While we hoped that our travels would give us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in different cultures, that’s easier said than done. We try. We eat local food and learn local phrases. We travel like locals in scooters, tuk tuks and the dreaded dala dalas. But all too often it feels as though we are perpetual tourists, looking in on other people’s worlds, checking off attractions from a never ending Lonely Planet list.
India was a much welcomed exception. We were there for what may very well be the ultimate cultural experience: a wedding! Our friends Aishwarya and Dan decided to tie the knot far far away from their San Francisco home, in an ancient temple that has a special significance to her ancestors. Aish’s mom was gracious enough to let a bunch of wedding guests (maybe 25 in total) overtake her home for a week of chaotic festivities. We all remarked how it felt like summer camp.
For breakfast lunch and dinner we ate food that was so spicy we often teared up. In between wedding ceremonies we had group excursions to sites around Hyderabad. As a group of pale, tall (as in Jason, not Mark!) people, we attracted a lot of attention and felt like celebrities as we posed for pictures. One stranger handed me her baby so that she could snap a picture!
The wedding included numerous pujas (prayer ceremonies), the actual wedding at the ancient temple, a sangeet (PARTY!), a bbq for local villagers and a relaxing dosa picnic on the family farm. We were welcomed by a large extended family and villagers alike. We dressed in brightly colored saris and learned local stick dances. We served dinner to an entire village and then broke out into a dance party. This was no ordinary trip. We watched Dan crack coconuts like a natural. We ate mutton with our henna-decorated hands. We watched Aishwarya and Dan pour more rice than you can imagine over each other’s heads, as monkeys danced on the roof.
We may have skipped the well-trodden tourist circuit in the north and left without seeing the Taj Mahal, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. We got to celebrate with old friends and make a bunch of new ones. This week we weren’t tourists, we were guests at an unbelievably fun and unforgettable wedding.