First Hapeh Experience in Delhi

Prologue – In Delhi for Tai Situ Rinpoche’s teachings

It was 8th April 2024 and I was in Delhi for the second year of Prajnaparamita teachings from Guru Vajradhara His Holiness the 12th Chamgon Kenting Tai Situpa – one of the highest and most impressive lamas I have ever met.

Perennially short on money, I checked into the cheapest budget accommodation I could find around the place – an Oyo. While I waited in the Oyo lobby, couples streamed in to consummate their love.

I saw a scene in the lobby that I had witnessed many times before. Nay, have been a part of it many times before. A boy and a girl walk into an Oyo. As the boy furnishes the documents for the check-in process, the girl sits on the couch pretending to be invisible. Rather than being invisible, she often stands out as the only woman in a sausage-fest.

Luckily, in this Oyo, a fiery woman was at the counter. I hope the girls felt safer with her presence.

The first room they showed me had an unbearable stench. The next room was cleaner so I took that. Surely after some time, I could hear the sounds of couples having a go at it in the next room.

At night while charging my phone, the charger fell and went under the bed. I switched on the phone torch and bent down to get the charger out. I was horrified to find dozens of used condoms and all sorts of gunk under the bed. Yikes.

Restless in East Delhi

I don’t know why but an impish restlessness began to take hold of me during the teachings. This restlessness has been the cause of my ruin ever since my early teens.

When the teachings began, I wished for a coffee break. When the coffee break ended, I wished for lunch. When lunch ended, I wished for a second coffee break. When the second coffee break ended, I wished for the teachings to end.

My attention was everywhere, except in the teachings.

In this way with the neverending assistance of my monkey mind, I created the worst kind of karma imaginable. Perhaps, I will write more about it later in another blog post.

Bolivian shamans in Delhi

During this time, I had been in talks with S who was from Bolivia. She and her partner J were administering Rapeh in snuff circles in Delhi. Usually in Europe, they charge around €100 for such a ceremony.

She told me they were doing it for ₹5000 for a single person and ₹3000 when people were in a group.

I had come to Delhi earlier on 15th March, for a two-day teaching by the incomparable Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche but promptly left for the hills before I could meet S.

What is Hapeh or Rapé?

Hapeh is psychoactive tobacco snuff that’s used in many different parts of South America. Different tribes have their unique recipes and plants they use that are often closely guarded.

It can be administered to another person using a long pipe called Tepi or self-administered using a shorter Kuripe.

You certainly get a trip from Hapeh but it is not always enjoyable. Its uses are more spiritual than just trying to get high. You can read more about its effects here.

I had contemplated purchasing hapeh many times before in India as I knew some sellers here but I never got around to it.

However, nothing could have been better than getting it administered by legit shamans, if they were in Delhi.

O’s opinion

A stupa under clear blue skies at Palpung Sherabling Monastery, surrounded by colorful prayer flags and greenery.
Blue skies of Palpung Sherabling Monastery

When I was in Palpung Sherabling between 21st March to 26th March for the second year of Discovering Buddha Within with YMR, I made a new friend in the Sangha, O from Mexico.

At Palpung, I listened intently as she recounted her early years in India when she had stumbled upon Tai Situ Rinpoche at the Kumbh Mela in 2019 and had acted as a translator between TSR and the South American shamans who were doing a fire puja at the Kumbh Mela.

This was her first instance of meeting TSR, she never thought she would become his student and get on the Buddhist path. She said it was a comic scene with fires raging and TSR being the peaceful centre of a room full of chaos, mediating between colourful shamans from South America and a wisdom master from Tibet.

Later when we met again at TSR’s teaching in Delhi, I showed her photos of the shamans and the write-up they had written for their ceremony offerings.

Traditional South American shamans in ceremonial attire, including feathered headdresses and body paint, participating in a ritual gathering.
Photo by INOCENTE SANCHEZ GUADARRAMA: The shamans in the group photos resembled them.

She recognised one person she knew from the group photos I showed her of the shamans.

She warned me that Rapeh could be quite too much as I was also around TSR who was a powerful being. She also warned me that I didn’t know with what intentions were they offering the ceremony.

O also said that Hapeh itself was not a ceremony, it was just snuff. As she was Mexican, she certainly knew more about these things. I did understand what she was saying, Cacao wasn’t a ceremony yet there were Cacao ceremonies taking place everywhere on the planet.

Hapeh ceremony in Delhi

Meanwhile talking to S, she told me that since it was their last days in India, they were now offering the ceremony for a mere ₹1000 per individual in a group.

She shared the leaflets for the ceremony again. You can read them below.

Poster for a Fire Ceremony and Rape Medicine Ceremony in April, India, featuring Andean and Amazonian cultural elements with statues and traditional imagery.
Hapeh ceremony poster cover
Description of the Meeting of India and Bolivia ceremony, detailing the ritual's focus on combining energies and traditions from the Andes and the Amazon, with specific practices involving incense and snuff.
Hapeh ceremony lore

I wanted to do it but was slightly apprehensive for several reasons not knowing the shamans personally was one of them.

I asked my friend R if he wanted to come along with me to do snuff with the shamans. I asked two other friends, one of them lived under a rock and you needed almost two weeks’ notice to get him to do anything.

The other friend was one of the biggest scaredy cats I have ever known. Any proposition that was even slightly risky frightened him out of his wits. Both of them bailed out.

R was my friend A’s boyfriend and we had gotten close together while I had been crashing with them at their rented South Delhi apartment. We bonded over our obsession with coffee and we made and gulped cup after cup of pour-overs, French Press-es, and Mokas.

R was ready to come in a jiffy. As we would come to know at the end of the ceremony we both shared the same inordinate love for entheogens.

I liked R, as he had a clear energy, and like me, he loved binging on coffee and desserts. He also knew how to lead (surprisingly, very few men know how to lead), and was good with people. He was also quick-witted and street-smart. All in all, he was a worthy companion for this expedition where everything was uncertain.

Meeting the shaman

It was the 13th of April 2024. I talked to S and told her that we were coming. Everything was decided last minute as I was busy with the teachings during the day and J, her partner was flying out tomorrow as his 180 days in India were over.

She messaged me their location which was somewhere deep in North Campus.

I texted R to reach the spot. He told me that everything was okay except the fact that he didn’t have money for the ceremony.

I didn’t have the money either. I told him money was secondary. “Let’s just meet them and see what happens. We will figure out the money later.”

I was late and R had already reached the spot. He smoked a cigarette and ate ice cream as we waited for S. After waiting for some time, and some more Google Maps directions, we met her in front of a building. She was busy talking to someone on the phone for the first few minutes.

She was wearing an Indian suit or what’s also known as a kameez. She was of medium height and was fair. At a hurried glance, one could have mistaken her for a Punjabi aunty or a Nepali or an Assamese. I know few people with Punjabi and Nepali parents and she could have fit the bill.

I greeted her in the Latin American fashion with a kiss on the cheek. I think R saw me and did the same. Her partner J arrived soon. He was the most Latin American-looking man I have ever seen.

He could have walked out of an old Mexican western with a six-shooter in his hand, a poncho, and a black sombrero and I would have not batten an eyelid.

He was tall to the point of almost being gangly. I noticed that his legs were quite skinny. I have seen that sometimes in people who consume a lot of ‘plant medicine’. He had long black exceptionally straight hair. He had a pleasant, calm and kind demeanour.

We decided to move to the park which was right next to us. We were communicating with Google Translate on our phones. They asked us if we wanted to do snuff. S suggested that we could do it in the park.

R was a bit taken aback, by how abruptly just got down to business straight away. He said they could have told us about their culture and systems first.

I assuaged the philosopher in R and told him to give them some time. Maybe they wanted to decide on a course for our meeting. Perhaps, this was not the best place in the world for any deep or meaningful conversation.

I hate Delhi parks and I have spent a fair amount of my youth in these wretched places. On another bench, a girl and a boy were smoking weed. All this while S was flailing as she was getting attacked by mosquitoes. I would have never wanted to have any trip in an MCD park. Thankfully, I have closed that chapter of my life. Hope, it never opens up again.

R told me to type in Google Translate, that he had a ‘brother’ who lived close by and we could probably do it over there. We communicated it to them, they agreed and they told us to reach there and then send them the location. They would prepare their stuff and come.

We took a cycle rickshaw to his brother’s house and stopped on the way to get some pizza samosas packed. There were two kids at the samosa stall, and one of them was acting a bit too pompous. By the time we reached back to the rickshaw, the rickshaw guy launched into a huge tirade about how we had robbed him of 10 minutes of life and money. Delhi is not for beginners.

We reached his brother’s apartment, and he was at his usual spot in the house with a bottle of Rockford whisky. I had met him only once before this and at that time he had a bottle of whisky by his side too.

I wondered if he had a drinking habit. In any case, even if he had a habit he had a functioning career and a day job. Usually, people work during the day and start drinking in the evenings.

M wasn’t his biological brother. They had studied in the same college. R loved him and referred to him with the honorific title bestowed to an elder brother apparently because of his intellectual prowess in college.

His partner H sat in front of her modern electric sewing machine that had been acting erratic. They told me to help if I could. She appeared to be wise and appeared to keep him in check. She sat struggling with the sewing machine but her ears were on the conversation they both were having.

Somehow R rounded them to the pressing fact that two South American shamans were going to arrive at their apartment and they were going to administer Hapeh to us and that they would have to vacate one room for us. R offered them to be a part of the snuff circle. H refused but she didn’t have any problem with us trying it out.

M warned me compassionately that if something happened to us he wasn’t going to spare those shamans. This was the Jaat in him speaking.

I was in touch with S and she told us that they were ready. I told them I would book a cab for them. After 4-5 unsuccessful attempts and multiple cancellations, they finally arrived at 11 PM in the street.

I went downstairs to bring them up. We seated our guests on the main couch. S took a small bite from the samosa and started coughing. Perhaps it was too spicy for her. J munched away nonchalantly and made some small talk with us. S was trying to be polite but the coughing was too much for her and she had to visit the small washroom. We could still hear her muffled coughing behind the thin PVC door.

J showed us some pictures of Tiwanaku artefacts. R’s brother seemed to be quite interested in them. He told them that he and H were together. He tried to tell them that H was her better half which got lost in translation. Then he tried telling them they both were like an orange snugly sitting inside the rind.

J showed us a picture on his phone and asked us what could we see. For some reason, it struck me as a test. Sometimes people endowed with special vision see things other people cannot see in commonplace things, like auras or even beings. Of course, I can’t see any of that. It struck me as a piece of uninteresting rock with a wide crack. R said he could see a face and a nose. J said it was one of their Gods.

S got back from the washroom and didn’t dare to take another bite from the pizza samosa. As the pleasantries were over we decided to get down to business. I and R moved to the other room and cleared it for the ceremony. M pushed us both together, grabbed and twisted my collar and told us in a gruff voice, “Tell them if anything happens to us, he would not spare them.” The gesture struck me as cute.

Before the Hapeh ceremony

S and J both inspected the room as we got in there. They looked at the paintings which hung on the walls. They were R’s paintings. Boy loved to paint. They inspected the paintings closely and with a lot of interest. The paintings were abstract but the Bolivians asked if there were demons or beings in the paintings. R replied in the negative.

S shut off the fan. It was excruciatingly hot. They opened the door to let some cool air in. She pulled out a white polythene bag with a box of cheap candles, incense, and a small jar of Dabur honey inside. If some regular Indian would have seen the bag’s contents, ‘Black Magic’ would be the first thing to cross their mind.

S put a drop of honey on her forefinger and coated one incense stick with it. Then she burned the incense. I mentally made a note of this cool trick to burn a little bit of honey with the incense as an offering to invisible beings.

J took out many things from his black backpack and set up a Shaman’s Mesa with a rainbow-coloured square cloth. He was also hanging around with his Tepi, which was perhaps a foot long, made out of bamboo and decoratively coiled with a thick speckled yellow thread. He took out a small translucent poly bag with probably 30-40 dried Coca leaves in it. Later I was going to vomit a bit in the same empty bag.

He also pulled out two small cloth bags with the snuff inside. One was their local snuff which was more in quantity. The other was from Peru.

During the Hapeh ceremony

J asked us both the year of our birth. According to their Zodiac, I was a monkey and R was a bull. R recounted that the literal meaning of his name was also a bull.

They told us about the sacred Coca leaves and Inal Mama – the sacred Coca deity of Bolivia. They gave us a leaf each and told us that we could chew it but not swallow it. Keeping it against the cheek.

Dried Coca leaf for Inal Mama ceremony
Sacred Coca leaf of Bolivia

Then we were given one Coca leaf each to perform a Coca leaf divination or mikhuy. First, we were to think of the question. Then we were to blow on the leaf while thinking of the question. Finally, we had to toss the leaf.

The leaf would fall, slowly flipping over many times. Yes would be the dark green front side of the leaf. No would be the overleaf blonde side of the leaf.

Before we began, J did mikhuy two times for himself. He said it was a Yes. He had asked the leaves if he should do this ceremony for us. He said if the leaves had replied in the negative, he would have packed everything and left on the spot. I was incredulous.

I spun the leaf. I asked the leaf whether I should do the Peru hapeh. The answer was negative. So I decided to go with the Bolivian hapeh instead.

Next, J did a couple of rounds of Coca divination for us. He asked a connection question for both of us. He told me that I tended to be fearful. He told R that there were some unresolved things in his past that were burdening him.

After that, he asked Inal Mama questions regarding our health, money, and future. Not just us, S, and J were a part of it too. Funnily the money bit was botched up for all of us.

We were told to meditate for a short while. I sat in meditation, a bit overwhelmed by the exertions of the day.

S typed a big paragraph on her Google Translate and showed it to us. It said that the hit of Rapeh was just going to be like breathing underwater. When the hit was being delivered, we had to gently breathe in, then afterwards we had to gently breathe out from the mouth. I have never read a more accurate description of a procedure just about to be performed on me.

R received a hit from J’s Tepi straight to his nostril. Then it was my turn.

I received a hit from J straight to my nostril. It felt like someone had taken hold of me and dunked me straight into the deep ocean. It was like being submerged in water. I opened my mouth and gasped wildly for air.

At the same time when the hapeh went into me, it felt like my subtle body had cleaved in half and spread out in the open. At the same time, I felt incredibly centred.

While J administered the hit, S went close to us from the back and snapped her fingers of both hands in a shamanic Icaros kind of way. She was wearing a lot of bangles, trinkets, and charms around her wrists and they all tinkled together to produce a very soothing music.

J took a Kuripe and administered himself some snuff. S didn’t take any.

The hit was super intense. I sweated and felt nauseous. I hadn’t eaten anything in a long while. The second round was coming. We were told that in this round you will get a message from the plants.

R got a hit. Then it was my turn. I took the second hit. My mind was totally clear. I could just hear these words surface in my consciousness – “Just be. Just be you.”

After the second round, S closed off the light. I felt nauseous again and ended up vomiting a little in the small plastic bag. We didn’t have any tissues handy.

J came close to me and whispered to me softly, “You are my brother. You are my brother.” which I viewed with some suspicion.

Then J asked R, what message did he get from the plants. R said that the plants told him, to not let his ego come in the way of his blessings. He also asked me and I told him what the “plants” had told me.

J tried to rationalise R’s message and give it back to him but R didn’t agree with him and asked him why. I was happy that someone was giving them a run for their money.

I came back and regained my seat half hoping that there won’t be a third round. Thankfully, that was the end of snuff.

After that J did Inal Mama a couple of more times. He asked both of us if we had any questions for the Coca leaves. Sobered by the experience and the message from the plants, I flatly refused saying that I had gotten all my answers.

I don’t know the geomancy with Coca leaves but apparently, the sequential pattern formed by the leaves aligned with my answer. J remarked that I was like a monkey, neither of the ground nor of the sky but in the middle. Then he also likened R to a bull in some way or the other.

Then J gave both of us one more Coca leaf. I asked him if I could keep it with me as a souvenir. He said I could but I would have to chew one more coca leaf as a ritual. I was still feeling nauseous but I put the leaf into my mouth.

And in this way, our session drew to an end. I took out my bag and gave S and J some gifts. There was one pearly shell that could be used as a base while crushing stuff. I also gave them one string of Rose Quartz beads. S recognised it and was happy. I also ordered some pizza for S, as she was hungry.

She chirped like a bird when the pizza arrived. Her feminine ways were amusing, even when she was a tad old to act like a little girl.

J gave us some fresh magic mushrooms they had plucked in Nepal. They told us to eat 3-4 for a good trip but they either got spoilt or they turned out to be of a low potency later on.

H and M had both gone to sleep by the time we had finished. S and J both encouraged R to paint more and create art.

When we were all going downstairs, J told me that I was a “great being”. Normally, the one to dodge praise, but it did feel great at that time. He told me that I should go out of my comfort zone and explore more and travel. Little did he know that I barely stayed more than a week in a place.

We dropped them off in their cab, and we were ready to take our cab too. R was accosted by some drunk guys in the street. I think they asked him for some hasheesh. It is usually a bad idea to mix with drunk guys in a Delhi street but R went over to them.

I went upstairs to get my jacket back and we got in our cab. The streets were mostly empty. I was a bit shaken to talk much. R said he felt a camaraderie with me, the moment he heard about my inordinate love for mind-altering substances.

Epilogue – Private audience with HH Tai Situ Rinpoche

The next day I woke up late and hurriedly booked a bike taxi to take me to the venue.

A little sleep-deprived but cleansed internally, I waited in a queue during break time to be granted a group audience with HH Tai Situ Rinpoche.

Tai Situ Rinpoche conducting a teaching session at Palpung Sherabling Monastic seat, surrounded by monks and traditional Buddhist decorations.
HH Tai Situ Rinpoche at Palpung Sherabling Monastic seat

Creativity surged and I wrote 3 haikus to offer him as I didn’t have anything better to offer him. I also gave him the other string of rose quartz I had though he had no use for it.

1. False Advertising
Blindfolded, hoodwinked, and robbed
We flounder
in Samsara

2. Home
An orphaned baby bird
Is led back to its nest
Buddha incomparable

3. Lost & Found
Ensnared by the solid image
I lost the liquid cosmos
Freedom still calls.

Life was good in TSR’s warm company. He’s one of the most powerful lamas I ever had the honour to meet. He just radiates boundless love and compassion. No thought is ever hidden from him – I will write more about that later.

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