Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Travels In India: Part One

Reviewing: Montale Sweet Oriental Dream, Rania J Jasmine Kama, and L'Artisan Tea for Two

My blog has gone silent in February due to unexpected travel. Realizing we had a bit of free time on our hands while in Singapore, with a quick weekend of research my husband and I planned a trip to Rajasthan. Over twenty five years ago I lived in India for a time but never properly got to see Rajasthan, the land of the kings. I was pumped to finally make this dream come true. Had I been departing from my home in the States I would have had countless choices of perfumes or decants symbolic of India to take with me. As it was, I had to make due with samples and bottles with me in Singapore but I managed to come up with a good selection of perfumes that will now forever be evocative of the cities we visited.

Our trip was to start in Jodphur, known as the Blue City for the blue paint that covers most of the houses. Blue is the color of the Brahmins who live in Rajasthan, and it is also said that the blue paint offers cooling properties to the houses and acts as an insecticide. We flew into Delhi and overnighted in a nearby airport hotel. I had forgotten quite how chaotic the traffic was in India's big cities so I happily left Delhi for a flight to Jodphur. This turned out to be a great city to start our journey. The inner city is very manageable for walking and there is no better way to get a feel for a place. We had decided to stay in havelis rather than the grand palace hotels, partly due to economics--they are fabulous but expensive! Also, we wanted to experience a more intimate experience with the city, and unlike the beautiful and luxurious palace hotels which are usually on the edge of town, havelis are clustered near the forts which distinguish the major cities of Rajasthan. Havelis are the old mansions built by India's elite hundreds of years ago, situating themselves as near the maharaja's palace in the fort as possible.

We had picked Singhi Haveli, a four hundred year old mansion just a stone's throw from the magnificently impressive Mehrangarh Fort, and in a happy accident, totally distant from the more tourist area. This was the first sight that greeted me as we walked into the courtyard, rose petals in a fountain, always a good sign for a scent lover!

Singhi Haveli courtyard view.

This turned out to be a great base for our Jodphur adventures. The haveli had unique and quirky rooms, two lovely courtyards--one at ground level and another on the third level, and a small rooftop patio, great for viewing the fort after a day of being a tourist. I found you also meet interesting and like minded people in this more intimate environment. During our stay I often saw travelers sitting in the courtyard patio, sketching, writing in journals, or just reading a book. It was all very civilized, kind of like immersion in a E.M. Forster or Henry James novel.

The view of Mehrangarh Fort from my bedroom window.

We arrived late afternoon so decided to walk the backstreets to the market, rather than trying to see the fort that day. The streets are narrow and twisty. No cars allowed. The small tuk tuks can just fit through but motorbikes or the wandering cow are more familiar sights. As my husband and I walked through the market streets we came across this small perfume stand. Mr. Arora said his family had been in this spot for seventy years. It is called Arora Sugandi Store in the Sarafa Bazar. I sampled several of his oils and perfumes and walked away with small bottles of lotus and jasmine.


While I was shopping for perfume, my husband went across the dusty road to get a haircut. It came with a fabulous looking head massage.

The first perfume I wore in Jodphur was Montale Sweet Oriental Dream. This is an oriental vanilla perfume in the loukhoum style. Notes of rose, honey, almond, vanilla, and a touch of incense make this an addictive and exotic gourmand. The notes blend together and although the perfume is sweet it does not strike me as too sugary, just delicious and a bit of a comfort scent. After it has been on for a while and the notes settle down it is like being wrapped in a fluffy pink vanilla cloud with a decidedly oriental air. It fits my mood perfectly that first night as I sit on rooftop, drinking a wine, conversing with some interesting travelers and gazing at the fort. Jodphur is a fairly small and sleepy town, and this scent feels cozy but exotic. Compared to Keiko Mecheri's loukhoum scents, this one seemed less gourmand and more fitting to an Indian bazaar, rather than a Turkish one.

Mehrangarh Fort rises 400 feet above Jodphur, and perched atop a hill it looks impregnable and fiercely magnificent. There is a long climb up the hill to the gate and inside are museums that showcase items that illustrate the opulence of the era. The original fort was built around 1460 and literally carved out of the stone mountain. Other palaces and courtyards were added over the hundreds of years, so there is a mix of architectural styles.

View from courtyard in Mehrangarh Fort of Palace Wall.

Just a small number of rooms retain the original decor but it gives some idea of the attention to beauty that was a part of the Maharaja's daily life. Colorful glass embedded in doors and windows turns rooms into rainbow prisms of delight. Some walls are lined with intricately carved niches for candles, and it must have looked magnificent with the glow of flames at night. The image below is a common room inside the palace and is from the book India Song by London-based photographer Karen Knorr.

After touring the fort we had one more exploration of the market and I came across another perfumer. I was conservative with my buying as it was the first stop on our journey and I assumed I would cross paths with several other perfumers. Sadly this was to be the last one. Mr. Pinto's family also has sold oils and perfumes in the Jodphur market for around seventy years. His shop is Achalchand Punwanchand in the Katia Bazar.  The shop has the soliflore scents but they also mix some of their own formulas. I bought some mitti attar, supposedly the smell of the first rains of monsoon hitting the dry earth, captured in a bottle. Mr. Pinto encouraged me to buy a formula rather unimaginatively titled "W2", a name which reminded me of WD40. It smelled of lush roses, amber, and saffron. I demurred but he put a little on the sleeve of my tunic and this smell would haunt me the rest of the trip. I was an idiot not to buy it; it was beautiful.

Mr. Pinto of Achalchand Punwanchand, purveyor of "Indian Traditional Attars and Perfumes."

 Another perfume on my Jodphur wear list was Rania J Jasmine Kama. I only recently became aware of this brand but evidently this perfume was created in 2013. The Kama in the name of the perfume gives reference to the ancient Indian tome on love, the Kama Sutra. The opening is a delicate dance between bergamot and rose damascena. The bergamot gives brightness and the rose is a mere whisper that flits in and out. The jasmine quickly makes an appearance and smells very sweet and fresh, as if you are standing by a jasmine bush heavily laden with the tiny flowers.  The jasmine in this perfume is fluid and changeable.  At moments it is sweet and photo realistic, then the more indolic notes appear and it changes to dusky and sexy. Jasmine is a ubiquitous flower in India, threaded into chains for temple offerings and distilled into sultry oils for native perfumery.

Woman threading jasmine garland for offerings. From Anthropologie catalog.

The overall feel I get from this perfume is a slightly exotic jasmine, which makes it fit into my Indian odyssey quite well. Notes of rose and heliotrope join with the jasmine from time to time to give it a different scent, so it is not like wearing a straight up jasmine perfume. Later notes of patchouli, sandalwood, vanilla and musk join in to temper the jasmine and give longevity. The vanilla and musk notes are the most prominent to my nose and it is like creamy vanilla/jasmine jam or candied jasmine, if such a thing existed. In the later stages the vanilla creaminess disappears and the sandalwood and patchouli deepen the scent. It reminds me of a jasmine garland draped as an offering across a statue of one of the deities, with sticks of incense perfuming the surrounding air. I find Jasmine Kama to be a beautiful take on the jasmine note and different enough from other jasmines in my collection to warrant a bottle or decant.

India chai wallah. Photo from Flickr.

I took a decant of L'Artisan Tea for Two on the trip. This is a perfume I have flirted with buying and I thought trying it in India might push me over the edge. We were in Rajasthan in February so the days were crisp, sunny and cool. It was wonderful holding a mug of chai, draped in a warm shawl, and slowly starting the day with this warm spicy drink. Tea for Two was created by Olivia Giacobetti in the year 2000. MS. Giacobetti has created many perfumes for L'Artisan including one of my absolute favorites, The Pour Un Ete. She also made Cinq Mondes Eau Egyptienne, which very much reminds me of Tea for Two. 

Top notes are bergamot, star anise and tea, but I mostly get a smokey tea. Middle notes of cinnamon and ginger spice the tea and help give it the classic chai recipe flavor. Base notes of honey, vanilla, and tobacco make the perfume more grounded. This chai scent has everything but milk. I enjoy the deep smokiness of the tea and the spices but it remains very subtle on my skin and fades all too quickly. Although I enjoy the scent for what it is, it wears very linear and never seems to expand on my skin, so I reluctantly conclude that while this perfume might be evocative of the tea ritual in India, it doesn't please me enough to consider adding to my collection. If you like quietly aromatic scents this may be a pleaser for you.

This concludes the first leg of my India trip. Next up is Jaisalmer. For India Travels Part Two go here and Part Two go here.

Perfume samples were my own. Top photo Andrew Miller on Flickr. All other photos my own unless otherwise noted.


Unknown said...

The W2 sounds quite interesting!

Pam aka Mom said...

Agree with April.I love Jasmine so I would be in heaven. It's like you stayed at the Marigold Hotel. So sorry the big kitty wasn't there so you could rub her belly.Now you have me thinking what kind of scents we should look for in Italy.