Charas is the name given to hand-made hashish in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal and India. It is made from the extract of the cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa). The plant grows wild throughout Northern India, Pakistan and the Himalayas (its putative origin) and is an important cash crop for the local people.
Charas has been used across the Indian sub-continent for its medicinal and religious properties for thousands of years and was sold in government shops (along with opium) in the early days of the British Empire. Charas plays an important and often integral role in the culture and ritual of the Hindu religion, especially among the Shaivs—the sub-division of Hinduism holding Lord Shiva to be the supreme god (in contrast to Vaishnavs who worship Lord Vishnu) and it is venerated as being one of the aspects of Lord Shiva.
Despite this long history, in India charas was made illegal in the 1980s and draconian sentences were introduced. Even the mere possession had a mandatory ten year prison sentence. These laws have now been somewhat relaxed, however Charas has been known to be a popular medium for police to extort money from consumers of the drug.
Even at the peak of the crackdown, charas was still popular and it remains so today, especially amongst Indian sadhus. The Naga Sadhus, Aghoris and Tantric Bhairav sects smoke it freely because they claim its use as being an integral part of their daily life. Many smoke it in clay pipes called chillums, using a cotton cloth to cover the smoking end of the chillum or by inserting a tightly packed pebble sized ball of cannabis as filter for the chillum. Before lighting the chillum they will chant the many names of Shiva in veneration. The government even provides its supply in huge quantity to meet the demand during the largest gathering of sadhus of all sects during the Kumbh mela.
The best charas grown in India comes from the mountains. The variety from Kasol and Malana in Himachal Pradesh is considered to be of the highest quality throughout both Pakistan and India.It is easily available in Shimla, Naldera, Karsog, Narkanda & Rampur. Practically every area in Himachal Pradesh. Himachal is the Homeplace of Bhangis(Nasheris). For this reason, the Indian subcontinent has become very popular with backpackers and those involved in drug smuggling. The best charas is made very high up away from the police and is known as "Cream" and can be found in Malana and Kasol area Of Himachal.
The resin sticks to one's palms and by the end of the day one has harvested perhaps 8 or 9 grams of charas. The faster one works, the lower the quality of charas. Hence, to make "Malana cream" it is necessary to go very slowly and it is only possible to make a few grams a day. Nowadays production of cannabis in the Himalayas has increased as growing demand for the Malana cream named after the village it has been made. This ancient art is disappearing under the pressure to capitalize on the domestic and international market for charas.
High quality charas was also produced in Nepal and sold in government monopoly stores in Kathmandu until the government gave in to international pressure and got out of the business in the 1970s. Rolpa district in western Nepal was a production center, with ganja and as well as charas important cash crops in this extremely isolated, underdeveloped and impoverished region.
Gardaa is a type of Charas made in Afghanistan using dried cannabis of high potency. It is a very pure form of Charas; free from any additive chemicals. It is a very pliable substance which can take any shape. Usually sold in the shape of balls, Gardaa starts dissolving into smaller particles even with the heat of the palm. Gardaa is an Urdu word which means "dust". It is named Gardaa due to its similarity in colour to mud or brown thick dust. Charas is mostly consumed after it is heated. After it is heated, the "brown powder" changes into a smooth "greenish mass". The term gardaa is also some times used to describe the greenish powder-form of charas. Gardaa has two types mainly, one is soft, solid, smooth structure known as pakka garda and the other one is kacha gardaa, kacha gardaa is a soft powder which is green (or lightly green brown sometimes).
Although gardaa is available throughout Pakistan, but it is made in northern tribal areas of Pakistan and in Afghanistan. it is mainly available in Peshawer, and even though the smell may linger in bazaars, it is not sold openly—though with a help of a guide one can find it. In N-W.F.P., It can mostly be found in those areas which lie on the border with Khyber Agency and Kurram Agency. One such place is Shah Kass which is part of Khyber Agency and borders with the Hayatabad neighborhood of Peshawar city. One "tola" averagely costs 170–210 Pakistani Rupees. Its price has increased due to the tension in the Tribal Areas. Gardaa is smoked, usually mixed with cigarette tobacco and rolled back into the cigarette blank. Cigarettes that burn longer due to cigarette paper/tobacco qualities are preferred for mixing and smoking Gardaa. To smoke Gardaa in a Cigarette, Cigarette tobacco is taken out and refined using hands to make it into smaller particles. Tobacco leaves with less moisture are easier to crush. Gardaa is than heated to make it soft; this is often referred to as "cooking". The objective is to dissolve the Gardaa in the tobacco to make a mix while wasting minimum smoke value (meaning heated only enough to make it soft without burning it into smoke). Once mixed with the tobacco using hands it is filled back into the cigarette blank. The cigarette is tightly filled back to ensure maximum smoke in each puff.
Rolling paper is also used to smoke Gardaa. Gardaa with tobacco mixture is filled into the rolling paper to make a joint.
In the Indian administered part of Kashmir, Gardaa is made from dried cannabis leaves of low quality. They put the material into a cornleaf, by twisting the leaf the material is being pressed in the shape of a corkscrew. After some weeks or months of fermentation the unwrapped product is sold in its typical twisted shape but now in strong consistence for only half the price of charas. The colour ranges from green to brown, depending on the quality. This is the most common way of producing Hashish in Morocco, Lebanon and Turkey. In the seventies and eighties it was also available in Germany sometimes. This method was introduced by western backpackers to the himalayan countries and was adopted by the local people. Traditionally they only produce Charas, Garda, Ganja and Bhang from cannabis.