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Entries in gaharu (2)


Agarwood II

More shots from the agarwood factory outside of Pak Kading in Laos (see Agarwood). Truly a wondrous and incredibly photogenic place. To illustrate the basic workflow in the factory, the raw material (shown above in the background) is first choppped into small pieces (mid-frame) and allowed to dry in the sun for several days. Under the watchful eyes of several (plastic) bodhisattvas in the colorful altar.

A slurry is made from the wood pieces and this is allowed to brew for several more days. This slurry is then distilled using a wood fire (logs are slowly fed into the firebox) in a large brick furnace. 

The final distillate is collected in an intriguing piece of glassware (burette?) straight out of a Victorian chemistry lab. [NOTE: The color of the sky and the wispy clouds shown in the first image give some idea of the amazing weather experienced during this trip to Laos. Counting rattans in a light sweater. No bugs. This is about as good as it gets].



Agarwood, or gaharu, is the name of the blackened, fungal-infected heartwood of several species of Aquilaria trees in Southeast Asia. The resinous wood is an extremely valuble forest product used for incense and perfumes. Once an infected Aquilaria tree is located in the forest, the tree is felled and the heartwood chopped into small pieces (shown above). This material is then fermented in a solvent for several days and then distilled to extract the essential oil. The image below is from the agarwood plant in Pak Kading, the largest facility of its type in Laos.

The inability to tell whether an Aquilaria tree has been infected  by the fungus or not has led collectors to fell any gaharu tree that they find, and wild populations of this species are, as a result, severely threatened by over-harvesting. The species is currently included in Appendix II of  the CITES list.  [NOTE: Most of the agarwood processed in Laos comes from inoculated material grown in plantations].