With plenty of photos...
21.10.2009 - 28.10.2009
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.