Esha Tiwari Kannauj

Let’s Explore Kannauj Through The Eyes Of A Young Perfumer, Esha Tiwari 

When you are growing up, it’s easy to define what cool is—knowing the latest music track with unpronounceable foreign words, or the fashion trend that’s quite bizarre but has everyone wanting to be a part of it. It’s seldom encouraged to find “cool” in the character of a city, the nooks and corners—especially, when it’s not a city but a small town. We have inherited the belief that a small town is a place you should wish to leave, a place to escape from, a cage you should want to break open from to explore possibilities. But, when it comes to Kannauj, a small town in Uttar Pradesh, is it possible for it to be the back engine of an entire global perfumery industry? Can it be that cool? 

Esha Tiwari Kannauj


When I entered Kannauj, I didn’t just take an exit from my metropolitan city life, but I also took an exit from everything I have known about the Indian history of scents and the positioning of India at the genesis of the global perfumery. I was born in Benaras, a modern spiritual magnanimous city in Uttar Pradesh and have frequented the heart of UP with Lucknow, Allahabad and Kanpur throughout my childhood and young adulthood. The charm of UP which casts a spell on all the cities and towns, including Kannauj, is the presence of attar artisans throughout, which not just gives us a preview in the perfumery history of India but also how India presented the first scent-based wellness ecosystem to the world. Now, isn’t that quite cool? 

As you enter Kannauj, it keeps getting narrower and narrower. Houses stacked next to each other, next to the shops, schools, and temples. And with that you get to witness the entire character of the city play out right in the streets. As your vision is chaotic so are the sounds hitting your ears—from rickshaw bells, children laughing, to a casual chat across rooftops. When your other senses are so unarchic, can the sense of order come from your power of smell? 



Kannauj, the perfume capital of India, is a small fragrant town which has served the global perfumery industry since centuries. It is said that even in the smallest nooks of the city you will find people huddled and still sniffing their wrists. Kannauj is geographically placed in the middle of Lucknow and Kanpur (2 hours from Lucknow and 5 hours from Kanpur), and saw the bloom of hydro distilled scents made via Deg Bhapka method in the Mughal period.  The town has fragrant nerves and it has perfumes in its veins more than blood. Kannauj is filled with distilleries, mostly generational, who have been crafting the art of ittars—one of the oldest forms of perfumery in the world. The attars didn’t just scent the wrists, but also the homes, food, fountains, and darbars. It was a thing of art and taste. And also a mode of announcing your arrival. The rise of the courtly culture during the Mughals led to the kings taking high interest in the sensorial experiences. The attars did more than making you smell good but also working with your body chemistry and your temperament. They would keep you cool in summers with Khus (Vetiver) and warm in winters with pure wood and spice-based scents. 


I visited the city with my team to create a new range of modern ittars which we have now launched—the Kannauj edition of Kastoor. First stop in the city was 24MG Road, a generational haveli of perfumers for 120 years. While I was greeted with a flower shower of freshly picked gulabs, the first day was abandoned to a crisp afternoon nap. In the evening we were hosted by the ML Ramnarain perfumers for a scented conversation, an exchange of notes, a tour of the generational distillery and a Khus (Vetiver) Sherbet that I am still swooning over. Vetiver, an ingredient which is emerald green in color, is a fragrant root and has cooling properties. It is used to calm a hot temperament or provide relief in soaring temperatures. The evening went in exchange of anecdotes and discussing all about ingredients—their mischiefs and characteristics.  


The next morning in Kannauj started at 6.30 am where we went to the farm to pluck the fresh roses and jasmine for Kastoor’s Kannauj edition and brought them to get distilled in the generational distillery. The perfumery is completely artisan-led and one of the toughest forms of perfumery in the world. The artisans carried the freshly plucked ingredients, chaffed out the impurities, and prepared the degs for the blends to be cooked on open fire by putting the ingredients in large copper pots and locking the mouth of degs with a paste of mud. As the sun set, we too surrendered our day to the air filled with aromas of rose, jasmine, cinnamon and Oudh, taking over our mind, memories and feelings. 

Esha Tiwari

As we came to the end of our trip, we decided to enjoy one last stroll in the city.  Enveloped by the Ganges, we took on a boat ride to pass an array of small islands, and parked our boat on a deserted island to spend the day under the trees and the scent of raw mango. As the water reflected on our sunglasses, the mind reflected on the quietness of the moment. Just a series of ‘now’, stacked next to each other just like how everything is next to each other in Kannauj. Ain’t that cool? 

The Kannauj edition of Kastoor is up for sale and can be experienced from the website to get an immersive experience into the fragrance capital of India. 

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  • Esha Tiwari

    Esha Tiwari is the founder of Kastoor - a plant based perfumery of Modern Ittars. With an advertising and marketing background, she wears many hats of being a brand strategist, a permanent perfumer who also moonlights as a writer. Along with her professional pursuits, Esha loves to be vocal about emotional and mental wellness, body movement and Fashion. She also just loves observing the world - “a full time voyeurist” she jokes about it.

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