Brides, Bhel Puri, and Bollywood

Trip Start Oct 30, 2005
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Trip End Jun 19, 2006


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Where I stayed
Taj Regency Hotel

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Monday, December 19, 2005

27 hours of train travel can reaaaaally make you look forward to arriving in a city, and, true to form, Mumbai (Bombay to the laymen) looked like the Land of Milk and Honey when the Mahanagari Express from Varanasi finally pulled into the station. And never have I been so happy to see Rahul's face, although spotting an Indian in a crowd of Indians is never the easiest of tasks. It was great to see a friend though, and to feel a little hint of New Zealand in the midst of 18 million Mumbaikers.
For all the relief at getting there though, Mumbai's charm soon wore off, and to be honest it is the first place I've found here in India that I couldn't warm to. It's an unlovely city, dirty and grey and chaotic on an enormous scale. Seething with more the 18 million souls, most of them human, it is an ants-nest of humanity almost unparalleled in the world. Add in an endless supporting cast of cows, dogs, monkeys, goats, and many many more of Noah's refugees, and Mumbai becomes something more than just a city, it's almost organic.
And bloody hell, the traffic is just ludicrous. Never again will I complain about Auckland's rush-hour snarl. It takes 2 hours to get almost anywhere by car in Mumbai, metre by honking, revving, diesely metre.
It's the one city I've been to, anywhere in the world, that I wanted to leave and never return to. Christ, even LA has a couple of redeeming features.

Thankfully, however, my presence in Mumbai had a much more pleasant and exciting meaning than simple travelling. The reason I was here for the next week was to meet up with Rahul and the gang from Auckland and all his family, and to get the guy married on December 24th to the lovely Sonia.
That's right, a full-on, no-holds-barred Indian wedding, with all the colour, music, dancing, food and fun that goes with it! It was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and a fantastic Christmas.
The days leading up to the wedding were manic, as Rahul tried to get everyone and everything organised, including himself. There were parties to arrange, clothes to buy, family to see, ceremonies to perform - and to be frank, sometimes I don't know how it all came together in the end. But it did, and Rahul did bloody well.
So after all the pre-parties and rituals, having met Sonia and legions of relatives on both sides, armed with flowing Indian dress robes or saris, it was time to leave Mumbai and travel north to Nasik for the wedding.
The Auckland contingent consisted of Casper (best man) and Joi, Bruce and Esther, Brendan (Irishman), Nick (Frenchman), and myself (currently Itinerant Wanderer), and when the time finally came, we fronted up in full Indian dress and went to see our friend get married. Only it wasn't as simple as all that!

First, we had to dance. And dance. And keep on dancing. The guests, family, and friends all gathered at the end of driveway of the Taj Regency hotel (where we were staying), where a band and a garlanded white stallion awaited the groom. When all was ready, the music struck up, Rahul mounted his noble steed (maybe practicing for later on?), and we all danced, gamboled, gyrated, and otherwise shimmied our way for 45 minutes up the driveway (check out the video!). When we finally reached the hotel, a huge crowd of further guests and relatives were waiting, and we danced some more. Finally the band stopped playing, and on the spur of the moment, a Frenchman (Brendan), an Irishman (Nick), two Kiwis (Bruce and me), and Mickey (Rahul's 10 year-old nephew) performed a fiery if not entirely perfect haka, to thunderous applause. The locals were a little bemused, but demanded an encore, and it wasn't until later than most of them were informed that in fact, the haka was not a traditional New Zealand wedding dance, but instead a war challenge!

The wedding itself was fascinating. After all the foreplay, Sonia appeared, looking stunning, as only a bride can. Rahul, with a soppy grin on his face and no shoes on his feet (these has been stolen by his aunties Sarita and Roopa and hidden), stood beside her and a few words were uttered in the presence of the priest(?), and that was that...well, part one anyway. Part two took a little longer, as the couple and their parents went through the rituals binding the two together, and bringing Sonia from her family into Rahul's. At last, Rahul and Sonia, bound by a red scarf, walked around the fire 4 times, and that was it. They were married, and happily by the looks of it. Museltov!!!

And so we feasted and danced to the wee small hours, and finally early on Christmas Day, dressed in the trappings of an Indian wedding and sated on aloo dum and Bollywood soundtracks, I fell into my 5-star bed and had the best sleep I've had in 2 months.

All in all, a bloody good day, and a Christmas I'll never forget!

I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas of your own, and love to all.
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