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Financial Times May 30 2006
Sweet scent of roses evokes longing for 'disappearing Iran
Mon May 29, 2006 19:48

Sweet scent of roses evokes longing for 'disappearing Iran'
By Gareth Smyth in Ghamsar
Financial Times May 30 2006 03:00 | Last updated: May 30 2006 03:00

Ali Saderi, 32, has worked for 10 years making rose water in Ghamsar, 1,800m up in the mountains west of Iran's central desert.

He lives in an even higher village and savours his traditional and fragrant life.

"I went once to Tehran but it was very hectic and the air was bad, so I stayed just a few hours," he says.

This is the busiest time of year in Ghamsar.

Mr Saderi rises at 5.30am to distil golab, the rose water from Gul Mohammadi, "the flower of Mohammed", which blooms for just 20 days.

The pickers have already been out since dawn, when the flowers open in the dew and nightingales sing.

In an irrigated grove, Mr Saderi mixes 10kg-50kg of petals and 70 litres of water in copper pots, which are heated by gas, the steam rising before cooling in a copper urn submerged in cold water.

For Iranian tourists, a trip to Ghamsar evokes a heritage and lifestyle being destroyed in Tehran, a city swollen to 12m people and daily jammed with traffic.

Flowers have a special place in the Iranian imagination.

Roses permeate the verse of the 14th-century poet Hafez, whose verses many Iranians can recite by heart.

A native of Shiraz, the southern city known for romance and gardens, Hafez memorised the Koran and was known as a "tongue of the mysterious" whose words were divinely inspired.

But he wrote freely of wine and of the thorns and blooms of love.

Like Hafez, golab is part of Iranian life - as an ingredient in sholeh-zard, a wobbly yellow pudding of rice and saffron given to neighbours on religious occasions, and in halva, eaten at times of bereavement.

Golab is also used to wash graves.

Mr Saderi works for Golab Kabeh, a small business run by two brothers, Abbas and Hussein Ali-Hajji, who have expanded their business over 25 years.

"There are fewer flowers grown in Ghamsar than there used to be because instead of working the land people have sold it for villas," says Hussein.

"It's sad for me to see this as I grew up with Gul Mohammadi. So we buy flowers from villages higher and higher up."

The town's population has stayed at 4,000, although Iran's has jumped from 32m to 68m.

Part of the brothers' motivation is to provide employment and an incentive for young people to stay. They employ six to seven people but can have a further 20 packing and selling on the busy Fridays of spring.

The majority of business comes to the shop front, a simple but attractive stall and tea-room by the road, even though in the beginning the brothers sold to dealers. The brothers have also expanded into medicines with cordial from peppermint, cardamom and other herbs and spices made in the traditiongoing back beyond Ibn Sina, the Muslim physician who lived from 981 to 1037."I never take pills," says Mr Saderi.

Last year, the Ali-Hajji brothers' golab was chosen by Iran's Hajj Organisation, which organises the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, for the ritual washing of the Kaaba, the cube-shaped stone structure in the middle of the sacred mosque in Mecca.

"Unfortunately, we couldn't accept because we couldn't produce as much as was needed," says Hussein.

"This convinced me we need to move to industrial production. We'll keep working here but also open a factory. The key to success will be marketing."

The Ali-Hajji brothers have eight pots, which is more than the two orthree usually found inthis cottage industry,but not nearly as manyas the factories in Kerman, the nearest city to Ghamsar.

Hussein estimates he needs 300m tomans (about $328,000, 257,000, 176,000) in capital to expand.

He has raised 100mand hopes to borrow the rest.

With interest rates at 16 per cent, he aims for a subsidised loan from the state-owned Agriculture Bank under new lending schemes introduced under Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, president.

"Industrial production would see output up 10 times in the first year. We can then look seriously at supplying Tehran and even exporting," he says.

Hussein hopes his business can help keep a new generation at home in Ghamsar.

"Who would leave such a place if they can find work?" he says.

    • Could be use for WMDs!Anonymous, Mon May 29 19:51
      The distillation technology used to make golab can be used to make WMDs. Therefore Iran should not have any golub-making technology. Russia can make all the golab that Iran could consume. The fact... more
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