces to put on top of regular flower. I was advised to not actually let the flame touch the charas, but instead to hold the flame about a quarter inch away and let it basically vaporize. I did find that the taste was better, and much less harsh, using this method. The smoke is extremely thick; a little can go a very long way – so I advise using it sparingly until you know how much you’ll really go though in one session.
It's possible that I won’t buy charas again –for the same reason that many cannabis enthusiasts will want to go out of their way to try it. I am long past the point in my life where I look for maximum sheer strength from a cannabis product – and this charas was one of my most intense experiences ever in terms of raw power. It hits like freight train, overpowering some of the subtler aspects of the cannabis experience. Which is exactly what many smokers are looking for. If dispensaries start carrying charas more commonly, I have no doubt that this ancient Indian creation will soon become a truly global phenomenon.