a lassi is a tradtional indian yoghurt based drink, the main constituent of which is indian ‘curd’, which the rest of the world knows as ‘runny yoghurt’.
plain lassi (runny yoghurt plaus nothing)
sweet lassi (runny yoghurt plus sugar)
salt lassi (runny yoghurt plus salt)
banana lassi (predictable)
mango lassi (i think you’ve already guessed).
‘bhang’ means grass. in hindustani culture they’ve been smoking dope since they invented it. in the himalayan vallies of kashmir and himachel pradesh especially, enormous swathes of closely packed annabiis plants grow as god intended, up to 7 or 8 feet in height. obviously just picking the leaves and smoking them is shite, so they invented charas. the traditonal method for collecting charas was to send a clean, naked boy running through the fields for an afternoon, and then rub the sticky resin off his smooth skin. nowadays, now that they have the internet for entertainment, people just rub the leaves with their hands. colllecting in this manner will harvest around six grammes a day.
however, smoking this charas is illegal to all except the holy men (or sadhus) under hindu religious law. your average indian local would think nothing of making a bit for the travelling ascete, who after all needs to be on a level with shiva, but would never dream of smoking it himself- alcohol and drugs carry the same sort of social stiugma in a small traditional indian community as knocking back anti-freeze or sniffing glue does in a pleasant surrey suburb. to bridge this social paradox, the govt. of india runs its own chains of shops in hoply cities to supply holy men with their wares, (opium and grass), to save the locals from the moral problem of supplying it themselves- sort of like ‘halfords’ does for teenagers.
however, when it comes to the fresh, wet, mushy, absolutely unsmokable, totally impotent leaves of a cannabis plant- well they’re fair game as far as the locals are concerned. anyone who’s ever tried smoking the regular leaves off an outdoor naturally grown unselected plant will attest to the fact that all you’ll get off them is a nasty cough. but what the cunning indian has learnt to do is stick a heroic dose, 10- 20 grams wet weight of the otherwise useless vegetable matter, in a blender with half a pint of yoghurt and a few spoons of sugar. and then drink it.
that, my dear, is a bhang lassi.
first time i ever had a bhang lassi i was in the (then) holy coastal town of gokarna in the state of karnataka- mother to three of the most beautiful unspoilt beaches on the konkan coast (not any more i’m afraid), surrounded by luscious and beautiful examples of nature’s work. the advice of my friends of the time was simple- if you’re going to take psychedelics, you’re better to do it in the morning and make a day of it in the beautufl environment.
keepng this in mind i headed down to the beach at 8am and had a bhang lassi for breakfast. 40 rupees, or about a dollar (twice the price of a regualr lassi). i thought it a clever strategic move to drop it down on an empty stomach, and had banana added to try and disguise the green taste of the thing. and then i sort of sat and waited.
when i suddenly noticed i had no idea how long i’d been there, i thought it best to pay the bill. when i found myself trying to pay the bill for the third time, i though it best to leave. when i found myself leaving, i also suddenly found myself unalbe to see properly. feeling myself quite out of my depth before lunch, i opted to try and get back to the safety and obscurity of the hotel, though in hindsight i’d have probably done better just to sit where i was.
there was only one respectable hotel in gokarna, the imaginatinvely named ‘hotel gokarna’ (500 rupess or so for a double with hot water and attached bathroom and balcony. very clean. claimed a few stars, but i think that might have been pushing it.). and there is only one street in gokarna, which was not very long, though in my defence it did turn left at the end. taking this information into account it should have probably taken less than an hour to find the place.
once located ‘hotel gokarna’ was not the easiest hotel to navigate, with a series of mezzanines, half floors and intermediarry staircases interlocking on two sides to form a sort of open courtyard around the main foyer. after the bhang lassi however, naviagation became nothing short of absolutely fucking impossible. indeed, i couldn’t for the life of me find the room, and kept seeming to arrive back at reception. in the end i thought it best to ask the now interested management if they knew where my room was. my question was a simple one, and predicatalby drew an even simpler one from them. ‘which number is your room sir.’ it was now that is discovered that somewhere between the ‘bhang’ and the ‘lassi’, i had misplaced my room number.
‘318? no, 238? no, 183…?’ and so it went on. i explained that i was staying with a group of six acquaintences, a small group of drug dealers calling themselves ‘dj s’ and we had checked into two or three rooms on different floors late the night before. this didn’t seem to help the clueless management, who in turn, obviously not having tried a bhang lassi themselves before, demanded what my friend’s names might be, and found it ridiculous that i found the disclosure of this information outside of my powers.
disgusted by the inefficiency of the management to assist me in the simple task i had requested of them, i once more took matters into my own hands, relieving myself of their inadequate company i simply went round the hotel knocking on likely candidate doors, saying ‘sorry’ when the occupier answered- after a few rounds the occupier was without exception a mildly confused middle aged pot-bellied indian wrapped in a towel,
they say all roads lead to rome, but again i arrived back at reception, where the manager and his assistant, having consulted themselves, and having no recollection that i’d even signed in, also decided to take matters into their own hands and eject me from the premises. thankfully at that moment my friends, whom i was also starting to doubt ever existed, happened to be stepping through the door returning from breakfast. they knew their own names and everything, and had the keys in their pockets which was a great relief. without even a sniff of a fuss they informed the management of the terrible mistake, took me into their safe custody and escorted me to the room that i had been alloted to.
back in the room i was shown to a makeshift bed on the balcony and possibly undressed by the lovely lucy. for the next couple of hours she kindly gave me a number of reasons to help me remember her name into the future. when i came to take a shower to cool off, i discovered god had dealt me yet another heinous blow- no electricity- and the bathroom had no windows. being a resourceful chap, i found a candle and set it on the sink. my shower finished, i returned to the lucy on the mattrass on the balcony, and collapsed in a psychic whirl of dream-like not-sleep.
when i came to my senses in the late afternoon i was aware of a strange odour eminating from the bathroom. ‘not the usual nag champa’ i thought. the electricity was back on, but i soon wished it wasn’t. the candle had set fire to the plastic framed mirror, which in turn had charred the wall black to the ceiling. the floor was decorated with the smashed mirror, silvered shards of broken glass scattered hither and thither. the frame itself had part melted into the sink, whilst the candle had fallen onto the toilet seat, still lit, and made a brown ugly mess of it.
i think the seven years is up in about three weeks, or at least i fucking hope it is.
part of a new series, ‘trips through india’.