BY JANET STEINBERG
NAMASTE! I have been to India twice, and both times I returned home with many unforgettable experiences.
In Agra, I hired an elephant named Lakshmi and his mahout (elephant driver) to give me an unforgettable 1.5-mile ride from my hotel to the Taj Mahal. Lakshmi stopped for veggies at her favorite food stands; elderly bystanders clasped their hands in the traditional namaste greeting; and children screamed with delight when they saw me sitting in a rickety howdah atop the lumbering pachyderm.
That was a fun experience not to be forgotten.
On the western bank of the Ganges, in the ancient city of Varanasi, I witnessed shrouded bodies being washed in the Ganges River in preparation for the riverbank cremations that are thought to liberate their souls from their bodies.
That was a sobering experience not to be forgotten.
However, there was one Indian tradition I had missed. I never had the pleasure of witnessing an Indian wedding. That is until now. Only this time I did not have to fly half way around the world for that memorable experience. I merely had to be in the right place at the right time. And, believe it or not, that right time and right place was 11 AM on a Saturday morning in the lobby of the Downtown Hilton Hotel in Columbus, Ohio. I began to suspect something was about to happen when the first group of exquisitely dressed Indian women, wearing a maharani’s ransom in jewels, descended the spiral staircase into the hotel lobby.
|INDIAN BEAUTIES DESCEND INTO THE HOTEL LOBBY|
Female guests continued to arrive in colorful saris or traditional Anarkali Suits. Gentlemen appeared in sherwanis or kurta pyjamas. And beautiful Indian children emulated the traditional outfits of their parents.
|CHILDREN DRESS ELEGANTLY LIKE THEIR PARENTS|
After a while of socializing, the noise level reached a feverish pitch. People started rushing out the front door of the hotel onto High Street. I noticed that part of High Street had been blocked off. The young man standing next to me explained to me that it was time for the baraat, or groom’s procession.Minutes later, the groom arrived on a decorated white horse. The groom was wearing the traditional safa (wedding turban) and sherwani (groom’s outfit). Cameras snapped, people clapped, a little child was hoisted onto the horse with the groom, and guests began to dance around him.
|GROOM, CHILD, AND HORSE, ALL DRESSED FOR THE OCCASION|
After a bit, a disc jockey in the back of a van, struck up the band. A drummer appeared and began to march. Throngs of women started dancing, and the procession was underway. Musicians, photographers, and dancers led the groom, atop his red-and-gold-attired horse into the Hilton Hotel. From there hundreds of guests followed into the lower level of the hotel where the ceremony was to take place.
|DRUMMER LEAD PROCESSION BACK INTO THE HOTEL|
A round table, aglow with candles, and center-pieced with the elephant-headed deity Ganesh, was the favorite spot where guests chose to be photographed.
|GUESTS POSE BY GANESH|
Upon entering the ceremonial ballroom, guests passed under a gilded arch dripping with crystals. They proceeded down the aisle on a red runner strewn with rose petals. Gold and crystal pillars held candles and red flowers. The elaborate wedding canopy was reminiscent of chuppahs used at Jewish weddings.
|GILDED SCENE OF THE WEDDING|
While the ceremony was underway, the catering staff from Gokul Café was busy setting up an Indian buffet. Specializing in fine Indian vegetarian cuisine, the servers adorned the table with trays filled with foods like Vegetable Biriyani (a spiced veggie and Basmati rice dish), Dahi Vada (dumplings dunked in a creamy whipped yogurt), and desserts like Badam Puri (crispy delicacies drenched in sugar syrup).
|DAHI VADA (DUMPLINGS IN CREAMY YOGURT)|
This best wedding, to which I was not invited, (but to which I was welcomed as an observer) was a gala affair replete with pomp, show, and color. It was a beautiful day with a sweet ending. And it took a trip to Columbus, Ohio to let me experience what I had missed on two trips to India.
|A SWEET ENDING WITH BADAM PURI (CRISPY DELICACIES IN SUGRY SYRUP|
That was a joyous experience not to be forgotten.
JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer/Editor and International Travel Consultant with THE TRAVEL AUTHORITY in Mariemont