Ooty

 

The best and worst of story recording We have had an amazing few days. While looking at the map of Ooty We saw there was a Government Medicinal Plant Development project not too far from the town. After some inquiries we ended up catching a local bus to Cinchona Village. Not sure on the history of the town, but Cinchona is the tree from which quinine is extracted and I suspect that in the colonial days of old, that the village was the local source of cinchona bark for the daily G&T before dinner.

 

In 1984 a government project was started to develop the village as a center for medicinal plant. This would rejuvenate the area economically while providing medicinal plants for the area. The project supports 80 families and seems to be the only industry in the (very small) village. At Cinchona village 60 hectares of herbs and medicinal plants are grown. Also, Eucalyptus leaves are harvested from the local forests. As the site is a (very low level) tourist venture there is also a “living herbarium”. This is a conservatory like building, with about 110 well kept healthy herbs in pots. This is a new development and the labels with names and uses of the plants (and an additional 30 species) will arrive soon. There is also a herb garden outside with many plants categorised by what they are used to treat.

The main industry at the village is distillation of essential oils. We saw the process of Eucalyptus distillation. It is very simple with a boiler, a barrel containing 500kgs of dried leaves, a condenser, and a funnel going into a jerry can. From 500kgs 7 litres can be extracted, and this increases to a maximum of 11 litres in January/February. The boiled leaves are then dried and used to fuel the boiler. Interestingly for geranium oil, 500kgs gives just 500 ml. The oils they produce include Eucalyptus, Wintergreen (Gaultheria), Thyme, Citronella, Cotton lavender, basil, rosemary, tea tree and a few others. They had just finished a batch of wintergreen oil – about 300 litres – and if I heard correctly and have the conversion correct that is about £20,000 worth. wow. We managed to interview the lovely botanist who works there and got a great plant story from her about the Eucalyptus.

 

After that we went for a tour of a tea factory, where no one spoke enough English to interview, but we got some great photos, and learnt a lot.

Since then we have been to one of the national parks, where our guide completely missed the point of what we were asking, and told us about 5 or so plants that are important to other people. On another walk we did our guide was telling me about plants, and how they were important, but when I told him about our project in more detail he got very nervous and was no longer keen to participate. Today, in Mysore, we went on a tour of a silk factory, where no one spoke enough English to interview, and we followed that by a sandalwood factory where the guide didn’t understand what we were trying to do, and the guy in the shop told us we should email the company directly for that sort of information. It has been quite a frustrating time for story collection, but we are seeing amazing things enjoying some fun travel.

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