HOGA Gaharu Tea Valley – Gopeng, Perak, Malaysia
By Phil Foo
Gaharu trees (agarwood trees) are one of the most valuable trees in the world. In some countries, the sale of just one tree can buy one a house. That is just one tree. Imagine 200,000 trees. Yes, two hundred thousand trees. That is how many agarwood trees the HOGA Gaharu Tea Valley has. What’s more unique is that HOGA Gaharu Tea Valley has found ways to do more than what most usually do with these trees.
Why Do Gaharu Trees Cost So Much?
The most expensive part of the Gaharu tree is not so much the tree itself. It is the sap or resin of the Gaharu tree that cost a lot. The tree produces a dark resin that is used to make incense and perfumes. The Gaharu tree is also called “the wood of gods.” These trees have been used for centuries not just to smell good but also in religious ceremonies be it Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.
[ Not all Gaharu trees are created equal. Most of the Gaharu trees do not have the quality of resin that is usable in ways they are intended to be used… ]
The Gaharu tree not only has properties that make people smell good, and to mask the natural scent of humans. They also have medicinal values as described in a book back in 65 CE (Common Era) called Materia Medica, where the author; Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek physician writes that it helps with stomach complaints, dysentery, pains of the lungs and liver, and also used to freshen breath.
In Chinese medicine, the Gaharu tree too is nothing new. Called of Chén Xiāng – 沉香 that literally means ‘sinking fragrance’ by famous physician Ming Yi Bie Lu, and ascribed back in c.420 – 589 to author, Táo Hǒng-Jǐng. Chén Xiāng – 沉香 is still used till this day in Chinese medicine.
Those who enjoy history will have a field day researching the historical significance of Gaharu trees. One of the earliest recoded texts of these wonderful tree goes back to 1400 BCE (Before Common Era), in the Vedas of India. It is also recorded in the Bible, the Sahih Muslim, the Susruta Samshita an Ayurvedic medicinal text, the chronicle of Nan Zhou Yi Wu Zhi (Strange things from the South) written back in the Wu Dynasty in China, the Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan), etc.
Valuable Gaharu trees.
Since I am here, why not hug a Gaharu Tree…
Such A Powerful Tree
With such powers come other issues. With its resin being so valuable and highly sought after, the cutting down of Gaharu trees in many parts of the world (where they are available) had since caused them to be scarce. These days there are not many of them (Gaharu trees) left and these trees have since been protected. This means that it is illegal to fall them in the wild.
Those who are more economically inclined will probably catch on to this angle. If these trees have been cut down is such great numbers, does this not mean that the supply of the resin must be high? This also means that its value cannot be as high as what it used to be, right? Well, if we look at it based solely on the principles of Supply and Demand, then yes. But there is more.
The fruit of the Gaharu tree.
When the pod breaks, seeds (dark brown) hangs down.
Not all Gaharu trees are created equal. Most of the Gaharu trees do not have the quality of resin that is usable in ways they are intended to be used. Even the processing of the resin is difficult and not stable. The tree needs to be injured and infected by a certain insect that bores into the wood to feed on the resin. A mold infection then occurs. To heal, the tree producers more resin around the infected area.
Not all Gaharu trees have the same quality resin, and not all of the healing processes create similar results. Of course there is no other way to know but to injure the tree more or to fall it. With one human trade being greed, many of these trees have been fell. Many of these fallen trees do not contain the resin wanted. These is followed by the falling of more trees. This led to its low numbers in the wild.
An infected wound of a Gaharu tree. Quality resin in the making.
A sample of a Gaharu wood.
For those who are wondering how much can the resin really be? Let us just follow the route of the fragrance, or rather perfume industry. A tiny drop of Gaharu tree resin is potent enough to keep an area smelling good for days. Perfumes that uses Gaharu resin in its process cost a heck of a lot more than those that don’t. The reason is because of the scarcity of the resin and its potency.
Back To HOGA Gaharu Tea Valley
How then did HOGA Gaharu Tea Valley get its hands on the Gaharu tree to the tune of 200,000 trees? It all started when Mr Ho, an entrepreneur in Malaysia visited Japan in 1992 and encountered a Japanese person (botanist) who happened to be a descendent of the imperial doctor who fled China for Japan back in the day.
This chanced meeting led to a discussion. The Japanese botanist needed a place suitable to plant his seedlings (hybrid Gaharu tree seedlings), and Mr Ho had a fascination to feed. With Malaysia’s weather and soil being good to plant and cultivate Gaharu trees, The Japanese botanist agreed to work with Mr Ho and to plant the seedlings on his (Mr Ho’s) land in Gopeng, Perak.
In 1992 they started Gaharu Technologies and planted 200 seedlings. Together they nurtured the hybrid Gaharu trees on Mr Ho’s land. Whether the venture will be successful or not was revealed only 18 years later. That is how long it takes for Gaharu trees to grow and mature, and for its resin to be processed. Gaharu is definitely not an investment for those who want fast money.
This venture then became Gaharu Tea Valley, a tea valley with vision to create a holistic way of living using products from Gaharu trees. HOGA is short for Holistic Gaharu. With Gaharu tree business being a risky one (since most of the trees will not produce the much valued resin), other methods of using Gaharu trees have been researched.
Today, the entire Gaharu tree is used to make products such as teas, coffees, fragrances, health products, beauty products, etc. Should you be wondering why the tree is not used to make furniture, I had that same question too. According to our guide, the wood of the Gaharu tree is actually soft. It will not make good furniture.
What’s There To Do Here?
HOGA Gaharu Tea Valley is an awesome place to learn about Gaharu Trees, no doubt. But needless to say, not many are really that interested in history, process, planting, etc. of Gaharu trees. Well, HOGA Gaharu Tea Valley is a good place to go to and spent time in awesome natural surroundings. Surrounded by trees, the air here is fresh.
Poncho, our very knowledgeable guide.
One of the tracks within the area.
There are also a few places that one can go to within the grounds. One can join an educational tour of the grounds (I highly recommend this), not just to see the place but also to get a deeper understanding of the area, the trees, the processes, the history, and so much more. The views from the various stops are also awesome.
There are trails, or rather walking paths that one can go on. While walking amongst the trees one can take in the atmosphere of the area. Other than trees there are also butterflies, birds, fishes, etc. that one will see while walking. This is where one’s mobile phone and camera comes out to feed and record moments.
Elephants on the trail portrays how elephants were used back in the day; history of the area (Gopeng).
The Raja Brooke butterfly cave.
One part of travel is to savour delicious foods. Some of the delicious food that I enjoyed during my visit is this awesome nasi lemak with sambal chicken. The rice is cooked with Gaharu tea infused water. The sambal chicken is delicious too. Another must have delight here is the Gaharu ice cream, a very creamy and delicious ice cream.
As for thirst quenchers, I enjoyed a cool cup of Gaharu tea, and a hot cup of Gaharu coffee. I found both of them to be delicious. I love tea and coffee (with coffee being my favourite). I enjoyed both of them a lot but not everyone liked the tea and coffee. One of my fellow traveler and friend found the tea to have a bitter taste that she didn’t like. Whether you will like it or not, my guess is you will have to try them yourself.
Delicious nasi lemak ayam sambal.
Things To Buy
One of my favourite things to do when I travel is to shop. To me, I am supporting their business. I also get something other than photos, as a memory of the trip. These also act as subconscious anchors that remind me to visit these places again should I be wondering where to go. Anyway, I bought Gaharu instant noodles (ramen) and they taste good. I also bought tea, coffee, hand sanitizer, etc.
Things To Bring
Should you decide on visiting HOGA Gaharu Tea Valley and go about the grounds with one of the tours; here are some things that I recommend you to bring along with you.
A hat – can get really hot on a sunny day.
Walking shoes – most of the pathways are paved. Still shoes are more comfortable to walk with.
An umbrella – rain or shine, why not. It can get really wet, and it can get really hot.
Wear light clothing – Comfortable clothing beats high fashion here, anytime.
Drinking water – bring a bottle of drinking water as you will get thirsty. You can buy water at the shop before heading into the trails.
Light food stuffs – Should you get hungry while adventuring on the trail; light food will help keep you full. Do remember to take the wrappers out with you too.
Delicious Gaharu tea that is said to help with diabetes. No idea how true this is.
One of the stops, a place to see what is called the Lover’s Tree.
Come As You Are
Taking this subtitle from the late Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana (I am listening to this while writing); do visit HOGA Gaharu Tea Valley in Gopeng, Perak should you be in Perak, Malaysia. Do plan to spend a few hours here especially if you intend to go on the guided tour. Even if you have no interest on going on the tour, have no interest in Gaharu trees, or don’t even like nature; come here for the food.
HOGA, GAHARU TEA VALLEY GOPENG (837448-W)
(Gaharu Technologies Sdn. Bhd.)
Address: Lot 9840, Mukim Teja, 31600, Gopeng, Perak, Malaysia.
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday: 09.15a.m – 06:00p.m (Tuesday – Only retail store or shop)
Google Maps to HOGA Gaharu Tea Valley.