If you have ever smoked weed aka ganja/marijuana or if you know anyone who is into it, you might have heard about something like Malana hash, one of the most sought after cannabis variant in northern India.
But if you are a hardcore user you might have come across something called ‘Idukki gold’ aka ‘Kerala gold’.
The name once again comes from where it is grown – Idukki in Kerala. The district which falls in the western ghats is an ideal setup to grow some real strong stuff.
When I say real strong stuff, that is derived from the expression and excitement of many weed smokers, I have seen when I say that “I am from Idukki”.
And next will be the obvious question, “can you get me some the next time you go home?”
For which I have the same reply “really? are you out of your mind or something?”
Ok, while the name has been in circulation for sometime internationally, it was ‘glamorised’ by the 2013 movie which went by the same name dealing on the above mentioned topic.
Beyond the name
Locally known as ‘Neela Chadayan’ or simply Chadayan, which means blue curly. It is believed to be a hybrid strain of cannabis 80 per cent India and 20 per cent foreign, probably Amsterdam. The ‘expert growers’ whom I consulted were not aware of its composition anyway as it is of hardly any significance to them.
According to old-timers, the chadayan came into circulation in the 80’s with the beginning of migration to those parts of Idukki that went on to constitute the ‘High Range’. In fact, for decades this illegal ganja cultivation was the lifeline of high range, which had an abundance of forest cover those days.
They know that its cultivation is illegal and could land them in trouble if caught, but that didn’t deter dozens of youths from my village and neighbouring villages from trying to make it big year after year, sometimes spending years at a stretch in the forest. This is because most of the ‘plantations’ are huge and are owned by some heavyweights who have invested lakhs of rupees.
But with regular police and excise raids ahead of the harvest season a lot of the crop is burnt down.
This takes a toll on the cultivators as they might have been already in debt, forcing them to stay back for another year and try their luck once again. One former ganja plantation worker once told me that they even face risk life during these raids. Since the plantations are on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border they face raids from both sides, and if the that is if the raid is from Tami officials they don’t even hesitate to shoot at suspected planters.
Already excited about going to Idduki and put your hands on it? There is a bad news. You might never get it, here is why – it is not around any more. With the population growing and forest cover soon depleting along with law enforcement becoming stricter the cultivation gradually came down in Idukki. Now most of the plantation takes place along the Andhra-Odisha border a hotbed of naxalism. Even though there are huge plantations there is a difference on what is planted- it is not Idukki gold, but ‘Sheelavathi’ a local variant as it is more adapted to the region’s climate. Initially they tried to plant the original seeds but, the yield was of inferior quality forcing them to look for other viable options.
It is the presence of trans-delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient of pot, determines it quality. Ganja grown in Idukki has up to 8 percent of THC, while those from Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have only less than 5 percent of the ingredient.However it is still sold as ‘Idukki Gold’ in the market. This is because the harvested marijuana are then smuggled to Idukki from where it is sold in both local and international market as the premium brand.
Going back to the roots
This year there is a particular interest in Idukki towards ganja cultivations. This is because the main cash crop – cardamom has failed. Despite comparatively good prices this year the cardamom production is low, due to a deficit rain. This according to locals have made some to go back to the tried and tested ganja cultivation. Tough limited in the interior forests, most of the plantations are inside the Mathikettan Shola, a biodiversity park which is home to some rare flora and fauna.
Rest of the yield comes from the Andhra-Odisha border which then floods the market. In the recent years there has been another change – with raids becoming more common and authorities mapping the smuggling routes the trafficking has also changed. Now most of harvest is processed in the fields itself and are made into hashish, and only the ‘finished goods’ land in Idukki.
While it has been a lifeline for many for years there has always been a guilt feeling “shapam kittiaya kaash aanu” which means “the money is cursed”.