Inside the Himalayan Villages That Grow Cannabis

In the Himalayas of India, small villages thrive by growing cannabis.

This is one of them. The village, perched on a mountain at 9,000 feet (2,700 meters), is only reachable on foot. The hike takes three hours. Villagers say it’s been a good season so far—police have only shown up to cut plants twice. But those plants are a drop in the ocean. Ganja grows wild in the Indian Himalayas, and it’s nearly impossible to curb its illegal cultivation.
After harvesting the cannabis indica, farmers spend hours slowly rubbing the resin from the plant’s flowers to create charas, a type of hashish that’s considered to be some of the best in the world. It can cost up to 20 dollars per gram in the West. Cannabis is illegal in India, but many villagers have turned to charas manufacturing out of financial necessity.

Charas gets more valuable every year, but the farmers still live a humble life. Most fields are small, and 50 buds of ganja produce only 10 grams of charas.

Sadhus—Hindu holy men who went to the Himalayas in meditation—were among the first to make charas. When hippies began following sadhus through the mountains in the 1970s, locals, who had been smoking a rough mix of resin and other parts of the plant, began making charas, too. They follow the same technique today to produce what's estimated to be tons of charas a year. There are no official figures for India’s charas production or cannabis cultivation. Because it's illegal, the Indian government has never conducted a large-scale survey to assess cannabis production within its boundaries.