From Manikaran I managed to find a taxi who can take me closer up towards Tosh, my next destination. The roads have become impassable for buses so it’s the only option. The ride up is beautiful but slightly scary as the tyres are bald and the roads are icy. After about 30 minutes we arrive in the small town of Barshaini, a little crossroads place where the taxi must stop due to the snow and ice. From here it’s a nice walk up the rest of the way to Tosh, probably around 2-3 kilometres.
As I wind my way up the steep cutbacks and old snow-covered road the view back across the valley is staggeringly beautiful. The fresh snow has totally changed the atmosphere of the area. It feels crisp and fresh, the winter has definitely arrived! Passing goat herders and locals making their way back down the road to market, I turn a corner to see Tosh off in the distance.
Crossing a little bridge to enter the village itself, there is a mix of guesthouses and traditional family homes spread along the valley side facing south. In the daytime, the Tosh is bathed in gorgeous sunlight and despite the freezing temperatures it only takes a few minutes to warm up as I sit on the first chai house terrace I come across and roll up a joint to celebrate my arrival.
I’ve been recommended a guest house called ‘Eye Sky’ which is easy to find and has fantastic views from its terrace and rooms. Its cheap and cosy and the owners are incredibly friendly. Like all the places here the Tandoor fire is kept alight in their social area and a mix of locals and tourists sit around and pass chillums.
It’s in Tosh that I really see the chillum culture in full swing. A chillum is a slightly conical straight clay pipe with a cone-shaped claystone that fits inside.
A seemingly constant stream of chillums are cleaned, then packed with a mix of tobacco and fresh Charas. A small cloth is wrapped around the chillum at the mouthpiece end. Everyone has their own smoking technique and way of holding the chillum, the main rule is not to place your mouth on the actual chillum, but rather form a seal around it using your hand. Various evocations and religious words are spoken pre puffing and then the chillum is passed to the left. This is repeated with the chillum going around the circle until its finished. Then the ritual of cleaning the chillum and re loading it with a fresh mix begins.
There is a lot of rituals and religious significance involved in chillum smoking and it’s taken seriously up here. People pay hundreds of dollars for hand made Italian chillums which are considered the absolute best quality. The makers become legendary in the smoking community, the chillums in these photos are made by ‘Jonas and Kaio’. People travel with small bags with all the necessary equipment for cleaning and smoking chillums and smoking circles can turn into epic sessions that are hard to leave. Everyone pulled out their best Charas or cream to impress each other!
After meeting the extremely lovely owners and managing to extract myself from the fairly serious smoking session before I am totally ruined, I head off into the village for a little explore and maybe even find some local ‘Tosh Balls’ which the village is famous for!