Pubdate: Sun, 04 Nov 2007
Source: Hindustan Times (India)
Copyright: 2007, Hindustan Times Ltd.
Author: Anil Sharma, Indo-Asian News Service


For some in Rajasthan's Rajsamand district, the day  starts not with a
hot cuppa but with a bhang-laced  drink made from cannabis.

At six in the morning, people begin slowly trooping  into
government-run bhang shops in the district for the  drink, made from
the leaves of cannabis that grows wild  in many parts of northern India.

Bhang ki thandai is the favourite drink followed by  bhang ki goli
(small bhang balls). The crowds,  including from other parts of the
state, continue till  late in the night till it is time to shut shop.

"Chan re chan, mat kisi ki maan, nikal jayenga pran,  phir kaun kahega
chan", are the words written outside a  shop selling the intoxicant
here. "Chan re chan" means  to stir the drink vigorously.

"Consumers start coming early in the morning and  continue till late
in the evening," said Parmanand, a  bhang shopowner.

Most people don't like calling bhang an intoxicant but  a prasad (holy
offering) of Lord Shiva.

"Don't call it nasha (intoxicant). It is the prasad of  Lord Shiva,"
said Radhey Lal, in his late 60s, cradling  a glass of bhang ki
thandai in his hand.

"We do not drink alcohol. All we take is bhang, which  we consider as
prasad," said Kishna, who is in his  early 30s.

Bhang ki thandai is a cold drink prepared with a  mixture of almonds,
spices, milk, bhang and sugar.  Shopowners keep earthen pots of the
drink always ready  for customers. Though there are no official
figures of  the sale of bhang in the area, according to estimates,
over five kilogram of bhang is sold by a shop every  day.

The shopkeepers seem to know the tastes of their  consumers.

"We don't want people to wait, so we keep their drinks  ready
according to their tastes. As soon as a consumer  asks for it, we are
ready with the drink," said  Giriraj, a shopowner.

And for those who like their bhang a little different,  there is bhang
ki lassi, mixed with curd. The cost of a  bhang product ranges from Rs
8 to Rs 35.

There are around 785 government-licensed bhang shops in  Rajasthan, of
which 23 are in Rajsamand district.

On an average, every year 400-450 quintals of bhang is  consumed in
the state. Shopkeepers are not allowed to  sell bhang to those below
18 years of age.

Bhang lovers do not stop at one glass of the potent  drink. Long-time
drinkers maintain nothing happens to  them after one glass, though it
is usually enough to  knock most people down.

The womenfolk do not seem to object to the men taking  bhang. They say
it is better than their consuming  country liquor.
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