Posts tagged with: Diane's Diary (5 results)

Celebrity

Diane’s Diary:
Bhutan

Bhutan is “the Land of the Thunder Dragon,” called Druk Yul, and it is happiness rather than gross profit that is measured and reported by the Government ! The landing in Paro can be challenging, but the experienced pilots of Drukair will slide you into the green valley with no problem. The air and light are crisp and I feel so free as I come out of the plane…only to smile and be happier to see that all the men are wearing wrap dresses ! The photos of the young King and his recent bride are everywhere, and they truly are the most beautiful young couple !

Sangay, my guide is waiting for me with Damcho, the driver…both looking elegant in striped wraps that I now know are called goh. The kira is what women wear. Rather than taking the long drive to Punakha right away, Sangay suggests that we stop at Paro’s Fort to watch the yearly festival, which is the birthday celebration of Guru Rinpoche, who introduced Buddhism into the country in the 8th century. I climb the hill, mix with the very colorful crowd and squeeze myself to sit on the steps to watch the show.

The dancers wear very elaborate costumes as they dance and prostrate themselves in front of the King of Death, the God of Wisdom and Knowledge in order to receive good wishes and longevity. After the festival, I visit the first of the many dzongs (forts) I will see in Bhutan. Majestic, impressive architecture, reassuring, the dzong is divided in two parts…one is administration and the other, the temple and monastery, is for religion and meditation…it is magnificent !

The drive to Punakha is very long and as we cross many altitudes we see different scenery, climates and vegetation. Gigantic cypresses give way to a profusion of pines, vibrant red rhododendrons…and lots of blooming apple trees !
To reach the Amankora Punakha, one of the many lodges that make the Aman resort experience in Bhutan a paradisiacal one, you have to leave the car and cross a lovely suspended bridge decorated with colorful prayer flags ! The lodge is built as a traditional farm house and only has 8 rooms. It is very simple, elegant and very Zen.  I have dinner alone in the courtyard with delicious wine and Bhutanese food. The chef is from Boston and lives happily in the valley. I have a deep tissue massage before a great night’s sleep…enjoying the silence and the solitude, both so good to the soul !

I wake up with the sun and meet Sangay at the little bridge. We hike to a beautiful temple, make offerings, burn a butter lamp and meditate a bit. I take lots of photos as we go down to the chili fields and the rice terraces, passing by the farmers and their cows.  Lunch at the lodge is watermelon and tomato gazpacho, Bhutanese lentil balls and a memorable ginger and honey sorbet !

Christian Louboutin, my Bhutan travel companion, has landed and we meet at the Punakha Dzong in the afternoon. Equally impressive, massive and beautiful, we discover the courtyards and temples and take endless photos of the decorated walls. We then go and visit a women’s monastery, although with their heads shaven and in the same garnet robes, it is hard to distinguish the young nuns from the monks.  We watch a class. We understand nothing, of course, but the concentration and focus is inspiring and contagious. It is a full moon that night as we eat in the courtyard.

After a huge hike to yet another temple, we start driving towards Thimphu, the capital. The road is long and hard…we climb high towards Dochula. We meet Ugyen Dorji, the master artist from whom we buy many tangas. We also buy the Bhutanese embroidered boots, which are the best boots I have ever seen ! The altitude and the spiral roads are making me a bit lightheaded, but the beauty of the scenery compensates and we arrive happily at Amankora Thimphu. Before checking into our rooms, we go to the market of handicrafts. Christian buys an embroidered vest, which he plans to wear at the Met Ball, and I buy a lovely beaded handbag and some bracelets.

At the hotel, there is a great commotion…we are being told that His Majesty the King and his lovely bride the Queen will be coming to the hotel to dine with us ! Everyone is impressed…as we are, of course ! It is true that through people who knew them, we did everything we could to let His Majesty know that we were visiting their magnificent country and that we would be so privileged to have an audience with them….but dinner ! How exciting ! What to wear ? My bags are tiny, my choices limited. I decide that my most recent acquisition, the Bhutanese boots will star in a look with black tight pants and a sweater. When they arrive, the King immediately compliments my boots—by now, I know they are called Tsholham—and the friendship has begun.

A wonderful, sensitive, intelligent, caring man, the King, who studied in the US and Oxford, is simple and considerate. His wife, the Queen is breathtakingly beautiful and very sweet. We have a wonderful dinner.

The next morning is another huge hike before lunch at the Raj Hotel with two lovely ladies, also part of the Royal family, and then we are called back to have tea with the King and Queen in the garden of their Palace. Sangay and Damcho are so impressed to drive us…as we are, of course. The King and the Queen give us tea and delicacies.  They show us beautiful textiles and the King gives Christian and I each a pair of boots. We take photos, we laugh and walk the garden…It is like being in a fairy tale. They look and behave like a fairy tale King and Queen. They are so incredibly nice, simple and caring about their lovely Kingdom.

We arrive in Paro at night…another beautiful Aman hotel, another meal, another deep tissue massage and another good night sleep. We wake up early and at 8am are already on the trail to Taktsang, or The Tiger Nest, the holiest place in Bhutan…2 1/2 hours up…1000 meters higher than Paro, and it is a hard climb because the air is thin. We go slow. We take photos. We get to the top…3200 meters. We visit the temple…we make offerings…watch the view…it is worth it !!  The way down seems longer. The whole hike takes more than 5 hours ! We stop for a picnic…wild dogs surround us, politely, and wait for our leftovers. We get back to the lounge, dirty, and have a shower just in time to meet our friend Khendum at the Kyichu Temple that her grandparents had rebuilt. Monks are praying…they are apparently praying for us…we had given Khendum our birthdates. They give us tea and cookies. It is very moving !  After the spiritual moment, we have a shopping moment in the streets of Paro…and finally we have our last dinner.

Our trip to Bhutan was magical, the country is magical, the people so kind, so simple…the King and Queen seem unreal. It all felt like a dream. We are sad to leave, and maybe the local Gods are sad too because the day we leave it rains and our flight is delayed…We will be back !

 

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Celebrity

Diane’s Diary:
10 Days in India

When The Hindustan Times invited me to speak at its Mint Luxury Conference, I immediately agreed and asked Barry, my husband, to join me. He had never been to India so it sounded fun to arrange a trip to Rajasthan after Mumbai.

We arrived at The Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai late at night. Situated near The Gateway of India and by the sea, it is majestic and beautiful, but it was a bit weird arriving and remembering the terrorist massacre that happened there two years ago !

The next day was sightseeing…the Jain Temple, Haji Ali Mosque, and a drive around Malabar Hill, the Governor’s Mansion and the coast, called Marine Drive or Queen’s Necklace. After a quick stop at Kitsch (the lovely boutique where you can find DVF clothes in Mumbai), we drive to the hip Bandra neighborhood to go to Hakkasan, a delicious fusion restaurant that just opened there. Dressed all in orange, I don’t look too tired in spite of the jet lag…

A party is hosted by Priya Tan from Vogue and Priya and Chura from Kitsch….and what a party it is ! Beautiful Bollywood stars Kangana Ranaut, Chitrangada Singh, Preity Zinta, Jacqueline Fernandez, Neha Dhupia, Sophie Chaudhary, Sussane Roshan (wife of the famous blue-eyed Bollywood super star Hrithik Roshan), artists, famous writer Shobha De, socialites…all gorgeous, dressed in DVF to honor me !  Lots of smiles, laughter, photos and great food…Christian Louboutin and Angela Missoni share the limelight…we all stay very late !

The next morning is the Mint Conference and I am the first keynote speaker. I am introduced by a charming luxury guru, Radha Chadha. I feel a bit rusty, but the crowd seems to like me…I proceed to do a few interviews before lunch where I sit by the Minister of Planning, Dr. Ashwani Kumar.  At night we go and visit Mukesh Ambani and his lovely wife, Nita, in their famous world’s most expensive mansion, situated on Malabar Hill. The house is extraordinary…very hard to explain…built on several floors with hanging gardens and terraces ! There are huge living rooms, a full-scale spa and an Olympic swimming pool !! This was to be the first of the many grand things we were to visit in India.

On the way to the airport, we stop in a huge hangar where my friend, renowned designer and protector of Indian crafts, Rajeev Sethi, is creating a 1.8km mural for Mumbai’s new airport ! As I said…everything is on a grand scale here !

To arrive in Udaipur is to arrive in paradise ! At the Lake Palace, under a rain of fragrant rose petals, we enjoy a long swim in the pool at sunset, followed by a private dinner in the Royal Barge, where dancers perform under the arches of the palace against a sky full of fireworks…Barry cannot believe his eyes !

The next day we visit the old town, the Palace and museum, and witness the Goddess Gangaur Festival on the lake’s steps…an orgy of flamboyance, colors, music, happiness ! At night, we go and visit Arvind Singh Mewar, the ruling Maharana of Udaipur on his terrace by the lake. His friends call him Shreeji. His family has been custodians of the kingdom of Mewar since the 5th century…76 generations !  He is a very happy man who reminds me of Francis Coppola.

Monday, after a light breakfast and a swim in the pool, we go and visit a group of ladies who formed a women cooperative, Sadhna, where we buy quilts and scarves.

It is hot and midday when we arrive in Jodhpur, but we immediately go to the Mehrangarh Fort built by Rao Jodha on the top of the hill…a spectacular castle ! The arrival at Umaid Bhawan Palace is amazing. This is Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Jodhpur, popularly known as Baapji’s, mansion, and also a hotel with the largest original art deco suite in the world. We hear a wonderful Indian classical concert and have drinks with the Maharaja, Baapji. We find Eugenie Niarchos and her two friends and I take their photo under the tiger skins. The next morning, we stroll by the Sardar Clock Tower market, feed the cows, visit the boutique hotel Raas Haveli and watch the crowd devouring breakfast in their favorite snack place, Samosa House !

We leave the blue city of Jodhpur for the pink city of Jaipur…and set camp at the Rambagh Palace. We take a visit to the Amber Fort which is just magnificent, followed by the City Palace and its museum and the incredible Astronomical Observatory. We climb to the top of The Gem Palace where Siddharth Kasliwal shows us the secret special pieces of their jewelry collection. At night, we are invited to dinner at the Palace by the beautiful Princess Diya and her husband, Narendra Singh, Maharaj of Jaipur. It is incredible to be in the Palace at night without the tourists. They receive us in the courtyard and we dine on the large Lalique table in one of the private reception halls. The Princess is so pretty, she looks like Snow White…her husband’s passion is polo.

You cannot go to India and avoid Agra and its majestic Taj Mahal…but I am glad I also visited the Mughal mausoleum, Itmad-ud-Daula’s tomb, also referred to as the Baby Taj, and, last but not least, the Agra Fort ! I admire the beauty of the women’s courtyard and am being told that in the time of Mughal emperor Akbar, all men of stature used to have four wives : a Persian wife for company, an Afghan wife for good food, a Hindu wife for bearing children and an Abyssinian wife for spanking when a lesson needed to be taught to the other three  !

We leave Rajasthan and its palaces for Delhi and its gardens, its traffic and its large population.  The Imperial hotel carries its name perfectly, the collection of photos and prints that decorates the walls is unique and its spa the most beautiful in the world.

The minister I met at the conference has a little drink for us in his garden where we meet a few ambassadors and other dignitaries.

The next day is the lighting of the lamp for the JIO. Many of the artists protected by Rajeev Sethi come to show their art…it is very moving ! JIO’s mission is to preserve the legacy and expose the skills of India to the modern design world. A very worthy cause !

In the afternoon, I visit Abhinav Tandon, the man who makes the best embroidered cotton kurtas in the world. I buy them by the dozens. I sleep in them and have them everywhere…they could possibly be my favorite thing to wear ! After a restorative Ayurvedic massage, Rajeev takes me to visit the prophet Nizamuddin’s tomb in a Sufi village. Outside the mosque, men play music…it is very special ! We stop for some Southern Indian cuisine…delicious crab !

Sunday is my last day in Delhi and India. I go to the country to visit my friend Sakib and buy some beautiful shawls…I do a few interviews and get celebrated again, by my friends Priya and Charu, with a glamorous dinner party at Olive Qutub, nearby the Qutab Minar.

Very happy I sit with Indian fashion and jewelry designer Hanut Singh, famous Indian artist Subodh Gupta, polo players, Delhi socialites…and we all feast on Mediterranean food…I am surrounded by all the warmth of India !

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Celebrity

Diane’s Diary:
Nepal

Landed in Kathmandu late morning, airport and traffic a bit chaotic, but the man from the hotel was so nice and apologetic that I did not mind. Prabal Gurung, the young NY designer and CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund winner, was there to welcome me at the Hyatt Regency…quite incredulous that I was actually there in his native country.  Prabal is from Nepal. His mother is a Rana, the ruling family for centuries, and his father is a Gurung, the cast of the warriors. He is very proud of his country and his country is very proud of him !

First thing, Prabal and I got into a car and went to Durbar Square, near the Palace. As we walked around the beautiful old buildings, the house of the Living Goddess, Kumari Ghar, we noticed a lot of commotion. As we approached, I saw people in awe…And there it was, the Chariot Seto, a structure on wheels right before Kal Bhairav, the angry form of Shiva. This apparently only happens once a year and is a moment of good luck.  We had a long visit through the different courtyards of the Palace, some of them just opened to the public ! The combination of stone and wood carving is extraordinary and the whole tour was very special since we had the privilege of having everything explained to us by Kanak Mani Dixit, the great intellectual journalist of Nepal !

After a quick rest and a cheese and olives break at the house of Suman and Riva, we drove to the Grand Stupa Buddha and walked around the temples. Because we were in the middle of the 9-day holiday, Puja, Riva took us to the White Monastery to listen to her Guru Tulku Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche. We sat right in front of the guru and experienced the incredible ceremony of this very Holy Day for Buddhists where monks chant for 24 hours to a large crowd of thousands who come to receive their “wongs.”  We had the honor of meeting the guru who gave us his blessings and he gave me his book as a present. Feeling blessed and privileged, we walked around the enlightened city ! Dinner was at The Roadhouse Cafe in Freak Street in Thamel. After all, Kathmandu was discovered by the hippies in the 60’s and that is yet another piece of heritage about very tolerant Nepal !

Back at the hotel, I have a massage before taking to a well deserved rest. Tuesday morning…papaya and pomegranates, yogurt and morning paper. Prabal and I are in the front page of the Kathmandu Post !  Romio Shrestha, my other Nepalese very good friend picks me up with his nephew Anante. Romio was born Hindu in Kathmandu. The legend says that at age 5, the oracle of the Buddhist monastery came to tell him that he was a reincarnation of the master Tibetan Thangka painter, Arniko, and that one day he would find his own school of painting. His father was reticent and sent him to a Catholic school instead. He later went to UCLA in Los Angeles, surfed a bit before coming back to Nepal to create a Thangka school of artists. He met and married Sophie, an Irish beauty…they had four wonderful girls and now live between Ireland and Nepal.

Romio cannot believe that I am here…he takes me to Pashupati, the most sacred Hindu temple in Nepal….here, Shivah, the God of all living things, is celebrated in all splendor. We stroll by the river and assist an entire full cremation ceremony. I had never seen this before…all the rituals, the wrapping of the body, the goodbye from the family. We watch the whole preparation for the last journey and stay until the first flames appear…quite emotional but beautiful !

That night, Prabal and his family had planned a dinner in my honor out in the courtyard of the Patan Palace Museum, but the sudden rain changed the plans. Instead, we had a lovely seated dinner in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency. They were disappointed, but the dinner turned out to be very much fun, and cozy at the same time. Present were the Ambassador from the US, from Germany and many other interesting intellectuals and dignitaries, as well as Prabal’s wonderful mother and sister…a lot of very interesting conversations. It is powerful to see how Nepalese people are proud about their country ! Amongst other things, it is the country that has Mount Everest, Lumbini, the Birthplace of the Lord Buddha, and it is the land of the Gurkhas ! Squeezed between the two giants, China and India, it has had so much political change and turmoil that people both worry about the future and are optimistic.

The next morning started in a girls’ school from the Room To Read organization. Around the table, I met with a dozen young teenagers who all come from poverty…some of them were forced into marriage at 10. Thanks to Room to Read, they have an opportunity to seek education and, therefore, freedom. They are very sweet and curious about the world…We took pictures and I reminded them that the most important relationship is the one you have with yourself ! They loved it !

The visit to Patan Square Palace was very interesting. Rohit Ranjitkar, the Director of Kathmandu Valley Preservation, and Kanak showed us all of the restoration programs they are working on. Prabal and I started to think about how we could raise money for them ! I bought some glass beads in the square, and we went to lunch at Kanak’s family restaurant, Dhokaima Café. We all had Momo, the Nepalese delicious dumplings.

I did not want to leave the city without visiting Bhaktapur, the third Palace and kingdom ! And was I right ! Going around Bhaktapur is really a treat, going back a few centuries. We visited the Palace, the museum, the courtyards, and went up and down the busy shopping streets…the rain caught us and we were soaked. We rushed into the car and Kathmandu’s heavy traffic.

The last night I had a delightful dinner at the house of Rajini and Reynu Malla, designers, socialites, and granddaughters of famous ruler Padma Shamsher Rana. His portrait is everywhere in the house as is his uniform, his swords and some of the skins of tigers he hunted. It was a very elegant house. We ate delicious food and shared girly conversation.

I left Kathmandu early in the morning en route for Bhutan, making sure I got a seat on the left side of the plane, in order to get a great view of the Himalayas and Mount Everest of course !

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