We arise in the predawn darkness fearing another disappointment. Are the clouds of the previous three days still blocking the giant peaks from our hungry eyes? Barefoot, we cross the dirt floor of the typical Nepali ‘guest house’ and step out into the cold air… Not a cloud in the blue-black sky! The astonishing mass of 26,795-foot Dhaulagiri looms over us, her eastern face already radiant in the sun. Shivering, we turn around and stare at the ragged silhouette of the Annapurna massif. Between the two giant mountains and in the gorge far below us, the Kali Gandaki River roars through its gorge.
We hurry back inside, boot-up and stow our stuff. Packs once again on our backs, we hit the still-dark trail slugging water and scarfing down granola bars.
We are hiking the steep sides of the planet’s deepest river gorge on a footpath connecting Nepal and Tibet. We never know what we will see next on the trail: a pushy crowd of brown yaks, a herd of long-haired goats, barefoot porters with filing cabinets on their backs, women hauling thirty-kilo bundles of wood, robed monks chanting as they trek, itinerant sadhus with flashing eyes…
We finally emerge from the Kali Gandaki gorge into the unfiltered light of the high Tibetan plateau. Being in the rain shadow of the Himalaya, the terrain spreading out before us is brown and deforested, the only green being scattered rice terraces. We have entered the ancient and secretive province of Mustang.
Around mid-afternoon, two saffron-robed monks approach us on the trail. They are accompanied by an unusual honey-brown yak carrying four large woven bags on its back. The monks stop and attempt to speak with us. They know about four words of English and we know not a single word of whatever language they speak. After fruitless attempts to understand each another, one of the monks reaches into a bag on the yak’s back and extracts what looks like a dried-out, cornhusk-covered tamale wrapped tightly with a thin vine.
A twinkle in his eye, the monk removes the vine from the dehydrated ‘tamale’ and carefully peels back the husk to expose a core of desiccated plant material. To my eye it looks like very old marijuana. With a serious, almost formal look on his face, the monk hands the ‘tamale’ to me. My trail mate and I peer closely at it. Greyish in color, it looks like a few cannabis tops have been crushed together, stems, seeds and all, and dried for years. Breaking the bundle open a little, I sniff it… vague scent of dust is all I get. It is so compressed and dried-out I cannot separate out a single stem. It was the least promising cannabis I have ever seen.
The monks manage to convey they would like to sell us some. Their price is so low we buy a couple of the super-desiccated ‘tamales’ just to be good sports. The monks jabber at us and smile through missing teeth, we jabber at them and smile back. Then we part ways.
As they disappear behind us, I almost throw the cornhusk-wrapped junk into a ditch, but looking around at the spectacular high-altitude vistas surrounding us, I decide to hold onto the ‘tamales’ a little longer.
Later that day we decide to try the Buddha Grass, a name I made up on the spot (literally two miles high) for a strain I have never seen listed anywhere, not even on Cannapages. I suspected it might be good for a laugh and probably a lot of coughing, but not much more.
I pry open one of the ‘tamales’ and pull back the husk. I break off a nub and crumble the dusty material between my fingers. I stuff it into our pipe and fire it up. Each of us takes a hit. It is surprisingly smooth but tasteless. I hold the smoke in my lungs for ten seconds and just as I exhale, hallucinations begin swarming my brain. I fall into some sort of waking dream where the most bizarre things occur…
Hours later I return to reality. I look around and discover I am inside a cave cut into a low cliff. My buddy is rolled up against a wall. Hopefully he is still alive. An almost naked man sits on his haunches watching us. Later after my buddy awakens we learn this man found us wandering and incoherent. We are, apparently, in his home.
To this day, that Buddha Grass remains the most hallucinatory, mind-bending cannabis I have ever smoked. We tried without success to find more. Maybe it was the language barrier, or perhaps those monks were the only people on the planet with a stash of that innocent-looking stuff, but for whatever reason, those ‘tamales’ were the only Buddha Grass I ever tasted.