From essential oil-infused body products to wild honey and millets Last Forest stocks it all
This new store in Sivananda Colony draws attention to indigenous agro-based practices of Nilgiris through its skincare and gourmet offerings
As we browse through the stocked shelves of Last Forest’s first city store that opened in February, little do we realise we were in for a crash course on the lives and agricultural practices of the tribals of The Nilgiris, especially with regards to apiculture. Maybe, it had something to do with us staring at a giant 12-feet hoarding of two Kurumba tribals as they harvested wild honey—one precariously hanging from a rope held by another who is perched at the edge of a cliff—as we walked into the store. “Honey hunting is a deeply spiritual experience for the tribals,” begins Nandan, a member of the Last Forest, interrupting our awe-inspired reverie. “The honey hunters take part in weeks of fasting and prayers before the hunt. During a climb, gatherers sing bee songs to protect themselves from stings,” he shares, adding that some honey collectors even go so far as to remain abstinent until the season begins.
A profit-hybrid organisation incubated by the Keystone Foundation, Last Forest aims at creating a viable marketplace for tribal produce that includes indigenous produce from small-time farmers and harvesters. While housing an array of merchandise like millets and preserves from the native tribals of the Nilgiri Biosphere (Todas, Kotas, Irulas, Kurumbas, Paniyas to name a few), the store stocks up on an extensive assortment of skincare and gourmet goods made from their flagship product— honey and beeswax.
Certified by the World Fair Trade Organisation, Last Forest works towards providing livelihoods to the tribals of the region, all while training them in sustainable harvesting and organic agriculture. Consider the honey on retail at the 400-sq feet store. Packed in special corked jars and bottles with label designs inspired by local Ajile Bottu art, this wild honey is harvested from the hives of the giant rock bee using traditional means. One of the methods used by the Toda tribals, who are skilled in extracting honey from tree cavities, we learn, includes gently breathing into the cavity to move the bees while keeping them calm and using their hands to extract only the honeycomb. Thus leaving the hive and young bees unharmed.
The fastest moving product on their shelves, this wild honey is available in five flavour variants of sweet, ginger, pepper, saffron and cinnamon. Also in their gourmet section, keep a look out for pickles and preserves made from jamuns, wild figs, gooseberries and more alongside spices like pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon and mace.
Bees at the helm
Their skincare line which features lip balms and soaps makes extensive use of the beeswax sourced from the honey hunts. These wax based body-products come in a range of essential oil-infused options like lavender, jasmine, lemongrass and vanilla among others. “Beeswax contains vitamin A which softens the skin and has moisturising properties,” says Nandan, adding that these products are handmade in small batches and are chemical-free.
Retailing other lifestyle products, Last Forest offers garments (sourced from artisan clusters across the country like Khamir in Bhuj), pottery and ceramic-ware from Pondicherry, handmade diaries featuring block-printed cloth covers, and traditional Toda embroidery on pendants, shawls, keychains and bags. As part of their expansion plans, the store also networks with over 100 stores in the country, supplying them with products from the brand.
Soaps start at Rs 100 for 50 gms. Honey at Rs 245 for 250 gms.