Numerous European perfume brands including Tom Ford, Guerlain and Dior, as well as niche brands such as By Kilian and Byredo, have released signature scents based on the resin secreted by evergreen tree Aquilaria malaccensis in reaction to an invading fungus. The finest
oudh comes from Cambodia, and thereafter Oman. Rare and costing tens of thousands of dollars in its pure form, oudh and frankincense are the twin scents that can make a desert sheikh swoon. Separately or together, they are key ingredients in bukhoor, a mixture made with wood- chips dipped in essential oils, oudh, frankincense, dried flowers, herbs, spices and seashells. These are powdered together in various combinations to create different scents. A typical recipe might include musk, sandalwood oil, rose essence, oudh and luban. Omanis intuitively mix and match the raw ingredients, layering scents on their bodies and clothes, based on generations of practice.
The incense burner is an open ceramic pot that contains a few burning coals. When the dry resinous mixture is sprinkled on the glowing embers, it emits the fragrant smoke that suffuses most Omani homes. Locals air their clothes in the smoke to make them aromatic, and use it to mask the smell of fish after cook-
ing. They have different fragrances for different times, using stronger florals for the evening and light, citrusy ones for the day.
At specialist shop Abdul Samad Al Qurashi (asqgrp.com/en), a group of men sniff a variety of scents, animatedly discussing choices. There is white musk, which serves as a binding agent; oudh, which purifies; sandalwood, which is mystical; roses and jasmine. Prices range from modest to astronomical – $US2667 ($2876) for a 5.8g bottle of 150-year-old aoud (oudh) oil.
At first pass, oudh seems overwhelmingly strong. “Wait a few hours for it to flower,” says the salesman. “Wait a few days and then you will see it bloom.”
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