A Travellerspoint blog

June 2014

Dagri - the Wedding Reception

Party time!

sunny 42 °C
View A Big Fat Indian Wedding - India 2014 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I slept last night, although I would not describe it as a good sleep. I thought I'd try out the new shower this morning and although there was no hot water, the cold liquid was very refreshing and it felt good to wash away all the grime and grit that had collected on my face overnight from the sand-laden wind. I really struggled to open my eyes this morning as they seemed to be glued shut closed with the sand, and as soon as I opened my mouth, the blister on my lip started to puss and bleed.

About three years ago I answered a question on Trip Advisor by a Canadian woman called Jo about Icon India Tours (our friend Sabu's tour company). After her trip we hooked up on Facebook via Sabu and have been in contact ever since, becoming really quite good friends. Today I finally got to meet her! It was as if we'd known each other all our lives and we hit it off immediately!


Today was to be the day of the groom's wedding party, and we were asked to be part of the receiving line as guests started to arrive. The five of us – David and I, Jo from Canada, and Lynn Carol and George from the US all sat on chairs in a line under the canopy.


Many years ago I bought a sari in Sri Lanka, and that was what I decided to wear for today's festivities. Red seemed to be a good colour, as the red tent marquee coloured everything red anyway.


Just across from where we were sitting was the official gift registry. In India it is customary to give money as a gift (always with the odd number 1 on the end – 101 Rupees being the most popular) and each guest had his or her gift registered in a book, with their name and amount of donation.


There was a constant supply of food and drink – the fresh pineapple juice was particularly welcome in the heat.


At one stage a huge slab of ice was brought out - I have no idea where that came from - to keep the watermelon cool. It didn't last very long in 40 °C!


Look at the number of plates on this table - can you even imagine the amount of washing up that went on? At least with everyone eating with their hands, there is no cutlery to wash up!


There was also a constant supply of guests – coming on foot from the village or by car / bike or bus (open back truck with standing room only) from other places nearby.


As the day progressed, it was getting hotter and hotter under the red tent cover. There were fans and AC units, but they appeared not to be working or even plugged in. I was getting more and more dehydrated, despite the fruit juice and lots of filtered water. It was suggested I move to the other “tent” as there was a fan there that actually worked. A couple of chaps were evicted from their chairs and the fan turned to face me. I also used a neck cooler a good friend sent me, one of those things you soak in cold water (someone even found me some ice to really cool the water down for me) and the crystals inside expand and cool your neck down for a while. It worked some, but I still felt very over-heated and increasingly unwell.


A headache was creeping in, which was temporarily relieved by some pain killers and a wonderful head massage by Sharu.

A small commotion distracted me from my self-pity, and indicated that something was about to happen.


A few cars / buses of new visitors were arriving, this time Sabu's mother's family.


Headed by Sabu's mum, carrying a tray of offerings and puja paraphernalia, the welcoming committee was sent down to greet the new guests, with the women singing cheerfully as they went.


Even Sabu joined in, looking dapper in his dark suit.



A welcoming ritual was performed for each and every guest, starting with a small stool for the honoured visitors to stand on.


First a red mark is placed on the forehead...


… then a small sweet is fed to the visitor


A red thread is tied around the visitor's wrist


Finally, in return, the guest must bestow a gift to the host, in the form of placing some money on the tray.


The traditional Rajasthani greeting – or at least in this part of Rajasthan – is “ram ram”, which was heard everywhere for the next half an hour or so as everyone mingled with everyone else.


As he did when we were in Jaipur for Holi in March, PC would grab my camera from around my neck and wander off taking photos. I was actually quite grateful as it took the pressure off me for a while – I was still feeling quite unwell with dehydration.


Sabu and Reena's wedding was planned for much earlier this spring, when the weather wouldn't have been so hot; but a devastating accident meant having to reschedule the event: Sabu's dad fell off the farmhouse roof and received terrible injuries, leaving him paralysed. Now a mere shadow of his former self, it was lovely to see him somehow being able to take part in some of the festivities.


Back in the marquee another ceremony is just about to start, kicking off with more tilak marks. This ceremony is all about the gifts, but not from friends and family to Sabu and Reena, it's the gifts bestowed on the guests by the groom's family. Packets and packets of scarves and cloths are being handed over, as well as lots of other goodies. To us in the west, this seems rather unusual, but I suppose it is not that different to the “wedding favours” you usually find back home.


Of course, everything is carefully noted in the book.


At the end of the ceremony, everyone in the crowd were blessed with a Tilak.


This was followed by a spot of singing and dancing by some of the women.


Whenever there is a dance, someone will always wave a bank note over the heads of the dancers as a blessing.


With the overhead canopy casting a red light on everything underneath it, the ceremony was a photographer's nightmare. Sabu had hired a professional photographer as well as a videographer, but he still wanted me to be the semi-official photographer at the wedding.


Back to the reception party and I am getting almost delirious, apparently talking gibberish (I am told I was discussing my “nipples” when I really meant “neck”. I have no recollection of this). I tried to drink as much as I could, but I founf it hard to fit in rehydrating and photographing. Time to take a small break maybe?


We decided to go back to our own tent for a nap before this evening's festivities, and a bit of privacy. It was not to be. It seemed like half the party just followed us to the tent, plonked themselves down on chairs or the beds and just looked. Stared. Gawked. So much for your own personal space – the concept does not exist in this country!


We were asked to join the drivers for a drink this evening before the dancing program began. Although none of Sabu's family drink alcohol, he had set aside an area for those of his guests who wished to partake. - I found it rather amusing that it was almost exclusively the drivers who work for him who were drinking.

Sangeet Ceremony
Sangeet means music. As the name suggests, this function is an evening of musical entertainment and merriment hosted by the groom’s family. By nightfall, an area in front of the main farm building had been transformed into a disco, complete with huge sound systems and a dance-floor with flashing lights lit from below! Very high tech!


The stage provided a platform for the youngsters to show off the dance moves – I thought Sabu's two sistes Sushila and Sharu were particularly good movers!


There seems to be a lot more confidence amongst Indian dancers than British – many of the girls, boys, women, men and children were quite happy to be the only ones on stage providing a solo display to the crowd. I can't see that happening in the UK!


Later, a couple of young lads – you I am assuming were hired professional dancers – came on to give a show which the audience found highly amusing. They were obviously telling a story with their dance and they were good movers.


I was even persuaded to join in – but only when the dance floor was full. Not having any natural rhythm, there was no way I was going solo!


One thing that really struck me this evening was that all of today's celebrations have been held without the bride present!

Some time after midnight we made our way back to our home from home, only to find someone had been into our tent and taken our beds! Bloody cheek! After a lot of kerfuffle, we managed to get a couple of cots (as the rope beds are known locally) and a mat each! Trying to sleep with a megawatt disco one side and a generator the other wasn't as hard as it sounds. The heat and partying had worn us both out, and we were soon in the land of slumber.

Posted by Grete Howard 12:13 Archived in India Comments (0)

Jaipur - Dagri

Leaving luxury and AC behind and heading for an adventure

sunny 40 °C
View A Big Fat Indian Wedding - India 2014 on Grete Howard's travel map.

So, I wake up this morning to find my cold sore has really taken hold – David did ask if it had declared independence yet! Just what I want for a wedding! Not.


Breakfast at the hotel was a part buffet part cooked-to-order but we stayed with the Indian food on offer, and very nice it was too: Poha, stuffed parantha, vada sambhar.


As we had a little bit of time before the driver picked us up, we gave ourselves an unguided tour of the hotel. It may be quite small – only about 30 rooms or so I think – but the Umaid Bhawan is beautifully formed with lots of attention to detail. Every bit of wall, floor and ceiling is beautifully decorated, and there are lots of nooks and crannies everywhere, very quirky. Just the type of place we like.


I wish we'd had time to use the pool, but we have a lot of ground to cover today. First stop the pharmacy to stock up on some antibiotics (which are easily and cheaply available across the counter here in India) and electrolytes to try and prevent dehydration in this severe heat.


Unsure of the situation with filtered water at the farm, we stock up on water, juice and Diet Coke for the next few days in Dagri. The store does not stock Diet Coke, but by the time we have finished choosing everything else we want, they have sent a boy out to another store to buy some for us. Good man. We are now ready for our adventure in rural Rajasthan.

Sabu has also arranged for us to meet up with his trusted tailor – he made some shirts for me last time and I was so impressed I wanted him to make some more. I just gave him one of my shirts and he simply copied it. I want to do the same this time, but it is a Sunday, so the cloth store is shut. No problem, the tailor knows the owner and has arranged for him to come and open up especially for us. We choose some fabrics: I am after some clothes to wear on safari later in the year; most of my shirts are brightly coloured which would scare the animals, so I select seven different muted shades this time.

Before we can be on our way to Dagri, we stop at Sabu's place to pick up Jo's suitcase and some other stuff. We were greeted like long lost friends by his neighbours, who remembered us from our visit in March. As we pull up, a camel cart arrives – not sure where he is heading, but he stops and chats for a while.


I have to admit that most of the journey from Jaipur to Dagri is pretty dull – desert, sand and the odd acacia tree; although we do see some typical Rajasthani road scenes along the way.


Dagri is a small rural village (or hamlet even) in Rajasthan, some 80km east of Nageur. It is so small you won't find it on any maps, although the nearest “big” town of Degana is. The total population of the village (according to the internet) is 1367. This is the family home of our friend Sabu, the bridegroom. We are staying with them until we go to the bride's village on 1st, to meet up with the bride and her family for the main part of the wedding celebrations.

Never having been to Sabu's farm before, Rishi was unsure of the way and had to stop and ask directions a couple of times. Even though we came in the opposite direction from the way we arrived five years ago, David still recognised the farm entrance. He never ceases to amaze me when it comes to directions!

On arrival at the farm, we received the customary greeting with red mark on the forehead studded with rice (known as bindi for women and tilak for men).


Inside the house, some of the women were busy sorting lentils for tonight's dinner, while singing a happy song.


After a while some lunch appeared – rotis with sabji (vegetables in a sauce) and a sweet.


In the grounds of the farm, a large canopy had been set up, under which large scale cooking was taking place ready for the various parties over the next few days. Huge vats of gulab jamun and another delicious Indian sweet which I did not find out the name of, were being prepared in the stifling heat.


A friendly – but very efficient – security guard with a big stick had been employed. He was to prove very useful over the next few days.


A new toilet (squat) and shower block was being hurriedly constructed, ready for the 1000 or so guests expected at the party tomorrow night. Believe it or not, it did get finished (sort of) in time. This was to supplement the old ablutions block which had a traditional western style toilet (minus the seat) and a bucket shower.


Elsewhere on the farm there was a hive of activity getting the place ready. Another huge canopy was being erected for guests to mingle, eat and sleep under, away from the glaring sun.


On the roof, electric neon lights were installed.


The goats and buffalo were much bemused by the whole goings on.


Later the priest arrives and red string bracelets (known as "kalava" or "mauli") are blessed and tied around our wrists by one of the women. The bracelets promote healing, love, good fortune and strength to the wearer, and should be worn until it naturally fades or falls off. The thread has a supari, an iron ring, a shell and beads of mustard tied to it in a small cloth.


In the coming pages, I will try my best to describe the wedding rituals as they happened, with information mostly gleaned from the internet, but also picked up on the days before and during the wedding itself. I cannot make any guarantees that this is an accurate description of the facts, legends and traditions, but it is a reflection of what we experienced and how we saw it.

A puja (prayer ritual) followed, the significance of which I unfortunately did not catch, but it involved a branch from a tree, sacred red thread, a leather strap and donation of money.


Turmeric (Haldi – also known as Ubtan or Tel Baan) Ceremony
At the haldi ceremony, everyone (mainly the groom's female family members) gets to “paint” the groom with a turmeric paste during a ritual holy “bath” (the bride will no doubt have the same treatment by her friends and family in Sikar).


Haldi means turmeric. The haldi paste is made from turmeric, mustard oil, vermilion, curd, sandalwood and rose water which is then applied to the skin using grass. The turmeric is said to improve your complexion and should be applied seven times on the body from bottom to top and then top to bottom, although Sabu was only symbolically adorned with haldi on his hands, shoulders, face and feet.


With its antiseptic qualities, turmeric also acts as the protective shield for the wearer from cuts, bruises and any other seasonal ailments. The colour yellow is also considered auspicious, the bride/groom are supposed to wear yellow clothes while haldi is being applied to them. Traditionally, once the haldi ceremony takes place, the bride/groom is not allowed to step outside until the time of their wedding, but this what not practised here in Dagri.


Henna (Mehendi) Ceremony
Although this ceremony is mainly for the bride, I was keen to get in on the action too, and was hoping Sabu's sisters and other female family members would be holding their own little mehendi affair, which of course they did.


Traditionally Mehendi is said to be one of the sixteen adornments decorating a bride without which her beauty is said to be incomplete. According to popular belief the darker the colour of her mehendi, the more her husband will love her. The designs for the bride generally include the name of the bride and the groom hidden in the design, which is to be found by the groom before the wedding night can commence.


Another belief is that the longer the mehendi stays, the more she is adored by her mother-in-law. After the wedding, the bride is not expected to perform any housework until her Mehendi has faded away.

The term refers to the material, the design, and the ceremony.

In addition to the aesthetic qualities of the design, the henna has immense medicinal and healing powers. Any wedding is undeniably a period of strain and tension and creates a lot of stress. Applying of mehendi on the hands and feet helps to keep the nerve-endings cool, which in turn reduces stress. Mehendi also acts as an antiseptic agent; thus, keeping the bride free from viral diseases, cuts and bruises around the wedding. Application of meehndi also improves blood circulation. Thus, the practice of applying mehendi was traditionally not just to beautify the bride, but also to keep her healthy and hearty.


While us girls (and Sabu!) were busy getting beautified, David and a small gang of helpers were occupied with putting the tent up under an acacia tree on the farm land. The soft sand meant the tent pegs were difficult to secure, and as there is quite a strong wind here, that could prove a little hazardous. Anyway, we now have a home from home in Dagri.


One of the many myna birds around the farm had somehow fallen into a large vat of food slops where Sabu's cousin PC rescued it and gave it a good scrub from the kindness of his heart.


It looked rather bedraggled and I am sure the detergents PC misguidedly used did not do it much good. It was unable to fly and kept falling over, poor thing. Even though its feathers were drying quickly, we eventually put it on the roof of the cow-shed, to keep it away from marauding cats and young hands, hoping it would eventually fly away.


Once the sun went down, the lights came on. Cooking continued for the big do and a dinner materialised.


After dinner there was music and dancing into the wee hours. Unlike the UK, where it is mainly groups of girls dancing around their handbags; here in India, men are the main performers on the dance floor. Here Naryan and Bhanwar show off their dance moves.


We stayed for a while – joined in even – then retired to our tent for the night. But first we had to secure it from the raging wind. As I said earlier, the ground was so soft, the wind was just pulling the pegs straight out, even with large rocks placed on top. In the end we had to secure the guy ropes to the beds to stop the tent blowing away.

The beds – or cots as they are known locally – consist of a basic wooden frame with string across for support, topped with a thin mat and a pillow if you are “lucky”.


Sleeping inside the tent was way too hot, and sleeping outside was an “interesting” experience: being blasted from the wind laden with the fine sand. There were lots of noises in the night too, from birds, to buffalo to music and people.

Posted by Grete Howard 11:58 Archived in India Comments (2)

Bristol - London - Delhi - Jaipur

Twenty four and a half hour journeys are not fun!

overcast 34 °C
View A Big Fat Indian Wedding - India 2014 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After a pretty good Italian meal at Heathrow, we were ready to settle down to sleep our way through the eight hour flight to Delhi, which we did, We then had another eight hour wait in Delhi airport – thank goodness for the new improved terminal (voted the second best airport in the world after Singapore Changi) – we even found some really comfortable lounging chairs to help us catch a few more zzzzzz.


The half hour flight from Delhi to Jaipur was unusual to say the least – for a start they were so lacksadaisy with the safety drills: lots of people playing with their mobiles, chair backs reclined and not wearing their seat belts as we took off. Secondly, we really did not expect anything to eat or drink on such a short duration, but we were given a carton of orange juice before we took off, a sandwich and a bottle of water during the flight. By the time they had cleared away the trash, we were landing.

As we were exiting the terminal we were joking about what the sign would say that the driver was holding up – my name often gets rather contrived – today I am “Miss Great”! But then I always knew that.


The driver had a bit of trouble finding our hotel, but boy was it worth it: what a little hidden gem! Heritage style, with great attention to detail and we apparently have the best room in the house! It’s a huge suite with a living area, dining area and sleeping area and a fabulous bathroom. Sheer silk curtains separate the sleeping area from the rest, and there are a dozen or more decorative arches. Shame we are not spending longer here!


One of the more unusual features of our room is the bathroom. It is huge, and from the standard type shower cubicle, a couple of steps lead up to another shower room, a little bit like a traditional hammam, all enclosed, all tiled in cool blue and green and with a couple of little seats. I have never had anything like it before in any of the 500+ rooms we have stayed in!

You can see the steps on the right of the first picture, and the hammam part in the second.

A cooling breeze was very welcome as we enjoyed a beer and a Rajasthani thali in the rooftop restaurant.


Posted by Grete Howard 17:00 Archived in India Comments (1)

One more sleep......

We're off to India - for the tenth time - tomorrow.

So, we have been invited to our good friend Sabu's wedding in India and I am full of contrasting emotions and feelings about the trip, from anxiety to exhilaration.


I am obviously super excited and delighted for Reena and Sabu and I feel extremely honoured that they have invited us to share this very special day with them.

However, I am seriously worried about the heat – I don't do well in temperatures above 37 °C, and the forecast is up to 46 °C during the day, dropping to a “cool” 30 °C (maybe) at night. That is way too hot for me, and I am concerned that I am going to be a floppy, wet rag most of the time.


Add to that, the fact that (part of) the wedding is being held in Sabu's family's village in rural Rajasthan, with the nearest hotel some two hours' drive away, and we have an issue with accommodation. The sleeping arrangements are “loose” to say the least, with the idea being that people will bed down as and where they find space. Last time we stayed with Sabu's family, we slept on the farmhouse roof.


It was a wonderfully fun experience for one night, but not something I would relish for a week (with a number of other wedding guests), with no privacy for sleeping or changing. I am getting too old for that sort of thing, or maybe just to fussy, missing my creature comforts after a very short while. With this in mind, we are taking our own tent to India this time. Although that will obviously not help with the heat (probably quite the opposite, as tents are notoriously hot inside), but at least it will give us some much needed privacy. Fortunately we have the baggage allowance, as Jet Airways permit you to take 2 bags at up to 23kg each. We have never flown with so much luggage, however, so it could be very interesting at the airports....


Lastly, but not least, the photographer in me is of course over the moon at having the chance to photograph this very special occasion. We both feel very privileged to have the opportunity to experience an Indian wedding in India and being part of everything it involves.

Posted by Grete Howard 12:26 Archived in England Comments (2)

(Entries 1 - 2 of 2) Page [1]