India Day 2: Tilak

Uggg I’m a bit hungover in the morning, it’s been a while since I’ve had that much wine to drink. Adding to the misery I already have a bad stomach. I’m blaming the food court food. I try to take it a bit easy on the morning food, this time a bit more bland.

Today we have a tour of the city put on by an acquaintance of Maneesh. All gathered up this time, though again an hour late, we jump in the same car as yesterday and are off.

First stop is Bara Imambara, a mosque. Lucknow as it turns out is 40% Muslim and has the largest Muslim population in India. I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t the majority before the first was and great migration of people between India and Pakistan. This mosque was built during the time of the Moghuls when Islam ruled the area and the outer building is gorgeous. There are 2 parts we’re allowed into, first a wing of the mosque which isn’t particularly pretty or interesting, followed by the Bowlee, or reservoir which brought water from the nearby river to the mosque. The Bowlee is like a maze and was design to be easily defensible if it needed to be, and we were happy to have a local guide keeping us from being lost, and showing us how it was designed with defense in mind with archers able from many points to stay hidden while shooting at incoming enemies.

From here we continued onto a museum of sorts with a few paintings showing the different Nawads, the Mughal leaders. As we walk in a spot a kid that strikes me as a pick pocket so I put my hands on my wallet in my front pocket and sure enough the little fucker, couldn’t be even 7 years old makes an attempt on my back pocket! The Nawads weren’t really worth the price of admission, though it was interesting to see the progression in clothing they chose to wear for their portraits. One of the paintings was supposed to be “3d” in that the guy’s eyes followed you, but I couldn’t tell one way or the other.

Our next stop was the Residency, an area the Nawads built for the British East India Company and their agents to function similar to an embassy district. Apparently this is the “spot” the kids go on a hot date. All of the buildings were razed or badly damaged during the first war of independence so there isn’t much to look at. There is another museum, this one doesn’t allow cameras, but fills in bits and pieces of the story, just enough to get your curious. The whole thing has a surprisingly colonial centric view which surprised me.

Next up was lunch and one of Maneesh’s favorite kebab restaurants, Kebab Express, where they make these minced “mutton” kebabs the area is famous for. We find out that in fact when we see mutton on the menu it is really goat. Our guide is fasting for the holiday, and so helps us order than leaves. The texture is a bit weird though for the goat kebabs, because they add papaya to them, the enzymes break it down and give it almost fudge consistency which just doesn’t match the savory flavor. We wrap the kebabs in naan with some onion which at least doesn’t leave us with a weird texture on its own. I’ve rarely been so excited to see a coke, and we all order 2 bottles. Coke is easy on the stomach, and the sugar gives a bit of energy when you’re tired. Plus the caffeine, can’t forget the caffeine. We also ordered some chicken kebabs which come next and are our favorite with a distinct lemon flavor. We’re asked if we want desert and our guide suggests something so we go “why not”, all the food is so cheap. The desert turns out to be the highlight with honey pistachios and almond it reminded us a lot of the flavor of baklava but in a custard form.

From here we continued on to a giant park filled with elephant statues. It was constructed by a parliamentarian in power currently with public funds and is massive not just in its scale but also its finish with marble everywhere. It’s hard to appreciate how much marble there must be, the floor is all marble even outside, and the area covered alone must be a square mile. Then there is a large set of buildings, 2 on one side, and an unusual building on the other, both are very large, but by design are made to seem even larger. Add in the constant haze of smog and they seem so much larger as if further away. Inside are statues and reliefs of the 2 local PMs who had it built. The whole thing is one massive publicly funded narcissistic monument to themselves. Neither is expected to be re-elected because of the massive according to our guide but I can’t help but think that maybe it’s already “Mission Accomplished” for the PMs. Still it is a gorgeous monument, the modern day of many of the ones we stop to look at on our trips. Our conversations become pretty irreverent by now and I’m starting to worry about offending our guide and driver. It’s easy to forget while they’re mostly speaking Hindi, they also speak English well, and can probably understand us perfectly despite the accent difference.

Back at the hotel we pass RIGHT out for a nap and are completely bewildered when the alarm goes off. We have to get ready for Maneesh’s Sangeet. He wanted me in slacks and Jenn in Indian dress, but none of us knew or was quite prepared. So we went back to the room and I changed into yesterday’s kurta, and Jenn into yesterday’s kameez. Tonight’s even is downstairs in our hotel, so it’s not hard to go change, or use the restroom.

Side note, we’re always running out of toilet paper, they give you these rolls that last 1 day because they want to always give you a brand new roll when you start your stay, but who knows how long that stay is so they just change out the roll every day. Unless they don’t get to your room, or like us, you put a do not disturb sign on the door because you don’t want your room cleaned.

Before the sangeet though, Maneesh has another ceremony, the Tilak with more blessings. The key part is when the groom dips his thumb in vermillion, a replacement for blood, and puts a mark on Maneesh’s forehead. Normally this is done as part of the engagement, but for whatever reason is being done now.

Tonight followed the traditional progression more so, with the groom’s family all set up, and welcoming the bride’s family as a group. The bride’s family arrives with gifts and everyone sits down. There are more blessings and ceremonies. And then we all sit down for dinner. My stomach is hating me right now so I try to keep in bland, but that’s tough. The desert again wins the meal with a fruit pudding.

At this point the bride’s family leaves and the groom’s side dances. First up are Leena’s girls who put on a choreographed dance. During dinner the girls sat with us and told us how nervous they were. Then cousins of theirs do their dance, one of them is slightly older, maybe 13 and has a lot more confidence leading while the other two follow. It’s pretty damn cute.

Eventually it all dies down and we go back to our room, not nearly as late as the night before, but closer to 11pm.

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