Assam Travelogue in Discovery of Wild Agarwood - 2
Wild Agarwood Trees of the Temple in a Nearby Village
I went to sleep that night while being very excited since we planned to go next morning to a nearby village where one of the priest of a temple wanted us to see the agarwood trees in his courtyard that had grown big and were showing signs of infection.
If the trees looked good for distillation, my distiller friend would buy those trees from him.
The hotel room was warm and cosy and I had no difficulty falling asleep quickly although I was woken in between all through the night by the sound of heavy rains that lashed very loudly on the roof of my room which was made of metal tiles.
It rained all night and very heavily which was to change our plans the next morning.
Heavy Rains Floods and Cuts off the Highway to the Village
I woke up very early in the morning because of the excitement of going to the village.
I finished my breakfast quickly and got ready waiting for my friend to come to the hotel room from where we would go to see the agarwood trees of the priest.
My friend came on time but with a bad news. He told me the road to the priest’s village was cut off and was submerged under water because of the heavy rain last night.
Whole of upper Assam was cut off because of the continuous rain all night and in fact, there was a danger looming on our city being overwhelmed with flood which had happened some 30 years ago!
Plan to Travel to Hojai
We sat at the distillery discussing some fine nuances of procuring wood, distillation process and oils from different regions of north east India. Agarwood oils of Nagaland, of Arunachal Pradesh, of Meghalaya, of Mizoram.
A little while later the rain subsided and we decided to travel to a town some 30 minutes drive from the distillery called Hojai to see the agarwood business that local people engage in there.
(Video: Entering the city of Hojai)
After driving through the mountainous highway, we entered the city of Hojai, the famed city from where Ajmal Perfumes rose.
Indeed one could witness from every house, small or big, white smoke coming out of the chimney! It was the smoke of the small distilleries that every house has in it for agarwood oil distillation.
In fact one could smell the overwhelming aroma of agarwood that fused the air of the city of Hojai.
In the centre of the city there is this agarwood market.
Sellers procure their goods from all parts of Assam and even other states and come and sell the oud chips, agarwood curving dust, oils and hydrosols and anything and everything agarwood!
The buyers buy goods from here and sell in the gulf countries.
Hojai is Not For Pure Artisanal Oud Oils and Oud Wood
However if you are looking for pure artisanal oud oils and oud chips then this place is not for you until and unless you have reached highest level of expertise in separating the purest oil from pure oil.
The deceptive level of adulteration in oils and in chips is so wide and deep rooted that impure is considered to be pure by most and pure is unknown to the vast majority.
When you actually show the pure oud oil to someone in the middle east, he reacts and frowns and says this oil is not pure.
The people in the middle east have become so much used to the oils from this Hojai city that for them the impure has become pure and pure has become impure!
Both, me and my friend, looked stranger to the people in the market and one could see in the eyes of the traders and buyers that were suspecting us to be some kind of spy or investigators from some government or forest department. We actually enjoyed that but decided to leave the market after a while back to our town.
A Trip to Assam is Incomplete Without a Visit to its Tea Gardens!
On our way back were some tea gardens.
The state of Assam is the world's largest tea-growing region, lying on either side of the Brahmaputra River, and bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Robert Bruce, a Scottish adventurer, encountered Assam tea in the year 1823. Bruce reportedly found the plant growing "wild" in Assam while trading in the region.
A few leaves from the Assam tea bush were arranged to be sent to the botanical gardens in Calcutta for proper examination.
There, the plant was finally identified as a variety of tea. And the rest is history!!
We further moved towards our town through the beautiful highways and roads
Agarwood Trees Adorning the Remote Villages in Assam
While passing through the villages in Assam, one can see agarwood trees adorning the front gardens and backyards of almost every other house.
In the picture below which I captured while passing through a village, two agarwood trees can be seen on the left side of the front garden, one behind the other. They wait till the trees get naturally infected and produce resinous wood which becomes a source of extra income for many of the assamese families.
The Supply of Naturally Infected Wild Agarwood in Assam and other States
Such trees, which come mainly from the villages through all of Assam, and also from other north east states like Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura now forms the backbone of the supply of quality agarwood for the oud oil distillers.
Remember the Aquilaria trees in the forests are protected by the CITES which long ago used to be the main supply for the distillers.
The resinous heartwood from these agarwood trees from the remote and widely dispersed villages reaches to the distillers through a complex web of 'hunters' and 'gatherers' who form a link between the villagers and the distillers.
Indeed in a supply chain there may be many 'hunters' and 'gatherers' before it reaches the distillers depending upon how far-off, secluded and inaccessible the place is from where the wood is coming!
The source of 'wild agarwood', call it if you may, are the private forest lands owned by the people in these states.
Such privately owned forest lands have many such valuable flora and fauna which grows and nurtures naturally, without human interference, just like in the wild.
I couldn't visit any such forest land in my last visit in August as all highways and roads were submerged and cut-off due to the flood in Assam.
Beautiful Cultivated Agarwood Trees in a Cemetery!
As the evening was approaching, my friend took me to a cemetery in his town to show me some of the most beautiful agarwood trees adorning the gardens and aisle of the cemetery!
This one's a huge tree agarwood tree! Very tall and quite thick. We came across this in that cemetery.
And this agarwood tree is dwarfed and multi branched from the bottom.
The whole cemetery was lined up with beautiful tall agarwood trees!
Evening Tea and All things Agarwood!
Finally it was evening and was raining heavily. We decided to retire back to the distillery and sit back in the office and enjoy some tea in the wet and rainy evening.
There we had long and detailed chat of everything agarwood and oud and aloeswood. Agarwood oil and agarwood chips. Distillation, the importance of heat, of copper and steel. The nuances in notes of oils from different region of of north east India.
And lastly after the sunset and when it was dark, the rain subsided. So we decided to go out and have a light dinner.
After a nice, light dinner, we decided to retire back for sleep. Next day I had to leave and catch the train to Guwahati early in the morning to return back home in New Delhi.
Travel Back Home
When I woke up next morning, news reached us that the major flood had engulfed most of the parts of Assam and was one of the most destructive in many years causing loss of life and property.
My distiller friend came early in the morning to my hotel to drop me off to the Train station.
The train was right time! We parted only to promise each other to meet again in New Delhi to talk again all about oud and agarwood.
I just love to hear from him about agarwood. His knowledge, experience, wisdom in the field of oud is vast and unparalleled.
Going back from his town to Guwahati to catch my flight, I again saw some amazing, wonderful scenic countryside of Assam.
I reached the Guwahati airport on time by a shared cab from railway station.
A man who shared cab with me told me his story how his train to Delhi from Guwahati was stuck in between somewhere in Bihar and could not move further beyond that point because of the heavy floods and then how he returned back to Guwahati and now was going to Delhi by airplane.
Seeing through the airplane window, I saw Brahmaputra river flooding and submerging the villages and fields on its sides causing widespread destruction.
Finally after 12 hours of gruelling travel, from car to train to taxi to airplane to taxi again, I reached my home in New Delhi in the evening taking with me some of beautiful memories of Assam, its rain, its greenery, its people, its generous hospitality and most importantly for me the knowledge of its agarwood trees, its infection, its resinous parts, its procurement, its distillation, its agarwood oils and its agarwood chips, its policies and politics, its sales and its marketing.
I was left completely captivated and deeply enchanted by the blissful, heavenly ancient land of agarwood, The Assam.