FOOTSTEPS IN…RAJASTHAN…UDAIPUR

Udaipur is easily one of the most beautiful cities in Rajasthan. It was Taran and Samit’s wedding that sparked off our trip to Rajasthan, India, to begin with, a destination that has been on the bucket list for a while. The wedding gave us the perfect excuse to cross off this part of India and reduce one item on the ever growing list!

The warm welcome that we got at the local airport was a mere sign of great things to come – welcomed in traditional lei’s and a red tikka placed on our foreheads, we were transported to the Leela Palace, where being from the bride’s side, our family was being graciously hosted. Driving from the airport into the rustic city, we drove through winding hills to a jetty on the edge of Lake Pichola, where the car ride to The Leela would end, and the boat ride across the lake would begin. Rajasthan is steeped in royalty, and we got our first taste of this with the Rajasthani ushers leading the ladies down the plank to a boat, under a brightly coloured umbrella. Chivalry really isn’t as dead as everyone seems to think it is!

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Arriving at the main entrance of The Leela, we were welcomed warmly yet again by the waiting bride and family, and garlanded and tikka’d yet again before being taken into our rooms. Many of the hotels on Lake Pichola were former palaces, so you can imagine the sheer opulence that The Leela was steeped in – from the gorgeous reception with its ornate chandelier and flower arrangement, to the waiting areas adorned with Rajasthani trinkets.

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The Leela reminded M and I of Al Qasr in Dubai, where we had stayed a couple of months earlier. All checked in to our gorgeous rooms, with our own butler Kunal who turned out to be a lifesaver when it came to getting our wedding finery pressed and ready for us, we were ready to enjoy the next few days in Udaipur. The afternoon gave us a chance to wander around the hotel and enjoy some of the stunning views it offers. The Lake Palace hotel is right opposite The Leela, on its own island in the middle of Lake Pichola, with the Aravelli mountain range shadowing it, and the City Palace can also be seen in the vicinity. Udaipur really was the perfect venue for a destination wedding, the setting alone is so romantic, the stuff that fairytales are made of – a wedding is a once in a lifetime event and should be magical and this wedding certainly was.

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My grand uncle and his family had thought of everything possible to make their guests stay comfortable and were more than the perfect hosts. There was a lounge, aptly named “the Ubhi lounge” open 24 hours, where we could all get together and mingle, eat and drink. Transport to various venues was perfectly organized; the venues themselves were so amazingly decorated. Best of all, we were with family members whom we had not met in many years, and staying in the same hotel was fabulous because it was akin to staying in the ‘wedding house’ where all the masti and fun happens. I have yet to attend a more perfectly organized wedding.

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That evening there was a welcome dinner hosted by a friend of the wedding party, situated high in the hills of Udaipur. This was a fantastic idea as it gave everyone the opportunity to mingle and meet each other before the main wedding events started off the next day. I got to introduce my wonderful husband to family members that he had not met previously, and mingle with the bride and groom before things got too crazy for them. The most memorable part of this evening was the traditional Rajasthani dancers that danced on glass! They certainly did have everyone watching with bated breath.

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The next few days leading up to the wedding were a burst of colour and vibrance. The first ceremony was the maiyaan, where the bride is adorned with a yellow turmeric paste meant to ‘cleanse’ her before the wedding day, followed by an exquisite lunch where we were spoilt for choice, something that we would become quite accustomed to over the next few days. The host family had added a nice touch to this ceremony, with a shoe maker going round measuring all the ladies feet to make traditional Rajasthani sandals as a memento of this occasion. And no, there was no restriction on how many pairs you could order though I did show some self restraint and ordered only one pair. So unlike me!!

Never ones to give up a chance to explore a new place, M and I decided to spend the afternoon catching some sights in Udaipur. We teamed up with Angad and Amreeta and took off to the Monsoon Palace, also known as Sajjan Ghar, which we could see in the distance from The Leela. The Monsoon Palace was built to observe the monsoon clouds hence its name. Nestled high up in the Aravelli hills, we had a stunning panoramic view over Udaipur, and it was easy to see how Udaipur got its nickname of “the Venice of the East” and “Lake City” – Lake Pichola is one of many lakes in Udaipur which can be seen from the Monsoon Palace.

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The architecture of the Palace is incredibly simple but coupled with the greenery of the surrounding hills, and the panoramic view over Udaipur, it is easy to imagine the grandeur and opulence of this bygone era, as it is still very much alive in the hotels in Udaipur.

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The driver then took us through the winding streets of Udaipur to some shops where we indulged in retail therapy and then headed back to the hotel to get ready for the sangeet night. One of the amazing things about the wedding was that we got to experience venues with the opulence meant for those venues, giving us a true taste of royalty. The sangeet was held at the Zenana Mahal, in the City Palace. In yesteryears, the zenana was the quarters where the ladies would congregate. Transported to the City Palace by boat from The Leela, we walked in to a courtyard decorated with white roses, what looked like violet roses and millions of candles. If ever there was a Cinderella moment, then this would be it. Wow. Talk about romantic!

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A fun filled evening, with lots and lots and lots of drinking, mingling and eating (spoilt for choice yet again) with some very memorable moments where the grooms side did a choreographed bollywood number, only to be outdone by the boys from the brides side doing the New Zealand rugby chant and ending this with “Singh is King”…absolutely brilliant, since this move had been practiced in the Ubhi Lounge just a few minutes prior to everyone going to the City Palace! Another incredible moment was when the ever popular group RDB got on to stage and sang some boogey inducing numbers – I have never danced so much in my life!

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Day two of the festivities was the mehndi party. Hangovers cured thanks to Taran and Samit’s thoughtful anti hangover kits placed in our rooms, we were ready for a fablulous afternoon. This event was probably my favourite, as it really did bring to life the colours of Rajasthan. The garden area was decorated in fuschia and orange, and every conceivable tree and pole in the area was adorned with marigolds. There was something going on in every corner of the arena.

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Walking in to some incredibly calm and soothing music played by a live band, the first stop was a bangle stand. There were bangles of every shape, colour and dimension imaginable placed in beautiful wicker baskets, and a Rajasthani man making typical Rajasthani bangles from hot, colourful material. These bangles were being given out, compliments of the bride to anyone that wanted some – another amazing gesture from the host family. Following on from the bangle stand was the hand reader (he had a large queue round his “crystal ball”, and a snake charmer which I stayed well away from!

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The colours of Rajasthan came alive in the Rajasthani toys, and puppets in the corner by the food, followed by the brightly coloured Rickshaws placed in strategic places.

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The longest queue was in the foot massage corner – so appropriate and welcome after a night of dancing but sadly, we didn’t get our tootsies massaged because we got caught up in mingling with family and having our hands adorned with henna.

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Don’t even get me started on the variety of food – again hot parathas, freshly made pani puris and masala dosas, Rajasthani cuisine and more. My mouth waters thinking about all the delicious food!
We had to leave the venue earlier than the groom’s side for a sad occasion for the bride – the adorning of her arms with her chura, or red bangles which is the sign of a newly married Punjabi bride. This ceremony is always marked with tears as it is incredibly emotional – the brides maternal uncles and brothers adorn her arms with the bangles which have been purified in a mixture of water and milk. For a bride, these bangles are the reality check of the fairytale wedding, you are really leaving your parents and paternal home, and as much as you look forward to spending the rest of your life with your soulmate, leaving your paternal home is not easy!

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The wedding day was a complete fairytale. The groom rode on his elephant to the jetty at Udai Villas, across Lake Pichola and right opposite The Leela, and was ushered to The Leela with a fanfare band, where he was welcomed in a traditional Punjabi way, to marry his bride in an Orchid adorned mandap set on the terrace of The Leela, with the stunning backdrop of The Lake Palace, City Palace and Lake Pichola, whisking her away after lunch and the doli (incredibly emotional goodbye ceremony) in a boat, across Lake Pichola in the sunset. Sigh. This really is what fairytale weddings are made of!

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The grand finale took us to Jag Mandir, an island in the middle of Lake Pichola all lit up, with Rajasthani guards sitting atop the marble elephants outside the venue. Another night of partying away with everyone, amidst a burst of fireworks to celebrate the newlyweds. Udaipur certainly did end with a blast – a fairy tale wedding and a lifetime of memories for us all…

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