Our Indian Adventure!!!

Warning, this is probably my LONGEST post I have written in the eight years I have been writing this blog. I wrote it for those of you who may be interested in our trip, but I also wrote it so that I personally didn’t forget any little travel details as a  journal for myself. I hope you enjoy!

Today is exactly a month from our return from southern India. It seems like only just yesterday I had butterfly’s of excitement deep down in my belly as we landed in Bangalore around midnight on a warm spring evening. So many friends have asked me to tell them about our trip that I thought I would write a few fun stories down. While this isn’t a true Cleveland-centric post, it’s about an experience that has provided me a new perspective on the world and I hope you enjoy it.

You see…in 2008; just a bit over ten years ago, I was a proud Cleveland Bridge Builders participant. If you don’t know what “Bridge Builders” is, it’s basically a young-professionals, leadership organization where you have the opportunity to meet and collaborate with a handful of other passionate Clevelanders for a solid year of programming. In this group I met a friend, he was an undergrad student at CASE and we were placed in the same small group project. I am happy to say that while the project wasn’t super successful our friendship has endured for just about ten years.

Last year, around Christmas I got a phone call from my friend who had since moved to NYC and it was kinda odd he was calling me since we typically text nowadays. I answered immediately worried something was wrong; but just the opposite…he was engaged and wanted to personally invite me and Mr. C to his wedding celebration abroad and just like that…we were going to India!

As a designer, I have always wanted to visit this country known for its abundance of vibrant colors and unique patterns. I had magazine tears on my desk (pre-Pinterest) for when I “someday” got to visit, things I should do or see.

We left Cleveland on a Thursday afternoon and arrived on Saturday “morning” which was actually the middle of the night. We flew through Atlanta and then through Amsterdam onto Bangalore. Our flights were all on time and from one to the next, our excitement grew. When we landed in Bangalore the airport seemed quiet, we got through customs just fine (note: remember to always print a hard copy of your Visa!) and our luggage was happily at baggage claim to meet us. We had been instructed to meet a driver who would take us to our first hotel. When we got through customs…we didn’t see any drivers so we decided to head outside. As soon as the sliding doors opened we were immediately smacked with warm air and hundreds of people shouting names of others at the arrival gate. As a first impression of this land, it couldn’t have been more hectic but all the while, so happy and full of warm welcomes. We finally found our driver and off we went into the city night.

Our hotel was about an hour drive from the airport. It was in the middle of the night and  my body had no idea what time it actually was, the adrenaline was pumping and I was wide awake. From the airport to our hotel I knew right away I was no longer in Cleveland, HA! From the cows walking down the sides of the road to hundreds of scooters whizzing by our car, from apartment buildings covered in lights to numerous religious temples on the side of the road…we had for sure arrived in India.

When we pulled up to the hotel our friend had waited up for us and greeted us with a warm Indian welcome. I still couldn’t believe we were all there and ready to celebrate with them their glorious occasion. We got into our room and literally crashed…we had made it.

The next morning, we woke up pretty early to discover how cool our resort was since we couldn’t get a good feel for it in the middle of the night. The property had something like five pools for us to explore, an indoor spa, badminton courts and everything you would expect for a high-end resort to have. We met our friends for our first official Indian breakfast meal; Dosas which are more savory than our sweet American pancakes and are made from rice and lentils…delicious!

After a leisurely morning, we set out that day to do some exploring with our first stop for lunch…of course. Did you know that if someone asks you if you want “kabobs” it doesn’t mean the veggies, meat or seafood actually arrives on a skewer? Rather this term is almost used like how we would say “do you want barbeque?” it’s more about how the meat is prepared rather than how the meat arrives at your table…just a side note. Lunch was filled with “kabob’s meaning plates of tender chicken and lamb with piles of exotic rice dishes and buttery fresh naan bread, so delicious.

After lunch, we went to visit ISKON Bangalore Temple. ISKCON Bangalore is a charitable society with the objective of propagating Krishna Consciousness all over the world. The members of this faith are trying to give human society an opportunity for a life of happiness, good health, peace of mind and all good qualities through God consciousness. As someone who has practiced yoga for a good part of my life, arriving at this temple was so spiritual and allowed me to open my heart and mind to all of the experiences that lay ahead.

That first evening we went to bed; jet-lagged, but still on cloud nine from our first day in India. There was excitement in the air for some of the other guests who were arriving the following day and we couldn’t wait to see everyone.

The next day was mostly spent shopping (my fave!) for official wedding attire. A good part of the wedding group had arrived and it was time to find our Indian outfits for the wedding festivities. Upon arriving at each formalwear store we immediately let the sales staff know our budgets. This is super important when you are shopping for fancy wedding apparel as there is typically a range of dresses that start around one hundred dollars (6,500 rupees) and can go upwards of a few thousand (130,000 rupees +.)  I started out trying on every bold colored lehenga (skirt & coordinating blouse combination) but then eventually ended up falling for a royal blue and gold sari set. Mr. C bought a cool pair of cotton pants with coordinating longer kaftan-type shirt and slip on shoes; he looked great!

After a long day of shopping, we had an authentic Indian dinner at our friend’s parents home. Everything was so delicious, the richness of layered spices, the various curry dishes, the naan…and did I mention the scotch? From what I could tell, Indians tend to drink scotch as their main drink of choice and while I typically love me some spicy red wine; I too began to appreciate a warm glass of scotch after dinner.

The next morning we took in a bit of sunshine near the hotel pool and then we all met in the lobby to go to the open-air markets for a lesson in Indian negotiating. When we pulled down Commercial Street; Bangalores version of Manhattans Canal Street, I saw hundreds of bangle bracelet vendors and I knew it was going to be a great day! I ended up buying bracelets, rings, a shirt, a skirt and so many other little nic nacs, I was a happy shopper. If you get to Bangalore make sure you stop there for lots of souvenirs at great prices. Don’t be afraid to negotiate, I got almost everything I bought for just about half of the starting prices. They expect a bit of back and forth.

That night we had our last dinner in Bangalore at a gorgeous restaurant called Oota. Everything about this dining experience was stunning. From the space design to the servers uniforms, to the smoking cocktails and dishware, it was all uniquely gorgeous. If you’re a foodie and it’s authentic Karnataka cuisine you want Oota is not to be missed!

The next day it was time to start our road trip from Bangalore to Bekal in Kerala. There were about twenty of us who boarded the bus in anticipation of the journey that lie ahead. It was almost like we were “off to see the wizard” everyone giddy with excitement, relaxed and full of awe.

Our first stop on the way to Mysore was at Daria Daulat Bagh; a palace that was built in 1784. This palace is predominantly made from teakwood and the outer part of the structure is covered in fresco paintings depicting the various battles between the Indian, French, and British while the inside of the palace is covered in more organic drawings of flowers, plants and many geometric patterns. To think that the walls and ceiling are actually hand painted rather than digitally output blew my mind!

Next stop; Mysore Palace also known as Amba Vilas Palace. Located at the heart of Mysore city it is the most prominent tourist destination of Mysore that attracts millions of visitors all year round. Seeing this palace in person was truly breathtaking, part opulence of Marie Antoinette, part mystical castle all doused with a touch of color and pattern a la Indian style! If you get to this part of the world, make sure you get yourself a tour guide for the whole story behind this architectural work of art.

We stayed in the city of Mysore that evening at a very fancy Radisson Blu hotel. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the staff who greeted us with fresh hand towels, a thumbprint bindi offering and a very pretty glass of freshly squeezed juice; I loved the check-in process every place we went. While Mr. C and I both very much enjoy Indian food, by day four we were ready for a change, so needless to say we were pretty psyched when we saw the Margherita pizzas on the hotel menu for dinner that night. It wasn’t exactly Bar Cento or Vero but it was close enough to almost taste like “pizza from home” minus the pita-like crust. I also tried a Kingfisher Beer that night with our pizza, pretty great.

The next day we boarded our bus early to make our way through the mountains to the region of Coorg. Coorg is known for their farming of teas, coffees spices AND the Golden Temple; home to the second largest Tibetian Monastery outside of Tibet. I think this was probably one of my favorite sights that we experienced along the trip. The vibrancy of the interiors and artwork paired with the simple lifestyle of the Buddhists Monks that lived “on-campus” it was truly a place of spiritual enlightenment. PLUS, can we even talk about the three Budha statues inside the temples and all the GOLD? Breathtaking! I wasn’t able to take video inside of the temple but I found a great clip on youtube in case you want to see some of the monks during prayer at the temple; check it out here!

After our trip to the temple, we swung by Amanvana Resort & Spa for a relaxing outdoor luncheon. We sat in the most comfortable wicker chairs that overlooked their pristine, spa pool as we ate various plates of paneer and spicy curry. This resort had some very cool graphics around the property and I was immediately drawn to their tagline; a rabbit hole for the soul. This resort would be a great place to visit with your yoga friends for a long weekend of spa treatments and vinyasa. I am dreaming of going back.

That afternoon we all jumped in Jeep Wranglers and headed out to the Dubare Elephant Camp. We had to cross the river to “elephant island” on foot because the river was too low for us to take the boats across. We could hear the elephants trumpeting and snorting as we crossed the river it’s like they were shouting for us to get there to play with them. Once inside the camp, we were let loose to roam around the property to experience daily living with the magnificent creatures. We watched as the elephants took baths in the river, we got to feed them and we even watched them as they played blocks…aka stacking logs. While their size was intimidating at first, these giant creatures were the most gentle creatures I had ever witnessed up close and personal.

That evening, just as the sun was setting our bus pulled up to the entrance of our next hotel experience at the Taj Madikeri Resort. We immediately all shuffled out of the bus and into the hotels’ outdoor lobby to watch the sun setting over the Brahmagiri mountain range of the Western Ghats; mother nature truly is a magical lady. After the sunset, we jumped in our golf cart and were whisked away to our own cottages to prep for dinner. That evening we met up with our group at what I can only describe as a “Bachelor dinner.” I’m assuming you know the show the Bachelor? Well this restaurant had rose petals sprinkled along the ground, candles everywhere, a view of the mountain range and the candlelit swimming pool…it was the perfect destination for the one-on-one fantasy suite date for sure! After dinner, we went back to our suite and literally crashed from the days’ excitement.

On Thursday we tried our best to get up for sunrise over the mountains but literally slept through until breakfast…I think all of the travel was starting to catch up with us. After breakfast, we loaded back to the bus for our final day of travel as we headed off to the wedding destination the Taj Bekal in Kerala. This resort would be our final destination where the three days of wedding festivities would take place…we knew it would be extra special.

When we arrived at the wedding resort, the scent of lilies literally rolled out of the lobby and into the front drive. The staff welcomed our group with beaded necklaces and a cup of tea. We were whisked away to get unpacked and dressed for the first nights welcome cocktail party. Our room was literally out of a movie; it came complete with a sparkly pool, queen hanging bed on the patio and an outdoor tub & shower. To say we were like two kids in a candy shop would have been an understatement. I think we literally threw on our bathing suits and jumped in the pool within ten minutes of being in our room, SO FUN!

That night the bride and groom and their families put on one heck of a welcome party complete with dancing to some of their favorite American tunes. We were all dressed up and ready to kick off the wedding festivities in style. That evening we had an authentic Southern Indian dinner and we met a handful of other Americans who had just arrived for the wedding celebration. We drank scotch and danced to Pitbull as the night went on..it was super fun seeing everyone letting loose.

On Friday morning we woke up early and took a yoga class in the spa. I really enjoyed practicing while I was in India, so calming and peaceful. When I am taking a class in the states I love a challenging powerful flow class but while in India I relished in the calm and peacefulness of Yin Yoga that was always part of the practice; next time you have the opportunity to slow down, give it a try.

After yoga, I went to the bride’s room to watch her get her intricate Mendhi (henna) applied to her arms, hands, legs, and feet. Did you know that it is a common belief that the darker the color the mehndi leaves on the hands of a bride, the more will she be loved by her husband and mother-in-law? At the Mehndi celebration, the brides closest friends also used this girls-only-time to celebrate in a more traditional American Bachelorette-like party complete with bubbly and karaoke…these ladies for sure knew how to have a good time! All of the guests of the brides we were also invited to get some henna drawn onto our hands…I jumped at the opportunity and gave them free creativity to whatever design they wanted to stain my skin with for the celebration…it turned out exquisite.

After the party, I tracked down Mr. C and some of the other guests at the main pool. We ordered Pina Coladas and when they were delivered I was SURE they brought us the wrong drink…we didn’t order bright yellow margaritas? What were these drinks? OMG…they were FRESH pina coladas! I don’t think I have ever had something so sweet and refreshing in fact, you’ve got to try making these from home this summer. (Recipe below!)

Post pool it was time to get our white clothes on for the big HOLI party! In India, Holi also known as the “festival of colours”, is an Indian spring festival celebrated all across the country. With water guns filled with natural dyes and handfuls of powdered pigments it was time to get crazy and play “holi!” The music got louder and on the count of “one, two, three!” we were off to cover every party-goer with bright colors. It literally felt like we were kids again running around the beach with our water spray guns. If you ever get a chance to experience this Indian holiday my only words of wisdom would be to cover your hair with coconut oil (or something similar) so the inks can’t stain your ‘do…live and learn!

That evening it was time for the official wedding kick off. During dinner, the bride and the groom treated all of the guests to a capoeira-like Indian dance performance while guests enjoyed a pool-side Indian feast. It was honestly like no other party I have ever attended and it had only just begun.

The next morning we got up early to go and give our blessings to the soon-to-be married couple. We got in line to approach the altar, then sprinkled rice and floral petals on their heads, blessed them and wished them well. After the morning ceremony there was a Kathakali performance; a traditional wedding dance ceremony, a mehndi bar (for those who wanted to get Henna before the nights ceremony,) a free Indian sandal station (I’m so serious, I was in heaven,) a shaved ice bar and even a cotton candy station…the party had begun! After the morning ceremony, there was a very traditional Southern Indian luncheon where the meal was actually served on a plantain leaf and we used our hands to eat, very authentic.

After lunch, we headed back to our hotel for a “splash” of pool time, an afternoon Pina colada and our last official wedding ceremony outfit change. It was time to wear my new sari! Next time you are in India and are fretting about getting your sari on just so, don’t fret, just call down to the front desk and they will send someone up. No joke, to the hotel staff it is the same thing as housekeeping just a normal guest request! A lovely young woman showed up with a handful of safety pins and got to work folding and raping the sari into perfect wedding position….then it was time to go.

The final wedding ceremony was actually just a few miles away from our hotel; where the groom/my friend was staying. When we were dropped off at the front of the hotel we wandered through the various paths following the tunes of a saxophone. The final tunnel to the wedding ceremony was lined with white flowers and twinkly white lights; it was what fairytales are made of. As we entered the wedding celebration there were hundreds of guests dressed in their best with jewelry for miles. The music was intoxicating and the Sanskrit chanting sounded like a magical recipe for romance. At the front of the festivities there were three stages; one for the band, one for the bride and one for the groom. On each stage, there were various happenings, rituals, ceremonies taking place as the crowd watched in amazement. Then at 7:40, when the bride and grooms stars aligned they came together on one stage and became officially wed; hooray. There were more flower petals, more saxophone tunes, some traditional Indian wedding games, bubbly…and FIREWORKS! Yes, not just one or two but a legit fireworks display in celebration of the bride and groom.

As we fell asleep that night I could not stop smiling that we had experienced this life-changing event together with our friends in a far-off country. Back to Cleveland the next day and while I was ready to go home, I could have stayed at that party all night. Thank you to our friends Courtney and Swarup for this once in a lifetime opportunity to travel the globe together and watch you get married, we are honored to be part of your celebration. Thank you to Swaira; Swarup’s sister for all of the love and detailed planning that went into this memorable event. Thank you to my parents for watching our little guy and holding down the home front while we jetted across the world. Thank you to Caroline, Ali, and Amber for keeping our design studio running smoothly while I traveled the globe and came back inspired and refreshed. When I think back on the adventure most of all I am thankful for my partner in crime Mr. C for always agreeing to go along with whatever invitation we should receive; I can’t wait to see where the universe takes us next!

If anyone is traveling to southern India and needs any insight, while I am not expert, you can obviously see that I am a big fan. I would be happy to talk about our trip for days! Just shout!