It was while attending a literature festival recently in Dehradun that I discovered the best moisturising cream I have ever used. Well, it’s not like I have kept a ranking of moisturising creams, but it felt pretty close to being better than anything I have used before.
It comes from a tiny brand called Asaagat born in the Garhwal hills and is a pure Ayurvedic product made by a collective of hill women called Gauri International. Turns out they also make an excellent pure aloe vera skin product. I discovered the pleasures of using absolutely pure aloe vera while living at Oxford—one bright spark there insisted that the only kind worth using had to have been cold pressed in Scotland—and I am convinced that the Asaagat supply came close enough.
Of course very few people have ever heard about this brand, far less used it, and that’s because the women’s collective that produces the products is made up of underprivileged local women who neither have money nor the skill sets to market their fine offerings.
As a long-time writer of Fortune India’s luxury coverage, I have a natural interest in brands like these and I decided to look up other brands in this genre from the region. It seemed perfectly logical that a region that is renowned for its environmental treasures should have the ability to create an ecosystem that brings forth products and experiences that are truly luxurious in a world hungry for organic fare. Also—just to put the numbers in perspective—India’s personal care market is inching towards annual sales of Rs 100,000 crore with near double-digit growth year-on-year.
I found a couple of most interesting brands—mostly obscure, but then some of the best kinds worth using often are. There is Pahadi Local which sells everything from tea infused with dried rose petals to apricot, peach and walnut oil, and a limited-edition honey (‘Indian Borage Honey’). It was started by an audio-engineer-turned-merchandiser from Mumbai who happened to live for a while in the mountains near Shimla.
The other brand that caught my eye was SoulTree, another Ayurveda-from-Uttarakhand-made-by-farmers brand that was started by a former merchant navy officer. It has a wide range of personal care products from skin to hair, including intriguing items like saffron and turmeric face oil and a pomegranate, apricot and almond anti-ageing oil.
But these are still ad hoc efforts. They haven’t yet added up to the kind of thing I am arguing in this essay—the creation of a clear and distinct strategy to build a global organic personal care hub in the Indian Himalayas. We could build in this region what Grasse in France has been made in the world of perfumes—the undisputed world centre for experimentation and development of the finest fragrances.
It could be an effort of the Uttarakhand state government or a joint endeavour between the Uttarakhand and the Himachal Pradesh governments. What I am arguing for is to think on the lines of how can we create an ecosystem to promote products and services that can speak to the world about an ‘Indian way of living’, a sort of ‘vishwaguru (taking off from the term much favoured in India these days which literally means world teacher) for the senses’ as it were.
When I lived outside India, the thing I missed consistently is what I have described to someone really close to me as a certain “sensual style of living”. What do I mean by that? Well, it is really an uniquely Indian way of slowing down things with grace, a sort of stylish slow living (and not just slow food or fashion). But savouring things—from music to fragrance to food—as a way of life.
I am arguing that this is in great demand—especially in the word of personal care—and we already have a world-class spa in the Indian Himalayas. We should use the experience and brand value of Ananda spa in Rishikesh, bring together these brands that I have mentioned and many more, and build a new global campaign—Healing in the Himalayas.
We must invite the world to come and heal in the Himalayas and offer them the purest, finest products and services that we already possess.
Do you know which place in the world has the most beautiful jasmine festival in the world (no, not India, even though jasmine is that ever classic flower of India)? Grasse. Do you know much the Grasse perfume industry makes for France every year? At last count around $600 million (some estimates suggest nearly a $1 billion).
We can make Healing in the Himalayas do the same, and much more for India. All we need is a bit of imagination, and enthusiasm from the government.
Views are personal.
The author is a historian and a multiple award-winning author.