Bhang lassi

Written by Stuart Revnell No Gravatar

Well, a new year is upon us, and one of my first experiences was a slightly odd, yet thoroughly satisfactory few hours last night, after a short stop in a backstreet cafe to sample a ‘bhang lassi’.

Lassi is a delicious drink made from beaten curd, and is drunk either sweetened with sugar, salted, or mixed with fruit.  I’ve been drinking them fairly regularly since the start of the trip, and would highly recommend them.

‘Bhang’ is a legal derivative of marijuana, and is widely available in bhang shops throughout the country.  Combine it with a lassi, and hey presto – an equally delicious drink, but with the added benefit of getting you pleasantly (and legally) stoned.

I’d heard about the notoriously potent bhang lassi, but it wasn’t really on the radar until I started reading about Pushkar, where it would seem that they’re more prevalent than in any other areas we’ve been (or maybe it took until Pushkar for the author of our guide book to figure it out).

Despite the fact that bhang is legal, the drink itself doesn’t seem to be available everywhere, which of course, leads to a certain frisson of excitement when one happens to wander into a cafe with the words ‘special lassi’ on the menu.

The first place we went to when we arrived in Pushkar had them on the menu, and we asked for one.  The waiter advised us that they’d run out, but would be expecting a fresh delivery in the morning.  Stifling the urge to walk out and find somewhere more promising, we wolfed down a vegetable biryani each, then went to bed.

The next day, our wanderings around the town took us past ‘The Pink Floyd Cafe’, which, by virtue of its name and the fact that it took about an hour to find it, following seemingly endless black arrows on a circuitous route around the town, seemed like a good bet.  When we got there though, it looked empty and rather uninviting, so we gave it a miss.

So it was that we finally stumbled upon an anonymous looking cafe, down an anonymous looking lane somewhere in the labyrinthine tangle of back streets, with the words ‘special lassi’ written on the menu.   I say ‘cafe’ – a table with four chairs in front of someone’s house under an awning would is more accurate.

Feeling somewhat like a naïve backpacker in an Amsterdam coffee shop, I asked if the special lassis were available.  A big grin appeared on our host’s face, and he invited us to sit down and make ourselves comfortable.  He gave us a choice of normal or strong, so I opted for strong (surely all those long journeys back from gigs in the back of a van built up some tolerance), and we settled in to our chairs with a piece of apple cake and a backgammon set whilst he set about preparing the drinks.

Five minutes later they appeared – much like a regular lassi, but with a slightly gritty taste.  We mulled over them for a little while until we’d finished our backgammon, then wandered back to the hotel.

Many years ago in Amsterdam, my two friends and I had an experience in a coffee shop where we had some ‘space cake’, and were rather indignant to find that, having parted with a decent amount of money for the pleasure, we were unable to notice any effect whatsoever. That is, until we spent an hour standing in front of a shop window in the red light district staring at a selection of pipes and bongs, until one of us said “What are we looking at”, and we went back to the hotel to pass out.

A similar thing happened in Pushkar.

We went back to the hotel, and I realised that I had forgotten to go to the ATM, so ventured back out.  At the crossroads near our hotel, where we had normally turned left, I asked the way to the nearest ATM, and a man directed me right, down a road I had barely glanced down.

I set off, and was suddenly struck by how much life there was on the street.  This brand new road which I hadn’t even been aware of enveloped me completely.  The street was infused with the soft glow of the sun as the last rays of the day beat down upon the town, and it teemed with life – fruit sellers, jewellers, clothes sellers, tailors, cows and dogs roaming the streets, and as the temperature dropped, groups of men hunched in conspiratorial huddles at the side of the road around freshly lit fires in metal stoves.

I walked down the road for what seemed like a very long time, and as it twisted and turned, colours were brighter and more vivid than ever, and every sound seemed to occupy its own, perfectly sonically balanced space in my head, so that I could hear everyone and everything simultaneously.

A small boy, around ten or eleven years old and clutching a musical instrument, came up to me and started to ask me the normal set of questions – “Where are you from?”, “What’s your name”, etc.  When I told him I was going to the ATM, he took it upon himself to accompany me all the way there.  On the way, he asked me if I wanted him to play for me.  I politely declined, but he began to play a couple of bars of ‘Frère Jacques’ nonetheless.

We arrived at the ATM, and he waited outside while I withdrew my money.  The ATM issued me with Rs. 1,000 notes, instead of the usual Rs. 500 ones.  I had never seen one before, and as I carefully put them into my wallet, I had the odd feeling that they weren’t real, and that the small boy playing Frère Jacques had joined forces with the bank to issue me with false notes.  I had enough wherewithal to realise that perhaps this was the bhang talking though, so I ventured out into the street again, bid farewell to the boy, and tried to find my way back to the hotel.

On the way, I stopped to tie my shoelace, and as I crouched on the ground, I suddenly had an extremely heightened sense of my own foot and its place in the world.  The laces seemed very bright and clear in my hands (as did the cow wandering past me) and I paused for a second to revel in the fact that I was really there, really tying my shoelace in India, and really surrounded by this incredible cornucopia of sounds, colours and smells.

After a few wrong turns, I made it back to the hotel, met Jane in the rooftop restaurant, and we ordered two cups of coffee.  When it came, we stared at the cups and laughed for a while, for some reason finding it hilarious that we were sitting there about to drink coffee.  The cup was funny, the coffee was funnier, and stirring in the sugar was the height of hilarity.

By this time it was completely dark, and we went for a nap. We woke up two hours later, returned to the restaurant, and ordered some food.  The waiter stood patiently listening to me trying to order, and finally had to say “What?” with a quizzical look on his face.  I managed to order our dinner, and by the time the stuffed vegetable naan arrived, despite the fact that Jane had opted for the normal strength lassi, the munchies had overcome us both.  No sooner had we devoured it like animals than we had ordered another, and while we waited for it to arrive, we spent ten minutes enthusing about the exquisite, sublime taste and texture of the first naan.

Finally we called it a night, and back in the room, I huddled into the warm cocoon I’d made under the heavy blankets, and let the barking dogs and faint sound of fireworks outside lull me into a deep, peaceful sleep, filled with strange dreams.

Not one to miss out, Jane is going for the strong one tonight.

2 Responses to “Bhang lassi”

  1. OllyNo Gravatar says:

    Classic, Stu! Very funny, well written and enjoyable to read. You really have a great gift with words. Glad the trip is going well. My plans are still going ahead and hope to be on the road by May. All the best to you both, Olly

  2. SarahhNo Gravatar says:

    What a great story! As I sit in my Phoenix Arizona apartment this Sunday morning watching the Travel Channel on tv, I learned of this Bhang Lassi drink. And began to search the internet to learn more about this curious drink. I found your story and enjoyed it very much. Thank you. Hopefully someday I can try this authentic beverage!

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