Alok and Ankita’s Wedding


They tied the knot in Agra, India, in April. We were invited to the festivities. Indian weddings are legendary, days of interesting, lavish events. This was something not to miss.

Two years ago on a trip to northern India with a German tour group, I met Alok. (see previous posts, Intriguing India and more ) He was our guide – affable, knowledgable and fun. He speaks fluent German, as well as English in addition to his native Hindi. Among the many wedding guests were others from his tours.

The wedding took place in Agra, Alok’s hometown and site of the Taj Mahal, a symbol of love.
We wanted to follow customs, so we sought the advice of friends who had lived and worked in India. They looked over the invitation, a large elaborate card in bright red with gold lettering. Four events. Four different days. Each, we learned, required special attire. I was lucky. My friend Sigrid, a very talented seamstress, had been invited to an Indian wedding in London several years ago. She made two gorgeous outfits, both of a golden fabric that had been purchased in India. Perfect. I could borrow them.

Bob was not so lucky. When we arrived in Delhi, we showed the invitation to the

Try on at shop, very classy but he never wore the vest.
guide/driver who would take us to Agra. He agreed. Bob needed to go native and wear Indian clothing for the events.  We were whisked off to a classy shop where the salesman, after checking the invitation, convinced us Bob needed at least two Indian outfits. He tried to sell us three, but we stopped at two.

To make sure that we committed no grave faux pas, at our hotel in Agra I asked a receptionist to come to our room and check out our wedding wardrobe. She looked over the invitation and announced that my golden outfits were OK, but would not do for the main event, the actual wedding. For that, a genuine sari was de rigeur. Bob’s newly purchased Indian garb would do, but his shoes would not. He needed Indian foot attire, a type of slipper.

Determined to do it right, we set off to the bazaar the next morning. Bob refused to go for the slippers, but he did acquiesce and purchase a type of loafer. I bought a sari, sapphire blue, but later leaned that I should have gone for a brighter color.

The salesman skillfully wrapped the sari, nothing but a long piece of cloth (saris are from five to nine yards long), around me. No way I could ever master this. “Just google it,” he advised.

All decked out for the ring ceremony
Festivities kicked off with the ring ceremony. Swathed in golden cloth, and Bob in his dark green sherwani (?), Indian tunic and his new Indian loafers, we set off to a hotel where the event, attended by several hundred guests, was held. As they paraded in, we began to feel very uncomfortable. The men did not wear traditional Indian garb, just basic western street clothes. Most of the women, however, wore colorful saris with their arms festooned in tiers of sparkling bangles.

The groom arrived wearing a business suit, albeit a very smart, stylish one. Bob was not happy, feeling a bit ridiculous in his Indian costume. (I thought he looked cool). I also felt my golden garb was way over the top. So much for the advice of experts!


As this was a Hindu wedding, no alcohol. There was an assortment of very tasty hors d’oeuvres. Folks mingled around and kept busy with cell phone cameras. There were plenty of photo ops for all, including several professional photographers.

Ankita and her parents before the cameras

After the bride arrived, bejewelled and clad in a glamorous sari, ceremonies got under way. There were numerous different rituals: certain ones for the groom, others for the bride, and lots more photo ops.


We started to leave when the rituals ended — oops, not so soon. Guests were lining up in an adjacent room for a buffet. We joined in – delicious.

The following day Alok invited us and others from his tours to his home. We enjoyed chatting with the guests, mostly Germans, and savoring tasty delicacies, some prepared by Alok’s father. Alok had plenty of beer for his German friends.

Hospitality at Alok’s family home.
That night a type of cocktail party and buffet hosted by the groom for his family and friends took place on the rooftop of a hotel/restaurant. Bob wore a sports coat, approved by the hotel receptionist. I ignored her advice and did not wear golden outfit number 2… fortunately. This was not a dressy affair. Not all Hindus are teetotalers, we learned. As this was Alok’s event, beer and Indian whiskey were available.

fullsizeoutput_a4dWhen it came time for the wedding, two days later, again I requested assistance from a hotel receptionist. No way could I google “sari” and conquer the wrap. Another helpful young woman came to the rescue and dressed me.  Bob wore the luscious red tunic (sherwani). He rejected the gorgeous vest and matching pants, but the Indian loafers were on his feet.

The wedding began with the “barat,” a raucous parade from the groom’s house to the party venue.

We first joined others at his home where he was seated at a kitchen table being dressed by his mother and others. They sang as they worked. This time he was in full traditional attire, turban and all.


The parade was incredible, dancing guests following a “band,” lots of horns and drums. Fireworks along the route added more noise. Traffic had to stop. The groom, seated high up in a horse-drawn carriage under a garland festooned canopy,   brought up the rear.

fullsizeoutput_a55All manner of stands offing a wide range of food ringed the huge, open venue space. The bride and groom sat on a stage at one end. A band played. In addition to numerous photographers, the momentous event was captured by drone cameras.

Guests lined up to offer best wishes to the pair, showering them with rose petals. This went on for several hours, but the real wedding ceremony, more Hindu rituals, took place much later and was attended mainly by close family.

We will long remember Alok and Ankita’s wedding,  like no other.  And, just in case we get invited to another Indian wedding,  our wardrobe is ready.

A Word on Indian Weddings

In India, “When a baby girl is born, the family starts saving for her wedding,” said Sunil Kumar Nair, resident manager of the DoubleTree Hilton in Agra where we stayed. “The bride’s family pays for all. The boy gets everything,” he added.

Average cost: $50,000 to $60,000. That accounts for about 200 guests, but it is not uncommon to have many more, up to 2,000 guests with a corresponding price tag. During our stay, many weddings took place at the hotel, outdoors on the lawn in a football field – sized space.

Wedding venue at our hotel.
And, many weddings that week in April all over Agra, a popular wedding site with its iconic Taj Mahal considered a symbol of love.

Wedding dates are decided by the Hindu calendar. There are two main wedding seasons, we learned, September to February, and April/May. A priest consults the horoscopes of the couple, the positions of the planets and the stars, and fixes the date. Sunil said one year on February 2, a particularly auspicious day, there were 80,000 weddings in Delhi.

Alok and Ankita’s marriage was arranged, as are about 80 percent of marriages in India. It usually starts with a search in the Sunday Times of India: a full page of “Wanted Grooms” and another of “Wanted Brides.” The ads are divided into categories by caste. India has four main castes, and it is important to marry within one’s caste. Both Alok and Ankita are Brahmins.

When a probable match is found, background info, references etc. , are exchanged. If all looks good, the parents meet. If that goes well, the couple meets with the parents. Alok first met Ankita during a stop at a highway restaurant on one of his tours.

Sunil said traditions are changing, and more and more couples are marrying for love. Yet, the arranged system has its merits. According to one source, the divorce rate in India is the lowest in the world.

Between wedding events, we walked the Taj Mahal nature trail.
After the wedding,  we toured spectacular Rajasthan.  More in coming posts.  Don’t miss out.  If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up, upper right.  Your address is kept private and never shared.


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Celebrating in Croatia

Another wedding.  This time in Nasice, Croatia.  Zrinka Habuda, 29, the daughter of husband Bob’s second cousin, Dubi, married Slobodan “Bocko” Licinic, 35, on March 5.

It was a rollicking event.  Mountains of food. Ample quantities of wine and slivovica (plum brandy, the potent national beverage). Non-stop music.  Spirited song.  Lively dance.  For hours… and hours …. and hours. 

For us, festivities got under way at the bride’s home at about 1 p.m.  Close friends and family of the bride gathered to savor platters of smoked meat, a variety of pastries, glasses of wine and/or that wicked brandy, while a five-piece band belted out tunes that everyone knew.  As guests arrived, Marija, Zrinka’s sister, pinned most with a swig of rosemary decorated with a tiny ribbon of Croatia’s national colors. A tradition, she told me. Close family members and those in the wedding party got small corsages. 

As the crowd mushroomed and the liquid refreshment flowed, the party heated up.  Most everyone sang – loud, hearty voices.   Song after song, mainly jaunty ethnic tunes, and they knew the words to all.  They danced, linking arms, making a circle, always in motion. 

Several hours later the groom and his family arrived. They had been celebrating in a similar fashion at his home.  Another tradition got underway.  Instead of his bride-to-be, Bocko was presented with a fake bride, one of Zrinka’s friends, head covered with a white cloth. 

The small apartment was crowded, but the celebrants still found room to dance.  The merry-making continued until it was time to move on to the church, about 5 p.m.  Before departing, Pavle, Zrinka’s father, gave a moving speech to his daughter which brought tears to some. 

Zrinka had a maid of honor and Bocko, a best man.  Zrinka also had two bridesmaids, but, unlike in the U.S., they wore street clothes instead of matching formal attire. The momentous event was well documented – two video photographers, and another for still shots.  

Candles provided a romantic, if not mystical, atmosphere in the old world Catholic  church.  The ceremony was short, and at the end the bride and groom stepped to the altar to sign numerous documents to make it all official. 

Long, long tables stretched across a vast room of a hotel in a town about 20 minutes away where the reception was held. The same band, now wearing matching white “folk costume” shirts, wasted no time to get on with the show. And, the guests were quick to move to the dance floor. 

Some 120 guests, a small wedding by Croatian standards, were treated to a wedding meal – more precisely meals.  Bottles of wine, juice, cola and vials of slivovica, as well as another type of brandy, sat on the long tables.   

The first course was the “obligatory” wedding soup (chicken noodle) which is always served at Croatian weddings.  Then bowls of tender boiled beef and carrots.  Next came stuffed cabbage in  broth.  After that, cole slaw and tomatoes.  Then, enormous platters with big chunks of pork, lamb, and breaded schnitzel, surrounded by potatoes and mixed vegetables. Wedding cake would not be served until after midnight, so trays of pastries appeared after this over-the-top meal. 

“We need lots of food for energy.  We dance a lot,” one guest explained when I expressed astonishment as the food kept coming.  As the night wore on, the music and dance were equally as astonishing.  The band never took a break.   Nor did many of the dancers.  Song after song, they kept up the pace. The music was part ballroom, part folk, but always energetic.  

At midnight, a several-tiered wedding cake arrived.  The cutting ceremony was much like that in the U.S., but it was followed by a procession of all the guests who stepped up one by one to greet the happy couple and present their gifts. Most put an envelope with money in a basket held by sister Marija.  

In addition to the wedding cake, some seven or eight lavishly decorated cakes covered a table. It’s a tradition that each bridesmaid, as well as any others who wish to display their baking skills, bring a cake.  “It’s more like showing off,” Marija said. 

Even after all that food, I had to try a few small bites of these delicacies.  The wedding cake, layered with fruit and custard, was the clear winner. 

I was growing weary, but not the other guests. Maybe if Bob and I were better dancers, we would have been more in the spirit.  But, we failed dancing lessons we took years ago when we lived in Germany.  So, we sat and watched the joyous revelers. 

We were told we had to stay for the traditional goulash served at 2 a.m. Yes, more food, but it was delicious Croatian fare.  And, we noticed a few people leaving after goulash, so we, too, said our farewells. 

We were back in the same room the next day at 1 p.m. for a luncheon, mainly tasty leftovers from the night before.  No music.  No song and dance.  The party goers, including the bridal couple now wearing jeans, were clearly weary.  No wonder. Marija said the dancing went on until 4:30 a.m. 

See recipe for “Palachinka” (Croatian crepes) in far column – my husband’s favorite.


Abou’s Wedding

Link to Abou’s wedding guests.

It was like no wedding you’ve ever been to.  Abou, our 31-year-old Senegalese guide on bike trips, married Khady, a 24-year-old hairdresser, on Jan. 30 in Mbour, Senegal.  But when the knot was tied, neither the bride nor groom was present. 2011_0130senegal0293

It all happened in the mosque (95 percent of Senegalese are Moslem).  Abou’s male relatives gathered at the mosque with Khady’s male relatives.  The agreed dowry (500 euros for Khady, a virgin) was paid to her family with the blessing of the Imam.  Money was also paid to the Imam to buy treats for the wedding guests.

 The celebration was a two-day affair.  Late Saturday afternoon, Abou came to our hotel to bring us to his home where groups of women, most sitting outside on the ground,   were busy preparing huge platters of food.  Husband Bob and I were provided with appropriate Senegalese wedding attire.  

Abou took the opportunity to show us his living quarters, a spacious room in a small building behind his parents’ home. The walls were decorated with numerous pictures of marabout (holy men — see below). He and Khady would live there together. He insisted we see the bathroom, complete with a western WC. 

This was the day the party would be celebrated at Khady’s home – minus Abou.  He would wait at home until Khady’s mother, sisters and aunts brought her and all her belongings to him late that evening.  She would then go to his room where she would stay until morning when it would be time for more partying.  We later learned that she would not be able to leave the house for a week.

 Abou3  While waiting for the bride, groups of men gathered on the floor in Abou’s quarters, listening to the marabout (holy man, clairvoyant and spiritual guide) who was present.  Abou was very proud that the marabout came to his wedding, and he wanted us to meet him.  Marabout Ousmane Mbacké told me that I would become a recognized journalist.  “Everyone will read you.”  He also said I would be offered two jobs, one by Russians who would pay me well to write about their country, and one by the CIA.  No mention of money for the latter.  He predicted good fortune for me and Bob.  “You must always think back on what he said,” Abou interjected. 

Outside, other groups of men were singing religious songs to the beat of drums. 

The Islam practiced in Senegal is Mouridisme, a mystical branch of the religion. On a visit to a market with Abou, he pointed out herbs and animal skins used in religious practices, as well as shells used to tell fortunes.  The marabout advises what is needed, he said.  He lifted his T-shirt to show us two primitive belts of snake skin which he wears to ward off evil spirits.2011_0130senegal0273

In addition to marabouts in this African society, there are also griots, members of a hereditary caste who entertain with stories and song.  At the celebration at Khady’s home, a female griot held her audience of several hundred guests, mainly women and children,  spellbound as she talked about the couple and their families. 

The crowd gathered outside around her in the dark. In this part of Senegal, there is electricity only for a few hours during the day.  But, a big fire provided some light, as well as the illumination of cell phones. Almost everyone had one. The bride, lavishly dressed and made up, joined the group, all crowding around here.  Later she would receive presents from the female guests, mainly fabric. 

Soon it was too cold to stay outdoors and all moved inside, sitting on the floors of different rooms and hallways.  Eventually bounteous plates of food were served, all eaten with the hands.

 We did not stay for the meal, returning instead on foot to Abou’s home with his friend Alfa, whom Abou had assigned to be our guardian for the evening. The walk was an adventure, down roads of ruts and sand in the pitch black. I held on to Bob.  Alfa led the way.

 Back at Abou’s, his relatives served us couscous.  Outside, speakers were being set up for the next day’s party which would take place there.  We’re sorry we had to miss it, but we had a flight back to France.

For photos of wedding guests, click on “Link to Abou’s wedding guests” at the top.  For a delicious soup with the flavors of Africa, see my recipe in the far right column.  Comments are welcome.  Click on “comments” below.