Tamil Na-Don’t Mind if I-du

While working in Kuala Lumpur, I befriended a colleague, Rajam, who is originally from a small city called Thanjavur in the state of Tamil Nadu. Rajam  has been working outside of his home state and country for some time, most recently in Dubai where he worked on the Burj Khalifa, and had always enjoyed telling me about his travel and work abroad. But recently he had become most excited to tell me about his daughter’s upcoming nuptials in his hometown of Thanjavur. The more we began to know each other, the more he talked about the wedding and soon insisted that I be in attendance for the ceremony at the beginning of February. His insistence grew once he found out that I would be moving to move to Mumbai. Each time he brought it up, I would kindly thank him for invitation and tell him that I would try my best to make it for the ceremony.

Upon moving to Mumbai and walking into my company’s  office on the first day, I was quickly and warmly greeted by Avinash, Rajam’s son who also happened to work for Turner. Avinash is a kind soul who seemed to take it as a personal sense of responsibility to ensure my time in Mumbai would be enjoyable. As him and I became friends, he wasted little time in re-emphasizing the outstanding invitation to his sisters’ wedding down in Tamil Nadu at the beginning of February. I realized that I would have to try my absolute best to make it down there.

So in January I booked a flight for me and my girlfriend, Elisabetta, deciding to make the trip into a long weekend journey exploring Tamil Nadu. Her birthday is at the end of January and I thought this would be a fun way for us to celebrate her birthday and also attend the wedding. The wedding itself was Monday through Wednesday (that’s correct, it is a three day affair). Initially I was surprised at the length of the whole affair until I heard that many of the North Indian weddings lasted up to 6 or 7 days. I really did not know what to expect, but booked our flights, leaving first thing Saturday morning. The plan was to spend the first day exploring Madurai, a 2,500 year old city known for the Meenakshi temple, Sunday in Kodaikanal, a hill station tucked in the Western Ghats, and then Monday through Wednesday in Thanjavur.

With the planning complete, our flights and hotels booked, we were looking forward to the upcoming trip. Then the Tuesday before we were scheduled to leave I got sick. Real sick. My first Made in India sick. Worst of all, it was Elisabetta’s birthday on Thursday and I was left incapacitated. The trip on Saturday began to look very questionable. Then my trip to the doctor’s office seemed to seal the fate as he strongly recommended I not travel anywhere over the weekend. Luckily, through the miracles of modern medicine I was feeling well enough to take on the adventure.

Saturday morning we woke up around 5:00 am to ensure we were at the airport with at least an hour before our departure. Within the domestic airport in India, I’ve generally found that arriving an hour before the flight, assuming you don’t have to check a bag, provides ample time to pass through security with enough cushion to catch your flight. However, that assumption is based on the ability to print out your ticket beforehand or at a kiosk within the airport. And the low cost carrier, SpiceJet, we were flying provided neither of those options. Which means that we were not the only ones who needed to get a ticket printed out. As a matter of fact it appeared the entire population of Mumbai was flying SpiceJet at the same time as us and needed their ticket from one of the roughly four counters that were available.

We took our spot in the queue as I continually glanced down at my watch. It was about 45 minutes before our  flight departed and we decided that we need to find a shorter line so we went over to the line for elite status members of SpiceJet, Cinnamon or Cardamom  or whatever (those are not the names of their elite statuses). Soon enough we were at the counter and asked for our boarding passes as we did not have any bags to be checked. It was at this time the lady at the desk informed us the gate was closed. It was 40 minutes before our flight left. Incredulously I asked how that was possible. She repeated the gate was closed and we could not get on the flight. We insisted otherwise and then after a brief conference with her supervisor agreed to let us check in, but we had to pay for an upgrade. Realizing they had us over a proverbial barrel, we agreed. So just as we’re handing over the money, she then says, “the captain just called and said you guys are too late. You can’t board.” We were dumbfounded. So I asked when was the next flight and what could she do to get us on that flight. She responded the next flight was at 10 pm that evening and there was nothing she could do to get us on it, it was not her problem. I think the customer service manual for SpiceJet employees is a one page pamphlet that reads, “Don’t acknowledge the customer, they are not to be trusted. Remember, they paid in advance.”

I was frustrated to say the least so we backed away from the counter to gather our thoughts and figure out how we were going to get to Madurai, a place in which the only direct flight there was through SpiceJet. Looking through the options on my phone the next available option seemed to be at 3 pm that day, with one stop, and was nearly twice what I paid for our original tickets. We decided to go back to the house, lick our wounds, and think about our next steps.

While back at the apartment, we were both doing research and I could find very limited options that would get us in that day without costing an exorbitant amount. Elisabetta on the other hand, did some creative searches and found that if we flew one airline (most definitely not SpiceJet) to Bangalore, we could then switch to a small airline called Air Pegasus that would put us into Madurai that afternoon all for a reasonable price. So we booked our new flights and headed back to the airport with more than enough time to avoid a repeat of the morning.

Our flight down ended up being relatively uneventful. The Air Pegasus leg was on a small turboprop plane with a smiley face painted on the front, but was staffed by friendly people and arrived on time.

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Relieved to actually be on a flight, headed from Mumbai to Bangalore.
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Our smiley face Air Pegasus flight.

Soon enough we had arrived into Madurai. When we got out of the terminal, we were soon greeted by a driver from the hotel. Always relieved when things seem to go smoothly I happily made my way along with the driver. It wasn’t until I looked over at a laughing Elisabetta that I realized something was amiss. She then pointed out the spelling on the sign with my name on it. Oh well, when in India.

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Ms. Evan Walker

We were staying at the Heritage Hotel in Madurai which was situated just on the outskirts of the city. By the time we checked in, it was late in the afternoon so we decided to stay around the hotel and get massages. The room itself was very nice and even had a private courtyard pool.

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We grabbed dinner at the hotel restaurant which was decent but nothing special. My recovery kept me from being to adventurous during dinner. Afterwards we walked around the hotel grounds and then called it a night to be ready for the next day.

In the morning we ate a quick breakfast at the hotel as we had lined up a car to take us over to see the Meenaskhi Temple in the morning. The temple is located on the southern banks of the Vaigai River and was built in the early 1600’s. It was constructed for the goddess Parvati, Shiva’s wife, or more specifically her avatar Meenakshi (yes, avatar is more than just a James Cameron movie). Visible from the outside are 14 gateway towers which are adorned with colorful figures. The figures were only recently painted and add a surreal quality to the place. The temple in its entirety has upwards of 33,000 sculptures spread throughout the structures.

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In front of one of the colorfully adorned gateway towers.

Prior to entering the temple complex you are required to remove your shoes. When you walk in through one of the gateway towers you are inside a large walled area, looking at another wall which further hides the main temple. Spread throughout the grounds are small deities and places to worship to different gods for different reasons. One such area we came across, as explained to us, was for lovelorn Indian men and women to pray for help in finding a partner. The did so by tying a string to the tree and then praying to a god (I honestly don’t remember which one) asking that they may soon find a suitable partner. I joked to our guide why the single guys didn’t just hang around the tree waiting for the first girl to tie a string on a branch and then pulling it off and proudly exclaiming her prayers were answered. He didn’t seem amused.

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This was the tree and deity people prayed to for finding a partner or becoming pregnant (note the little baskets in the tree). I made sure Elisabetta stayed away from the hanging baskets.
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From this viewpoint you could see the golden temple of the main shrine through a small hole in the inner wall.

As we walked around the grounds there were people all around, receiving prayers from holy men and praying to the many gods represented outside the main temple. We soon arrived at the entrance into the main temple and our tour guide began walking us through the  temple, talking about the different gods and what they represented. The more I have become exposed to Hinduism the more confused I have become. Though that path to confusion has been an enjoyable one. Hinduism, unlike say Christianity, has a diversified practice and belief system which changes from region to region. It is a less unified doctrine and more an umbrella term that captures similar tenants and ideologies. There are some core components that seem fairly universal such as the major gods. The trimurti or “big three” are Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer or transformer. Now I had assumed that Shiva being a destroyer, was kind of a bad thing. That he was responsible for the destruction of humanity and physical things caused by war or famine. While the Hindus do believe that, they also believe that he is the destroyer of evil. Learning more about the complicated belief system and deities has been an enjoyable albeit confusing one. Both within the temple and in other places we would go in Tamil Nadu, Shiva was often portrayed dancing. Our tour guide talked about Shiva as being an incredible dancer that could inspire both fear and awe by his dance alone. One thing that struck me about this was the reverence paid to a talent like dancing. There are few places that I’ve been that have come close to rivaling the sheer joy and adoration of dancing as the people of India have exhibited. It is not something that is only done at weddings. The Indian people love to celebrate life and they do so by dancing. If you’ve never seen a Bollywood film, it will only take you about ten minutes to realize they love to dance at even the slightest urging .

After walking around for some time, the guide asked if we would like to be blessed by one of the local holy men, and we said yes. He took us to the entrance of the main temple (unfortunately non-Hindu believers are not allowed inside the main temple) to wait for a holy man. When he came to us, he asked that we both think of a prayer and he would take those prayers inside the temple to Parvati (Meenakshi). We did so, and he went inside, coming out a short while later with two flowered wreaths  and some fruits that were laid at the feet of Parvati as offerings. He presented me with one of the flower wreaths instructing me to put it around Elisabetta’s neck. Then he handed Elisabetta the other and intimated that she do the same to me. After doing this, he blessed us and then walked away. We knew little of what he said, but the whole process was moving and was a special experience for the both of us.

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One of the many sculptures of Parvati within the temple. People will say a blessing and then rub a small amount of colored powder on the figure.

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We spent the rest of the morning just walking around the temple and watching the people. It was a very colorful place which had almost a psychedelic 70’s look, but was also quite stunning.

After walking through the temple, we made our way outside to head back to the hotel as we had a long drive to Kodaikanal that afternoon. While walking back, our guide asked us if we wanted to look at any crafts for sale (a common question from tour guides), and since we still needed to get a wedding gift, we agreed. The shop he took us to had some very nice hand carved sculptures and after spending some time there found a piece we both liked. After some negotiating with one of the proprietors we arrived at an acceptable price for the piece. However, after doing so,  the shop employee asked us to tell the tour guide, that had led us to this very shop, that we bought the piece for a lesser price so they could pay him a smaller commission. This did not sit well with us, especially Elisabetta. She then promptly said, “No, no sale,” and headed straight for the door. I couldn’t have been more proud of her. As she purposefully started her exit, I looked to the dumbfound shopkeeper, smiled and told him, “you messed up.”

We headed back to the hotel to gather our stuff and start out for Kodaikanal which would be about a 4 1/2 hour drive away. One of the things I’ve picked up about traveling in India is you can’t get anywhere quickly. So try to be patient, bring some good reading material, and then watch the scenery pass by.

Kodaikanal is a hill station in Tamil Nadu, approximately 2,000 meters (~6,500 feet) above sea level. So as you get closer the scenery changes fairly significantly as the altitude changes.

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Along the journey we saw a Kabaddi match underway in a small village. Kabaddi is a popular Indian game which is kind of like an adult hybrid of Tag and wrestling. Definitely google it.

As we got closer to Kodaikanal, we saw a few roadside stalls situated close to a waterfall. Elisabetta thought it would be nice to stop and grab a roadside snack. Her spontaneity and sense of adventure is one of the things I love about her. As we perused through the offerings, Elisabetta quickly targeted one stand in particular. The stall was offering fresh, roasted corn which was then coated in butter and masala salt. I had yet to try this combo and it…. was…. delicious. An excellent balance of sweet, salty, and spicy. So we grabbed a roasted corn each, a cup of chai and watched the waterfall and a few playful monkeys.

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As we were finishing up our corn cobs, one of the monkeys noticed we were wrapping up and made a quick move over towards us. The next thing I know he is standing in front of me, startling the sh*t out of Elisabetta and looking expectantly up at us. I had more or less finished my corn so I was willing to share the leftovers. As I extended the cob he greedily grabbed it and ran off. Elisabetta then handed her corn to me, with about a quarter of it left. I was filling up so I had a couple of bites and while I was doing so the monkey had noticed I was in possession of another corn cob. Soon enough he was back, and I thought that since we both seemed full, we could share this yellow treasure with this zealous monkey. It was only after the monkey had this latest offering in his paws and was about 10 meters away that Elisabetta informed me she wasn’t done with it. Sorry honey. The monkey however seemed quite content.

After our roadside stop, we loaded back in the car and were soon arriving at our “hotel”. When looking through the available lodging options in Kodaikanal we opted to go for something less traditional and were ultimately very happy that we did. We stayed at a placed called The Fern Creek Resort, which offers luxury tents in a quiet, garden-like setting. Checking into the resort which is situated just a short drive away from the city center of Kodaikanal we were struck by the tranquility and assortment of flora and fauna that covered the grounds. Especially coming in from Mumbai it was really pleasant to walk around such a lush and peaceful place.

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Elisabetta on the walk down to our tent
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The tent we were staying in. Kind of made you feel like a traveling Maharaja.

After we dropped our stuff off at the room, we wanted to stretch our legs from the long car ride and see the sunset at the Lake in the city center. The temperature in Kodaikanal had started to drop and since living in a tropical climate all year, it’s nice to experience some cooler weather. However, I’ll admit that I wasn’t entirely prepared for this. So as we started our walk over to the lake, with the sun setting and the temperature dropping, I began to get a bit chilly. Luckily we noticed a small shop that was selling shirts, sweatshirts, and jackets so I grabbed a sweatshirt for the rest of the journey, which made it much more comfortable.

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Rocking my new Puma sweatshirt, circa 1987, probably.

Now appropriately outfitted we continued our walk. The town of Kodaikanal is a small city, nestled into the hillside. Walking along the road, the elevations would change rather quickly so that the roof of a house adjacent to the street, may be at the same level as your feet. Additionally, crisscrossed between the houses would be well worn footpaths, frequented by locals and goats. It was really a charming place and peaceful place.

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Roadside cow just hanging out
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Quick stop on our way to the lake.

The walk to the lake took us about 30 minutes and soon we had arrived at the lake just as the sun was setting. It was a peaceful, chilly evening and the sky was filled with blues, purples, and pinks. We spent some time by the lake just enjoying the view.

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After some time we made our way back to the resort to grab dinner. Now in the week previous to our arrival to Tamil Nadu, as I had mentioned, Elisabetta had her birthday. We had made grand plans to go out with her friends and family to celebrate the evening… and then I got sick. And being the caring person she is, she took care of me, even cancelling her birthday (against my protestations otherwise I’d like to state on the record). Either way, I felt bad that she wasn’t able to have a proper celebration. So with some help from my friend, Avinash, who knew the manager of the resort, we were able to set up a bit of a surprise for Elisabetta. When we got back to the main lodge, we headed towards the dining room. As we walked in, the staff had setup a private room for us adorned in candles, flowers, and a table set for two. She was absolutely surprised.

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The staff was all there and grinning ear to ear. Elisabetta had not suspected a thing and was happy. They presented her with a bouquet of flowers and a birthday cake. A normal tradition in India is that you feed a bite of the birthday cake to one another by hand, so she cut some small pieces and we fed each other a piece. Then Elisabetta not wanting to leave out the staff, cut small pieces and fed them each. Smiles and laughter all around.

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We then grabbed our seat and they brought out the food. As they placed it, they then told me it was tradition that I serve the birthday girl and then she serves me. I’m not sure if it was just a ruse to get out of serving us, but in any case, we really enjoyed it.

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If this construction gig doesn’t work out I may go into the service industry!

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Dinner was wonderful as we enjoyed some very tasty Indian food in our private candlelit dining room. Afterwards, we decided to make use of the on-site firepit. We put in an order for some black tea, whiskey, and then headed down there. The fire was already going and we spent the next few happy hours just watching the fire, talking, and enjoying the tranquil mountain night.

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The next morning our plan was to do some sightseeing around Kodaikanal, so we grabbed breakfast there at the camp and then met up with our guide. We spent the morning driving around to see the different landscapes and scenic stops of Kodaikanal.

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Like so many places we have visited, the monkeys rule the roost.

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Trying to win over some monkey friends. Me feeding monkeys whether intentionally or otherwise is becoming a common theme.

Soon, the landscape around us changed completely and we found ourselves driving through a pine forest. Since growing up in Los Angeles, I’ve had early memories of the pine forests of Big Bear mountain and Angela’s Crest situated outside the city limits. Because of that I’ve always had an affinity for pine forests and it had been a loooong time since I had last seen one. So to find ourselves in one within India was a very welcome surprise. Within the heart of this pine forest, there was a stop which had a few horses waiting by the side of the road and we were told we could go horseback riding here. Elisabetta and I liked the idea as we thought it would be great to go riding through the pine forests, so we approached one of the guys next to the horses. We said we would like to go riding and he intimated that two horses were available. I asked him how long the ride would be and he in turn asked me if we wanted to go for the long or short? So I responded how long is the long ride? He said he didn’t know, but it was longer than the short one. Hmm, fair enough.

So as we walk towards the mounting spot for the horses (a tree stump) Elisabetta approaches one horse and I the other. As I approach the second horse the guy tells me it is not for me as it’s already booked. I then tell the first gentleman that was not what we agreed to, and he signals to the first horse, implying it’s for both of us. This was certainly not what I had in mind so I tell him no, but I insisted that Elisabetta take her horse for a ride. So just as she is pulling away she realizes that this “ride” is essentially a leisurely stroll on the back of a horse being led by a walking guide. This was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, or maybe horse in this case. Elisabetta promptly told the guy to take her back so she could get off. Our grand idea of horseback riding in the Indian pines eluded us. As she was getting off I looked over at a smiling, rotund couple piled on to the back of another horse. I couldn’t help but feel bad for the horse.

Despite the lack of horseback riding, we spent some time just walking around the pine forest which really was beautiful.

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After some time in the pine forest we got back in the car and headed back towards the hotel. That day we would be heading down to Thanjavur which would be another 5 1/2 hour drive, so we wanted to ensure we got on the road at a reasonable time.

We grabbed our stuff from the The Fern Creek Resort, said our goodbyes to the staff and headed out. Before leaving town we grabbed a quick bite at a Tibetan restaurant which did not leave much to write about. It did fill our stomachs. I guess I could write that.

The next 5 1/2 hours were spent napping, reading, and watching the landscape change again, this time to flat farmland. We arrived into Thanjavur in the evening and checked into a local hotel that had been arranged for us by my friends. Now since living in India, I’ve come to really understand just how populated India is. It is a land of 1.2 billion, which means my understanding of big and small cities is completely skewed from the US standards. A small city in India may have 2 million people, and it has nowhere the level of development I normally attribute to a city of 2 million people within the US (Chicago or Houston, TX). So when arriving into Thanjavur, a city of about 200,000, it really struck us how this place reflected little to no outside influence of Western culture or otherwise. No chains of any kind, which can be really nice, and sometime a little frustrating when you’re just in the mood for some Western food. Getting to know Tamil Nadu, we were amazed at how unique their culture is from the rest of India. Tamil, their local language, is entirely different from Hindi. There is no discernible connection or similarity between the two as on several occasions we attempted to speak Hindi, only to be met by blank stares.

We spent the evening just walking around the city center, checking out shops and grabbing a bite to eat. After the day travelling, we were both tired so we decided to retire early to get ready for the wedding festivities tomorrow.

The wedding we were attending was a three day affair, and I really did not know what to expect. Is it a full day of rituals in which we just sat and watched it? Are there activities for the guests? Are we fed? I had many such questions as this was my first proper Indian wedding to attend. Due to getting in late the evening before and being so tired, we missed the activities from the first day. So I coordinated with my friend what time we should be there in the morning, and he suggested we get there around 9 am. We decided that we would dress locally so I was wearing a kurta and Elisabetta a traditional Indian outfit, of which the name escapes me.

We arrived at the wedding hall and the guests had already begun to arrive. I soon saw my friend Avinash and he greeted us warmly, very excited that we had made it. The wedding ceremony had already ongoing as we walked in and we took a seat to just soak up the scene. At the front of the hall was a beautifully decorated stage and the wedding party, which included both families, the bride and groom, and a number of holy men. Prior to going down to Tamil Nadu, we had heard that the South Indian weddings were more religious than the North Indian weddings which are more well known for their high-paced parties. Observing multiple cross-legged holy men performing rituals and blessings to both parties was an entirely new experience.

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The groom is on the right with his hands in a prayer position, and the bride on the left side with her hands in the same position. She’s seated next to her father, my friend, Rajam.

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Soon enough we figured out that attending an Indian wedding is not like a Western wedding in which you must be seated for the ceremony. Because of the length of the ceremony, people will come in, have a seat, socialize, and then eat. And repeat. It doesn’t take long until someone asks whether you’ve eaten, and if you answer no, you will be quickly escorted to the food hall. So Elisabetta and I had a delicious South Indian breakfast as we talked to other guests who were both friendly and extremely interested to know more about our respective country’s of origin. We passed the morning this way, eating and just observing this rich, cultural ceremony. At one point as we were sitting in the main hall, Rajam, the father of the bride, motioned for a microphone. He was soon brought one and speaking into it, he turned to me to say, “Welcome Evan, we’re so glad you are both here. I’m in the middle of some things but wanted to greet you and we’ll talk more later.” In the middle of something.. Ha. I gestured to him that I was thankful and certainly understood that he had a thing or two to take care of. Over the course of the three day period we were treated as guests of honor and it was incredibly kind and welcoming.

Later that morning, Avinash, came over to us and urged us to get out and do some sightseeing. Both Elisabetta and I were keen to see some of the historic sites of Thanjavur, especially the Brihadeeswarar temple. So having received the blessing of the bride’s brother to get out and explore, it eliminated any potential guilt of leaving the ceremony. One of my colleagues, Kalpita, was also in town for the wedding and having been able to see some of the sights the day before, was eager to show us around.

Just a quick drive from the marriage hall, located in the center of the city is the Brihadeeswarar temple, completed in 1010 AD. It is one of the tallest temples in India and does not have any of the acid-trip colors of the Meenakshi temple.

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The main entrance to the temple grounds.

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We walked onto the grounds and just made our way leisurely throughout the large complex. The temple itself was nowhere near as crowded as the Meenaskhi temple but also felt more spiritual.

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Within the Hindu religion, each god has a mount that is used for transport. In Shiva’s case, he had a bull, Nandi, seen at left sitting outside the main temple which contains Shiva. So within Hindu temples in India, a statue of the mount will be placed outside of the main gods statue, always at the ready.

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Within the temple grounds, there is a small museum which talks about the restoration of the temple and even some of the artwork that adorned the walls of the temple throughout the centuries. While walking around this small museum, a group of about 20 Indian college students walked in and headed towards the same area of the museum I was in. As I walked through the group, I noticed a number of them staring at me, and then one approached me shyly. His friend briefly held him back as if to imply he shouldn’t do whatever he was about to do. And then the boy raised his hand to his face, and made the picture-taking motion with his finger. He wanted to take a picture with me. I smiled and said okay. The next thing I know each one was lined up to take an individual picture with me. Then after going through all the pictures, a few got back in the queue to take individual pictures of me shaking their hands. I can only imagine the caption of the picture that is more than likely posted on these kids Facebook wall. This is one of the things I find funny and slightly enjoyable about being in Asia, the random feeling of celebrity that comes from being Western. They, just as soon as they came, they were gone. It was then I realized that Elisabetta and Kalpita were on the other side of the room, and were now probably swarmed by eager young college students. I quickly headed over towards them and as I do so, see Elisabetta and Kalpita heading for the exit with the 20 or so college males following them. She stopped outside and agreed to take one picture with them. After the picture, I stepped in, and had to tell the boys that the photo session was done. I could see some frowns in group.

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We spent the next couple hours just walking around the temple and enjoying the serenity and beauty of such an ancient, spiritual place.

Afterwards, we headed to the Thanjavur Royal Palace which was the residence of the ruling family from 1674 to 1855. To be honest, hearing royal palace we had high expectations of what the place would look like, but the current state of the place is a bit sad. It has fallen into some disrepair and is divided between a library, a small museum, and parts of the palace you can still walk through. That is not to say there were not some nice parts, and they did have a beautiful collection of antique dancing Shiva Statues from the 16th and 17th century. We decided to get a tour guide and it turned out we selected one who spoke limited English. Which it turns out is a pretty critical part when taking a tour.

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The entrance into the museum
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The main receiving hall which was used by the King to address concerns and issues from the people.
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Kalpita and Elisabetta.

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We spent a couple hours walking around the palace, and towards the end were ready to grab something to eat. So we went back to the marriage hall and my friend Avi thought it would be good if we went and checked out one of the local restaurants so Elisabetta and I went with a few of Avi’s friends to grab some briyani. It was good to talk to a few people that were from the area and get a better understanding of what life in Tamil Nadu was like as a young person. When we finished up with lunch, we had some time before we needed to be back at the wedding. So Elisabetta and I spent the short period of time hanging out at the hotel.

When we arrived back at the wedding, the number of guests had grown significantly since earlier in the day. We saw a few of my colleagues from work and spent some time talking with them. However, the bride and groom were not there. It was soon after we arrived that we heard loud bangs and a steady rhythm of drums coming from outside. So we went out front to find the source. The bride and groom were being ushered towards the wedding hall in a long procession, led by a cacophony of fireworks and a drum corps. And this drum corps was awesome. Below is a video we took of these local drummers (the video is from the following day, but gives a better sense of their abilities).

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The bride and groom making their way towards the marriage hall.

Both of the families were following the fireworks and drummers but leading the large wedding mobile, I’ll use that for lack of a better term. It was really quite the entrance. So when the procession finally reached the wedding hall, the bride and groom made their way off the wedding mobile and at the entrance to the wedding hall were stopped by the mother of the bride. Before entering the marriage hall (again) they were blessed by the mother. It’s a nice part of the ceremony, seeing these young two kids receive a blessing from the Mother, but I could only imagine how exhausted they must be as they were just over halfway through the three day festivities.

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The bride and groom being blessed by the mother.

After the bride and groom made their way into the marriage hall, the drummers picked back up where they had left off. As noted previously, the Indian people love to dance and shortly after, many of the men were dancing step to step with the drummers. My friend Avi was one of the people at the front of the dancing line and as soon as I let him know I was there, he thrust me towards the front to get in on the dancing action. The excitement, the rhythm, the people, it was all too infectious so I danced right along with them. It was a tremendous amount of fun and the energy was high. Eventually though, the drummers broke into two small lines and this group of dancers took over the middle, in which they danced and clapped chimes in rhythm to the drumbeat. It was a lot of fun to watch. But after some time, the drummers formed back into a circle. After doing so, the head drummer saw me to the side and was either impressed with my moves or wanted to watch a white man dance, pulled me into the middle of the circle, asking me to dance. Not being one to shy away from a challenge, I obliged. Video evidence below, and I realize I may well fully regret that.

 

The rest of the night was spent observing more of the wedding rituals and eating delicious Indian food. Through the evening, people kept coming up to us to introduce themselves and too often (the men especially) would comment on how much they loved my dancing. I guess the easiest way to win an Indian man’s heart is through dancing.

We had a great time and eventually made our way back to the hotel to rest up for the final day.

The third and final day was the most formal of the three. So I donned my finest kurta and Elisabetta a beautiful saree.

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When we arrived, they again had breakfast available so we grabbed a quick bite and then headed to the main hall for the ceremony. One of the final parts of the ceremony, the act that finally symbolizes the marriage, is when the daughter sits on the lap of the father and the groom ties a necklace around the bride’s neck. He physically ties a knot. It made me wonder if that is where the genesis of the wedding term, “to tie the knot” comes from.

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The groom tying the knot around the bride with a packed house around them.

After the tying of the knot, people rush up towards the stage to throw rice on the wedding party. Once the flying rice is cleared, guests begin to make their way up towards the stage to get their picture with the happy new couple. Elisabetta and I did the same, wishing the newlyweds the very best and then thanking Rajam and Avinash for the hospitality they had shown me and Elisabetta.

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Soon after, we had to make our way to the airport to catch our flight back to Mumbai. Seeing an entirely different part of India and getting to see a beautiful cultural event like the wedding was great. I’m very appreciative of my friends Rajam and Avinash who made it so enjoyable. Back to Mumbai now. Cheers!

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3 Comments

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  1. Great update, great photos, seize the day my friend!

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  2. Evan and Elisabetta,

    First, Evan thank you for introducing Elisabetta to all your blog friends! Your mother, Chris, Erin and I had the privilege of meeting her here in the U.S. over Christmas. She is indeed delightful and among many things shared her Italian cooking skills by teaching (no, do it again, this way 🙂 all of us how to make gnocchi’s! Magnifico!!

    And second, reading about you two and your adventures is a bit like watching the Bachelor meets the Bachelorette!!! Continue to have fun and embrace life.

    Love, Dad

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  3. Needless to say, yet another great story from the “Adventures of Evan Bourdain”! These experiences are unbelievable and what you are witnessing is invaluable. Looking forward to more stories, especially when you make it back stateside.

    When you do come back, I want to show you this new bar I found. Don’t worry about the name of it or what it is about. I’ll just tell you where to meet me and you’ll figure it out. Trust me!

    Take care buddy, safe travels, and relish every moment. A lot of us are living through you!

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