It has been a few months since I last made a post on ShelfishlyAddicted, and while I do feel a little guilty, it also feels good to know that I made excellent use of my time away.
For the last couple of years, I have had a deep friendship with an amazing Indian man. "K" has been a breath of fresh air in my life, reflecting my best and worst traits, and encouraging me to do and be my best, not for him or for anyone else, but for me. My self-esteem and self-efficacy has grown in leaps and bounds since we met, because I've had his quiet, steady presence beside me as I've returned to university, pursued a new career, and found a healthier overall lifestyle. He has truly become my best friend, and as my new Bhabhi (K's sister-in law) says, "Best friends make the best husbands!"
After 2 years of dating, K decided it was time to make a decision about moving our relationship to the next level. In early September, K's parents flew to the U.S. from India to meet my parents. I was so nervous! It was also my first time meeting K's Mummy, though I had met his Papa a couple times prior. When we met them at the airport in Florida, Mummy immediately gave me a warm hug and I knew things would go well. Thankfully, they did indeed! My parents were gracious hosts and K's parents were gracious guests. By the end of the visit, we finalized our roka date for September 21, 2015.
In Indian culture, a roka is a private family event in which the two families gather to bless the to-be-weds, and they formally agree that a marriage will happen, not just between the man and woman, but also between the families. It was a truly special occasion to see our families around us, smiling and happy. We ate way too much food, exchanged lovely gifts, and had a nice time getting to know each other. I was also able to celebrate my Mama's birthday on her birthday, which was a first in several years.
Fast-forward (and the time passing really did feel like it!) to November 12, 2015, and I was on a plane headed for India - for our engagement! I arrived in Delhi and was greeted by K (who arrived in India 1 week prior) and his two cousin sisters in true Indian fashion - with sweets, a flower toss, and blessings! K and I went straight from the airport to his home city, about 5 hours away, and I was lovingly received by his Mummy, Papa, and Nani (maternal grandmother). From that moment on, Mummy made sure I had three square meals a day and then some! Papa made sure that I always had freshly-picked guava from the backyard tree. And sweet Naniji blessed me with her smiles and wise conversation. I could not dream of better in-laws!
Our engagement (ring ceremony) was on November 15, 2015. In Indian culture, the to-be-weds exchange rings in front of their family and friends, after first conducting a pooja (prayer) with the guidance of a panditji (priest). Yes, even the man gets a ring! We each had our rings custom-designed and crafted in India, so finally seeing them in person as we slipped them onto each other's ring finger was rather exciting! After the ring exchange, we received blessings from the family, danced, took photos, and ate from a buffet of delicious food. Many of K's relatives (aunts, uncles, cousins) were present at the ceremony, and it was my first time meeting them, though thanks to Facebook, I felt like I knew several of them already! Everyone was so warm and welcoming, and I was overwhelmed by the love of people who were practically strangers - yet they weren't.
I felt like a true Rani (Queen), all dolled up and wearing a beautiful lehenga, gifted to me by my in-laws. Take a look!
In a traditional Indian lehenga.
In the days following our engagement, K took me on quite a few adventures. The city he is originally from, Chandigarh, has many gardens: a Rock Garden, Cactus Garden, Zen Garden, Chrysanthemum Garden, Rose Garden, and on the list goes! If you're an outdoorsy person, this is definitely the Indian city for you. The Cactus Garden has over 3,500 varieties of cacti!
At Chandigarh's Cactus Garden
"Modeling" at Chandigarh's famous Rock Garden, built by Nek Chand.
I've been a fan of Indian food right from the start of my relationship with K, so I was dying to try some authentic Indian street food when I arrived. Mummy didn't want me to eat anything raw, to protect my delicate gastrointestinal constitution (haha!), so we looked for fried foods - and weren't disappointed! Papa's favorite dessert is jalebi, which is made similar to funnel cake, wherein spirals of liquid dough are fried in piping hot oil, then transferred over to a sugar syrup solution before being laid out to dry. It is SO good!
Indian street food! Jalebi, an Indian dessert similar to funnel cake.
We eventually traveled to Delhi for a few days to attend the wedding of K's cousin sister. Have you ever been to or seen a tradtional Punjabi wedding? It is incredible! Some weddings in India last as long as seven days, with all of the cermonies involved! This particular wedding transpired over the course of three days, with each day more elaborate and beautiful than the one before. On the first day, we had a simple gathering at the bride's home, singing, eating, and playing the dhol (an Indian double-headed drum). The sweet bride and her friends even convinced me to practice a dance routine with them for the wedding day!
On the second day, K and I took a mini road trip to Agra, where we stood in awe of the Taj Mahal.
Taj Mahal - Agra, India (Photo by Katie @ ShelfishlyAddicted)
I had seen countless pictures of the Taj before the day we went, and I foolishly thought I knew what to expect, but nothing really prepares you for the grand feeling you have when you stand next to a building with such history! The marble is clean and cool, and you can tell great care has been taken in maintaining the grounds. In fact, one of the four minarets (the one in the right background of the pic) was being cleaned top to bottom on the day we arrived. If you look closely, you can see the tiny ant line of people wrapping around the building - that's the line to get inside! As it turns out, it was World Heritage Week, and entry to the Taj Mahal, a World Heritage monument, was free. Thankfully, we arrived just before the crowd you see there!
After a whirlwind day, traveling to and from Agra, K and I arrived back in Delhi just in time to get ready for the bride's sangeet. Sangeet literally means "music" in Sanskrit, and at this event, music and dancing are the focus. This is also when the ladies have their mehndi, or henna, done. I was so excited to participate in this fun, beautiful ritual!
Intricate mehndi peacock design.
The wedding itself was over-the-top and beautiful and LONG! It started at around 8:00 pm and lasted until 4:30 am! Surprisingly, even Naniji was able to stay awake throughout. It was great to witness a Punjabi wedding for myself, so that I know what to expect for my own wedding in April 2016. Imagine bright colors, thumping music, a long buffet line of chaat (snacks), curries, and sweets, twinkling lights everywhere, and family members and friends ready to hug you at every turn. I can't wait to get married in traditional Indian fashion, with my loved ones around me!
While we were in Delhi, K and I took another quick day trip with his cousin-sister and her husband to the awe-inspiring Akshardam temple. As it is a holy site, no photographs were allowed, and we even had to leave our cell phones with security before being allowed to go in. It's for the best, though, because it allowed us to take in the stunning architecture and undeniable peace of the temple and its grounds. Fun Fact: There are over 800 peacocks carved into the temple architecture!
After we returned to Panchkula, my in-laws current hometown, it made sense to start shopping for a wedding dress. Talk about an overwhelming experience! There are SO many fabrics to look at, in an array of colors and styles, from the very plain to the outrageously flashy. While Punjabi brides traditionally wear red and gold on their wedding day, I knew I wanted to stray away from the norm. After looking at and trying on dozens of lehengas, I finally decided on my wedding colors - which will be a surprise, dear reader! We also decided on and toured our wedding venue, and things became very real for me. I'm engaged to be married!
With some wedding decisions made, K and my in-laws showed me around the city and indulged my desire to shop for clothes and souvenirs. We went to a couple of temples, including the one Papa frequents on a weekly basis, to give thanks for our blessings. I also went on my first tuk-tuk ride, ate Golgappa (YUM!), and even rode on a camel!
My first camel ride in Panchkula, Punjab, India.
As you can see from the pictures, I mostly dressed in traditional Indian attire. All of my outfits pictured are courtesy of Mummy and Papa, with the exception of the peach and gold saree, which was a gift from K's Maasi (maternal aunt). Because I was dressed traditionally, and probably because I took India in like a glass of fresh water, I was not made to feel uncomfortable or unwanted by the locals. In fact, many smiled or nodded at me as we crossed paths. The people of India are, overall, very kind, hard-working, and generous.
I wish I could share more pictures and stories from my India adventure, but out of respect for other's privacy and out of respect for your poor eyes after this long post, I'll refrain :-) There's a lot more to be said about India and her people, more than can I write in this one post, so I'll save it for another time.
Okay, just one more picture! On one of my last days in India, I decided to hunt down a bookstore. How could I visit another country and not buy some books?! I found The English Bookshop in Sector-17 of Chandigarh (a place worth visiting!) and scored 4 books (all by Indian authors) for only $12 USD!
I think it's important to read books from other countries, and that feature other cultures and customs, so I am excited to dive into these beauties when they come up in my To-Be-Read pile!
Dear reader, thank you for sticking with me down this trip to Memory Lane <3 I hope you enjoyed my recollections. I'd love to hear about your most memorable traveling adventure! Please feel free to connect with me in the comments or via the email box on the right sidebar.
Happy travels -- both in fiction and in real life!