A few months before my departure, I began attracting a lot of Indian related energies around me, from massage clients, music, food, Hare Krishna, to the final sign that India was definitely ripe and ready to receive me to its holy land: when I noticed tons of billboards around Toronto for travel to India. How much louder could the signs be eh?
When I arrived, I wasn’t surprised by what presented in front of me. I was given a head’s up about what to potentially expect so it was rather exciting and like with all my adventures, I just went with the flow and let India guide me rather than vise versa (foreign territory for me physically), but familiar in the sense that I was traveling and I knew a lot about Indian culture thanks to friends, Toronto population, working in Indian restaurants, and participating in Hare Krishna events.
I was greeted at the airport by my couchsurfing host. http://www.couchsurfing.com is a website that lets people experience cultural exchange wherever they go, whether it be just to meet up for a meal, have a local show you around, stay for free in their home, and this way a cultural exchange can occur. In the 5 yrs of my travels, I’ve only had positive experiences. The references, profiles and my intuition make it an easier smoother journey and experience each time.
As I entered the home of my first host I was welcomed by his family but something unexpected and disturbing shocked me. My host had two 6 year old “servant” boys who jumped with terror when they saw me. I approached them to introduce myself as a polite guest of course but that only encouraged more fear. I soon found out that they had just left their village 3 weeks before my arrival, and I was the very first white person they’ve ever seen in their life. It was totally understandable why they treated me like an alien and after a few days they became less threatened and rather fond of me.
The boys’ parents were sick and couldn’t support them, so my host took them in to help support them, through work (cooking and cleaning) and monetary compensation was sent to their family. They were fed, clothed and sheltered, but still as they were “servants” they were to eat on the floor, and sit lower than the family. The cast system was still new to me at the time. At least the little boys were treated almost as family, rather than slaves and completely foreign.
The catalyst to my arrival in Dec 2009 rather than Jan 2010 was my friend’s wedding. Wow! was that ever an experience.
I was used to Indian traditions and culture from the age of 10 when I would frequently go over to my neighbours who would treat me as their daughter and invite me to all their home festivities. I was used to being the only white person and it was awesome and I absolutely loved it.
I adored the spicy samosas, daal, roti with butter, the sweets were my favourite (gulab jamam, kulfi, carrot halva, jelebee, etc.) and wearing the traditional Clothing. My neighbours were from the province of Punjab which is a little different than where I ended up for the wedding, Gujrat.
Talk about an experience. If you ever get the chance to attend a traditional Indian wedding, no matter where it takes place, do your best to make it happen! It’s really something special to experience.
THe whole process is fascinating, from the preparations before to the actual wedding, (the henna for the ladies was my fav, see the pics) and what leads afterwards.
The family is originally from Toronto, where I know them from, but it is not only cheaper to have a wedding in India but the amount of family they have, it just makes it so much easier and in a way “better” (maybe) to have it in India. Although the bride and groom only knew maybe 50 of the 1000 people there personally.
This is wear my initial exposure to what India was all about for me really simmered and revealed itself. Colours, spices, religion and Family.
Over 1000 people attended the wedding, again I was the only white person there and of course I loved it! Let me tell you! The traditional women’s dress called a “saree” looks just radiantly stunning on white women. It’s really something else. Actually, caucasians in general look amazing in it. I’ve seen some Spanish women with the long black hair, tanned skin and big almond green eyes and they look like they’re from Kashmir, as did I at this time. (I felt like I was in a Bollywood movie).
I danced, and I danced the way I know how (freestyle) so imagine a white woman in a saree dancing freestyle to Indian tunes… a recipe for laughter and fun beyond the traditional wedding.
The white horse, and sparkly carriage, the abundance of henna on all of the women, food, music, people and the lengthy ceremony. It reminded me a little of a Jewish wedding actually. What with the woman circling the man, glass being broken, and the “holy man” facilitating the ceremony through prayers and activations of the Gods to protect and join the two in matrimony. And remember there are 100’s if not 1000’s of Gods in the Indian tradition so you can imagine how lengthy this was. But fascinating and quite an honour for me to be present there.
I noticed it didn’t really matter how rich or poor someone was materialistically, when a woman even in the slums of India wears a saree, she looks like a Goddess, a queen, rich and powerful! The colours really excentuate and bring out the colours of vibrancy within. So the sarees of the women at this wedding, most middle class, were the most magnificent creations of sarees I’d ever seen. Like with most weddings, people go all out with their attire.
Most of the questions people would ask me at the wedding, especially the women, were “how’s the food? Do you like the food? What’s your favourite food here tonight? Do you like Indian food? How are you enjoying the food?”
Oh wow, Indian food, my favourite actually to this day, as per the flavours! It wasn’t the best Indian food I had that’s forsure, and for 1000 people I’m not surprised. The best food was with my couchsurfers from all over India during those 5months, but more on this later. There are 27 provinces in India and each has their own specialties and traditional ways of cooking. I was exposed to Gujrati food.
So that was how I started my journey. Gradually, I enriched myself with all of her glory and sacredness, for the land of India is truly like no other and definitely a place of growth and expansion took place in so many ways.