Gunjan (one of our friends from the Hult Shanghai and Hult London experience) invited us to his wedding in New Delhi, so I finally got the chance to go to India. The whole experience was amazing; I think the best word I have for India is "vibrant."
Here's the beautiful wedding invitation Gunjan and Deepali sent to us in San Francisco. I think the pink, orange, and yellow parts were hand-painted because of the texture and the smell.
We stopped in Paris on the way and stocked up on French pastries, only to then forget them in our first hotel's fridge. (Michael called the hotel to ask them to save them, but no one seemed to know anything about it when we returned and the pastries were sadly gone. Luckily we still had some macarons to give to the happy couple.)
Isn't it weird that India is 12.5 hours ahead of San Francisco? Someone said that India technically should have two time zones, but they decided to compromise and go for a half time zone. Interesting.
We were really happy to see friends from our Hult days in Shanghai again. On our first day, seven of us had arrived, so we went to Jaipur together. One of the most curious and delightful things we saw on the drive was hours and hours of painted trucks. They had bright colors, patterns, official permissions, and messages, such as "Horn Please," "Blow Horn," "Great India," and the more confusing, "Slow Horn." We all puzzled about how these drivers were essentially asking other drivers to annoy them. It seemed to me that rather than use their side mirrors and check their blindspots, drivers wanted to know someone was coming via honking, and honking there was. So much honking.
Fancy truck decor!
"Horn Please" (photo by Meena Kadri)
On the way to Jaipur.
The van broke down on the way to Jaipur, so all the guys and I got out and pushed, and when it broke down more permanently, we waited in the hot sun for about an hour for a mechanic to come. Luckily it was still early in the morning, so the heat wasn't too bad, but the A.C. was broken for the rest of the way to Jaipur and it got pretty roasty before noon. Michael kept exclaiming at the way drivers create new lanes and slip between bigger vehicles and go through red lights and such. I rolled my eyes a bit at the fact that everyone has to drive crazy to make it work, but it didn't scare me. I guess I just trusted that the driver knew how to survive that kind of traffic, and he did.
Waiting for someone to bring a new battery.
Jaipur is known as the Pink City, but it looked more orange (or at least rusty pink) to me. Traffic was pretty crazy, and I cheered every time I saw women driving. There was a lot of garbage. We were fascinated to see cows wandering around in the middle of roads and monkeys perched on buildings. I happily checked out every bright sari I saw to try and get an idea of what kind of sari I would like. After checking into our über-posh hotel (that I was excited to see had copies of the Bhagavad Gita in the rooms), we enjoyed some lunch and then decided to rest while waiting for the driver to come back with the van fixed. The wait was supposed to be two hours, but it was several until the driver came back, during which time Michael and I zonked out hard.
Here's a beautiful building in Jaipur (and Steffen's head).
Water Palace selfie
Selfie with cow
Evening traffic near the Birla Mandir Temple in Jaipur.
We quickly saw a few things, including the Water Palace ("Jal Mahal") and a market, before heading to Chokhi Dhani—a place that reminded me of a fair. We were greeted by loud drumming and flute accompaniment in a candlelit courtyard. Two women at the front door touched their red-tipped fingers to our foreheads before we were allowed in to pay an entrance fee. Once inside, there were areas to wonder around to that provided food, entertainment, and items for sale. We saw a man eat fire, a man do sleight-of-hand magic, women dance (a few of us joined them), girls do contortion, and camels give rides. (There was one camel that Michael and I thought was a statue until someone sat on it and it stood up! The camels looked so over giving rides.) Throughout, there were signs saying not to tip and to report tipping to a certain phone number, so it was frustrating when the performers clearly asked for money and the locals paid them.
Dinner was so interesting. We were led into a place with low tables in one long row, where we sat on mats as men who didn't speak English served items one by one until we all had everything on our plates and bowls made of leaves. The food was so rich and good (except for the super-sour buttermilk we were served, ack) and I have pretty much no idea what we ate. After dinner, I stopped to get some henna designs done on my hands. Everyone else seemed hesitant, which then made me a hesitate a bit. I asked Michael, "Is it okay?" He replied, "You do whatever you want with your body." I kissed him for being such a good feminist husband. After I got my hands done, others wanted in on the action, so Julia, Tanja, Cade, and I all ended up with beautiful designs. The sign said "Free of charge," but after one of us paid, we all felt like we had to. Argh. Since we couldn't understand anything the women told us, we weren't quite sure what to do, but Cade told us to leave it on until it crackled, so our hotel bathroom ended up with little brown henna chips all over it that evening, which I cleaned up while Michael snored.
Dinner on leaf plates
The next morning, we had breakfast and checked out of the hotel. Our first visit was to the Birla Mandir temple, a beautiful white temple built in 1985. We were told severely that we couldn't wear shoes, but when we put our sandals into my bag, we were then told severely that it wasn't allowed and had to pay a couple of rupees to have them stored. There were signs saying that no photography was allowed on the complex, but people were taking pictures, so we joined them. I was surprised to see leaders of different religions on the columns of the temple, including some Christian saints, Mary and Jesus, and Zarathustra. I like the idea of honoring people who have made a big difference in the world and taking the best from different philosophies.
Birla Mandir Temple
Birla Mandir Temple
At the City Palace, we opted not to take the more-expensive royal tour and instead paid a guide to take us on the normal tour. He talked about how several generations had to adopt sons in order to have a next maharajah. It bugged me that a perfectly capable daughter was overlooked and an adopted 17-year-old (who is currently studying in the U.K.) was put in, but it at least calmed me a bit to know that the daughter is somehow active in politics. (I'm actually all for adoption, but to adopt a boy to fill a role seemed problematic to me.) We were also told about one really fat maharajah and saw his fascinatingly enormous clothing. The buildings in the palace had beautiful designs on them with bright colors made of natural gemstones so the colors will never fade.
The armory was grotesque. We learned about all sorts of items that were made into guns as well and a sword that had another sword inside of it. Our guide pointed out that armor only went to the bottom of the neck so that soldiers could still move their heads, and then pointed at an arrow that had a crescent at the end so one could chop off another's head. Ew. There was also a double-knife that was driven into people and then closed like scissors to do some real damage. Choke.
City Palace entrance
City Palace Hall
One of the most interesting parts of the City Palace tour was getting to sit down with a royal artist who showed us how he paints using one squirrel hair. It was from him that I learned that peacocks are a symbol of joy. There were also scarf and jewelry artisans, and every one of them were hilariously blunt and aggressive in selling. The artisan we talked to said several times, "For your parents, of course you would only want the most valuable." Michael and I ended up buying three things from there. Then we were guided into a presentation about pashmina scarves, where we were shown that the real ones can pass easily through a ring and the smell they give off when their fibers are burned is different than that of fake pashmina. They kept encouraging us to touch the scarves, but since I'm allergic to wool, I declined. One man said, "Not allergic. It's very soft!" which got me wondering, so I later googled "wool allergy" and found that most people who claim to have a wool allergy are just going off of their sensitive skin's reaction to itchy wool. My allergy, on the other hand, involves itchy eyes, itchy ears, and a lot of sneezing. Cade suggested I just rub one of the scarves on my eye to see what would happen. Ha. I also saw a cotton quilt that had a beautiful pattern on it, but it was so similar to the duvet cover I just ordered that I didn't get it. I was glad to find out that what I should have been googling all along for these patterns I love was "Indian block printing." Good to know.
Peacock painting on old paper with the court stamp
Cade played some music for a swaying snake.
We stopped at a store to pick up some snacks and water and I was happy to get some aloo bhujia, a tangy snack that Gunjan had shared with me in Shanghai.
Painted elephant in Jaipur
By the time we got to Amer/Amber Fort/Palace (we saw several versions of the name), it was so hot that I pulled out my umbrella to get some shade. I even had to keep my feet in my own shade because they felt like burning so quickly. I'm so glad that I only brought really flowy clothing; genie pants are the best. Our driver could only take us to a parking lot by a lake, where we then paid jeep drivers to take us up to the fort. There were guides trying their best to get us to hire them, but we kept turning them down. One man really bothered me because he wouldn't leave us alone, he kept putting his "official guide" card in our hands, and he lied, saying we weren't allowed to see the fort without a guide. We forged ahead to pay for an audio guide, and I shared bits of info from the audio with everyone in our group. It was maddening to hear again (it was the same at the City Palace) how women had to stay behind these shade things during public events because they were not to be seen. Apparently Amer/Amber Fort has the biggest cannon in Asia, but we never found it (here's info about it online). There were ramps throughout so that royals could be wheeled around in their clothing heavily laden with gold and jewels and marble slabs with water running over them to cool the palace. I'm not sure how much that really helped though, considering the fact that it took several hours of being in an air-conditioned vehicle for us to stop sweating after that.
Columns at the Amer Palace
Amer Palace decor
View from Amer Palace
Another view from Amer Palace
I have to say that I'd read that women should avoid making eye contact with men in India, and I found it pretty much impossible to do that. I was at least happy to be able to greet people with the traditional "Namaste" hand bow, and I started doing that head bobble thing.
Once we got back to New Delhi, we met up with some more friends, including Gunjan (the groom) and Kate and Ben. Our growing group of friends went up to the LaLit Hotel's "European Grill" restaurant only to abruptly run out after sitting down and seeing the prices. Over the main restaurant's buffet, we got to know Gunjan's friends Anuraag and Amy.
The next day was spent shopping for wedding attire. Anuraag and Amy were so nice to give the groom a much-needed break (really, I felt bad that Gunjan wasn't feeling well and that he had done so much to organize our trip) and lead us around getting the necessary items. I was starting to feel rather worn out and sick, so that made the long day and group shopping even more challenging than usual. I tried to be quick when deciding which sari to get, but I felt so torn. I didn't really find the color I had hoped to find (purple), I was told that the Thai silk saris I liked weren't fancy enough for a wedding, and the dressy saris I liked the best were pretty expensive. Since I doubted I'd ever wear the sari again, I didn't want to spend a lot, but I also wanted to look nice next to all of the other beautiful saris. What to do? Michael talked me into getting the cheapest coral-colored one we could find even though I thought the pattern was kind of ugly.
When we went to another store to order salwar kameez(es?), I saw two much lovelier fabrics: a turquoise one and then a coral that was pretty much the same color as the sari I'd just gotten. Michael talked me into getting the coral anyway and said he'd get something in the other color since I'd brought earrings that color. This time I was the first to decide because I actually saw something I really liked that was a decent price. The seamstress there seemed so amused by us and no-nonsense that I took a liking to her immediately. Then we went to a street market to find ready-made tops for the saris (to save time) and on the way, I saw much cheaper saris that I actually liked. I felt pretty frustrated that we hadn't just gone to the cheap market in the first place, and my frustration only grew when the place we went to for tops only had really translucent, short ones that would show a lot of stomach.
It was about that time that we ran into this mad mannequin.
We had lunch at Rang De Basanti Dhaba, a place that had live music, dancing puppets, music videos on the TVs, and a tractor. (Michael went there when he was in Delhi with Gunjan last year.) I was feeling pretty lousy by then, so I pretty much just had some paratha.
Tractor at Rang De Basanti Dhaba
Then we went to an accessories place, where we were told what to get. That didn't jive well with me, especially since I didn't want to buy or wear so many bangles (can you tell I'm not a shopper?). I at least got them to take away a few of the bangles, but I was told that the type and color wasn't flexible. Okay . . . at least several of us were able to buy a whole sheet of dressy bindis to share. What was amusing there was that they looked at the sample material from the saris we'd bought, checked our wrist sizes, and then yelled to some guy up on the roof who then sent items down in a bag! Julia made us laugh when she yelled, "Lamesh, sound down the delivery!" While waiting for all the bangles to be bought, Michael and I purchased a $4 "Zara" shirt at the booth next door and Fede was annoyed by a really young girl who tried to sell him a bracelet but went way up on the price when she was done making it (from 2 rupees per letter to 200 rupees per letter). Then she wouldn't leave until Anuraag gave her some money and told her to scram. Because Anuraag and Amy were good guides and knew all the things we needed to get, we started calling them Mom and Dad.
Practicing our squatting (this is for my sister Amy)
Finally, we headed back to a place right next to where we'd bought the saris to get the men's attire. (Not sure why they didn't get their kurtas while we were getting our saris.) Michael found a kurta that was the right color pretty quickly, as well as a scarf (forgot what it's really called—"dupatta"?), but they didn't have shoes his size. I was so exhausted by then that I cleared a space by a fancily-clad mannequin and made myself comfortable.
I was ridiculously tired at dinner and wondered why I hadn't just stayed at the hotel to rest like Cade did. We ended up at a Mexican restaurant, and while the food was pretty good (I enjoyed some black bean soup), I had to keep resting my head on the table and at one point I asked Ben what something was only to realize that it was a lime I had just squeezed into the guacamole and placed there. We stayed way longer than we needed to, as well. The waiter wouldn't split our bill, so Fede started to calculate, and then Michael and I broke out the Tab app to see how it would do, but since there were two separate bills and neither Michael nor Fede were willing to pass around the app and paper with totals because they weren't sure about names and telling each person what to do, it took way too long and people became frustrated. (Whoops. We'll know better next time.) On the way out to the cars, Gunjan invited everyone to try a traditional Indian mouth freshener in a leaf ("paan"), but only Fede was up to it.
About to fall into my black bean soup
After saying good night to Gunjan, we all snuck back to his room with a cake that Amy and Anuraag had ordered to sing happy birthday at midnight. I can't believe I made it that late. I only stayed long enough to take a group picture with Gunjan's new camera (an engagement gift), nibble at a piece of cake, and wish Gunjan a happy birthday.
Happy birthday, Gunjan!
Interestingly, though we only ever had bottled water, were careful about where we chose to eat, and sanitized or washed our hands often, almost all of us had Delhi Belly stomach problems at some point, even the two Indian guys. I even followed my coworker's advice to take a probiotic with every meal. Luckily Cade was a great drug dealer—he provided much-needed Imodium and figured out that Norflox was the local antibiotic to take. So I stopped taking the probiotic and instead accepted the bitter taste that Norflox put in my mouth.
The next morning, Ben lent Michael an Australian hat that looked so awesome on him that Michael ended up keeping it. We headed to Qutub Minar, a tower of victory next to the first mosque built in India. Just like had happened at Amer/Amber Fort and would happen at the Taj Mahal, several people asked to take pictures with us. There was also a guard who seemed so happy to give his best tips on places and positions for photo-taking and happily offered his button-pushing and camera-aiming abilities. We paid a few rupees to use a toilet and Julia and I were dismayed to find that we were prepared with tissues, but not prepared to have to swat over 50 mosquitoes while our pants were down. Eek. We stopped at some random souvenir center where Michael found and closed a deal for wedding shoes that matched his kurta in less than five minutes. Strong work!
Michael in tourist mode
Everyone wanted pictures with the two Norwegians. Isn't the Indian clothing beautiful?
Qutub Minar Victory Tower selfie (my first ever with a selfie stick?)
Viewing historical architectural wonders from shade is great.
This picture reminds me of a picture of me in Ephesus. That's my $4 "Zara" shirt.
Looks like a lot of work
On the way to our next stop, we saw the "Whole Foods" delivery van.
The stronger the AC, the happier the carload of tourists. It was really hot again.
I guess the "Govt of India" doesn't condone all the honking?
The Lotus Temple was closed, but we got a few good shots from the outside. For lunch, we went to a place next to the tractor place and I was again feeling sick enough to only nibble on the food Michael ordered for me. Though I really don't like carbonation, I ordered a lime soda because I'd heard that helped with Delhi Belly, but the lime soda that arrived was so salty (blech!) that I couldn't stand it.
Everyone wanted to head to the Red Fort and Old Delhi next, but because it was so hot and I was feeling awful, I proposed going back to the hotel and then heading out once things cooled down. Only Cade and Michael decided to go with me, but for some reason our driver passed our hotel and kept going. Since he had stopped and asked several people for directions, I showed him where the hotel was on Google Maps, but then I then found out that Gunjan had told our driver to go elsewhere without our permission. That made me really mad. I yelled at him (poor Gunjan) about hijacking us when we arrived at the place where the others were, but since I was there, I headed up the steps to see the sights. A cry of dismay went up in the group when we were told that only foreigners had to pay to get in even though the sign said people only had to pay to take pictures. While people were figuring out what they wanted to do, I huffily sat on the steps and felt miserably tired and sick and mad until another driver was offered to take us back to the hotel. It's a really good thing we went back, because as soon as we arrived, Michael became suddenly sick. For the next twelve hours, it was either bed or toilet for both of us. Michael weakly joked that maybe he was "empathy sick," but he had a fever and I never did (that I noticed).
After so much rest and some Imodium, we felt well enough to join everyone for the trip to Agra the next day. After all, what is a trip to Delhi without a visit to the Taj Mahal? While we were waiting for the driver to arrive, so many of us made second and third "last stop" trips to the bathroom that we all just had to laugh and shake our heads. Interestingly enough, the way to Agra was quite different from the road to Jaipur. The road itself was much nicer, we mostly saw farms on the side of the road, and there weren't as many spiffy, honk-friendly trucks. At a rest stop, I saw there was bhel puri, but I was too afraid that my stomach wasn't ready for it. I saw a bride all dressed up in her heavy gown in the restroom and then later saw a groom. They seemed so out of place at the rest stop.
While we were at the Taj Mahal, there was an earthquake (it originated in Nepal and was felt in Northern India). Only two people in our group noticed it. Michael was quite disappointed by the Taj Mahal, so I started playing a comparison game with him. It went like this: "The Taj Mahal or the Statue of Liberty?" "Statue of Liberty." "The Taj Mahal or the Golden Gate Bridge?" "You can't compare those." "The Taj Mahal or the Eiffel Tower?" "The Eiffel Tower." I thought the architecture and patterns were beautiful, but I was definitely surprised at how small the Taj mahal felt. I guess it is just a tomb, so it didn't need to be much bigger, and for that time, the construction is really quite impressive.
The Taj Mahal doesn't look so small in this picture, does it? Interestingly, the text gets bigger the higher up it is so it's still visible.
After our guide led us into another shop (seriously, do they get commission or are the salespeople their relatives?), we all fled to the carts that would take us back to our driver. Anuraag told us that we didn't have time to really stop for lunch, so we paused at Subway (the driver had never heard of it, so we had to tell him where to go) and I had my first food since lunch the day before—a couple of bites of a turkey sandwich. I also enjoyed a treat when Ben and Kate passed around their Aussie animal snacks.
When we got back to New Delhi, three of us went to see if the seamstress could make tops for our saris quickly enough for the wedding. I was disappointed to hear her say that there wasn't enough fabric for a long top, but since it was just $10, I asked her to make it anyway and to make it as long as possible. We had pizza in Akashay's (Gunjan's friend's) room that night so that the Hult Prize guys could show Gunjan an MBA-style presentation they'd made for him. I loved that they called him "Gunji" the whole time (in reference to a product they'd made up to egg him on during their MBA program) and that the sub-title was "Sandals. Schedule. Smile." since he always wears flip flops, is passionate about sending out Google Calendar invitations, and has an easy smile.
Tanja and the R. Hassaram seamstress
The next morning, after Michael got a haircut at the spa, we all moved to the wedding hotel, where we were able to meet Gunjan's family. In the afternoon, wedding festivities officially began. I'm not sure how much of what went on was traditional for Indian weddings in general and how much was for Jain weddings. Festivities started with Gunjan's grandma singing, all the women exchanging lentils (I think?) between two scoops and getting bindis on our foreheads and red bracelets tied onto our wrists, and then having our hands decorated with mehndi (henna). We were told that the darker the mehndi became on our hands, the more our husbands loved us. Gunjan's aunt and uncle encouraged me to get Michael's name and our initials in my mehndi so that Michael could find them. I'll never forget that Gunjan's uncle kindly took a picture of us and said, "Display your teeth." :D Then some of the guys got mehndi as well and I had the mehndi guy add some mandalas to my feet. Michael decided to get a mandala on his palm and then a ring on his finger (since he'd forgotten to bring his wedding ring to India!). Once the mehndi had been re-wet with lemon juice several times and was again dry, we all headed to our rooms to change for the engagement party.
All the women had to exchange lentils five times.
Though not as detailed as the bride's, my mehndi was so beautiful!
That evening, I put on my salwar kameez and Michael put on his kurta and we joined everyone for the engagement ceremony and party. I really wish I'd known what the priest was singing about and what the food represented. I also wondered how much Gunjan himself knew about the ceremony and how much would be new to Deepali who isn't Jain. When we went up to greet them, I was amazed by the mehndi on Deepali's hands (I wish I'd gotten a picture). It was so much more intricate and dark than mine. I asked her how long it had taken: eight hours compared to our two!
Another of Michael's Hult classmates, who is now living in New Delhi, came with his wife and little girl, so it was good to catch up with them.
We foreigners were curious and curiosities. Doesn't Kate (far left) look like a princess?
Gunjan and Michael
The happy couple
Although I haven't mentioned it yet, every day on the trip until then, I had been spending some time trying to memorize the dance Michael and I were scheduled to do at Gunjan's engagement party. While we were in Shanghai over a year ago, I told Gunjan that I love the song "Chammak Challo," and last November he texted me to say that friends and relatives do dances for married couples at Indian weddings and that he wanted Michael and me to dance to Chammak Challo. We'd tried to figure out the dance in the music video, but it was way too hard for me, so I found a Bollywood dance instructor to come up with a simple dance for us. Michael picked it up easily, but I struggled to remember which moves came when (and the song was only 1.5 minutes!). I was really nervous, which struck me as kind of odd since public speaking and even horrible public piano or organ playing haven't phased me for years, so I reviewed the steps over and over as we watched Gunjan receive gifts (an Apple watch among them) and participate in the engagement ceremony.
After all the official stuff was over, Deepali and her family left and it was time for dances. Finally it was our turn. I don't know if I was really able to relax, and we had a rough beginning, but at least I could smile and I never completely forgot what we were doing. Check it out:
After that, I think I scared/astonished Michael because he couldn't stop filming me. I was so freaking glad to be done with the dance in front of everyone that I really got my groove on with the freestyle dance party. It helped that the music was so great that I've been tracking down songs since. My favorite new song so far is "London Thumakda" (try not dancing to that!). It also helped that having a bunch of bangles on meant dancing was more fun with all the clinking. I can now count that night as one of the few times when I was really able to "let it all out," and I also count the crazy fun we had as proof that no alcohol is needed to have a good party. Even Gunjan's grandma joined the dancing for one song. Gunjan has several relatives who are really good dancers, and one of them, Aman, asked me how I knew all the great Indian dance moves. The truth is, I just did whatever the best dancers were doing (including Aman's dad's dead foot drag) or had a grand ole time pulling out all my kitschiest moves (sprinkler, mermaid, shopping, lawnmower, window cleaning, elbow to knee spinning, etc.). In fact, I danced so hard that I broke two bangles (which I've since heard some people think is bad luck)! Our new friend Akashay said to me several times that I should check my ancestry because I might have some Indian blood and that I could be an honorary Indian (I guess just because of the dancing and because I like Indian food?). :D I do wish I had learned a little more Hindi besides just "Dhan yavada," which I used as often as possible.
My face was so red from all the dancing.
After breakfast the next morning, we participated in the cleansing of the groom. That basically meant that we all got a chance to smear turmeric paste on Gunjan:
We were excited to give Gunjan and Deepali our group gift of a gold bar. It was surprisingly small and heavy.
Anuraag was so nice and went and picked up our sari tops in the afternoon. While I was glad to not have to wear the ready-made short, translucent gold one, when I tried on the custom-made one, I had a bit of a "too much skin showing for my comfort" freakout. As happened when I freaked out before our Taiwanese wedding celebration, Michael was so nice about it. We finally decided that if I had the sari wrapped high enough, it wouldn't be too much of a problem, and I wanted to do it myself so I didn't have a bunch of others looking at me. I have issues with having pressure on my stomach, but in order to cover as much as possible and hold up all the fabric, I had to tie my petticoat really tight, and my sari was probably the lightest one I saw that evening. Of course even with YouTube videos, I did a sloppy job of wrapping the sari. Luckily there was a really nice woman in the hallway who helped me fix my pleats when I asked her where to pin my brooch. However, she made me feel really self-conscious about my cheap, not-so-fancy sari when she asked me where I got it and how much I paid for it. I ended up just saying I didn't remember (2100 rupees/$35 compared to others' 3500+ rupees/$60+). I was also supposed to get my hair and makeup done, but with all the indecision about the sari, there wasn't much time (also, I saw the weird rat's nest of hair they were putting to bump up the top of the hairdos they were doing and I wasn't too excited about it). I was torn because I had no idea what fancy thing could be done with hair as short as mine (I've had long hair for ten years, remember?), and my flat iron had died. In the end, though, I just didn't have the patience, so I did my makeup as fancy as possible and after using Linnea's curling iron to put some volume in my hair, I twisted it on both sides until it met in the back and used bobby pins to secure it. I wore my turquoise earrings to match Michael's kurta, which was maybe a little weird. Oh well.
Michael took two minutes to put on his kurta and then all the guys got their matching turbans wrapped tightly onto their heads. Easy peasy. I felt so self-conscious when we joined the others that I did everything I could to keep the focus off of me even though I also felt beautiful. Several of Gunjan's family members, grandfather included, thanked us for wearing traditional Indian attire.
The guys, all turbaned-up.
The women kind of had unplanned, symmetrical colors (before Giorgia arrived in yellow).
You can't really see it, but my sari had little sparkly jewel things all over the bottom.
Gunjan and his parents
Finally, we went out into the warm night to meet Gunjan's chariot. Someone in Gunjan's family told us that it's the groom's side's job to take their time and be as loud and present as possible, and wow, was it loud. There was a "band" banging away on really loud drums, and they kept blocking the progress until someone gave them money. There was this obnoxious motorcycle noise and it took me a bit to realize that it was actually a generator to power the lights that men were holding at regular intervals to light the way. It took about an hour of dancing to get to the front door (I wasn't feeling it as much as the night before, somewhat because saris are just not as conducive to dancing), and then the bride's side of the family had to welcome in all the men from Gunjan's side by giving them flower and shell necklaces.
Poor Gunjan. First he sat on the chariot all alone, bored as a gourd, watching us dance. Then he was escorted to the stage, where he sat all alone, waiting for Deepali to arrive.
Once Deepali arrived, there was another hubbub at the door and she eventually joined Gunjan on the stage in what looked to be a very heavy, very decorated dress. The two of them looked amazing together.
Michael, Gunjan, Deepali, and I
Best group photo! Too bad Michael and Cade are kind of overshadowed.
Because the auspicious time to marry wasn't until after 1 AM, there was a lot of sitting and waiting, and we were amused to realize that the priest was sleeping in a corner of the event tent. We enjoyed the food and checking out other people's clothing, and Michael and I even ended up performing our Chammak Challo dance again for the Hult people—twice—with clapping from other wedding guests (who couldn't even hear the music from my cell phone).
At one point we realized that the traditional betel leaf mouth freshener things (paan) were being served in the back, so we went back to try them. There were a lot of options for what you could get in them, but Kate and I decided to just go for the traditional version and got the full thing even though I asked if we could possibly take half. Seriously, the size of those things is way too big.
Fede had to open wide for paan.
I think I made the same face as Giorgia.
Our eyes were watering just trying to get it all down without flashing mashed-up leaf at everyone. I was still chewing when we went out to the bathroom and I ended up leaving some in a tissue in the trash. A nice woman in the bathroom helped secure Kate's beautiful fuchsia lace sari and said, "Now you can dance, jump, do whatever!" Then Kate and I had a heck of a time laughing at having leaves in our teeth. I saved one especially large chunk to show Michael and he was amused enough to take this picture:
Finally around 1:30 or 2, the actual wedding ceremony got started. Anuraag and Gunjan's aunt and uncle had made sure all of us knew how important it was that we not let Gunjan's shoes be taken by the bride's family (they'd ask for money), and so plans were made to take them away to our hotel room with three big guys (Michael, Steffen, and Ben) and to take Deepali's shoes as well. Unfortunately the bride's family wasn't happy about what we'd done, saying that it's a tradition meant to be fun for both sides, so Anuraag tried to give the shoes to the little girl who had been sent to look for them, but by then no one wanted them, so he left them by some chairs. After a long ceremony (again, about which I know/understood nothing), Gunjan and Deepali were connected via a scarf that Deepali was wearing and that Gunjan was holding onto. They got up to go around greeting family members, touching them on the feet.
A kerfuffle ensued when Deepali discovered Gunjan's shoes and hurriedly (and cleverly) slipped one on. I guess because her dress was so heavy and because Gunjan was so determined to get the shoe back, they both ended up on the floor!
Eventually things were smoothed over, Deepali gained several inches when she put her shoes back on, and the greetings were completed. By that time, the rest of the Hultians went to bed, but we stuck around with Vikas, a relative of Gunjan we enjoyed talking to. He said, "Traditionally the bride cries a lot at this point, but it doesn't happen so much these days." Within a few minutes of his remark, Deepali started wailing. She didn't want to leave her family and kept hugging them and holding onto their hands until they were able to get her into the car with Gunjan. It was heartbreaking. I couldn't help thinking of the way newlyweds run off with fireworks in the sky, clapping friends and family, and smiles on their faces in the U.S. I couldn't even imagine how Gunjan felt, standing there, waiting for his sad bride to join him. I wondered if there was additional angst because Deepali will be part of a new religion in Gunjan's family and because she'll be moving far away from any family to London with Gunjan.
Finally they drove away and we headed to bed. Hilarious photos were being posted in the group chat laughing about how tangled women's hair was. Doing my own short hair without hairspray meant that my hair wasn't really a problem.
In the morning, though Michael and I had stayed the latest, we were the first ones up to enjoy breakfast. I was so glad to see a happy Deepali. She and Gunjan later brought us a nice wedding gift of sweets and a piece of silver.
We asked Gunjan's aunt and uncle, grandma, and parents for a picture.
We also had to get a picture with Gunjan's cousins who were amazing dancers, Aman and Akshat.
Gunjan's dad kindly arranged for us to also have lunch at the hotel, and I think that after the paneer makhani, it was the best I'd had so far: hing dhaniya ke chatpate aloo and paneer bhurji. Mmm. Michael and I were so glad to make friends with Gunjan's family; I think it was thanks to the dance that we were able to really break down walls and connect with them. We welcomed them to visit in San Francisco and thanked them for everything before we headed back to the LaLit, where Linnea and Adele were kind enough to let us store our bags in their room.
I have to add here that for the first few days of our trip, I felt like I had to allow the hotel people to take my bags, but I hated not having them in my sight, and I hated not knowing when they would arrive. After all, when you first get to your hotel room, you want to freshen up and maybe unpack a bit, not stand around waiting for a stranger to awkwardly bring your bag into your room. I finally decided that I was not going to let anyone take my bag anymore, and it felt totally empowering. It felt great saying a firm "No" and keeping my suitcase with me. It was awesome to load it into cars myself and knowing where my stuff was at all times. I'm going to do that from now on.
Tanja, Fede, Cade, Simone, Giorgia, Michael, and I decided to walk to a market that Gunjan's mother had suggested since we still wanted to get some shopping in (I was determined to find a good scarf at Shea's request). You wouldn't believe all the pressure we got from complete strangers not to walk, or to go to another market. One guy kept following us and pointing at Fede's map and saying that the market we were going to was only for electronics and we should take a tuk-tuk. He was driving me a bit crazy. When he finally said, "I work at LaLit and that's why I'm helping you," I felt frustrated that he hadn't said anything earlier, but we stood firm on going to the Palika Bazaar and on foot, and it really didn't take very long to get there, though the sidewalks were inconsistent. I really hate haggling and I hate being pressured, so in the first store, I was very happy to let Giorgia do the haggling so we could both get scarves. As Michael and I walked around to see some other stores, there was a lot of calling out to us (which I hate), but Michael seemed fine with it, so I was surprised to see Michael whip around and yell "Don't touch me!" at a guy who touched his arm. When I stopped at one store to look at their scarves, the man started pressuring me to look at ones I'd touched and to go into his store. I said firmly, "Please don't pressure me," and I was so impressed that he calmly stepped back and let me do my thing. When I was ready to see more, I followed him inside, where I was even more impressed to find that not only did the entire store have fixed prices, they were really good prices, and they took credit cards. (If anyone wants to find this store again, it's called M A Aziz, and if you go down the middle entrance to Palika Bazaar and take the first hallway to the outer circle, you'll run into the shop on the right-hand corner of the first outer circle). I ended up bringing Tanja and Fede back to the store and together we bought several scarves. I was about to leave with just one scarf when I found these other gorgeous silk scarves that were really soft, so I ended up with several. The others found some new shoes and a new suitcase.
I bought a lot of scarves.
We decided to have dinner at the place Gunjan had wanted to take us to (Shiv Sagar) the night we went to the Mexican place, and Linnea, Adele, Kate, and Ben agreed to meet us there, but while we were waiting for it to open, a man told us that the place next door was better and cheaper. A Google search confirmed that the prices were low and the ratings were high. We'd all been through our Delhi Belly and most of us were on antibiotics by then, so we decided to go for it. Michael and I laughed when we discovered that the place we ended up at, Hotel Saravana Bhavan, has a branch in his parents' city and in my sister's city (Fremont and Sunnyvale). The dosai and the masala sauces that came with it were delicious. This time I was able to get a non-salty lime soda as well as mango juice, and we were quite satisfied with the price. To make me even happier, I had wanted to make one last stop at a sweet shop to get some soan papdi (a flaky cardamom sweet), but there was a sweet shop right inside the restaurant, so we got a whole box of sweets.
Masala dosai on a banana leaf
Since Michael and I were set to leave at midnight and several others had flights at 4 AM, we hung out in Giorgia and Simone's room. At one point we had to get our stuff from another floor and without hotel cards, so we took the stairs, where we discovered what we jokingly called the "Accounting Office." There were scattered payrolls and thousands of notebooks stacked in a room several feet deep. The smell was horrendous and it seemed exactly like something we would have seen in China. It felt like we'd blown away the facade of the posh hotel.
Posh hotel hallway
Not-so-posh hotel's "accounting office"
We were all planning on taking taxis to the airport until Cade discovered that an Uber trip would be about $4. Kate and Ben said goodbye to us right at the car, which seemed surreal considering they had done the same almost exactly a year ago in Shanghai. I couldn't believe how fast our trip went.
In the Delhi airport, there was an enormous banner claiming that the Delhi airport had won "Number One" on customer surveys. I wondered what the number one was actually for, and since I'd just given away my Indian sim card, when I couldn't get on the wifi to join my company's conference call, I thought that maybe it was for "worst time not to be able to get online." I jumped at the chance to fill out a feedback card, but there was nowhere to write feedback, only ratings for pre-selected things. I wrote my wifi feedback in the margin anyway.
In comparison, the Paris airport provided us with free wifi as well as the chance to buy many great pastries.
Hamburger-sized pistachio macaron
Have you ever tried to open a Dramamine pack? I've only been able to do it with scissors or an earring. The mehndi must have given Michael special powers.
Back to the Bay Area
It's been a week and the jet lag struggle is real. Last night was the first night I slept straight through since getting back (even with melatonin). Michael said that we shouldn't have Indian food again for a month after getting back, but we already made some paneer bhurji and naan. I'm sad that the beautiful henna on my hands and feet is fading because it reminds me of our amazing trip. I'm really glad we went to India; it was fabulous to support Deepali and Gunjan, meet Gunjan's family, spend time with friends from Shanghai, meet new friends, go to an Indian wedding, eat lots of Indian food, and do some sightseeing. I wonder if we'll ever go back?
Thank you so much for inviting us and for all of your help in making our trip amazing, Gunjan and Deepali! Congratulations and best wishes!
23 May 2015
Gunjan (one of our friends from the Hult Shanghai and Hult London experience) invited us to his wedding in New Delhi, so I finally got the chance to go to India. The whole experience was amazing; I think the best word I have for India is "vibrant."