Friday night: The Wedding Party
We later learn this is actually a pre-wedding party, and instead of 400 guests it looks rather more like 100. IndianInterlude had asked hotel staff what time the party would commence and was told 9.00pm. However it was well after 10.00 before the bride and groom appeared. The only ceremonial aspect of the evening was when the couple were on a rotating dais (the unwilling groom having been ‘dragged’ to the spot by his supporters) and played a game of ‘hoopla’ with garlands of marigolds. The groom played hard to get, jumping up to make it difficult for the bride to be to throw her garland over him. This ceremony is watched by maybe just twenty of the guests, everyone else is eating. At the conclusion the happy couple are drenched in glitter from a glitter gun, that seems to run longer than that used at the AFL grand final.
The happy couple then walk up an aisle to a stage where there is a gold seat for two. A photographic session commences, and just about everyone at the party (or so it seems) has their photograph taken with the bride and groom. Notwithstanding that some shots are taken standing, and some seated, throughout this process the bride is like a statue. By around 1.00am the event is over. IndianInterlude votes the bride’s outfit as sari of the year.
Saturday: Flight to Varanasi
Our local contact arrives with yet another driver (are they trying to share the tips around?) for the short journey to the airport. Security is something else here. No one gets into the terminal unless they have a ticket. We present our tickets and passports to enter. Immediately, our checked luggage is scanned, and tagged as having passed security. We then approach the check-in counter, where no one is on duty. Despite having checked-in on line, we are issued fresh boarding passes, and we have to tag each item of carry-on baggage.
We then approach security. Separate lines for men and women. All hand luggage goes through the scanner, and the luggage tag is stamped as proof. Passengers walk through a detector, and have the detecting wand passed over them, and get a pat-down search for good measure.
The departure lounge has a couple of stalls for souvenirs, toilets, drinking water, and not much else. The plane is late, but there are no announcements to this effect. Our incoming plane lands long after we should have departed. Called to the plane we have to show our boarding pass and the security stamped tag on our carry on bags to get out of the lounge for our walk across the tarmac to our plane. Boarding passes are checked and torn at the foot of the stairs. Our Jet Airways plane is spanking new, and we have a comfortable and short flight. Passengers receive a cheese sandwich and a small bottle of water for lunch. The male half of IndianInterlude is seated next to an Indian woman for the trip. When the flight attendant comes around to collect our rubbish (the glad wrap from our sandwich) I hold out my palm to take her ball of glad wrap. She says ‘okay’ complete with Indian head wobble, but doesn’t give me the glad wrap. When the female half offers the same service, it is accepted.
We land in Varanasi, and make the mistake of being first off the plane. This means we have to figure out which way to go, instead of following someone else. There is no sign indicating baggage claim, but a helpful soldier hears my question and points us in the right direction. Bags collected we find we are in Varanasi, but our car is not. A phone call to our contact in Mumbai soon puts this right. Whilst we wait many airport staff approach us to offer assistance. Regrettably I am already cynical about such offers, feeling sure any acceptance will cost me money. Varanasi airport by the way is just a year old.
We commence the drive into town, this is a better road and the most manageable traffic we have seen for some time, however as we get closer to the town centre, the now familiar traffic chaos returns. It seems we cannot take the car close to the hotel, and we stop in an open lot where our local contact explains the situation. We order cycle-rickshaws for the remainder of the journey. Even then we appear to be denied entry to our street until money appears to change hands. When we alight, there is some argy-bargy over the price but we escape with the agreed amount. We are still a confusing, winding walk through small laneways to our hotel, and feel sure that we could never find it on our own. We check-in and prepare for our boat ride on the Ganges to view the Aarthi ceremony (a prayer for Mother Ganga).