By Nivi Shrivastava
If we talk about the unique geographical location of Chhattisgarh, the state is often referred to as the “rice bowl of India” for producing numerous varieties of rice. Interestingly, the capital of the state – Raipur – also enjoys bountiful rain, sunshine and boasts of an advantageous position with Mahanadi River in the East and dense forest of Maikal in the North-western part of the city. While one would assume the local agriculturists growing heaps of food and horticulture crops across the lush land, at a recent trip we were pleasantly surprised to see fields of exotic herbs like rosemary, chamomile, patchouli and calendula blooming across the land.
On an unexpected beauty trail in the outskirts of Raipur, we witnessed India’s first ‘farm to face’ venture by Ras luxury oils and explored the unseen side of green revolution in the hinterland of Chhattisgarh. Spread across 250 acres, the beautiful farmlands near Raipur are used by the homegrown beauty brand to grow exotic herbs and pure plant oils that are used for creating organic, cruelty-free elixirs. As most of the herbs and medicinal plants used for extracting essential oils naturally grow in the cooler climate and mountain areas of North India, it was a challenge for the local farmers to grow these cash crops in the central part of the country. However, with continuous research and techniques such as tissue culture plantation and multiplying the same seeds of desired plants, they were successful in creating favorable conditions in this region.
As one enters the Ras farms, the first impression is absolutely mind-blowing for a city dweller to be surrounded by manicured gardens and fields of blossomed calendula, rosemary, aloe vera, moringa, peppermint, patchouli, chrysanthemum along with rows of mango, banana, lemon, sandalwood, agarwood, and pomegranate trees. Amidst the man-made estate situated 10 kilometers away from the main city, one can see the cultivation and extraction of various essential oils at the DSIR approved microbiology lab situated next to the farm area. For visual delights, the best time to be at the blooming floral fields is the onset of spring; and, if you are ready to experience the farm life, participate in the calendula harvest with the local farmers. As we stepped in the muddy fields with our small cane baskets to collect the fully-bloomed crop, within seconds the fragrance of the ripe yellow flowers overpowered our senses and took us back to our childhood days. We were told that these flowers are collected in bulk and dried under the sunlight, distilled and processed in boilers to extract pure plant oils, which is used to create beauty products.
A little ahead of the herbal farms, we continued the botanical exploration at the bigger plantation area in a huge man-made forest of eucalyptus trees intercropped with palmarosa and patchouli shrubs. Rows of patchouli, a rare medicinal plant used also used for preserving pashmina, were planted strategically in temporary greenhouses that create a moist and warm climate for fuller growth of the leaves. And, all these plantations were secured by trap crops of marigold in the boundaries as they act as a natural pesticide and prevent insect attacks.
The best way to explore this region is undoubtedly by foot, and while you are there don’t forget to keep your eyes and ears open for spotting migratory birds that frolic in and around during the daytime. One can also request for a private tour of the farms and explore the nursery, watch extraction units that derive oils by steam and cooling process, a small dairy and riverside of Kharun lined with plantations of mustard, coconut, turmeric, nagarmotha and other plants that are used for different beauty products.
For those who are interested in learning about organic farming and waste management with safe disposal, a small tour at the biogas plant would help understand the procedure of natural manure and compost collection. And, after spending an entire day in the ‘beauty farms of Raipur’ don’t forget to take away the sense of gratitude for nature that blessed us with abundance through all kinds of big and small plants. XX