Tcharas by AbdesSalaam Attar Profumo: A Journey Into The Unknown
I have been curious about the fragrances of AbdesSalaam Attar Profumo ever since the release of their Mecca Balsam a few months ago. I had never heard of the house before then, and like every other perfume fan I was curious about it and eager to experience the other perfumes in the line based on the rave reviews it was getting. However, I had little hope that I would ever be able to do so without a larger perfume budget than I currently have since the perfumery is based in Italy and sold directly from their Web site, and international shipping charges are pretty steep. Much to my delight, one of their offerings has come my way thanks to a very generous fragrance lover, and I am happy to report that the adulation this house has received is richly deserved, if what I have is representative of its quality standards.
Tcharas is one of the special Attars, highly concentrated and richly redolent of precious resins and oils. I believe that the name is a variant of Charas, a term that refers to a type of handmade hashish famous (or notorious) in northern India and Afghanistan and the Himalayan foothills. The scent is stated to be a tribute to the perfumery materials native to the Hindu Kush mountain range area of the world, so that makes sense, sort of. I am not familiar with the different grades of hashish (or any grade of it, really) so I can't say if this perfume smells anything like it. However, it definitely smells otherworldly and unmistakably exotic. Think of L'Artisan's Dzongkha as a jumping-off point and then add in farm animals, nomad tents and a vertiginous sense of adventure, and you have an approximation of Tcharas. It's one of those fragrances for which I had no expectation or point of reference, so it was almost disorienting to smell it, since it has ingredients in it that I have never experienced before. I did smell such familiar elements as labdanum and scratchy tree moss, but in rougher versions than what are usually found in fine fragrances. This is from an all-natural perfumery, and for just a few moments it had that “head shop” vibe that such products seem to have if they are made of cheap, poor quality materials. No sooner had that first impression registered in my brain than it reversed itself completely and I found myself at the edge of a new olfactory experience; I had no idea what I was smelling, but it was marvelous!
It seems that the Hindu Kush is a place where high quality aromatic resins are grown, and they are the foundation of Tcharas. The base notes are civet and castoreum, and are apparently the real thing, not synthetic substitutes, and you don't run into these every day. The florals and resins in this fragrance are not named, and I cannot guess at anything except the labdanum I recognize. The description of this fragrance says that these resins “possess a powerful and inebriating (do they mean invigorating? The translation to English is shaky here.) fragrance characterized by the strong animalic tone of the mountain farm barns.“ I can understand that concept perfectly; combined with the animalic base notes, they produce a powerful aroma that is evocative of wood smoke, raw earth, horses, stables and straw and the general air of that kind of unadorned life in the outdoors, a symphony of the kind of smells for which most perfumes would be employed to cover up, yet they are in the starring role. No sweetness of any kind softens Tcharas' rugged character; it is essentially a masculine Chypre with little or nothing in the way of top notes. There is more than a hint of danger in it too, and by this I do not mean decadence or sexual provocation, which seem to be the common currency for modern, urban “edgy” fragrances. This is the kind of danger one finds in harsh nomadic life, the breath of snorting beasts and the level stares of mountain men who don't approve of intruders on their turf and would like to ask you a few pointed questions about your intentions, and I found it to be utterly mesmerizing. I have always had a fascination for this kind of thing, though it may as well be in another universe, so far removed is it from my own life. I am sure I would crumble like a sand castle at high tide if I actually had to live it, but then again, I am an unabashed romantic.
Imagine waking up after sleeping in a tent imbued with years of charcoal smoke, and stumbling out to the campfire to drink hot, strong black tea for fortification. The smell of warm horse, rough wool and leather fills the air as you break camp and prepare for the day's trek. You splash cold glacier water on your face and drink more of it from a tin cup as the morning breeze brings the exhilarating smell of the cold fog that drifts over the craggy peaks at the roof of the world. As you begin your journey, the pale morning sun begins to warm the countryside just enough to release the pungent oils of the hardy herbs and bushes that cling to the steep, rocky slopes that line the trail as your sturdy mount finds his way along the track where countless other feet have gone, an ancient road used by nomads and mountain people since the dawn of history. You don't really know what lies before you on this day, but it stretches out to the horizon, beckoning with every bend along the way, and the only certainty is that it will be exciting, for you are going further than you have ever gone before, and this part of the trail is uncharted territory. You look up to see an eagle soaring high above, and then down to the roaring river far below, a mere silver thread at the bottom of an abyss from where you are, and then you set your sights resolutely ahead to your destination... whatever that may be. That is the heart and soul of Tcharas.
Image credit: Miar Peak in the Karakoram Range, northern Pakistan, by Eleutherosmartin via Wikimedia.org, used by Creative Commons license.
Video link: Unofficial but very cool version of Loreena McKennitt's wonderful Night Ride Across The Caucasus – I dare you to take your eyes off all the dashing men on horseback, and the scenery is stunning too. I thought of this song as soon as I smelled Tcharas!