Saturday, May 12, 2012

Indian Wedding first experience

After almost 3 full days of celebrating a real Indian Wedding I feel like I have truly loved the whole experience.

Starting with the foundation established by a large family who really loves each other and built with a very rich culture on top, the wedding has been nothing short of fascinating.

Our first party was an unofficial family get together. Where the groom's family, who find themselves living all around the world, got together for the first time in many years to start catching up. This took place in a farm close to a beach, we took our time meeting each other over pizza and hanging out by (and in) the pool to fight off the heat, while the women in the party got henna tattoos done. That night the bride's family and friends joined us for a fun outside dinner of vegetarian Indian fare. Out of all the wedding celebrations this was the only one where alcohol was served, which as I'm told is very common in south Indian weddings, and completely different from their North Indian brethren. During this first dinner hosted by the groom and his family a lot of family celebrations were highlighted including multiple milestone birthdays of cousins, uncles and grandparents. I should highlight that most of the 40 people I met that morning were cousins of the groom. The celebration was full of funny family moments and a few emotional ones. It was a great introduction to the family we'd be sharing the next few days with.

The second morning there was a very early, solemn ceremony to which the groom recommended I skip since it was fairly long (3 hours approximately), and most of his family would also be skipping since it was completely in Sanskrit and the essence of it would be repeated throughout the next couple of days. So in true form for my family background I went shopping for clothes to wear over the next couple of days. I bought a traditional short sleeve Kortu to wear during the second night for the engagement ceremony and a long Kortu to wear for the main wedding ceremony during the third day.

Traditional South Indian wedding meal
As we arrived in the afternoon to the wedding venue we were welcomed with an "afternoon snack", which was delivered in the traditional South Indian wedding meal format of a bamboo leaf that was used as a plate and place setting and different tasty dishes served directly on top of it by the line of waiters that would keep refilling the dishes until one begged them to stop. The food consisted of some rice and/or noodles, naan (bread) surrounded by different sauces, chutneys or other fixings, which people used their hands to mix and eat. As this was my first time eating this way I was lucky to be handed a spoon to better enjoy my snack.

Welcoming the groom's carriage
During the second day in the afternoon the wedding officially began for us with the traditional engagement ceremony. During this ceremony the groom is welcomed into the wedding hall and in our case Karthik arrived on a horse driven carriage led by all his friends and family dancing in front of him to set the tone for the happy festivities.

Upon the groom's arrival into the wedding hall his bride-to-be is brought out and the go onto the stage together where the ceremony is to take place between the families and the hindu priests. The ceremony is steeped in traditions and there's a long list of activities that took place throughout, to set the stage for the wedding terms. This included gift exchanges between the groom and bride's families and it finished with the announcement of the wedding details including the precise date and time for the marriage ceremony to take place. In this case the time for the ceremony is very specifically defined by the astral charts of the couple, so this is different for every couple who weds.

After the traditional portion of the ceremony we were treated to a beautiful dance show that was put on by Karthik's sister and aunt who had trained for years in dance. As it turns out this was the first time they both danced together, in his aunt's case she hadn't done an actual dance show for 19 years, but the show was so great we couldn't tell.

At the end of the show we proceeded to eat another dinner served on a bamboo leaf, before heading back to our hotel to get a bit of rest, since the 3rd day of the wedding was scheduled to start very early for us in order for the ceremony to take place by the scheduled time...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Day 4 - Tripping to Goa

Air-travel is never for the faint of heart or the impatient, is something that I've learned over my years of traveling for business, but that is more so when you're doing domestic travel in a country you don't understand the local language. When doing international travel the airlines and authorities try to make as much as possible understandable to foreigners. When traveling domestically there's a feeling that people who submit to it, do so at their own risk.

While I am thankful that English is fairly common in India, the domestic terminal contended with some craziness beyond the regular TSA craziness. For example, my chap stick and listerine pocket packs were submitted to serious scrutiny by the security guard (even using his metal detector wand on them), yet my water bottle and bananas made it through untouched... Awesome!

I flew on a company called Indigo, which is considered one of India's best low cost carriers, and I must admit that they had great service during the smooth 2 hour flight. One thing I'm kicking myself for was not snapping a picture of their job ad seeking stewardess. Politically correct snobs in the US would have had a heart attack at some of the requirements (could actually use less PC snobs, which is why I'm sad I forgot to get a picture of it).

The arrival into the Goa airport went very well, with the exception of the lack of cleans toilets around, which wouldn't have been an issue until I got on the shuttle to the hotel and was told by the driver it would take more than an hour to get to the hotel.

Hotel beach in Goa
The drive to the hotel, for me, was a mix of wanting the driver to speed up and hoping we wouldn't get into an accident. It's a common misconception that people in India drive on the left side of the road, but based on my experience they actually drive on BOTH sides of it while trying to pass other slower vehicles and cows on the road... To make matters scarier I was already warned that if I ever get into a traffic accident in India I should flee the scene immediately by any means necessary... I've been warned that any sort of accident normally develops into a full out riot where people's from the street end up beating up the offending party, even if they're only a passenger... So just in case my first task is to figure out how to escape the taxi or shuttle bus.

Patio outside my room
When I reached the Taj holiday village, I was very pleasantly received and checked into the hotel while sitting comfortably on a couch and sipping some watermelon juice. I was told about the extensive facilities in the resort (pools, beaches, restaurants and other great services) and shown to my nice sea facing room/cottage. The Taj in Delhi had communicated with them to let them know about my Delhi belly so throughout the stay most managers have inquired as to how I'm feeling and have tried to ensure the food I'm eating isn't going to upset my stomach.

By 10 pm I was so exhausted I was out like a light, since it was a very full day with all the travel... I also wanted to be ready to enjoy some of Goa on day 5.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Day 3 - Delhi belly crapped me out...

It's funny that I put on paper/blog form what my plans were for each of the segments of the trip, since I'm starting to feel that in hindsight it may not happen like that...

In the end on Tuesday my day went very different than what I had planned, instead of spending most of the day exploring Delhi and its sights, I ended up trying to recover from Delhi belly (also known as travelers diarrhea or moctezumas revenge) in bed. I guess I will never be 100% sure what caused it, but this being India, I'm sure there were a lot of possibilities.

While I won't go into details, I will say that I ended up having to cancel my guide and driver 30 mins. Before we were scheduled to leave because I scared the hell out of the club lounge stuff by looking very pale and ready to pass out. Which does bring me to my next recommendation. If you're going
to contract any sickness while traveling, there's no better place to do so than at a Taj property with a club floor access (ok, maybe home is a better place, but not for me... I don't have a butler at home). During the whole day, the club staff was checking in on me and they send me rehydration salt water, lemonade with salt and other concoctions to speed up my recovery. They even checked with the hotel doctor on ideal steps for me to feel better, since I had by then taken my antibiotics the doctor figured he wouldn't be needed as long as I fought the dehydration.

Overall, day 3 was pretty uneventful, since I just drank water and napped between trips to the bathroom...

I guess now I have a reason to go back to Delhi... To explore all those sights I missed.