Monday, October 13

Travel Within India-- The Railway System

With just over a month before we leave for India, I am now focused on coordinating our domestic travel plans within India.  I anticipate that we will be staying in up to five different cities which requires a lot of hotel reservations, at least one plane ride, a few train rides, and many drivers and rickshaws.

For my family and Carlos, this will be the most extensive travel by train.  The Indian railway system is 150 years old and the 2nd largest railway system in the world (I'm not sure what the largest one is).  Fifteen million people travel by rail daily in India.  It is the most common mode of long-distance travel among Indians--I imagine because it is the most affordable and is fairly convenient.  The railway system is run by Indian Railways which employes 1.65 million people.  Traveling by rail allows you to see the Indian countryside in a way that a car does not.  The chai and snack vendors make sure that you're not traveling on an empty stomach and depending on which tickets you purchase, you can lay down and take nap during longer trips.  When traveling to Varanasi last summer, Sulekh's mom packed us a feast!  I was able to eat bhindi masala while watching different villages pass by window.  

Saturday, September 13

Vidai: The Farewell

The final phase of an Indian wedding, the Vidai. Vidai is the ceremony when the bride bids farewell to her parents after the wedding. This is a very emotional time during a traditional Indian wedding and there is not a dry eye among the participants. It is common to see family members and the couple bawling from the emotion that overwhelms the event.

In India, there are extended households; the son, especially the oldest or only son, cares for his parents and unmarried siblings. The bride then moves in with this family and her commitments are to the groom's family more than her own.

In Vidai, symbollically, the bride is leaving her parents' home and her family for good to become an integral part of her husband's family. This is the final moment that marks the end of her closest bond with her parents. From this moment onwards, she would have the closest bond with her husband and her in-laws.

During the ceremony, the eldest female member of the family comes forward and offers nabad to the couple three times. She kisses the couple on the forehead. The bride is then seated in a car and friends and relatives bid her good bye.

Click on the title of this post to see a Bollywood version of Vidai from the movie "Babul."

Our Vidai will take place the morning after our wedding ceremony on November 30th.

Friday, September 12

Music and Dance: The Sangeet

Sangeet means music, but in the case of a Hindu wedding, it refers to a song and dance filled event that takes place a few days before the wedding. Traditionally, women are the only ones to take part, though some men are allowed. During the event, ladies will sing traditional Indian songs, dance, and joke around with guests.

During my friend Mridula's wedding, the Sangeet was a talent show of sorts, showcasing the dance skills of friends, families, and the couple themselves!

Our Sangeet will take place on the rooftop of Sulekh's home on Thanksgiving Day, November 27th. My mom is sprucing up her moves and getting ready to show Muzaffarpur how California girls get down.... On second thought, I think we'll catch my mom up on some of the latest Bollywood moves, right mom!

Above is a clip of what Sue and my Sangeet will resemble and below is a fancier Sangeet performance from the movie "Monsoon Wedding."

Tuesday, August 26

Sue's Home State--Bihar, India

Bihar is a state in Eastern India. It boasts a population of 83 million people, 90% of which live in rural communities. Hindi and Urdu are the official languages of the state, though the majority speak a Bihari dialect. The word Bihar is derived from the Sanskrit word "vihara," which means abode or "vihar," meaning monastery.

While Bihar has a rich ancient history, in contemporary times, it struggles with poverty, illiteracy, and lack of development relative to the rest of India. In its past, the present day capital of Bihar, Patna, was the center of India's first empire and was a notable place of power, culture, and education. Bihar is also well know as the place where Buddha attained enlightenment under a Bodhi tree. Today, Bodhgaya is a Mecca for Buddhist followers.

Sue's dad was born in a small village in Vaishali, Bihar. Sue's grandfather was a priest, farmer, and legendary swimmer! Sue's mom was born and raised in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and met Sue's father while she was teaching in Bihar.

Here is a clip on village life in Bihar. Sue grew up in a bigger town-- more to come on his hometown, Muzaffarpur.

Sunday, July 27

Haldi Ceremony: Purely Prepped

Haldi (turmeric) is a root within the ginger family. When dried and ground, it becomes a deep yellow powder. The powder is used as a spice (base for curry powder and substitute for saffron) and as food coloring. Haldi is also known to have medicinal properties and can be used as an anti-septic for cuts and bruises.

The Haldi ceremony takes place a day or so before the wedding ceremony. Turmeric (haldi), rosewater, and sandalwood are mixed into a paste that is applied on both the bride and groom by their female relatives and friends. The ceremony is considered auspicious and is meant to purify both bride and groom before the big day. Because of the medicinal properties, it’s like a mini-facial/body scrub the day before the wedding. Warning---if you keep this paste on for too long, it'll look like you had a bad run-in with a self-tanner.   Ewwwww.
Our Haldi Ceremony will take place the same day as the Mehendi ceremony, November 28th.  

Tuesday, July 22

Monday, July 21

What's Mehndi and Why is There a Party for It?

Mehndi  is a small tropical shrub.  The leaves of the shrub are dried and ground into a paste.  The paste is typically applied to hands, legs, and feet using a small cone--something similar to the pastry tools used for cake decorating.   

A mehndi artist draws the paste onto your body in intricate patterns.  Depending upon the intricacy of the drawings, this could be a long and arduous process (for the artist and you!).  You must then wait several hours for the paste to dry at which point you scrape it off and reveal a rust-red temporary tattoo (LA Ink has nothing over these designs!).  

Women usually decorate themselves with mehndi for festivals, special occasions, and for weddings.  In fact, it's a wedding must.  The idea is that the darker your mehndi comes out, the more your groom will love you and the more prosperous your marriage. (Some traditions also say that the deeper the mehndi color, the more you'll be on your mother-in-law's good side.  Give me a double dose! :-)
What Kind of Party?
There are lots of different parties: birthday parties, Tupperware parties, and yes, mehndi parties.  Woo hoo!  The day before a wedding, the bride and all of the women gather for the mehndi ritual. During the ritual, a bride-to-be and her female friends and family will be decorated with mehndi. During the ritual, the ladies get down with song and dance.  

My mehndi party will take place on November 28th.

Maybe I'll get little chile patterns hidden in my mehndi design to give my brother's tattoo a run for its money!

Pictures from our 2007 India Trip and Engagement

This is a totally unedited, but long overdue album of our India Trip pics.

Just click on the title!

Sunday, July 20

Liz & Me

A slideshow that Melissa and I created last year to introduce her and her family to my family.

Getting There: Traveling to India

Those who are exploring the possibility of joining us in India have asked for some details to help you research options.  Here is some information that can inform your decision making.

Total recommended budget per person: $2,000-$2,400 (Based on a two-week trip) (Dependent upon shopping, extent of travel)

Average cost of flight to India: $1,100-1,300
Recommended Airport of Entry: Delhi International Airport 

Ultimate Destination Airport: Patna, Bihar (Jayprakash Narain International Airport).  Patna is the state capital of Bihar, Sue's home state.  Patna is 60 miles from Sue's home town (takes 3 hours by car).  

Flight options: There are direct flights to Delhi from SF/LA/NYC.  If you'd prefer a layover to stretch your legs, those are available, too. 

Our Plans: My parents, brothers, and Carlos (Manuel's roommate from culinary school) will be flying into New York a few days early to check-out the City.  On November 21st we plan to fly out of JFK on an overnight flight to London (Heathrow Airport).  We'll arrive in London early Saturday morning (UK time) and spend a day in London during which time we'll enjoy a delicious English breakfast (fried eggs, steamed tomato, pork and beans---yum!).  After exploring some of London for the day, we'll fly directly to Delhi and arrive there by Sunday afternoon (India time). Total travel time is about 16 hours.

Folks who are taking the NY-London-Delhi route are welcomed to join us on the flight. We would be happy to make flight arrangements to ensure that you are on the same flight.  Otherwise, as soon as we book our tickets (in less than 2 weeks), we'll let you know when we plan to arrive in Delhi so that you can coordinate your flight.

If you plan to travel to Patna on your own, let us know and we'll arrange to have a car to pick you up upon arrival to bring you to Sue's home town.  

Airlines to Research:
Indian carriers

Air India (NY/LA), Jet Airways (EWR/JFK/SFO), Kingfisher (SFO)

American Carriers
Continental (EWR/SFO), Delta, American Airlines

British/European Carriers
British Airways, Virgin Airlines, Air France

Asian/Middle Eastern Airlines
Air China, Singapore Airlines, Etihad, Emirates