8.30 am: Last Saturday we found ourselves on a charter flight winging our way to Jodhpur to partake in premiere champagne maker Dom Pérignon’s Power of Creation weekend held at the magnificent art deco Umaid Bhavan Palace. It was to be a weekend of intelligent hedonism. A coming together of artists and epicures; men of learning and women of beauty, money and knowledge; gravitas and fun. The weekend in Jodhpur flowed quite naturally from the ‘ Creators Events’ hosted by Dom Perignon recently where piano-virtuoso Lang Lang, had engaged in a creative conspiracy with Dom Perignon and the cult Twin Peaks director David Lynch had given it a zeitgeist spin of his own. So in keeping with it’s fraternising with the best and the brightest this weekend would feature a jugalbandi between artist Jitesh Kallat and Richard Geoffroy – Dom Pérignon’s creator of vintages who showcase a creative combustion: the unveiling of two of Kallat’s recent video-installations: Forensic Trail of the Grand Banquet (A silent video installation, where the planetary clusters, are composed of X-rays of food) and Breath (in which the seven breads (rotis) in the installation go through an evolutionary cycle).
What is it like to be on a charter flight on a regular full size Jet Air aircraft and occupy only a dozen or so seats?
Contrary to public perception, it feels pretty normal. As we glance around, we see our fellow travelers Shobhaa and Dilip De, Devaunshi and Anup Mehta, the writer Siddharth Shangvi settle into their seats and prepare for the odyssey as if it were an ordinary red-eye commute to work. The Booker Prize winning author Ann Enright, who has just landed the night before from London, avails of the opportunity to work off her jet lag, the glamorous Priti Devi (of Kapurthala) and her investment banker husband Tarun Kataria pursue the morning papers, only the exuberant and irrepressible marketing guru and man about the universe Suhel Seth zips around the plane bringing good cheer and laughter between the rows of seats.
By the time we alight and regroup on Jodhpur’s terra firma, we realize that Suhel’s effervescence has been a prelude of things to come.
For there beyond the phalanx of strapping mustachioed and turbaned chauffeurs gleam a fleet of some of the most delicious vintage jalopies we have ever set our eyes on. A voluptuous 1947 Buick Convertible, a Rubenesque Packard 1946, a curvy Cadillac 1948, a fetching Phantom from the mid 1940's and a Jaguar from the 1930's that makes you smile at its jauntiness. Instantly our spirits lift and a certain giddy-headedness takes over as we are driven in a convoy to the hotel in these vintage beauties.
Festooned and looming suggestively against the arid backdrop the Umaid Bhavan one of the Taj group’s great luxury Palace hotels welcomes us with pomp and spectacle and thoughtful flutes of champagne as we assemble at the hotel’s grand Central Dome where a traditional ghoomar performance adds to the exhilaration.
Lunch has been planned on the Palace Baradairi lawns to the accompaniment of langa singers whose Sufi ballads evoke the adjacent dessert’s primeval yearning. Fresh salads, charcutterie, New Zealand lamb chops gnocchi with truffles, smoked salmon paired with sips of Dom Pérignon Vintage 2003 is our afternoon fare. Guests from Delhi who have flown in on the private Falcon charter saunter in. Our dear friends the legal heavy weights Manik and Raian Karanjawala are followed by members of our own family, Devieka and Suresh Bhojwani who have been in Delhi attending Rana Kapoor’s daughter’s wedding along with Dipti and Raj Salgaonkar and the New York based hotelier Vikram Chatwal. And then Queenie Singh lopes in: white jeans, brown knee high boots, 25-carat smile and Hollywood star aura and the party really begins!
We have been given the option of pampering at the spa, or some exclusive retail therapy (choodiwallas and juttiwalas and royal dyer Tayeb Khan’s splendid chiffon saris,) on the hotel lawns, but we opt for the sweet slumber that an afternoon of heady champagne suggests. After all we have to prepare ourselves (our hosts have thoughtfully arranged hairstylists and dressers) for the 8 PM Cocktail with Dom Pérignon Vintage 2003 at The Oriental Room — hosted by the erstwhile Maharajah Gaj Singh and his charming daughter — Shivranjini Raje.
On entering we realize it is one of the most stylish collections of people we have ever seen: the swashbuckling Uraaz Bahl with his beautiful fiancé Shaana Levy (whose own imminent wedding will be conducted at the very same Palace) the suave Tikka Singh, the graceful couple Raghavendra and Kavita Rathorre, and of course all the friends from lunch now bedecked in vintage Benarasi saris, heirloom jewels, Chanel couture, tuxes and bandhgalas listen attentively to Jitesh Kallat as he talks about his work before leading us to witness his deeply profound and mesmerizing night sky installation.
Then onto the formal black tie dinner in the Marwar Hall: Two unending tables, bedecked with Black Calla Lilies, willows of winterberries, tea roses hand carved soapstone votive holders, and silverware from the royal palace collection. What can one say of Chef Hemant Oberoi’s specially crafted menu that underlines the evening theme? First Course: Reflexions L’Inde, paired with the Dom Pérignon Vintage 2003 (Caviar Pani puri, curry leaf crab spoons, marigold fruit chaat khandvi…) Second course: paired with Dom Perignon Vintage Rose 2000 — for the non-vegetarians cumin crusted lamb loin, Chilean Sea bass and Saffron risotto with Gulmarg morels for the vegetarians), followed by dessert of fresh strawberries Nelusko. Followed by cigars, coffee, cognac more champagne and dancing at the Trophy room!
Ah champagne, once described aptly by a poet as ‘angels copulating on the tongue’ what an utterly sublime weekend companion you make!