Monday, April 3, 2017

Travels in India: Part Four


Reviewing: Parfums MDCI Rose de Siwa, DSH Perfumes La Reine des Fleurs and Oud Wa Ward by Berdoues

My husband and I had left a bit of wiggle room at the end of our India trip itinerary for spontaneity. When I was googling online for interesting places no more than a half days drive from Jaipur, the little town of Bundi kept popping up. Seemingly the destination for hippies, backpackers, or intrepid French travelers, Bundi was described as a sleepy little town with a magical forgotten fort castle. The castle had stunning murals that one can observe up close because the place is basically deserted. The town is unused to tourists so you walk down its narrow lanes totally free of the hassles that can besiege tourists in India. I recently saw the new Beauty and the Beast movie, and this little town with its hilltop fort reminded me a little of the Beast's castle; distant, sleepy and forgotten.

There is a fort at the top of the hill that looms over Bundi dating back to the 1300's. We made the rather arduous climb, accompanied by a troop of eager and curious macaques, to find that the fort lies in ruins although it is still an interesting place to explore. The palace is situated below the fort and building began in the early 1600's. The palace is not maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India so sadly it is gradually losing ground against the elements. However, this is also part of it's charm. It is as if you have stumbled upon a hidden place, perhaps the first one to view its beautifully painted walls for hundreds of years. We saw only one other person looking around as our guide led us through the palace.


The entrance to Garh Palace is through the Elephant Gate, two huge stone elephants meeting nose to nose. Like all the palaces we viewed, you enter via a steep climb but make a ninety degree turn to access the gate. This was to prevent enemy's elephants from gathering speed to crash through the heavy wooden doors. You enter into a grassy courtyard which would have been for the commoners, and the first floor above was where the royals lived and met with distinguished guests. It is full of beautiful carved elephants, fountains, tiled floors, and beautifully painted murals similar to the miniature style of Indian painting. One can imagine the opulence of life when the fountains provided soothing music, the tiled marble floors were spotlessly clean, and the Maharaja would have been sitting on his throne in all his finery. Musicians played from little balconies such as is pictured below.


Every inch of the bedrooms and gathering rooms were covered in exquisite mural paintings. Until recently one could wander into the castle and look at these rooms but due to some vandalism to the paintings you must now hire a guard who will unlock the rooms to view. The murals below are actually from another part of the castle, Chitrashala, which was built starting 1749 and features paintings illustrating the life of the Maharajas and Maharanis.


This palace, the last we saw on our tour of Rajasthan, was a little jewelbox of a place. I was carried away by imagining life within its walls. Roses were ever present when we were in Bundi, from huge stone bowls in our lodging to overflowing baskets of petals and bouquets from flower sellers on the streets. I picked three rose perfumes inspired by this magical place:  Parfums MDCI Rose de Siwa, DSH Perfumes La Reine des Fleurs, and Oud Wa Ward by Berdoues.


In Part Three I described how grass screens were used to cool and scent the Indian palaces. Water droplets wet the screens and scented waters added beautiful fragrance to waft through the palace as the breeze passed through the screens, or as they were fanned by an army of servants. Since Rajasthan roses are commonly distilled into oils, I imagine Garh Palace redolent with the scent of roses and I have picked three of my favorites to discuss and review.

Rose de Siwa by Parfums MDCI is the scent I imagine wafting through the palace as produced by the rosewater dampened screens. If I were rich this is the scent that would greet you as my doors opened, enveloping you in a cacoon of silky rose luxury. I don't mean to compare this to a room freshener; far from it! It is just that the scent is so beautiful I would love to be surrounded by its lilting tranquil notes. Rose de Siwa was created in 2006 by perfumer Francis Kurkdjian and is classified as a floral woody musk scent. It features top notes of litchi, peony and hawthorn; heart notes of rose and violet; and base notes of cedar, musk and vetiver. Notes aside, what I smell is the absolute freshest, most innocent and joyous rose scent ever created.

Sparkling notes of litchi and peony make the opening dance and soar. The perfume's name comes from the Siwa oasis in Egypt, which is surrounded by a dry and sandy terrain not unlike Rajasthan. The notes in the opening make me picture the palace's cool marble floors dotted with tiered stone fountains, the falling water providing tinkling background music to the court and the occasional errant splash providing cooling relief.

Photo www.lujoveiejeaindia.com. (Not Bundi)

The rose notes smell opulent and a touch fruity yet manage to maintain the feel of a freshly picked rose, innocent in its purity of scent. The rose has a cool note, as if plucked in early morning with droplets of dew lacing the petals. The scent of rose can have lend a sense of calm and serenity and this perfume very much affects my senses in this way. Violet can sometimes carry a perfume into powdery territory but this doesn't happen on my skin with this perfume. After a couple of hours the woody and musky notes began to mingle more strongly with the rose, slightly toning down its vibrancy. Another hour in and the perfume becomes more of a personal scent, but still maintains the beauty and freshness of the rose from the initial spray. 

The Maharaja spying in the women's palace. Details from one of the murals at Chitrashala.

How to scent a Maharani? I didn't have to look further than my own bottle of La Reine des Fleurs by
DSH Perfumes. Translating to The Queen of Flowers, what could be more perfect for an India queen in her palace? This is one of those perfumes that when you smell it you instantly know it's something special, and wearing it makes you feel dressed up and glamourous. It is truly befitting for a queen or a Maharani.

Maharani Gayatri Deva of Jaipur, the Jackie Kennedy of her era.

La Reine des Fleurs has the lush and grandiose feel of a vintage perfume, something I often find in perfumes created by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. The perfume opens with a rush of bergamot, mandarin and peach and it is succulent! The juiciness of the peach note is accented by the brightness of the bergamot and mandarin and the overall result is reminiscent of a peach freshly picked off the tree, its fuzzy skinned warmed by the sun, and so juicy that at first bite the sweet yellow-pink juice streams down your arm. When I am in Singapore some of the year I sometimes shop at Isetan, a Japanese department store with a grocery below. They import in-season special fruits and I recall being stunned the first time I saw the Okayama white peach carefully packaged and selling for $18. That's one peach, folks. I was stunned and amused but I'm here to tell you, if I could find a peach smelling of this rosy ripeness I would probably pay $18 to try it. 

The opening is followed by notes of rose: a mixture of Bulgarian rose absolute, Moroccan Rose Absolute, Russian Rose Otto, and Egyptian Rose Geranium. A touch of jasmine is indiscernible but amps up the lushness. It is an extravagant, palatial display of roses; picture the patterned marble palace floor scattered with velvety petals crushed under bare feet. The perfume is a collage lavish with wine red roses and luscious juicy peach. Is it peach perfume with rose or a rose perfume with peach? It shifts on my skin, with first one note dominating, then the other. La Reine des Fleurs is a head turner and at the time of this writing, it appears to be on sale at the DSH Perfumes site linked above. This perfume lasts for hours on my skin, and is even softly present the next morning.

A gathering of Rajasthani Maharajas, including Raghubir Singh, king of Bundi.

The Maharajas of Rajasthan were a special breed. Notice their luxuriant mustaches and their turbans, each elaborately twisted and contoured into a unique design. Mustaches and turbans were both important to the Rajasthani ruler as well as the common man, and even today these traditions continue. In the earlier eras they had to be fierce warriors to hold on to their riches, but they also appreciated and cultivated the arts and knowledge in general. Like male peacocks, their daily wear was elaborate and splendid. Imagine the awe they inspired as they rode atop an elephant passing through the streets of their kingdom. Such men inspired me to pick a masculine leaning perfume, yet also richly beautiful and continuing the rose theme: Oud Wa Ward by Berdoues.

The list of notes for this perfume is succinct:  patchouli, Turkish red rose, oud. But that doesn't tell the whole story. Rose and oud isn't a new idea but it's a popular one for a reason, they're the perfect marriage. Oud deepens the richness of the rose note but gives it depth and mystery. The subtle sweetness of oud wood makes the sweetness of the rose less pretty and more sensuous. This isn't the fresh rose of an English garden, but a wander into the enchanted forest with dark tangled trees and red roses with sharp thorns. The patchouli adds an earthy grounding and at times overcomes the oud and makes the sweet note recede. I like the way that in the first couple of hours this perfume shape shifts, even with so few predominant notes. There is a moment when the perfume reminds me of Atelier Rose Anonyme, but the oud takes Oud Wa Ward in a different direction. The Berdoues is richer and reaches for oriental roots with its oud notes. And even though I mention it leaning masculine it is still a totally unisex perfume. To clarify how much I like this: Oud Wa Ward, along with DSH La Reine des Fleurs reviewed above, were two of my very few full bottle purchases in 2016.

Rudyard Kipling spent time near Bundi in the late 1800's and was inspired to write Kim, otherwise known as The Jungle Book for Disney fans. At that time tigers freely roamed the nearby hills and hunting was a kingly sport. Kipling had this to say about Bundi:
"Jeypore (Jaipur) Palace may be called the Versailles of India; .... but the Palace of Bundi, even in broad daylight, is such a palace as men build for themselves in uneasy dreams, the work of goblins rather than of men."
My traveling partner and I agreed with Kipling. Bundi was such a special place that we cut short our last day of sightseeing planned for Delhi and headed straight for the airport, flying standby back to Singapore. I felt that nothing could top the dreamy spell that this fragile, crumbling castle of dreams and imagination had spun, and that this was the perfect exclamation point ending to our India sojourn.

I hope you have enjoyed my perfume picks for this last installment of my India travels. For more perfume picks see Part One,  Part Two, and  Part Three.

Top photo Google image. Other images my own unless otherwise noted. Perfumes from my own collection.

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