The naswar experiencePosted: September 8, 2011
The porter removed a small bag from the chest pocket of his shalwar kameez and took out a green crumbly lump of what looked like fibrous plasticine. Breaking off a piece and rolling it between his grimy fingers he prodded it up between his gum and top lip.
He grinned at me through bloodshot eyes.
“Naswar,” he explained.
At first I assumed it was some kind of hash product. I didn’t think too much more of it but as the trek went on I noticed that nearly all the porters used this stuff. None of them spoke great English and couldn’t tell me what it was. They would smile and waggle their hand by their head to indicate the effect it had on them. Judging from the fact that so few of the porters smoked cigarettes I guessed then that naswar was tobacco-based rather than marijuana.
I was right. Back in civilization I spoke to a stall owner who sold cigarettes, paan, and naswar. He explained that naswar was made from green tobacco, lime and wood ash. It was so popular as it was so cheap; six rupees (around seven cents). I bought some – in the name of science – and took it back to the hotel room to try.
I opened the cellophane packet and gave the contents a cautious whiff. It smelled remarkably like cow manure. Undeterred I broke off a corner of the block and placed it up into my top lip as I had seen the porters do so nonchalantly on so many occasions. I laid back on the bed and wondered what was supposed to happen next.
The first sensation I noticed was a burning numbness in my top lip where I had stashed the green lump. That’s good, I thought, I guess it’s working. I wonder how long I keep it there for?
After five minutes I was feeling pretty chilled out. This isn’t bad I thought, a nice way of relaxing.
Another couple of minutes later and I realised that despite lying down on the bed I had a huge head-rush. The kind you get the first time you inhale from a cigarette. Time to abort I thought and tried to empty the stuff out of my lip into the bin without getting any on my tongue.
I thought about getting up to get some water to rinse my mouth but doubted whether I could get across the room my head was spinning so wildly. At the same time I started pouring sweat uncontrollably even though the room was cool and the fan was spinning.
Phew, probably a good thing I spat it out when I did I thought to myself. This premature thought was followed moments later by an uncontrollable urge to empty my bowels. I was doubtful I would get to the toilet in time but lurching across the room made it just in time. I evacuated faster than I thought possible and then remained squatting over the hole, panting and sweating.
Good lord, that’s a pretty powerful nicotine hit I thought returning to the bed, running my hand along the wall for support. I collapsed back onto the dark sweat stain on the sheet and prayed it was over.
But the naswar wasn’t done with me yet and gradually waves of nausea started building up from my stomach. It had now been about 15 minutes since I first took the naswar and probably 10 minutes since I spat it out. I lay there, trying deep breathing to quell the feelings of sickness but it was futile. Once again I ran to the bathroom, this time retching mutton karahi and still cold coca-cola into the squat, puking until my stomach was empty and I was dry heaving. Finally, I was spent. I went and lay on the bed and slept for three hours. And that was my naswar experience.