Saturday, December 31, 2011


I took the intercity train today from Lucknow to Varanasi. I sat in the AC class car, it's five seats across with reserved seating. Not quite as nice as my first train ride but at least it wasn't comfortable, better yet I didn't have to use the bathroom for this six and a half hour ride. This is the popular train as its affordable and stops numerous times along the way. My cousin Deepak picked me up at the train station and took me to his hotel. He actually owns two hotels here, the one I'm in is three buildings down from his home. After freshening up a bit I walked over to Deepak's house and met my aunt. She's my father's sister and the second eldest of eleven siblings. I also met Deepak's wife, youngest son and his family.

My cousin is very well known in Varanasi. When he talks, every one listens. When he walks everyone makes room. As such I'm being treated quite well in this city so far. His house if full so I'm staying in his hotel and the staff here are taking very good care of me.

This evening at 5pm Deepak picked me up and we went to the ghats along the sacred Ganges River. (Ghats are steps that go into the river). This is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world and is now divided into two sections; the old city and the new city. The new city is quite modern and as 15 shopping malls with 15 more under construction. The old city is absolutely amazing. These buildings are thousands of years old and still used. For each home here there is a temple. There are no streets but rather a maze of alleys no wider than two feet. Cows get right away unless you're brave enough to tell it otherwise.

Deepak and I went to the river where a sacred Hindu ceremony was being performed. We rented a small boat and watched the ceremony from the river. After the ceremony the boat took us upriver along the stretch of ghats. Most of the ghats are bathing ghats where hindus come to bath in the holy river Ganga (that's what the Hindus call the Ganges River). Further up we came to the ghats where the deceased are cremated. I saw eight fire, some with fresh flames reaching high into the sky as the cremation was just starting and others where the cremation was coming to an end as the flames were dimming. There is a cast of men who's job it is to make sure the bodies are properly cremated. The stacks of wood here is indescribable. Deepak told me that the fires here burn 24 hours a day as bodies are brought here for cremation. As we walked through the maze of alleys we saw one procession where a family was bringing a body towards the water to be cremated. There is actually a detailed ritual that has to be done, including washing the body in the holy Ganges River before cremation. It was an interesting sight to say the least.

I didn't take any photos tonight, I didn't feel comfortable pulling out a camera at a holy ceremony, and I wanted to not only respect what was going on I wanted to take it in. And the same goes with those bathing in the river to wash their sins away and also to respect the recently departed. These are just things that need to be seen and respected.

You can however find a lot of media on the internet. Do a google search for Varanasi Ghats and you'll come up with a lot of pictures and youtube videos. There's really no need for me to add to what's already there. I will though try to get some photos in the next few days of every day life in Varanasi, if I can.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Delhi to Lucknow by train

I have spent the last three days in Delhi visiting my two cousins, Seema and Neena (sisters). Seema and her husband live and work in Delhi but Neena and her family live in Cairo Egypt, they're here at their Delhi home for a couple of weeks. My dad's youngest sister also lives nearby so a quick visit with her was necessary too. It has been so difficult to loose any weight in India, here's why. I wake up at Neena's house, have tea and biscuits. Then breakfast. Then I got to Seema's house where tea and biscuits are served, then I'm expected to join them for breakfast. No one seems to understand the word 'no' so I have to be polite and eat a little bit. Then lunch at Neenas. A trip to the eye glass store where tea and snacks are served while I wait for my eye exam. And again while I'm picking out frames. Then a stop for some street food on the way back to the house with my cousin. Once we reach the house tea is promptly served with cookies, nuts and dried fruits. A visit to my other aunt where samosas, pakkoras, fruit, sweets, nuts and chips are served. Then to Seema's for dinner where I'm expected to eat a full meal. I'm not kidding, this is how every day with my relatives have been. I do get some relief on Tuesdays as I learned that it's a day of fasting for most Hindus. And while I'm not Hindu if I say I'm fasting it's respected without question.

I woke up early this morning, and I'll admit that I was scared. Today was to be my first train travel experience in India in 34 years. I remember in 1977 when I traveled with my father that anytime we took the train we took the general car. Wood bench seats, over crowding, uncomfortable and slow, it's what has been portrayed on television so many times. And to be honest I really had no intention of taking the train but when I told my aunt that I wanted to go to Lucknow she and my cousins insisted that I take the train from Delhi. I was willing to pay more to fly but when my aunt says jump every one jumps, so when she insisted on the train I had no choice but to say okay, and that's when all the memories came back.

What I learned over the past days is that there is two trains that run between Delhi and Lucknow. The normal train departs at 8 pm and arrives in Lucknow at about 6 am with numerous stops along the way. It has general cars which is what we used to take when I was a boy. Then there is the AC express car which is basically bucket seats, one per person. The AC3 car is an open car with sleeper beds stacked three high. AC2 is also open sleepers but stacked only 2 high so more room and less people. And finally there is the AC1 which is enclosed sleeper compartments, some have only accommodations for two people but most are for four people, you'll never know who you'll share the compartment with.

The express train, the one I am on, has only three stops on the way to Lucknow and takes five hours instead of ten. Because it's not an overnight train there are no sleeper cars, but the seats in the executive car are really nice. They're actually better than a lot of first class seats I've sat in when flying. Included in my ticket price of $24 is tea service, breakfast, another tea service, bottled water, lunch, snacks and a news paper in English. 

I woke up at 5am, my train was scheduled to arrive at 6:44 am and depart at 6:46 am. When I got out of Neena had tea and biscuits waiting for me and my aunt had put together a bag with popcorn, cookies and fruit. The children even got up to see me off. My cousin Manish took me to the train station in Ghaziabad and I'm glad he was there to hold my hand, at least this time around. The platforms were buzzing with people, beggars and vendors selling early morning chai and snacks. My train showed up right on time and just as I was sitting I it was pulling away from the station.

It was a quick six and a half hour train ride. After sitting down I was served tea. Then came the first course for breakfast. It was a tray with a bowl of cereal. I decided to decline the cereal as here in India it's always served with hot milk. Cereal with hot milk? The second course was better. I was offered a choice of vegetarian or non-veg, I chose the non-veg option which included and omelet, potatoes, toast, a banana and a pastry. It was pretty good. Then came another tea service and before arriving in Lucknow another tea service. The seat was super comfy with a leg rest and window shade. I didn't take any photos and I have no reason. Just didn't feel like to this trip.

My cousin Kakhi picked me up and then we went for a ride. First we stopped and saw the huge house where my father was born. Some of the house has been torn down with stores put in but the house was huge, must have been a city block back in the day (long time ago!). Then I got to see where my father lived when he went to college here and a few other sights. The old part of town is very settled, lots of cows, stores, consgested streets and so on. When we got into the new part of Lucknow I couldn't tell that I was in India. Magnificant parks, some of the nicest and without a doubt the largest I've ever seen. I'm only here a day and a half, my next trip needs to be no less than one week. I need time to explore the markets in the old city and the areas of the new. The old palace also looks very inviting, there was even a long line of people waiting to get in today. I tempted fate again today as I ate at a street vendor. It's not that eating at street vendors is bad, it's actually just fine in most cases. But it's what I ate, called Pani Puri or Pani Patasha. It's a great snack but involves a lot of water. And drinking water in India can have consequences. So far I've been doing just fine with this one particular street food, but maybe I shouldn't push my luck.

My cousin helped me get a train ticket to Varanasi, I'll be heading there on the 30th. Then on the 3rd of January I'm flying to Mumbia for a while, who knows, maybe I'll become a Bollywood star!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rambling thoughts

So it's been a while since my last update and I really have no excuse. I could say I was busy but more than likely I was just being lazy. Rather than write about everything that has happened in 10 days I'll just write some rambling thoughts.

Haridwar - what a great trip. A holy place along the Ganges River. Surrounded by miles and miles of tourist shops, the bathing ghats are a serine place where Hindus bathe in the holy Ganges River. While I'm not Hindu my father was and it felt good to bathe here, afterwards a Hindu priest performed a ceremony for my late father with me. Lunch was great, only a buck. One of my best meals in India.

The best selling car in India is the Tata Nano. Tata is made in India, the Nano is a very small car and sells for only $2,000.

Dhabas are road side restaurants, more like a small truck stop where passerby's of all types stop for food. They are known for their wonderful and inexpensive home cooked meals, and in front of many dhabas are cots for drivers to get some sleep. Usually also available is a hand pump water spout and some buckets for bathing.

Bell bottom pants are still in, at least in south India. They were more common than straight legged pants in some places. Actually, they looked so good that even I thought about getting a pair.

India is a beautiful country and despite it's initial appearance in places of chaos and poverty there is a system here that works. After two months of being in India I've come to appreciate all aspects of life and culture here. What westerner's might consider chaos is a very organized system, but it can only work in India.

Scooter rides in India are the quickest way to get around, also the most exhilarating.

Sugar cane is a huge crop in north India around Meerut. It's transported from the fields to the processing plant by truck, carts pulled by water buffalo, rickshaw and even by hand. I was in a car behind one truck moving slowly through a village, young boys chasing the truck pulling at random canes sticking out of the back in hopes for a quick snack. I remember as a child here snacking on sugar cane and it brought back smiles.

There are no trash cans in many places, trash is just thrown to the side of the road and it builds up through out the day. For the first time visitor this may give the appearance of a dirty town or city. But early in the morning the streets are filled with workers picking up the trash and removing it from sight. Now I see the trash on the side of the streets as guaranteed employment for someone that is in need of feeding their family.

I walked by a city trash dump one day and was saddened at the sight of people of all ages, including very young children, digging through the trash looking for anything of value. Their work was very meticulous, every piece of garbage was handled and thoroughly inspected. Anything with a value of even a cent or two was collected including pieces of wire and glass bottles. And while it was sad to see that people needed to do this to survive from day to day I smiled knowing that the gold ear ring my mother accidentally threw away four weeks ago will no doubt be found, and will make someone joyous as if finding a pirate's hidden treasure.

I went to where dad was cremated. It's a very busy place, a very holy place. I was the only non-Indian there I think. I actually had Indians coming up to me asking to take my photos. It was actually a pretty nice place along the ghats. I didn't make it too far to where they actually perform the cremations but will on my next trip. On the way back to Meerut we stopped in a small village for chai, not a tourist place by any means. All the boys within 100 meters came to see me, it was a lot like flirting I think. Got a few good photos. I think it was mostly a muslim village as there were no women around.

The malls are great places to get some relief from the non stop noise, and some good food can be found there too. Just Noodles is now one of my favorite mall eating places.

On one of my three and a half hour walk through the city  I made a stop at the family temple for a short bit. I sat with Pundi ji, the priest and we talked for a while. Then his wife came out as did his children. So I stayed for a while and had tea and cookies and we talked about all sorts of things. His elder boy is 17 and wants to be an engineer in America. His younger brother is 11 and not sure what he wants to do but wants to go to America too. So they had a lot of questions about America (they don't say nor understand United States here in India, only America and usually it's pronounced Amrica).

Electronics in India are outrageously expensive, everything else is very affordable.

Going out to movies is a favorite past time in India, most movies costing around $2 per person. The 'red carpet rooms' are theaters with fancy sections which include sofas, recliners and includes meals and all movies snacks, all for $10 per person or less. Indian movies usually are 2.5 hours and longer.

My favorite fruit is now guavas, I like chai, fresh roasted peanuts can't be beat and street food is always good.

I went with my cousin Neena to get a pair of glasses for her son and ended up getting a pair for me. Free exam, great frames and same day service for $20.

My taxi to/from Haridwar

The bathing ghats at Haridwar

The bathing ghats near Hasanpur
where my father was cremated.

On this tray is an entire restaurant but with only one meal choice

This homeless boy was with his three siblings and mother and begging for food.
He was successful in feeding his family members, now he looks on at the food
being sold, his stomach still empty

Stirring a large pan of boiling milk

Moving sugar cane by truck
and by head

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays

Happy holidays and Merry Christmas to all.

It's been a while since my last update, I hope to have a new one with some photos posted later today.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A walk through Meerut

Meerut used to be a small town with the primary thing here the military base. Meerut is now a busy city of three million people and the army base here is the third largest in India. Meerut is also known for it's manufacturing of sports equipment, the largest manufacturers are here in Meerut. And the surrounding areas are farmed with sugar cane as the primary crop. Tons and tons of cane here.

Meerut is not a tourist destination and as such I'm the only foreigner here in Meerut aside from those that work and teach at the few churches. Hinduism is still the primary religion here and 35 years ago there was not that many Muslims. Now Muslims make up 25% or more of the population and Christians a very small minority. There are numerous orphanages here, most of the children come from rural farming communities in northern India. Thia ji will take me one day this week to the one that she often buys clothes and food for. I told Thai ji that I would like to buy either clothes or food as a donation, so maybe towards the end of the week.

When heading north Meerut is the last 'city', continuing to the north there are only small towns. Because of this Meerut has the most doctors per capita, some of the nation's best doctors and also some of the best hospitals. This is because north of here it's all rural so people travel to Meerut for medical care.

Meerut has everything, and it is exactly what one thinks of when thinking of India. Cows and water buffalo roaming the streets, cycle rickshaws everywhere, carts pulled by water buffalo or horses, bicycles, scooters and motorcycles, trucks, buses, cars of all sizes, pedestrians all sharing the narrow roads. You'll see all of these in just a 40 foot stretch of road. The air here is very smoggy, I think a lot of it comes up from Delhi. There really aren't that many beggars here, but some do exist.

Businesses of all sorts are based here and the shopping possibilities are unlimited. If there is something you want to buy it will be here. Stores range from small two by six foot cubicles to larger stores to a table on the side of the street. Today when I was walking there was a man on the side of the street with a Xerox copy machine. That was his business, making copies for those that walked by. Another man sat on the side walk in white rags with his legs crossed, in front of him a bathroom scale. For a few rupees he'll let you step on and weigh yourself. And another man, the ear cleaner, is ready to help get the wax out of your ear. There's a man sitting with a wooden tool box, in it a few pliers and other tools, a sign in front of him has Dentist written on it. He's there for extracting teeth from the very poor who can't afford to visit a proper dentist. Along the fence there is a mirror hanging and a wooden stool. A young man at the ready to give anyone a shave.

I went into the market today, actually a few different markets. The one to the west of the ancestral home on Abu Lane is more upscale with dine in restaurants, walk-in stores and nice hotels. Here I found a nice pair of jeans and a shirt to match. Because of the overhead of actual buildings the prices here tend to be a bit higher but so does the quality. To the north I walked though one of the slums, by the bus station and along the main road. In the slums along a creek there were very small tents made of blue tarp's. Outside the tents were fires where children and adults were huddled to stay warm. Young children barely clothed, many with only a shirt on walked barefoot. No one asked me for money, everyone just went about their business. Half way through my walk in the slums I saw to very small and very dirty children, one girl of maybe three and a boy of four. The each only had a shirt and a knit cap on. The children and the clothes looked as if they hadn't been washed in years. But I laughed so hard because the young girl had a tattered purse hanging from her small arm as she walked daintily, the boy holding her hand with his head up high. Their imaginations hard at work I suspect they were off to have tea at the palace.

At the bus station there were street vendors selling fresh fruit of all types, chai (very good chai), food of all types and a few tables of clothes and toys. Being the main road and the bus station it was really busy, people moving fast in all directions and vendors dishing out their food or goods as fast as they could. The smells of pakoras, chai and samosas brought back a lot of memories. Meerut is a hub for transportation. From one village you bring a bus to Meerut then catch another out to a different village. Most of the busses here are government run busses, the most tattered on the road. One has to wonder how they ever make it down the road. Government busses are the cheapest bus service available. Then there are private buses which are less crowded but more expensive. These will also make less stops so their faster (though nothing in India moves fast). For interstate travel there are a variety of luxury buses. These are the most expensive but fasted of the buses as they do not make intermediate stops. For shorter trips there will be only one passenger per seat, most are air conditioned and almost all have a television and dvd player. Then there are the sleeper buses. These are the top of the line for bus travel and while the most expensive bus to take it is still quite cheap. These sleeper busses will have one bed per seat. So you can lay down and sleep or sit in your assigned seat. Sleeper buses service longer trips, usually overnight trips.

Once through the bus station area I crossed the street to do some more exploring and walked by one vendor that had hundreds of belts on display. I needed a new belt so I stopped to browse. Stopping to browse in India means stopping to buy. With my lack of Hindi and his lack of English I would just nod my head yes or no as he showed me different belts. It got interesting for a while, nodding the head side to side in India means yes, and he thought I was going to buy 20 or more belts. I finally selected one, he wanted $3 but after some negotiation we settled on $1. It's not a very high quality belt but seeing that I hardly wear belts I'm happy with it. It was the same brand that I saw in the store where I bought my jeans, the belt there was $6.

After my belt purchase I walked through the east market, a very very congested and busy market. Probably because the prices here are so low and the selection high. Clothes and saris of all sorts, household goods, jewelry, furniture, produce and street food abound. Everything was chaotic but organized. All the clothes vendors are grouped together as are the fabric, furniture and produce. All categories are in groups. Most people in the market didn't give me a second glance but all the old men did, they knew I wasn't a local. It's cold here in Meerut and it seems that the people here like to take care of their animals. I've seen dogs with sweaters, goats wearing coats and yes, even pants. Some cows even have burlap bags draped over them and tied on, some crude looking and others even a bit fashionable.

Once done with this market I took a stroll down another street that wasn't so busy. There were shops one after another, some only two feet wide and other larger. Some very well lit while others were dark. In front of one small store young men worked hard to clean motorcycle parts in buckets of gasoline (called petrol here). In another that was only two feet wide an old toothless man sat with his peddle operated sewing machine stitching a pair of pants while a customer sat on a short wooden stool. A few feet further down the spice shop with more spices than I could count. Bright yellow turmeric and dangerously red ground chili peppers. Green cardamom, black cloves and brown cinnamon. The aroma tickled the nose in so many ways. And yet at another a young boy of about 12 years was rolling and flattening puris then handing it off to his father to fry in a wok like pan that was no less than three feet in diameter. The hot puffed puris were then stacked in a bin and ready to serve. Next to the puris was another young man, maybe the older brother, was stirring a pot of chole (chickpea dish), and another with plates in hand ready to serve.

I knew I was in the Muslim part of town when I came across the butcher shop. Only five feet wide and maybe 10 feet deep a bearded man sat cross legged with a well worn wooden block in front of him and a cleaver in his hand. Above the entrance was full legs of what was probably once was a goat. On the block the man chopped bits of meat into smaller pieces, two dogs looked on and waited patiently for a scrap to be thrown. Most of the women were covered in the traditional Muslim way and in respect I didn't look in the direction of any that I walked by. I walked for at least a mile. Most people were too busy to even notice that I was there but the elder men and some women who were just sitting and watching the world go by did notice me, and their eyes followed me in sync with my slow pace. I would nod and smile before something else caught my attention. I took a side street down into the residential area. Smaller stores yet and most were selling snacks of one type or another. One older man motioned me over and he asked if I was lost or needed help. I just said I was out for a walk.

I deliberately looked for landmarks each time I made a turn as I wanted to make sure I was able to exit this maze. I can see how it would be so easy to get lost. Every street has a name but there are no signs. The billboards were my landmarks and after successfully making my way out of the market I started to head back to the ancestral home. As I was walking down the main street dodging cars and busses, rickshaws and bicylces, buses and trucks and stepping over and around numerous piles of cow crap I looked left down another street. It called to me so I went. This was the computer section as every store either sold computers or computer accessories. My kind of place. Due to the high import duties on electronics computers here cost almost twice as much than if bought in the states. The further I went down this street the more of a maze it became. And with no billboards for landmarks I had to make mental notes of store names, all in Hindi. Down these streets and away from the main road it's actually pretty quiet. I eventually came across the stadium. It was closed but there was a crowd of people gathered in the parking lot. The laughing, cheering and gasping peaked my curiosity so I nudged my way through the crowd. Rajasthani gypsies were putting on a magic show. While I can't understand Hindi I could understand that they were telling a very funny story as they performed for the crowd.

Eventually I ended up back at the house, four hours after my walk started. Thai ji asked where I had gone, she was amazed that I would walk that entire distance. I've been telling her I like to walk, now she understands. I figured in reality I probably walked five to seven miles. I haven't taken any photos in Meerut yet. In all the other places I've been the people are accustomed to seeing tourists with cameras so it's no big deal. Because Meerut isn't accustomed to having tourists the people here become very suspicious of someone taking photos, either of their property or of themselves. So today I marked out a route during my walk and purposely made eye contact with numerous vendors. Each day this week I hope to make the same walk and see the same vendors, then at the end of the week I'll walk with my camera in hand. I hope that by then people will be accustomed to seeing me and won't be put off by my camera.

I haven't yet written about my trip to Haridwar yesterday. I'll do that in soon. My days here are busy. I usually have breakfast with my aunt but then when I walk down to the ground level my other aunt will stop me and insist that I have breakfast with her. So another bite and then down one more level where yet again I'm stopped and invited for a bite. I've learned to eat very little at breakfast, by the time I make it to the ground level for my walk I've had plenty of breakfast. On my way back up to the third floor I'm invited in at every level for chai. Pretty soon I'm going to stop walking up and down the stairs and will take the elevator. I have a lot of people to see this week. A dinner with one cousin, a dinner with another. Lunch with an uncle, dinner with another cousin and dinner with yet a cousin in law. There's too much food, lots of chai and many stories being told as well as new memories created.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A short drive, two weddings and lots of relatives

This I think is a complicated post and I'm not sure where to begin or how it will flow. And believe it or not this is the condensed version too. Yesterday I was take by my cousin's driver from Gurgaon to my other cousin's house in Noida. There I stayed with my cousin Seema and my Thiaji (Hindi for aunt) and then in the afternoon we all drove a couple of hours north to Meerut. Seema's husband and my other cousin Rajiv also went with us (Seema and Rajiv is my aunt's children).

Meerut is where my father's ancestral home is and where he grew up. My father had three bothers and seven sisters so there are a lot of relatives in this family. So much so that many don't even know all their cousins and aunts and uncles. When I was here 35 years ago as a young boy the ancestral home was small but on a large lot where my brothers played, climbed trees to eat it's fruit. The road out front wasn't very busy and the town of Meerut small. Yesterday though when we arrived I didn't recognize Meerut in anyway. It's now a city of 3 million, crowded with buildings and people and has the same issues with a lot of smog that Delhi has. The ancestral home is no more but now a three story apartment building with one apartment on each floor of about 2500 square feet. In the front of the property my fruit trees have been replaced by a two story building that now houses a bank and some small businesses. Meerut is now mostly Muslim which it wasn't back in the day. There are stores everywhere! It's like a non-stop strip mall with goods of all kinds.

What remains the same is that cows, water buffalo and monkeys still roam at will. The market that was here 35 years ago is still there, just a bit bigger. Street vendors still line the streets and the relatives are still very warm and welcoming.

Last night my cousin Tarun got married as did another very distant cousin Vibhor. I had a chance to attend both weddings and traditional Indian weddings are exactly as I remembered. All of the grooms relatives met at the groom's house where he sat on the couch, he sat there next to a young boy who in Indian tradition is a family member and will be with the groom every step of the way for good luck. Every relative, one by one, blessed the groom, posed for photos and mingled with the other relatives. Money was given not only to the groom but money was also given to the domestic help (Indians call them servants). During this time outside a very very loud band plays music. Very loud, this way everyone can hear the celebrations of the husband to be.

After a long time we all went outside where the band continued to play. The groom and the young boy mounted a very well decorated horse and relatives danced all around in celebrations. Money was circled above the dancers as well as the groom and boy then thrown up in the air. In tradition the money is circled above the groom and family to attract any bad spirits, once the spirit is attracted the money is thrown, the bad spirits follow and the less fortunate such as the home less and poor run to pick up the money. But in doing so they also take with them the bad spirits and thus will remain less fortunate.

After a long time of dancing (I had to dance too and it was NOT a pretty sight) the procession began and we moved slowly towards the place of the wedding. We would move 20 feet, dance and rejoice for 20 minutes, move another 20 feet, rejoice, move, rejoice and so on. Eventually many of us got in cars  and drove to within a quarter mile of the wedding place and waited for the procession. It was a long wait. I was in the car with three of my cousins and after a while my cousin drove us not to far to a location. We pulled up in front of a building where a man came out, my cousin spoke to him and then he parked the car across the street. A few minutes later two men brought my cousins one rum drink, two whiskey drinks and me a beer. It's the first time I've seen a drive up bar. So we sat there and each had one drink and then drove back to the wedding area and arrived just when the procession was arriving.  At one point the groom and boy were taken off the horse and put on a very nicely decorated horse drawn cart. And then again we move 20 feet, danced 20 minutes, moved, danced. Once at the wedding location the groom remained on the cart while the bride's family received the groom's family. A brother on the bride's family would shake hands, exchange garlands and exchange money with a brother from the grooms family. This also takes a long time because sisters welcome sisters, uncles and aunts and inlaws all do the same. Once the grooms family has been received then we all enter the wedding hall. There is a large couch or chair where the groom sits. And he sits there until the bride decides to appear. In the mean time this is the time where everyone eats and mingles.

I had the best food imaginable. All the possible street foods of India were represented (but in a safe manner) and an endless line of main courses were available. At Tarun's wedding I met so many cousins, aunts and uncles that I can't even begin to remember names. Every there knew me as they all knew my father. Plus I was the only non-Indian looking person there so everyone was curious who I was. An hour after mingling and eating and the groom was still sitting waiting for his bride.

At this time I took off to the second wedding and arrived fourty minutes before the groom's procession. I met more but distant relatives and again ate way too much food. One thing about being in India is that I am always offered food and no matter how many times I say no or enough the food keeps coming. And I try to be polite and eat what is given but last night when I returned back to Tarun's wedding I finally had to refuse. Those seven pounds I lost in the last three weeks are finding their way home. Varun's wedding had about 300 people and Tarun's half that. Each was similar in the way of tradition in which the wedding was performed. But so different in how it was done. Hard to explain.

The weddings went until three or four in the morning. I ended up leaving shortly after midnight. After I did all that eating I was back at Tarun's wedding and after the bride arrived and the wedding ceremony completed I was invited to sit at the table with my cousin Tarun and his bride as well as my uncle and aunt. What no one told me is that now dinner was being served. Dinner? More food? I thought I had dinner but what I had earlier was an endless line of snacks. There was no way I could eat any more but then I didn't want to disrespect the relatives either. So I took a table spoon of each item, ate a little bit more and loosened my belt buckle.

It really was an amazing event last night. Not only the wedding but meeting so many people. There are a few photos here but there are not many and the few I have aren't all the great. There was a professional photographer at the wedding and I didn't want to compete with him so I took only a few photos and kept my flash off.

My cousins Amar (left) and Onkar