If somebody proposed flying 4000 miles to a different continent for only 5 days with the primary purpose of attending a party, would you do it? Assuming you weren’t being hand-delivered a diamond-encrusted invitation to sit next to George Clooney at the Oscars, I think it’s fair to say that most of us would at least need to give some consideration to the decision. There are annual leave days to count, flight prices to check, jet lag to contend and work commitments to adhere to.
Add to this the fact that I have never been much of a champagne-sipping, stiletto-wearing socialite, wherever the party happens to be at – but when it comes to weddings, I AM SOLD. Whether I’m roofed under a rustic barn with a raucous Scottish ceilidh or mucking into a plate-smashing Greek shin-dig, I LOVE a good wedding and if I am ever out of a day job, you’ll find me studiously inspecting the fine print of the wedding crashers’ manual, front to back 😀
There is something about the fairytale flutter of newlywed butterflies whirring round the stomach of a beaming bride, something about the sense of adventure and hope and the promise of partnership that gets me every time and with two weddings already under our belt by the end of January this year, we stepped on board our first international flight of 2017 to watch one of our nearest and dearest take her vows at a Delhi wedding of epic proportions.
First though, a little introduction for those of you who have never been to a Big Fat Indian Wedding; it is never one day, one party or one outfit.
The wedding itself is the plump and robust cherry on top of a whole week of events in the run up to the big day. There are pre-wedding parties, formal engagement ceremonies, ladies-only parties (call it traditional India’s answer to a hen do) and even a turmeric ceremony (yes, that’s a real thing and long before turmeric became trendy with the hippie health-foodsters, it was a staple ingredient in Indian Wedding methodology).
Even in my own, more abridged, fusion Eastern/Western wedding, we still had three events squeezed into one week prior to the wedding itself not to mention two different ceremonies on the day. But I digress.
Everyone has their own views on what comprises an enviable wedding but If you graduated from the less is more school of thought, take my advice and don’t go to an Indian wedding. At a classic Indian wedding, more is always more and big is beautiful, bling, even more so.
Dress to Impress
Dressing for the occasion was a two-hour long effort with hair stylists and beauticians at our disposal. Whilst veils, hats and fascinators haven’t yet advanced to the forefront of Indian wedding traditions, what we can offer you in place is an explosion of colour, beads, sequins and jewels, the weight of which can tone even the most flaccid biceps. My outfit occupied half of a large-sized suitcase and weighed well in excess of an average newborn, coming in at a humble 6kg!
There are very few scenarios in the world where a woman can wear an outfit she wore on her own wedding day at someone else’s wedding but this year, I managed and without looking out of place at that, such was the magnificence of the glitzy, opulent outfits boasted by fellow guests. (Disclaimer: I would not recommend extrapolating this by rocking up to someone else’s church wedding wearing your own white wedding gown….”
The ”I wish I got married here” moment
Less anticipated was the way my outfit would pale into insignificance when I clambered clumsily into the majestic wedding venue, The Nikunj Hotel by GNH in New Delhi, sporting a pair of 4 inch matte gold sandals that exposed my awkward inexperience with Hollywood heels. In fact, the space was so jaw-droppingly enchanting that it verges on offensive to pay homage to it with such clinical, un-inspired linguistics.
This was no ordinary “function room” that comes equipped with off-white luminescent glare, a mic system and a team of sharply-dressed but predictable waiters, lined up synchronously with their crease-free, magpie-like uniformity.
Instead, this was an infinite wonderland, suffused with amethyst hues, where Alice was about to waltz in with her Prince Charming, where one fairy tale blended boundlessly with another and where us mere mortals were made to feel like celebrities for the night.
Fragrant notes of spring wafted between rooms, transported by silky rose garlands that were emblematic of the signature flower displays splashed across the venue. From the swan structure doused in delicate petals, floral chandeliers dripping from the ceiling and entire walls draped in botanical designs, we had to actively peel ourselves from the interiors to remind ourselves of the special reason we were there.
Decadent Delhi Dining
In keeping with Indian cultural norms, food is a medium through which locals show love and the twenty plus canapes on offer made us feel very loved indeed! Ever been offered a napkin on a bicycle? Neither had I until this event but there was no limit to the surprise delights lurking in every corner.
I am not vegetarian myself but for anyone who has ever questioned how diverse vegetarian cuisine can be, the selection of dishes on offer at this wedding would silence even the harshest cynics. widely exceeding the range of options I have seen available at entire food festivals in London town and certainly more than any hotel I have visited.
Three out of four walls of the largest banqueting room at the venue were lined with trays of temptation, which included a whole bespoke pizza and pasta station, a Teppanyaki stall, sushi spots, an Indo-Chinese selection of dishes, South Indian food, North Indian food – I simply don’t have the word count to list more but no hotel buffet will ever feel the same again and the lychee dish stole the show for one of the most innovative fusion savoury/sweet bites I have ever sampled.
Conquering such a feast would require some strategic planning so we decided that with so many renowned international dining options in London and during our travels, it seemed most logical to fill our appetites in India with the food of our Motherland.
I took the tiniest portions manageable with the serving spoon, which I tend to do at buffets to allow me to try a wider array of flavours but even with this approach, one plate was all I could manage, especially if I was going to reserve a little pouch of space in my belly for dessert. Anyone for a Kulfi stick (or four) from the dedicated Kulfi trolley that was merely the start of the dessert row?!
Calorific offerings aside, is there anything more quintessentially Indian than an aromatic, exotic cup of Masala chai served in a terracotta, handle-free cup? Given my fascination with tea, you would never predict that it was only around 6 years ago that I actually started drinking this staple and I owe it to the concoction prepared fresh on the pan of my grandparental home that I finally converted.
It was for this reason that one of my fondest catering highlights from the wedding was the emergence of the tea-man (Chai-wala), who I am sure must have become rather sick of the sight of me by the end of the night. Let’s not tot up my caffeine intake that evening…
The Epic Indian Wedding
Now, if you’re wondering about a little thing called the actual nuptials, fear not, I haven’t forgotten. Any proper wedding needs a minimum of two key players though and so far, we were missing a groom. A mighty and hypnotic drum roll soon answered that, however, with the arrival of the man of the match and his entire entourage, known as the Bharaat.
Arriving with the groom’s party is a thrilling and exhilarating way to waltz into any Indian wedding with a passport, no – mandate, to sing, clap, party and shake your backside. If you are in the bridal party, like we were, you can stand on the receiving side of the line and have a little jig too (though perhaps in a more under-stated fashion so as not to scare the groom’s party back in the wrong direction!) With a groom in the house and a bride in the capable hands of the make-up artists, the vital ingredients were in place.
Having woken up from my canape coma, word spread that the ceremony was about to start. Indian wedding ceremonies are a little different to typical weddings here in the UK. For one, you will never find the whole audience sitting in courteous silence. The vows are rooted in deep cultural and religious beliefs and traditions but it is not at all uncommon to find guests strolling in and out of the room, answering calls and having their own micro-conversations.
Pumpkin and I still laugh about a photograph we have from our own wedding where, at one point, the only people in the front row looking forward at us were a set of twin babies! You might think it rude (I know I do) if you are more accustomed to weddings in Western Europe but it really isn’t quite the social taboo it would be in England and even family members in the audience were ducking in and out of the room – the extensive catering choices were hardly a good way of keeping people within the ceremony room!
Not wanting to miss out on the action, however, we entered the most romantic of all alcoves as the official wedding commenced. Facing us was a simply unsurpassable location for marrying the one you love, a cocoon of regal cushions and glowing lights. Pumpkin’s cousin, the star of the show (of the week in fact) shone radiantly in her crimson bridal sari, gushing with the kind of 60 mile smile that only a bride can maintain for so long without fatigue, her arms drenched in the intricate calligraphy of the henna leaf.
I will refrain from running through the entirety of the ceremony, since this blog post is anything but an A-Z manual of Indian weddings. Firstly, the rituals vary so much depending on region; secondly, whilst I have a bit of insider knowledge, I hardly consider myself an expert but perhaps most pertinently, we are already approaching two thousand words here – do you really want me to go there?!
Whilst the bride and groom were mobbed by the wedding paparazzi and a spate of well-wishers, I seized the opportunity to mingle with relatives on Pumpkin’s side of the family, many of whom I had never met before and who welcomed me with open arms, flurries of laughs and nostalgic stories of my significant other in his childhood years (supposedly, he was less grumpy back then!) The vows may have been between two individuals that night but the affection and hospitality within those walls permeated between dozens more.
People are always apprehensive about declaring a wedding to be “the best wedding ever” unless it’s their own one they’re referring to – after all, it is almost akin to choosing a favourite parent or picking a favourite baby among your friends’ children (although I do have one of those and that little baby knows exactly who he is!)
Of course your own wedding day will always hold an irreplacable place in your heart. But I am not arrogant enough to assume that ours was the most spectacular wedding the world has ever seen and I had no hesitation whatsoever in shouting from the rooftops that this was easily the most grandiose, elaborate and epic wedding I have been to and well worth the 4000 miles (to be honest, I’d have happily travelled 8000 miles for this one!)
Where was the most magical wedding you have attended?