The Best weekend ever, that’s a fairly bold statement isn’t
it? I had just arrived in Agra and as far as I was concerned, I was there to do
one thing and one thing only. I was going to tick an item off the bucket list
and see the Taj Mahal. You would think that visiting one of the 7 Wonders of
the World would be enough to make it a weekend to remember wouldn’t you? As it turns out a few other things made Agra a highlight of India for me too.
So far a lot of my experience in India had focused on
cultural and historical sites but I really wanted to see what contemporary life
was like. I had originally planned to visit the Raj Mandir cinema in Jaipur to
catch a Bollywood movie, but I had been too busy (It’s a hard life!). So of
course I was delighted to learn that there was a cinema across the road from
the hotel. Even better, a new film “Bajirao Mastani” had premiered the day
before. There was one problem. The film was starting in 15 minutes and I hadn’t
had any dinner yet. It was just my luck that there was a Mc Donald’s next door
to the cinema. Now, as a rule, I don’t like to eat fast food when I am away. I much
prefer to try out the local cuisine, but as it turns out, visiting Mc Donald’s
in India is not like anywhere else in the World! For a start, there is no beef.
This makes sense as the cow is a sacred animal and many Hindu people are
vegetarian. So what do you get in a Mc Donald’s with no beef? A Chicken
Maharajah Mac of course! I had heard about it on "The Big Bang Theory" of all places but I had assumed it was only a joke, so naturally when I saw that it existed I HAD to try it.Sort of like a Big Mac with Chicken, it wasn’t the
best food I’d eaten in India to be kind. I would also use the word "chicken" very lightly...... but it hit the spot. Sitting in a random Mc Donald's among groups of families and children happy to be eating something other than rice for a change, was a very welcome part of my Saturday night.
Next stop was the movie and what an experience that was!
First of all we had to go through security going in and my poor camera was
confiscated (sad face). We were then led into a waiting area where we could buy food and
ice cream. I had a little "for feck sake!" moment when I realised I had just shoved a Chicken Maharajah Mac down my gob and I could simply have bought food here. Instead, I went for the local delicacy of saffron, cardamom and pistachio ice
cream which was bright yellow in colour and tasted in equal parts spicy and sweet. The ice cream was long gone before the film started because, like most things in India, the film was
delayed. You might ask how a film could be delayed and I asked myself that same
question. I mean, where was it coming from that it was 15 minutes delayed??!!
strange things happened after that. Not only was I completely oblivious to the
plot of the movie, I was even more confused that during the film, local people
would just answer phone calls and loudly continue their conversations. Nobody
seemed to mind at all and there wasn’t even a sssh from the audience, it was
just normal! There was an interval
halfway through the film, another practice I would not be familiar with, but it
did give me an opportunity to ask some people “What the Hell is going on?” I
managed to get the gist of the story-line which helped me to enjoy the second
half. Basically the King finds a new wife who is Mother disapproves of and spends most of the film trying to get rid of her..... Well that's what I gathered anyway! Even though the story-line went well over my head the exuberant dancing and
brilliant costumes truly made it a great experience. I am also very enthused to see the Amber Fort and the Palace of Mirrors had been used in the film so I had a small sense of familiarity.
When we arrived back at the Hotel the reception area was
teeming! A busy crowd of women in traditional dress were posing for photos and
laughing joyfully. I sat myself down to make use of the wifi in the lobby when
the Polish and Austrian girls I was travelling with began chatting with the
ladies. It turns out that we had just walked into a wedding reception! I was a bit embarrassed and apologised for intruding but instead
of being shooed out the door, we were invited inside. I couldn't believe the atmosphere inside the large function room with modern Indian Dance music blasting from large speakers in the corner and men in Western dress but different colour turbans waving their hands in the air and chanting along.
I was just trying to blend in (OK so I stood out like a sore thumb) simply standing at the edge of the dancefloor trying to take a video of the scene when
a huge man, at least 6 ft ‘ 5 tall grabbed my phone from my hand. I immediately
apologised thinking I was being rude, when he pushed me into the crowd and
gestured for me to dance! All of a sudden there I was, in the middle of the dancefloor at an Indian wedding where the turban-clad men were dancing vibrantly to Punjabi music. This was incredible! Around me men, women and children were jumping up to show us how to dance to the music and looking to have their photos taken with us.The tall man continued to film the next 3 songs with me and my
friends dancing and laughing with the wedding guests. When I watch the clip back you can see me, rigid at first attempting to follow the moves, but gradually become far more confident and relaxed. Before I knew it I was a Bollywood babe (in my own head) making gestures in which I appear to be screwing a light bulb, petting a dog or impersonating a cobra!
At one point the DJ announced something in Hindi and the older members of the party came up and circled the young happy couple. They started throwing Rupees at the bride and groom to bless them and wish them good luck and a happy life together.
I was shocked to later discover that none of the guests at the wedding were drinking alcohol at all. I explained to some of the people that Irish weddings were very different and usually revolve around drinking. Suddenly, the music stopped and it was announced that it was time to eat. This is another
difference between Indian and Irish weddings, where food is served first and
dancing comes later, along with lots of drink! A young man named Santinder (pictured wearing the blue turban) explained to me that we needed to dance to build up an appetite. The Father and Mother of the
Bride insisted we eat and we explained that we had already eaten. The Father looked
at me and said “A Sikh never lets his guests go hungry, if you have had dinner,
then please have some dessert”. I was so blown away by his hospitality that I
indulged him and tried “Jalebi” which is a deep fried dessert made from a
batter of flour and yogurt. It was an unusual flavour and I could almost taste the grease but it was beautiful when teamed with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Since the music had stopped we now had the chance
to speak to the guests at the wedding and I couldn’t believe how friendly and
welcoming they were. We talked about India, about home and about other things such as politics and religion. I had learnt a lot about the Indian family system over the previous couple of weeks and you could feel the warmth when the people spoke about the pride they had for their family.
Unfortunately we had an early start the next morning, so we
had to leave and decline the invitation to an after party at the family’s home. We did swap some contact details and I have actually remained in contact with some if the people |I met that night. But the next day we had big business to attend to. We were visiting Taj Mahal!