Takeaway

High on Jaisalmer

Khursheed Dinshaw | Updated on October 09, 2020 Published on October 08, 2020

Heady feeling: Jaisalmer has an authorised bhang shop, which sells cookies, lassi and even cakes laced with the edible mixture   -  IMAGES: KHURSHEED DINSHAW

A food trail in the fort city of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, has generous sprinklings of cannabis and calories

* Starting a food trail with bhang is perhaps a Jaisalmer speciality — given that the city is among the handful in India where bhang, an edible mixture made with the leaves and flowers of cannabis plant, is available in authorised shops

* Dhanraj Ranmal Bhatia is a shop that specialises in two varieties of laddoos: Ghotua and panchdhari

* Kanchan Shree Ice Cream on Gadisar Road is famous for the yellow makhaniya lassi

“Taste it. It’s mild. You won’t feel anything,” Dr Bhang says as he places a tray laden with cookies in front of me. I eye the innocent-looking sugar-sprinkled biscuits with suspicion, knowing fully well that they are laced with bhang. Harish Giri, my guide, is observing me keenly. I decide to give the tasting a miss and ask for a takeaway, instead.

The cookies have four levels of bhang richness: Light, medium, strong and super-strong

 

Starting a food trail with bhang is perhaps a Jaisalmer speciality — given that the city is among the handful in India where bhang, an edible mixture made with the leaves and flowers of cannabis plant, is available in authorised shops. It is added to the beverages (thandai, lassi and so on) and snacks (pakoras, for example) and sweets had on festivals such as Holi. While bhang is legal in India, consumption of some other parts of the cannabis plant can land you in prison.

The aptly named Dr Bhang (35), who runs the bhang shop just outside Jaisalmer Fort, is in a chatty mood. “Guests have nicknamed me ‘Dr’ because I answer all their questions on bhang and its potency. Our shop, which was started by my grandfather, has been around for 49 years,” he says. Sensing my reluctance towards the consumption of cannabis — especially in full public view — he tries to make the experience sound like any other café outing: “You can start with a mild version of lassi, milkshake or fruit juice. We even have a bhang hot chocolate,” he says.

I jot down the amount of bhang in the beverages mentioned above in my notebook. The mild version of the lassi, for instance, has a quarter teaspoon. The medium version has two quarters while the strong lassi consists of one whole teaspoon of bhang. Next in line is the super-duper extra-strong edition, and topping the potency list is the ‘24-hour no toilet, no shower’ lassi. The latter has up to five teaspoons of bhang. But Dr Bhang is willing to add more, depending on the consumer’s intoxication threshold. I wash this information down my throat with the makhaniya lassi, which comes with generous helpings of cardamom, saffron and almonds.

Dr Bhang’s cannabis-laced offerings have many avatars and takers. “The locals prefer thandai, which has black pepper and dry fruits. Foreigners like the coffee- or chocolate-flavoured thandai. And the mango juice with bhang is the most popular among the fruit juices,” he says. His cookies have four levels of bhang richness: Light, medium, strong and super-strong. The shape — round or square — is of little interest to the buyer. It is the potent powder, greenish-grey in colour, that brings them to the shop, where they can enjoy the cookies with a cup of tea or coffee, and also take some home. These have a shelf life of three months.

Dr Bhang’s take-home delights also include the bhang cake and bhang chocolates. While the shop gets good business round the year, it gets maximum orders on Holi and Shivaratri. At least 40 members of the family that runs the shop work 24x7 to ensure that every order is delivered on time.

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My head buzzing with the nuggets of bhang offerings, I follow Giri through the bylanes near the fort to the next stop on the (pre-Covid-19) Jaisalmer food trail. The city, where you will also find popular Rajasthani items such as dal bati choorma and pyaaz ke kachori, has a decidedly sweet tooth. That’s why Giri chooses the mithai over namkeen in his food walk.

We stop for laddoos at Dhanraj Ranmal Bhatia, a shop that specialises in two varieties: Ghotua and panchdhari. The first one gets its name from the local word for pounding and is made with gram flour, ghee, sugar, cardamom and saffron.

“Traditionally, the wooden hammer used for pounding weighed 18 kg while the stone vessel for the pounding was 200 kg,” Pranay Bhatia, the 11th-generation owner of the shop, says. The ghotua melts in my mouth while he places a tray of panchdhari laddoos before me. Made with five ingredients — just like the ghotua — it is an atta laddoo that keeps the cash registers at Dhanraj Ranmal ringing.

The third and final stop on the calorie-rich food trail is Kanchan Shree Ice Cream on Gadisar Road. But it’s not the frozen dessert that lures locals to the shop in big numbers. It is famous for the yellow makhaniya lassi, which gives me an instant sugar rush.

It is my second glass of the Jaisalmer favourite, which tastes like the shrikhand (a sweet dish made with hung curd) I eat in Pune. The white dollop of butter or makhan in the lassi, too, is prepared with curd that has been drained of water. “We then add sugar to the dried curd to make the makhan,” Rishabh Jain, owner of the shop, explains.

By the end of the drink, I can only think of the bed in my hotel room. It is time to test the makhaniya’s skills in inducing sleep.

Khursheed Dinshaw is a Pune-based freelance writer-photographer

Travel log
  • Getting there
  • The nearest airport is Jodhpur, at a distance of 230km. A private cab can be hired for the drive to Jaisalmer.
  • Stay
  • Sonaar Haveli (sonaarhaveli.com) is a boutique hotel located a few minutes from the city centre.
  • BLink Tip
  • While in the city, also visit the Jaisalmer War Museum, which has an impressive display of tanks, aircraft guns and rifles.

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Published on October 08, 2020
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