Delhi Chandigarh & Delhi Mon 28 Feb –Wed 30 Mar 2011
As I write this I can't believe we've been back in India a whole month. Where does the time go?!! Anyway we crossed the border from Nepal to India by midday (as ever on the last day of our visa!) and did another solid driving stint this time back to Delhi - so we'd driven Kathmandu to Delhi -capital to capital in 24 hours. Much better roads than Nepal in India but if anything this only made road conditions even worse as the better conditions (and more fast cars) lead to ever crazier driving! It struck us once more that the Indians are more curious than their Nepali neighbours.
We stopped to buy bananas and the whole village crowded round the car within seconds. I remember now why I never wait in the car -hard to relax and read your book when you're surrounded by starers! All friendly no doubt but in out of the way places with no English it's a bit wearing! There was some sort of Shiva festival on as well so lots of laden down pilgrims on the road. All in all we really felt we were back in India!
We had a night at our old faithful home stay in Delhi Wongdhen House in Majnu Ka Tilla aka the Tibetan Colony, our usual room with a panoramic view over the river, and the shacks thereon which we've seen both under water and dry. Next morning we were up early for the final 200 km of our journey on to Chandigarh - last year the road had been a real bone shaker but it had been hugely improved and the 200km drive was uneventful. So….after all this time of corresponding via email we finally got to meet our friend Simar from Melbourne his lovely wife Mitty and their new born (1 month) baby Sarje whose arrival had swelled the Dhande ranks to 4 generations. We also soon met Nimar the groom to be his twin sister the lovely Bani and her husband Tej. It was really nice to meet all the new Dhandes and renew our acquaintance with those previously met, as well as Poona their cheerful live in maid and her family. With everyone home the Dhande's house was full so we were grateful to their neighbours who took us in and gave us a very comfortable spare room so we had somewhere to change etc rather than managing out of the car.
It really struck us after a break how modern a city Chandigarh is -all wide roads, leafy avenues and state of the art shopping centres -not very Indian at all really. The roads are very good, and (this being a particularly affluent area) the cars very new and fast which as mentioned above perhaps leads to some particularly scary driving! On that note there was a car in the vacant spot next to the Dhande's house which had recently gone clean under a truck and had the roof sliced off tin opener style! Apparently in the dead of night they hit a truck when it was parked in the middle of the road with no lights! This is why we really try never to drive at night here! Incredibly the driver and passenger both NRIs (non resident Indians) from Australia walked out completely unscathed!
That first evening we went with Mr. Dhande to the local veggie market -really good fruit and veg here - which was interesting, and that night we had a great meal made with same. Despite always being late for everything we were DETERMINED not to miss any of the wedding so had (amazingly for us!) arrived with 24 hours to spare before it all kicked off! So- the wedding preparations began in earnest the next evening -well no doubt they'd been going on in earnest for months but the physical manifestation of them I mean! - and went on for 5 days. It was all very new and different for us and absolutely fascinating. We were really honoured to be included in every stage of the celebrations even the aspects usually just confined to very close family.
Gurus or Sikh holy men had been in a set aside room in the Dhande's house for a few days offering pooja or prayers (they were running 24 hours in a relay team of different gurus praying as I understand it) in thanks for both the forthcoming marriage and Sarje's birth, and on our first evening there we both covered our heads as you do entering a gurdwara or Sikh temple and went in to listen to the prayers and holy songs or kirtan. Sikhism founded by Guru Nanak was a "break away" from Hinduism dispensing with any worship of idols and concentrating just on the Sikh holy book or Guru Granth Sahib.
Thus, when Sikhs enter the temple or gurdwara covering their heads and kneel before the front alter type thing, it is to honour this book rather than the guru. Gurus are seen as spiritual men or teachers who should also marry and work rather than separate divine holy men deserving of worship in their own right which is more the Hindu approach. Obviously I'm hardly an expert so if I say anything incorrect no offence intended!
The next day bright and early the proceedings kicked off with the first prayers at the Dhandes' house which had become a gurdwara for the day! Andrew had to improvise with his scarf for head covering -so he looked a bit like a refugee from a snow storm! - but I was in a Salwar Kameez complete with head scarf so I was all geared up!
For these prayers family and close friends of both the bride and groom attend though the bride herself doesn't. During the ceremony the bride's family give gifts to the grooms, each giving to their equivalent i.e.) Hapreet's father gave a gold bangle to Mr. Dhande etc
We knew this happened what knocked us back was the size of the whole thing. The gifts (not insignificant gifts either a good piece of jewelry and clothing each) were given to EVERYONE. Thus not just the bride's parents grandparents and siblings, but her cousins and all their extended families -it goes on and on. You'd be looking to try and marry into a smallish family! Nimar was fed sweets by Harpreet's family and friends -a way of welcoming him to their family. After the payers we had a really nice vegetarian buffet lunch and then wedding activities were over for that day- for us anyway!
We headed off to the internet for a while to work on this site and when we returned it was all happening in the back garden. It is a Sikh tradition that sweets be available throughout the wedding. They are part of the ceremonies and gifted to relatives at the end as well as being constantly offered throughout -and the Dhandes had arranged for the sweet shop men to come and cook up an enormous batch in the garden -there were huge trays of ladoos and jalebis everywhere you looked.
Poona was also hard at it polishing up the brass pot which is used later on in the festivities- more to follow - so all in all a very exciting atmosphere.
The initial prayers ceremony was alcohol free obviously being a religious function - but that night the party festivities kicked in! Jessie Simar's cousin backed his car with stereo down the drive and a lot of high energy Punjab dancing went on! Andrew got very into it -doing a lot of Old Monk (rum!) fuelled Bollywood dancing. He wasn't so bright the next morning suffering from "stomach flu" Right Andrew! Before and after photographic evidence enclosed!
Luckily we got a lie in the next morning as the next function - a Cocktail party at the Dhande's house- wasn't until the evening. It was all go the next day with the flower men setting up and the house undergoing a major make over to be a party palace! The party -with live musicians and dancers a dance floor and buffet and bar - spilled over the whole road and so police permission had been obtained to shut it down. The food was amazing - veg and non veg and really delicious. The activities attracted a crowd of on lookers and a lot of urchins - we were pleased to see that they got a free feed at the end of it! They must wait for wedding season to come round!
Still no bride at this event -but a lot of glamour nevertheless with an array of beautiful brightly coloured outfits -the Dhande ladies all looked quite stunning. It was all in all a very glamorous few days -all the ladies (and guys come to think of it) had a different outfit for each event and there were quite a few beauty parlour trips (for the girls!) It certainly worked they all looked amazing, even grandma who at 80ish (she's not 100% sure) got on the dance floor a few times!
The brass pot Poona had polished up was put to use when the ladies took turns dancing with it filled with hot coals on their heads. I was offered but declined on the basis that I am quite clumsy and it could have been life threatening!
This tradition apparently started in the villages of Punjab and was a way of including anyone i.e.) if someone had wandered off and (hard though it is to imagine!) didn't know a wedding was going on and was asleep the ruckus of the dancing and the wooden bamboo being hit with a stick which is used to make noise would definitely get them awake! We had a good night - Andrew still had "stomach flu" and so didn't go within metres of the bar!
Next day was the ring ceremony which took place at Harpreet's house so finally we got to see her. First however we had to be made beautiful (!) and so the henna man showed up. All the ladies arrived to have their hands and/or feet painted with intricate designs.
The man worked hard for hours to give us all different designs. Apparently he studied this ancient art form at university and had a BA in Art. Whilst being painted we were entertained by various entrepreneurial singers/dancers who, seeing a wedding in progress (you couldn't miss it really!) arrived to entertain us, whether we needed it or not! Afterwards (obviously!) they demand money and sweets! You have to bargain!
Hijras also make a living out of weddings. These people are transvestites and eunuchs who form a sort of 3rd gender in India. We've met them before demanding money from businesses and through your window at traffic lights, you have to pay them to leave you alone is how it works! Apparently they are very organized at weddings - negotiating their fee (sometimes pretty high) in advance. They did come at some stage but sadly we missed them so no photographic evidence.
After we'd all been hennaed it was Nimar's turn. Traditionally the groom is pampered by his female relatives and given a sandalwood facial in preparation for his big day -very handsome he looked too!
Off we went that evening and queued up outside Harpreet's house bearing gifts before we were received and welcomed by her family. The marquee and seating was set up in her garden and was very high tech -the Dhande's and Harpreet's family were out front greeting people and this was being beamed live around the room (as were random crowd shots - a bit worryingly!) on a huge screen. It was actually quite chilly that night - writing this a few weeks on it seems incredible -it's now so hot. We just hit the changeover period!
Finally the gorgeous bride arrived with Nimar and both looking very swish they were escorted up onto the stage where they were presented with even more gifts. Harpreet was given a beautiful jewelry set in gold and rubies which her new family -mother and sisters in law - put on her as a way of welcoming her. The happy couple then put on diamond wedding rings. This latter isn't really part of the culture here- married people often don't wear rings - but through media and overseas influences it has become popular in wealthier circles. Once more the bride and groom were fed sweets by everyone to welcome them to the family - I imagine you never want to look a ladoo in the face again after getting married here!
Good news for everyone's liver this was a dry function but we all enjoyed a delicious vegetarian buffet.
The next day (Sunday 6th) was the REAL wedding when Nimar and Harpreet finally became legally married. Generally (as you might have guessed!) in Indian weddings the concept of "less is more" isn't there, but apparently for those why don't want or can't afford a big fat wedding this part is all that's strictly needed for Sikhs to marry.
Thus it boils down to a trip to the gurdwara where prayers are recited as the groom followed by the bride walks 5 times around the holy book, followed by signing of the register, the rest is just for fun.
When we arrived at the house that morning the photographers were hard at it with Nimar looking very dashing in his traditional outfit. He was then drummed out to the decorated car by a Scottish sounding (and looking- the outfits anyway!) band complete with bag pipers, who had been playing out front all morning. Obviously they were booked and arranged they didn't just happen by!
We arrived at the gurdwara where outside another traditional ceremony was happening where the men all place flower garlands around the necks of their family counterparts to express that they were about to become one family. Even Andrew got involved so he now has a Sikh "brother"!!
After breakfast we headed into the gurdwara for the religious ceremony where finally after the kirtans the blessings and the ceremony …it was all done.
Off to the reception! Before going the bride's shoe was stolen which the groom had to pay to get back …obviously this is traditional as is money being flung over the car when it leaves the reception -causing a rugby scrum to gather it from surrounding urchins!
On the dance floor money is flung over you constantly -presumably all this is done to ensure prosperity for the happy couple -as after all they will no doubt have weddings of their own to pay for!
Incidentally whilst as they both lived in Australia they met and enjoyed a courtship (traditionally here the bride and groom only meet on their wedding day) Nimar and Harpeet's marriage was arranged by their families as was Bani and Tej's a couple of years ago, though they all got final say in it. We really noted how they both seemed very happy well suited couples. In the West we tend to have a negative image of arranged marriages but if done correctly I can see a lot right about them. Nimar and Harpreet looked wonderful together and seemed well suited and we wish them every happiness.
Arriving at the reception Nimar had to negotiate his way in by bribing Harpreet's female relatives who had barricaded him out (tradition again!)and once in they were piped in and up to their stage by the Scottish/Sikh band.
We enjoyed drinks and a great lunch whilst they had umpteen pictures taken and danced. Finally for the first time as married people Nimar and Harpreet were drummed back to the car, and the band went ahead to receive them back at the Dhande's house where (inevitably) they were welcomed back by being fed sweets!
After this we don't know about everyone else but we went off for a sleep -these weddings really take it out of you! Harpreet's red bangles are a traditional part of a Sikh girls wedding outfit. They are quite heavy and have to be worn at least 40 days -some leave them on a whole year.
The next day was THE FINAL reception the first which the happy couple attends as man and wife. So once more everyone dressed up and headed to another venue for drinking dancing and eating! Arun Nimar's friend also visiting from Melbourne offered to get Andrew into a turban and very good he looked too, though they do look better with a beard -which is why the normally clean shaven Nimar had grown one!
Once more the reception was great with music dancing and drinks flowing! I kept clear of the cossack dancing man with his whisky glass held securely (??) in his turban but miraculously he escaped disaster!
There were musicians and entertainers -including some versatile fire juggling and eating barmen -music, dancing and a sumptuous buffet to follow. The cake was cut (another western import) and fed by all and sundry to both bride and groom and washed down with champagne. Then finally it was all over!!
Hapreet and Nimar now have to go to dinner at the home of each family member to be officially welcomed as a couple into the family. As they are both NRIs this has to be packed in tightly before they head off first for their honeymoon in Malaysia and then back to Melbourne and work. They must be shattered! Thanks so much to all the Dhandes for their kindness and generosity in including us in everything -we really enjoyed it.
One by one everyone left to head back to work- which felt sad - and we too had to get moving. We had decided to ship a lot of our excess gear on to England to keep the vehicle light for the rest of our journey and with Nimar's help we got some steel boxes made and spent a few days (in the intense heat -it's really kicked in now) pulling everything out of the car and re-grouping.
This is a hellish task at the best of times and it was made far worse for poor Andrew when I went down with bad flu and left him to it for a few days. Anyway all done now and the boxes are all ready in Chandigarh to be shipped. That is proving easier said than done -we have emailed/rung 100s of companies and most just don't want to know. Some say it's a policy (not to ship for foreigners) and some seem to be really suspicious of what we're shipping and why - honestly it's just our old stuff! Now that we might have to ship the vehicle again (see below) maybe we can tie it in with that? In the meantime our search goes on for shippers willing to take us on!
We also continued to try and sort out our fridge and found a company in Chandigarh willing to help-(most just send us away as being a 12 volt solar run fridge it is too "outside the box" for them and they don't want to know. We thought we'd had a break through when a part was replaced and it seemed to be ok, but it's still not working efficiently and cycling meaning if it works as a fridge it later leads to a flat battery which rather defeats the point! We're liaising with our sponsors Engel in Australia to hopefully get another part sent out which (fingers crossed) means we might finally crack it. Hope so - we really don't want to drive fridge-less into the ever more furnace - like heat!
After getting a few chores done, and a bit of rest (Andrew got my flu so we were sick in a tag team relay!) finally we tore ourselves away from the Dhande's hospitality and on Saturday 19 March we headed back to Delhi. Since that date we have been holed up in Majnu Ka Tilla in a city growing increasingly hot (40 degrees in the day now and rising) and trying to get some "best done in Delhi" jobs completed.
Numbero uno on the list was applying for our Pakistan visa. This has not been a success story to put it mildly! We first tried on Wednesday 23rd - getting up early to get through Delhi's crazy traffic only to get there to find the embassy shut "Republic day" apparently to celebrate the day when Pakistan became the first Islamic republic in 1956. We have a history of rushing to reach embassies on days they are shut - happened to us in both Thailand and Malaysia - perhaps we should do more research!
Anyway next day we tried again and actually made it to the gates only to be told that no way were they issuing tourist visas and that we should "go back to your home country" and apply there, indeed we should have applied before we left home! Hardly practical advice when you've got your vehicle with you and been on the road over 3 years! Eventually they told us to speak to our consulate who would speak to their consulate to see if anything could be done. This (we strongly felt) was really just a way of getting rid of us but we dutifully trotted over to the Aussie embassy -mercifully walking distance away- where the consulate (Candice) was very charming and gave us coffee and contacted the Pakistan people on our behalf but as we suspected there was nothing they could really do to help. Actually research shows that this is a new policy and it is now nigh on impossible to get a Pakistan visa other than at your home country or bizarrely on one border with China! No one could explain exactly why - surely if it was a security issue they just wouldn't give them at all. As we never even got inside the embassy gates we can't say in any sense we've been in Pakistan!
All the travellers we've met who've come through Pakistan (some of them in the last couple of weeks) have raved about the hospitality of the people and we saw a bit of this. In the big queues outside the embassy there were loads of Pakistanis and they were so nice to us, offering us food and cold drinks (they all seem to have bought massive picnics -a bit of a waiting game here obviously!) but that will be as much of their hospitality as we'll see for a while. Bitterly disappointed!
Andrew's sister Kate kindly went to the Pakistan embassy in Canberra to see if they could help. In short they're giving out tourist visas no problems, but you have to be on Aussie soil to get one. If we made it to Darwin we could send our passports by courier to Canberra, but we can't courier them in whilst we are out of the country. Apparently the one place where you can get one is the above mentioned border with China i.e.) on the Karakorum highway -where we planned to head to beat the heat. Only it becomes a logistical nightmare as we only have a single entry visa to India. If we leave India we have to be out 2 months, a period which (as I understand it but you get different answers) only runs from when the first visa ends. Thus we'd be stuck re getting back into India-which obviously we have to do to collect the vehicle, as we can't take the car into China -well we could if we were millionaires but not otherwise! In addition the terms of the carnet only allow the car in for 6 month slots at a time, or it can be impounded -so all in all it's a bit tricky to put it mildly. It felt like one of those logistical puzzles with the chicken the grain and the fox as we kept trying different things "I know we can go to Darwin fly back into Pakistan ….no wait….. shit we can't ..we've got to get into India for the car" etc etc We're thought about it every which way but it's just not possible.
Bottom line is we HAVE to once again ship, either to Dubai from where we can get a car ferry to Iran or directly to Iran. Only problem is we're really going into the heat now -and getting hotter -which we had hoped to wait out in the cooler mountainous areas of Pakistan. C'est la vie … the one bright spot is we have found Sadikally Esoofally and Company of Mumbai who are THE overlander shipping agents for shipping overland vehicles all around the globe, see their site: www.indiamart.com/secoshipping/services.html We're anxiously awaiting quotes now so everything crossed they won't be too high! We really hadn't counted on the cost of shipping again so this is a big blow.
Other than that we have some sponsorship stuff to sort out and spare part buying for the car which is keeping us busy. We went to Maxxis again and met with Yash (the son of Raj Kumar we met before) and picked up another 2 of the 6 tyres they gave us as sponsorship. We'll pick up the remaining 2 before we finally leave to head down to Mumbai to leave India. Thanks again to Maxxis for all their support and their fantastic tyres.
We also have to liaise with Sandeep at Mobil oil in readiness for our next oil change. We bought some new powerful HID headlights which are great. Thanks to Vicky of Ashoka's Car Emporium in Karol Bagh who really looked after us, and treated us to dinner to boot. When I was researching Pakistan I was really keen to visit Peshawar a border town near Afghanistan which looked amazing. The restaurant Vicky took us too "Peshawar Chicken" was run by a friend of his whose family were from there before (being Hindus) they crossed to India in partition and have been in Delhi to date. The town was noted for its cuisine and the meal served up (chicken baked and covered in cashew nuts) was fantastic -a little taste of Pakistan! Thanks Vicky for a great evening.
So here we still are in hot sticky Delhi doing lots of not that interesting administrative type crap -buying bits for the car and camera, servicing of same, routine repairs of bags, dental appointments (Andrew not me this time thank god!!) and (as I type!) buying stainless steel to have a new "kitchen box" made for the truck. Each of these tasks seems to take days to complete due to the size and traffic conditions -450 km just round the city to date!- so progress is slow! In a week or so we head back up to Chandigarh en route to the hill station of Shimla and some cooler weather. Or maybe if no better shipping quote nearby materializes we head down to Mumbai to organize our shipping of the car at a later date and the shipping of our boxes now ….watch this space!