Category Archives: India

A big fat Gujarati wedding

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In between Christmas in England and New Years in Singapore, Will & I flew to Ahmedabad in India to celebrate our friends wedding. They had already had a ceremony in England, but now it was time for the Indian side! Having never been to an Indian wedding, we were really looking forward to it but without any idea of what to expect.

Before we left Singapore we bought our outfits – a beautiful beaded sari for me and a kurta pajama (complete with matching shoes!) for Will. We picked up the outfits in Little India. Will’s was ready to take home, but I had to have my blouse made to measure. They were super sweet and turned it around really quickly for me (a couple of days) but I’d recommend leaving at least a week. I also got the skirt part of the sari with a lining stitched in and a wrap around hook-and-eye set up, making it really easy for me to put it on myself! Rather than having to have one of the couple’s aunties wrap me up!

Weddings are a massive event in India – the WHOLE family comes out for them and I think there were over 400 guests at this one. Vik’s family are Hindu, so what I’m going to describe is what we experienced – no doubt there are many variations on what happens and rituals that we didn’t get to see, as we weren’t part of the ‘wedding party’.

We started off with the Sangeet. The sangeet party is usually the most elaborate and grand part of the wedding and this one was no exception. We all got on a coach out to a country club about 30 minutes out of central Ahmedabad. The venue was beautifully decorated with huge flower displays and loads of amazingly colourful lighting.

Arriving at the sangeet

There was a huge buffet meal available, with everyone milling around eating and drinking fruit juices and lassi (being a Hindu wedding and Hindu state there was no alcohol available – kind of a relief after the boozy Christmas time we’d just had in England). The food was amazing with lots of different stations offering different vegetable curries, dhal, and roti. We sampled loads of different things – some were absolutely delicious, others blew my mind with the spiciness! We finished up our meal with condensed milk ice creams on sticks (not dissimilar to a Mini Milk…) which were flavoured with cardamom – delicious!

After the meal, we moved to the seating area. By now, the sun had gone down so the weather was actually chilly, so we were grateful for the big gas heaters that were strategically placed! What I didn’t realise was we were now in for 3 or 4hours of Indian dancing and singing! The sangeet was hosted by a famous singer who I think had appeared on Indian Idol (or a similar reality TV show). The best bits were when big groups of the groom’s family appeared on stage to perform set dance routines. The guys amazed me with their dancing – especially when it included some Gangnam style moves!

The guys dancing

It was incredibly energetic to watch. Then the ladies all performed some routines as well – a beautiful mixture of elegant arm movements and swirling skirts.

Ladies dancing at the sangeet

After the formal programme – lots more singing and dancing (!) – we all got up to dance in front of the stage with the whole wedding party. Pretty soon this was one big undulating mass of people moving in time to the music. Quite an amazing spectacle and I felt really English, with my inability to do some of the same moves in the same way as the impossibly elegant Indian ladies!

Dancing at the sangeet – sorry for the slight blurriness, everyone was dancing!

Then people started getting onto the stage and dancing. Aunties pulled Will & I up there to join in. But before too long we were all being asked to leave the stage as they were worried it was going to collapse! I guess several hundred people dancing will do that! So we carried on dancing on the grass, until my poor little feet were too tired to do any more and we joined other guests back on the coach to the hotel.

The bride – Catherine – in the midst of all the dancing

The next day, we slept in late, before having a short walk up the road from the hotel, in search of an ATM and water. We didn’t have much luck on either front but we did get to see lots of market stalls, motorbike repair shops and kids playing cricket. Back at the hotel we donned our Indian outfits (we’d worn more ‘Western’ outfits to the sangeet so we could dance more easily) and got into a tuk-tuk to take us to the wedding venue. Speeding through the Ahmedabad streets with my sari on, I felt impossibly glamorous!

In all our Indian finery

We arrived at the wedding venue and met up with some of the other guests. As we were waiting, the bride arrived. She had to wait with her family whilst we all took part in the groom’s procession.

Catherine arrives at the wedding venue

There was a band lounging around in the shade who seemed pleased to see us and kept waving over! The guys got taken off to have turbans made for them. After that we had time for a few quick photos before exciting news that an elephant had arrived! We’d been hearing rumours about this, but it was still unexpected. We all trundled out into the street to find a big group of family waiting and there was indeed an elephant!

The arrival of the elephant

Vik, the groom, soon arrived in a car covered in flowers. The band started playing – lots of trumpets and drums – creating an infectious beat. It was time for Vik to climb aboard the elephant.

Vik getting ready to climb onto the elephant

All aboard!

Will kept commenting that it reminded him of something out of Aladdin – the bit where Aladdin arrives amidst great ceremony to meet Princess Jasmine! I think it was the little parasol…

The procession of the groom is known as the baraat. The music was going and soon everyone was walking in front of the elephant, leading him towards the wedding venue and his bride. Every now and then the band would stop walking, and this was an opportunity for the processional to dance and give the band money to continue. We would only walk a few metres before stopping again and dancing some more!

Dancing in the baraat

The groom’s mother in beautiful orange

There seemed to be some set dances that went on as well as lots of clapping. It was a great opportunity to learn some dance moves, and to admire the wedding outfits of the guests. Everyone was wearing rich, vivid colours and the women looked beautiful in their heavily beaded and embroidered saris.

Eventually we arrived at the wedding venue (it probably took us 45 minutes to cover about 100 yards!). Here there was more dancing – this time with lots of scarves being swirled around. Then the groom got down off the elephant and was taken to meet the bride and her family. I couldn’t see a lot of this – we were towards the back and there were loads of people. Apparently, the bride’s mother has to keep pinching the nose of the groom to put him off taking her daughter away. The bride then has to ‘catch’ the groom by putting a garland of flowers around his neck. This is greeted with lots of cheering and clapping from the wedding guests. We then filed into the wedding venue.

We were all seated around a big raised area in the centre, where the ceremony would be performed. At this point, I found the divide between Indian and Christian weddings greatest. Usually, the actual ‘marriage’ is very solemn and everyone pays attention at every wedding I’ve been to. At an Indian wedding, it is a lengthy process, heavy with ritual and tradition. It goes on a long time, so everyone wanders around, chats, and eats! Waiters kept bringing us drinks and snacks to keep us going! I found out later that the bride and groom aren’t allowed to eat anything until the wedding is over!

The groom arrives first and there seemed to be a long blessing and prayers. Then the bride arrived, accompanied by all her female family members, who tightly surround her, carrying candles. There is also a sheet carried over her head, so you can hardly see her.

The bridal procession

A brief glimpse of Catherine!

I didn’t know what was happening most of the time after that but there is a really good guide to Indian weddings here. I know there was a fire, and they had their feet touched a lot. They also seemed to be given a lot of gifts.

Finally married!

After the ceremony is over, all the guests lined up to have their photo taken with the bride and groom. This went on for AGES! Apparently the line is formed by family hierarchy – with immediate family going first, aunts, uncles and cousins next, then more further removed family, and finally friends. After this, the bride and groom are finally allowed to eat! We expected more dancing, but there wasn’t any – apparently the sangeet is where the big ‘party’ takes place. The bride and groom then went off for further blessings and rituals at the family home.

The next day, Vik’s cousin got married so we were all invited along for that. It was a completely different wedding – the groom arrived on a horse and everything was done outside. It was nice as we got to spend time Vik & Catherine, rather than mostly watching them!

Will & I with Vik & Catherine

It was a fantastic experience – one I’ll never forget. It was wonderful to be back in India, celebrating such a happy occasion and getting an insight into a huge part of Indian culture. Thanks so much for inviting us you guys – we had a blast!

Candles and petals outside the wedding venue

As usual, there are more photos over on Flickr.

New feature: White – #worldcolours project

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In a project inspired by fellow blogger Naomi, I’ve joined the #worldcolours project. (See here for more details)

To quote from Naomi’s blog:

It’s a joint effort between bloggers all over  to collate our photos that all have ONE thing in common.  COLOR! During the end of each month, we’ll be sharing our version of imagery based on a color calendar … starting with WHITE. ”

So, here’s my first world colours post – welcome to my world of white!

Gin cocktail in a smoking teapot - my work leaving drinks before I came to Singapore

Gin cocktail in a smoking teapot – my work leaving drinks before I came to Singapore

One of the elephants on display when we first arrived

One of the elephants on display when we first arrived

Old tiles, Vietnam

Old tiles, Vietnam

Selling nuts in Mumbai

Selling nuts in Mumbai

The stunning Taj Mahal - I fell in love with it all over again the second time around

The stunning Taj Mahal – I fell in love with it all over again the second time around

Bougainvillea blooms in a Javanese flower market

Bougainvillea blooms in a Javanese flower market

Figure in Thailand

Figure in Thailand

The war memorial at Woodlands (also where I saw the Royals on their Singapore visit)

The war memorial at Woodlands (also where I saw the Royals on their Singapore visit)

Making dumplings in Taipei

Making dumplings in Taipei

The bride at our first Indian wedding in December

The bride at our first Indian wedding in December

I really enjoyed putting this post together – it was great to look back over some of my photos and revisit all the memories I have associated with them. Looking forward to next months colour!

In India

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For Will’s Mum’s birthday, Will decided to help her realise a lifetime dream and take her to India. She’s never visited before, and Will’s Dad is not a lover of curry so wasn’t keen on going himself. Will and I have been to India twice before, and loved it, so we decided that it would be a brilliant way to celebrate. For me, India is one of those places that when you love it, gets under your skin. My friend Raj has often joked that I must have been Indian in a previous life, as I love everything about it, and apparently make a better dahl than she does! So I was very happy to be going back there, as you can imagine.

We wanted to do an India highlights trip – in only 10 days – so we spent ages working out itineraries, looking at trains and domestic airlines, trying to decide the best route. In the end, Will did a fantastic job and put together a fantastic trip. Mumbai – Jodphur – Khimsar – Jaipur – Agra – Delhi. We also travelled in very different style to our first two trips – before it had been bright but basic backpacker places, and overnight trains; this time around it was gorgeous hotels and private cars. Very different – we did India in style!

We flew into Mumbai from Singapore. I’d been to Mumbai on both our previous trips but neither of us had fallen in love with the city – it had seemed crowded, dirty, frantic with traffic, and the juxtaposition between rich and poor so close together had been rather difficult to stomach. The Mumbai that greeted us on this occasion felt very different. A new bridge has been recently completed, which cuts out a lot of the traffic, acting as a kind of by-pass in the sea. The slums that were so prevalent when we visited before weren’t visible this time (though of course that doesn’t mean that they weren’t there… just moved). This time I actually wanted to leave the hotel and explore the city. We spent a great morning exploring the city and visiting all the landmarks, and the house Gandhi used to stay in when he was in Mumbai.

Gateway of India

Gateway of India

Boats at Gateway of India

Victoria Terminus

Dhobi Ghat

Profound words from Gandhi

After a whistle-stop tour of Mumbai, we hopped onto a domestic flight up to Jodphur in Rajasthan. We’d been to Rajasthan (Jaipur & Udaipur) on previous visits, but ran out of time to see Jodphur. We heard so many great things that we really regretted not being able to visit, so we were keen to make sure that it was on the itinerary this time. The ‘Blue City’ did not disappoint. Smaller than the other cities we had visited in Rajasthan, Jodphur feels a bit more personal. The impressive Mehrangarh Fort, perched on a rocky outcrop, looks out over the city. I loved exploring it, with the bright blue sky overhead, and old stone all around me. The market was also fun and vibrant, with loads of fresh produce on sale. The whole city had a lovely chilled out vibe and I could’ve happily spent several days there.

Umaid Bhawan Palace

Mehrangarh Fort

View over Jodphur

Beautiful spiral staircase

More of the Mehrangarh Fort

After Jodphur, we travelled to the small town of Khimsar, where we were staying in the old Fort there. It’s a brilliant place to stay – lovely comfy rooms but with big ramparts all around the grounds, and the dining room is in the one part of the fort that they have left relatively unrenovated. Eating there is really atmospheric! We also did a little jeep safari into the desert where we saw all kinds of animals – lots of deer like looking creatures. We also did a short camel ride up a sand dune to watch the sunset – beautiful.

Camel!

Next up was Jaipur. Will & I had both visited it when we first came to India back in 2004, so we were looking forward to seeing the city again, and seeing if had changed as much as Mumbai had. After a white-knuckle car journey (which saw cars coming at 80 mph down the road towards us, on the wrong side of a motorway – I was in the front and quietly praying I would survive), we arrived. Jaipur is known as the ‘pink city’ due to the colours of the walls, which were painted in honour of Prince Albert’s visit in 1876. In reality, they are more of a terracotta col0ur, but it still make the old city striking. We visited the Amber Fort, as we had done on our previous visit. It sits perched on a hill, looking over the city. Will’s Mum had wanted to ride up on the elephants that are there, but our well-meaning but ultimately frustrating taxi driver took us all the way round the back to the top, meaning we had to walk all the way down again to do the elephant ride. Poor bloke, I think he thought he was doing us a favour.

The Amber Fort is as beautiful as I remembered it and much more of it has been restored to its former glory. For instance, there was a garden in the central courtyard that hadn’t been there when we came before. More of the Mirror Palace is being restored as well, which is incredible to see.  I’m pleased that India is preserving more of its beautiful heritage buildings.

The Amber Fort

Detailing in the Mirror Palace

Gardens inside the Amber Fort

On route to Agra from Jaipur, we stopped at Fatephur Sikri. It was originally built as a walled city, but now much of it lies empty and is described as a ‘ghost city’. We visited the mosque there, Jama Masjid. It is a striking building, and built out of the beautiful local red stone.

Buland Gate, Fatephur Sikri

Next up was Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. I had mixed feelings about going back there. It had been such a perfect experience when we first went, that I was a bit nervous about tainting it. We got off to a frustrating start, as after having got up early to get there, we had to wait in a huge queue, which is split into men’s and women’s, for over an hour. Needless to say, the men’s queue moves super quickly, whilst the women’s drags. This is all in the name of security, but I received nothing more than a cursory pat on the thighs and around my stomach. Nobody bothered to check my bag. They need to sort this out! However, once I stepped inside, I fell in love with the Taj all over again. It is such a mesmerising building – you can’t stop looking at it. It’s almost as if it has some kind of magic to it. It’s easy to see why its one of the wonders of the world, and one of my favourite places ever. I never thought I’d visit it again, so I am delighted that I’ve had the opportunity.

Bird at Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

Will & I at the Taj Mahal, 8 years after our first visit

Our trip ended in Delhi, where we really only had an evening, before we caught our early morning flight back to Singapore. We decided not to face the wrath of the capital city, and instead relaxed in the hotel with a massage and yummy dinner. It was very sad to leave Will’s Mum (she was flying straight back to London) but also I was sad to leave India again. It is country that has definitely got under my skin – it fascinates me and frustrates me all at the same time! If you have never visited, I would seriously recommend that you do – it is one of the most beautiful and captivating places I’ve ever been lucky enough to visit.

(I took tons of photos and while there are plenty in this post, there are even more if you head on over to Flickr)