Two weddings and a trip to tea country
12.05.2017 - 17.05.2017
India. Is an amazing place. And a crazy place. I've been here already six times or so, but every time I visit I am overwhelmed by the diversity and the different faces this countries can show. We managed to visit three very different places within only four days…
Once known as the garden capital, Bangalore has long become India's IT hot spot. Its moderate climate has attracted a huge number of technology companies. Walking through the streets, one can see lots of people with backpacks brandishing the logos of Microsoft, Infosys, Accenture and the like.
Bangalore is probably the most cosmopolitan city in all of India. You can find modern malls, where Mammon is worshiped, right next to tiny looking Hindu temples (with a cavernous interior stretching deep into the back of the block), colorful markets, selling anything from fruits to pans to saris next to one of the thousands or so Vodafone/Airtel/… shops that are distributed in a dense grid all over the city.
We arrived from Kuala Lumpur on Friday morning and did not find the climate that mild. At least it was not as humid as KL… We met the driver from our hotel directly, it was an easy hour and a half for the 40km to the hotel, thanks to the newish airport highway. During rush hour (basically most of the day) the traffic in Bangalore moves at a snail's pace…
Saturday we spent shopping for a Sari for Myriam and a dress for Nerea. After all we had mainly come to Bangalore to attend the wedding of my good friend Animesh! Sunday morning was spent getting dressed (a major task for the girls getting wrapped in Saris!). I still have the the Kurta and Dhoti I got for a wedding in Kerala many years ago. Wrapping the Dhoti around my hips is definitely easier than getting Myriam into her Sari!
The result of our efforts looked like this:
The wedding itself was a small affair with only about 200-300 guests (this included Susann and Lukas, friends from Melbourne, with whom we had the pleasure to spent most of our time in Bangalore and Bihar).
I do love the colors of the Indian clothes! The gold in Deepika’s Sari is real, by the way! The whole thing weighed more than 6kg. Below a few impressions. The official wedding photos are easily distinguishable from my amateurish shots.
The ceremony was interesting to watch, if most of it and it’s meaning have eluded me. There was a lot of chanting and music, fire, smoke and innumerable guest parading past bride and groom. Between the wedding couple, a coconut seemed to play a major role. Apart from this fruit, more symbols of fertility and prosperity where apparent: In the second part of the ceremony, the guests would queue to bless the couple, usually in pairs.
Animesh and Deepika held the coconut between them over a large pot, the guests would put a coin on the fruit. Then we poured milk over the coin, the nut and their and hands…
One thing is very similar to European weddings, though: Bride and groom don’t really find the time to talk to their guests on their own wedding!
On Tuesday we were to fly on to Patna in Bihar, from where we transferred to Muzaffarpur, Animesh’s hometown, not too far from the border to Nepal. Here a wedding reception was to be held. Whenever we told people in Bangalore that we were heading to Bihar we earned first raised eye brows and then warnings regarding the dangers of this barbaric place. The most hair raising story I heard included assault rifles being fired in the air during a wedding celebration...
And it is true, the different level of development is obvious from the moment one leaves the airport. It starts with simple things like the lack of modern (4G) mobile networks and continues when one reaches Mahatma Gandhi Setu, a crumbling bridge over the Ganges, spanning the sacred river over more than 5km.
Traffic is now partially being diverted via a pontoon bridge, as a couple of hundred meters of one of the bridge's lanes is missing.
In the evening we attended the wedding reception, where we had the chance to sample loads of very nice food, chat with the locals and admire more amazing Indian attire. We didn't take too many photos, but apparently Nerea enjoyed herself.
People in Bihar may (on average) not be as educated and sophisticated as their cousins in Bangalore, they are extremely friendly, though! Nerea had realized that Indians in general are a friendly bunch (“Everybody likes me here”) and this was proven again when we started our onward travel.
On the day after the reception we whiled away a few hours in the foyer of a fancy hotel in Patna, waiting for our overnight train to Siliguri, wearing our backpacker’s best, when a nice elderly couple invited us to the wedding reception that was just beginning next door. We felt definitely underdressed, but very humbled. They pushed us into some seats of honor, made us sample local food and drinks, and we chatted away. When people weren’t busy touching my host’s feet he pointed out the other guest’s occupation to me (“A doctor”, “another pilot”, “She’s a judge at the high court”…).
One point where one could see the difference to the more modern wedding of our friends was the role of the bride here: While her husband was welcoming guests at the entrance, she sat on a sofa, hardly ever raising her eyes. I did not see a single man speaking to her…
After an hour or so we stole away to follow our favourite Indian pastime: Train travel. We boarded the KYQ Capital Express (which left with hardly more than an hour delay). Again the locals proved very helpful in guiding us through the chaos to our assigned first class coach.
Train travel in India is always interesting very cheap (about EUR 50 for the three of us in our private 1st class sleeper compartment) and reasonably quick (we traveled about 500km in hardly more than 12h). AC sleeper trains are quite comfortable. Btw, if ever you want to travel by train in a foreign country, check out The Man in Seat61, the best train travel site in the world!!
In Siliguri we were picked up by Sagar, driver and wonderful guide, to be transferred to our home for the next few days in Mirik. Sitting at about 1600m altitude, nested in the foothills of Himalaya and surrounded by tea gardens, Mirik is a wonderful respite from the heat of Bihar and the hustle of Bangalore. Wedged between Bangladesh to the South, Bhutan and Nepal to the East and West and the Tibet to the north, Sikkim and the northern bit of Western Bengal are home to a wild mix of ethnicities. The further north you venture, the more prevalent are the rounder Nepali faces that so remind us of our travels in that country.
In Mirik we spent the days sitting on our porch, sipping fine Darjeeling tea and trying to find out where in the lush green before us the animals are sitting that are making all these wondrous noises!
One of the most amazing things about India is, how many different faces this country can show the open minded visitor. This may be within one city, where you find slums next to modern malls, through the people who may be shy and polite or incredibly selfish and bullying. It shows itself most clearly though, whenever you travel within the subcontinent and see a diversity within one country that makes Europe’s multitude of different nations seem uniform in comparison…