The time had finally come for us to pack up all the people and luggage and set off for Dehra Dun, northeast of Delhi, in the foothills of the Himalayas. Anil’s brother Ajay had given me the task of figuring our the ‘seating plan’ in the six vehicles we were taking and also to make sure that we got everyone up by 7:00am and away as soon as possible. I set up a spreadsheet on my laptop and listed the six cars and who would ride in each of them. Of course, it didn’t really matter to me who sat where, but I did want to be sure there would be space for everyone and that the elderly aunties would be comfortable.
I also set up a spreadsheet for the hotel rooms in Dehra Dun, and it quickly became clear that the 10 rooms that were booked at the hotel would not be sufficient for all the wedding party on the bride’s side. Ajay assured me that he had also made arrangements for three additional rooms at the Forestry Research Institute a short distance from the city. A cousin Deepak Khanna, who was coming to the wedding with his wife and young son, works for the Forestry Department and he was able to arrange for three rooms on Ajay’s behalf.
The problem that I could see was that aside from Deepak and his family, no one else would want to stay out of town, away from all the other guests. This was not going to be a problem for the first night because some of the guests were arriving by train or air the day before the wedding, but eventually we would face a ‘housing’ crunch and we wanted to be sure not to leave anyone out of the fun.
Ajay had driven up to Dehra Dun a few times for the advance planning and estimated that with a stop for lunch, it would take us about 8 hours to reach the hotel. I had heard people talk about making the drive in 5 hours, so this seemed like a reasonable estimate, given our experience on our way to and from Agra just a few days earlier. Everyone cooperated in the morning and we were all assembled in the living room at 7:00am but packing the luggage in the cars took more time than anyone expected and it was after 8:30am before we set off.
No one had eaten breakfast so we planned to stop along the way for tea and snacks and that proved awkward; it’s very hard to keep a covoy of six cars together in Delhi traffic and no place had been selected for us to stop. Eventually, using the cell phones to maximum advantage, we all had our tea and demolished several plates of pakoras. We had to travel diagonally across Delhi to the highway to Dehra Dun, but the traffic moved fairly well that early in the morning and eventually we were out of the urban sprawl.
Part of the highway was under construction, so we continually had to leave the new road and drive on half of the oncoming lanes, hoping that the traffic approaching us would stay to one side and not try to overtake. It was a little hair raising at times, and we were all glad when we eventually stopped for lunch at a lovely outdoor garden restaurant. The food was great and the washrooms were clean, although the attendants ran after those of us who were obviously foreigners asking for tips, despite the fact that the owners had posted large signs telling guests that the washrooms were free of charge.
Back into the vehicles, this time with some changes in seating. Initially, the bride, Dhriti had indicated that she wanted to ride with her parents, but changed her mind and climbed in with her brother. She told me her father’s music was too old-fashioned. I rode with Ajay and Neeta for a while later on, and I have to say, I agreed with Dhriti!
The day passed slowly and so did the scenery. At times the highway was in a terrible state and at other times we had to contend with huge truckloads of sugar cane being transported to the large ethanol factory in the district. It was harvest time for the sugarcane, and this region is where much of it is grown. Before leaving, our cousin’s husband, Devan, had suggested to Raj that he try and steal a cane from a passing bullock cart. He suggested that they move so slowly that it’s possible to reach out and grab a stick and pull it in through the window. Raj is not one to let a challenge like that pass him by, and I am happy to report that we all munched on the contraband cane when we made our final stop for tea late in the afternoon.
The sun set and it grew very dark and we still had quite a way to travel. The worst was that we began to climb into the hills and it was difficult to see the oncoming traffic on the winding roads into Dehra Dun. By the time we reached the city, we had been on the road for 11 hours and everyone was tired and hungry. I really felt for the drivers of the cars because they had the task of staying alert and ensuring that we didn’t hit anything on the road and that nothing plowed into us.
We arrived at the hotel and were shown to the second floor where the 10 rooms were arranged around a terrace above the main hall of the hotel. The hotel was nicely designed, but it was clear that it had seen better days. I knew almost immediately that Raj and Vy were going to balk at staying there, it reminded us all too much of the hotel in Agra that had a problem with cockroaches. It was very difficult for Anil and me because leaving the rest of the wedding party and staying in another hotel might cause Ajay and Neeta some embarrassment, to say the least.
However, this was Vy’s first time in India and after the experience we had in Agra, she told us that she wasn’t sure she would sleep a wink in the hotel, worrying about bugs crawling over her in the night. We were all guests of Ajay and Neeta, but first and foremost, she was our new daughter-in-law, and we felt we had to ensure her comfort and peace of mind. Anil and I felt we could talk to Ajay and Neeta and help them to understand the position we were in.
Things were hectic with everyone settling into their rooms, so we slipped away and set off to look for a hotel with two rooms to accommodate the five of us. We had to go to several different hotels because the first ones we looked at had carpets in the rooms and the smell of mildew was so strong in them that I knew I wouldn’t be able to breathe if we stayed. Finally, we made it clear to our driver that we needed to see rooms in the newest hotel in Dehra Dun and we were directed to the Pacific Hotel, not far from where the others were staying.
It was clear that the Pacific Hotel was what we were looking for as soon as we walked in. No carpets in the lobby or elevator and even the halls were tiled and very clean. We looked at a few of the mid-range rooms, but they had not been used for some time and the smell of mothballs hung in the air. Finally the manager suggested two junior suites on the top floor and offered to give us a heavy discount if we stayed there. We looked at the rooms and they were perfect. I could see the relief on Vy’s face when we agreed to take the suites, and I knew that we would all be happier there. We drove back to see the others and to speak to Ajay and Neeta. Ajay was busy with the management but Neeta told us she understood. She confided in me that she was surprised that we hadn’t moved to a hotel in Delhi when we learned that we were going to be so restricted on the cantonment.
The following day was a free day, no wedding activities planned, so we visited the others for breakfast and then went back to the hotel to rest. Later in the afternoon, we decided to explore the main street of the city not far from our hotel but we found it so difficult to walk from place to place with all the traffic that we retreated to the peace and quiet of the hotel for the rest of the day.
We had dinner with the whole group that evening but when Ajay and Neeta left to attend a function with the groom’s parents (they have a home in Dehra Dun), we called it an early night and left as well. More guests were due to arrive the following day, and as it turned out, the two rooms we vacated were put to good use by the late arrivals and everyone was able to stay together except for us and Deepak, who stayed at the Forestry Institute. This suited him as he had work to attend to there.
Dec 10th arrived and with it the beginning of the festivities for the three days of the marriage. I will write about the different events that took place in the journal entry entitled ‘Dhriti Weds Nitin’. We were all so happy that we were finally going to get to wear all the new clothes we had purchased for the wedding. It was great fun dressing in the suits and saris, and adding all the bangles, necklaces and bindis (forehead decorations). We were able to arrange for the hotel staff to iron all our fancy clothes, and they arrived on hangers with nary a crease in them.
There were two functions on Dec 10th, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. Great food and good laughs were shared all round. The following morning, another ceremony was held with just the bride’s relations and it was a very emotional time for everyone. The actual marriage was held on the evening of Dec 11th and Dhriti departed afterwards to stay with her new family, the Khannas. We stayed another day in Dehra Dun in order to attend the reception hosted by Nitin’s family, though some of our relatives left that afternoon by train.
And so it was, that on Dec 13th morning, we set off once again for the long drive back to Delhi. We were happy that we had travelled from so far away to see our lovely niece Dhriti married in such a grand fashion. We had slept well, eaten heartily, and partied hard. Ajay had learned of a different route back that would avoid much of the construction along the highway, and so we drove along a narrow two-lane road that passed through beautiful fields on once side and an irrigation canal on the other. It would have been a serenely pleasant journey for that portion if it hadn’t been for other traveller’s who drove like maniacs, driving recklessly and overtaking us when there were other oncoming vehicles. I was a bit of a nervous wreck on that stretch of the road and was relieved when at last we pulled onto the divided highway towards Delhi.
I am happy to say that we all arrived back at the cantonment safely, though tired and hungry. There was no food prepared of course because we had been gone for six days and had taken Ramu, the house servant along with us. We decided to order in food from the China Bowl, and once we had devoured all the fried rice, noodles and Veg Manchurian, we fell into our beds and slept soundly. I remember falling asleep thinking how Ajay had told me that things all worked out in the end. He recognized that he would have been in a tough position with the extra guests that he had to accommodate and that the fact that we had taken a hotel elsewhere had really helped him out. I was so relieved; the last thing I ever wanted was to create a family rift, one that would be difficult to heal.
Dhriti was happily married, we had all travelled by road to a far off city without incident, we had laughed, danced and feasted together as an extended family should, and Vy had the opportunity to meet everyone shortly after becoming a part of the family herself. I knew that Vy and Raj had found it terribly hard to adjust to the culture shock that hits people when they come to another country, and India is one of the toughest of all. My only hope is that in time, they will look back on this adventure fondly. I know they enjoyed meeting all the relatives and were glad to participate in the wedding itself. Raj did a great job of catching some of the most special moments with his camera and I know that over the years, we will all laugh and remember what a great time we had together.
Ajay, Neeta and Tanuj all put themselves out for our comfort and enjoyment despite the obstacles they faced having to host the foreign relatives. Ajay and Neeta are planning to come to Canada in the summer of 2010 and we look forward to being able to host them for the very first time. They have been taking great care of us for almost 29 years, it’s time we were able to show them some hospitality ourselves. Let’s hope their plans materialize, more fun is in store for all of us for sure.
If you are interested in seeing some more of Raj's photos, this link will take you to an album he has entitled 'India 2009'. He has an amazing eye, enjoy!