Two Khmer Villagers’ Dream – Part 2

(continued from “Two Khmer Villagers’ Dream – Part 1“)

Asnol, my Borneo J.V. partner and chief hunter.
Asnol, my Borneo J.V. partner and chief hunter.

In an earlier blog post (here), I had mentioned we have our own dedicated team of gaharu hunters in Borneo now. Using a strategic joint-venture partnership arrangement, I was able to gain 100% legal, full access to over 500 acres of Borneo jungle land. We even got the local Dato’s blessing.

So what does this translate to? It means I can have as many agarwood trees as I want from this area, and its fully sanctioned. No illegal felling, no smuggling, etc, which is standard practice in Borneo and elsewhere. Contrary to how things are typically done, I prefer to forge strategic partnerships which allow me to get old wild agarwood trees without breaking any laws.

As soon as we got the Sarawakian Dato’s consent, I decided we should waste no time and we should send our very best pakerjas to Borneo to chop down only the best trees (contrary to the common practice in Borneo, of chopping down every single tree indiscriminately, which wipes out entire future generations of agarwood trees).
The wood collected will be sold as raw wood (through our wholesale wing, and the oils will of course be offered on

The two pakerjas, far-left and far-right saying their final g'byes before heading back to Cambodia.
The two pakerjas, far-left and far-right saying their final g’byes before heading back to Cambodia.

When we broke the news to the two pakerjas we chose, they couldn’t believe it. It was like telling a nine year old girl she’d won a free ticket to a Justin Bieber concert (have the demographics changed? I don’t really follow pop culture).
We immediately flew them back to Cambodia to renew their visas and get their papers in order.

They were the talk of the town when they reached Cambodia. Wow, Borneo island! None of their Khmer relatives could believe that one (well, two) of their own would be going there. The guys felt like celebrities.

Tuesday morning (Dec. 16) the pakerjas, accompanied by Ahmad, arrived in Sarawak, Borneo, staying the first night at the Imperial Hotel, Kuching. The pakerjas couldn’t believe their eyes… forget about feeling like celebrities, they felt like kings now. Taps in the bathroom with hot water! Yes folks, believe it or not, this was the first time they encountered hot tap water.

But they were more eager to start exploring the jungles of Borneo.

Our two Khmer pakerjas in the foreground, with one of our Dayak hunters leading the way.
Our two Khmer pakerjas in the foreground, with one of our Dayak hunters leading the way, in one of the Borneo jungles we gained access to.

After resting for a short while, later that same afternoon, Asnol came to pick them up, and wasting no time they headed straight to one jungle. It was a gruelling trip; some of you may already know, Borneo island has one of the densest jungles in the world.

Actually, before they hit the jungles, the very first thing they did was to get an axe-head and Swiss-made screwdrivers. These Khmer guys are totally old-school. They make their own handles for the axes, and like skilled blacksmiths they transform their screwdrivers into the most efficient carving tools.
The local Dayaks crowded around and watched in amazement as they saw our guys do their thing, Cambodian style. If seeing real Khmers in the flesh wasn’t fascinating enough for them, seeing them forge the finest Gaharu wood chopping and carving tools with their hands had the people buzzing in amazement.

A stump of one of the illegally felled agarwood trees that our team passed by.
A stump of one of the illegally felled agarwood trees that our team passed by.

Wading through the thick woods, the tell-tale signs of illegal felling were to be seen everywhere. Stumps of chainsawed trees (the preferred practice of illegal fellers, who not only lack the skill of using an axe to chop down a tree, but also want to get the job done as quickly as possible before they get caught), and half-fallen trees were everywhere.

One of the (illegally) half-felled trees our team came across. Either the guy realized he had been spotted and therefore had to escape, or he decided the tree wasn't worth chopping up. If only these guys would decide before eradicating entire generations of trees!
One of the (illegally) half-felled trees our team came across. Either the guy realized he had been spotted and therefore had to run, or he decided the tree wasn’t worth chopping up. If only these guys would decide before eradicating entire generations of trees!

Our Khmer hunters, more accustomed to seeing gigantic Crassna and Malaccensis agarwood trees, were baffled to see how slender Borneo Microcarpa agarwood trees are. Asnol laughed and told them not to worry; the small size does not necessarily mean the trees are young (i.e. not ripe for harvest), you can have King grade trees in this part of Borneo that a man can wrap his arms around.

One of these Khmer guys has a remarkable talent. He is able to very accurately predict what trees would yield high grade agarwood, and hence are fit for harvest. Time and time again, our team would come across a towering agarwood tree, Asnol would look at him with hopeful eyes, but he would shake his head.
Aside from the tell-tale signs that the tree itself displays (i.e. the leaves, the bark, the tree’s ‘belly’ and ‘elbows’, and so on), smart hunters – like our guy – look at other factors as well. For example, when a tree is spotted he first starts searching for the ‘mother’ tree. Sometimes the stump of the mother would be found nearby, and he would explain to Asnol that in fact the standing tree was the grand-daughter of the mother tree. It needed to be left alone, and allowed to live and mature for another half a century.
If only all agarwood hunters were this selective when it came to chopping down trees! Alas, the reality is quite to the contrary.

These guys waste no time. They've already started carving away at the Arab-grade chips.
These guys waste no time. They’ve already started carving away at the Arab-grade chips.

After much toil and trouble, we ended up finding 3 excellent trees once the team got really deep into the belly of the jungle. The trees were then felled and transported back to be further chopped up, cleaned and carved.

There were two surprises to follow. Asnol had already chopped down one tree some weeks ago, and he brought out the neatly chopped up logs and they turned out to contain Super King grade nuggets. Moreover, within a few days our Khmer guys found another tree which also contained Super King grade chunks!

So these two latest posts are probably most exciting for people who are into burning agarwood for incense. But folks, if you’re more into oils, you have reason to rejoice as well.

Lately, I’ve been harping on about the three key changes to Agar Aura’s distillation philosophy:
1) the quality of the raw material
2) the distillation apparatus
3) the extraction techniques used

These last two blog posts directly tie into point #1 above, namely: the quality of the raw material.
You see folks, for most distillers “high grade raw material” is simply wood that is visually higher quality, i.e. it has a lot of oeloresin.
But for us, its not just the qualitative/visual factors (yes, that’s important too), but also the quantitative factors that matter.

If you distill 2 batches of visually identical-looking raw materials, one collected from a mother tree and another from a grand-daughter, even though the raw material may visually appear to be the same quality the aroma of the oils extracted from them will be very, very different.
This is the reason why, typically, an oil distilled 20 years ago simply cannot be matched by an oil distilled today.

Since we now work so closely with hunters, I am able to get raw materials from mother trees, and believe me guys and girls, it makes a world of difference. Agar Aura can now produce oils of a quality matching what was available 20, 30, 40 years ago (and smell even better, due to superior distillation apparatus and extraction techniques).

Oooooh boy… Wait till you smell this oil.

I will soon be releasing some oils which, as you will see (smell) for yourselves, will speak louder than any words that I can say about them here.
So stay tuned – especially for one Malaysian, one Borneo, and one other oil (pictured on the left, which will be released in mid or late 2015) whose origin I will keep a secret for now.

That’ll be all for now. On a parting note, below is a short clip I wanted to share, of one of our Khmer guys in action. Enjoy!

***Updates (10:10 PM GMT -8)***
As I type this, I am getting some fresh new amazing updates!
– Our pakerjas can’t stop smiling…
– We chopped down an amazing quality tree today
– Another really ancient tree was discovered in its vicinity, which will be chopped down tomorrow
– Our team entered a jungle in a small mini-island (name: undisclosed for now), which is absolutely virgin. Forget about mother trees, this place is packed with grannies!
– And finally: our team felled a 200 year old Aquilaria Beccariana tree (Beccariana trees have the sweetest honeyed aroma of all the species of agarwood). Asnol is very pleased, as am I.

2 Comments Add yours
  1. Mashalla .. All wishes of best luck Taha

    I can feel the excitement and energy running in your spirit !

    I wish all that stuff to you happened in cambodia 🙂

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