Recently, in an interview coinciding with the launch of Loudo, our new oud-based extrait, I was asked about my favourite oud. This prompted me to revisit something I had written some four years ago, but never published. Now seems the right time to do so.
This article was written in November, 2017
You don't often get a chance to smell the best ouds in the world. And, you certainly don't often get a second chance if you botch up the first. But I did get a second chance, praise be to God, as Sultan Pasha would say.
The first time Sultan Pasha of Sultan Pasha Attars invited me to smell kyara—reputedly the best oud in the world—presented by a visitor from Singapore, Guozhang, a staunch advocate of Kyara Zen, purveyor of some of the best ouds in the world, I had I been unable to make it.
Fast forward to the second chance to meet Guozhang and his kyara. Sultan proposed a plan that would involve meeting in Piccadilly and then on to lunch in Knightsbridge. It was at a time I had a very busy schedule. But, I had already learned to trust Sultan. And, even though it wasn’t going to be a quick excursion, I was determined not to miss the opportunity.
The three of us met at the Burlington Arcade. Sultan whisked us straight off into Roja Dove to meet Roja. We spent some time talking in the upstairs space of the intimate Victorian shop; about oud and kyara in particular, and about Roja’s fragrances. We curious visitors delighted in trying the numerous creations.
As we departed, waves and smiles goodbye, we were ready to move onto the next business at hand: kyara. Guozhang was very eager for me to smell it.
“Should we smell it here?”
“No,” said Sultan. “Too many perfume smells. Let's smell it on the bus… No that doesn't work, let's go down a side street. But no, they'll think we're doing drugs.”
Finally Guozhang had had enough and he busted it out on the high street near Harrods. I was transported to a crystal clear lake, a lake like the ice blue, impossibly round mirror lake in Oregon, Crater Lake, where you can see many meters down into the increasingly deeper blue waters surrounded by tall pine trees. And, all of a sudden, it’s quiet. No birds, no bugs, no nature, just space and clarity. Lovely stuff. Kyara is the stuff of kings. Seems like Sultan is very good at surrounding himself with the stuff of kings.
At the Lebanese restaurant where we had lunch, what proceeded was hours of smelling various woods, mostly heated with the super-advanced usb-charged portable wood burner. This thing in itself is a work of art. Beautiful machinery disguised as a ceramic lotus. You give it a small wood splinter and it gives you an aroma for hours. We smelled sandalwood and a wide range of different ouds, including the Brunei, which is the top quality oud to burn.
We didn’t burn kyara. Ooooh no!. Kyara is something you don’t burn and you don't distill. No, it is the precious thing you put in your hand-carved jade snuff box and keep forever. The snuff box lives on your vanity or your mantlepiece and you smell it regularly. Or maybe you have a locket in which you can wear it, so that you may have it with you at all times. Did I mention that kyara is the most expensive aromatic material in the world?
Kyara is also prized in Chinese medicine. And, in fact one of the precious 0.1oz pieces here had a hole drilled in it. When Kyara Zen drills these holes, the driller immediately consumes the black oil that oozes out of the pieces.
Oud is a beautiful thing. Sadly, like anything that's valuable, it’s spawned a huge industry of counterfeits, such as fake oud wood chips painted with superglue to give the appearance of a shiny resin.
I have only scratched the surface of smelling beautiful materials and perfumes. But I now know what the best ouds in the world smell like. Guozhang swears the optimal smelling location is on the streets of London. The crisp London air. Or perhaps it is because of contrast: this beautiful natural crystal clarity smell juxtaposed with the chaos; a grimy and gritty London anxiety.
Some say that if you have been good in your previous lives you will be blessed with the opportunity of smelling kyara. Clearly, my karma is ready to receive kyara. And Guozhang and Sultan seem to have an abundance of exemplary past lives.
I don’t want to push my karma boat out too much, but I would like to obtain a piece of kyara for my personal collection. I want mine in a hand-carved jade snuff box, please.