Indulging in charas in Himachel Pradesh, India’s northwestern Himalayan state, is nothing new. The hippies started the pilgrimage to the Kullu Valley forty years ago. Many Westerners had escaped into the mountains over the years, their visas and passports long expired, living off small-time cannabis dealing. What was new was the sheer volume of Westerners that streamed into Manali; in 2001, over 90,000 visited the Kullu Valley, particularly Manali, dubbed “India’s drug capital” by the Indian media. During my visit I estimated that about two-thirds of the travellers in Manali came from Israel, and one night a stoned Israeli guy explained. “Two reasons,” he said. “Israelis like to travel and Israelis like charas.”
Israelis in India
I've been told that 50,000 Israelis get visas to come to India every year. Why? Because they are restricted from many countries, because they have to do three years of military service and then a lot of them take a 'year off' to chill out. Many go to Latin America, Thailand, India and other 'playgrounds of the rich' excluding, of course, the Muslim world. Its cheap here, drugs are cheap, Police can be bribed, there are ecologically sensitive areas to have culturally insensitive trance parties in and the people are poor and desperate enough to put up with crap from foreigners with bad attitudes, bad politics and money.
The Israelis come here en masse, fresh from military service in the West Bank and Gaza. They've got a really bad reputation for drugs, rudeness, partying, vanity, arrogance, anti social behaviour and just about everything else... There’s a lot of bad feeling between Indians and Israelis, the Israelis seem contemptuous of India and Indians and the Indians put up with the Israelis because they need the business and curse them behind their backs. Pushkar, a little town that’s really popular with travelers has now been totally taken over by Israelis. There are signs all over town in Hebrew, Israeli food in the restaurants, trance music, lots of hash, all trademark hippy traveler things that have now also become associated with Israelis travelers.
One day I spotted a couple of orthodox Jews walking down the street, curly sideburns, skullcaps, black suits and everything. It was a bit of a shock in Pushkar where freaks, hippies, beggars and cripples of every description and holy men dressed in orange with dreadlocks are more common. On further investigation I discovered that there was actually a mini synagogue/Israeli social centre in this tiny village, which is a pilgrimage site for Hindus. More on that later.
One guy we met and gave a good grilling about politics was typical, he had the long hair, liked to smoke, was chilled out, friendly and relaxed... we asked him about the army. Israelis can avoid the draft, but then they don't have a chance of getting a ‘good’ (read well paid) job, people who haven’t been through the army are seen as a parasitic to society for not puling your weight, and risking their lives for their people.
Some go into the army without enthusiasm and do their time as a cook or a driver, obviously not so prestigious, but a sensible compromise. The guy I was talking to and taking the piss out of for not avoiding the army said he could go to London and get work instantly as a bodyguard, I though that maybe he meant a bouncer, but he confirmed that he meant a proper bodyguard with a gun... I asked him what he had done in the army, I pictured him as a normal guy, trying to get by without too much effort or risk; hiding from Palestinian kids throwing stones and trying not to get in the way of any nasty shit... he replied that he'd rather not tell me what unit or part of the army he was in or what he did... now I pictured him as part of an elite Zionist death squad. He was, in a chilled out way, quite nationalistic and unrepentant about the Palestinians, even though he acknowledged that due to Israeli policies they “lived like animals”. This surprises me about young Israelis, even the dope smoking 'hippy' lookalike will have been enthusiastic members of the army and defend Israel to the end. They see it as a ‘them or us’ situation and claim that the Palestinians would kill them all if they didn’t ‘defend themselves’. They also claim that the Palestinians were given their opportunity in the Oslo peace process and rejected it (so fuck ‘em!?).
Another guy, back in Pushkar, was less nationalistic. He told us that many of the Israelis who come to India get twisted, go mad or 'faloop' as they say in Hebrew, and return to Israel totally fucked in the head (his words exactly). After 3 years in the army and one year in India taking acid, I'm not surprised frankly... but this is where the rabbis come in, they are sent here to rescue the lost sons, the nutcases, the tripped out, and those who just left Israel had a think and decided that maybe, just maybe, things in the promised land aren’t as they should be. These youngsters are obviously a worry in a nation of 6 million people with an oversized army to feed, increasing conscientious objection, and facing of mounting criticism from most of the evolved world.
The young must be sound of body and mind and above all, believe in the cause. The rabbis come here to catch them on a comedown or in a moment of crisis and then refill their brain with Zionist, militarist, nationalistic, bollocks before the poor bastards lose the plot totally or have some kind of epiphany and realize that genocide is wrong (that old chestnut).
It's a fascinating element of the Israel/Palestine problem... The second guy in Pushkar made me feel quite sorry for them, they’re anti social because they don't like people criticizing them, having a go at their country and asking awkward, painful questions about war and death, which is inevitably what you want to ask them about. This guy just said we're fucked in the head, he knew everybody thinks they're wankers and as a reasonably nice guy, it was hard for him.
The thing that sets Israelis apart from British or even most US travelers is that very few of them are like that. Few of them will just say, yep Sharon is a murderous fascist twat, you’re right, next question? Whereas most British travelers don’t try to defend British government crimes, and most Americans spend the whole time loudly apologizing and protesting about how much they hate George Bush and wanted Kerry to get in just to get Dubya out it’s makes you hate them even more.
watered down version of my article I just found in the Washington Times
this article is interesting on the subject too