I had already heard about a special festival held from mid-May to mid-June in Kashan at the heart of Iran named Golabgiri, but it was when I checked the city on the map and realized it was in between deserts that I became curious about it. How do damask roses grow there?
This question and my curiosity to know more about the old rosewater festival were enticing enough for me to book a tour, and I did.
Kashan; Where the Magic Unfolds
Although Kashan itself is every tourists’ delight, I needed to visit one of the cities in which the festival is held, and I chose Niasar.
On the road, the pinkish shadows welcomed us to the city. As the festival kicked off at twilight, we got ready for it in our hotels and joined the locals the day after. Moving toward where the fields are, I could see men and women in colorful, traditional clothes, singing while walking to work.
Suddenly I could smell the roses in the orange sunlight and crisp air of the early morning, we had arrived at the gardens. The pinkish velvet of roses was awaiting me in all its magnificence and glory. Men and women set to work, I was offered to give a hand if I like by one of the women who had an infant child with her. I was more than happy to accept as I wanted to learn more and more.
Golab Giri; an Ancestral Profession
Maryam, the local woman, put her infant in a cradle beside her and started teaching me how to pick a damask rose for the extraction process. I was told to take the stem of the flower with my right hand and gently pick the flower with my left thumb. Tricky at first, but I learned how to do it after a rose or two. Putting the flowers in a basket beside us, Maryam told me all about the festival. She said that Golab Giri is an ancestral job, and she had accompanied her mother and aunts to the fields when she was young, and still, her kids accompany her if they do not have to attend school.
Maryam said,” through generations, this is what we have done for more than a thousand years, at least this is what I have been told or read about! We have learned to live in this way. We are known to be tolerant and patient, look what we have done! There are deserts surrounding us, we have a very dry climate, yet we have managed to maintain the most beautiful damask rose gardens! Wherever you look is a pink carpet instead of khaki of the desert, the aroma of our flowers is intoxicating. And yet, we produce the highest quality rose waters that have many benefits!”
I told her that I knew how good the rose water is for the skin, and she said,” it soothes skin irritation, redness, scars, and even burns. If you happen to have a sore throat or a bad headache, rose water will help. It also prevents and treats infections! Moreover, you can use it in your food and beverage, and you can also use it to make your own perfume!”
I had already heard about the benefits of the rose water, and yet she told me things that intrigued me to go and search even more. Later on, I realized that Iran is the biggest producer of rose water and damask essence in the world and hosts the largest number of exports in this field. Still, the biggest market for using these products is in Iran itself. Around the world, people may know one way or two to use rose water, but in Iran, you can have tea or coffee flavored in special ways with rose water, or as they call it Golab. It is used widely in desserts and food. Moreover, for centuries Golab has been used in Iran as a remedy and beauty product.
I asked her about the process, and she told me when they are done with picking the flowers before sunlight, they put them in large copper pots. Later these pots are put on fire and this is when water is added, the amount of water and how many times the pots are put on fire indicates different types of rose water.
Gol-Ghaltan; a Tradition for a Better Life
The sky is more or less blue and the sun is out. Taking our baskets to the pool at the center of the field, I was offered a cup of tea with rose petals in it. I asked Maryam why she brought her infant along. She said,” I need to keep an eye on her while working. Also, it is good for her to be among these flowers! Haven’t you heard about Gol-Ghaltan?” I immediately translated the term out of habit, it meant rolling in flowers. I asked her what it is that you roll in flowers! She answered me while laughing, “the infants of course!”
To my shocked face, she explained an archaic tradition held in numerous cities and villages, in which one-year-old babies are bathed by their grandmothers and put on a white piece of fabric filled with damask roses. They make sure no thorn or leaf stays in the roses and after drying the baby, they somehow bathe the baby who has seen one spring in life in the roses, it is believed that it will keep the baby away from diseases, enhances their happy nature and immunes them.
Desert and Gardens, Patience and Perfection
Niasar waterfall located in the mountains near the city which borders the desert is itself a flawless indication of who these people are and how their exquisite festival is. The rosewater festival for me was a bridge between farming, tradition, culture, healthcare, and religion. I was told that Kaaba, the holiest place of Muslims in the world is washed with rose water once a year, and the rose water comes from Iran, usually Qamsar in Kashan. Rose water has proved its benefits to many aspects of our lives and its festival is an experience no one should miss.