When we arrived in Orchha it was late and we had trouble finding a room. Wondering if there was a census, holy day, festival or son of God being born in a stable near by, we eventually found a dank, desolate, 200 Rupee room that was available. Knowing from our past escapades that beggars can’t be choosers, we took the room.
We had travelled a whole day in the car and wanted nothing more than to sleep but the thumping music and lights from whatever parade was happening outside prevented any chance of that. Mildly motivated by the stench of our room we decided to venture out into the streets to see what was happening.
“It is wedding season in Orchha!” We are told by our hotelier. He further explains, it is a sacred or lucky day to get married and over 200 weddings have happened today in the town. We see several grooms paraded through the streets on horseback followed by a procession of wedding guests. Many of these processions included large carts and vehicles wired to suspicious looking generators. These carry impressive displays of flashing fairground lights and blare out traditional Indian rave music with a thumping bass line. We are carried through the streets in a wave of festival atmosphere, dancing and cheering along with the locals.
As is customary in all Indian destinations, we are approached by a street kid waving bracelets under our noses. After initially declining her offer, she eventually convinces us that they are free; a gift to us for celebrating her uncles wedding. After thanking her and marvelling at our new free bits of string with bells on, we wander a little off the beaten track and away from the main wedding procession.
We stop outside a large restaurant with no roof and try to have a look at the wedding reception which is being held there. We are surrounded by children who want our autographs. After politely declining, we realise they will not take no for an answer and so we decide to bask in our new found celebrity status. Next come their parents, who rather than asking us to leave take us by the hand and drag us into the wedding reception. There are easily 500 people at the venue, which has a large buffet running along one wall. The bride and groom sit on thrones at one end of the room overseeing their guests. As we enter it becomes clear that every single guest would like the opportunity to meet us as they all rush toward us and clamour for our attention. The only issue is nobody in at the wedding reception can speak English and our Hindi consists mainly of curses and swear words. In lieu of any shared vocabulary, we are hugged, kissed and beamed at by everyone in the room before being brought to the buffet by the mother of the bride. She helps us fill our plates with a vast array of sweet and savoury treats which taste so good we are happy to be dragged back for seconds and thirds by other wedding guests. Finally someone remembers a bit of English and proudly says “You like Indian food.” Unsure weather his articulation is a question, statement or instruction we smile, nod and continue to eat.
Enjoying our free food and popularity we continue to mill around with the wedding party, Although it is difficult to communicate through mime when holding stack of plates, we certainly try our best and are having a jolly good time socialising with the guests. Nothing cuts through the atmosphere of a party like the sound of shot gun fire. Immediately thinking we were under terrorist attack we drop to ground as three shots are fired into the air. Realising that no one else was remotely panicked and were in fact laughing at us, we got up and dusted ourselves down. The gunshot fire had, of course, been to signify the start of the official photographs.
The bride and groom sat in their thrones, sombre faced while a variety of family members posed behind them for pictures. We watch the different people having their photos taken, marvelling at their outfits and playing ‘who’s grannie is it anyway.’ Full of buffet and good cheer we think about making our excuses to leave when we are motioned to approach the bride and groom for a photograph. Knowing this will be in their wedding album and quite possibly pride of place on the mother of the brides mantelpiece, we politely decline. After a whole host of “no thank you,” and “we couldn’t possibly” we eventually settle on “oh well, if you insist,” and are herded behind the happy couple. We give our best cheesy smiles and are even contemplating a thumbs up but after a while we realise no body is taking our picture. After a little discussion and much hilarity, we conclude we will only be photographed with the obligatory po face. so after inverting our smiles and giving our best forlorn pouts we are finally snapped by the photographer.
We are encouraged to leave a small monetary wedding gift for the happy couple before being allowed off the stage. Realising we have absolutely reached our peak of excitement for the evening we mime our excuses and head for the door just as the next three rounds of shots are fired into the Indian sky.
Have you been to a wedding in India? What are your experiences of hospitality when travelling? Do you know why 16th February 2010 was such a lucky day for a wedding?