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Bhang on tourists’ plate in Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer, Feb. 26 (Reuters): Rajesh Vyas loves his job with a passion, always uses his own product — and sincerely promises you will not turn into an orange or see pink elephants.

From a small wooden hut near the gate to the 850-year-old Golden Fort in Jaisalmer, one of the country’s most popular tourist draws, Vyas and his brothers sell marijuana. Legally.

Vyas’ customers munch, slurp and smoke their way through about 30 kg of bhang every month in yoghurt drinks and fruit juices, cookies and chocolate, cigarettes and sweets, tea and sandwiches.

“Do not anticipate or analyse, just enjoy,” advises the menu.“You will not see pink elephants, jump off tall buildings or turn into an orange. You will remember most of your experiences in the morning.”

Vyas insists bhang, also called vijaya, is safer and better than alcohol and induces a mild euphoria and sense of well-being, eases pain and is not addictive.

“It’s natural, it’s not harmful to the body. It’s part of our culture,” he says, weighing a 20-gram clump of green chocolate that will sell for about Rs 400.

Bhang is made of dried and ground cannabis leaves and is far weaker than products made from the plant’s buds and resin and is legal in parts of the country, where it has a long tradition of use for key religious festivals.

But some health experts warn it can be addictive and say long-term abuse can impair concentration, increase frustration and diminish the ability to carry out complex tasks.

A mild hallucinogen, bhang is illegal in a few parts of the country and in others, available only through tightly-controlled government-licensed shops, which buy from official suppliers. Its use is widely tolerated during major celebrations such as Holi.

Vyas runs the only legal outlet in Jaisalmer, a tourism-dependent city of about 60,000, with two of his five brothers.

“The Brahmins have been using bhang in puja and to help them meditate for thousands of years,” Vyas, himself a Brahmin, adds. “It’s a gift from God.” Bhang is used as an offering at temples and is used mostly by common people during one or two key religious festivals.

It is also used by people like auto-rickshaw drivers to help them cope with long hours of tedious and difficult work.

“It depends on the person,” says Vyas.“If you want to sleep, you sleep, if you want to work, you work. After this, you can do what you want. It gives more power to the mind.”

Vyas’ customers vary from locals whetting their appetite for dinner to foreign backpackers and women tourists from different parts of the country daring to try something different away from the strict rules of home.

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