DRINKING AND HOSPITALITY CUSTOMS IN NEPAL
Hospitality is important. Guests are always offered food and drink are not expected to help out with serving food or cleaning up afterwards. At dinner parties the food is often served late and guest leave soon after eating. To please you host eat a lot of food and complement the rice,
Many people drink water without touching their lips to the container. When drinking from a common water vessel, people do not touch the rim to their lips. Food or material that has been touched by another person’s mouth is considered impure or “jutho” and, therefore, is not accepted unless among close friends or family. One should only eat using the right hand but drinking using a container held in the left hand is okay.
Nepalese go through great lengths not to touch their lips to a drinking cup (they pour the water into their mouth) so as not pollute the water consumed by other castes. Since rice is cooked with water there are special rules on who can eat with whom. Some upper castes only eat rice they prepare themselves.
Dietary customs are closely related to caste. High caste Hindus are strictly vegetarian and do not drink alcohol. Other castes can drink alcohol and even eat pork, or even under some circumstances beef (from water buffalo). Traditionally, caste rules dictated who can eat with whom or receive food from whom. Caste rules are more relaxed today than they were in past, especially among places linked with tourists. [Source: “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]
Alcohol Drinking in Nepal
Annual alcohol consumption per capita: 2.2 liters of pure alcohol (compared to 17.4 liters in Belarus; 9.2 liters in the United States; and 2.4 liters in Japan). Rank: 149th out 191 countries. Percentage of alcohol consumption in Nepal: beer: 47.7 percent; wine: 0.9 percent; spirits: 51.4 percent. [Source: World Health Organization data, Wikipedia Wikipedia ]
Alcoholism: about one death per 100,000 people (compared to 14.68 deaths per 100,000 people in Russia and 2.26 in the United States. Nepal ranks 130th out of 183 countries in alcoholism deaths. [Source: World Health Organization, World Life Expectancy worldlifeexpectancy.com ]
High caste Brahmans and Chhetris are forbidden from drinking alcohol. For a long time there was no drinking age. In 2017, a law was passed that set minimum age of 21 for purchasing alcohol. The law also regulates time of alcohol sales, require licensing of alcohol outlets and impose a ban on alcohol advertisements and promotions. The law was supported by Maoists in the government. During Nepal’s civil war in the 1990s and 2000s, a group of pro-Maoist women demanding a ban on alcohol torched a distillery, causing almost a half million dollars in damage.
Based on the caste and religion, there are two types of people in Nepal defined by alcohol uses. People who do not drink or use alcohol are called Tagadhari (Sacred Thread (Janai) Wearer). Those that drink alcohol are called Matawali. Generally, the Brahmans and Kshatriyas — the two highest castes — do not drink alcohol, but with the exception of the Matwali Chhetries of Karnali who are permitted to use alcohol. Matwali uses alcohol for their traditional purposes and generally brew alcohol by themselves. Ethnic groups such as the Rai, Limbu, Gurung, Tamang, Newars are all alcohol drinkers. Traditionally, Matwali, males are allowed to drink freely while use by Matwali women is somewhat restricted. [Source: Wikipedia]
Alcoholic Drinks and Beer in Nepal
Tongha is a local beer that tastes like sake. Tongha is the traditional drink of the Limbu ethnic group of eastern Nepal. It is a home-brewed fermented beer that is drunk mixed with hot water. Jaad is a term used to describe traditional, home-brewed beer Nigar is a term used in eastern Nepal to describe jaad. San Miguel and Tuborg have been available for a long time in Nepal..
Beers and beer-like drinks available today in Nepal include: Gorkha Premium; San Miguel; Tuborg; Gorkha Strong; Carlsberg Danish Pilsner; Somersby Apple Cider; Budweiser; Barahsinghe German Malts Craft Pilsner; Arna 8; Foster's Lager; Warsteiner; Nepal Ice Premium; Sherpa Himalayan Red; Arna Extra Strong; Arna Light; Arna Premium; Barahsinghe Craft Dunkelweizen Dark Wheat; Barahsinghe Dutch Malts Strong; Barahsinghe Dutch Malts Super Strong; Carlsberg Liverpool FC; Foster's Gold Strong Bottle; Kingfisher Premium; Kingfisher Strong; Mustang Premium Strong; Namaste Classic; Namaste Strong; Nepal Ice Natura;; Nepal Ice Strong; Nepal Tiger Strong; Sherpa Craft; Tensberg Premium; and Warsteiner.
Nepal makes its own gin and vodka. Nepalese-made Kuthuri rum is widely available. None of these have received particularly high marks. Most restaurants in Kathmandu serve a variety of alcoholic beverages. There are no locally-made wines. The duties are very high on imported alcohol. French white wine around $40 a bottle.
Chang (also spelled Chhaang) is a mild, sweet, mushy beer or wine that is common in the Himalayas areas. It has traditionally been made with rice but can also be made from millet, corn or barely. The Sherpas make it with potatoes. Chang brewed at home by Sherpas. It is known as thon to Newars, phee to Thakalis, ji to Tamangs, jand to Gurngs and Kiratis, janra to Tharus and muna to Majhis..
Chang is widely consumed in Tibet. The kind made there has a very low alcohol content and is made from highland barley (nas). To some extent, it is like beer. Tibetans—no matter whether they're women or men, young or old—they enjoy chang very much and chang is indispensable for festive occasions. The color of chang is orange or yellow and it tastes sour and sweet. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org ]
Cathy Ang wrote: When making chang “the grains are washed and cooked. Then, after cooling, the nas is transferred to a porcelain jar or a wooden barrel. A wine starter (usually yeast) is added and the contents are mixed with some water. The top is covered and the grain is allowed to ferment for two or three days. Fresh water is added and the fermentation continues for another day or two. At that time, the process is considered finished. The wine is consumed that way or it can be distilled to make a liquor with higher alcohol content." [Source: by Cathy Ang, Chinese Food in China, Hong Kong, and/or Taiwan, Fall Volume: 1999]
Tibetans often make it in a pottery jar, seal the jar and cover it with Tibetan blanket which can increase the temperature make the barley ferment in the jar. The jar is unsealed after several days and an appropriate amount of pure water is put in the jar, and then it is sealed again for one or two day. There are also some traditional rules while drinking chang, which is called "three nips and a whole cup" meaning that the host should replenish the chang cup after each of the first three nips. And after the first three nips, the host should replenish the chang cup and the guest should drink up the whole cup. Usually, the host and hostess sing to propose a toast on a banquet and sometimes there are beautiful-dressed toast girls singing to make the guests drink until they are drunk.
Tibetans regard drinking barley wine as a sincere courtesy when entertaining honored guests. When offered the wine, the guest should take hold of the wine cup with both hands, shouldn't decline, and should drink three cups of wine continuously. Another way of drinking is to substitute a cup of wine with a mouthful of wine, which is to give consideration to people who have little capacity for wine. When the host pours a cup of wine, the guest takes it over, make the forefinger stained with the wine and flick the finger for three times to offer the wine to god of heaven, earth and dragon. Then the guest sips a mouthful of wine slightly, the host fills the cup, the guest drinks a mouthful again, and the host fills the cup again. The guest should drink the third cup of wine with bottom up, or it would be considered a breach of etiquette. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]
Raksi and Newar Alcoholic Drinks
The Newars of the Kathmandu Valley like to drink. Aila or Thon are common liquors that Newars make at home. Thon is a term used by Newars for a fermented drink. Aila is a distilled alcohol known as madh by Tharus and Daru in southern Nepal Newars also make arak (rice beer), kaar-Thwon (brown beer) and hyam-Thwon (red beer). Arak (also spelled arac) : A drink made from wheat or rice, used in Medieval Nepal.
The Newars reportedly make the best and most potent raksi. Raksi is a general term used to describe distilled alcohol. It is generally a strong alcoholic drink that can be made from wheat, millet, potatoes or other grains. The test of good raksi is dip your finger in it and light it with a match. If a blue flame bursts forth then it is good raksi. Raksi is often cut with water. Some say it tastes best slightly warm.
Raksi is a strong drink. It is clear like vodka or gin and tastes somewhat like Japanese sake. It is usually made from kodo millet (kodo) or rice. Different grains yield different tastes. CNN ranked it as 41st on its list of World's 50 most delicious drinks, saying, "Made from millet or rice, raksi is strong on the nose and sends a burning sensation straight down your throat that resolves itself into a surprisingly smooth, velvety sensation. Nepalese drink this home brew to celebrate festivals, though some think that the prized drink itself is the reason to celebrate."
Raksi and aila are generally regarded as different names for the same drink. For Newars, it is consumed in copious amounts at at festivals and used in religious rituals such as libation, prasad or sagan. The Limbus regard raksi as traditional drink. They drink it and tongba with pieces of pork, water buffalo or goat meat sekuwa.
Non-Alcoholic Drinks in Nepal
Coke, Fanta and Sprite available at the guesthouses along the trekking routes but they are expensive because they are carried in on foot (the farther you get up the trail the more expensive the drinks are). When trekking you often see porters with huge masses of Coke and Fanta — and beer — bottles and cans heaped on their backs.
Nepalese are big tea drinkers and they favor tea with cow or buffalo milk and lots of sugar. Tea is consumed all times of the day and is fixture of business meetings and road travel breaks. It sometimes seems like Nepali men spend half their day drinking tea. Traditional Nepali tea is made with powder black tea, cardamon, cinnamon, sugar and equal amounts of milk and water. Beware of salted Tibetan tea made with rancid yak butter.
In the cities and towns you can also get frooti (mango juice), sweet soy milk and sometimes sugar cane drink.. Coffee is inevitably instant. The tap water should be regarded with suspicion, even at fancy hotels. Watch out for ice cubes, salads and fruit too. Stay away from squeezed fruit juices that have water added. Also be careful with milk products.
Famous Tibetan tea beverages includes buttered tea, sweet tea, milk tea and tea with fresh yak milk and sour milk. Tibetans love tea so much that the Chinese and the British thought they could subdue the Tibetans by manipulating their tea supply. The Tibetans considered Chinese and British tea to be horrid stuff.
The most well-known Tibetan-style tea is buttered tea. This is a unique way to drink tea in highland and cold areas. The tea is made with butter and salt (or milk) in a special tea barrel. While stirring it some Tibetans add egg or walnut. Another kind of tea is sweet tea stewed with high-quality black tea, fresh milk or milk powder and white sugar. Tibetans enjoy other types of tea as well, such as green tea, milk tea and boiled black tea.
In Tibet, tea—sweet or buttered—is like coffee for a Westerner: refresher, leisure time beverage to drink with friends, a drink to wake up and start the day. In Tibet no morning can pass without drinking some tea, usually the sweet tea, and no meal is complete without some tea, usually Tibetan buttered tea.
Both sweet and buttered tea are served in small or large thermos flasks. The local habit of drinking tea is in part due to local food composition. Tibetans eat lots of yak, sheep and goat meat. Strong buttered tea not only helps to keep the body warm, it is said it also helps to promote the digestion of the meat is eaten almost three meals a day, 365 days a year. A local sayings goes that while others cannot do without salt; Tibetans cannot do without either salt or tea. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org ]
Tibetan Butter Tea
Buttered tea is the favorite drink of Tibetan people. It usually consumed while eating Tsampa. It is made of boiled brick tea and ghee. Ghee, which looks like butter, is a kind of dairy product of fat abstracted from cow milk or sheep milk. Tibetan people like the ghee made of yak milk. When they make buttered tea, they mix boiled brick tea and ghee in a special can, add some salt, pour the mixed liquid into a pottery or metal teapot and finally heat up it (but not boil it). Different people have different tastes for the buttered tea.
Some people like salty flavor, others prefer to light flavor. People who do manual labor, especially men, like the strong-tasted, cream-like buttered tea. Old people, children and women like light-flavored tea. People usually heat up the buttered tea because cold buttered tea is not easy to be digested and does harm to one's stomach.
Buttered tea is called "Jiasuima" in Tibetan and pencha in Chinese. It is regarded as a nutritious drink well suited for high and cold region regions. Tibetans drink as much as 40 cups of tea a day. It is filling and the caffeine in it give those who drink a slight jolt. Tibetan and Chinese say it helps one resist coldness, promote body fluid and quench thirst, and get rid of fatigue. Tibetan people drink several cups of buttered tea in the morning and then go to work. To bring the taste of Tibet into your own home, here's a quick Tibetan butter tea recipe: Boil one tablespoon of loose black tea; leave for 10 minutes. Strain. Add 1/4 cup heavy cream, one tablespoon butter, and salt. Tibetans drink their tea very salty. Indian milk tea is sweet.
Tibetans often offer pencha as a hospitality gesture and insist that the cup be finished and a refill offered. Foreigners often wretch and nearly throw up the first time they try Tibetan tea with yak butter. But after a while they get used it and after drinking it many times over a long trip some even like it.
Making Tibetan Butter Tea
Pencha (Tibetan tea) is brewed with an equal measure of salt and yak butter, giving it a consistency like soup. The drink is made by scrapping tea from a brick of black tea and boiling the tea leaves with rock salt or soda and yak butter and milk while the mixture is churned in a wooden tube.
To make Tibetan butter tea: boil brick tea in water for a long time into red thick juice, pour the juice into a specially made round wood pail which is 90 to 120 centimeters long with a diameter of 10 centimeters, and add an appropriate amount of butter or ghee (oil extracted from milk of cow or sheep) and salt. Tibetan butter tea is often blended in a slim wooden cylinder. After the mixture is put in the cylinder, a piston is used to push and pull inside the cylinder. With the passing of the mixture through the slit between the piston and the cylinder, the mixture of butter, salt and tea is forcefully and thoroughly blended. Then it is poured into a pot or boiler, is put on slow fire and is ready to be poured out for drinking. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]
Cathy Ang wrote: “Tibetans have a special churning cylinder for making their butter-tea. First they boil the tea (almost always brick tea) for ten to fifteen minutes or use Darginlin tea boiled for three to four minutes. Next, they remove the tea leaves (brick tea leaves can be re-used two or three times). They then put the tea in the churning device, add butter, salt, and milk and mix for three minutes. It is important to mix using moderate force. After making the tea, they let it stand for a while and then tsampa and other items can be added. The cup used for butter tea is traditionally made of wood. [Source: by Cathy Ang, Chinese Food in China, Hong Kong, and/or Taiwan, Fall Volume: 1999]
Describing how yak butter tea is made in Dolpo, Eric Valli wrote in Smithsonian, "when the tea has been boiled into a strong brew, she pours it into a tall churn, adds a large dollop of yak butter...and agitates it all into a rich, regenerating broth...She hands a cup to each of us careful never to spill and waste the gods-given bounty." Before Tibetans drink tea they often flick a few drops into the air as offering to the gods.
Drinking Tibetan Butter Tea
Drinking butter tea is a regular part of Tibetan life. Before work, a Tibetan typically downs several bowlfuls of this beverage, and it is always served to guests. Nomads are said to often drink up to 40 cups of it a day. Since butter is the main ingredient, butter tea is a very warming and filling drink, providing lots of caloric energy and is particularly suited to high altitudes. The butter also helps prevent chapped lips. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org ]
According to the Tibetan custom, butter tea is drunk in separate sips, and after each sip the host refills the bowl to the brim. Thus, the guest never drains his bowl; rather, it is constantly topped off. If the visitor does not wish to drink, the best thing to do is leave the tea untouched until the time comes to leave and then drain the bowl. In this way etiquette is observed and the host will not be offended. Butter tea is also used for eating tsampa by pouring onto it, or dipping the tsampa into it, and mixing well.
The cups for drinking butter in Tibet are usually made of silver; some are made of gold. Tibetan people also use wooden bowls to drink tea. The wooden bowls are also set with gold, silver or copper. Furthermore, some Tibetan teaware is made of jade. The gorgeous and expensive jade teawares are handed down from generation to generation in a family. The teawares are also regarded as status symbols in Tibet.
Illegal Drugs in Nepal
Nepal is an illicit producer of cannabis and hashish for the domestic and international drug markets and transit point for opiates from Southeast Asia to the West. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]
Cannabis use: percentage of the population aged 15–64: 3.2 percent (1998) (compared to 27 percent in Israel, 16.2 percent in the United States and .3 percent in Japan [Source: World Drug reports of 2011 and 2006 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Wikipedia Wikipedia ]
Opiates use: percentage of the population aged 15–64: 0.4 percent (1996) (compared to 3.31 percent in Iran, 1.04 percent in the United States and .004 percent in Singapore. [Source: World Drug reports of 2011 and 2006 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Wikipedia Wikipedia ]
Drug use deaths: 0.68 per 100,000 people(compared to 15.93 in Ukraine and 0.30 in Japan. In this category Nepal ranks 135th out of 183 countries. [Source: World Health Organization, World Life Expectancy worldlifeexpectancy.com ]
Low- grade heroin, ecstacy and acid are available in Kathmandu. In 2000, an estimated 40,000 Nepalese youths under 15 were believed to be drug addicts often sharing unsterilized needles. It has been argued that Nepalese picked up heroin addiction from the West. In the late 1970s there were maybe 50 addicts in the country. Ten years later, with Western hippies and travelers pouring in the whole time, there were 15,000. Most of the addicts inhaled cheap unrefined "brown sugar" heroin that sold for about a dollar a gram. They put some on a piece of tin foil, lit a match under it and inhaled the fumes — "chasing the dragon." [Source: Douglas H. Chadwick, "At the Crossroads of Kathmandu", National Geographic, July 1987]
Marijuana and Hashish in Nepal
For millenniums people in the India, Pakistan and Nepal have drunk and eaten hashish, the resin of the marijuana plant's flowering tops. Wild marijuana grows in a lot places in the Himalayas, China and Central Asia — including downtown Kathmandu. In some places it is boiled and fed to pigs.
Marijuana grows wild all over Nepal. The Nepalese seldom smoke it themselves but they use it other ways. A paste derived from the plant is squeezed to produce an oil that is used to groom hair and rubbed into muscles to sooth aches and pains. Nepalese that can not afford yak butter use it as cooking oil. Meals and dished made with the oil are reputed to make the uninitiated dizzy. [Source: Barry Bishop, "Nepal's Roadless Karnali", National Geographic, November 1971 [♬]
In Nepal, ground cannabis seeds mixed with potato is used in making "bhang ko achar" pickles consumed in both the Kathmandu and Pokhara areas. Cannabis is considered a gift of Lord Shiva and is widely smoked and given as an offering during Shivaratri celebrations and the Mahashivaratri Festival. In Nepal as well as in India, a condiment called bhang chutney is made fresh daily and consumed along with dhal bhat (lentil beans and rice). To make it dried hemp seeds are crushed with a pestle on a stone slate slab and mixed onion, garlic, ginger, spices, and chillies and mashed into a smooth paste. The dried seeds are also be mixed with popped amaranth grains and honey for a snack. [Source: Robert Connell Clarke, International Hemp Association“Traditional Cannabis Cultivation in Darchula District, Nepal—Seed, Resin and Textiles.” Journal of Industrial Hemp, November 2007]
History of Marijuana and Hashish in Nepal
Cannabis in Nepal has been illegal since 1960, but the country has a long history of use as an Ayurvedic medicine, intoxicant and as a holy offering for Hindu god Shiva. Legal cannabis shops were still open in Kathmandu in 1973. As early as the 1700s Nepalese charas (hashish) was touted as first rates. as the best available. In the early 1800s, Francis Buchanan-Hamilton wrote: “In Nepal, the Gangja, Charas, or Cannabis sativa...is a common weed : but in that country it is not cultivated, although much used for the purposes of intoxication.” He also described how ‘charas’ was made, starting with an incision in the cannabis plant’s stem and collecting the juice. On his trip to Nepal in 1793, William Fitzpatrick report that people rubbed the cannabis leaves with their hands and scrapped the resin off their fingers — a technique still used today to make finger hash. [Source: Wikipedia]
In the 1960s, Kathmandu was a popular stop on the Hippie Trail and attracted a number of young Westerners in part because ganja (marijuana) and hashish were easy to get, abundant in supply and cheap. Freak Street in Kathmandu was the center of the trade. The traditional cannabis economy saw a huge increase in demand and the heavy usage by visitors encouraged more local people, aping Western ways, to consume it. The increased demand outside of Nepal as well as in it caused an increase in hashish production and created as smuggling and trafficking business.
In 1973, Nepal invalidated the licenses of all cannabis shops, dealers, and farmers, under pressure from the United States and the international community. The Narcotic Drugs (Control) Act enacted at the same time stated that was not illegal to use cannabis, it was only illegal to purchase, cultivate or prepare it. The punishment if you got caught was imprisonment up to one month and a fine up to 2,000 rupees. Cultivation, commerce and consumption of cannabis for the most part continued as before — but illicitly. The dealers that worked on Freak Street were deported to India. The biggest loser was government who lost much needed revenues. Later in the 1970s, crop substitution was tried with cannabis farmers. In January 2020, 48 members Nepal’s Communist Party filed a motion in parliament to legalization of cannabis in part so the government can collect revenues .
Charas (Hashish) Cultivation and Production in Nepal
High quality charas (hashish) is produced in Nepal. It used to sold in government monopoly stores in Kathmandu. The Rolpa district in western Nepal was a production center. Ganja and charas were important cash crop, providing a much needed source of income in an extremely isolated, underdeveloped and impoverished region. In hashish producing countries like Morocco, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Pakistan, hashish is generally made by dry sieving the plants to collect the resin glands. In Nepal, by contrast, charas is produced by hand-rubbing fresh plants. Harvesters first thoroughly wash their hands and let them dry in the sun. Then start rubbing the fresh colas of the female plants until a thick layer of resin glands covers their palms. They then scrape off and collect the resin and repeat the process, this time collecting a second-grade resin. After they finish rubbing the plants, the resin is rolled with hands into shiny spheres round (friction and heat really help) as round pieces, commonly called Temple Balls. After leaving them to stand for some days, they’re ready to be enjoyed!
In the higher elevation of Darchula District in northwest Nepal provide, all three major products of the cannabis plant — seeds and resin from the female flowers as well as fiber from the stems — are extracted from the same crop. Describing the cultivation of cannabis and production of charas there, Robert Connell Clarke of the International Hemp Association wrote: “Cannabis crops share terraced fields with other “grain” crops such as wheat, maize and amaranth, field crops like squashes, chilies, tomatoes, root crops like potatoes and radishes and apple, pear and plum trees. Cannabis is the only cultivated fiber plant in Darchula District.Most households usually grow one to several relatively small Cannabis fields of 10-200 square meters. Fields are sown at high density to encourage the plants to grow tall, straight and without branches so the stalks will be suitable for fiber extraction. Manure is added to the fields and they are plowed thoroughly to make the soil as fine and aerated as possible. Seed is broadcast sown when the soil has warmed sufficiently, some time in late May through early July. Additional fertilizer may be added when the seed is sown, but no nutrients are added after the seeds germinate, and the crop is not irrigated, as it receives sufficient water from localized spring rainfall and the summer monsoons. Occasionally crops are also sown at wider spacing, which requires less seed and encourages the plants to branch. [Source: Robert Connell Clarke, International Hemp Association“Traditional Cannabis Cultivation in Darchula District, Nepal—Seed, Resin and Textiles.” Journal of Industrial Hemp, November 2007]
“Mature plants are harvested in October through early December, commencing a few weeks after the last monsoon rains. Plants are harvested in the morning after the dew evaporates, beginning with the larger spontaneously growing plants. Flowering branches are cut from the plants and rubbed to collect the resin (charas) before they are dried in the sun and the seeds threshed out. Once the spontaneous plants are harvested the farmers begin to cut the ripe fields sown for fiber production.
“Throughout the afternoon entire families will sit and collect charas by first tearing the large leaves from the floral clusters and then strip ping the floral clusters from the stalk. The flowers are aggressively rubbed between the hands so that the psychoactive resin (as well as extraneous dust, plant juice, leaf fragments and insect parts) adhere to the palms and fingers. One person can collect from five to ten grams of potent higher quality charas in a day, but more commonly 20-30 grams of lower quality charas containing more extraneous plant juices and tissues is rubbed each day. Rubbing Cannabis flowers by hand is very simple and this extraction technique was likely the first used by ancient agricultural societies to collect resin. Hand-rubbed charas is also produced in the Malana and Manali regions of Kulu District of the Indian Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh, northwest of Uttaranchal State, but it is presently uncommon outside the Himalayan foothill region.
Charas is most often smoked in a conical clay pipe called a chillum, but may also be infused into hot milk and drunk as bhang. Charas is only rarely consumed by farmers, who rely on it for important income, and most often choose to sell whatever they produce. A 100 square meter cannabis field can yield up to 200 grams of charas, which sells for approximately US$28, as well as about ten kilograms of seed worth a minimum of US$0.55 per kilogram. So, the total economic benefit from a well grown and efficiently harvested and extracted 100 square meter crop ranges between US$25-40, which is roughly equivalent to US$2,500-4,000 per hectare and based on the projected area of hemp/charas/seed cultivation, the annual production of cultivated charas is conservatively estimated to exceed 500 kilograms and may be much higher. When charas collected from feral plants is included, production in the upper Darchula region may exceed one metric ton.
Temple balls are the most famous kind of charas (hashish) from Nepal. Jason Sander wrote in Extraction Magazine: One of the original cannabis concentrates, temple balls are aged to peak potency. As is the case with the similarly legendary concentrate moonrocks, temple balls are a historic cannabis concentrate. Consumers who have experienced true Nepalese temple balls, light up with nostalgia over a premium product from a bygone era. [Source: Jason Sander, Extraction Magazine. November 5, 2020]
“Producing temple balls requires no special equipment, just fresh, live cannabis flower (or, less traditionally, freshly dried flower). However, making temple balls does require knowledge of a specific hand-crafting technique that has been utilized for centuries. Industry pioneer Frenchy Cannoli describes taking “flowers between your palms using a light back-and-forth rubbing motion.”
“As the buds are rubbed, trichomes collect on the temple ball maker’s hands, which eventually stick together as the oils, as well as the warmth of the skin, activate compounds in the temple balls being formed. Balls are rolled until spherical and flawless. Then, they are aged to form a crusty outer layer and soft, creamy interior. Temple balls can reach very high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), making them a concentrate that produces profound medicated effects with ease.
“People in Nepal and parts of Northern India traditionally used ceramic plates to roll their temple balls into perfectly smooth and round end products. The Dank Duchess attempted to make temple balls as an offering for Frenchy Cannoli, and almost pulled them off (minus the aging). Cannoli is one of the last remaining connoisseurs and artisanal creators of temple balls, which were popular in the 1960s and 70s.
“As the legend goes, temple balls are named as such because the concentrate products were made by Buddhist monks and utilized in their meditations. However, the precise origins are unknown. Temple balls are not impossible to find here in the U.S., and some savvy consumers can readily find them in Amsterdam’s coffee shops. Temple balls can still be found in Nepal and other areas of South Asia — if you can talk to the right people, of course.”
Smoking in Nepal
Tobacco products used in Nepal include cigarettes, hand-rolled bidis and hookahs. More people smoke in the countryside than in the city. Hookahs are very common, especially in the west. They are so common in fact that sometimes distance is measured in terms of the time it usually takes to smoke one hookah bowl.
The Tobacco Product (Control and Regulatory) Act-2011 bars smoking in public places. According to the law individual caught smoking at government offices, corporations, educational institutions, parks, libraries, airports, public vehicles, orphanages, childcare centers, cinema halls, homes for the elderly, cultural centers, children’s gardens, hotels, restaurants, resorts, girls and boys’ hostels, department stores, religious sites and industries can be fined from Rs 100 to Rs 100,000. The law has largely been unenforced and smokers to some degree light up wherever they want.
According to data made public by the government in 2019, 30,000 people die annually due to tobacco related diseases in Nepal. According to government statistics, every year 16,000 people die because of tobacco consumption in Nepal. Ninety per cent of them die from lung cancer. As many as 52 per cent males and 13.3 per cent females (15-49) use tobacco-related products in Nepal. [Source: Himalayan Times, February 28, 2016; May 6, 2019]
Cigarette Consumption per capita: 511 compared to 6330 in Luxembourg and 89.3 in India Nepal ranks 98th out of 181 countries in this category [Source: Wikipedia ]
Adults who smoke: 23.2 percent (2015); ranking in the world; 50th out of 85 countries. [Source: World Health Organization 2015 ranking Wikipedia ]
Adult men who smoke: 38.4 percent in 2008. [Source: WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic (2008) Wikipedia ]
Adult women who smoke: 26.4 percent in 2008. [Source: WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic (2008) Wikipedia ]
Lung cancer rate (age-standardized rate) 13.17 per 100,000 people ((Compared to 56.7 per 100,000 in Hungary 35.1 in the United States). Nepal ranks 90th out of 183 countries. [Source: World Life Expectancy worldlifeexpectancy.com ]
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Nepal Tourism Board (ntb.gov.np), Nepal Government National Portal (nepal.gov.np), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated February 2022