Jet Lag and Shopping: Day 1 of Delhi

Kayla here – Barley is going to take some time off while I write about my trip to India. To be honest, he’s probably a bit sick of writing about our adventures while we leave him at home. We’ll need to make sure our next few weeks are more dog-friendly!

I headed to Delhi for about a week to celebrate my best friend Maggie’s wedding. Maggie and Kabir had another ceremony in Minnesota in October, but they needed to celebrate in India as well. Kabir and his family are from Delhi, and his grandparents certainly needed to attend the wedding!

Even though I’d already attended the first ceremony with Andrew (and visited my Dad in the process), I sprung at the chance to go to India for a wedding. I’ve never been to Asia before, and I can’t imagine anyone I’d rather visit with.

Maggie is my oldest friend – we used to have matching snowsuits and would swap our hats to confuse our parents.We took dance classes together, we shared books and low-key competed over grades, our parents grounded both of us together, and when she had surgery to correct her scoliosis in seventh grade, I stayed home with her and we did our homework together. She’s the first person I call when I’m bored and lonely on my long runs, and I’ve slept on her floor more than anyone else’s in the world.

Kabir, her husband, is a charismatic Carleton grad that Maggie met early on at Carleton. He’s generous, quick to smile and thank, and almost always game for a new experience. He was educated in Hong Kong and has all of the trappings of an international cosmopolitan. They’re perfect for each other.

Let me spare you the gory details on how I got from Mexico City to New Delhi, but I will say that it took about 39 hours of nearly nonstop travel. I wrote a few articles in the Munich airport before my laptop died and I realized that I didn’t have a converter from U.S. to European outlets. Oh well – that’s what podcasts and books are for!

I arrived in Delhi around one in the morning. My Spanish seatmate and I navigated customs and immigration together since he couldn’t speak English and neither of us spoke Hindi. Despite being bone-tired, we made it through without a hitch.

Traffic Report: Insanity

Kabir’s family had arranged for drivers for us, so I was immediately scooped up after getting my bag.

Delhi traffic is insane. I’ve been driving in Mexico for over a month now, but I’ve never seen anything like Delhi. Cows, rickshaws, bikes, trucks, and cars clog the roads. Lane lines are totally irrelevant, allowing the road to carry an extra row or two of cars in the dusty stop-and-go traffic.

We spotted several cars per day going the wrong way down traffic, leading us to come to the conclusion that “The way you’re going is the way the road goes.”

Upon reaching the hotel, I sleepily greeted Casey, my roommate in the hotel. Casey is another Carleton friend of Maggie and Kabir. We fell asleep around two in the morning.

Wedding Dress Shopping in Delhi: Lengas at Frontier Raas

The next morning, a Tuesday in Delhi (Monday night in Mexico and the U.S., but that’s no matter), we woke around eight and headed down to breakfast. Jet lag hadn’t hit me yet, but the ample breakfast at the Oberoi Gurgaon still almost put me back asleep.

Mango lassis, mango yogurt, parantha, dosais, coriander chutney, mint and feta watermelon, and more loaded up my plate every morning for the next week. I’ve been exercising a lot and eating quite well in Mexico, but the diet was off-limits in Delhi. The food is just too good.

After breakfast, we packed up into a few chartered cars and headed off to find a wedding dress for Maggie and Indian formalwear for the rest of us.

We headed to Frontier Raas, a fancy shop about an hour from the hotel. In truth, I think the as-the-crows-fly distance was just a few kilometers, but the traffic is choking at all hours of the day in Delhi.

Frontier Raas is dazzling, blinding with color and glitter. Lengas, the dress of choice for Maggie, are heavy with sequins. Traditionally, they’ll be red with a glimmering veil that can be wrapped across the body, hung over the shoulders, or draped across the brow.

We sat and stared in awe at the fabric before us. Several other families were trying on their attire, but we were waiting for Kabir’s family to join us. To be honest, this wasn’t just courtesy – we needed help.

While we waited, the shopkeepers got to work. They started pulling dresses down and draping them before Maggie, tilting their heads to inquire about her preference in color or fabric type. She favored jewel tones, rich greens or mustardy yellows.

Meanwhile, the men headed upstairs to look at kurtas, the men’s dresswear that Kabir, Maggie’s father, and Maggie’s brothers would be wearing. Kabir, John, Andrew, and Eric had clothes picked out before Maggie was even halfway done.

By the time Kabir’s mother, Preeti, arrived, we had quite the assortment of dresses hanging before us. There were a few clear favorites based on color and sequin pattern, but we were far from done.

We started sipping on coffee while the sales girl took Maggie back to start trying on the four or five lengas that had risen to the top.

When Maggie emerged from the dressing room in her lenga, we audibly gasped. A preposterously heavy and “extra” piece, the red velvet was thick with sequins in a scalloped pattern. Next came a brilliant green and gold piece that accentuated Maggie’s hazel eyes but didn’t reach the “wow factor” of the red. Then there was a pale gold skirt with a red veil and top – a clear favorite within moments of its appearance.

Around that time, the shopkeeper emerged and asked us not to photograph or film. Apparently, it’s not uncommon to photograph a “winning” lenga and then have it custom-made just a few streets away for a fraction of the cost.

Next, Maggie emerged in a brilliant emerald piece with embroidered peacocks on it. This one was a clear winner as well, but the peacocks were missing the jeweled eyes and the silk had been damaged.The piece was dismissed after an arguement with the shopkeeper, who refused (or was unable) to fix the piece. She tried on a deep sapphire dress that was beautiful, but not quite right for her.

After about an hour of trying things on, Maggie made her decision to go with the gold and red – a bit lighter than the other favorite, the dark red that simply had too many sequins.

Lunch. We gorged on curries and dumplings at an Asian fusion restaurant, many of us indulging in a mid-shopping cocktail. I stared at the parrots that poked through smog-encrusted the fifth-story window, trying not to think about the jet lag that was catching up to me.

That afternoon, we headed out to purchase kurtas and sarees for the women. The kurtas, similar to the men’s formalwear, would be for the Mendi. The Mendi is the ceremonial henna day which happens the day before the actual wedding. It’s semi formal and more intimate than the wedding itself.

The sarees would be for Saturday, the big day. We examined hundreds of sarees, the salesmen pulling them from ceiling-high stacks. With an audible snap and twirling flourish, they open the saree and then rotate it 180 degrees in the air the float down before you.

Within no time, our party of six women had a thick stack of sarees to examine. We each selected one for the wedding and then headed home. Of course, we stuffed ourselves with more fantastic food for dinner.

Author: Kayla

Kayla is a biologist, writer, and web designer. She’s passionate about animal behavior, the science of habits, and anything outdoors.

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