Déjà vu, Taj Mahal Mumbai

I arrived in Mumbai late in the evening. My flight with Jet Airways was short, pleasant and a little bit boozy as I had no shame taking advantage of the unlimited champagne offered in Premium class. Next to me, the only other passenger in the two seats arrangement, sat a charismatic older gentlemen in a really good suede shoes brushed to perfection.

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He took zero interest in my presence until I engaged the Jet Airways crew in every Instagram star’s favourite routine: stories, selfies and the endless production of photographs from a particular angle no one else seems to recognize beside you. As a result the crew delivered even more champagne and very personalized service, which other travellers confused with being mega famous and invited me for dinners with their wives. Luckily we landed and with no time left to respond I rushed out.

image3Mumbai International Airport greeted me with the shine and sparkle of a fully completed renovation to its interiors and services. For the first fifteen minutes I was absolutely alone in a giant endless corridor with panoramic windows to the runway on the right and cheerful wall art with a puppet theatre feel to them on the left. A very friendly passport control officer stamped my passport in less than two minutes and wished me a pleasant stay. Bless him!

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My destination tonight was Taj Mahal. Yep, that’s right. Mumbai, or Bombay as the older generation proudly calls it, is a home to a palace of a hotel. Taj Mahal was built in 1903 in response to demand for a luxury hotel open for everyone who can afford it without prejudice. Originally the main entrance was not the one facing the Gateway of India and the sea, but the residential district from where horse drawn carriages brought in the wealthy and famous. The Taj at that time was only two floors tall and had no Tower. Later the entrance was relocated to the opposite side and a very charming pool surrounded by a lush garden built instead.  P3270387.JPG

Right from it’s opening, Taj represented the symbol of Indian wealth and prosperity by becoming a landmark and pushing ahead of its time by setting quite a few records: complete electrification, first elevators imported from Germany, first Turkish baths, English butlers, first licensed bar, a discotheque (ou est la discotheque!) and a restaurant open through the day. Taj Mahal was converted into hospital during the First World War. The Tower was added in 70s and the Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces was born. So you can imagine my excitement smooshing my nose on the Taj limo’s windows, peering curiously into the darkness on the way to the palace. The Taj limo was equipped with cold towels, Himalayan mineral water, mints and complimentary WiFi immediately won my heart. The feeling of serene “Tajness” surrounded me like a fluffy cloud bringing in security, comfort and peace.

To be frank there was a separate significant reason behind my impatience. Back in 2008 I left Taj Mahal just a few nights before the terrorist attack, responding to my friend’s request to help her shop for diamonds, Chanel and gold in Dubai. I felt terrified watching my beloved home in Mumbai on the fire thinking of all the friends I made over there during the years and visualising its majestic interiors with closed eyes. The relief when it was all over turned into an obsession to revisit Taj in its full glory followed a major renovation in 2009. Half an hour drive from the International Airport and there we were about to enter through the new gate and pass luggage screening.

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The first glance put a huge smile in my face. Taj looked majestically beautiful in the dazzling streetlights as if the fall of 2008 had never happened. I witnessed a very familiar scene, tall men in turbans efficiently guiding guests and traffic, happy kids carelessly running between parents, local dollies shining with diamonds and lip-gloss and wrapped in glamorous saris rushing to a party and so on and so forth. I missed you Taj Mahal!

To be continued…

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Taste of Arabian Hospitality, Ewaan

The new moon has been sighted and tonight is the start of Ramadan in the UAE. Regarded as a spiritual fasting month of giving and sharing, for many Ramadan is a time to focus on personal development, family life and wellbeing of a community. As an expat, I really enjoy observing the little changes happening in local life: extended shopping hours, the aura of concern around women rushing home with groceries, the excitement everyone shares when offices close two hours earlier, the beauty and the warmth created by colourful lanterns lit at every corner, and the happy sparkles in the eyes of local kids expecting sweet treats at dinner. I love the tradition of gathering for Iftar, a dinner at sunset shared together after a long day without food or drinks. Ewaan at Palace Downtown hotel serves Iftar buffet in the best traditions of Arabian hospitality and creates an unforgettable moment of unity people, flavors, dishes, species and tastes.

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The experience starts with a warm Marhaba (welcome) and a lovely cup of Arabic coffee or a chilled drink made of dried fruits.

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Right at the table there is an extra bottle of water and a serving of figs, prunes, apricots and dates to help conquer immediate thirst and hunger.

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My table was inside the restaurant however another option was to settle on air-conditioned Bedouin tent with a magical view of the  water and and Burj.

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Overwhelmed by a generous selection of dishes and flavors, I walked around talking to staff with  curiosity of a foodie and a journalist. Fortunately no one minded my camera and my plate got heavy in a matter of minutes.

My joy of discovering the dessert section was indescribable. It was the sighting of Moroccan tea brewing at my table that forced me to move away.

Hope you can make it to Ewaan this season and I’m so looking forward to hearing your reviews!

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Feel Ibiza, breath Dubai

Close your eyes and visualise a place where sand whispers stories of eternal happiness and blue is the warmest colour. Picture white chaise lounges, vibrant umbrellas, sun-kissed hair, boaty-boats and a glorious Mediterranean tan ruined slightly by fancy swimwear. Add a fabulous soft beat and oh boy, you are in Ibiza.

Open your eyes and you are here in the financial heart of the dazzling Dubai, sipping rosé at La Cantine du Faubourg.

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Impossible, you say? Well, not quite! Look closely at the photograph…

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The mesmerizing piece is the work of a Frenchman, passionate photographer Stephane Dessaint. Born and raised in Paris (I wonder if he loved to hang out at Montmartre) Stephane also lived in LA and New York where he was involved in the emerging fashion industry. Several years later, at his recent vernissage in Dubai, Stephane was introduced to me as the artist and photographer behind the limited edition “Ibiza Feelings” collection. My first impression however was: “Boy, he knows how to dress”.

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Charmed by his style I was the hundredth person at La Cantine to ask the same question: “What’s your secret?”, unintentionally narrowing his work to a photography trick. To my surprise Stephane took my inquiry with the full seriousness a serious artist can only afford and whispered back technicalities related to his usual day at a shoot. Geared up with a camera, Stephane would patiently wait for the “l’heur du Zenith” when the angle of the sun leaves no shadows on the ground giving seawater additional sparkle and deep blue colour (apparently his favorite).

Warning: Please consider the image below as rather inaccurate as I don’t recall being the only person who talked 🙂

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Stephane Dessaint’s work will be displayed at La Cantine de Faubourg for another couple of months. Please stop by to witness the charming vibes of Mediterranean summer and photographs that tell stories.

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Castle on the Hill, Dwarika’s

Previously on Dwarika’s:

Imagine waking up to the first rays of sun playing a game of hide and seek on the wooden walls and floors of your bedroom. Red, golden, orange and silver twinkles mingle in a flirty dance reaching for your pillow. Goooood morning!

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Tucked in the softest cotton sheets, you are lazying in comfort but your curious eyes are locked on a stunning view of the Himalaya’s peaks. The fresh mountain breeze rushes through big panoramic windows which you carelessly left open last night. Inhale… the sound of cheerful birds singing from the branches gets closer and louder, encouraging you to throw on a robe and get the coffee brewing. Tip: listen for the bird singing “La Cucaracha”!

Conveniently, the kettle, mineral water and freshly grounded coffee are just a few steps away. Another few steps and you’ll find yourself lounging on a spacious terrace at the top of the world. Exhale…

I could not resist spending most of my mornings sipping coffee in a sublime peace, watching the desperate attempts of local cheeky birds to steal Dwarika’s famous home-baked cookies, which are by no means sharable.

Easily carried away, I lose track of time! Every time. Fortunately, hotel guest relations are serious about looking after me and would often bring me back to the earth with a courtesy phone call to rush for breakfast. Un, deux, trois and I was fresh as a rose and ready to explore!

After an adventurous day out and about at Dwarika’s, I would always look forward to getting back to my “castle on the hill”. It’s such an incredibly nice feeling to mess the freshly made bed, open curtains wide open, fill a tub with a hot water and soak those super tired muscles in a pleasant long herbal bath.

Barefoot, with only a bathrobe made of the lightest cotton, I often ran upstairs to the terrace for some serious tea time in the shadows of the disappearing sun. The hardest choice of the day would be between herbal, camomile, jasmine or pure green (all locally sourced).

As the sun leaves my sight until the next morning, I covertly run downstairs, turn on the light and surround myself with the comfort of indoor warmth. See you soon!

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Splash in nature @Dwarika’s

Nepal for many is one of the world’s best trekking destinations, where the bravest conquer the peaks of Everest or chase down the mysterious Yeti. I arrived in Nepal in a search of peace and hidden treasures, hoping to discover sights, people and, as it turned out, cats defying stereotypes. That’s how I ended up at Dwarika’s in Dhuikhel, a place very few have heard about and even less visited (here is a link to the start of my journey).

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Located on several hills in the Himalayas, this resort is not a typical all-inclusive 5 star Disneyland to impress and entertain.

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Nor is it a boring detox center filled with over concerned personnel.

The resort is founded on a philosophy of respecting nature and the self, and promoting a balance between a body, mind and a spirit to enjoy a healthy life (with a breathtaking view).

With a holistic approach to every detail, Dwarika’s incorporates a mix of Nepali tradition with the best modern life has to offer. Think air conditioning, soft cotton fabrics, solar panels, water re-harvesting, minimized light pollution at night, recycling and a lot more. Dwarika’s is built using mostly natural materials like clay, stone, wood, glass and sand to decrease the harmful effect on the environment and guests.  Dwarika’s helps out Nepal’s indigenous arts and crafts by creating working spots for locals plus a continuous demand for products.

The designers deliberately chose earthy colours and patterns to transform this resort into real eye candy from an architectural point of view, branding Nepal as a new luxury destination.

Top it off with the famous Nepali hospitality, a focus on individual wellbeing, and you like me will never want to leave. To prove how seriously guest relations are taken, a resident cat was hired to ensure that happiness is not a just a meawy word.

Being a respected employee, the Dwarikat is entrusted with additional responsibilities that include but are not limited to spontaneous food tastings. Blessed with a cheerful, loving, humble and cheeky personality (not to mention the pretty face), the Dwarikat is set to become the next most popular Katdashian. I am surprised she doesn’t run her own celebrity Instagram page yet. I would follow her straight away.

To be continued…

P.S. Thank you Dan  for a brilliant Cat’s name idea, the Dwarikat

I am wearing a tailored kaftan and swimwear hand made by a Dubai-based designer Anna. Check them out.

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Nepal’s well kept secret – Dwarika’s

We arrived in Katmandu early afternoon.

Being in a habit to rush off the plane, I noticed only the tourists were hurrying, worried about queues and luggage and airport wifi. Local Nepalese travelers smiled peacefully, letting us push past.”Namaste, welcome,” smiled a man in a uniform. “Namaste,” I replied and bombarded him with visa related questions. He patiently answered them and pointed me through the visa formalities. My destination was an hour away from the capital, a gem of a hotel hidden high in Himalays.

Exiting the airport, Katmandu greeted me with sun, cheerful conversations, fresh breeze, laughs and uniquely melodic truck horns. I was welcomed by a charming man in a suit, Dwarika’s ambassador, who relieved me of two heavy suitcases and supplied a bottle of water, hot towel and a lovely chatty driver. I jumped into the car and we bravely joined the traffic chaos.

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The music of street life burst through the bus windows. Motorcycles, fruit vendors, authentic houses, gossiping girls, moms holding kids and lots and lots of construction. My eyes were shining bright, piercing for every little detail. Katmandu’s daily routine is paradise for a curious soul.

Katmandu is still rebuilding after the 2015 earthquake, however nothing apart from bricks and cement indicate it. My camera couldn’t get enough of outside scenery, especially when  lavish green fields replaced the urban streetscapes. I spotted women in colorful sari-like outfits crossing farms with huge wicker baskets hanging off their shoulders, at the same time boys were enjoying themselves at coffee houses spread along the road. Needless to say it was all casually happening against a background of traditional huts, clay temples, resting cows and powerful statues. Meanwhile our bus was taking us way up, higher and higher with every turn.

The road curved one last time and the bus stopped. I was at the footsteps of Dwarika’s. A few minutes later a golf cart appeared out of nowhere and in a matter of minutes I was sitting in a lobby on top of the world sipping a refreshing welcoming drink. Life has never been better!

To be continued…

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Natural radiance prescribed by Dr. Roebuck’s

After a hot and eventful summer, I am looking forward to the fall as it offers a much needed break for skin to cool down, restore and rehydrate before winter hits it with the freeze. A significant drop in temperature and sunshine allows a more advance approach to skincare without worries of developing that “impossible to deal with” pigmentation. In Toronto the local wisdom is: “when in trouble head to Shoppers Drug Mart”, so there I was a desperate beauty consumer looking for a quick yet permanent fix.

In the first twenty minutes my usual approach to sourcing the ultimate remedy had completely failed. A quick orientation led to the thought that there were too many tempting products around with exotic fragrances and big promises. I needed a strategy and I needed it fast. “Care for minimum ingredients with maximum results, eh?”, a smiley face appeared out of nowhere. I nodded impatiently. “How about some radiance?”. I smiled  too and soon ended up holding tight to two bright green bottles unable to make any further decisions.

Dr. Roebuck’s products were not new to me. I was a big fan of the famous “Pure”, all natural and luxuriously rich face cream, initially developed  in Australia more than 30 years ago by physician parents for their twin daughters with sensitive skin. What I was holding now were newly launched BPA and Parabens free active serums, “Ultimate Hydrating” and “Reverse Aging” formulated to give me healthy radiant skin (just like baby’s).

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Ultimate Hydrating and Reverse Aging serum slightly differ in packing – one shines with silver and the other with gold, suggesting that a closer look at active ingredients is a good idea.

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After a thorough investigation, I discovered that both serums have the following active components in common:

A. the popular Hyaluronic Acid which preserves elasticity, improves hydration and treats photodamaged skin;

B. Retinol (Vitamin A) which helps improve the appearance of fine line and wrinkles

C. Vitamin C which stimulates collagen production

D. Vitamin E which acts against free radicals with a potential to reverse the process of aging

E. Carnosine, a multi-functional (just like me) naturally occurring peptide which repairs, regenerates and protects skin from UV damage

F. Creatine. It provides a noticeable reduction in skin textural changes

J. Vitamin B3. It firms, reduces signs of aging and signs of pigmentation (hooray!)

H. Aloe Vera, which needs no introduction

The Ultimate Hydrating serum additionally contains Ubiquinone, an antioxidant naturally produced by our body, but which decreases with age. So having it in the serum helps cells to generate more collagen and elastan. Ubiquinone, together with other active ingredients, allow this serum to hydrate, firm, moisturise and revitalise. I noticed that after several applications (3-4) that naughty pigmentation on my cheeks had faded away at first and then gently pealed off.

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The Reverse Aging serum is enriched with Evening Primrose oil, a wonderful antioxidant that smooths rough spots and lightens dark circles around the eyes, plus Borage Seed Oil (high in Omega-6) and Gatuline In-Tense (reinforces dermal architecture). The Reverse Aging serum actively promotes collagen production and helps skin cells to regenerate and repair. I experienced a surprisingly satisfying feeling when, in the morning, my skin felt as soft and supple as a baby’s. Not to mention it radiated some serious happiness and signs of good beauty sleep.

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You may wonder: “Which one is the best for me?”. At my age, 34, I decided to start with the Ultimate Hydrating serum and once it runs out switch to the Reverse Aging to keep my skin surprised. Remember, it’s very important to spot-test these products (for example on the inner side of your arm) prior to applying it to the face and neck because it contains Retinol. For the same reason, don’t skip using sunblock (SPF 20-30) if the weather is treating you to some sunshine. As a rule, for the first 10 days I use a new product every other night (not every night) to better determine the chance of any sudden sensitivity or irritation. Dr. Roebuck’s advises to lock-in these serums with a thin layer of Pure for maximum results. I’ve chosen to top up 4-5 drops of a serum with Face anti-aging day and night cream.

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Here’s the best news! Do you want to try the Face anti-aging day and night cream (in new packaging!) without purchasing it? For a chance to win Face, follow me and Dr. Roebuck’s on Instagram and then drop me a friendly letter to antrestain@gmail.com. I’ll select the winner on November 1o and personally send this product. Deal?

P.S. The winner is Carissa K. Congratulations!

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