Monday, December 16, 2013

Sandalwood Factory in Mysore Revisited

 This post was originally written in 2012 for my other blog, AbsoluteTrygve. This is a reprint. 

I have good and bad to say. My last visit there was fantastic. This time, they tried to co-opt me with the other tourists, and the guide gave us the usual, boring tour, totally lacking in what I consider to be interesting and useful information. And I was a complete bitch about it. Absolutely horrible. But really they will tell you nothing, There is even an area where a guy is working, They said he was chipping away at some pieces--I suspect he was removing the heartwood. And he’s doing it behind a barricade and you are not allowed to see. You can only see the top of his head when he sits upright. And they tell you he is working the wood. And he waves over the sacks and machinery. It’s complete bullshit. And of course no photos.

Anyone who knows me can guess how long I’ll last with this. I’ve never been able to accept senseless authority and this was no exception. No way you’re going to fob me off with that. Even if you’re the Indian Government. No way.

I broke away from the group twice and they called the security guards. I really didn’t care. It’s the Mysore Sandalwood Factory. Doesn’t get holier for me. I didn’t try to get into any place that was actually important, ie locked. I just wanted to see what was going on there. Thank God they weren’t American guards or I’d be in prison! Or worse.
But in India, even though you might have to fight, they understand a pilgrimage. And so it was here.

Real and True Pure Mysore Sandalwood oil.

Trying any imported sandalwood they can.
They tried very hard to get me to go sit in my rickshaw, to wait for the manager to come out, but I wouldn’t go, and kept them all worried by pacing around the front of the distillery until they started to get tired and then made a beeline for a group of outbuildings, where I found someone with three stars on his uniform. Complete shock and they asked what I wanted. So of course I wanted in! What could they do? In I went, to the GM’s office. Complete shock again. He asked what I wanted. So of course I wanted in more! What could they do? In I went.

They were all actually just darling, once we all understood each other. They even unlocked the inner sanctum, and let me try some oil. But now the whole factory is riven by surveillance cameras, and the time when you slip into the beating heart of this delightful place has passed. I can’t imagine what the management thinks they’re protecting. The equipment comes from the early 20th century and they have all the sandalwood. All of it. You could show us every single permutation and detail and it would make no difference because even if you are growing Santalum’re not in Mysore. Just before I burst into tears (again) from the sweetness of that sandalwood heart room I explained that I buy Indonesian oil, and it’s album and it’s nice, yes, but this.......this is another being entirely. They understood.

Here's where you used to be able to buy the real thing-not now

There was a lot of wood sitting around, all of it outer wood, no heartwood, and most of it waiting to be sold as fodder for funeral pyres. I scored two saplings to plant in my garden!

I suspect this distillery has changed hands. Don’t know if I’m right or wrong but they no longer sell the oil in the little kiosk next door. In fact, you can’t get it through Karnataka Soaps and Detergents any more. You get it through Kauvery State stores, which specialize in silks. I went, stuffed with money, to buy as much oil as possible. And it didn’t smell right. There was a sharp spiky note in the head, a note I’ve never smelled in sandalwood which is now available in 5ml, 10 ml and 30 ml. And there is no guarantee of purity on the bottle. I think this is very important. It used to be agmarked, and have the label of 100% pure and natural label, certified by the govt. Now......? just “sandal oil.” It could be anything. The clerk tried to tell me it was pure, undiluted, etc. Of course he did. And he said that since the receipt says ”Govt of India”, that’s the same as the explicit written guarantee seen before. To my skepticism, he tried to explain that you have to rub it on your skin this way, and wait for this amount of time, like sandalwood needs to be applied in a certain way, or that it needs an excuse. I bought one bottle, just to check later and tell if I’m wrong. Maybe my nose is hallucinating. Oh, and you can take any of those size bottles out, even though you could only take 5 ml bottle before.

Total rip off place--don't buy anything from them!!

I smell a rat.

My advice? If you have any Mysore Sandalwood, keep it. If you are selling it, and it’s real, take it off your shelves. Hoard it, gentle readers, and let it go slowly. Unless you need some money and want to sell it. I’ll certainly buy it.

For Shame!--The Update

A couple of posts ago I wrote about my visit to the Sandalwood Distillery, the State Sandalwood Distillery. You may recall that I mentioned that the pure sandalwood oil was no longer available at the kiosk next door to that distillery......

Used to be, you could buy 5 ml bottles of it, all certified, agmarked, and stamped by the Karnataka government, guaranteed to be 100% pure and unadulterated Mysore Sandalwood Oil. The largest size bottle you could take out of the country was this 5 ml.

I mentioned that the oil is now available at the Karnataka Kauvery Silk Shops, which are “Arts and Crafts Emporiums” and has “Govt of India” on their receipts, leading one to believe that they are Govt certified. Maybe they are , in which case this is even more disgraceful.

I went in and asked for sandalwood oil. I was prepared to buy as many 5 ml bottle as I could. But when I tried the oil, it smelled weird, with a spiky note that doesn’t belong in sandalwood. The clerk assured me it was the real thing, all pure, blah blah blah, the usual crap. I couldn’t buy a bunch of bottles, since it didn’t smell right, but I figured maybe my nose was having some kind of fit. But it didn’t help that the clerk kept trying to make excuses for the oil, I had to rub it on my arm vigorously, I had to wait a specific amount of time, etc. Like you need to do something special to appreciate sandalwood. It was a very insulting idea.

I couldn’t open the bottle back at my hotel, nor could I open it in Coimbatore or Bombay. It wasn’t until I attacked it with my good scissors here in salalah that I managed to get the cap off. I don’t wonder why. All the bottles felt light to me (remember, I am extremely familiar with bottles of essential oil) and didn’t sound full, but that’s not proof of anything.

But as you can see in the accompanying photo, the bottle was short by 2 ml. That’s a lot to be short! And it wasn’t just this bottle, because, as I just said, I picked up several; they all felt short.

So damning proof 1
the bottle was short 1/5th!!

And damning proof 2
as I’m sure you’ve realized,
it’s not sandalwood.

There may be some sandalwood in it, but I doubt it. It’s a perfume compound and it has some sandaly dry-down, but it’s all soft sickly powder shit and spiky crap, like someone decided that’s what the foreigners like. Maybe someone actually thought they could improve on sandalwood. Insane, but maybe. However, I suspect it’s about money, and maybe the real sandalwood is being sold on the side??

Infuriating? You bet. Yes, I’m speculating criminal intent here. But the fact is that I bought what was represented to me as 10 ml of real, pure, legal, sandalwood oil, and I paid accordingly.
What I was sold is not only short, but it smells like garbage.
It’s pseudo-sandalwood lite.

If you are visiting India, and want to buy sandalwood oil, don’t do it! Better to buy from an illegal still than be duped by a government store.
It’s really unbelievable. Even for India.

So, can you answer this? Does anyone out there have the huevos to answer this accusation?

Can someone really be adulterating the oil and then even shorting the bottles?

This should reflect badly on the distillery, the kauvery, the KSST.....who is doing this? Sandalwood is one on India’s most exquisite treasures, that is already “managed” into disaster. Now this???

Wallah I hope some people get caught for this.

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