How to Crash a Hindu Wedding?

Panaji Travel Blog

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Perhaps it is a general rule in life that we are allotted a certain number of memorable events per day or per week say, but generally they occur so infrequently and in such small dosage that we think breifly on them and they generally pass into that realm-of-many-things: "the forgotten".

Here in Arambol there are precious few opportunities for anything to happen, let alone anything memorable. So maybe because I gated myself into this sheltered paradise, my due allottment of life began to accrue at the door. A few days ago, on our tenth extremely enjoyable day of doing absolutely nothing, our icelandic freinds Kristinn and Hildur mentioned that perhaps we should "get out a bit" since you know, we're in India. So we hired a taxi to the capital of Goa, a city called Panaji. Here we arranged a nice walk through the city and a tour of all the stately churches the Portuguese erected before converting 30% of the population to catholicism, like those pesky Europeans so liked to do. The taxi ride was as memorable as every other Indian mode of transport involving the roads...terrible. After a while you begin to feel like one of those bobbing head toys. We arrived in Panaji and began our walking tour, which we though would occupy most of the day but lasted...45 minutes. We stopped first at the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, basically the biggest in town. After climbing the nice ramparts of steps in sweltering heat we found the doors bolted shut. So we moved on to the other well known church the chapel of St Sebastian...also closed. We kept meandering through the shambled city with it's dilapidated and brightly painted concrete buildings until we reached a temple dedicated to the monkey god Hanuman. By this point we weren't very optimistic about it's being open wo we wandered around to find ..."sweet! it's open! Oh wait....there's a wedding" I was ready to turn away but evidently this fact didn't deter Kristinn in the slightest because he just marched right in, beaming his distracted smile. Hildur, Kurt and I not really knowing what to do, scurried in after him. To our surprise, a group of men standing at the entrance seemed ecstatic to see us and guided us inside to join the congregation. The temple consisted of a large room filled with seats and a stage on which the happy couple were standing, shaking hands and posing for pictures with a long line of guests.

Now, I've stood out since day one in India but never to the extent I have in this temple. All the women were bedecked in the most beautiful ornate jewel-colored saris with gold bangles and necklaces. I was sweaty in cargo shorts, flip flops and a tshirt. So the four of us are awkwardly standing around when Kristinn steps in the line of people waiting to congratulate the couple. Hildur's look of horror at this was absolutely priceless. She turned and hissed in my ear "Look at his face, look at him!!" (the blank happy smile Kristinn usually has, while Hildur's clearly read "I can't believe I'm dating someone who walks uninvited into a wedding and isn't even propounding himself with the moral dilemma of congratulating the couple!!") But it got so much better. Kurt and I saw the incredible photo opportunity of Kristinn on the stage with a hindu wedding couple so we snuck up to snap a shot. The family members I guess took this as a desire to pose with the couple because next thing I knew I was shaking hands with the groom amidst flashing bulbs and clapping guests. And then! The groom turns to me and says "Please have some lunch, I'm sorry it's only vegetarian!" (not only was he OK with us just walking into his wedding, he invited us to lunch. WHEN, tell me WHEN would they do this in the United States if two dusty Indians walked into a church?) I was so flabberghasted I told Kristinn when I walked off the stage...who said "great! where?" and wanders into the room where we were promptly handed plates and mango soda ("Maaza"...a damn good beveridge if I may say so). The food was fantastic, with saffron rice and lentil dishes as well as delicious gulab jamuns and ice cream. We sat with everyone who just smiled at us and kept eating.

Before we left we wanted to see the shrine. We asked the grooms brother where it was and he motioned to a next door room saying it was for the god Hanuman. Kurt recognized the name and said "the monkey god, right?" to which, for unknown reasons , the man started laughing riotously, slapping his knees and saying "MONKEY!! AHAHAH MONKEY MONKEY MONKEY!!!!" so we just sort of awkwardly walked away....

After the shrine we kept on wandering and decided to take the taxi to Ajuna to see the ruins of a Portoguese fort (if it happened to be open...) The taxi driver listened to our instructions and, nodding vigorously, looked like he had absolutely no idea what we just said. Our fears were confirmed when he dropped us off at a ramshackle stretch of beach with some colorful fishing boats. We asked him in what direction the "FORT??" was and he babbled something and pointed along the beach. For some reason we took these dubious directions and started walking along the water. After about 20 minutes the beach abruptly terminated in a giant craggy boulder. "The fort must be on the other side of the boulder, let's climb over it!!" Our stroke of brilliance led us up a dangerous climb of crumbling rock on what felt like an 80 degree incline. After this, we proceeded up a very steep muddy hill, holding on to tufts of grass for dear life and nothing but rocks and crashing waves below.  Needless to say it was very stupid. After about an hour we found this godforsaken fort, took some panoramic pictures and made our way back via the PAVED ROAD back to the harbor. Our driver smiled jovially when he saw us hobbling back.

We had dinner at a restaurant called Eatopia in Ajuna, possibly the worst food I've eaten in my life. My Goan fish gravy tasted like a hint of vomit with some rancid fish. Kurts chicken vindaloo was so bitter it would have made cough syrup taste delightful. After "dinner" we headed to the Saturday Night Market near Calangute, in Baga. This place was pretty sweet: live music, good food and a HUGE market full of sparkling jewelry and bright clothing. Kurt and I tried our hand at haggling for the first time on a pair of sunglasses. We got the guy down from Ru 1650 to 950 (~$20). He probably paid $1 for the glasses because they broke within a week (you're better off on Canal Street.) Later on I came accross a booth selling dresses made from old saris and I fell in love with a purple silk number with gold details. When I asked him the price, ready to haggle hard from Ru ~3000 or something he said 900 (~$18). I didn't have the heart to bring him lower than Ru 800 when I thought how much I would pay for a 100% silk dress in the US or worse, Italy (last time I fell prey to a dress there I was in the hole $500 and no barganning allowed...but, by god, it's a really nice dress.) This last bout of shopping tied up the day's activities, a good thing because I don't think I could have taken much more. so we finally headed home.

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photo by: anlis