The Perfect Road Trip

The Perfect Road Trip
Runners Up Award- Ambipur Contest

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Fragrance of Grasse

(The pretty hills of Grasse)
The bus number 500 left the station at Nice as the thin traffic appeared on the Promenade des Anglais the street that overlooks the beautiful pebbled beach spread for mile along the Mediterranean coast. The heart was longing to reach the world’s perfume capital, Grasse. The drive along the sea initially till the Nice airport, soon ends for a gradual climb through a dense foliage in hills. The scenic beauty is breathtaking and soon the fragrance of the plants and sight of flowers greeted us. The aroma of fresh fragrant air enters the bus as the door opens on the wayside small stops. During the summer months the sight of Lavenders, Jasmines, Centifolia Rose , Iris pallida, Roses greets the onlookers. The biodiversity of the region aids in the growth of the most spectacular flowers in the world here.  The town was once known for tanneries and over the time people learned the fine art of making the perfumes. Most of the world’s renowned perfumes like Christian Dior, Estee Lauder, YSL( Yves Saint Laurent),Nina Ricci, Givenchy, Lancome and more come from France and their share is 30% of the world’s output.
Major Parfumeries in Grasse
Soon one can see the lovely factories that have been here in existence for more than a century , doting the landscape. Galimard, Molinard, and Fragongard are one of the biggest names that make perfumes here and it is possible to do a free tour followed with a workshop for two hours and prepare your own brand of perfume with the help of ‘Nose’ and their assistants.
The facilities of Fragongard

During the guided tour, it was fascinating to see the traditional process of extraction of ‘essential oils’ by the process of ‘Maceration’ ( soaking the flowers in a liquid that will absorb their fragrance) or by distillation. Next, the extracted oil is blended into the perfume as per the formula worked out by the ‘Nose’. 
The process of Maceration
With a lively and entertaining approach, the ‘Nose’ explains the architecture of a good perfume that is the ‘Top Note’( Peak), Middle Note(heart note) and Base Note(Fond Note).  ‘Nose’ is the expert with highly developed olfactory sense that develops new perfumes. There are about a thousand ‘Noses’ in the world and of these only 50 that are masters in the trade. The majority of them work with the perfumeries in Grasse. There could be as many as 800 ingredients in a formula developed by the experts and each formula is patented. Next, the scent is mixed with alcohol, the percentage of which varies depending on the usage. The perfumes have 10-20% content of essential oil whereas the colognes have just 3-5% of the essential oil content.
An office of the 'Nose'
Fine perfumes are then aged for periods ranging from 15 days to a few months. The quality control is very strict and the final product is bottled in very enticing packaged fancy bottles. All the perfumeries use the fatty acids / oils to make special soaps that are equally ‘alluring’.
An enticiing display of perfumes
An experience of creating ‘your own perfume’ is a huge learning experience besides creating your own perfume and the formula is registered in the name of the creator( You)!So the beautiful 100ml of perfume in the specially packaged bottle can be carried as a souvenir along with a diploma certifying completion of seminar.
International Museum of Perfumes at Grasse
There is also a beautiful  International Museum of Perfume’ in Grasse that can be visited to learn more about perfumes and the history. It was a rewarding day which will remain etched in memory forever. The return trip through the fascinating city of Cannes deserves another post.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Glitter of Monte Carlo

                                     ( The beautiful harbour of Monte Carlo)
The beauty of Monte Carlo the capital of Monaco is unsurpassed. It is a small country bordering France. The place is a haven for the rich and famous and the feel of same can be had as soon as one sets the feet here. The personal yachts of who’s who adorn the seafront which is pristine blue. One can see the small pups being carried in the purses by their female owners. Do not be surprised if you see the best-bred puppies going around in the strollers with fancy clothing, collars and even dyed fur. The harbour front looks like a setting direct from a Bond movie!Not surprising that 'Golden Eye' , 'Casino Royale' and 'Never Say Never Again' were shot at verious locations here.

                                ( The Railway station of Monte Carlo- Exterior)

The opulence of the city is visible as soon as one steps down at the railway station which has neon lights flickering giving an impression of a huge discotheque. The station looks like a fortress from the outside where one has to go down several levels to come to the sea level. Alternatively, the lovely elevators can take one to almost any part of the city in no time.

                      ( The Change of Guards Ceremony at the Royal Palace)

This post is not about the description of the riches that the city flaunts but about the many a treasures such as the regal palace where the current King resides, and one of the most unusual botanical garden called the Jardin Exotique, situated at the highest hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

                         ( Cactii at Jardin Exotique- The Botanical Garden)
The Prince of Monaco resides in the fortress that was built in the 11th century and is accessible by a short climb over the hill. The view of the harbor leaves one spellbound. The glory of the palace was restored by Prince Rainer III and his wife Grace Kelly, a well-known Hollywood actress from 1970’s.

                                         ( The Cathedral of Monte Carlo)

Both of them lie buried in state at the cathedral close to the palace where Prince Albert, the son of Prince Rainer, resides.  The parts of palace are open to public and one can  witness the change of guard’s ceremony every day at 12 o ‘clock. According to a legend Francios Grimaldi, from Genoa, entered the castle in January 1297 disguised as a monk. He killed the guards and his followers took control of the castle. The statue of Grimaldi adorns the castle even to this day.

(Some More Cactii at the Jardin Exotique)
Another landmark of Monte Carlo is the botanical garden that can be accessed by a series of public elevators in the city. The distance of 4 km uphill can be covered in barely 20 minutes using these . A boon indeed! Jardin Exotique or the exotic garden of Monaco is outstanding for the wealth of succulent plants that one can see here. 

               ( A still closer look at some remarkable sight of cactus at Jardin Exotique)

The Prince of Monaco personally took interest in construction of the garden and series of over bridges within the precincts. The cacti from different regions of the world ranging from Sahara, Africa, Mexico, to almost all arid regions of the world can be seen flourishing here.

                     ( The Stalagmite and Stalacite formations in the Grotto)

A grotto at the feet of the garden can also be accessed by climbing down a flight of long steps to the sea level. The stalagmite and stalactite formations takes one back to the prehistoric era since the times these were formed. Evidence of prehistoric humans has been found   in the grotto which was opened for public only in 1950.

(Legendary Formula 1 racer; William Grover)
The city is best known for F1 Formula races and has huge casinos that compete with Las Vegas. The beautiful promenades, sparkling blue waters and miles of white sandy beaches make the place a huge attraction during summer months and it is difficult to find a place to stay. The place is definitely well worth a visit.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Few Good Men

Have you ever been treated to exceptional hospitality by totally unknown people? This may seem to be a strange question in today’s world where even those who are closely related tend to avoid an acquaintance. I consider myself truly blessed having come across many an unknown people who appeared when in need and then just disappeared,

Long ago once on a trip to Dwarka in Gujrat while serving in the Navy, I along with my younger brothers went for a dip in the sea. It was uncharted water so I was skeptical but they insisted on taking a dip. Unfortunately, the sand bed gave way and soon they were gasping for breath. I tried to hold them, but the sheer weight was difficult to handle. Two men saw from a distance and rushed. They managed to pull out all but before we could thank them, they had disappeared.

On my maiden trip to the United States of America way back in the early eighties, I checked into a hotel in Long Island in New York for a month-long training. One of my cousins gave an address of an Indian doctor who worked at Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital. On the weekend, I went to call on them in the evening. The doctor was away on call but his wife treated me as if we had been related for years. When the husband returned, they insisted that I stay with them overnight. More friends joined them in the evening and the overnight stay became a weekender with a game of cards, and merry making. They took me over to the Broadway and the Statue of Liberty the next day.  The next two weekends were spent in a similar manner and I never felt that I had gone away from home for the love and kindness that were showered. Years later they traveled to India and the only way I could reciprocate was to take them around the ship where I served in Mumbai.

Some years back, my wife and I traveled to Switzerland and were visiting Geneva. We waited for a tram to take us to Saleve in the direction of Vernier Covane. Mont Saleve is a tourist attraction in French territory from where one can have a panoramic view of France/ Switzerland and the return trip is about 70 km. I tried to take direction from a man who spoke only German and told us to get on the tram which he also boarded. He got off after a while and told us to follow him. He then brought out a car near the bend and told us to hop in. We were a little concerned with this overtly kind gesture as I enquired if he was a taxi driver. He waved his hand saying no he was not as he started his car. He drove for about 10 minutes before stopping his car near a house. A lady appeared from the house along with this man and spoke in fluent English. She queried as to where we wanted to go and laughed when her husband explained that we mistook him to be a taxi driver. She then informed us that her husband would take us up to Saleve and will drop us back to the tram station. This was the best help we got!!

Last week while returning to India we stopped over at Muscat. The booking was done through a portal and the host, an Omani arranged the visas for us and to our surprise, he was there to pick us up at the airport. The host arranged complimentary tickets to the Royal Oman Opera where an extravaganza of color and culture awaited us for the next 90 minutes. He then took us out for a dinner and to add the final feather to the cap, dropped us back at the airport for the return flight back.

Such happy coincidences make a difference, and strengthen the belief in the goodness of humanity. If you recollect any such incidences, do share.

PS- Image Kind Courtesy Google

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Mona Lisa Alive at the Louvre

The crowds were enormous at the Mecca of tourism, - The Louvre Museum in Paris on the next day after Christmas. After having seen the best of the world’s priceless collections of Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, and other geniuses across the Greek, Roman and French civilizations, I was returning back. I paused for a while and looked back.

There she was, as if ‘Mona Lisa had just turned alive’. Poring over her mobile phone, and next moment, lifting her head in a disarming smile. I could immediately place her as I recognized her companion from the pictures I had seen earlier.

‘Ranjana, I exclaimed’, with almost certainty in my voice as I moved forward.

‘I was just trying to recognize you from the picture in my mobile phone’ she replied with delight.

What a lovely surprise, to meet a blogger friend with whom I had only interacted on blogs and Facebook pictures! My memory took me back a few years when her elder sister, also a blogger then based in Bengaluru, had invited me over her ( Ranjana’s) wedding! How time had flown, and here we stood speaking as if it were long lost friends. I introduced them to my family and time flew as we exchanged notes and pleasantries in a corner under the huge glass pyramid of The Louvre. The world has really shrunk and become small, no wonder. How could one otherwise explain meeting someone in a distant land for the first time in this manner. At least this was an experience that I was unlikely to forget any time soon.

Having landed in the city of love- Paris on the Christmas eve, twice I had escaped, the nefarious plan of pick pockets, who in identical manner had tried to rip me off! The ingenious ploy was that while boarding the metro, one from the gang, would block the movement by dropping his spectacles on the floor and bending as if to pick it up, and while I stood transfixed, the other accomplice would reach for picking the pocket. On the first occasion on the Christmas day, I raised an alarm and they immediately sensed the danger and rushed out of the metro before the gates closed. It was quiet an unnerving experience. Still, we were joking about the incident on the next day as we boarded the metro when exactly the same sequence of events repeated at the same venue on our outward journey to the Louvre. Since, this time I was a little better prepared, I pushed the accomplice who tried to reach for my pocket, while his companion picked the spectacles and moved out of the compartment. A nasty experience, but having traversed enough in crowded metro of Delhi, I denied the robbers their Santa Claus moment of walking away with a gift of my purse! So, one has to be well prepared for such eventualities while traveling abroad.

The incident was soon forgotten after having, met the wonderful blogger friend and her husband and what now remains are beautiful memories of the short meeting.

Monday, December 19, 2016

All About Travel

The travel bug seems s to have bitten a large populace of people who look for new places at the onset of vacation time. In India, people from different regions chose different times for going out. Summer and Winter school/college vacations are the most popular time but in the Eastern part of India, Durga Puja is also the time when people look for green pastures away from their homes.

In the childhood, it was mostly the grandparents or the relatives places that were sought after destination and for those slightly better off economically, hill stations and places of pilgrimage were high on the travel agenda. With the nuclear families and lesser commitments and greater disposable incomes, all this changed forever. In most of the middle-class families, traveling has become a ritual at least once in a year.

This post is not about traveling but more regarding the preparation that takes place before a trip. The last minute changes and surprises are not uncommon. I have known practically no one who goes on a holiday without prior preparation, more so when early bookings not only reduce the stress but end up in good bargains especially if one is flying and in hotel tariffs.

After many years of traveling, trekking and solo trips, the trip with a toddler and later a grown up child, the requirements kept changing. So also the things that needed to be packed kept differing. As a bachelor or while traveling single, the packing was a more carefree affair and the only mishaps that happened were forgetting to pack a toothpaste or a shaving kit and sometimes packing a knife in handbags that led to their seizure at airport security. Once, a brand new skipping rope accidentally packed in handbag led to a prolonged interrogation as the security guy suspected, I may strangle someone on board. No amount of persuasion helped and eventually, led to the confiscation of the item. One learns a new lesson every time one travels!

While traveling with family, there was galore of oversights, and incidents related to bad packing. The cookies invariably were crushed, the sandwiches squished beyond recognition, water bottles leaked in wrong places. The worst was breaking the thermos flask containing little daughter’s milk while boarding a bus at almost the end of the trip. The incidents would outnumber the humorous narratives of Jerome K Jerome’s classic’ Three Men in a Boat’.

To capture some of these stories of bumbling and goofing up beside meeting new people, eating different foods, landing in sticky situations and much more, I decided to start an exclusive travel blog, which has already four posts now. For those of you who have extended a wholehearted support to my existing old blog, the new link is

I plan to take my readers to new places in each of the stories with some unique experiences, mostly happy ones and sometimes hilarious and funny and seldom sad. The old blog will still be alive and kicking and will continue to breathe on the support of all my lovely readers.

PS- Images Kind Courtesy Google

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Demonetization- Open Sesame

It feels like the good old days are back. I am talking of the time whilst still at school and college when minimalistic living was a done thing for most, my aged. There would be just enough money, to buy a samosa, tea or a masala dosa once in a while, besides the bus pass in the pocket. Thanks to the demonetization that I am reliving my childhood. For essential things, there is just about enough money in the pocket and for any luxuries like eating at restaurants, movies, and other indulgences there is just none.

On the next day of the momentous announcement, the search for old notes did not yield anything substantial but an old piggy bank that belonged to our daughter was spotted lying in a lonely corner in the cupboard. A search for the key proved futile as the box had not seen the day of the light for many years. It felt heavy so I took the box to a locksmith to get the duplicate keys made for opening the rusted cover on the rear. After 15 minutes of effort, the ‘Open Sesame ‘ moment turned into a damp squib. There were old coins and some crumpled notes. There were no Rupee Five hundred  or Rupee One thousand notes that I could proudly present to the bank to exchange. The locks smith demanded Rs Sixty for the effort and shamelessly collected from the box as he too was keen to keep some old notes and coins from the treasure.

 Like most others, I too have done rounds at the banks and ATM machines to be greeted by long queues. Most crib, about the long wait but not beyond a point. I tell the bank manager that I have traveled a long distance and unmoved he tells that there is no cash to disburse. For him, it is yet another sob story, which he hears every day now but shrugs his shoulders in his helplessness. The amusing and sad stories keep appearing in the media without fail. The squabble in the parliament and the debates on prime time television has become routine and weary.

The Rupee One hundred and smaller denomination notes and coins are now being bestowed the respect that they never earned in all these years. Also, a reluctant credit card and plastic money user like me are now driven to use them  more often. I have started cycling much more at least to the short distances which help in physical fitness besides keeping the expenditure low. Since last year for the first time, I felt that adding years has yielded the benefit of standing in a short queue at ATM machines  where people are kind to let me draw the princely Rs 2000/-

One thing that is heartening is the innovative spirit that is visible everywhere. The friendly chaiwalla’s , have gone digital and proudly demonstrate the logo display for cashless transaction with a mobile or digital e wallet option. Everyone has become tech-savvy in just a month’s time. The dust seems to be settling down as the country marches to a new digital era. 

PS- Image kind courtesy Google

Friday, November 18, 2016

Madhya Pradesh- Maheshwar, Mandu and More

The beauty of Madhya Pradesh is such that a lifetime is not enough to explore. The deep  ravines, sparkling streams, and history leaves one spell bound. A FAM trip organized by the MP  Tourism enabled to have a peek into some of these beauties. You can read more on Manjulika's blog

PS: A sincere thanks to Manjulika for giving me an opportunity to represent her blog at MPTM-2016, a unique event where I came back with rich experiences