We had just arrived in Jaisalmer not more than 20 minutes before noticing the “Gov’t Authorised Bhang Shop” sign in a tiny, tin-walled shack leaning up against the base of the old castle walls. The street smelled heavily of urine, as do many Indian streets, and hustlers abound, offering us leather goods and bracelets. A man wearing sunglasses coolly stirred a pot of green butter, or more likely “Ghee”, a clarified butter more commonly found in Indian foods. It was green from the cannabis he had been cooking into it.
Bhang is a preparation from the leaves and flowers (buds) of cannabis, traditionally harvested and prepared in Lassi form or smoked during the celebration of Holi and Vaisakhi.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we agreed. Let’s at least get a hotel room before imbibing something which may do nothing or do everything to our minds. So we did, in an old palace room in a crumbling building within the yellow walls of the so-called “golden city” of the Rajasthan region of Western India.
Stumbling down the narrow city streets, winding down to the base, avoiding cow feces and loud scooters and small motorcycles, we arrived once again at the “Gov’t Authorised Bhang Shop”. This time, our friend was sitting inside, looking out, smiling coolly and calmly at people passing by outside.
“I’ve been running this shop for 20 years”, he said, “Anthony Bourdain came here. Look, we have a DVD. Look at the photo of me and Anthony Bourdain”. He showed us a yellowed photograph and beat up DVD case, while the Anthony Bourdain Bhang Lassi special played on loop on the small TV inside his shack.
He had menus sitting around the cushions and plastic chairs inside his shack. There was a hookah in the middle, as well as a variety of bongs, pipes, and other smoking paraphernalia for sale inside his shop. The menu had a listing of Lassi drinks, an Indian yogurt drink sometimes sweetened and sometimes salted, and occasionally fruit flavored. These were all also mixed with his liquid Bhang concoction.
A few old men wandered up to his shop, handed him a few bills of Indian Rupees, and walked away with small bags of cannabis. He also offered cookies and baked goods, and there was a strong likelihood he had been snacking on these throughout the day.
We ordered two Banana Lassis, and ordered them strong. He asked us if we had experience with things like this and we confidently lied in the affirmative.
The Bhang Lassi tasted like a banana milkshake. It was greenish, had a slight cannabis-like odor to it, and a slight cannabis-like taste to it. It was quite refreshing, cold, and served in small metal cups. It was only a few ounces, probably 6 ounces or so, and we sipped on them for the next few minutes quietly, chatting occasionally about the shop, his baked offerings, and India.
It only took about twenty minutes, walking back up the windy streets to the hotel, for the drinks to begin to settle in. We passed by a merchant we had met before, and chatted with him for a few minutes which seemed like hours. He nodded, didn’t say a whole lot, and laughed and patted us on the backs. We seemed to keep repeating ourselves, and the effects of the Bhang was definitely setting in slowly. After wandering in a blissful spaciousness along the warm windy streets, we made it back up to the crumbling yet vastly spacious room with bars and no glass for windows and a cool breeze flowing over the warm stone wall outside. The only thing I could think of at that point was to grab my iPod and headphones.
My friend realized he had forgotten his headphones in his car back down at the base of the castle, which was of course in our minds entirely unacceptable, and after moaning a bit, grabbed his keys and walked down to his car.
After that my memory was somewhat jeopardized. I have a vague memory of staring outside the windows, watching the sun go down slowly and relaxing to chillout music, like Thievery Corporation and Zero 7. This went on for a while, my thoughts carried myself back home, back to my relationships, my friends, my family, and things which had been on and off my mind while traveling around India.
At this point, the drink began to hit full force, about one hour in.
My friend came bursting back in the room, laughing hysterically, and I couldn’t resist and had to laugh too. We laughed, until we couldn’t breathe anymore, slamming our faces into the pillows, falling off our beds, blissfully freaking out in a soaring existence with our headphones on and music bringing a smooth yet grooving tempo to our lives.
We lay in our beds, staring at the Rajasthani artwork with elephants, kings, and camels painted on the walls of our ancient room. The sun setting outside cast a warm golden glow into the room, with a light breeze coming in through the barred glassless windows. Occasionally we would move, lift our arms, walk our legs up above our heads, stretch and shiver as the Bhang brought a heavy tingling sensation throughout our limbs and a light lofty relaxation to our cerebral selves.
After about three or four hours, I cannot remember if we fell asleep or not, but reality started to set back in. It was dark now, we were starving, yet still covered in a dense psychological haze. We agreed we should stand up, as shaky as our rubber limbs were and as unstable as our balance was, to find food while we still could.
After that, a glorious and lavish Indian feast followed atop the roof of one of the castle pillars, as well as a few Kingfisher beers, and the quiet desert in the distance like a dark ocean we were still floating gently in.
This is a guest post by Matt Boynton: This is a guest post by Matt Boynton: Matt is a world traveler and vagabonder financing his operations remotely through writing. He is in constant pursuit of new business ideas and beverages.