Monday, March 13, 2017

Travels In India: Part Two

Reviewing Aroma M Geisha Noire, Route Mandarine by Manuel Canovas, and L'Artisan Patchouli Patch.

One has to be determined to get to Jaisalmer, Rajasthan's western most fort city. It is near the Pakistan border and surrounded by the Thar Desert. Because of its proximity to Pakistan no flights in are allowed so it takes over four hours driving from Jodphur through some bleak terrain to arrive at the Golden City. The sand colored fort is visible long before reaching Jaisalmer. It rises above the town like a child's fanciful sand castle and when we arrived in late afternoon it seemed to glisten with golden light. Our driver steered the car through winding streets, heading like a homing pigeon toward the looming fort. He finally drew up outside the impressively large gate and came to an abrupt halt, indicating this was as far as he could go. We were staying at a haveli inside the fort and only the small motorized tuk tuks could navigate the narrow lanes. We piled our luggage into the tiny vehicle and careened through the streets. These tuk tuk drivers only seem to know one speed and it is "bat out of hell" fast.

Entering the nine hundred year old fort my mind immediately flew to a memory from The Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Harrison Ford enters a desert town and walks into a scene of colorful turbaned citizens and merchants clamouring for buyers for their wares. Jaisalmer Fort is probably world's largest living fort, meaning unlike the other forts we visited in India, this one has occupants who live and work inside the walls. One thing I immediately noticed was how clean the streets in the fort were and how many people I saw sweeping to keep them that way. This stood out in comparison to Jodphur where the streets were quite dirty. We held on as our tuk tuk driver maneuvered through the labyrinth of small streets and alley ways, eventually coming to a stop in front of our accommodation.

 Women on streets of Jaisalmer Fort. Google Image.

We were staying in Hotel Victoria, a 300 year old multi-storied mansion hanging precipitously to the fort's outer wall. Our room had a demi balcony that actually jutted out of the fort wall. Sitting there amongst the pillows it took little imagination to picture myself as Jasmine waiting for Aladdin to fly by on his magic carpet. A rooftop patio gave a birds eye view to the city and desert beyond.

That's my balcony at Hotel Victoria, jutting out of the fort wall.

The interior of the fort is quite walkable and dotted with small shop stalls, multi storied dwellings, and exquisitely carved Jain temples. After an afternoon of exploring the fort we had our evening libations looking over the city and watching the sun set like a golden ball over the Thar Desert. I had brought along a decant of Aroma M Geisha Noire, described on the website as "The aromas of an exotic bazaar, the air heavy with spices but grounded in the soothing notes of amber and sweet tonka bean." I've had this for several years so I don't know if it has aged like a fine wine but I found this to be just what I was seeking on the chilly rooftop patio with the overwhelmingly exotic view. I felt wrapped in a pashmina that had been stored in a box with incense, resins and vanilla; supremely comfortable but at the same time enchantingly foreign.

Geisha Noire was launched in 2007 by Maria McElroy, the nose behind the Aroma M line. Her aesthetic is inspired by Japan, but this moody oriental perfume seems just as relevant on my Rajasthan rooftop. It is a balsamic amber, two notes which pretty much guarantee I will love a perfume. I find amber to be warm, sensuous and enveloping, and the balsamic resins only up the ante. Notes of sandalwood further the Indian vibe. Tonka bean and vanilla bring a creaminess to the perfume without adding sweetness. The oil version wears softly but emanates a warm glow for several hours and is even faintly detectable the next morning.

The next morning we toured the palace inside the Jaisalmer Fort. It is small compared to the other palaces we saw on the trip but was still absolutely fascinating. This palace had fallen into total disrepair and is undergoing a renovation the last twenty years. The fort itself is in jeopardy, due many think to modern plumbing. In addition to the Jaisalmer Heritage Trust, two charities have played a big part in this rescue and renovation. The American World Monument Fund placed Jaisalmer on its top 100 most endangered monuments site and channeled a donation into repairs to the Maharani Palace, one of five palaces in the overall palace complex. Jaisalmer in Jeopardy, started twenty years ago by a concerned British tourist, is also helping to try to save this unique little jewel of a fort.

When we came out of our palace tour there was a stall selling my favorite Indian street snack, bhel puri. This food doesn't really have a scent so I can't come up with a perfumed comparison. I'm just giving you the information so you'll try this delicious snack if you're ever in India. It might be worth mentioning that in two weeks of travel, eating at street stalls and small local restaurants, we never had even a whisper of a stomach bug. Just be sure you always drink bottled water.

The next afternoon we went on a camel ride into the desert. I had read warnings online of camel safaris with hoards of tourists riding flea ridden camels practically on top of each other in a small patch of the desert, not the experience I was searching for. I had read good things on about Pleasant Havali's camel safaris, so here we were, six tourists sardined into a small jeep, bumping through the desert for a couple of hours until reaching a deserted area where the camels awaited. After riding through the dunes on camels for a couple of hours, totally alone in the vast desert, our hosts cooked our dinner over a campfire under the stars. The desert was peaceful and the golden sunset made the whole place radiate with warm light. For this I was wearing my new favorite, Route Mandarine by Manuel Canovas.  I always miss the bargains at T.J. Maxx but I was lucky enough to pick up a bottle of this back in November. I don't know if Manual Canovas, an exclusive French fabric company, is getting out of the fragrance business as their perfumes seemed to have disappeared from online sites, though their excellent candles still remain for sale. You can pick up this perfume on ebay or a couple of perfume discounters and I would encourage you to do's that good. So what does it smell like?

Route Manadarine's initial note is orange, but not in the zippy, zesty style of a citrus cologne. Underpinning the citrus notes of orange and mandarin are spicy notes of clove and cinnamon which give this perfume a sizzling warmth from the get go. The spices share equal space with the mandarin. I can already smell the amber radiating out and it is this note which makes this perfume smell so golden. It is as if a brew has been created from warm amber, radiant mandarine and oriental spice to concoct this beautiful scent. The scent intensifies the longer it is on my skin; I daresay it smelled even better the next morning after seeping into my skin all night. Middle floral notes include rose, orange blossom, jasmine, ylang ylang, and lily of the valley but the perfume never takes on a flowery vibe. These notes just enrich the beautiful golden brew, blending together where no one note stands out.  Patchouli and vetiver help ground the perfume so that the floral notes don't overwhelm. After hours of wear this still smells like a resinous mandarin perfume, but it keeps intensifying and becoming richer. Base notes of labdanum, vetiver, musk, vanilla, sandalwood make the perfume have a remarkable longevity on my skin.

Photo from

Route Mandarine feels golden. It reminds me of our evening of sitting in the desert on a blanket surrounded by waves of sand dunes, the sand warm from captured sunlight but gradually cooling as the sun sets on the horizon in a radiant display of yellow, pink, and orange. The amber opening of this perfume smells like liquid gold spilling out all around me, keeping me warm in the fading sunlight as the degrees quickly drop and the air takes on a chill. The resinous accords build the longer the perfume is on my skin and their warmth chases away any chill I might feel in the night air. 

Totally by accident we had great timing and were in Jaisalmer for the start of the yearly three-day Desert Festival. This ceremony has no religious significance and is strictly a cultural celebration of desert life, with contests, cultural events, camel races, and camel polo. One of the most eagerly watched competitions is the picking of Mr. Desert, in large part decided by the gentleman who possesses the largest and best mustache. I ran into two of the contestants striding through the fort gate the day before the start of the festival and in this setting they could have easily been extras strolling onto the set of a Game of Thrones episode. They come from the fierce warrior Rajput stock and both their decorative turbans and mustaches are badges of honor. They were an impressive sight, brandishing their swords in front of the ancient Jaisalmer fort. The splendid spectacle made me wonder, how to scent these Rajasthani warriors.

While it might seem they should be in a heavy or spicy cologne, I decided they wouldn't be into such an obvious display of masculine toiletry. I decided to scent them (in my imagination) with L'Artisan Patchouli Patch. L'Artisan takes the earthy scent of patchouli, which is often thought of as heavy and dark, and manages to make it transparent and bright. Patchouli got a bad rap in the 60's and 70's as hippie perfume with an overbearing smell. One of the definitions in the Urban Dictionary is "Patchouli: A plant that smells like a Grateful Dead concert." Perfume lovers know that it is an oil often used as a basenote in perfumes to add an earthy or herbaceous note. Depending on the patchouli it can take on green, woody, and even sweet aspects. 

A scattering of spices--star anise and caraway--lightly enhance the patchouli on the opening of L'Artisan Patchouli Patch. Notes of sandalwood, cedar, and vetiver are enhanced by the earthiness of patchouli. This is a patchouli that has had all the rough edges sanded off and wears like a silk scarf. People who don't think they like patchouli might be surprised to find they can appreciate this gentle rendition of the plant. The reason I chose to scent the Mr. Desert contestants in this oriental perfume is that it does have a light presence, a trademark of the L'Artisan brand. In this case the lightness really works, amping down the patchouli which can sometimes come across as overbearing in fragrances. This smells as if your skin has absorbed the dry pleasant smell of earth and the ambient elements and it has left a gentle imprint. Skin scented with Patchouli Patch projects a light earthy aura. It is airy and elusive, not at all a power scent that feels heavily applied. I can't see these masculine imposing men leaving a trail of scent in their wake but I can see them lightly scented with this gentle fragrance which could be thought of as a skin scent, simple and uncomplicated.

For India travels and scents Part One, go here. and Part Three, go here.

Top photo Google image. All other photos my own unless otherwise noted. Perfume my own.

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