I have never bought attar in my life - actually, I've never bought any perfume at all, apart from the mandatory deo - so I was a complete novice. Shoba seemed to know what she was doing though, so I stood quietly watching while she talked to the shop owner.
I know what khus is - have you seen it? It is a sort of long aromatic grass. We've got khus incense sticks at home - the smell is woody and smoky. For those who are not big fans of floral essences (like me!), Indian vetiver or khus is a good alternative.
Khus is widely used in India, and not just in perfumes. In the summer months, it is woven into mats, and hung on the doorways of houses to keep the sun away. Water is sprinkled on the mats, and when the breeze blows through it, it keeps the house cool and fragrant.
The most interesting thing I've read recently about khus is how the Konkan Railway has used it to safeguard the rail track against soil erosion and mudslides.
The Konkan Railway runs between Bombay and Goa, on the foothills of the Western Ghats. Of the 740 kms they cover, one-third of the route has been either tunnelled or cut through the hills. There's also heavy rainfall here in the monsoons, so keeping the tracks clear of mudslides is critical.
On the Konkan Railway website, they've actually written two pages of stuff explaining why they picked vetiver for their embankments:
1) It is easily available all over India.
2) It is cheap and easy to establish as a hedge.
3) It can be easily maintained at little cost.
4) It withstands wide range of climates – from 300 - 6000 mm rainfall and from 15 - 55 degrees temperature. Moreover, it can withstand long and sustained drought for more than six months.
5) It is totally free of pests and disease, and does not serve as an intermediate host for pests or disease of other plants.
6) Its strong fibrous root system penetrates and binds the soil upto 3m depth.
7) It is perennial and requires minimal maintenance.
8) Over a period of time it helps in changing the PH of the soil from about 2 to 8 i.e. from acidic to alkaline.
OK, I'm thoroughly impressed! Not just with khus itself, but also with the Konkan Railway (just when you think everything is going downhill with the government, you find out they're doing some very cool stuff).
Anyway - I'm off now - I'm going to get some vetiver for my home garden!