Thursday, January 24, 2013

Indian Adventure Day 1: Sari Shopping & Mehndi Party

 Are y'all ready for this? I have gotten back into the swing of things here in Charlotte, and am finally ready to share my trip to India with you! I wanted to tell y'all that I had the MOST INCREDIBLE time, and I hope to be able to go back and visit!

I was in India from December 27th-January 4th, and I packed a lot in each day. My main purpose of the trip was to attend my second cousin's wedding. She married a wonderful guy from Delhi, and the week I visited was their traditional Hindu Wedding ceremony. They had a Buddhist ceremony last year in London, where they live, and a cocktail reception in Los Angeles in March, where her family lives. Lots of celebrating of this lovely couple!

I will use these upcoming posts as more of a diary for myself so I can remember all the details in the future, so bear with me if you're not interested in hearing about my trip.

And so. Here goes. Without further ado...INDIA

In preparation of my trip, I spoke extensively with my boss' boss about what to expect. He is from Delhi (where we were based out of), and he has been back many times since moving to the US. He even gave me his Indian cell phone to use, which was amazing to have as back-up! I also spoke with his wife, a Brit, about preparing as a Westerner to go to India. They were so helpful! I ended up bringing warm clothes over to his parents, a minor token of gratitude.

After I spent Christmas with my family in VA, I drove up to Dulles for a 10PM flight on Christmas Day. I flew on Qatar Airways, and HIGHLY recommend it to anyone traveling over to the Middle East or South Asia. The service was impeccable, the legroom was the best I've experienced for Coach class, and the food was really good. I know you're not supposed to eat but I was famished, and the free alcohol (BAD!) was too tempting to pass up on the flight over. They also had a TV in each seat, with tons of movies, TV shows, music, games, etc to choose from. I watched a few Wes Anderson films, and on the trip back, 2 LOTR movies.

My flight over was 12.5 hours to Doha (capital of Qatar) and I had about a 2.5 hour layover. I walked around the airport almost the whole time to get my blood flowing before getting on the plane again. Here was the Duty Free Mall area. Crazy!
 After a 3.5 hour flight to Delhi, I was thrilled to get through customs easily. My bag was even there, to my great relief.

Check out the gorgeous & welcoming decor in the airport!
 I arrived in Delhi at 3AM, and was through everything by 3:45. I only waited in the airport for a little bit for my cousin, we both couldn't believe I got through so quickly.

When I first walked outside, the smell was the first thing that hit me. India has a very unique spicy smell that I will never forget. It is also quite smoky, as it was cold this time of year and people make fires almost everywhere they can. Delhi is one of the most populous cities in the world, with almost 19 million people, so you can imagine that there is a smog problem. The air quality over most of the places we visited was very low, and I definitely had to cover my face a lot of the time!

So, my cousin and her husband picked me up in his parent's SUV, and we drove back to his parent's apartment. It was very quiet out, being so early in the morning, that we didn't experience any traffic or crazy drivers at all. I was relieved, as I was quite worried about riding around. It actually was really fun!

We got to the apartment around 4:30 AM and we all went right to bed. Her 3 sisters, one friend, and I all shared a room (3 sisters shared 2 twins pushed together, her friend and I slept on mats on the floor). Anyways, I slept until about 9AM and woke up feeling a little confused but pretty refreshed. We all got ready for the day, and headed out with Pranay to the market.

The first stop was for my benefit: Sari shopping! We went to the Lajpat Nagar Market, to the shop where Cat found her bridal Sari.

When you walk in, the shopkeepers usher you to sit down and they start pulling down Sari after Sari. I couldn't handle the selection!
 I narrowed my choices to anything Hot Pink, and this was one of 2 contenders. I'm glad I picked the other one, I think the black was going to be too dark! 
Once you pick one you like, they wrap it around you to show you how it falls. Here is Alex with the $400 sari she didn't buy but we all fell in love with!
After I picked mine out, we went upstairs to have the blouse part custom fit. The blouse is made from an extra yard or so of fabric on the end of the long piece. It was such an interesting process!

Once I paid for my sari, we walked around looking at the other shops. We also picked out shoes to wear with our Saris (I obviously got bright gold ones!) and bangles. It was a really fun, exhilarating morning! The market opened at 11AM and we got there right around then, so by the time we were done with all our errands, it was pretty crowded and busy.

When we got back to the apartment in Kalkaji (South Delhi), Cat was getting her Mehndi. Pranay's parents hired 2 Mehndi artists to come to the apartment for all of the women in the family attending the wedding. Usually, the Mehndi Party is a few days before the wedding, allowing the Mehndi to get darker (usually darkest on Day 3). It also allows other wedding-related traditions to happen, like a Sangeet (a big party) or a Gari Puja (prayers over the Bride & Groom).
Each Mehndi artist has a different style, and I believe depending on where they learn, you can actually tell where they're from depending on that style. These were traditional Delhi Mehndi artists. Their signature was a peacock, which everyone had either on their hands or their feet.
Cat had to sit like this for 6 hours!
Isn't the level of detail incredible?
Obviously I was obsessed with it. It was so much fun to watch.
You can see below that it's started to dry a bit and crack off. You just sit there and let it dry completely before you do anything else.
Loved how it was on the palms of her hand as well as the back!
The family members all came over and hung out while our Mehndi dried. It was really nice meeting everyone the day before the wedding!
 Here are my hands after the Mehndi dried! We rubbed our hands and feet with Mustard Oil and Vick's Vapor Rub. We also held our hands over open fire. Heat helps make the Mehndi darker.
The back of my hand. Loved it!
Pranay's "Auntie" and cousin helping rub the Mehndi off Cat.
While we were hanging around, some of the women sang traditional folk songs and songs they made up that teased Cat & Pranay. It was so great to watch them! One of the older women banged on the drum, the Dholak.
After a long, exhausting day, I think I went to sleep around 11. Everyone else, having already adjusted to India time, ended up going to dinner until about 2AM!

I have LOTS more to share, so stick with me!