After 14.5 hours from Newark to Delhi and a row of crying babies (we know how I adore a child’s screech), my travel partner, Jill Straus and I arrived in Delhi. It was dark and late in the evening and the only thing greeting us was the smell of sulfur and pollution. The locals have taken to calling it fog. It’s more commonly known as smog.
Our first day was a wild one. We started our tour in Old Delhi, which today is predominately Muslim and quite economically depressed. There is a famous Mosque – Jama Masjid, the largest in India and built in 1650 AD. During holidays and festivals, there can be as many as 20,000 worshippers at the open air Mosque. Many Muslims make their way to Mecca by way of Jama to see this sacred Mosque and share in its history.
Our guide Mahinder took a quick liking to Jill and started directing all the information to her. He flattered her with compliments, “Oh Jill you could be Indian.” This was about an hour after I told her this is one country we were visiting that she would not be mistaken for a local. Mahinder is 26 and studying to be a lawyer – a three-year program in India. It didn’t take us long to figure out Mahinder, a Hindu, was anti-Muslim and not shy about his feelings. He blames the Muslims for many of India’s “troubles.” About 80 percent of the country practices Hinduism, while about 12 percent Muslim and the rest Christian. India preaches acceptance and has long believed in a peaceful society but it seems obvious there is great tension.
India has a population of about 1.5 billion people and more than 17 million people live in Delhi. It’s crowded. The streets are filled with rickshaws, tuk-tuks, motorcycles, buses, and cars; the sidewalks of people; and the air of a system overloaded. It’s not as dirty as I imagined or people warned but it is certainly not home. There is begging, poverty and a huge divide between rich and poor. The average salary is $8,000 but there are certainly people making more evident by the number of BMW’s and Porsche’s lined up at some of the shops and hotels.
After a rickshaw ride through the Muslim quarter, we visited the Raj Ghat, a memorial to Mahatma Gandh, the famous leader who led the country to independence and inspired movements for non-violence, civil rights and freedom. This is also where Mahinder took to calling Jill by her nickname “Jilly.” He was adamant about getting Jill to focus on his information when she preferred to wander taking photos. He didn’t care at all if I was paying attention but I asked 100 questions anyway.
The rest of the afternoon was hurried around us buying sarees for our big Indian wedding. We tried on several amazing fabrics and of course started with the pre-maid tops and moved quickly to the expensive need to be altered silks. We were tossing around these six feet spools of fabric like they were old newspapers. Finally, I decided on a beautiful pink design infused with gold and Jill went with an embroidered black design.
Getting dressed was an entirely different story. By the time, we buttoned our tops, adjusted our petticoats, we had no idea how to wrap the sarees. We ended up in the lobby bathroom half dressed with the hotel staff pinning our sarees for us. It didn’t seem to fit me right and I had to make another visit to another bathroom when we arrived to the hotel (at the wedding) and have another woman dress me. It was the theme for the night since it happened on a few occasions.
Indian weddings last from three to five nights. This first night (which we attended) is the ring ceremony or engagement where the groom is escorted in with gifts for his family and then the bride enters a few minutes after him in a similar procession. Jill and I arrived at about 9 pm and were immediately greeted with servers in every direction but unlike in the states we were greeted with apple juice, guava juice and pineapple juice not champagne. There were six photographers, three videographers and it seemed every time we turned around we had a camera in our face taking our picture or a video camera where we kept saying, “Congratulations! We are so happy to share this special day with you.” Please note –we don’t know the bride or groom and had not at this point even met the brother who invited us through a friend. It got to be ridiculous with the cameras.
It was difficult to gauge the crowd. The men all bunched together and the women stayed in their corner so we quickly figured out there would be no mingling. Jill and I made the best of it and ate the appetizers, photographed the guests and people watched. The women wore incredible sarees and tunics, vibrant colors in turquoise, pink, purple and jeweled designs with lace and different types of gems. It was a Sikh wedding so most of the men wore suits and turbans. The bride and groom finally arrived around 11:30 pm by then we had figured out the men were drinking scotch and there were mojitos and Bloody Mary’s floating around the room. The music carried on all night and after the procession of the bride and groom more food was served. I’ve never ever seen so much food at a wedding ever. The Indians have the Jews and Italians beat for sure. We made a few friends, watched the dancing and enjoyed the Indian music before departing around 1:00 am.