An interesting tour is along the River Seine in a boat in the evening. One can have dinner on the boat and go under the bridges of Seine. There are house boats moored along the banks of the River but these are totally different from our house boats. However, some are very luxuriously furnished inside.
All the facilities are connected with the main city systems at mooring sites. Nothing goes inside Seine like our boats on Dal! Going down River Seine on a boat is a feast. This reminded me about Ernest Hemingway’s book about Paris titled “A Moveable Feast”! He mentions that any body that stays for sometime in Paris carries the taste of the feast that Paris is, all his life everywhere. Paris truly has a flavour unlike other cities. During my tenure in the Tourism Department I had the opportunity of visiting and staying in Paris almost a dozen times. I made many friends there. One of these, Cecile Giuliani, had a designer show room and had met me in Gulmarg. I had the opportunity of visiting her house boat. It is like a luxurious flat but all the lines are connected to the city systems through flexible pipes. We could have same system for house boats on the Dal Lake, the owners of which are accused of polluting the Lake by dumping all their waste in it! However, our main city too is without a scientific system of wastage collection and its disposal. In that regard we are still in the Middle Ages!
The other landmark I visited was the church of Notre Dame. It is a very impressive building. The Notre Dame de Paris stands on the site of Paris' first Christian church, Saint Etienne basilica, which was itself built on the site of a Roman temple to Jupiter. Construction on the current cathedral began in 1163, during the reign of Louis VII. The Notre Dame is the most popular monument in Paris and in all of France, beating even the Eiffel Tower with 13 million visitors each year. But the famous cathedral is also an active Catholic church, a place of pilgrimage, and the focal point for Catholicism in France - religious events of national significance still take place here. An interesting picnic spot is the gardens of Tuileries. Many people visit these gardens. The most noticeable and attractive feature of Paris is the Cafes on the foot paths. These are almost everywhere and people enjoy sitting there all the time. Some of these on Champs Elysee are open 24-hours. In one of these cafes in the Champs Elysee area where my friend took me for dinner, we had smoked fish, the taste of which still lingers in my mouth!
There are many other sights in Paris which one can visit. However, one of the more impressive ones is outside Paris. It is the Palace and Gardens of Versailles. My friend took me there in his car. There was lot of rush and we took sometime in finding a parking place. These gardens are supposed to be from the time of Louis-XIV and were designed by Andre de Notre. These cover 800 hectares of land and there is also a palace called the Chateaux de Versailles. We are proud of our Mughal Gardens and are trying to get these included in the world heritage list but the Versailles Gardens have their own unique style. In 1979 these gardens and the palace were inscribed in the UNESCO heritage list. It is a real pleasure to walk through these beautifully manicured gardens. I was stuck by the standard of maintenance of these gardens in spite of the massive crowds. In comparison our gardens are in shambles, and falling apart everywhere. Especially the outer walls and even the pavilions inside some of the gardens are in bad shape. At present there are many agencies engaged in restoring these gardens but one is not sure whether these can be restored to the pristine glory of the past years?
Side by side with sight seeing, I continued to meet old friends and also make new ones. Boris, the Air India Manager in Paris invited me for dinner to an Indian restaurant. He told me that I had enough of French food and it was time to revive my Indian taste. Rather, he himself was fond of the Indian food. He also wanted me to meet an explorer and anthropologist, Michel Peissel. We had dinner at Mayur Restaurant and the Indian food was excellent. Boris introduced me to Michel Peissel who had extensively travelled in the Himalaya and wanted to explore Ladakh now. He had written a number of books and wanted to write one on Zanskar. Subsequently, Michel visited Kashmir and wrote the book which was later on made into a four part TV programme telecast worldwide by the BBC TV under the title of “Zanskar, the last place on Earth”. This series gave a lot of publicity to Ladakh and Zanskar.
Talking of people, though I had many friends in Paris during my frequent visits, yet the most lasting was my friendship with two diplomats who had served in India. The first one was Serge Boidevaix who was Ambassador to India. I had met him through the British High Commissioner, Sir Robert Wade Gerry and we had gone trekking together in Kashmir. He finally became the French Foreign Secretary and once received me in his formal office. I paid many visits to his house in Paris. Because of him, I got three year multiple gratis visit visas a number of times. The other person was Michel Galas who had served as the Counsel General in the French Embassy in New Delhi. He was fond of hunting and visited Kashmir many times. I also visited his home in Paris a number of times. He could speak fluent Hindi. He had served in India, Pakistan, and Nepal. His weakness was black mushrooms and every time I visited him, I would take these as a gift! During my visits abroad, Paris has been the most frequented place for me and as Hemingway says in his novel, the moveable feast continues to be nostalgia for me!