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25 August 2007

The history India and the Indian subcontinent goes back far in time, perhaps 80,000 years ago with the first inhabitants that came from Africa.  Sandi Toksvig talks to the historian Michael Wood, a frequent visitor to India, about the some of the extraordinary ancient sites, including the battlefield of Kalinga from the second century BC, and the excavations at Hastinapur, a city long thought to be mythical but which can now be visited.

“Scents are surer than sounds or sights to make your heartstrings crack” wrote Kipling.  Sandi sniffs around for ambergris, formed in the vomit of a whale, the damask rose from Turkey and neroli distilled from Moroccan oranges.  She is joined by Celia Lyttelton and David Pybus, two travellers who have been in search of perfume and the rare and exotic ingredients which go into it.

Presented by Sandi Toksvig

lavender field in Provence, France

Photo: lavender field in Provence, France

This week’s guests:

Michael Wood is an English historian, author, broadcaster and presenter of several television documentary series. His television films include the likes of ‘In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great’, ‘In Search of the Trojan’ and ‘Conquistadors’.

His latest book The Story of India  accompanies the 6 part TV series (also called The Story of India) which started Friday 24th August on BBC Two at 9 o’clock.  It’s the history of the subcontinent which goes back many thousands of years.   “Michael Wood explores the ancient sites that helped shape the history and culture of southern India.  His journey takes him to Patna, once said to be the greatest city on earth; Madurai, a town that has existed continuously since the first millennium BC; and sites at the heart of India's historic spice trade.”

Michael has visited the Indian subcontinent about thirty times in the last twenty years or so.  His first real experience of India was a thirty six hour train journey.  He also travelled with his wife and children to the Hindu Kumbh Mela festival held every twelve years by the Ganges where they slept in a tent amongst the millions of others attending. 

The Story of India
Friday 24 Aug; 31 Aug;
07 Sept; 14 Sept; 21 Sept & 28 Sept
@ 2100 on BBC Two

The Story of India
Publisher: BBC Books
ISBN-10: 0563539151
ISBN-13: 978-0563539155

Celia Lyttelton is an artist and journalist.  In The Scent Trail  Celia recounts her journeys to track down the ingredients and manufacture of perfumes.  She sets about making her own bespoke perfume. 

Her round the world visits started in Grasse in France, the centre of the perfume industry, Morocco, Turkey for the roses, Italy for the iris, Sri Lanka for jasmine, India and The Yemen for frankincense and myrrh, and the Island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia for ambergris from the sperm whale.

The Scent Trail: A Journey of the Senses
Publisher: Bantam Press
ISBN-10: 0593051149
ISBN-13: 978-0593051146

David Pybus is a twenty first century Alchemist and Aromancer. He has spent most of his life travelling extensively, ninety seven countries so far. In January this year he was a winner on BBC2 Dragons’ Den with his prize he intends launching a range of fragrances lost in time, found again and re-created. These include fragrances of Pompeii. Cleopatra (Alexandria), the Anointing Oil of the Kings and Queens of England, the sacrificial perfume of the Mayas of Yucatan...

He is also the author of two books on perfume: Kodo: the way of incense about the Silk Road and Transports of Delight, a collection of verse and prose about perfume and the sense of smell.

David became conscious of smells when he lived in Mexico and South Africa where every thing had a smell - either good or bad. He formed his own company when he read about the smell of roses which emanated from objects raised from the Titanic. It turned out to be a lost perfume and he was able to synthesize it.

Although he synthesizes his perfumes he accepts that the best are natural. Raw materials come from all over the world – many of the old ones followed the spice route and silk roads as they were small and easy to carry but of high value.

Transports of Delight: An Aromatic Journey in Verse from East to West on the Wings of Perfume
Publisher: Global Oriental Ltd
ISBN-10: 1905246560
ISBN-13: 978-1905246564

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Sandi ToksvigSandi Toksvig:
The daughter of a foreign correspondent, Sandi has been travelling all her life more info
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