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Tegan & Ingrid's world adventure

“Song, dance and some really good grub.”

INDIA | Tuesday, 10 January 2012 | Views [564]

Chandni Chawk

Chandni Chawk

Fifteen months ago, before we had left Australia on our round the world adventure, Ingrid and I were arriving back to Australia from a one month journey around the most culturally different country we have ever visited, India. I have to admit, at the time I had absolutely no clue if I would ever get a chance to go back to such an amazing country, let alone in 15 months time! The whole reason we had travelled to India in the first place was purely because we knew it was a ‘must see’ destination for us, however we could not possibly see a way (at the time) of working it in to our round the world itinerary. So the decision was made to travel there separately to our big adventure, and actually use it as a bit of a ‘trial run’ of how we were going to travel around the world. We took the same supplies that we thought we were going to take around the world with us to see if we had the list right. As it turned out we’re glad we did, because we definitely made some changes before the big trip (but that’s for another post). Anyway, the point is, we definitely did not expect to be traveling to India on this trip. But you know what, you can plan all you want, you can be as sure as anything of where you want to go and what you’ll be doing during your time away, but amazing opportunities are bound to present themselves, and I personally think that if you don’t embrace them and accommodate to them when they come around then you’re not true travellers willing to experience all this world has to offer. Well… At least, that was our argument when trying to convince ourselves that dropping 2 weeks of our time in Canada, backtracking 12,000kms and an additional $3000AUD in airfares were small sacrifices in order to experience an Indian Wedding! This leads me to why on Earth we were returning to India so soon.

During our last visit to the subcontinent, we spent a great deal of time with an Indian friend of ours, Gian, and his family. Gian had been an exchange student living with Ingrid’s family some 8 years ago in Hoddles Creek for a few months. He had always kept in contact and reminded us on many occasions that we were all most welcome and that we must visit. Ingrid and I stayed with Gian and his family for about a week and really got to know everyone very well. Then, approximately one year later, Gian messages us while we were traveling through Scandinavia telling us that he was now betrothed and was to be married in December (around 2 months time) and would love it if we would come to his wedding in Ludhiana, India. As explained earlier, we thought long and hard about it, but in the end said ‘What the hell, when else are we gonna get to go to an Indian wedding?… In India!”  So, fares were booked, and out of Toronto we flew to Delhi.

An added bonus of coming to India was the fact that Peter, Ingrid’s father, and his partner Gill had also accepted Gian’s invitation. This meant we got to spend time with them for the first time in 5 months!  After arriving into Indira Gandhi Airport at 1am we had a fun time trying to spot our driver with his A5 sized “Ingrid” sign in a crowd of about a thousand Chauffeurs and Cab drivers. This took a good hour or so. So by the time we arrived at our apartment it was more like 2.30am – but Pete and Gill were up (droopy eyes and all) and ready to greet us. We had so much to catch up on, but we thought better of it, left it for the morning, and got some well overdue shut eye after 21 hours in transit.

Aside from catching up with Pete and Gill, we spent the next day exploring some of the attractions of Delhi. During the morning we visited the Bahai (Lotus) Temple. This Lotus shaped modern Temple belongs to the Bahai faith, which proclaims the unity of all people and religions, and so everybody is welcome to worship there. The marble temple is simply beautiful and the surrounding gardens were very tranquil and relaxing. Then after our first true Indian lunch for many months (dear god was it delicious) we drove to Humayun’s Tomb.  The tomb was built in 1570, and houses the body of the second Mughal emperor, Humayun. It was the first of this type of Mughal architecture to be built in India, and was actually the inspiration for the Taj Mahal, in Agra. The tomb is part of a greater complex that's set amongst more beautiful gardens.  As the afternoon grew slightly darker we took the newly finished Delhi Metro into Chandni Chowk, the main street of old Delhi. We couldn’t drive there simply due to the sheer volume of traffic (it was bad enough in the other parts of the city). Chandni Chowk is chaotic, crumbling and congested, but completely captivating as well. As one of the oldest and busiest markets in India, its narrow winding lanes are full of pedestrians, Rickshaws, Taxis, food carts, Motorized Scooter (zooming through the crowd as if the people weren’t even there sometimes) and thousands of animals. But what an amazing experience it was to be part of the action in one of the oldest bazaars in the world, we loved it.

The next day was a long and draining day of dodging trucks, buses, Tuk Tuks and suicidal scooters on the highway from Delhi to Ludhiana. A trip of only around 300kms which would normally take around 3 hours in Australia took us a good 8-9 hours on India’s crowded and half built highways. But we eventually arrived and were greeted in the same amazingly friendly and welcoming way Ingrid and I had grown accustomed to during our previous visit to Punjab (Ludhiana is located in the state of Punjab, which has the highest population of Sikh’s anywhere in the world – the same faith of which Gian’s family belongs to – and is quite different to Hinduism when it comes to weddings as we were to discover later).

During the days leading up to the wedding celebrations we four Australians were given a fair bit of spare time, what with all the preparations taking up so much of the family’s time. However, in spite of this we were still put up in the best hotel in town, given a driver for our entire stay, were treated to Massages, Shopping trips, tailored clothes (for the wedding ceremony and lunch) and even Indian style make-overs for the girls! While we realise Gian’s family is quite well off (even by Australian standards), it is also a cultural must to treat your guests as well, if not better, than your own family. Therefore, let’s just say we were extremely well looked after, and are SO appreciative of it (thank-you Gian – I know you’re reading this, haha).

Aside from the wedding celebrations, we managed a day trip out to Amritsar, a city close to the Pakistani border. Amritsar is home to the Harmandir Sahib or ‘Golden Temple’ as it is more commonly known, and is considered holy by Sikhs. The most holy text of Sikhism, the Guru Granth Sahib, is always present inside the temple. Its construction was mainly intended to build a place of worship for men and women from all walks of life and all religions to come and worship God equally. The temple is located on an island surrounded by a manmade lake within the Gurdwara walls. The exterior is covered with Gold Plating while the interior is decorated with brilliant silks and gemstones. The whole place is truly beautiful.

The wedding celebrations began around 4 days prior to the actual ceremony with an evening dinner with the extended family at Gian’s family home. A night of singing, dancing and amazing food had us thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Even I couldn’t help but get involved by performing a couple of songs for Gian and his family. The next night was a more formal dinner evening for most of the wedding guests located at a nearby ‘Farmhouse’ on the outskirts of the city. We were at the farmhouse during the day, but once we returned at night the place had been completely transformed. It looked absolutely incredible with flowers and candles everywhere throughout the gardens. Another night full of dancing, eating and mingling; ending in a very unique tradition where the ‘Groom and Groomsmen’ (in this case Gian and his mates) get their faces covered in a Turmeric paste by the female family members. It is said to soften the skin in preparation of the wedding. The night was so much fun, even Ingrid and I were pulled up on stage to dance for everyone in true Bollywood style (sorry, no footage of that one :P).

The morning of the wedding we woke at 4am dressed in our specially made white Kurtas (long shirt)and the long white Kachheras (shorts) and travelled just outside of Ludhiana to Bhaini Sahib which is considered to be the Headquarters of the Namdhari faith (a sect of Sikhism). The wedding ceremony took place in the Bhaini Sahib with 3 other couples being wed simultaneously in front of thousands of relatives and guests, separated with women on the left and men on the right – all dressed in a sea of white in front of the Namdhari’s living Guru, Jagjit Singh (91 years old) who was present to bless the unions. The formalities of the union in fact were quite simple compared with our own customs. Each couple drank from a shared cup, had the same holy water sprinkled in their faces and hands and walked around a sacred fire four times while tied together by a scarf (the fire bears witness to their marriage). After they sit back down, the people at the front chant mantras from the holy books. At the end of each mantra, the crowd joins in for the last couple of phrases and they are now married. This all ends pretty much right on sunrise so that they are wed at the beginning of a new day. While this was very different to the idea of the colourful and boisterous celebration of an Indian wedding I had in my head (having only been exposed to what I had seen through Bollywood), this ceremony was so unique and special and nothing like what I had expected that I was even happier we had made the journey.

Directly following the ceremony we witnessed a fun little game the sisters of the new wife play with the newly married couple. Like many religious temples around the world everyone had to remove their shoes before entering the Gurdwara and after the bride & groom came out the sisters had ‘kidnapped’ their shoes. The bride managed to get hers back quite quickly but Gian was still bartering with the girls over getting his own back Finally every when we were all enjoying breakfast following the ceremony. In the end he had to pay to get them back. It was a fun little custom to watch. There was lots of giggling and fun arguments between Gian & the girls as they tried to get as much out of him as possible.

Everyone was then welcomed back to Gian’s family home for a nice lunch. This was the first time Gian’s new wife, Amrita, has stepped into her new family home. (In Namdhari tradition, the bride will generally leave her family home behind and move in with the Grooms family.) The lunch was fantastic and we had our first chance to get to know Amrita, seeing as she and Gian were not together at all in the weeks leading up to the ceremony. In fact, being an arranged marriage they had only met a handful of times, which in most cases is quite a lot – Gian’s own parents did not meet until their wedding ceremony!

The following day Pete and Gill continued their own Indian holiday leaving for Rajasthan, a province further south. It was so nice to have spent those days with them, especially seeing as it was pretty much halfway through our adventure. As they were continuing their Indian holiday, we were ending ours. We took a train back to Delhi, and as it turned out, we did not have to take it alone. The happy couple themselves were heading towards their honeymoon and two of their friends also joined us as they were off on their own holiday. It was a really nice chance to chat to Amrita some more and also to see how at home both Gian and her seemed already after only a handful of days spent together. But after we arrived in Delhi, and had filled up on some long missed, melt-in-your-mouth Chicken Tikka Rolls from one of Gian’s favourite food joints in Delhi, it was time to say goodbye. We all boarded our respective flights and headed in our own directions. For us, it was back to New York City for some well-earned ‘staying put’. After so much flying, training and driving the idea of settling down in one location for a whole month was sounding so very very appealing.

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