A Travellerspoint blog

Ridhi & Mo's Wedding

With plenty of photos...

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Before I get on to the main event, we had a few more days in Goa. We continued our stay in Arambol, leaving only to visit Anjuna for its weekly flea market. They sell everything there, but the sellers' pestering is very full on. Toursim is suffering in India and Goa seems particularly quiet, although the season doesn't really start for them until November.

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Other than that day trip our days were filled with beaches. I particularly liked the resourceful way they kept their sun umbrellas going. And it's always good to know that the rats are reasonable.

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From Arambol we headed south to Benaulim for one night before the wedding. Alex and I negotiated 4 buses to get there with relative ease! The buses are a little crazy, but they get you where you want to be for 20p or so and fast. Benaulim was incredibly quiet and we bumped into two of our friends from the tour as soon as we walked onto the beach. The following morning we're off to The Leela, where my old workmate Ridhi is marrying her fiance Mohit. A lot of haggling with taxi drivers got us nowhere, so we ended up taking a tuktuk to the hotel. We couldn't have looked more out of place turning up to this 5 star resort hotel in a tuktuk with our backpacks. The security at the gate looked a little confused, but allowed the tuktuk to drive all the way in, up to the main entrance. Arriving in true style!

As soon as we arrive, we're presented with flower garlands round our necks, dots on our foreheads and coconuts to drink. The place is amazing, like nowhere I have ever stayed before and I can hardly begin to describe it. Our room is just perfect, with a massive balcony looking out on to the many lagoons that are dotted around the grounds. And the bed, ah the bed is the comfiest (and with the whitest duvet) I've ever slept in! The hotel has beautiful landscaped grounds, swimming pools, a spa, a golf course and a private section of the beach. They don't call it one of India's best hotels for nothing, it's out of this world. That said, you don't forget where you are, The Leela still gets the power cuts that stutter all of India.

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For the first few hours we take full advantage of the pool, while a niggling feeling at the back of my mind gets stronger. Our dance. For the wedding, myself, Alex and 7 others, mainly from work, have taken on the task of doing an Indian dance. I believe this tradition is called a sangeet. We haven't practiced since we were taught it back in the UK and are a little nervous we're going to mess up. We have a wobbly run through and then head to the barbecue. It's strange, but so lovely seeing my work friends after 3 weeks away, I guess it'll only get stranger the longer I'm travelling.

A barbecue and buffet is laid on in the hotel grounds the night before the wedding. There's waiters serving you drinks before you even realise you need one and so so much food. Ridhi arrives and has the most amazing henna on her hands, a tradition for Hindu brides. It's a big night, and while we slip away at a reasonable 1.30, much of the wedding group stay up partying til 5am. And this is the night before the wedding!

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On Sunday morning, there's Mehndi, which is henna for all the women attending the wedding. It takes place in tented seating areas with orange and yellow flowers all around. I get some painted on my hands. You have to pretty much not use them for an hour while the henna dries, then it falls off and the pattern remains stained on your skin. I don't know how long it'll last, weeks apparently, it's a little funny looking at them as I type.

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The pressure's mounting for our dance as we get word that some of the other groups dancing are pretty impressive and we put in a sweaty hour's practice. At 5.30 we're all down on the lawn for the wedding ceremony. Everyone's dressed up and we've all gone for traditional Indian outfits, while a lot of the Indians attending have chosen to wear suits!

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Mohit appears first, in a parade with a band and all of the groom's party. They dance their way down through The Leela grounds to the stage and each of Mo's family greets their equivalent in Ridhi's family with a garland. Mo waits on the stage until Ridhi appears. She looks stunning, a beautiful dress and so sparkly! More interesting than our western dresses. The ceremony lasts about half an hour and is all in Sanskrit, so we can't entirely follow, but it's interesting to watch, with countless traditional ceremonial bits to it.

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Following group photos, cocktails and dinner, there's nothing left but the Sangeet. And we're first up! With an audience of 200 people, we get through our dance with Bollywood smiles and (almost seamless) moves, receiving a huge round of applause at the end! It was so much fun and people seem genuinely impressed with us. Definitely something I'll never forget. Tom BC has it on video on his camera, so it may well appear somewhere, sometime. The dancing continues and everyone's great. Ridhi joins in for one with some of her friends too.

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The next morning we're up and out of there. The wedding and the setting was incredible and the whole occasion exceeded all expectations. It's not been easy getting back to a basic, cheap as you can get room after that! After facing some hassle with cancelled internal flights and having to fork out for new flights to Mumbai we landed in Singapore this morning, heading to Phuket tomorrow.

India has been an amazing experience. At times a little full on and it certainly pushes you to extremes, but the culture is one that is so rich and with beauty in the most surprising of places.

Posted by EllenM 03:19 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (4)

Mumbai to Goa

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We head out of Mount Abu, hurtling down the long winding road in jeeps past beautiful mountain scenery.

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From Abu Road we catch the sleeper train to Mumbai. A school group are also on their way back to Mumbai and excited to meet us.

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The beds are 3 tiered and sheets blankets and pillows are provided. I get the middle bunk. It's odd sleeping on a train, but certainly speeds up the journey.

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We arrive to an incredibly hot and sweaty Mumbai, taking a taxi through the clogged up traffic to the hotel. The city is so stuffy, with an array of smells competing for your nose, each more pungent than the last. We do the obligatory sightseeing, having a look at the Gateway to India, an archway built for King George (the something...), the first Royal to visit India.

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It's OK, the heat makes it difficult to enjoy and we're definitely over the novelty of people asking for photos with us, now just trying to avoid it!

A few of us go to Crawford's Market, a large indoor market selling all sorts, including puppies! I find that a little hard to see.

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The market is buzzing with people making last minute purchases before Diwali (the following day) and there are massive basket of fruit being sold, as well as a demand for The Ambassador's favourite it would seem.

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One night in Mumbai and we're off, catching a flight to Goa, once occupied by Portugal, known to be one of India's more liberal states. Driving to our resort from the airport, it reminds me of what I imagine the Caribbean is like, dense green foliage and an abundance of palm trees, with little bars and homes dotted along the way. Our tour is ending here with two nights in Calungute. A strange choice in my opinion, it's a busy town, full of domestic tourists with some package holidayers (think bright pink skin, beer belly) from the UK dotted about. It does have a good beach though, once you get away from the initial crowd. You can never forget it's India you're in, with beach sellers pushing sarongs and anklets while you try to sunbathe. That and the cows on the beach. They get everywhere!

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On the night of Diwali we go out as a group. Our tour guide Mahipal gives all the girls a Diwali gift of earrings, which is very sweet.

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It can't be easy working on Diwali, being away from your family with a load of people who don't celebrate it. Diwali feels a little like Christmas, lights and tinsel and put up, with fireworks in the evening. As well as being Diwali it's Pedro, one of our group's birthday. Mahipal gives him one of his own turbans (typical Rajasthani dress) as a gift, very touching!

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Once the tour has ended, Alex and I, with 3 other girls from the group head up north to Arambol, a smaller remoter town in Goa. We find some decent beach huts, that at $2 each at night you don't even need to haggle the price of! There's a lovely beach and a laid back feel. It's pretty, and easy to find deserted stretches of the beach to relax on, flanked by palm trees.

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Posted by EllenM 06:49 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Udaipur & Mount Abu

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It's an 8 hour bus journey to Udaipur from Pushkar. The bus is very spacious, big comfy seats, two on one side and one on the other, instead of 2 by 2. There are little ladders to bed spaces above, where lots of the locals settle in for the long journey. The highway is unexpectedly closed off, so we take a detour through the mountains. I enjoy seeing the alternative route, beautiful scenery and remote villages with children excited to see a bus passing through. But as all the main road traffic is trying to get along the one small road we soon get stuck. The road is very narrow and with lorries coming from the other direction it's almost impossible to pass through at times. Lots of people rally round to guide the vehicles past each other and we eventually get through, thanks to the teamwork!

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Udaipur has an impressive palace complex, part of which is still used as residence for the Maharaj, part is a hotel and part is a museum. It sits next to a large lake that has the Lake Palace Hotel marooned in the centre. This is one of India's grandest hotels (needless to say we didn't stay there) and is known for its role in the James Bond film Octopussy. Although I haven't seen it. The Palace museum is interesting and beautiful. They used to fight elephants though, not so sure about that.

Here's some of my groups in front of the Lake Palace Hotel. There's 11 of us, plus Mahipal our guide. We're a group of 4 Brits, 2 Spanish, 2 French and 2 Scandinavian. Everyone's lovely and we all look out for one another.

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Later on, Alex and I go to a tailors for our wedding outfits. We've decided that the sarees are too difficult to put on correctly, or wear, let alone dance in, so we're going for Salwar Kameez (sp?) instead, which is trousers and a tunic. It's cheap to get things tailormade here and is an experience in itself. After picking our fabrics, style and trims, we'll see them complete in a day.

The next morning, while we have a morning coffee an elephant appears outside! She looks very old, but loyal to her owner, who gives some children a short ride. The Indians seem just as interested as us in her, I don't think you can ever get used to the grandeur and beauty of an elephant!

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Staying with animals, I manage to spot probably the only two dachshunds in Udaipur (if not all of Rajasthan) and am quite excited. There's so many stray dogs here, but I've hardly seen any pet ones.

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Udaipur is a city full of little lanes and we enjoy getting lost down the back streets, where the craftsmen work. Our outfits from the tailors are delivered to the hotel that evening. It's exciting, hopefully we'll look good for the wedding.

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From Udaipur we get another bus to Mount Abu. Mount Abu is, yes, up in the mountains. It was a hill Station for the British and rich Indians back in the day and is now a holiday resort for Indians. As it's up high, the air is cooler, a nice relief from the hot climate of India. These days it's used as a honeymoon destination and one of the few places where it's accepted for couple to hold hands! India is a very reserved nation and couples rarely show affection in public, but you'll often see men holding hands as this is normal for friends in their society.

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It's interesting to see Indians on holiday, away from the hubbub of teh sities and away from most Westerners too. At one end of the town is Sunset point, where everyone flocks to see the sun set across the vast plains below the mountains.

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It is indeed beautiful, but what I find more fascinating is how much they enjoy watching it, I've never seen so many people watching a sun set!

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Once the sun goes down it actually got chilly, a first for me on this trip. We continued on our mini holiday with a pedalo trip on the lake.

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We also visit a Jain Temple. It's very strict, no shoes, no leather, no cameras. The Temple is absolutely beautiful though, all made out of marble that has been intricately carved with elephants, people, gods and patterns. Stunning, shame I couldn't take photos, but I won't forget it.

Tonight, we are taking an overnight sleeper train to Mumbai, should be an experience!

Posted by EllenM 02:49 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Pushkar

Hippies and Monkeys

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On Friday we arrive in Pushkar, the smallest place we've been so far. The town has a lake that Hindus believe was created when Brahma dropped a lotus flower in the desert. All very romantic, so it's a shame that the lake was dry! The government has decided to drain the lake as it was in need of a clean, thousands of fishes were dying, leaving a rotten smell over the town. So, other than the bathing ghats around the sides of the lake, there was no water! It is a very spiritual town for Hindus, with hundreds of temples and many make pilgrimages here. Alongside that though, it attracts a lot of western hippy types, making the town feel almost European compared with other parts of India we have seen and felt very laid back.

The next morning we get up for a 5am start to walk up to the Savitri Temple at the top of a hill (felt like a mountain, mind) and watch the sun rise. There are steps all the way up, but the walk was exhausting! As daylight appears dozens of monkeys appear. They're very cheeky and steal the bags of sweets that Hindus buy to offer to their Gods in the Temple. The sunrise is lovely, made all the better by all the monkeys though!

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Our tour leader Mahipal then takes us for chai and Indian snacks on the way back and dots our foreheads with orange powder...

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Posted by EllenM 05:06 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Agra and Jaipur

Taj Mahal and all that

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So from Delhi we took a train to Agra, home of India's most famous sight, the Taj Mahal. The train couldn't have been much further from what I had in mind for an Indian train. Although, they do have different classed seating and we obviously weren't in the cheapest ones. There was so much leg room! And, for a two hour journey we got water, a cup of coffee and biscuits, a newspaper and a hot breakfast, all served at your seat and inclusive with your train ticket.

Agra is obviously a popular place for tourists, our hotel is between a Costa Coffee and a Pizza Hut! We see the Taj Mahal and it is indeed impressive, but perhaps a little hard to be that over-awed by it when you've seen so many pictures of it. Interestingly the price for entry for Indians is 10 rupees, and for tourists is 750 rupees, quite a price hike. This was the first (but by no means the last time) we experienced interest from Indians. Not only would they stare at us, but many Indian families approached us to have their photos taken with us. Some of them may have come from more rural parts of India to visit Agra and may not have seen many (if any) white people before. They were always very polite about it, and we found it all quite amusing. Fame at last! Sort of. Agra also have a very impressive fort with lots to explore within it. And monkeys! Lots of monkeys hanging about, more interesting than seeing pigeons at tourist sights in Britain!

After Agra, we caught a local bus to Jaipur. Jaipur is known as the Pink City as it has an older walled centre where all the buildings and walls are painted pink. As well as this, decorations were taking shape for Diwali on 17th October, with tinsel already covering many streets. The city is very busy and we get the most hassle we've received so far. Pushy child beggars, street sellers that don't accept no and shopkeepers that are convinced they have the scarf for you (with many more colour, come inside and have a look), it all gets quite exhausting.

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The following morning, we're up early to head over to the Amber Fort. The fort is high up a hill and between 8 and 10am they have elephants available to ride up to the fort. Obviously I wasn't going to miss this opportunity! Alex and I sat on a seat on Maria, aged 20. It took about 15 minutes, loved it, loved all the elephants!

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I hope they're treated OK, it's hard to say, but they only ride up early in the morning,before it gets too hot. The fort itself was beautiful, set against mountains, it has an almost oriental feel. Within it there are mirrored 'palaces' and mazes of corridors.

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Again though, the street sellers are very persistent here. One started trying to sell a throw to a friend from the tour on her walk up to the fort, saw her leaving and continued trying to sell it. They haggled with each other all the way down the hill until they finally agreed a price just as she was getting on the local bus. Phew, exhausting! That evening, we went to a cinema hall to watch a Bollywood film called (I think) Happipa, about a girl who wants to play cricket, so dresses up as a Sikh man to get onto the team. It was really well shot, and loved all the singing and dancing. Bollywood's certainlya bit cheesy, but fun all the same.

I know it's the one thing you're not meant to do, but we finished the night off with a McDonald's. For a non beef country though, I was intrigued to see what they'd sell. I got a Maharaja Chicken Mac. Like a spicy chicken burger, not bad!

I'm in Pushkar at the moment and will tell all on here another time.

Posted by EllenM 06:37 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (3)

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