In Sense and Sensibility, Colonel Brandon said about India that the air is full of spices. This is true, but it's also full of pollution and a bunch of things I don't even want to think about! But despite the general squalor and filth I really really enjoyed my trip to India. Sure it's crowed and noisy and dirty and it's downright dangerous to cross the street, but it's also amazing, colorful, exotic and mind blowing. I don't even know where to start telling the tale of my epic 10 day trip to this amazing sub continent.
I guess I will start at the beginning. It all began when we got invited to our friends Mark and Soma's wedding in Calcutta.
Mark and Soma at my last Halloween party
|My ticket to India!|
|A quick German snack, love European coke!|
|Welcome to India!|
|My swollen ankles. This was just the beginning|
|Dashboard deities, in our drivers SUV|
We all crammed into the SUV and here began the real adventure. Riding in a car in India! It was nuts, there seemed to be no actual traffic rules except for driving on the left side of he road, even though this rule was not always adhered to, and honking Honking seems to be a rule, cause Indians do nothing but honk, at least in Calcutta....
|No one ever does...|
|Luchi and potatoes is a typical Indian breakfast, sooooo yummy!!!!|
It was awesome and I love Indian food, which is a good thing cause for the next week we where fed humongous quantities of Indian food 3 times a day!!!
|The New Metro Guest house, where the girls slept|
After stuffing our faces we where shown to our rooms. I need to do some explaining here, at Indian weddings the family of the bride usually puts up out of town guests for the duration of the wedding .There are purpose built guest houses/wedding halls one can rent for this all over India. But apparently January is wedding season in India so it's hard to get rooms that time of the year, this resulted in all of us having to share rooms dorm style, with the guys all housed in the main guest house where all of the meals where served and most of the ceremonies happened, and us girls sharing a large room at another guest house just around the corner
|The girls dorm room|
|The guys communal bed!|
We hung out with the guys for a while and then a bunch of us girls decided to go to the mall to buy more Indian clothes to blend in better, cause if you are a white chick in western clothes you will get stared at!
|The department store we went to in the mall to buy Indian clothes, I was sad to not find actual pantaloons....|
|Looks just like any other mall...|
|Outside of Soma's parents house, the brides house is always decorated before a wedding.|
In Indian weddings the grooms side presents the brides side with presents, prettily displayed on trays wrapped in cellophane, since the groom is American and only his parents, brother and cousin came for the wedding all of us coming in from outside of India where declared to be the grooms family and dispatched to help with the wedding prep.
|Just some of those presents...|
Soma's parents have a really cool roof top terrace with a great view of Calcutta. We watched the sunset from up there before heading back to the guest house for dinner and an impromptu party.
|On the roof of Soma's parents house|
|You can see a shanty town across the street from Soma's parents house|
|The view at dusk|
|Soma with her Aunt wearing the shirt I had just bought that day.|
|Bryan double fisting his Liquor..|
I awoke at sunrise the next morning when I heard the Muslim call to prayer in the distance. It was kind of amazing to hear that, so otherworldly in the silence of the still sleeping city. While most Indians are Hindu there is a sizable Muslim population and if you listen closely you will hear the call to payer ring out 5 times a day. After that I had a hard time going back to sleep, so I got up bright and early, which is so not my usual style!
|The street outside the main guest house.|
|Walking to Soma's parents house.|
Then there was the first ceremony to attend, Vridhi Puja, the calling of the ancestors for their blessing of the marriage.
|The Virdhi Puja|
|Soma with her Dad|
|Sitting on her Aunt|
|Blowing the conch shell is an integral part of all Bengali ceremonies|
That night was the Mehndi ceremony.
|We all sat on mattresses on the floor to get our henna done.|
|The girls show off theirs|
|Soma getting her feet painted|
|Still not done....|
|Soma had to sit like this until the henna dried|
|Being fed rum and coke!|
|My sari get up!|
|It's physics geek dance off time!|
|Getting their moves on.|
|And the lovely couple dances.|
I'm sure the fact that the guys where drinking non stop helped to loosen him up, seems Bryan was quite the hit with Soma's family!
|Stuff started getting wild|
|With Marks Mom|
|And then stuff got really wild!!!!!|
Dinner was at midnight that night and my rater inebriated spouse told me all about how he loved India and felt so fee because he could eat with his hands and and jay walk and go pee on the street if he wanted too, and no one cared about it or anything! From that point on everyone in our little group of western wedding gusts kept making fun of Bryan's Indian freedom.It was another late night....
|The view from he top of the New Metro guest house (girls dorm). There was a street market outside every morning.|
|One of the neighboring buildings, during the day people just hang out their laundry to dry from their balconies and windows.|
|Another street view from above.|
|His cousin Mary doing the same.|
These where 2 separate ceremonies starting with the groom. As "family" of the groom we all got to smear mark with turmeric paste on the roof of the new metro guest house.
|We all got our tun smearing mark with tumeric.|
|The poor guy was yellow for 2 days!|
|Slut fish! What else do you call a fish covered in glitter wearing make up with a nose ring?|
|Mary about to present Soma's family with the fish|
|Many of the traditional offerings are sweets.|
|All those gift trays we wrapped .|
The gifts where laid out in one of the rooms so the brides family could admire them.
After the presentation of the gifts it was Soma's turn to be painted with tumeric. The ladies had the honor applying her tumeric as well. She escaped marks fate of being covered from head to toe on account of her beautician refusing to work on her if she appeared for her appointment all yellow.
|Soma ready to get painted.|
|All of us ladies doing our part in covering Soma in Tumeric.|
|Shital helping Julia drape her sari.|
|I thought I kind of looked like the statue of liberty in my blue sari|
|Mark got to wear some pretty strange pants for the wedding|
|I love the ornate embroidery on my sari|
|The entrance to the wedding hall|
|Complete with color changing palm trees!|
|The grooms car arrives|
|There where musicians over the entrance way|
|The groom arrives and is greeted by the brides family....|
|....and is then carried into the hall by her relatives.|
|The ceiling of the wedding tent|
|Can you believe this is a tent? compete with a color changing fountain!|
|Those the braches on those fake trees changed color as well!|
Along the walls there was a massive buffet with so much food I didn't know what to eat.
|Part of the buffet|
|Ice cream pot|
|Mark on his dais.|
|Mark with his family|
|Mark being blessed by Soma's Aunt|
In one room the groom was seated on a stage decorated with flowers where he welcomed guests and received their blessing in the other room was the bride,
|Soma looking radiant!|
|Soma looking royal|
|Soma being blessed by her father|
|And by her new mother in law.|
|The wedding canopy|
For the actual wedding ceremony the groom went into the brides room and they sat together draped in flower garlands with the priest under a flower draped canopy.
|Mark and Soma during the wedding ceremony|
|Mark putting sindoor on Soma's forehead|
|Mark and Soma being bound together|
|Mark with Soma's uncle ( the family patriarch ) chanting mantras|
|Walking around the fire.|
|Throwing rice into the fire|
|And finally after the ceremony.|
At some point some of Soma's cousins stole the grooms shoes, which he then had to pay to get back, apparently it's a custom to do this and the grooms friends are supposed to protect the grooms shoes, but all the grooms friends being American they where clueless, so the groom walked around his wedding barefoot.
|The bride finally got to see the decorations|
|our group hanging out|
The day after the wedding we finally had some free time, so of course we went shopping! Not to the mall this time, but a huge, and I really really mean huge outdoor market. It's called New Market and is the biggest shopping place in Calcutta.
|Linsey was quite the attraction at the market with her blond hair!|
|A typical street vendor.|
|yes it really is this crowded!|
|You really can find anything at this place!|
|A beautiful old colonial building|
Oh but it's a bargain shoppers paradise, you can find everything here! Saree's,clothes, jewelry, shawls trinkets, food, spices, shoes, hand bags, toys, you name it. I went on a shopping spree without abandon and barely made a dent in my 20.000 ( about $370) rupees.
|I'm rich Baby!!! This is what 20.000 Rupees looks like.|
|More street vendors|
|Haggling for bracelets, other Julia is a pro!|
|So much stuff!!!!!|
|If you buy too much stuff to fit your suitcase you can always buy another one!!!|
I got more stuff than I could carry but I really wish I would have gotten more now. It's almost like everything I saw was just perfect for regency reenactment! At the market they also had some fast food places so we went and ate at KFC for a break from Indian food. But I ordered curry crunch chicken cause I can't get enough of that curry!
Curry crunch chicken is delicious! We had to hurry back to the guest house after that because there was yet another ceremony to attend.
This one was welcoming the bride to the grooms house. Since the groom and his family live in America the top floor of the guest house was declared to be the grooms house and all of us non Indians again declared to be the grooms family.
|A bowl alta.|
So we welcomed the bride to our "house". Traditionally the bride dips her feet in a bowl of alta ( red dye) before walking into her new husbands house, doing this she leaves red footsteps that are are supposed to show she is now part of the grooms household .
|I was declared to be Marks "sister" and with his cousin led the bride to her new "home".|
Since this however was not his real home the bride walked on a sari laid out like a carpet leading to the room that was declared to be the grooms house.
|The Bride and Groom in their "home"|
The last day of the wedding festivities is called the Bou Baath, it's the grooms day, the day the grooms family throws a party.
|grooms day part planning at the mall|
|The entrance way to the guest house all decorated and with Kathleen waiting to greet the guests.|
Since the groom is American his family decided to basically throw an American wedding for the last day.
|Mary manning the cookie table/bar|
|The unity candle|
|The bride being walked down the isle by her father.|
|Bride and groom with their wedding party|
|And Reverend Bryan|
The American wedding had all of the important trapping of a traditional wedding. there was a decorated rickshaw with a just married sign on it in standing in for a limo.
|The wedding rickshaw|
|The rickshaw from the back|
|the bride and groom getting in their rickshaw, with bubbles.|
|Aren't they cute!|
Everyone blew bubbles when they left for their" limo" ride (we passed some out to the neighborhood kids which was a big hit). There also was a wedding cake, wedding favors, a bouquet toss and a champagne toast.
|The wedding cake|
|feeding each other cake|
|All that champagne from America!|
|The girls in their finery|
|My totally awesome, ghetto sari, I paid 200 rupees for this on the street and it rocks!|
|Another wild night!|
|We are party animals|
|Towards the end of the night|
|I had to put up my feet and put ice on my ankles because they where so swollen from travel/heat/walking/dancing...|
Late at night after I finally went to bed some friends, my hubby among them escorted the bridal couple to their marital bed, which was decorated with flowers, and then a bunch of them apparently hung out in bed together, which is not I think what is supposed to happen....
|The bridal bed|
But I think this wedding wasn't exactly normal for an Indian wedding anyway...
On the last day in Calcutta we where invited to have lunch on the rooftop of Soma's parents house. We went up there expecting to find some tables set up and simple food. But what we found totally blew us away.
|The rooftop pavilion.|
Soma's parents had a pavilion erected on their rooftop. And a catered lunch served! It was incredible!
|The shantytown lake seen from Soma's parents roof top|
|more views from the roof|
|They use bamboo for scaffolding and building materials everywhere in Calcutta|
After lunch we finally got to do some sightseeing. First we went to a temple but it was closed ,so all we got was outside pictures.
|The temple gates|
|The temple, too bad it was closed.|
Then we headed to Victoria memorial, a huge white marble palace, that houses a museum dedicated to queen Victoria, and is surrounded by a large landscaped park.
|Bryan and I|
|Male bonding ( this is what happens after sleeping in the same bed for a week)|
|Fat, grumpy old Victoria Empress of India.|
|Victoria's son Edward VII|
|Victoria Memorial Hall|
|Lord Clive, initiator of British Rule in India|
|Victoria Memorial Hall side view|
|Victoria Memorial gardens with a Anglican church in the distance|
I started feeling kind of sick at the memorial, turns out it was my turn to have a bout with the dreaded Delhi Belly. Just about everyone else had come down with this gastric upset before me and I was beginning to think it had passed me by, but not so. I almost threw up in the car on the way back to the guest house and spent a considerable time in the bathroom that evening. Thankfully one of Soma's cousins had procured these magical pills when the first one of us lame western girls fell ill. I took some of the magic beans and was well enough in time to go to dinner, even if i only managed to eat some bread and rice.
|Our last night in Calcutta|
|John smoking a cigar on the rooftop.|
|The nighttime view.|
We had to leave for the airport the next day at noon at noon, Bryan to go back home, and me to catch my flight to Chennai to go see Aarti my old college dorm mate. Soma's dad even had some lunches packed for us to take to the airport, which was super nice and totally in line with the week long orgy of being fed like a hog! We said our good byes to everyone and headed to the airport.
I really enjoyed my stay in Calcutta, dirt, drama, Delhi belly and all. I feel like I really got a glimpse into how average people live in India. It was such an extraordinary experience, and I'm so thankful to Soma's family for letting us be part of the wedding celebrations, and being such wonderful hosts. I also made a whole bunch of new friends, living in such close quarters creates a strange kind of instant bond. I already miss my new India friends
Now I leave you with some fun pictures that didn't quite fit in with the narrative above but I just wanted to share them...
|Evan Kathleen Julia and Megumi on the roof top|
|Bombay Sapphire before bed.|
|And to brush your teeth with in the morning, just like that Ke$ha song....|
|Roadside tea in clay cups|
|Children playing and dogs sleeping in the middle of the road.|
Lastly I need to give a big thanks to my fellow travelers for letting me use some of their pictures! While I took over 300 pictures I missed some moments that others had pictures of, so thanks Evan, Amy, Julia, Sunita, Shital, Ruma, John, Mark, Soma and Marks Parents for letting me steal your pictures!
This concludes part1 of my India trip Part 2 about my stay in Chennai will follow soon!