India is a country of contrasts both physically and spiritually. Arriving in Delhi in January 2009, these contrasts were blatant. There were new roadways being built throughout the city in preparation for the Commonwealth Games in 2010, yet, under some of the new roadway supports, people could be seen picnicking. To the side of the construction, there was a variety of legal and illegal stores, dirt pavements, world class hotels, traffic and beggars.
However, there is an atmosphere of humble godliness in the midst of noise, dust and strange odours. The combination of fog and smog meant we didn’t see blue sky until we left Delhi for Kanpur.
Some tips now for the would be visitor to India: Women, squat toilets are the norm, western style toilets exist but can be harder to find. Men, open air urinals are found on the side of the road. Do not wave handbags and bananas around where there are monkeys roaming (yes, there are monkeys in the cities!). Don’t give money to beggars unless you are happy to be instantly surrounded by a crowd of people. Tip porters and waiters, this is the only way some of them make a living and be sure to haggle prices with store keepers, even if they say “fixed price store” there is always room to negotiate!
Kanpur, to the east, is not a common tourist destination being known more for its textiles and leathers. My reason for going to Kanpur was that it is the closest city (and therefore reasonable hotel accommodation) to Kannauj. So how did I come to be in Kannauj? A student of mine, hearing I was going to India, described it as the perfume capital ofIndia. This was worth investigation, so prior to my trip, I googled Kannauj and found it was indeed considered the perfume capital, and further, was the home of the government’s Fragrance and Flavour Development Centre (FFDC). Definitely worth a visit I thought.
More tips: Kannauj may only be 80 kms fromKanpurbut it takes about 2.5 hours, it helps if you have a driver that speaks English. If you can’t handle being in a car on the wrong side of the road, don’t sit up front, and don’t look! Traffic rules seem to be – ‘he with the loudest and most persistent horn gets right of way’. Also, it seems the second Saturday of the month is a holiday (at least in this area of India) and businesses close. It helps to email ahead and let them know you are planning to visit.
Kannauj itself is a small town with a main road passing through it and off that road, many narrow, livestock filled streets, some paved, some not. On the outskirts is the FFDC compound, which was closed for business the day I arrived. However, thanks to the guide with us who spoke English, the gates were opened to us and we were able to get out and stretch our legs while considering what to do next. The Gods were smiling! Some employees of the FFDC were walking past and introduced themselves, they had received my email, but it was a holiday. They offered us tea, which we gratefully accepted, and while waiting for it to brew, we were greeted by the Deputy Director of FFDC, who had been called in when we arrived. He quite happily gave up an hour of his day off to meet and talk aromatherapy with me. I learnt from him that the FFDC provides education and support to farmers and essential oil producers, covering all aspects of essential oil production from cultivation, extraction, quality assessment, understanding of fragrance and flavour, through to product formulation. Towards the conclusion of our time together, he then provided an introduction to an attar maker nearby.
The attar maker was extracting vetiver when we arrived using the same stills for attar making but extracting a simple distillation of vetiver. He showed us around the process and very kindly gave us samples of 2 attars and some vetiver. Vetiver is call Khus (pronounced ‘cuss’) and Rhu Khus is simply the same plant but distilled in a copper still. His is a family run business started by his grandfather in 1911. He has over 20 wood fired clay stills arranged in 2 rows under cover with the water running between to the rows. They were also grinding nutmeg and nut mace to make henna which they then distil into an attar.
By the end of this I found myself wanting to come back and do the courses offered at the FFDC and take the time to investigate Kannauj, the attar making, and the local oils further. I am organizing a tour there in January 2013 to do exactly that.
Want to join me?