From Chalal the route to Rasol takes you up narrow pathways out of the village flanked by ancient walls and terraced fields full of fruit trees and vegetable plots. Fairly soon the walk turns into a climb and I started to realise that the 2-hour estimate for the journey was only realistic if you’re a mountain goat on steroids!
You climb up into a deep valley with towering sides, the trek isn’t technically difficult but its relentless and every time you round a corner or crest a ridge expecting to see the village in close reach you find more pathway cutting up the mountain side. The views are spectacular as you look back down the valley towards the Parvati river below and across to the snow-capped mountain ranges in the distance. Eventually the village comes into view way up in the distance and with the end in sight and the promise of a hot tea and a smoke with a view I make the last push.
In all the hike actually took around 3 hours with a tea break halfway up. I wouldn’t want to do it with a heavy bag or bad weather, but it was more than worth it.
The village of Rasol sits at the top of this epic valley perched on a small ledge of land looking back down to the river below. Its isolation and location has protected this ancient culture from total modernisation. It’s not completely original of course, satellite dishes speckle the old houses and men in traditional attire sit outside the temple browsing the internet on their smart phones, but the lifestyle hasn’t changed much here in hundreds of years. People are busily collecting firewood in preparation for the imminent snows and storing fodder for their animals. Heating is provided by small wood burning fires called Tandoors normally placed in the centre of the room and wood here is a serious business as I am to find out. All the houses have significant piles of logs stashed all around them and in small barns on the outskirts of the village. Once the snows arrive, they will be entirely dependent for their warmth, comfort and cooking on how much wood they have managed to collect during the warmer months.
Everything that comes into Rasol is carried up by man or donkey, the going rate for 40kg is 500 rupees (£12.50/$15) which out here is a lot of money, so there isn’t a lot of outside consumption. A couple of tiny shops supply the whole village with a few basics and some things for the outside visitors like rolling papers and tobacco. Something to bear in mind before you leave, if you forget something you need it isn’t going to be easy to get a replacement here, especially any medicines etc so do plan ahead.
The village is small and spreads up the hill behind, most of the houses have fantastic views from their terraces and balconies and apart from a few newer guest houses to one side of the village the majority of the buildings are traditional. I’m told that the local building style using stone, wooden beams and then a mud render to fill the gaps provides much more warmth and insulation than modern concrete constructions which lose their heat fast. The roofs are made up of giant thick stone tiles which keep the cold from the snow out of the roof spaces.
I check into a small traditional homestay and for 300 rupees (£3.50/$5) I have a traditional 3 bed room with a tandoor in the centre and million dollar views.
I’m the only outsider in the village and everyone is warm and welcoming, within minutes I’m feeling fully at home here and apart from being a bit chilly, I can already tell im going to love it here.
Rasol in many regards is a normal mountain village much like many others in the Himalayas, however as with other villages in this special region, Rasol has a fairly badly kept secret. 90% of Rasol’s economy is cannabis production!
At the top of the valley here every field, clinging to the sides of the mountains is put aside to grow weed from march to October. In front of most houses in the village small fields were full of lush green plants until a few weeks ago, now the cut remains, and piles of stems are everywhere. There is almost no other viable cash crop that works up at these altitudes and in this climate. Many others have been tried and nothing has ever worked. Both financially and culturally. The plant here has been used as a material for clothing, rope, shoes, belts, bedding and many many more over the centuries as well as for collection of resin for human consumption.
Since the 60’s a steady flow of westerners seeking a peaceful place and high-quality hash have come to Rasol during the summer and harvest time some returning for season after season, some never leaving!
One of the results of the western influx was the gradual increase in the quality of the hash, there is a misconception that ‘cream’ was always the norm up here but that is incorrect. It was westerners seeking a better-quality smoke that insisted on cleaner and more time-consuming production methods. The demand for and the increased prices payed for better and better quality Charas led to the ‘Cream’ culture, with families and farmers competing within villages to produce the best hash possible. Hippies and Hash connoisseurs would migrate to wherever was producing the best of the best each season and over the years the effective branding of certain villages hash took effect. Names like Malana cream have become part of the lexicon of cannabis culture, the truth is that most of the villages in this area grow their major fields in a shared areas way up high above the where the police will bother to visit, and most of them are producing their hash from a fairly narrow genetic pool of seed stock.
There are still variances that I’ve seen in the local hash and away from the main fields there is a diverse selection of genetics, in Chalal I saw Indicas and Sativas in the same plot and every plant I touched had a distinctly different smell. Up in the main fields the crops are controlled more, males are removed in general and seed production for next season isn’t left up to chance crossing but done by expert farmers who understand the importance of stable crop growth and uniformity.
Once again, I accidentally stumble into my next Hash purchase, a pattern which I’m really enjoying, I’ve always found that you locate the best product when you aren’t going around actively searching.
After a cosy night sleep next to my wood burner I set out to walk to the top of the ridge above the village, within less than 50 meters I’m beckoned by an old man sitting on his terrace to come and join him for a morning chillum. His English is excellent and his beautiful traditional house has one of the best views in the village. I quickly learn that he picked up his English from decades of interaction with the long term travellers who made Rasol a home for months on end. He laments the loss of their business and friendships and talks about how he watched things change in the area. Police intervention and the imposition of government regulations from thousands of miles away weigh heavily on his thoughts. He talks at length about the good old days when the villages in the area were left to their own devices, there was no crime to report and people just made enough money to be comfortable and take care of their families through the winter. Things have clearly changed . especially in the last 10 years. The slow reduction in western visitors and the increase in Indian mafia and foreign bulk buyers coming to the mountains to mass purchase whole seasons yields from villages led to the decline in average quality and a much less relaxed atmosphere for the farmers. Greed has set in where once communities in different villages worked together, capitalism and modernisation has come as a bit of a shock to the friendly locals of the Parvati valley. Still up here nestled on the snow line in the mountains smoking a chillum and laughing about the mutual friends who used to live here, It doesn’t seem to bad
For 2 hours we chat and smoke, He shows me how they make fibre from the plant which they then use to make rope and matting and we exchange Charas and stories. He talks about how production changed since his childhood and of friends who came back every year to help with the harvest. I also learn that he has been making iceolator water hash from many years as a bonus product but now his bags are broken and there is no real demand for the bubble hash up here in the mountains. As soon as he sees my Rasol Charas he tells me straight away who made it and compliments his friend on the quality he produced; he is of course right! His Charas is his own and he explains that he doesn’t smoke cream but prefers his own top grade Charas for daily consumption. His appetite for chillums is impressive and soon I’m struggling to keep up and can foresee an unplanned sleep coming on if I don’t make my excuses and leave soon. As if he can read my mind, he tells me I should make a move if I want to reach the top of the ridge.
As I prepare to leave; to my delight, I receive the ubiquitous grin and he asks‘ would you like some cream?’ Having listened to his explanation of how he produces I know its going to be very good so I happily say yes thanks and wait as he wanders off to recover some from his secret stash above the house. When he returns he hands me a beautiful dark shiny disk which due to the cold is brittle but within seconds of handling becomes softer and softer. Its sticky on the outside and the smell is rich and spicy, there are still some tiny contaminants but in comparison to everything I had seen so far this was a different ball game. I don’t even think that this was stuff he sold but rather a piece from his own stash so once again I have struck lucky here.
With my every increasing stash of local hash now significantly improved I exchange contact details and promise to return next harvest season with some new bags as a present. He offers me a field of my own and a place to stay as if it he was offering me a cup of tea. Once again, the kindness and genuine friendliness of the people here astounds me.
Having achieved about 50 meters of my 4 km hike and now high as a kite I float my way up the mountain side on perilous tracks in the glorious sunshine. Passing small farms perched on the cliffs and ledges surrounded by little terraced fields all covered in straw coloured stems cut at waist height, a sign of the recently harvested crop. The more you walk the more you start to see fields everywhere, in impossible locations high up in death defying ledges. The sheer scale is breath-taking and this isn’t even the main production area. The human effort involved in creating all these terraces over the generations gives a tiny glimpse into the incredible endurance of the people who call this magical place home.
Bundles and bundles of stripped stems have been tossed off the cliff edges below every field, the fibre from the stems being of less value now. Another common sight is piles of dried plant material and millions of seeds lying all over the ground at every location along the paths that make good rubbing stations between fields, and below every farms terrace where the families gather to rub together then dispose of the trash over the edge.
After about an hour and a half of climbing I eventually reach the top of the ridge above Rasol and find a little spot to sit and take a proper look at the cream I have just purchased and roll a joint. Its turned into a soft sticky goo after being in my pocket but within 30 seconds of being out in the brisk mountain air despite the sun it turns hard again. Below me is the most incredible view I have seen on this trip, the little village of Chalal looks like a speck below me and at this altitude I am up at the same height as the mountains of in the distance. Even Rasol looks small below me now and looking down on the village you can see how cut off it is. Just above me over the ridge are the main fields that the local villages use for their production and the route over towards Malana , now the top is covered in snow and the route is closed to all but the most prepared trekkers.
I take a drag on the joint and sit back to take in the view; after many hours travel by plane, on buses and hiking for hours straight up a mountain, I’m in heaven.