Elder men in the traditional wool suit sit in the village square near the temple. They are the first generation of people who started to cultivate the infesting strain that was growing wild in the Himalayas
Men in their traditional wool suits sit in the village square in April 2011.Andrea de Franciscis
Elder men in the traditional wool suit sit in the village square near the temple. They are the first generation of people who started to cultivate the infesting strain that was growing wild in the Himalayas
Cannabis plants sit outside a farmer's house in Nov. 2014.
Cannabis plants sit outside a farmer's house in Nov. 2014.
Children play in the schoolyard. Only primary education is granted within the village, but there is neither doctor nor market, only a small shop providing basic grocery needs. Distances are calculated in hours of walk
A woman and her granddaughter walk back from the cannabis fields in Oct. 2013.
A shepherd walks his 200 and more cattle herd downhill as winter is approaching. It will take him up to three weeks to reach the valley, where he will wait for the spring. Wool is a profitable yet hard business, yet the only alternative to cannabis
Young school children sit inside a classroom during a lesson in Dec. 2014.
A local woman walks her sheep while weaving wool in Oct. 2011.
A villager smokes charas in a 'chillum,' or traditional clay pipe, often used by Hindu monks in Dec. 2011.
A villager walks through a cannabis field in Oct. 2013.
Villagers gather in the square during a celebration known as a 'mela' in which three different village come together in April 2013.
A group of children play near the cannabis fields with bows and arrows made out of cannabis stalks in Oct. 2013.
Two girls run home during the first snowstorm of the season in Dec. 2014.
A local marriage, Shaadi, in the square of the village: women wear the festivity patthu and all village gather to dance, eat and celebrate. Village parties and festival are occasions for people from different villages to meet
Villagers gather around a big fire set in front of the temple in occasion of the mela. Villagers are mainly Hindu, although they hail as well minor deities worshipped in the mountains, locally known as devta
Men in their traditional wool suits sit in the village square in April 2011.
Andrea de Franciscis
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Discover Himalaya's Outlawed Marijuana Fields

Apr 07, 2015

Nestled in the Himalayan foothills at an altitude of 10,000 ft. (3,000 m), entire villages and communities subsist on illegal marijuana production. These villages are far from any paved roads and are so remote that distances are measured in hours of walking.

Across thousands of acres of public and private land, villagers grow cannabis which is then turned into a high-quality resin know as charas. "On the global market, charas is sold as a high quality hashish," says Italian photographer Andrea de Franciscis, who has been documenting these communities for the past three years. "The farmers who produce the costly resin get very little in return and struggle to survive against always tougher legislation.”

De Franciscis has chosen an anthropological angle to photograph these villagers, with the goal of producing a complete story that also focusses on culture and tradition. “Life is challenging in the mountain,“ he tells TIME. “Women work as much as men, and the feeling is that it’s rather a matriarchal society.”

Cannabis has deep roots in Indian society dating back to as early as 2,000 BCE within the Hindu scriptures. However, since the drug was outlawed in India in 1985 there has been pressure on a national and global scale to curb the cannabis production in the Himalayan valley. But, says de Franciscis, this has only “led to an increase of the price [of charas] on the global market, and has actually worsened the situation of the villagers whom have no real alternative for their livelihood."

Andrea de Franciscis is a photojournalist based in India and Italy. Follow him on Instagram

Adam Glanzman is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram

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