50 beauty brands that are cruelty-free and ALL made in India!

Aroma Magic kiosk outside their spa in Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi

A kiosk by Aroma Magic outside their spa in Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi, which promotes cruelty-free, paraben-free cosmetics

By Merril Diniz

IN May 2o14, in a landmark ruling, our Ministry of Health & Family banned the use of animals in the testing of cosmetic products on Indian soil. However, post the ban, some of the of companies that  conduct these horrific tests – both international and national – are actively challenging the ban as well as another proposed ban on the import of animal-tested cosmetics.

Read more on animal testing | View companies that do animal testing

So, I began conducting my own research to understand whether these tests are really necessary, and to try and seek out cruelty-free alternatives. It turns out that these tests are quite unnecessary, because there exist thousands of natural ingredients already known to man, which are safe and have been in effect for thousands of years, through practices like Ayurveda, Aromatherapy and the use of herbal formulations.

The Nature’s Co makes vegan products

In fact, I stumbled upon not  five or six companies but over 45 companies that produce cruelty-free cosmetics. The bit that really made me proud is that all are made in India. And they come in varying price ranges.

Built on a foundation of progressive core values, these companies oppose animal testing as a practice. But going a step further, there seems to be a focused effort to reduce the chemical compositions of products by replacing commonly used chemicals – parabens (chemical preservatives), petroleum, Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) (chemical detergents that increase lathering), PEG/PPG, Genetically Modified Ingredients (GMO) and other synthetic ingredients – with natural substitutes.

I will not get into too much detail about animal testing, and the use of chemicals like parabens and SLS, as a lot has been written on them already, and you can search online for more information.

Not tested on animals

Look out for this icon on the product labelling

The juice of this article is really is in my compilation of fully indigenous brands, which have been conceptualised, built and marketed in India, as a means to a cruelty-free, non-chemical route to beauty. The brands have also paid close attention to aspects like branding and aesthetic packaging, so the design is not an eye sore. All products are either vegetarian or vegan.

Several companies have taken pains to ensure that their supply chain involves no child labour, and that they adhere to fair trade practices. Some companies even have the balls to stay away from products that promise to make you fairer or whiter. Kudos to them!

PS: I write this piece as a consumer and not a journalist, as I feel it is a consumer’s prerogative to seek out more information on what goes into the products they buy. This list will keep evolving, and I am open to additional information and inputs from my fellow-consumers,  cosmetic brands, and other stakeholders. You can get more information from brand websites, and reach out to the companies via their social media pages, as I did.  

So, here’s THE LIST! Follow us on Facebook


Soultree in femina magazine

Soultree in femina magazine

Soul Tree
Besides skin care, bath, and hair care products, Soul Tree also offers two of the most basic makeup products – lipstick and kajal. I purchased a Soul Tree lipstick, which turned out to be smooth, and sinewy in texture, due to the ghee and organic sweet almond oil content. This consumer seems happy with her Licorice Hair Repair Shampoo from Soutree in her review, as it is free of sulphates, parabens and other commonly-used chemicals.

Owned by Vedicare Ayurveda, the brands tests extensively sans any experimentation on animals, and these tests comply with the regulations of BDIH (Germany).

Unique products: Ayurvedic lipsticks; Colour kajal in 10 variants; anti-aging oil

Price points: INR 350 for 200 ml of Soul Tree Triphala with Conditioning Henna; INR 295 for Soul Tree Kajal; INR 350 for 200 ml of Apricot Oil & Honey with Kokum Butter Moisturiser

Websites: www.soultree.in | Soultree on Facebook


Aloe VedaAloe Veda
An organic brand, Aloe Veda has skin, hair, body and bath products, bathing soaps, and spa and massage oils. I purchased their Skin Essentials Moisturiser and am thrilled with the results. A little heavy in texture, it has brought back the natural oils in my skin, which seem to have diminished in the dryness of Delhi’s heat and cold.

Aloe Veda is owned by Aloe Veda Personal Care, a unit of a Chenna-based consumer marketing company.

Unique products: Body massage creams; lip butters
Price points: INR 180 for 300 ml of Bergamot Calming Body Wash (with aloe vera, tee tree and geranium essential oil); INR 115 of 10 gm of Lip Butter Chocolate Vanilla

Websites: www.aloeveda.com | Aloe Veda on Facebook


The Nature CoThe Nature’s Co.
Certified by PETA as cruelty-free and vegan, The Nature’s Co. is owned by Amar Remedies, which was corporatised in 1984, and markets a range of ayurvedic and Herbal products, including an organic toothpaste.

I love the branding of this company, the way its website is laid out, its ethos and packaging. I have tried their lavender body lotion, and it feels and smells quite divine. Besides bath, body, hair, and face care products for women, they also have a few products for men, and according to them, their Marine Mud face wash for men is a best seller.
A good way to sample their products is to order a “Beauty wish subscription”, where you pay between INR 600 to 1000, and get a taste of between five to twelve travel-size product samples of your choice. I think it’s a smart marketing idea, and plan to try it out myself. A consumer showcases her wish box kit here with seven product samples for INR 595.

Unique products: Shower Glove loofah; Chamomile body dusting powder (talcum powder); Wooden body massager; Eucalyptus eye pillow
Men’s range: Yes (face wash, after shave balm, moisturising cream)
Price points: INR 545 for 200 ml of Sea Fennel Body Wash; INR 895 for 250 ml of Watercress Shampoo; INR 445 for 125 ml of Mixed Fruit Cleansing Cream

Websites: www.thenaturesco.com | The Nature’s Co On Facebook


Using Aromatherapy as a foundation, Souflower offers a luscious mix of bath products including bath salts, essential oils, carrier oils, body milk, massage oils and soaps. Started by two entrepreneurs Amit and Natasha, their products are a burst of colours, and the packaging is so gorgeous, you wanna eat them up!

One of Soulflower’s unique products is a roll-on, which could work as a replacement for deodorant, and seems to also have therapeutic value. Interestingly, their oils can double up as moisturisers if applied after a shower; they are light, and smell divine. Their essential oil based body milk in six variants also smells good enough to eat.

Ecomm companies can learn a lot from this website about how product descriptors can be written; they have the basic coordinates of products, benefits, ingredients, as well as a how-to section, and some products have videos, too! Souflower even has its own Youtube channel featuring several videos on how to use their products for maximum impact, which is very useful.

Unique products: Rollons (beauty & therapeutic); Shampoo bars; Ceramic diffusers; Potpourri; Essential oil based Body Milk
Price points: INR 200 for 150 gm of Bite Me Chocolate soap; INR 350 for 500 gm of Rose Geranium; INR 450 for 250 ml of Sandalwood Essential Oil Body Milk

Websites: www.soulflower.biz | Soulflower On Facebook.com Souflower’s Youtube channel

Aaraanyaa cosmetics

Derived from the Sanskrit word for “forest”, Aaranyaa is owned by Vedic Nature Care, and according to Co-founder Nagendra Pal Singh, their formulations conform to the USDA norms. I noticed that some of their products are advertised as sulphate free, which is a smart move. Most chemical laden products tend to lather a lot because of the sulphate content. Be rest assured that if your chemical-free product does not cause bubbles, it is still healthier for your skin as well as the environment. I have yet to use Aaranyaa products, but have read a couple of reviews by consumers online, and they seem positive. Here’s a consumer review of Aaranyaa’s De-tanning Neem & Tulsi Face Body Scrub. While they have a range of products in skin, hair, bath, acne and foot care, their website could do with a facelift and showcase their range a little better.

Unique products: Anti-acne facewash & gel; Anti-hairfall leave-in conditioner; After waxing gel
Men: After shave lotion
Price points: INR 235 for 200 ml of Hand & Body Lotion Nature with Shea Butter; INR 175 for 120 ml of Aloe Vera Face Wash

Websites: www.aaranyaa.in | Aaranyaa On Facebook


Rustic art gelRustic Art

This is another brand that is quite vociferous in its commitment to sustainable practices. Besides no animal testing and paraben/ SLS-free products, they have a “no child labour” policy, support skilled/ unskilled labour and also use no machinery. Rustic Art also goes the extra mile to ensure packaging can be recycled and is biodegradable.

They have hair, face, body, bath and home care (laundry) products, and additionally, make massage oils for babies and an organic soap bar for pets! Their products are available on Ecotekri and greenngood. The products on their website are segregated quite well in terms of function, therapeutic value and ingredients.

Unique products: Pet soap; Organic paper soap (soap on handmade paper that is 100% biodegradable)
Baby/ children care: Yes (soap, lotions, oils and laundry)
Men: Yes (organic shaving bar and after shave gel)
Price points: INR 290 for 200 ml of Aloe shampoo; INR 155 for 100 gm of geranium homemade organic soap; INR 230 for 100 ml of organic juniper face wash

Websites: http://rusticart.in | Rustic Art on Facebook

Just Herbs
Just Herbs
Banker turned entrepreneur Dr Neena Chopra says she created Just Herbs for women who were conscious of what went to their beauty products. Completely organic in nature, Just Herbs products have no petrochemicals, parabens, SLS and other chemicals.

Their range includes skin, hair and body care products, and they have a versatile miniature travel kit that can be completely customised based on your favourite ingredients, and textures. Comprising six products of your choice, the package costs INR 595.

Besides online portals, most organic stores, spas and lifestyle stores stock Just Herbs products, whose packaging and presentation is quite sleek.

Unique products: Herbal Nourishing Massage Cream (for the whole body); Glow Boosters
Price points: INR 395 for 50 gm of Silk skin Indian Ginseng-Aloevera Moisturising Cream; INR 295 for 200 ml of Silky Strength Aloevera-Wheatgerm Moisturising Shampoo

Websites: http://justherbs.in | Justherbs on Facebook

Nature’s Essence

Launched in 1998, the company has an array of brands, of which Coloressence is their herbal cosmetic line, Magic is a herbal personal care product line, and Nature’s Essence offers skin, hair and bath products. Coloressence has a full range of make-up – from foundation and lipsticks to mascara and satin eye shades. Magic and Nature’s Essence offers skin, body and hair care products, and between the three brands they moreorless cover the entire range of products found between the dressing table, bathroom and your purse.

Unique products: Herbal lipsticks, mascara, foundation, hair removal cream, hair colour; herbal bleach
Price points: INR 150 for 150 ml of Nature’s Essence Neem and Aloevera Shampoo; INR 125 for 60 gm Magic Papaya Pack; INR 175 Coloressence Lip Color

Websites: www.naturesmagicworld.com | http://www.coloressence.com | Coloressence on Facebook


Kama Ayurveda

Kama Ayurveda
Started by a group of people in 2002 who wanted to draw from the wisdom of Ayurveda, Kama Ayurveda offers skin care, hair care, body care, and a range of essential oils. A lot of care has been taken by the brand to feature extensive information on the ingredients, usage and benefits of each and every product, on the website, and the brand, like some other evolved beauty brands, refer to shampoos as cleansers.

Unique products: Rheumaheal (pain balm); Kesni (pure herbal hairwash powder to be applied when washing your hair)Men’s care: Yes
Price points: INR 895 for 50 gm hydrating ayurvedic face cream; INR 195 for 75 gm of handmade Navaa retexurising soap; INR 650 for 200 ml of Sanobar Body Moisturiser

Websites: www.kamaayurveda.com | Kamayurveda on Facebook


This brand, launched in 2000 offers hair, skin, body and bath, and some spa products, but don’t seem to have any handmade soaps. However, besides regular hair products like conditioner, shampoo and oil, they also offer hair colour products, which have less chemicals in them.

They have a line of products referred to as “Granny Secrets” created from recipes from your grandmas’ times. A tonic to reduce stretch marks using 18 herbs, is one such product.

While their products seem well-formulated, their website could really do with a facelift, as well as their marketing strategies. I could also not locate any facebook presence, or online consumer reviews. Hoping for more info on this one.

Unique products: Hair colours; Foot spa salt; Shaving oils (for men & women); Hair styling gel
Men: Yes (shaving oils, a replacement for cream; beard styling gel)
Price points: INR 645 for 200 ml of Basil Tea Tree Neem Aloe Vera Acne Face Wash; INR 625 for 200 ml of Aloe Vera Hibiscus Whole Wheat Germ Oil Moisturiser

Websites: http://purenaturals.in


Biotique's Baby Collection

Biotique’s Baby Collection

Biotique Botanicals
Founded by entrepreneur Vinita Jain, this brand is an old player in this category of products, and offers great value for money, besides being a quality product. I am a big fan of Biotique shampoos, and have tried most of them over the years. The hair feels soft, clean and fresh after a shower.

Besides women’s skin, hair and body care products, Biotique also manufactures a full range of men’s products as well as a baby collection of powder, shampoo, cream, lotion and massage oil, which costs INR 501. In makeup they offer kajal, and more makeup products seem to be in the pipeline.

This is one brand, which also offers a styling gel and a serum, which I found missing in many brands. Their products are available on most ecommerce portals and the store locator on their website will give you the listing in your city.

Unique products: Bio Wave Fresh Body Styling Gel; Bio Almond & Cashew Fresh Replenishing Serum; Lip balms; Suncreens
Men’s range: Yes
Baby/ children care: Yes
Price points: INR 249 for 400 ml of Kelp Fresh Growth Protein Shampoo; INR 280 for 210 ml of Morning Nectar Flawless Skin Lotion; INR 79 for 150 gm of Himalayan Plum Refreshing Body soap

Websites: http://www.biotique.com/ | Biotique on Facebook.com


Aroma Magic collection

Aroma Magic

Started by entrepreneur Blossom Kocchar, this brand caught my attention only recently, when it launched its own spa in Hauz Khas Village in New Delhi. A little piece of heaven on earth, the spa smells divine, and the chic decor is made up of recycled bits and pieces in line with their sustainable theme. All products used across treatments are free of parabens, SLS, petrochemicals, minerals oils, artificial colours and fragrances.

The spa also has a store that allows you to sample all products – from masks and soaps, to moisturisers and scrubs – using a beautifully crafted basin space. I tried out the Aroma Magic Activated Bamboo Charcoal mask, and found it to be quite effective. Essentially, bamboo charcoal is made from pieces of bamboo that are burnt inside an oven at very high temperatures. It’s an eco-friendly material that reduces pollution residue.

Products are well-priced, and give you bang for your buck. The Delhi winters had rendered my legs dry and scaly, despite using moisturiser every day, until I picked up the Aroma Magic almond moisturising lotion. I use it once in two or three days, and the dryness is gone, perhaps because it is caused by the excessive use of chemicals in the first place! Their Almond Face Moisturiser is also very effective, despite the texture being a little heavy to the touch.

Aroma Magic offers skin, hair, and bath & body products and soaps, and the spa offers a range of beauty and spa services.

Unique products: Sunlite Spray; Bamboo Charcoal Face Mask; Sunscreens
Price points: INR 110 for 100 ml of Neem & Tea Tree Face Wash; INR 170 for 220 ml of Aromatic Skin Toner; INR 290 for 220 ml of Almond Moisturising Lotion

Websites: http://aromamagic.com | Blossom Kocchar on Facebook


Aroma Treasure Watermelon spa

Aroma Treasure Watermelon spa

Aroma Treasures
This is a beautifully designed and packaged brand, of which I have personally sampled the teatree shampoo and was quite happy with the experience.

Their product range comprises essential oils, skin, hair and body products, and facial kits, which are quite easily available across various ecomm platforms. Their essential oils seem to be quite a hit, at least from consumer reviews I have read online. This consumer seems happy with her Aloe Vera Gel.

One interesting feature is that you can buy some products such as shampoos and facewaces in 500 ml variants, which works out more economical.

Unique products: Astringent; Rose water; Manicure & pedicure kit; After waxing gel

Price points: INR 785 for 500 ml of Rosemary shampoo; INR 200 for 100 ml of Lavendar Face Wash; INR 230 for 100 ml of chamomile moisturising lotion

Websites: www.aromatreasures.com/ |Aroma Treasures on Facebook



I don’t know too much about this brand but stumbled upon it on Organic Shop, an ecomm site, which sells all things organic. My only grouse with this brand is that it has a range of skin lightening products, pandering to the age old perception that fair is beautiful. Besides ecomm portals, you can purchase  their products from their estore

Unique products: Anti-acne face mask & scrub; Kukumadi Lepam (traditional ayurvedic solution for blemishes & spots)
Price points: INR 200 for 150 ml of Pure lightening sun block hampoo; INR 300 for 100 gm Pomogranate Grape Seed Face Polish

Websites: www.auravedic.com/ | Auravedia on Facebook | www.shopauravedic.com

Khadi naturals

I first stumbled upon Khadi, when I was looking for something to fight dandruff. Their Neem Teatree and Basil hair oil proved very effective; the dandruff magically vanished and has not returned till date.

While my experience with the oil was great, I happened to meet a gentleman in the herbal cosmetic business who shared with me that while the packaging, and product line looks excellent, the brand tend to have some duplicitous products, and customers should be vary of this.

However, the brand is quite popular especially amongst foreigners, and has a well-designed website and packaging. Here’s a review by a consumer

Unique products: Aromatic Bubble Bath; Jasmine & Green Tea Herbal Foot Cream; Body Butters; Natural Henna products
Price points: INR 115 for 210 ml of Honey & Almond Herbal shampoo; INR 130 for 2 fruit mix homemade soap of 125 gm each

Websites: www.khadinatural.com | Khadi Natural on Facebook


Lavender Ylang Ylang Natural Face & Body Bath Gel

Lavender Ylang Ylang Natural Face & Body Bath Gel


Meaning “lustre”, Nyah is a skin, bath and hair company started by a group of beauty experts who are passionate about nature. Ayurveda and Aromatherapy are the foundation of their products, which are handmade by rural folks who have been trained by the company. Here’s a consumer review, which raves about the Nyah Jasmine Mogra Face and Body Bath Gel.

Unique products: Breast firming cream; wine and beer handmade soap
Price points: INR 245 for 190 ml of Lavender Ylang Ylang Natural face & Body Bath Gel; INR 135 for 55 ml of Nyah Almond Saffron Sheabutter Moisturizing Lotion

Websites: http://www.nyah.in


sattvik organicsSattvik Organics & Organic Therapie
I like the conviction with which this company outlines their core values. “ Sattvik Organics respects the environment and believes passionately about protecting our ecosystem. We strictly discourage cruelty against animals. We do not buy raw materials which are tested on animals and all our products are completely vegetarian. We love what we do – creating & providing original products of the highest quality with honesty & sincerity. We take pride in our products and see them as prototype artistic creations.

They have two brands under their company – Sattvik Organics and Organic Therapie. The former offers skin, hair, and body products, facial kits and handmade soaps, while the latter seems to focus more on therapeutic products and the prevention and care of common skin issues such as acne, blemishes and marks.

Unique products: Full range of products to fight common skin problems from Organic Therapy; Anti-marks treatment kit
Price points: INR 249 for 50 ml of Organic Therapie Insta Clear Marks Serum; INR 199 for 200 ml Sattvik Organics Radiance Shampoo

Websites: http://www.sattvikorganics.com/ | https://www.facebook.com/sattvikorganicsworld | http://organictherapie.com | https://www.facebook.com/organictherapie

SOS organicsSOS Organics
This is a little foundation based in Uttrakhand but I suspect their products are quite nice, as limited a range as they might have. Instead of liquid shampoo and shaving creams, they have shampoo and shaving bars, which are recommended for travel. They have a range of body butters and creams, around 16 variants of handcrafted luxury soaps, including scrub soaps. You can shop at their website, which also sells organic products in other categories food (honey, flour, herbs) and home care. A unique product that you can get access is red rice, which is rich in iron and is typically only available in places like Manipur. They don’t seem to have a Facebook page.

Unique products: Shampoo bars; Shaving bars for men
Men: Yes. They offer a shaving bar, which is a chemical-free replacement for shaving creams and gels; it aims to soothe and reduce irritation of skin
Price points: INR 110 for 100 gm of amla shampoo bar; INR 180 for 50 gm of ginger lily night cream

Websites: www.sosorganics.com


fuschia soaps

Fuchsia Natural Cosmetics
Manufactured VKare Biosciences, Fuschia has a limited edition of handmade soaps and lip balm, which look delicious enough to eat!

Price points: INR 220 for 100 gm of natural glycerine soap

Websites: Fucshia on Facebook | Fuschia on vkarebiosciences website

Forrest Essentials - Lavender fragrance products
Forest Essentials

Another signature brand built on the core values of sustainability, and the wisdom of Ayurveda, Forest Essentials offers body, face, hair and wellness products. They also have some mother and baby products, as well as a men’s range. The products have been segregated according to the three personalities – Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Bestsellers include their Milk Facial Ubtan, sandalwood and saffron night treatment cream and facial cleansers. The brand also has an interesting feature where it customises products for consumers based on your choice of ingredients.

Unique products: Body mist; shower oils; lip scrub; facial tonic mist
Mother & Baby care: Yes
Men: Yes (Shaving creams, after shave spray, scrubs, moisturiser, body mist)
Price points: INR 975 for 200 ml of Rose & Cardamom Body Mist; INR 475 for 125 gm of Madurai Jasmine & Mogra Luxury Sugar Soap

Websites: www.forestessentialsindia.com | Forest Essentials on Facebook


Lass Naturals

Lass Naturals
This Delhi-based brand offers skin care, hair care, bath and body, men’s products and soaps, which are available on most green and regular ecomm sites.

Here’s a review by a consumer in which rated their Glow Pack facial therapy a 4.8/5.

Unique products: Combs made of neem (stimulates the scalp and hence, hair growth); Neem toothpaste
Men’s care: Yes
Price points: INR 75 for 125 gm of orange and lemongrass and soap of 125 gm; INR 200 for 200 ml of conditioner

Websites: www.lassnaturals.com | Lass Cosmetics on Facebook


Lotus HerbalsLotus Herbals
A prominent brand, this one has a fully developed range of cosmetic and personal care products including hair, skin, body, sun and make-up! It took me a while to warm up to this brand because I initially thought they were a rip-off of St Ives, only to discover that they have their priorities right, in terms of ingredients and ethics. I use their lipsticks, and find them creamy in texture, and the brand also has a high-end make-up line called Ecostay. I usually request this brand during facials at the salon, and the creams and scrubs smell quite divine.

Unique products: Hair tonic; nail polish; eye shadow; mascara; foundation; power puff
Men & kids: Yes (sun block)
Price points: INR 245 for Seduction Lip Gloss; INR 255 for 300 ml of Vanilla Velvet Body Lotion; INR 175 for 120 ml of Jojoba Face Wash Gel

Websites: www.lotusherbals.com | Lotus Herbals on Facebook


Tvam Naturally YoursTvam Naturally Yours
Meaning “you” in Sanskrit, Tvam was launched in 2007 by an Crisy Vasan, an engineer by profession, who was keen to create beauty products with no chemicals. This brand offers face, hair and body care products, and offers gift pack combos at attractive rates. Here’s a consumer review of their Almond And Honey Face Scrub And Body Polisher.

Unique products: Hair colour, body scrub & polisher; anti-cellulite oil
Price points: INR 1,115 for 200 ml of Green Tea & Aloe Vera Body Lotion; INR 493 for 100 gm of Sandalwood Face Pack; INR 922 for 200 ml of Extra Henna Conditioning Shampoo (for dry hair)

Websites: http://www.tvamnaturals.com | Tvam on Facebook


azafran body butterAzafran
This company has a range of organic products made from an assortment of ingredients. For instance, their essential oil range has 26 variants, including geranium, eucalyptus, patchouli, palmarosa and curry neem!

They have 29 variants of body butter including aloe, kokum, arachis and hemp seed. These products are available at Jabong, Flipkart, Snapdeal, Organic shop and other sites. My grouse is that their website is poorly organised, has many dead links, and does not do justice to their products and brand.

Unique products: Body polishes
Price points: INR 200 for 200 ml of Orange Body Wash; INR 150 for 100 gm of Snan Eucalyptus and Citronella Organic Soap; INR 450 for 150 gm of Strawberry Body Butter

Websites: http://azafrangroup.com/products.php 


Gulnar handmade soap
Gulnar Handmade Soap

A PETA-certified product, Gulnar is a brand of natural luxury handmade soaps using the finest-quality natural ingredients and aromatherapy-grade essential oils. The soaps are hand-cut by village artisans and hand-wrapped in their office in the picturesque Dona Paula in Goa.

Price points: INR 250 for 150 ml of handmade soap

Websites: http://www.pepplr.com/gulnar


Biobloom hamperBiobloom
This was one of the first brands I interacted with on social media, when I began writing this piece, and they were very proactive on their FB page, when it came to answering my queries on their products.

Biobloom offers bath, skin and hair care ranges, and do things a little differently when it comes to shampoos, which are referred to by them as “hair cleansers”.

Unique products: Bath loofahs made of vetiver root (vetiver derived from Tamil word vettiver is a grass, native to India); almond & licorice oil (to be applied gently after a shower) ; Body massage cream
Baby care: Yes (massage oil, moisturising cream, hair cleanser, hand sanitiser and body wash)
Price points: INR 75 for 125 gm of orange and lemongrass and soap of 125 gm; INR 399 for 100 ml of cleansing milk

Websites: www.biobloomonline.comBioBloom on Facebook

Dear Earth OrganicDear Earth
This quirky brand is brought out by the Unived Group, which was started by a rebellious entrepreneur named Amit Gupta, who apparently dropped out of university to pursue his own path.

Unived is vociferously vegan and PETA certified, and produces a number of health care products as well as “Dear Earth”, an organic skin and hair care range, which includes shampoos, soaps, lotions, oils and face washes.

Price-wise it is on the higher side, but it looks like heaven on earth in a bottle. You can buy their products on Snapdeal, Naturally Yours, Flipkart and Nykaa, to name a few sites.

Unique products: Stress relief body wash; anti-wrinkle soap; Firming lotion
Price points: INR 500 for 150 ml of Tea Tree Purifying Face Wash; INR 400 for 150 ml of Apple Cider Anti-Dandruff Shampoo; INR 220 for 140 gm of Magic Myrrh Magic soap

Websites: http://unived.in/Search/DearEarth-OrganicSkin-Hair/8 | Dear Earth on Facebook | http://www.dearearth.in


Iraya fresh natural products

Here’s yet another brand, which is beautifully packaged but needs to up its visibility to consumers. A little on the expensive side, consumers seem to want the packaging to be more convenient and this seems to be their pet peeve. They seem happy though with the quality of what’s inside the packaging. Iraya’s range comprises “spa at home”, “botanicals”, “bath & shower” and “ayurveda” products, which more or less cover the full range of personal care products. Here’s a consumer review of Iraya’s Himalayan Berry face wash. They have a tempting range of bath bombs, which when dropped into warm water, either in a bathtub or a smaller one in which you can soak your feet, dissolves and you can sit back and let the ingredients do their magic in helping you relax and nourish your body.

Unique products: Body mist (spray on after shower); Bath Tea Lavendar (dip in your bath); Bath bombs (dip in bath); Cellulite detox gel
Price points: INR 445 for 50 gm of Indian Jasmine Day Cream; INR 495 for 250 ml of Rose Body Milk; INR 395 for 150 ml of Hibiscus Balsam Conditioner

Websites: http://www.iraya.in | Iraya on Facebook


Soil and Earth soaps 2Soil And Earth

Offering a limited edition of handmade soaps, shower washes, massage oils, Soil And Earth positions itself as luxurious ayurveda. They focus a lot on the aroma, texture and nutritional value of their products.

Unique products: Pack of three of handmade soaps for INR 250
Price points: INR 270 for 240 ml of Neroli Lime Vitamin Enriched Shower Wash; INR 85 for 125 gm of Date & Litchi Handmade soap

Websites: http://www.soilandearth.com | Soil and Earth on Facebook



This very economically-priced brand is owned by the House of Bhimsaini, which has been associated with kajal. Astaberry has a full skin and body care range but no hair products and soaps. They have a range of facial kits that aim to replicate the spa experience at home. These include cleanser, scrub, crème, and face pack, which sound rather perfect for a home facial.

Unique products: 7 variants of hair removal cream; Facial kits
Price points: INR 240 for 500 ml of their almond crème; INR 450 for their wine facial kit {(Cleanser (12g), Scrub (12g),Crème (12g), Pack(16g)}; INR 200 for 500 ml of Apricot Scrub with Honey & Chiraita; INR 200 for 500 ml of Fruit Nourishment Cream with Strawberry and Green Tea Apple Extracts

Websites: http://www.astaberry.com | Astaberry on facebook

Nyassa Bathandbody Ocean range

Started six years back, Nyassa brings out a wide range of luxurious bath and body products. They focus a lot on the diversity of their ingredients, and also customise their products for the hospitality industry. Their website is really well-designed, and allows you to zero in on the right product based on skin type, ingredients, etc. Pricing is on the higher side, with their rosemary and hibiscus shampoo costing INR 1335 for 500 ml. But their packaging is very sleek in terms of convenience, and from the online reviews, consumers seem happy with their buys. They have some interesting loofah soaps, and one of the unique products I found in their range, were their body mists, which seem like a good replacement for deodorants. Another was their room fragrances, which have around seven variants.

Unique products: Room fragrances; Olive oil soaps; Body mists; Fragrance oils
Price points
: INR 500 for 100 gm of Alphonso Body Butter; INR 1350 for 500 ml of Hibiscus shampoo; INR 400 for 145 ml of Honey & Saffron Face Wash

Websites: http://www.nyassabathandbody.com | Nyassa on Facebook


Vegetal IndiaVegetal
Offering skin and hair products, this brand is especially known for its herbal hair colours, which is not surprising since the parent company AMA Herbal is known for its natural dyes for textiles in India.

Unique products: Hair colours for men and women
Price points: INR 195 for 100 ml of Sandal Face Wash; INR 270 for 50 gm of Papaya Face Pack

Websites: http://vegetalindia.com | Vegetal on Facebook


Shahnaz HusainShahnaz Husain

One of the early players in the business, this is another PETA-certified brand, offering skin, hair, body and make-up products. I have used kajal by Shahnaz, and found it to have a bewitching effect (in a positive way!).

Unique products: Lip gloss & lipstick; Foundation; Hair colour
Men’s care: Yes (aftershave and a few other products)
Price points: INR 495 for 100 ml of Chocolate Rejuvenating Mask; INR 615 for 200 ml of Shaflower Body Lotion; INR 395 for Hair Mascara

Websites: http://www.shahnaz.in | http://shastore.com


Omved ayurvedaOmVed
I found this brand quite intriguing as it seems to be owned by a German company, but is made in India, and subscribes to all the goodness of ancient Indian wisdom on beauty and healing.

Besides skin and hair care products, it seems to have a holistic range of organic products from yoga mats and bed linen, to a full range of baby products, lifestyle products and spa therapies. They have an extensive range ofskin and hair care products, which are well-catergorised on their website.

Unique products: Terracotta food scrubber; Vetiver bath scrub; Daily Night Foot Oil; Little One’s Going Green Kit
Men’s range: Yes (shaving products, face wash, body wash)
Baby/ children care: Yes (soaps, lotions, massage oil)
Price points: INR 490 for 100 ml of Omved purifying shampoo; INR 270 for a bar of homemade soap of 125 gm; INR 590 for 100 ml of Aloe Vera Bergamot Manjishtha Deep Facial Cleanser

Websites: http://www.omvedstore.in | Omved Natural on Facebook


A brand that is “violently” against the practice of testing personal care products on animals, Areev taps into traditional tried and tested techniques. My only grouse against them is that their website does not showcase their range of products completely, which comprises a limited edition of nutrient-rich handmade soaps, body butters, shampoos and lip balms. This consumer gushes on about their Melon and Peach shampoo because it is mild, lathers well (despite no chemicals), and smells fresh.

Price points: INR 500 for 250 gm of Cucumber and Mint Body Butter; INR 275 for 300 ml of Melon and Peaches Hand Processed Shampoo; INR 110 of 100 gm of Cocoa Cream Handmade Soap

Websites: http://www.areev.in | https://www.facebook.com/AreevNatural


Vert maskVert
Started by entrepreneur Anupama Malhotra in 2011, Vert means “green”, and has a beautifully crafted range of handmade soaps, bath and body, hair care and skin care range. The full range of ingredients here makes my mouth water!

Unique products: Shimmer; Shower smoothie soaps; Shaving soap (for men)
Men’s products:
Price points: INR 700 for 200 ml of Ginger, Clove and Lemon shampoo; INR 300 for 100 gm Pista chamomile handmade soap

Websites: http://verthpc.com | Vert on facebook

Bipha Ayurveda
Bipha Ayurveda

Backed by an Ayurvedic drug laboratory with its humble beginnings in 1929, Bipha offers skin, hair, and bath products as well as some add-ons like food, herbs and incense sticks. They tend to use spices like cinnamon in their products. They have two unique products – the “Lovers Blend Body Butter”, and “Lovers Blend Massage Oil” – which promises to improve intimacy, and is recommended for couples. Touche!

Unique products: Nourishing oils; Food care body butter;
Price Points: INR 320 for 75 gm Musk & Cinnamon With Exfoliator Bar; INR 450 for 100 ml of Herbal Body Lotion; INR 900 for 150 ml of Red Sandalwood Cream

Websites: www.biphaayurveda.com | Bipha Ayurveda on Facebook


YoungJaivique and Young

These two sister brands, brought out by Sprivil are certified by OneCert, and between them have a range of cosmetics as well as personal care products. Young is one of the very few brands offering a range of lipsticks in 22 variants and Foundation in two shades, both formulated with clarified butter, or what we address colloquially as ghee. The brands don’t seem to have Facebook pages, but are available on several organic ecomm sites.

Unique products: Organic rose water; Foundation
Baby care: Yes

Price points: INR 380 for 80 ml of Jaivique Cocoa Butter Body Cream; INR 280 for 80 ml of Jaivique Revitaising Shampoo; INR 270 for Young Lipstick; INR 230 for Young Foundation

Websites: http://jaivique.com| http://youngdiscover.com



This is another brand, launched in 2004 by JR Herbal, which focuses on natural products, and yet, they do not mention any of their core values on their website, which is really a pity. Their social media platforms too are not efficient.

But are the products good? Yes! They contain no parabens, sulphates, silicone, mineral oils and a bunch of other chemicals. I have used their sun block as well as essence of Soya Face Mask (which has a creamy texture and muddy look), which are both effective and cost effective.

Unique products: Herbal Sindhoor; Therapeutic face masks; Eye Contour cream/gel
Price points: INR 265 for 200 ml of White Water Lily Moisturising Lotion; INR 195 for 50 gm of Sandalwood Protection Day Cream; INR 195 for 250 ml of Honey & Apple Conditioning Shampoo

Websites: www.jovees.com | Jovees on Facebook


Naked By Lisa HaydonNaked
Actress and model Lisa Haydon launched this brand with a limited edition of luxury handmade body lotion, scrubs, serum and cream. When I say handmade, I mean handmade by the model herself! She began by creating products for friends on order, before launching them under a label.

There are no chemical preservatives, and every product is a labour of her love. The shelflife of products is between one and six months, and you need to keep it refrigerated once opened. You can buy them at Fabbag. This consumer reviewed the product and described it as one of the best products in the organic category.

Unique products: Scrubs and serum

Price points: INR 1,250 for 180 gm of Grapefruit Lavendar Body Lotion; INR 300 for Tranquillity Bath/ Body Salt Scrub

Shop @ Naked by Lisa Haydon on fabbag


OilcraftsOilcraft Naturals

Started in 2009, the parent company of this brand has been in the business of fragrances for a long time, and not surprisingly, face and body mists were one of their earliest products. Oilcraft Naturals offers a range of face, body, bath, spa products, as well as therapeutic treatments for acne, cellulite and other issues.

Unique products: De tanning body masks; anti-pigmentation serum; Hair cleansers cum conditioners
Price points: INR 400 for 125 gm of Rose/ Sandalwaood/ Geranum Body & Face Mask; INR 150 for 125 gm of Lemon Verbana and Mint Luxury Handmade Soap; INR 400 for 200 ml Green Tea & Mint Hair Cleanser plus Conditioner

Websites: www.oilcraftnaturals.com | https://www.facebook.com/oilcraftnaturals


Iha Vediciha Vedic
Going by the tagline “aura of nature” iha has a basic skin, hair, body and handmade soap range, and the best way to buy their products is to purchase them on their own website, but their availability on niche and mainstream ecomm sites seems limited.

They happen to have some very cost-effective combos; you can get a full range of seven body, skin, soap and hair products for INR 999! Here’s a consumer review for their Boro Heal foot scrub bar:

Unique products: Acne skin range; Foot scrub bar (for cracked heels)
Price Points: INR 125 for 125 gm of Lavender Anti-septic Bathing Soap; INR 120 for 150 ml of Biospume Shampoo

Websites: http://ihavedicbeauty.com | Iha Vedic on Facebook

I went on to update the original list on September 14, 2014, to accommodate more brands that oppose animal testing without any disclaimers. 

Prakriti HebalsPrakriti Herbals 
Based out of Bangalore, Prakriti was founded in 1995 by Neeta Adappa, and uses herbal formulations as its base. The brand has honestly admitted that their products are 95% natural and avoid parabens, SLS and other harmful chemicals, when quizzed by consumers who want clarity on ingredients.

They have a hair, bath and skin range, which includes their signature 100% natural Papaya Aloe Vera Olive Hair Mask for dry damaged hair, which needs to be refrigerated as it has absolutely no preservatives. Typically, the shelf life of this product is one month.

They don’t seem to have any soaps, yet. This consumer says in her review that their Strawberry Arnica Aloe Vera Facewash is the best one she has ever used, and compliments their packaging, too. Their Facebook page is quite active, and the founder herself seems to be proactive in responding to queries. According to her their products are all kids-friendly, and alerted me to a testimonial by a consumer on their facebook page who commended their Rose Aloe Gel.

Unique products: Herbal hair food (to be mixed with curd and applied to the hair)
Price Points: INR 200 for 120 ml of Amla Hibiscus Shikakai Shampoo; INR 300 for 120 ml of Fresh Lime Honey Shower Gel

Websiteshttp://www.prakritiherbals.inPrakriti Herbals on Facebook


This iconic Indian brand also offers their own range of personal care products, comprising shampoos, conditioners, and hair oil in hair care, and scrubs, lotions, face/body washes, soaps, massage & body oils, and face spray,in skin care.

Their products do constain parabens and SLS content, so consumers particular about reducing the chemical content in their products, should take note. FabIndia personal care products are mostly available at their chain of stores across the country, and select ecomm sites like Nykaa and Healthkart.

Men care: Yes (body wash, body lotion)
Unique products: Facial sprays

Websitewww.fabindia.comFabindia on Facebook

Vedic LineVedic Line
For a company that offers a diverse range of products easily available on websites like Flipkart, Vedic Line’s company website and Facebook page is a poor representation of the brand.

Vedic Line brings out skin care, hair care and bath products, including an impressive range of foot spa products, which according to the brand are paraben-free and vegetarian. They also have a focused slimming line of products that seems to feature ingredients which stimulate blood circulation and help to dislodge fat and cellulite.

Here’s a consumer review of their Blemish Balm Cream SPF 20.

Unique products: Full range of foot care products; Slimming tea; aromatic body wraps; Bath fizz; Hair loss solution cream
Price Points: INR 190 for 200 ml of Eycalytus and Rosemary Face Wash; INR 200 for 65 ml of Choco Cherry Mud Pack

Websiteswww.vedicline.com | Vedic Line on Facebook

Updated on September 15, 2014: As the article gained traction on the web, several consumers were inspired to purchase some of the brands – Soulflower, Soultree, The Nature Co, to name a few, so I decided to add more brands to this list and create a full anthology of cruelty-free, chemical-reduced products made in India.

Vedantika HerbalsVedantika Herbals
Brought out by herbal food producer NCL Agro Foods started by food technologist, NC Limbasiya, Vedantika brings out a limited range of therapeutic shampoo, face washes, skin polishers and face masks, but their products are mild on the skin and hair, nutrient-rich with herbal extracts and essential oils, and quite effective.

A friend of mine uses Vendatika’s Neem Tulsi shampoo brand and is quite happy with the results. You can also read this consumer review of their Anti Acne Face Mask. Besides beauty products, the Vedantika also produces herbal mocktails, instant soups, milk shakes and candy, with health benefits.

Unique products: Ayurvedic Ubton
Price Points: INR 180 for 200 ml of Lemon Grass Shampoo;

Websiteswww.vedantikaherbals.com | Vedantika Herbals on Facebook


Vaadi HerbalsVaadi Herbals
Another brand, which draws from the wisdom of Ayurveda, Vaadi Herbals has an extensive range of products for skin care, bath & body (including handmade soaps), hair, lip balms and foot care. Their website showcases their products quite well, including the benefits, active ingredients and application tips, however, they fail to specify anywhere that they are paraben/ SLS-free.

Consumers are advised to get information directly from the brand before purchase. I posted a query on their Facebook page on September 15, 2014, and am awaiting a response.

Here are some reviews I found online of their Lavender & Rosemary Spa Facial Kit and Lavender & Rosemary Face Scrub.

The products seem extremely cost effective, with this entire kit (in the image) for only INR 399/-.

Unique products: Facial soap bars (25 gm); Elbow-foot-knee scrub soaps; 15 facial kits
Price Points: INR 155 for 350 ml of Vaadi Amla Shikakai Shampoo (Hairfall & Damage Control); INR 205 for 50 gm of Anti Acne Alo Vera Face Scrub

Websiteswww.vaadiherbals.comVaadi Herbals on Facebook


Launched by Sharmila Vali in 2003 for the export market, Revayur products are available in India, too. Besides having a woman founder, the brand also has a female product manager and technical head, whom Sharmila refers to as her “partners in cream”! Revayur offers skin, hair, lip, foot, bath and body care products, and available on several commercial and niche sites. Their products do contain parabens and methcones, but I am not sure if this is the case with all of them. T Here are some consumer reviews for their Crack Healing Cream and Orange Scrub. On a different note, their website could really do with a facelift, and showcase their products a little better. 

Unique products: Parlor packs; Night lip balm; stretch mark cream;
Price Points: INR 450 for 350 gm of Walnut Scrub; INR 250 for 185 ml of Watermelon Body Wash

Websites: www.revayur.com | Revayur on Facebook


Do BandarDo Bandar 
Handmade, hand cut and hand wrapped on a small coconut farm near Bangalore, you can expect completely chemical-free products from this brand, which creates a limited edition of soaps, skin care, bath and wellness products. Though they make a few products, each one seems to be conceptualised and created with a great deal of thought and care, and also bring out two chemical-free bath products for pets, which seem to have a loyal consumer base. Started by two friends, Mayura and Kaavya, the parent company Vara Naturals also makes coconut oils, essential oils and a few other products.

Unique products: Parlor packs; Night lip balm; stretch mark cream;
Price Points: INR 350 for 250 gm of Cirtrus Sugar Scrub; INR 250 for 50 gm of Keshunzel Hair Mask

Websites: www.dobandar.com | Do Bandar on Facebook


PuroPuro Body & Soul
This is another brand that strives hard to reduce the chemical content in their products, and offers skin, body, bath and hair products, including handmade soaps. Puro was started by two young women Niyati and Priyal in association with the Shramik Naari Singh (Sa-Ni-Sa), a charitable trust focused on the welfare of underpriviledged women.

Their products do not contain any parabens, SLSs, silicones, MEA, alcohol and synthetic thickeners, are 100 % vegetarian, and there seems to be a concerted effort to bring out products that appeal to our various senses like sight, smell and touch. These consumers have reviewed Puro’s Facial Toner, Face Wash and Lip Balm.

Unique products: Alcohol-free body splash; Hair Growth Tonic
Price Points: INR 160 for 100 ml of Face Wash with Vitamin E and Aloe Vera extracts; INR 320 for 200 ml of Lavender Ylang Ylang Hair Cleanser

WebsitesPuro products | Puro Body & Soul on Facebook

KronokareKronokare Cosmetics
Frenchman Cyril Feuillebois moved to Delhi and began KronoKare (Kool-Kind-Karing) Cosmetics. The brand brings out soaps, body lotions, sanitisers , hair cleansers , conditioners. shower gels and more, using aromatherapy as a foundation.

Free from parabens, SLS, and other chemicals, this brand has a strong thrust on sustainability; the packaging is made of recyclable materials, the product residue is expected to break down within 28 days and seamlessly integrate with the soil, and the ingredients are sourced locally, to reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

You can purchase their products on their own website, at stores in Delhi, Mumbai and Srinagar, and some ecomm sites like Amazon. Check out this consumer’s review of their Provencal Lavender Body Lotion. Their travel kits in in three variants (Lavender, Citrus and Ginger) for INR 595, seem like a good bet for short trips.

Unique: Travel kits; hand sanitiser; Bubble bath potion
Price Points: INR 195 for 150 gm of Provencal Lavender Glycerin Bar; INR 345 of 200 ml of Caribbean Ginger Hair Conditioner

Websites: www.kronokare.com | Kronokare on Facebook


Where to shop

Some brands have their own estores, where you can buy their products online.

Mainstream ecomm sites
FlipkartAmazon | EbayVioletbagFabbagHealthkart | Jabong | Nykaa

Niche ecomm sites
Vegetarianshop | Organic ShopEcotekriGreenngood | Mygreenkart | Naturelle | Naturally Yours | Shop Healthy | Craftvilla | Satvikshop | Joybynature | Naturalmantra | Dialorganic | Indiamums.com

PS: Watch this space for more brands, and updates, or Follow us on FacebookPost your experiences with cruelty-free beauty brands, below. Would love to hear your thoughts, ideas and suggestions.

The author is a Content Development Consultant based in New Delhi. For more details on her professional practice, please visit www.merrildiniz.com or drop her a line at connect@merrildiniz.com


Roadtrip virgins. With the wind in our hair!

DURING my first year in Delhi, I took mum to see the Taj Mahal. But truth be told, the spectacular beauty of the Taj was overshadowed by poor travel logistics. Our bus was late, cramped, delayed. The air-conditioning broke down, and by mid-day, we were simmering like a couple of dimsums!

Besties! Janice and Savita

Besties! Janice and Savita

Next time round, it was for my sister Janice and her best friend Savita. They had never seen Shah Jahan’s monument of love, even though Savita has lived her whole life in Delhi. The girls were dying to get a glimpse! So, I booked train tickets.

And then, the daredevil of roadtrips, messed with my head a little. He urged me to drive down in my Alto. From Delhi to Agra and back; me behind the wheel.

He said to me:
“It will be a great bonding experience for you and your sis, and her buddy. And your car is in GREAT shape, and has awesome wheels!”

I had doubts; what if the car broke down? what if some creepy men followed us? what if…? After much persuasion, he finally said: “What are you scared of? Maybe you’re really are not an independent woman after all!”

Ouch!!! Maybe I was a wuss…or maybe not…

I began looking up pics of the Yamuna Expressway online, and was astonished at how easy it looked; 6 lanes that stretched for 165 km. I felt a sliver of hope.

I checked the train bookings; we were on the waiting list. Maybe we would not make the cut, and then I’d have to drive. But then I didn’t want fate to decide how we were reaching the seventh wonder of the world. The more I thought about it, the less I felt like being dependent on buses, trains, and cabs. So, I cancelled our tickets, and handed over my Alto LXI with its spanking new wheels to the garage for servicing. The garage was instructed to prep the car for a long, long ride. I filled up the wheels with nitrogen, and topped up the gas tank. The trip was ON!

Savita crashed at our’s the night before and we were in bed by 11.30 pm,, after filling up six bottles of water, biscuits and snacks, and putting our phones to charge. The alarm went off at 4.55 am, and by 5.40 am we were  on the road. It took us about 20 minutes to get from South Delhi to the DND flyway toll, and by 6.14 am, we hit the Yamuna Expressway via Greater Noida Expressway.

The real pleasure began once we hit the Expressway — 165 km of smooth baby’s bottom!

On the road, at last!

On the road, at last!

We revved passed Buddh International Circuit, which would come alive with F1 action the week after.
This was followed by  miles and miles of agricultural land and clear blue skies.

And the wind in our hair.

At the first toll booth, the boy behind the counter grinned at me and asked if it was my first time. “Yes” I responded, with the enthusiasm of a roadtrip virgin. “Try to keep your speed limit to 110 km, as  speedsters will be caught,” he advised. I agreed grudgingly.

Back on the expressway, road signs claimed that speed demons would be prosecuted at the next toll booth as everything was captured  on a CCT Camera. However, the speed demon in me could not resist the thrill of speeding down this dream expressway. I shuttled between 100 and 110 for a while, and as some SUVS thundered past at 160 km or more, I steadily increased the momentum to 120 km. Not stepping on the clutch and brakes for miles, was pure joy.

There are three tolls along the way, and it’s advisable to purchase a two-way pass for 510 bucks if you plan to return from Agra on the same day. A single pass costs Rs 320, and hence sets you back by Rs 640, both ways. Hold on to the toll receipt throughout the journey as you need to show it at every toll booth, which amounts to six in all, both ways.

On the Yamuna Expressway from Delhi to Agra

On the Yamuna Expressway from Delhi to Agra

You don’t need to stress about taking a leak or going hungry. There’s a toll plaza 500 m ahead of every toll booth. We made a pit stop at the first toll, powdered our noses and had a hearty breakfast of egg omelet sandwiches, chole bhature and coffee. The restrooms are decent.

Back on the road, sis and Savita, clicked several pics of the sights and themselves, and selfies galore. We skipped the next toll plaza, and stopped at the third one as we were not too sure of the restroom status in Agra.

We touched Agra by 8.40 am, and proceeded to the Agra Fort using Google Maps. The Agra highway is good, but once you get into the city the roads are full of potholes, and often they are non-existent. As you approach the Fort, the roads gets chaotic, and nothing like I’ve experienced before. People, dogs, cows, horses, donkeys, bullock carts, rickshaws, trucks, tempos, cars, SUVs, all compete for a sliver of road; I was terrified of killing someone. But some timely hints from pedestrians and fellow drivers, saved the day.

Entrance to the Agra Fort

Entrance to the Agra Fort

There’s ample parking outside the Fort. Once inside, we were wowed by the architecture and majesty of the fort. I attempted to buy an audio CD, as I simply can’t deal with the overzealous guides, (which seems to be the only kind available). Sadly, the audio CD counter was deserted. The CD offers a more authentic tour of the fort, while the guides’ commentary, I suspect, will include some amount of fiction.

Besties at the Taj Mahal. Finally!

Besties at the Taj Mahal. Finally!

Once done with our admiration and photography sessions, we set out for the Taj Mahal. Now, getting to the Taj is tricky, as it has four entrances, the East, West, South and North Gates. Google maps took us to the East Gate. We circled the roundabout next to it, for a bit, as I could not spot any parking. A little kid and adult began chasing the car, and persisted for sometime. I stopped and rolled down the window, only to discover that since there’s no official parking space, they can offer “private parking”. I decided against it and proceeded to the South Gate, through a very, very narrow road through the village, which was peppered with hotels, Internet cafes and restaurants, all with majestic names like “Tajview”, “The Taj”, “Shahjahan’s palace”, et al.

At the South Gate, two chaps approached us with an offer to provide parking in the compound of some hotel. I decided against it, and then proceeded to the North Gate. En route, there was a barricade where a traffic cop stopped us and said cars could not go through. So, we made a U-turn and laboured on to find the West Gate.

Turns out that this is the right gate for roadtrippers as you have legit parking space. We took a little battery-operated buggy up to the Taj Mahal entrance, and purchased our tickets. You can go by camel too, but the poor things looked so tired and worn out, we decided against it.

As usual, I was quizzed on whether I am from India. I responded in Hindi and said I am from Delhi. I suspect they think I am from Mauritius. Once inside, the girls got out their mobiles phones and got up to the usual Taj Mahal-certified poses, with a vengeance. There was a real scramble for space as everyone seemed to be getting up to the same poses.

Since, I had already been inside, I sat under a tree and relished the view. I also chit-chatted with a granny from Lucknow, who was proudly showing off her twin grandkids. The two little girls were scampering in opposite directions, and the granny tried keeping them on a tight leash with little success. We were done with our tour of the Taj by 12.30.

Entrance to Itmad Ud Daulah's tomb

Entrance to Itmad Ud Daulah’s tomb

Our next and last stop was the tomb of Mirza Ghiyas Beg, often reffered to as the “Baby Taj”. Beg was Mumtaz Mahal’s grandaddy, and was conferred the title of(pillar of the state) by Emporer Akbar. The tomb of Itmad Ud Daulah is EXQUISITE, and a must-see in Agra. Plus, the estate has a clean restroom. It was 1.30 pm and by this time the girls were exhausted and had enough of majestic tombs for a day.

Itmad Ud Daulah's tomb

Itmad Ud Daulah’s tomb

It was time to head back home and beat the Delhi traffic. We got back on the Yamuna Expressway in minutes and were soon thundering down the highway. The drive was so relaxing that I began feeling a tad drowsy. My sis and her buddy were deeply engaged in conversation with each other, and the sweet strains of Boyz II Men were putting me to sleep. So, I parked at the next toll plaza and closed my eyes for about 15 minutes. Then we were back on the road, and the sun was starting to set beautifully. We hit the DND toll by 4.30 pm, and were back home in South Delhi by 5.15 pm.

we clocked so many miles in a day

446.5 km. And some (petrol) to spare. woohoo!

Now, if I were to make another roadtrip to Agra, I’d do some things DIFFERENTLY.
1.    First stop should be the Taj Mahal, as you can reach the West Gate more easily from the Agra highway.
2.  Next stop, Fort. This way you escape the horrific jam outside.
3.   Last, drop in at Itmad  Ud Daula tomb, which is close to the Yamuna Expressway. Sadly few people, know or care about it enough to visit, hence, you will not be swamped.
4.    The restaurants are not great, so get your own lunch. Maybe sandwiches.

What we got right:

1. Carried lots of water and kept ourselves hydrated through the day.
2. The ideal time to drive down is October- Nov and Feb-March. After and before these time frames it is either too hot, too cold, too foggy/ smoggy or too rainy. We did it in October.
3. On an all-women’s roadtrip, err on the side of caution and dress “modestly”. No plunging necklines or sleeveless, if you can help it.
4. Make sure you have multiple phone chargers in your car; after all the battery life of smartphone on a roadtrip is about 5 seconds, what with all the selfies and Taj Mahal-certified poses!
5. Even if you drive a small car, make sure your tyres are awesome. PS: The tyres of my wee Alto were purchased off http://www.changemytyre.com/ 

Thanks daredevil, for your skills of persuasion!

Am thinking – where to next? Maybe Jaipur. Maybe Goa. Can’t wait to be on the road again, with great company and the wind in my hair!

IIM Indore will grab them young and watch them grow!

A colleague posed an intriguing question to me: “My friend’s son is enquiring about IIM Indore’s new 5-year integrated programme in management? Is it a good course?”

So, I did a quick Google search, and this headline caught my eye: “Now, get admission into IIM directly after Class 12!” I can understand why many parents would find this prospect, scintillating. The IIMs have been music to ones’ ears for decades.

In the gold rush before the sub-prime crisis, bright 22-years olds with little job-readiness, were offered mammoth salaries (in turn, leading to larger than life chip on the shoulder!). No doubt companies seek fresh talent they can groom, but something about this scenario seemed imbalanced and unsustainable. And the proof lies in the pudding.

In 2013, the number of IIMs has risen to 13. Salaries have plummeted, quality of job profiles is questionable and the number of placement offers have decreased. This seems a natural progression from the unreasonably fat packages on offer before 2008.

Coming back to my colleague’s question, I began to ponder: What is the virtue of “learning” management in the classroom for five years, even if you throw in internships and international exposure?

Typically, students pursue a three-year BBA, followed by an MBA, or a five-year integrated management programme akin to IIM Indore’s offering. In the latter, electives are offered in three domains: Science, Social Sciences and Perfoming Arts, alongside the compulsory core management subjects, and languages (one foreign and one Indian), and soft skills.

But the likelihood of one becoming a great manager after “learning” management for five years of your life, seems doubtful to me.

And while, I consider electives of utmost importance in higher education, there is a certain virtue in being thorough in one domain (engineering/ design/ English Literature/ anthropology, et al), while grooming your management skills and pursuing complementary or unrelated electives, on the side.

An up and coming private university up North, in fact, combines electives beautifully.

A BS Economics student here, can choose Math as a minor, a combo relevant to the Business Forecasting and Analyst profession. A mechanical engineering student can choose ‘Computers’ as a minor, if say, he wants to become a Robotics and Controls specialist, someday.

Incidentally, a Mathematician can also nurture the poet within!

This approach of expanding one’s knowledge and skill set beyond one’s core domain could be a good way to curb future professionals from working in silos by nurturing a practice that requires one to pool in the wisdom of multiple disciplines to arrive at the best solution in the real world.

My only grouse about the private university, which combines electives beautifully is that it also offers BBA programme, one that is not three but of fours years’ duration!

This is worrying, because my general understanding of the BBA is that it is a rather “hollow” degree, which teaches no concrete domain skills and is rather generic in nature. After three/ four years, students are being offered sub-standard office jobs, which is not surprising. After all, can one really expect 20-year olds, with no life experience, let alone work experience, to  “manage” something big when they can barely manage themselves? (with no offense to them).

Hence, in my view the slew of UG “management” programmes springing up in so many colleges, is a slightly disturbing trend. They are merely churning out a workforce with generic skills, which do not give these youth any edge in the job market.

Additionally, the BBA has whatsoever no bearing in the MBA selection process, unlike in other disciplines, where the UG degree in that subject or related one, is a prerequisite to be eligible for the Master’s programme.

Of course, the five-year integrated management programme was also conceptualised to ensure an MBA seat. Coming back to the one offered by IIM Indore, I suspect it aims to give private institutes that offer an integrated BBA-MBA, a run for their money.The cost of the course is 19 lakhs (not  including lodging and board), while the cost of an integrated management course at a prominent up and coming private university, is Rs 23 lakhs (includes lodging and board)!

I suppose one has to wait and watch the trajectory of this course in the job market. But we still need to ponder my earlier question: Should students with no experience and domain expertise, have any business spending five years in a classroom, “learning” management?

My two cents!

Farewell, dark passenger of love

A tussle between trust and fear
Between giving and holding back
Sharing and restraint
The constant pull and push
Of instinct and impulse

Dissecting. Overthinking
A fleeting remark
Feigning imaginary commitments
Playing the game of love

Inebriation becomes a crutch
To express, the deeper sentiments
That words find hard to say
It all emanates from the baggage of the past

The abuse of love and sharing
That left a dark passenger within me
Dear dark passenger, please alight
Walk away and combust!

Create space for a lightness of being
A creature of hope, innocence, joy
A step closer to opening up the soul to love
A way that cares, treasures, cherishes without restraint

Takes a chance, on a quirk of fate
Makes up for missed opportunities
And miscalculations in love

Farewell, dark passenger
Your days are numbered
Bow out gracefully
And please be on your way…

Blending the old and the new

Sushant School of Design mural

Funky mural at Sushant School of Design, Gurgaon

I recently got an  opportunity to visit the Sushant School of Design (SSD) in Gurgaon, a part of the recently established Ansal University. I had been trying to touch base forever, for a career review on interiors, furniture & space design, since the school specifically focuses on the interior design specialisation, a growing profession in India.

In 2012, I had heard the Dean of SSD, Mike Knowles address participating students at a data visualisation challenge being conducted by the India Design Forum in 2012, on the evolution of design in the UK. Apparently the UK Government realised the value of the design function as early as the 1960s, and set up educational institutes of repute, which gave a boost to design in industry (now, the Indian Govt. aims to do the same by setting up 4 new NIDs, albeit at a snail’s pace).


Students and faculty work on these textile handlooms at SSD

During my visit to the school, almost a year later, I sensed that the institute is a nice blend of the old and the new, technology & sustainability. A major reason could be that the Dean Knowles is a great fan of our Indian tradition of handcrafted goods, while also keeping his eyes, firmly on the industry. This balance is not a common thing in design schools in India, save for a few. Most are skewed towards one or the other. The Dean is somewhat of an honourary Indian – he is married to one, and has lived here for 25 years. Like William Dalrymple, he sees India, not with starry eyes, but as a country in the process of catching up with its glorious past. He maintains that Indians have the potential to be the best designers in the world, because of our colourful, rich, diverse heritage.

Design model at a student exhibit

Eye-catching design model at a student exhibit

A part of the newly formed Ansal University, the first batch of the school is now in their second year, and the proof lies in the pudding ie their work. I found the aesthetics of the student work – displayed in all corners of the school ie walls, auditoriums, ceilings and the lobby – to be particularly impressive. Many new age D-Schools have the best intentions, but the aesthetics leave much to be desired. The students at SSD also claim to make their own models, which is not the case in many private design schools where students “outsource” their modeling work to professional model makers. This amount can range from anything between Rs 10,000 to 75k! If indeed this is true about SSD students, I must applaud the students for their innovative models.

Model by a student. Look closely and you can see some stapler pins :)

Model by a student. Look closely and you can see the innovative use of stapler pins 🙂

Another impressive fact – normal in many countries but impressive in ours – is that the school has admitted a profoundly deaf girl into their course. She got admission into one of the top design schools in the US, but in India she had great difficulty getting a foot in the door, due to her disability. This fact is not surprising. I recently quizzed the Director of a national-level design institute about whether they indeed admit people with disabilities, as mentioned in the brochure. She responded a tad too hastily,” Haan yes. Handicapped, ST/SC, etc all have reservation.” She then jumped into the next topic on her mind!

This attitude of treating people with disabilities or for that matter ST/SCs as statistics, is quite insensitive and meaningless. But such is the state of affairs in India, at this time. In the light of this callous attitude, the Dean’s empathy is a Godsent for this young student whose talent will get a chance to blossom and grow. He mentioned in the passing that the school may set up a full-fledged support system to train more hearing impaired talented design students in the future. It seems a promising idea because many hearing impaired individuals have a good eye and creative abilities.

The school current offers a four-year programme, which includes one year of Foundation studies and a three-year Diploma in Interior Design. Aspiring design students can know more about SSD by visiting the website