The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.
As I strode into the capital city of what was once the majestic epicentre of India, I smelt burning wood, something more insidious than the smell of a fireplace or campfire. I had arrived in Delhi and the combustion of wood (and perhaps other substances) was the smell of poor people trying to stay warm. This, amongst curry spices and sewage, became a signature scent of my experience in Rajasthan, India.
Kipling also wrote the Jungle Book when he was in Bundi, a town in the state of Rajasthan.
India has been harnessing the healing power of plants and flowers for several centuries. Some popular indigenous plants used in health and healing are:
- neem – used as an insect repellant
- henna – used decoratively on the skin for Indian weddings
- jasmine – used in perfume
- rose – This flower is made into jam, syrup, oil, perfume and water. Visit Pushkar for its rose products and Udaipur for its rose garden. Both are in the state of Rajasthan. See our rose link:
- sandalwood – Santalum album is a type of tree that is steam distilled and made into sandalwood essential oil. It has traditionally been used in India in perfumery, aromatherapy and religious rituals. It has astringent, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties amongst many others and is often used topically in a deodorant, perfume and in a lotion or soap for skin care. Sandalwood is often used in puja, a form of worship and prayer for various deities. The oil is mixed with water to make a paste and this paste anoints the third eye (between the eyebrows) to calm the nervous system and stimulate spiritual energy. Sandalwood is one of the more expensive oils and pairs well with another expensive oil, rose.
There are also essential oils made from spices native to India. Each one is listed with one of its many uses.
- black pepper – topically in blend for muscle aches
- cardamom – in a mouthwash as a disinfectant
- turmeric – in a topical blend for arthritis
Oils to take to India
If you don’t like crowds (like me), then Rescue Remedy, a Bach flower remedy, is recommended to help deal with the stress and anxiety of being crushed amongst billions of people.
Other oils to bring in your India travel kit are calming and detoxing lavender, antibacterial tea tree and peppermint for nausea and digestion. A 50mL container of hand sanitizer should also be included in your kit. Some of these products are laced with chemicals so look out for the natural stuff, preferably with thymol and some citrus component in it.
Bright marigold garlands are said to help keep away the bees (but not monkeys apparently). We like bees and need them as they are earth’s great pollinator, responsible for a sizeable portion of our food supply. Wear garlands for personal use only but make sure to hide them when visiting outdoor attractions. Any monkeys in the vicinity will surely catch whiff of them and descend upon you like the rabidly ravenous beasts they are.
In Sanskrit, ayur =life & veda = science
Ayurveda is an ancient mind-body healing practice from India. Its holistic approach to health focuses on diet, healthy habits and a customized plan for each individual.
A luxurious Ayurveda brand available in India:
I found their products to be ‘perfumey’ and a little pricey. The scent of essential oils should not linger and these ones do; but they make for a nice souvenir.
While staying at a castle hotel in Bijaipur, I had an Ayurvedic massage. I couldn’t distinguish the difference compared with a Swedish or Thai massage, but it was a lovely and memorable treatment all the same. Other aromatherapy finds are pictured below:
The lotus is India’s national flower and a well-chosen symbol for this country. It can flourish in difficult conditions (i.e.murky waters) thus representing strength, beauty and resilience.