Bhang! Travel tale from Varanasi, the holy capital of India

In the middle of Varanasi , holy capital of India , we decided to get high. We were in a lively market place wandering what to do with our free spirited traveler's afternoon, when we saw a stall piled high with the little chai cups that look like mini flower pots. They make them in a second - often badly so they crack – fill them with India 's favourite beverage, (the sickeningly sweet chai), drink the small amount in a few sips and then smash it on the ground! It seems like a waste to me so I try to keep them for ash trays and what not but they just crack.

Broken porcelain litters the streets along with the other million varieties of ‘rubbish'. Broken pots lie around people's feet as they sit on old wooden benches and sip their drinks. In the middle of the stall there was a sign that proudly said ‘Bhang'. This is some kind of hashish paste that is mixed with curd (a kind of plain yoghurt). It is legal in this form as long as you consume it at the designated sites, like this one that (perhaps) had some kind of ‘Indian style' license. Indian Sadhus use bhang a lot, as well as smoking hash in their big chillums. Otherwise, its probably silly Westerners (not me of course), in search of some ‘higher consciousness' that use it more than ordinary Indians (as if you need it in this country). So here we go, off to the trusty lassi stand for a big bhang!

It took a while. The guy seemed to be spending most of his time flicking bits of dirt from his curd. My sister didn't want hers too strong so I told him to make mine a little stronger (not necessary it turned out, at all). He opened some newspaper and lifted out what looked like green slime that grows in smelly places; or the exact colour and texture of henna; or remarkably like what comes out of the holy cows bum, left, right and centre in India – hardly difficult to come by and dealers are not involved. He handed us the drink that looked like thick green milkshake and I drank. It wasn't bad and did taste of marijuana, so maybe he hadn't put cow pat in after all! Fifty rupees (about 70p) and we were on our way (we really were). Down to the Main Ghat we headed, through the busy streets of India .

The Ghats are the long multiple steps and platforms that run all along one side of the great river Ganges . Everything from laundry to dead bodies is doused in its waters and it is continuously worshipped. Every night a special holy ceremony called a puja takes place. It is a ritual worshipping of Krishna carried out by a Hindu priest called a Brahmin.

We wanted to see it, maybe the bhang lassi would liven things up. From the insanely narrow streets that make up Varanasi , we descended down to the wide open river. Many people were gathered: local Indians, tourists and Westerners. The local Sadhus or ‘babas' are both freaky and humble and one can learn an awful lot from them. The Indian tourists annoy everybody and are notoriously excitable, living in a different world than the Sadhus. We took a seat on an upper step with a good view, and waited for the hit. Immediately we got hassled by a girl selling floating flowers. All the kids appeared to be flocking to us - did I have ‘bhang boy' written on my head?

I blamed it on my sister for smiling at every child in sight. An eleven year old boy with greased back hair leaned close in to me and said he wanted my eyes. ‘Beautiful' he said. He asked me how many brothers and sisters I had and I told him ten. ‘Why do you lie now?' he said. We bought a clay cup of chai and tried to relax. But this other wee kid was thrusting more flowers at me, I told him I didn't want any so he put it next to my foot and backed away.

‘No' I said, ‘I don't want.' ‘No!' You pay later! No! No! No!' He aped, wagging his finger. We commented on his good salesmanship but I didn't like him. He was too small to be so confident and pushy. I tried to ignore them, wondering if things seemed warped or wrong at all, but they didn't really, and I was beginning to wonder if the cows had had something to do with our lassi when I noticed the puja everyone was watching. It was amazing. The Brahmin priest was in a deep yellow cloak at the river's edge. He knelt steadfastly on the platform, elegantly circling his arm in wide arcs.

His hand held a large bowl of thickly smoking incense and he knelt down on each downward swing and doused the bowl in the holy water. It was very trippy in its self, exuding strength and power; the whole spectacle was beginning to feel cosmic, like a surreal Inca dream. I think the bhang was beginning to take affect just at the right time, and all I wanted to do was sit and gaze for ever but the pesky kids were becoming too much - they were getting slightly aggressive which was unpleasant in our state and we couldn't take it.

We headed back to the market where we would pick up a rickshaw back to our hotel. Things felt nice and gentle and I was glad to be away from the kids, and what a rickshaw ride! It was a cycle rickshaw so it took an age. The colours were wonderful in the evening light but everyone seemed to be looking at us, we felt like a king and queen riding through the poor streets on our horse and carriage. By the time we reached the hotel we were fully gone. We tried to say hello to our mother eating dinner in the restaurant but we couldn't face it, we had to go to our beds. Very strange dreams that night.

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