Saturday 8th October 2016
One of my favourite films when I was young was ‘A Little Princess’. It was Sara’s description of India that originally sparked my interest in Indian culture as a little girl, and here I finally am…..in Incredible India. I actually feel like a little princess here, surrounded by rich spicy food, jewelled sari’s and a spiritual ambience like no other. I feel so lucky to finally be in this country of such rich and diverse culture. So here goes…
Flying from Indonesia seemed like it would be easy, considering it’s relatively close right? Apparently not! Granted I do always travel with budget airlines, it was the long stop-over in Singapore airport terminal 2 that reminded me I was still a backpacker (I’ve started to feel like more of a ‘flash-packer’ these days!). Regardless of my very cold floor-like bed for 9 hours, I arrived in the state of Punjab in the North of India feeling very excited for what was ahead. The city of Amritsar is in fact home to Sikhism’s holiest of shrines, The Golden Temple, where the original copy of the Sikh’s holy book the Guru Granth Sahib is housed. As you can imagine this is an area highly regarded by Sikh’s all over the world. I will touch more on that later.
India is just as I imagined and more. Surprisingly, after many words of warning about the diverse culture and living conditions, I felt very much at home as we weaved our way through the chaotic traffic of Amritsar. Although I am only a week into my Indian adventure, the experiences I have already had here do not differ much from other places I have travelled in Asia. Yes the place is a mess, there are slums along the side of the road, chaotic lorries with people hanging off the sides, cows across the highway, beggars tapping at the car window, car horns continuously sounding….I could go on. However, I weirdly love this chaos, I love this culture. I feel like I am in a movie; I can hear ‘Paper Planes’ as I drive past the real land of Slumdog Millionaire.
After arriving in Jalandhar, 1.5 hrs south of Amritsar, I was greeted by Serena and her family who had all been preparing for the grand Punjabi Sikh wedding that was to follow. I’ve heard they are the grandest of all. felt very welcome and incredibly honoured to be part of this special celebration for Serena’s sister Emma. I have experienced Indian culture in England before, but nothing quite prepared me for what was to come.
Celebrations began on the Thursday. The first day was all about Randeep, the groom, who was paraded around his village after being blessed and hounded by ladies with saffron. The evening was a huge party beginning with an abundance of culinary delights and way too much whisky. Apparently that’s a punjabi thing! The celebrations were held at Randeep’s family home in the village I believehis parents originate from. We were housed in a stunning tented bazaar off the side of the house, where the whole village was invited to celebrate Randeep’s marriage. The traditions began with the pounding Bhangra drums sounding, followed by a group of ladies singing and Randeep carrying a silver plate laden with candles and various religious offerings. The parading then commenced as we all followed Randeep around his village, visiting each house to announce the wedding. Randeep was accompanied by two people at all times, balancing large ornaments and candles on their heads. The family are constantly blessing everyone by circling money around the head then throwing it up into the air as everyone danced to the traditional music. The funny thing was that as the money was thrown high above us, just as quickly there were local boys racing around our feet to collect it all. It gave me goosebumps to think this was only day one, I had never imagined anything like it. Indian weddings are not only about the couple, although they are paraded like royalty, but about the two families uniting and celebrating in their community. As we danced around the village streets, fireworks were going off around us and the punjabi ladies grabbed me to dance thinking I was punjabi myself. The one thing that really did surprise me was that you never escape the begging; even at wedding celebrations we had local men standing around the table tending to our needs and then expecting us to pay up. There really is no end to the poverty in this country, or is it that they just see us as a money maker? The night ended with a few more whiskeys and a hell of a lot of indian dancing, and I do love to dance. It truly was the most incredible way to begin my Indian experience.
Waking up and feeling a little delicate on Wednesday morning, I decided that I needed to dec myself out with some of the beautiful sari’s that I had been so envious of. After all, this was the opportune moment to be the Bollywood princess Ihave always wanted to be. Luckily, for my 21st birthday I was given a stunning navy blue sequinned sari from one of my closest friends Aunty Gin. It had been passed down to her from her own grandmother; such a thoughtful gift that made me cry when I received it. Knowing Indians and their perception of time, I was slightly anxious about getting to a sari shop and finding what I wanted before we left for the day’s events at lunchtime. After booking a driver for 10am and it turning up only 30 minutes late, I felt like I could be in with some luck. The manager of the hotel helped immensely by telling the driver exactly what I was looking for and where to take me. So off I went on my own in search of the perfect outfits, with little time and all the faith that I would be massively ripped off. Much to my surprise I had a perfect experience, I was like a kid in a candy store as they threw sari after sari at me, in every different jewel colour you can imagine. This is honestly my idea of heaven. I have never seen such beautiful beaded fabrics, with matching bangles, tikka’s and earrings. You are seated and waited on with drinks, as you explain exactly what colour and fabric you desire. After choosing two incredible sari’s for the next two days of celebrations, I made my way back for Emma’s day of blessings.
Friday was all about Emma. Like Randeep, Emma was blessed by a Hindu priest this time, and doused in saffron to give her that ‘glow’ before her wedding day. The ceremony was held on the roof of a beautiful mansion house owned by their close family friends. The house stood three stories tall with huge rooms all kitted out with billowing chandeliers and ornate furniture. I felt like I was back in the days of the Raj. On the roof, they had decorated a purple tented area with all of the religious ornaments ready for the priest to begin his blessing. It is tradition that the bride cannot see the groom now until the day of the wedding. After her blessing she is dressed in her wedding jewellery, then her and her guests are painted in mendhi (henna). Hindu songs are sung as the mendhi is applied. I have experienced a mendhi party before, you cannot get over how quickly it is applied. Traditionally the guests are only given it on the palms of their hands, whereas the bride has it both side of her hands going all the way up to the top of her arms, and also on both feet and ankles. Truly beautiful, I have always loved the art of henna. After a table full of delicious homemade food, we headed home in rest for thebig day ahead.