I heard that a balloon was to ascend from the Trocadéro (the Exhibition), and that anyone who liked could enjoy the novel pleasure of an aerial sail. My hotel friends were surprised to hear that I ardently longed to go up in the balloon and asked me, whether all the Parsee women were [of] a bold, intrepid nature like myself. I had to dispel this very erroneous idea by telling them that a few years ago Parsee women and even a few of the men were frightened at Europeans, and would run away if they saw any approaching them.

I, however, by my early associations with Europeans had imbibed their tastes and some of their courage. These remarks pleased my American friends, who again urged me to visit New York, most hospitably extracting from me a promise that, when I did so I should go to no hotel or boarding house but stay with them. Dressing myself in warm clothing and carrying with me in a handbag some note paper, wine, biscuits and a piece of iron to which to attach any missive I might wish to send down to the people below, I set out for the place from which the ascent was to take place. Here there was an immense crowd, whose amazement at seeing me amongst the aeronauts was most amusing to behold. On payment of a sum of Rs 10, I took my seat.

This balloon, being merely intended for pleasure excursions, was attached to the earth by a long rope. There were in all 15 passengers, three of whom were ladies. I did not allow my son to accompany me for fear of an accident. At 5 pm we began gently to ascend, and I saw the earth receding from beneath us. Presently the panorama that spread itself out before us, as we hovered over the splendid city was most strange and fantastic; the people whom we had left below might have been taken for a swarm of bees, the river Seine with its stately bridges, the gardens with their flowers and ancient trees, the fountains with their feeble jets of water vainly trying to reach us, the proud monuments, the magnificent buildings and their tall spires, the majestic Opera House, the thousands of boats darting like fishes hither and thither on the water, the Exhibition from which hundreds of flags were gaily waving, and the innumerable other places of interest in this wonderful city formed a scene which bore resemblance more to the fabled abodes of genii than to anything sublunary; indeed, might we not say that it seemed a faint reflex of the unfading lustre and undying joy of Paradise itself!

How long will my wealthy sisters shut themselves up in their old habits and prejudices, shunning the healthy and ennobling pleasures which lie alluringly at their very door! Why do they cling so tenaciously to their idle crude custom, and know no higher ambition than to glide along in the same groove as their ancestors, instead of proving themselves worthy of the times they live in by basking in the free air of enlightenment! Awake, dear sisters, ere the stealthy hand of Time rob you of youth and opportunity to learn wisdom! To die in the hope of entering Paradise is blessed, but thrice blessed is he who, living a life of piety and virtue, learns something of the world he lives in, and of the other races of mankind who share it with him.

But to return to the point – as the balloon rose higher and higher, the cold became more intense, and as I began to shiver, I had to take a good draught of the wine I had brought with me. I offered some to a lady who looked very delicate and who felt grateful for the offer. We had now risen to the full height allowed by the rope, namely 700 metres, and I experienced an exhilarating sensation of pleasure in soaring like a bird above the earth – a pleasure enhanced by the knowledge that we were securely tied to mother earth and that all precautions were taken to preserve the balloon in its upright position. As we began to descend, Paris which had dwindled into an insignificant speck, gradually assumed her own graceful dimensions and we were soon deposited again on terra firma, after an aerial flight of 45 minutes.

Henri Giffard's balloon before ascent, Paris, 1878. | Image credit: Prudent René Patrice Dagron.

A medal commemorating our ascent was presented to each passenger. Oh! for words to describe this exciting adventure. As the gardens of the Tuileries had attracted my notice from the balloon, we went there and found much to admire. It covers a large area and is rich in flowers, lawns, avenues, trees, statues and fountains; an old-fashioned stately atmosphere pervades the place. The palace has been in a state of dilapidation since the Franco-German war but is imposing in its very ruins.

On August 16, after writing letters to Bombay, London and Germany, we went to the Exhibition and spent the whole day in looking at the fine collection of pictures, but it would have needed a full month to see them all thoroughly, so immense was the number, some of the pictures were valued at from a lac to a lac and a half of rupees – almost incredible to our Indian mind. On the 17th I went to a jeweller’s and ordered some ornaments to be sent out to me to India and returning heard from my son of his having accidentally met a gentleman of the firm of Messrs Fallek, after we had given up all hopes of seeing anyone of that firm. Messrs Fallek, while in Bombay ten years before, were in the habit of coming to our place to negotiate, through my husband, for the purchase of pearls. The gentleman was much pleased at our being in Paris, and invited us to spend the evening at his house. Then we went to a photographer’s and had ourselves photographed.

On the 18th, after breakfast, I started by train for Versailles, which was reached in half an hour. This was a national fête-day, an anniversary on which the fountains play and crowds of people flock to see them. Within an enclosure, the beautifully designed garden lay in its smiling beauty, interspersed with alabaster equestrian statues. Proceeding along the avenue, we came in sight of the celebrated palace – a building worthy of such surroundings. As I was entering the spacious hall, an Englishman, named, as I afterwards learnt, Mr Cuthbert, politely enquired if I had been there before and as it was difficult to see all the places of interest in the palace without guidance, he most kindly offered assistance and I most gladly availed myself of it, thanking God, who in every emergency, anticipated and even exceeded my wants.

The palace is divided into many suites of apartments, each in the charge of an official, who conducted the visitors through the suite and gave an account of everything contained therein, Mr Cuthbert kindly translating to me as we went on. The ancient furniture was so beautifully polished that it looked quite new. There were splendid old pictures in all the rooms, and the entire walls of several others were hung with tapestry, representing battle scene [sic]. The palace itself is a noble building, and contains so many interesting objects that we were worn out with the very looking at them. The ceiling of the dining hall is exquisitely painted with figures of fairies in gold and silver.

There were four other equally splendid palaces standing at a mile distance from each other in the garden. The extent of the garden can be judged from this fact, but its beauty must be seen to be believed. It is a terrestrial Eden and has a number of cool retreats and shady arbours. There are also undulating pieces of ground covered over with luxuriant grass, romantic lakes lying at the foot of hills and swiftly flowing streams meandering through the lovely landscape. In short, nature and art have combined to produce a masterpiece.

We saw a number of carriages here which had belonged to Louis XIV and Napoleon Bonaparte; they were richly gilded and painted with birds, the seats were covered with velvet and hung with gold and silver tassels. Each carriage was valued at 100,000 francs. Proceeding further, Mr Cuthbert exclaimed: “Here is the centre of attraction!” And so it was truly.

We stood before a large pond or reservoir of water in which about a hundred fountains were playing in the most fantastic forms. Some represented a tree with its trunk, branches, twigs, and leaves. Others assumed a thousand fanciful shapes as they rose and fell, while the largest, which only plays once a year on this day, represented Neptune, the God of Water. In this one figure, there must have been at least a thousand jets at play, the air around was thereby rendered as moist as in the rainy season. There were seats arranged as in a theatre down to the very margin of the lake for the convenience of the numerous spectators. It is impossible to convey to my readers an idea of the marvellous beauty of this enchanting scene. Taking leave of Mr Cuthbert, we hired a carriage and returned to our hotel at 6 pm.

On the next day I saw Sir Albert Sassoon after a lapse of six years and found little or no change in him. We had a pleasant conversation on the past. Afterwards Messieurs Fallek came and took me to see their house where we had a pleasant tiffin and a merry chat. They afterwards took me to see the Grand Hotel which was considered the best till the Continental was built.

The 22nd of August being my birthday, I rose early to pour out my thanks to God for His mercy in having granted me the fulfilment of my long-cherished desire, namely, the visit to England, and for having, in addition, enabled me to see the great Exhibition and be a lodger in the best, though none the less expensive, hotel in Paris.

After breakfast I went with Mr and Mrs Kirby and their daughters to the Bon Marché, one of the most fashionable shops in Paris, in size and magnificence a veritable palace. It was difficult in the midst of so many beautiful things in the shop to make a choice, but at last I selected some silks, fans, handkerchiefs, and woollen fabrics. One of the superintendents kindly showed me over the entire establishment, saying that their shop was never before graced by the presence of a lady of my race and dress, and the entire staff therefore had stopped work to have a look at me. Again on the 23rd and 24th I visited this shop and made some more purchases.

Two days were spent in leave-taking and making preparations for our departure, and on the 28th I went and bought Cook’s Tickets for myself and son, and then went to have a last look at the Exhibition and saw what I had seen hurriedly before. Returned again after dinner to the Trocadéro and took a sorrowful farewell of this unparalleled Exhibition, which had been the main incentive to my crossing the ocean.

The last evening at the hotel was spent in the company of my friends; we pledged each other’s health and spoke of meeting again. I received visits from M Phalampin, the Messieurs Fallek and other friends, as also letters from my friends in Germany, who were on the tiptoe of expectation regarding my intended visit to them. Glad as I was on the one hand, I was sorely aggrieved on the other, at hearing from Bombay that my dear husband was involved in some pecuniary troubles. Although this news occasioned me great chagrin I did not give way to despair, but confined my travels on the Germany, Italy and Switzerland only, and relinquished now the half-formed plan of returning to London and seeing Scotland.

On the 29th I was engaged all morning in packing up my luggage and in settling accounts with the jewellers and the hotel and giving gratuities to the attendants. The general manager of the hotel, who had obliged me in a variety of ways, only asked for my photograph which I willingly gave him. Parting is always attended with pain. This I felt when bidding a temporary farewell to my native place, Bombay. The great regret that my husband, whose kind indulgence procured me all these enjoyments, did not share them with me, was never for a moment absent from my mind, but I never ceased entertaining hopes that God Almighty would one day permit us to revisit Europe together, which hope alas was never realised.

From the Hotel we went to the Gare du Nord and took train for Cologne.

Excerpted with permission from The Story of My Life, Dosebai Cowasjee Jessawalla, Speaking Tiger Books.