Travels

The Top 5 Things I Learned at an Indian Wedding

Friendship blessed me with the opportunity to attend a Punjabi Sikh wedding last weekend.  Not only was it my first time in NorCal (San Jose!), but it was also the first Indian wedding I’ve ever attended – which meant days of parties.  I returned home Sunday night, exhausted, full of curry, and armed with new knowledge for next time.

In no particular order, here are the top five things I learned this past weekend:

1. Be prepared to eat.  No, not “eat a meal at the reception.”  We had dinner at the Mehndi ceremony on Thursday and the Sangeet on Friday.  And Saturday, we had breakfast and lunch at the hall (sandwiching the religious ceremony), and then dinner at the reception.  If you don’t like Indian food, this could be a bit challenging, but give it a chance if you’ve never had it.  You just might surprise yourself.

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Image courtesy of purvajcaterers.co.in

I’m fairly certain I ate about 12 pounds of paneer, chicken, lamb, samosas, rice, saag, kebob…I actually decided to change my outfit one night so I could eat more.  Side note – Indian desserts are a bit….different.  Spongy and very sweet.  My advice would be to fill up on the food.

2. Some of the parties may be dry.  In the U.S., “wedding” is usually synonymous with “booze,” but consumption of alcohol is prohibited in Sikhism.  This doesn’t mean that every event will be dry, but we were told, “You do you.”  Which, to many of us, said”be prepared with your own drinks.”
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Punjabi people are known for partying and having a good time, and the first two nights were not dry.  (My new drink invention is chai with spiced rum and a bit of sweetener.)  Out of respect, Saturday’s religious festivities and the reception were, however, so we made do with our own flasks.  Just don’t be too obvious, and take swigs privately.

3. It’s totally appropriate to wear a saree.  Bold and bright colors (no solid black or white), beading, embroidery, you name it.  My saree was an impulse buy between the Saturday morning ceremony and reception from a secondhand boutique that donates proceeds to help abused women.
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There are lots of videos on YouTube to teach you how to wear one, and they’re definitely not bad.  Invest in safety pins, and give it your best shot.  And if you’re still having trouble draping it, an Indian auntie will most certainly help you.

I was in the ladies’ room, trying to fix it, and she came up to me, asked if I needed help, and before I knew it, I was standing there with her hands tucking the fabric into my petticoat (aka skirt worn below your belly button).  It was a bit odd at first, but about 4 seconds in, I was immensely thankful for her help, and before I knew it, she had a line of people needing her expert advice.

4. Bring your dancing shoes.  Not dancing is not an option.  You’re at a wedding where the dance floor will basically turn into an Indian club, with pounding, energetic Indian music and flashing lights.  Plus, you’re there to celebrate.  Get off your butt and dance.
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At the Sangeet, there were choreographed traditional dances, a group dance, and then what seemed like every person trying to show off even more energetic moves.  It was bhangra style, it was American style, and it was totally fun.  It was even better with all the swirling colors.

5. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  Pace yourself.  Indian weddings last for days and have several events.  It’s worth it to take the time to appreciate all the work that went into the coordination, the gorgeous settings and colors, and to celebrate the happy couple.  There are traditions in which you can participate, such as the groom riding in on a white horse, with his friends and family dancing around it (which in our case was a fancy Mercedes), or hoisting the bride up and carrying her while the groom tries to get a garland of flowers around her neck.  Participate in the group dances, try all the food, and make new friends.  Indians are warm and welcoming, and they certainly know how to have a good time.

At heart, weddings all share one common thing:  They are a celebration of joining two families and many friends together, and this was no exception.   I can’t wait for the next one!

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IT’S SO FLUFFY I’M GONNA DIE!

The last time I had any experience with wanting something so fluffy I was going to die, I got it.  I mean, not exactly, but sort of…Maybe it’s not a live panda, but it’s something!

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But Jenna, didn’t you take a trip and see a bunch of critters in 2015?  Why yes, yes I did, but believe you me, I did not want to go up and hug that moose.

As this wasn’t going to be a road trip where I was expecting to see any sort of wildlife, I had resigned myself to relaxing, and looking out for sunsets instead of appreciating the animals of an area I’d never seen before.  Luckily, I am fairly adept at camera phones, and was able to catch some of them in their natural habitat.

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First, the rams!  Go Rhody! Look at those horns!  Ahhh, the college memories.  All they need is a blue and white URI shirt.  These were spotted in Badlands National Park, and while I wanted to go pet one, I figured they’d head butt me, and therefore refrained.  Next time though.

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Ahhh, buffalo.  Or bison.  I’m not actually sure what the difference is, but either way, it’s delicious.  These are a pretty common sight while traveling across the country, but I’ve never seen one so close.  They’re BIG.  Like, really big.  I could eat for months.

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Okay maybe not die, but this was the best thing ever!  It’s a mountain goat, and he was just hanging out on the path around Mt. Rushmore.  I approached cautiously, but it was just sort of staring at me with this bored look, and as I walked by, he didn’t even move.  He was this giant fuzzy animal and those horns looked pretty sharp, but I was about 6′ from this giant ball of fur.  I think I deserve an award for not cuddling it (though he was so calm, he might’ve let me).

Mr. Goat won’t ever replace Big Panda, but he’s a close second.  Very close.

Mount Rushmore

Because it was November 8, and this was by far the most absurd election year ever (listen to the deconstruction here), I spent the night after Badlands National Park glued to the TV in a crappy hotel in Rapid City, SD.  Around 10pm, when it was announced our new president was a billionaire businessman from New York, I shut off the TV and stared at a black screen.

Fitting, it was, that the next day brought my trip to see Mount Rushmore.  Four of the greatest presidents our nation has ever had.  Something that not many people from either coast ever get to see in person, and plus I was a 20 minute drive from it, and when would I ever be in South Dakota again?  Off I went.

Getting there at 8am is certainly the way to go.  No crowds, barely any people, and the light was pretty amazing.

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There might even be enough room for President Trump on the right…though maybe not enough to fit his hair.

There isn’t really too much to take a look at, but there is a short walk around the whole mountain.  It allows you to view the monument from several different angles, and also to take in the foliage.  I will say, East Coast, you win hands down in the Sunrise category.

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When South Dakota says “Big faces,” they really do mean big.  BIG faces.  Though I half expected Team America to come flying out of the rocks.  I might have been humming the song the entire walk.

There’s a lot to take in, but you don’t need more than an hour, even if you stop to think about all the work that went into the carving, and all the great things those presidents did during their time in office.  When you do contemplate, just be sure there isn’t some mischievous imp behind you taking pictures.15036162_10103703040798441_5531909470782049711_n

 

Badlands National Park

Ahhhh, South Dakota.  Great faces, great places.  There are four (and a half, but more on that later) BIG faces, but there is definitely at least one truly great place:  Badlands National Park.

On day 2 of driving, I made it to South Dakota and had two stops in mind:  Mount Rushmore, and Badlands National Park.  I’d not known about the latter until I did a bit of research, and it seemed like I’d be racing against the clock to get there, but I was determined to try.

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I rushed to get to the park before the sun set, and I made it at 5:05 pm…just barely enough light to drive through.  It was definitely a blessing in disguise because a) there was no one there to charge me the entry fee, and b) you seriously cannot beat the sunsets in the west.  Luckily, it’s more of a driving excursion than a hiking one, and with about an hour before it was totally dark, I put my Michael Schumacher skills to the test.

The rock formations are not as crazy as some of the other parks (I’m looking at you, Bryce Canyon), but they were just as majestic.  And with that pink/yellow/blue background slowly changing to vibrant oranges and red, you really couldn’t beat it.

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I’d been hoping to get out and walk around a bit, but unfortunately, my choices were “see the whole park” or “drive through a deserted area with no lights and who knows what kinds of critters.”  I chose to drive through, and am actually pretty damn pleased with it. Where else could I get the requisite shot of a road, heading off into the sunset?

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Eventually, I made it to the end of the Grand Tour, and was able to follow the magnificent sunset all the way out.  It’s not every day you see things like this – I was irritated I had to rush and to change my hiking plans, but this made it all worth it.

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The Route Less Taken

My move from TX to WA could have taken one of several routes.  After figuring that driving through Denver proper with nothing but booze, guns, and underwear might not be the best idea, the weather looked to be good enough to drive straight north from Dallas into South Dakota.  I promise there’s a method to the madness:  when would I ever be in a position to go to South Dakota, and able to see Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, and then maybe hit Devil’s Tower in Wyoming on the way out?

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Intimidating, right?  I mean, 41 hours in a car on mostly state routes is pretty ambitious, if you ask me.  There was a lot of nothing for a while, though the sunsets got progressively prettier (and harder to drive in).

And yes, it does say 41 hours, which is a really long effing time, but I was able to be a little productive in the form of knitting a sweater for my cousin’s baby.

Otherwise, it was a big flock of nothing.  Except for major concentration, because of course, no adventure would be complete without some inclement weather.  It rained so hard on the first three hours of the drive that I thought I was going to be swept away in a flood.  The only bonus was the double rainbow when I finally got into Oklahoma.

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South Dakota was calling me, so I didn’t have much time to check out Kansas and Nebraska, but it’s ok.  It mainly looked like this in the morning, which wasn’t too shabby, but at the same time it was EARLY.  Like 5:30 am early.

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I know I complain about the drive, and the empty road, and the terrible hours in the car with fast food and nothing great. However, the open road is magical, and while my bitching about the lack of scenery was frequent, I did take a break once in a while to admire the future in front of me.

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One Way Ticket on a West-Bound Train

Sometimes, you just have to YOLO and figure you aren’t getting any younger, so you might as well just buy the shoes!  Take the trip!  Kiss the guy in the bar that bought you a drink!  Move across the country….again!

Back in June, I got a new job in a new location, and therefore bought new shoes.

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No….wait, that’s not the point (though they’re pretty, and I’ve actually worn them!).  The point is that I quit my job at Yale, packed up everything I owned into two small shipping boxes, and flew to my new home: Dallas, Texas.

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Dallas was….fine.  Not bad, excruciatingly hot in summer, and traffic was awful.  Not the best place, not the worst.  So when the opportunity to move to the PacNW came up, I thought, “Hey, I’ve always wanted to live there, it will be wet and raining, but it will be lush and green.  Let’s go!”  Of course, it wouldn’t be Seattle (damn), but it would be halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, BC, which is almost as good.

Of course, I got all excited and forgot about the actual moving part.  This means lots of packing and shipping (again), but it also meant a road trip for the things they wouldn’t ship, like firearms, booze, and liquids.  (Also, for things that I refuse to ship, like some of my pandas).  I took some time off of work, rented a car, and mapped out a route for the 2400 miles between my old home in Texas, and my new home in Washington.

After some whirlwind packing, tearful goodbyes, and one last burger from my favorite Dallas burger place, I set off on my one-way road trip, leaving Dallas in my rearview.

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Heading for a Wedding

Back in September, friends in Jackson, WY decided to throw wedding reception for their one year anniversary.  You may remember that I’d been here once before, on last year’s epic road trip, so I was pretty excited to head back there.

The weekend promised some pre-wedding shenanigans, a wedding, camping, and then hiking.   Unfortunately, I ended up missing all the fun before the wedding because American Airlines messed up majorly.  The flight was delayed 18 times, the planes were switched and then had mechanical difficulties…you know when the flight attendants roll out free First Class food, we’re in for a looooong wait.

I didn’t get to Jackson until six hours after my estimated arrival time.  Needless to say, I was not too pleased, and I was exhausted.  But the next day brought some really gorgeous weather, and a super cute chapel in the mountains.

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Despite it being freezing (for me) I put on a pretty party dress and a brave face, and was thankful for my pashmina.  It was quite warm in the sun, but pretty windy, and I kept accidentally pulling a Marilyn Monroe.  Note to self, don’t wear a short dress up in the mountains.

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The outdoor reception at 6pm meant we got some time to nap (yes, nap – I’m old!) and get ready for the party.  It was a Santa Maria style barbecue with endless food and booze, and a roaring campfire.  And they could not have planned the sky to be more perfect.  I’m always in awe of the stuff out West.  The colors are so vibrant and the skies are so clear at night.img_3764

Overnight, we camped out, and were pelted with insane wind.  We did not get tons of sleep, but we still wanted to go crazy and hike a long trail the next day.  Five of the BEST bacon, egg, and cheese on a bagel sammiches later, we set off, and saw some crazy things along the way:

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Apparently this guy had been there for a few years, since my friend told me he’d seen the skeleton in the same place last year, when he was out hiking this trail.

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I love tree roots like this – I blame my Grandma.  But, unlike her, I did not try to take it with me.

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These shells are technically fossils, and are tens of thousands of years old, from when the Tetons used to be a glacier.  They’re all over the place, if you look closely.

Unfortunately, it was my fault the hike was cut short.  In trying to cross a stream, my muddy boots slipped on the log, and I fell in.  I was soaked from head to toe on my right side, and felt like Harvey Two-Face.  As if I wasn’t cold enough before!  Additionally, this was a mile or so into our 10 mile round trip hike, which wasn’t ideal.  I was informed there was a cabin around mile 3 or 4  where we could rest, which was good because I was freezing.  And then, it started to rain.

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Photographic evidence I’m a gigantic klutz.

We found the cabin, which is community-run, and the guys built a fire in the wood stove so I could dry off and warm up.  When I stripped my jeans off, I realized I had a huge eggplant on my shin, mud in my shoes, and a hole in my shirt, but my trusty cell phone was unscathed.  It’s the little things in life, I tell you.

We hung out at the cabin for a few hours playing Bullshit, eating Cupboard Surprise,  and drinking a leftover bottle of Bulleit.  I pretty much ruined the hike (and hunting) for everyone, but they were very accommodating and kind enough to stay with me instead of hiking without me.  I have very good friends.

Eventually, we had to start heading back, so we did, and I was very, very careful to not fall into any more streams.  I made it with some help, and while the eggplant on my leg was swelling even more (it would eventually develop into a huge hematoma that would take six weeks to go away), we all managed to make it back dry and unscathed.

The overcast skies had cleared up, and as we drove down the mountain, we saw a rainbow.  It was a pretty great end to a wonderful wedding weekend.  So much happened in so little time.  There was anger, exhaustion, love, happiness, adventure, and accidents, but it ended with a smile.

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