Sometimes if I’m faced with a hard decision on whether or not I should take part in a cultural activity while traveling, I ask myself, “What would Bourdain do?” Lucky for me, the decision was easy when we came across a bhang lassi shop in Jaisalmer India that served up “special lassi” drinks among other things. Why was the decision easy? Well, of course, because Anthony Bourdain had gone to that very shop and tried Bhang Lassi for himself.
Now I’ll go back to my hotel, pop on some old Cypress Hill, and mellow out by the tube” – Anthony Bourdain in Rajasthan, No Reservations
I’m not one to partake in much besides drinking when traveling, but after arriving safely to Jaisalmer on a bus I thought would kill us and hearing about this shop that one of my travel idols had visited, there was no way I could say no.
Watch the episode and read more below the video after.
What is Bhang exactly?
Some of you may read the word “cannabis” and quickly log off of this blog and recite seven Hail Mary’s or something to cleanse yourself, but whether you are for or against the legality of it — some cultures have used it as a part of ceremonies, festivals, and medicine for centuries. I’m not an expert by any means, nor will I go into any sort of politics about this, but before going into this shop I at least did my research to know what I was getting myself into.
Bottom line is some cultures have their own special food or drink: India has bhang lassi, Fiji has kava, Mexico has Peyote. You get the point.
Bhang is a certain preparation of cannabis made by grinding it into a thick paste and mixing it with herbs and spices. After, bhang is used for cooking or oils or in this case, combined with a traditional lassi drink to make for a tasty concoction. Throughout India’s history, bhang has been prominent in festival like Holi, and used by many practitioners of meditation and yoga to apparently bring them closer to their spirituality. On top of all of this, bhang is also something legal and (semi) regulated by the government and bhang shops should be government regulated. This one in Jaisalmer is one of those.
Besides being a potential novelty for a stoner backpacker, it was also made famous because one of Anthony Bourdain’s episodes of Rajasthan featured this very shop. Since our team had a few days to spend in Jaisalmer while waiting for the Rickshaw Run to kick off, we decided to get a group together as try bhang lassi for ourselves. The shop, just below one of Jaisalmer’s fortress walls, is tucked into a tiny concrete box slathered with bright paint and bold signs advertising the special lassi’s.
We we walked in by someone who immediately introduced himself to us as “Doctor Bhang” and as we shuffled into the tight space we all didn’t know if we should be skeptical or amused by him. He was a an animated character to say the least, who’s eyes were always darting around the room, wearing a “smiles for miles” teeshirt hugging his belly. He scurried in and out of the room at first, grabbing different containers and menus which further sketched us out. As our Indian teammate Rutavi assured us, it was a proper bhang shop run by the government. Each time one of us would order a lassi, he would disappear for 10 minutes and reappear. I waited to order.
Inside, there were old pillows to sit on and a low table with a Rasta colored weed-shaped ash tray. The walls were lined with sagging wood shelves of “hand carved” pipes, hookahs, and various other trinkets. On the wall was a shrine to Bourdain himself in the for of a poster, with Trip Advisor bragging rights and “As Seen On” print-outs tapped to it. And Doctor Bhang also lived up that fact to us every chance he got.
After everyone had ordered, I finally decided to get the medium strength coffee flavored bhang lassi given that I knew I had no tolerance at all. After disappearing for a bit and sporadically bringing in each drink, we waited until we all could hold up our plastic cups, make cheers to “Rickshaw Run 2015!” and take the first sips of our lassi. It was tasty, and I don’t know if coffee was the best flavor to mix with cannabis and lassi but it went down fine. As we sipped we talked about the Rickshaw Run, plans during the race, and joked about potential effects we might have later on.
Doctor Bhang oddly enough knew who all of us were. As we sat there talking, he pulled out a list of Rickshaw Run teams and guessed most of us correctly. Creepy we thought at first, but after getting to know him for a while, I realized how much of a sly marketing guy he was. Given that there are three races a year which brings more action to Jaisalmer than normal, by knowing the teams coming in he can approach them and tell them all about his bhang shop. Slick guy.
It wasn’t until we all stood up to leave that it hit everyone. The lassi hadn’t really kicked in and we all were a bit disappointed, but as we got up and walked out, the lot of us suddenly felt a bit lighter on our feet and a bit giggly. I can say that, like Bourdain’s quote above, I went back to the hotel and laid on my bed by the computer. But instead of Cypress Hill, I watched Game of Thrones, and all the while felt as though I was floating above the bed.
>> Have you ever tried bhang lassi or other cultural drinks while traveling?