“Kali baba, Kali baba!” I knock on the glass paned door. No response. I switch on the mobile flashlight and peep through the glass. The white walls of the room are empty and so is the grey floor. The corridor is pitch dark and guided by the mobile torch I move to the next room. And tap on another door. “Kali baba, Kali baba?” I whisper again. Nothing. The rooms are in a row but I wonder if we are at the right place. None of these rooms are lit up. I peep through each and every room, but all of them are devoid of any furniture. “Doesn’t look like a place where anyone stays,” I tell my companion, Zinia, a television anchor.
Hey wait a minute, is that a voice? “I think I heard a sound,” Zinia says. We turn back and shout randomly, “Kali baba??” Nothing. Where the hell is this Kali baba?
The address was given by the owner of a Punjabi restaurant in Kasauli, aptly named Shaan e Kasauli – we went there for dinner the night before. “You will see a few rooms next to the wine shop. Just go and tap on the door and he will come out,” he had said, “and you will get your stuff.”
“Let’s ask the guy at the wine shop,” Zinia, sprightly always, suggests. “He should certainly know.” I land up at the shop and wait for the few booze-buyers to leave. “Bhaiya, we are looking for Kali baba. Do you know his address?” “No,” he says dismissively. “Okay in that case would you know where to find…?” The guy looks scandalised. His reply is a firm ‘no’.
“He knows, but he isn’t telling us,” Zinia is convinced. “You didn’t ask him properly,” she chides me, and out she marches towards the booze seller to mount her charm offensive. “Bol do na bhaiya, please (tell me no, bro, please)” she coos. The guy almost looks heartbroken for not being able to help. With an earnestness that leaves us in no doubt about his answer, he says: “I am new here, I really don’t know.”
“Kali baba must have left,” a young grocer next to the wine shop tells us. So what to do? We look at each other. “Ask him if he knows any other place?” Zinia, never the one to give up, instructs me. Sure enough the grocer knows. “Try the mochi (cobbler) at the end of the mall road,” he suggests.
Just to be doubly sure, we ask a Nepalese looking armed guard seated outside Kasauli’s only movie hall. And regret immediately. You don’t ask about banned substances to a man in mufti. “Nahin, we don’t do this kind of stuff. Civilians would know,” he replies, a little tersely. Next we ask a young local-looking chap.
Sure enough, everyone knows the mochi, the go-to guy in Kasauli for charas, ganja, hash, weed and all other variants of marijuana. A cannabis seller in the guise of a cobbler.
The search wasn’t that difficult in Dharampur, a small Himachali hill town near Kasauli, where we checked into Whispering Pines Homestay two days earlier. “Bhaiya maal milega?” (Bro, can we get some stuff?) that’s the first question Zinia shoots at the bell boy who ushers us into our room. “Milega. Rs 750 a stick,” he says without so much as batting an eyelid.
In 15 minutes a knock on the door. And there he is with mineral water bottles. And a stick, about 2 inches long and a little thicker than an incense stick.
Yes, tonight will be night! It would be divine to cozy up to Zinia on the balcony and go on a trip – just she and me. I am not a regular pot smoker, and have no idea about the different varieties of cannabis but smoking up in the hills, an idea spearheaded by a pot pro like Zinia, seems romantic. The quiet solitude of the hills are perhaps best enjoyed with some thought-provoking substance. And since we are at the hotel and only need to sleep – we aren’t in any danger of driving under influence. Also wouldn’t it be a nice break from Old Monk, my usual poison? After all, it’s herbal.
Only that we don’t realise then we are in for a nasty surprise.
With the silhouettes of the dark mountains for a view, lit up here and there with yellow lamps from distant houses, Zinia goes about her job with the meticulous precision of a watchmaker: Empties out the tobacco from the Gold Flake cigarette, breaks away a small part from the stick, rubs both tobacco and the charas on her palms, then puts the fine mixture back into the cigarette, and uses a lighter to heat up the mix. She finally rolls a filter made out of the cigarette pack and pushes it in.
The chill in the air is just so pleasant. The quiet of the mountains is punctuated occasionally by firecrackers from a wedding procession, and rockets fly around and then fall down like a meteoroid shower. I light up, take in a few drags and pass it on to Zinia. She takes a few puffs and passes it back. But what the hell! What’s this stuff! Between two of us we have had the entire cigarette and yet we’re left in the same state of mind as we were before lighting up. We experience nothing. No kick. No euphoria. No nirvana. Nothing happens. No high. Are we taken for a ride?
“The stick is too dry and hard,” Zinia explains. It also smells nothing like marijuana. Next day we call the bell boy to complain. He looks surprised, but says: “Let me return this and get a good one from my supplier. He should be coming here in an hour.” Well, we leave for Shimla for a day trip and when we return, the bell boy informs that the supplier hasn’t shown up. Which means another evening minus pot. My companion chips out a bigger chunk off the stick this time and rolls, but again, where is the high! And that’s when the ever faithful monk comes in to our rescue. Old Monk.
Left with a disappointing experience in Dharampur, we are all the more keen to get some good stuff in Kasauli. But first let’s look for a good place to stay. The Himachal Tourism run Ros Common is too full of families and noisy kids. The rooms at Maurice Grand, a colonial era building in all wood, is very damp and dark. We check out R Manor which doesn’t really have a view. Next we check Saras hotel which, at Rs 800 a night, is rather too basic. Finally we go to hotel Alasia where we book ourselves a suite (Rs 4000 a night) with a large quiet grass lawn in front. Just the perfect place to spend a beautifully-stoned evening. But unlike in Dharampur, the hotel bell boy here has no idea where to source our requirement from.
So that’s why we’re on the cobbled Mall road of Kasauli now, on our hunt for the mochi. Apart from the joy of just strolling around, hand in hand, we have a mission too, made more exciting by the thrill of doing something illegal. We walk with purpose. Interestingly, nobody is surprised that we are looking for charas. As if we are actually looking for a cigarette shop. All passersby and shopkeepers are aware of the practice. Kasauli must really be the place for potheads. Between our hunt, we also manage to drop by at the Christ church and check out the collection at a cute Khadi Gram Udyog store.
And then I see them: Two 20-somethings with guitars on their back. Musicians! They will certainly know. “Excuse me,” I run after them. “Since you are musicians – and that’s why I ask – would you have any idea where to get charas/hash now?”
“You can find it here,” one of them says pointing to a dark gali, “but not possible now.” Seven pm in the hills feels like midnight already with few people on the streets and fewer open shops.
So we continue our walk along the Mall road towards the mochi. We stop by for directions and sure enough everyone knows the mochi. High on hopes, we reach the shop. Oh no! You can imagine our disappointment when we find that the shop is shut!
Not to end up like losers, we look around for young faces. As we return from the mochi shop, we spot a stylish glass fronted organic juice store. Three good looking guys are seated inside. After some hesitation, I walk in: “Hi can you help?” I ask in English, “where can we find charash/hash?” The guys look at each other, a smile playing around their lips. “When do you need it,” one of them asks. Now! “Hash may not be possible, but weed may be available,” he says. Fair enough.
“Okay hang around here and come in half hour,” we’re advised. So we loiter around the shop dubiously, seated on a street bench, smoking. Cigarettes, I mean. As a couple walking up and down the empty roads several times, we are drawing a lot of stares – what’s this couple upto? And the fact that Zinia has a cigarette between her lips hasn’t helped matters – a woman smoker is a big deal in small towns.
“Go show your face now,” Zinia says impatiently, tired waiting. I ‘show my face’ but the guys seem to have forgotten about it all. “Now not possible,” he says.
No pot luck tonight then.
We have tried and by now we are reconciled to the idea of a smokeless evening. So we land at the Lawrence bar within our hotel premises. We order rum with hot water, ask for a plate of chilly-fried chicken, and sure enough as I expected, Zinia can’t resist popping the question in a voice loaded with honey: “Bhaiya, ek madad karenge? Can you please arrange for some charas?” Again, the question doesn’t surprise our portly bow-tied bartender. He says he will check with his colleagues. Ten minutes later he returns. With our chicken platter. And an apology.
An hour later, we step out of the bar. Maybe we can have some Tibetan thupka for dinner. We stop at a hole-in-the-wall outlet. And that’s where Sunny happens.
An enthusiastic 22 year old, full of beans and forever smiling, he seems to be just the right guy to advise us. “Bhaiyaa, charas milega?” Zinia goes, not ready to quit yet. “Shhh!” he immediately puts his finger on his lips pointing to his father. And indicate with his hand to come outside the stall out in the street. He seems to be very eager to help but “Mein khud bhi aaj sukha hoon! (I myself is dry today).” Yes, he can get us a stick for Rs 1500. But tomorrow. “Good stuff?” I ask. “A class,” he reassures.
But what about tonight? We want something tonight! He gives us the phone number of the mochi. “Tell him Panditji has given the number,” he says. I call. Once. Twice. Thrice. Till the time when the service provider goes “The person you are trying to contact is unable to pick up your call”. Sunny himself tries calling him. But no response from the much sought after, elusive mochi who has by now risen to legendary proportion for us. Sensing our desperation, Sunny finally says, “Do one thing. Come here after an hour. My friend will be here. You can share a smoke with him.”
When we return his dad is gone and instead a big guy is seated on the bench. “He is my friend. We do it together always,” he says. The guy is in the Army, but comes here often to smoke up with Sunny. He starts rolling a joint under the table, but we want to smoke up in our room, not here. No worries. He simply breaks a little piece, smaller than a chewing gum, and passes on. “How much?”I ask him, my wallet already out. “Oh come on, this is not for sale. Enjoy karo,” he says.
Finally, we are armed. The search has been worth it. Even if it meant asking a million people: A booze seller, an army guard, a restaurant owner, a grocer, waiters, bar manager, bell boys, taxi driver, musicians, and so on. I would have given up my search if Zinia hasn’t been so insistent. But that’s quintessential Zinia: Whatever she does from serious to the mundane, she has to do it with a passion. She has been going about it with a zeal and I am glad our pursuit has turned out to be an exciting adventure in this nothing-to-do sleepy hamlet.
Back in our room, my companion lights up some candles, switches on the heater, and plays some Acid jazz on the Bose Bluetooth speaker. With the extra large PSP rolling paper (Rs 70) we bought on the way, she begins her elaborate ritual that goes into the making of a joint. Seated on the bay window we smoke-up our way to cozy conversations and more. Well, don’t ask what we talked about. I remember nothing.
Next morning we visit Sunny’s outlet for a Maggi breakfast. “Do you still want your stuff?” he whispers. Sure. “Keep Rs 1,500 cash ready. Come by 11” Meanwhile, his father has other deals for us. He sits down to offer a business proposition. He has a plot of land nearby where he wants to build a guest house. Can we land him Rs 10 lakh? “One room will be yours permanently and you can put it up for rent,” he says. We will think about it, we say. Over marijuana – well, that we don’t say.
At around 11 am, we land up at Sunny’s again. He quickly takes out a stick, the size of a dhoop, slips it onto my breast pocket. We smell it. It seems good. Soon after he follows us out of the shop and looking at Zinia, places a request: “Didi, can I take a little from you?” Zinia has no issues. I try to break a bit of the stick, but isn’t able to, so pass it on to him. He takes a small portion. We thank him. “No tension. Kabhi bhi aa jao (whenever you want to come) I will arrange it,” he says with a broad smile.
“Good na,” Zinia says, lovingly examining the joint she has just shaped back at her South Delhi home and supremely pleased by its rounded perfection. Yes, a few puffs would definitely relax our muscles cramped up by the five hour drive. Settling ourselves on the cozy sofa, a few drags in and we are already talking about Pink Floyd, Leonardo da Vinci’s mirror writing, media and Modi and then 50 Shades of Gray. Some potent stuff this.
And thus our trip (pun intended) finally comes to an end. With a bit of pine-fresh Kasauli in every puff.
(Nishiraj A. Baruah is the Executive Editor of City Spidey, a hyperlocal news and service app covering neighbourhoods of Delhi NCR.)