So many people dream of going to India on a big adventure. Some book three week tours to see ten cities in one shot, some “foreign born” Indians make a pilgrimage out of it, some backpack for months, everyone has the Taj Mahal first up on their list of must sees. But how many can say their FIRST trip to the exotic mainland is to wedding shop? Yes that would be me…and not even for my own!
But what are you to do when one of your college BFFs is getting married and gives you the guilt trip of “but you were there for my first hangover, my first breakup, my first fight…?” Yes you given in and agree to take vacation time, book a flight and meet her 4,100 miles across in New Delhi.
Although I am Indian and a practicing Hindu, I do not speak the local lingo so who better to experience majestic India with? I was however NOT prepared for what I was about to experience.
Firstly, I was living in Paris at the time and having to apply for the visa with my “non European” passport was a hassle in itself. It takes longer to process for “non Europeans.” Believe me, it was down to the wire, nail biting kind of moments, constantly checking the website and some prayers mixed in asking God not to ruin my chance of going to “the mainland my people are from.” And voila, visa came through the day BEFORE my flight!
Secondly connecting in London on British Airways (for my frequent flier miles), sitting next to me was a Hindu guru all dressed in his orange getup. God was really giving me a “return to the motherland” experience I swear! My plan of sleeping, taking in the views and catching up on the latest Bollywood movies quickly turned into eight hours of wisdom and life advice passed onto me. I felt zen coming off that flight ready to conquer the world…well Delhi in this case. I am grateful, I really am!
Ironinically it was the day before Diwali (the biggest Hindu holiday) and me being from Trinidad was all excited to experience it in the motherland! Well that turned out to be a sour disappointment never to be repeated! Give me my Diwali celebrations in Trinidad any day where we actually celebrate the religious side of it and light deeyas (little oil lamps made of clay) in grand style. In Delhi it was different, all these Diwali parties were a shock to me. The hotel staff warned us not to leave the hotel in case we got blown up by firecrackers! Seriously? That was my first Diwali in a hotel room, eating room service and the macaroons I brought from Paris!
Wedding clothes shopping in India should be a profession in itself. We spent literally ALL DAY in ONE store, continuously being fed chai tea and whatever we fancied eating, all while we sat and looked at outfits one after the other. Mind you, we did this for a few days in a row.
I was new to this, saying it was overwhelming is putting it lightly, but I was loving it! I’m no expert in wedding shopping, and I know an Indian bride needs a few outfits for multiple functions, but the Indian clothing stores I know in New York, London, Trinidad even Singapore are not on such an extravagant scale. Now I understand why almost all the Indians I know fly to India to wedding shop! Here the colours, the variety of heavily beaded designer outfits, the male employees willing to model the saris for us to decide if we liked or not (I was too shy to take that photo!)! Who would not enjoy this?
Busy Karol Bagh, wow I was not prepared for such crowd…except for Carnival in Trinidad but that is usually a drunk half naked affair. This not so much!
We went to buy shawls for the men’s turbans. It was a treat to see how many colours you can choose from and watch them dye it right there. Wow, efficient production here but shy men not willing to smile for my photos!
The wedding shopping was going to continue in Punjab. It was a six hour car ride to Jalandhar where the relatives lived. That was worse that flying let me tell you, all the crazy driving I experienced there, they take bad driving to a whole different level…and the honking, gosh non-stop!
We had to eat along the way and one of the roadside dhabas were out of the question. We were not prepared to eat roadside in India just yet. So we chose the newly opened McDonald’s. I know it was taboo but when you walk in and are greeted by male workers in turbans, you don’t remember you are in Punjab and they are all Sikh, you think “wth is this?” and laugh the shock off. I admit the deep fried Mexican paneer wrap is fantastic, it became our staple on our long drives to and from Delhi.
It was time for more wedding clothes shopping in Ludhiana the next day. I got my education in Punjabi designers on this trip! It phased me Ludhiana had 3.5 million people; looked like a little crowded village to me.
Taking a break from shopping, it was time to crash a 40th high school reunion. My friend’s Dad could not attend his reunion so we represented with her Mom. I admit we were really going to check out his ex and how she ranked next to Auntie! :)
Again me with my little Hindi/no Punjabi speaking self had an interesting time conversing. Thank goodness for cricket…having to explain where Trinidad & Tobago was, how I ended up being friends with someone from Thailand and what did I think of India so far was tiring when using broken English with these old folks! We did all agree the West Indies cricket team sucked though, no English needed for that! :) And some of the best fried jelabis I’ve ever had was at this reunion at Hotel Maharaja Regency.
No trip to India for this family is ever complete without a visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. One very early morning I got my own private tour of the Golden Temple, the only actual touristy thing I did on this trip. Photos do not do this place justice.
Asian families love to feed guests. Indians take it to another level. And since I was the main guest, I was fed from morning till night, I wasn’t the skinniest thing so it wasn’t that they thought I was malnutritioned, they were just happy to feed me! I think I gained 10 pounds there alone. It was a treat being taken to an “upscale” Haveli for dinner and to experience the best of Punjabi culture.
And finally getting the courage to try some street food. Neetu promised us it was the cleanest in town. I was suspicious of almond milk being served in Pepsi bottles but it was delish paired with the pani puri.
Phew…ten days in India felt like an eternity. I reminded myself it was culture shock. We shopped till we dropped for Anch’s gazillion Indian wedding outfits (and for me too off course!) nevermind the bout of constipation with all that Punjab ghee filled foods, crazy driving, crowds and stagnant Delhi air.
It was one hell of an experience but enough to also open up my mind to this world even the Indian in me was so unfamiliar with. The colours, the scents, the people…everything leaves you with a world to entice you to return again and explore. And I did…twice!