It’s one of the most photogenic locations in India, and also the most popular for its charas (cannabis), a hand-processed form of hashish or cannabis extract. The Parvati Valley — and the larger Kullu-Manali region — in Himachal Pradesh now has a new example of innovation too. Charas sellers have found a way to connect two passions of photography and charas — via Instagram, the photosharing mobile application.
Not only do they track potential customers who tag their location in Kasol, Manali and other towns of the region, but they even keep an eye on ‘hashtags’, whereby app users put the symbol ‘#’ before key words to tag and group photos of similar nature across Instagram. For instance, #kasoldiaries will group all posts with this tag to make it easier for people to follow common interests.
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The dealers are upfront and quick. After finding you having used such a hashtag, they will first ‘follow’ you on Instagram. This correspondent recently uploaded photographs of a trip to the region on Instagram. Within minutes, two Instagram accounts — boom5036 and boom_bawa — pressed ‘like’ on the photos of hills and rivers. Their public uploads on the app have scores of photos of charas rolled and packed in different shapes. Other photos had an entry gate of Malana, considered to have the best quality of cannabis in the world.
On many, the dealers have put their phone numbers in the captions. “Need charas .... call me. Jai Shiv!” says one. Their reverence for Lord Shiva comes from His popular depiction smoking marijuana/cannabis in ‘chillum’.
Follow back, and they send you direct messages in your Insta inbox to offer ‘maal’ or ‘stuff’. They send photos of charas packed in neat bags and boxes, in large quantities too. Show more interest and it escalates to home delivery, and the preferred mode is government-run Speed Post. No private courier service.
The user ‘boom5036’ even offered to send ‘stuff’ to Chandigarh and shared photos of receipts of Speed Post delivery to an address in Bengaluru. When this correspondent called the number provided in the message inbox, he rattled out rates: “Pure Malana Cream will cost Rs 4,000 a tola (10 gm). Otherwise, I have varieties starting at Rs 2,000.” He told this correspondent to collect it from a cafe in Old Manali if he was visiting. “Tell them ‘Amir’ sent you!” In similar chat, ‘boom_bawa’ offered charas too.
On a later call, ‘boom5036’ said ‘Amir’ is a ‘codeword’ and that his real name is Sahil. “I can deliver to Chandigarh, but that will cost Rs 500 per tola extra... We can send up to 1 kg (100 tola, roughly worth Rs 2 lakh) as the post department guys can pack that much in such a way that it won’t be detected.”
As for the money, he was sent via WhatsApp a bank account number of State Bank of India in the Pangi branch in Chamba district of the state, in the name of a woman.
This correspondent, to extract more information, refused to trust him and asked him if he had delivered it in the past: “We have been doing it for long.” Do they also use Facebook and other social media? “No, only Insta!” And can you handle the police too? “Don’t you worry. It’s not that complicated.”
Kullu SP Padam Chand said, “Look, charas is sold here and is sent outside too. That’s a fact. And we constantly work on curbing it. We did get some input about such manner of selling (via social media) some months ago, but nothing much came of it. Maybe these people are duping people. We are on it.”