Second day of Billie being sick. She had another long sleep in which is good for her to get back to her usual self. Today was spent together at the hotel room Hotel 24/7 Inn in Jalandhar right in Model Town Market area. Not in a hurry to anything much. We are happy to be located closer to various food shops if needed plus the hotel has room service and cooks up an amazing paneer dish.
We took our USB back (again) to the Punjabi movie man downstairs so that he could upload The Martian onto my USB in English (not Hindi!). This process takes hours to complete, so he told us he would hopefully get it finished this evening or next morning. My expectations of it happening sooner rather than later have diminished. Nothing happens quickly in India. Acceptance is required. It is as if time is irrelevant to the operation of a day (quite the opposite in our clock obsessed society back home) and time is widely interpreted. We are getting into the slowness of time, and the unrushed pace of life on the travelling road. We’re sleeping in and not worrying so much about stuff – it’s of little concern. The packs we are carrying around with us is all that matters and nothing concerns us like it used to on a daily basis back home. It is a wonderful feeling of freedom. I sit at the desk (there’s been one at the hotel rooms) or on the bed and write freely and start where I left off last and recall all the moments we have experienced on a daily basis. It’s simple but it’s lovely.
The freedom is hard to describe. I have nothing to concern myself with – other than what we’re eating next, purchasing clean bottled water, looking up Uber drivers and train schedules, getting rupee out of atms, seeing the amazing sights and talking with the locals and the travellers passing through (although there’s not many here in Jalandhar) oh and looking after family when they come down with the Indian bug! Slowly we have opened up to the world around us, and it is an expansive feeling, like I just grown another inch in height and my clothes don’t quite fit me any longer. I don’t feel like I am the exact same person when I departed Australia 26 days ago. People call it living off the grid. I’m not sure if that’s how I would best describe us right now in the Punjab – surrounded by Punjabi family, gowns and glittery shoes. But we are well on our way.
Today Steve, Charlie, Ash and Dacey return from their 2-day stay in the capital Chandigarh. They are catching the 12:40pm bus and arriving into Jalandhar at around 3:30pm. I hope they can make their way to our new accommodation okay from the bus stop. I have no way of communicating with them without internet.
Billie and I also made a visit to Nik’s Bakery around the corner from our accommodation. Famously known and promoted as an Australian baker, Nik was actually born here in India and his father sent him off to Australia to learn the ‘ins and outs’ of baking. He returned and established his own bakery in India, and now has 8 outlets all over the country. We had a chocolate croissant each and I ordered a cafe latte and Billie got some over the top cookies and cream drink. It was a little bit of overkill considering she was recovering from her tummy bug.
We got back to our hotel, purchased some hair conditioner and received a call from Garry who said that we would be collected soon by a family member on a motorbike to attend the henna party. The bride’s family has hired a large home, near Model Town, and they are organising the family’s henna and then dinner and party there tonight. I had no idea how we were going to communicate with Steve and the girls about getting here. Just go with the flow.
Billie and I were picked up by Vicki on a motorbike, and we went to a house hired for the henna party this afternoon and family party tonight. We walked in through the front gate and saw all the women having their henna patterns done on their hands and feet. The bride was also there, and she had an intricate pattern of henna going all the way up her arms to her elbows right down to her fingertips. She was also getting her feet done. Billie and I waiting for about an hour, and got henna on our hands and then my phone rang. It was Steve. I got Sarika (sister in law) to answer the phone and put it up to my ear so I could talk hands free as the henna was still wet. The travelling gang had arrived at the hotel, and now they wanted to know what to do. We organised them to be picked up by some of the men in the family, and they all arrived to the henna party.
There are beggars who walk the streets, and they just wander through the front gate asking (sounds more like demanding) money from the local Punjabi family we are spending time with. More often than not these beggars are ignored, but they hang around and they persist. The men of the family have to shoo them away, and close the tall steel gates to keep them out. They stand behind the gates, talking sometimes shouting. It’s unnerving to watch and be there, but no one else seems to worry. I gather it’s a common occurrence. Sometimes money is given, small notes. Other times not.
There are no heaters inside the homes here in Jalandhar. Their absence means it gets quite cold in the evenings. And considering most parties are in the evening, and we have not brought many warm clothes, we are finding the experience a little too cool to be comfortable. Drying the henna meant jumper sleeves were rolled up to our elbow and my fingertips were starting to turn numb and white. I decided to also get henna on my feet, and I’m not sure if that was the best idea, as the sun went down the cold set in and my feet started going numb also. The men hung around in the background of the henna gathering while the women got their henna applied by two male wedding henna professionals. It’s so gender inclusive at times like here at this party, yet they have such trouble with it also. Quite contradictory really. Imagine Aussie men hanging around while their wives and partners had some beauty treatment without alcohol! Not going to happen.
The bride’s red coloured henna looked amazing – mysterious and sensual on her dark skin. They kept telling me that you write the name of the man you love (or who you’re marrying) into the henna pattern on your hand and on the wedding night he has to find his name in it. Cute. So Sarika grabbed a tube of henna and wrote “Staphan loves Lisa” on the side of my hand. They had trouble with my sounding out of the letter ‘e’.
We were getting more cold as the afternoon hours passed and night time arrived, and we only had a light jumper with us. So we asked if anyone could take us back to our hotel to grab some warmer clothes. It’s difficult relying so heavily on them to get us around, especially when there is six of us to transport. But they are more than happy to assist. Four of us crammed into the back of a car, and they drove us back to our hotel where we grabbed warmer clothes and layered up for a long cold night ahead.
It was also a special night tonight – the one day in the year where Indians celebrate the Lohri Festival – a traditional and long-awaited bonfire festival where people come out of their homes from the cold winter months and farmers celebrate the harvesting of Rabi (winter crops) and when bon fires are lit to celebrate the end of winter. People huddle around the fires and eat peanuts and other warming snacks usually consumed in the winter months. This occurs each year on the 13th January.
Amish asked us if we would like to see one of the bon fires just down the street. We walked down the road before the bridal’s family party commenced and sat with a small group of people huddling around a bonfire. We stayed with them and talked a bit. The woman and her 17-year old son spoke very good English. Her son had just returned from Denmark as he had been studying an IB degree there. His accent was so English and quite pompous sounding it was hard to listen to him without wanting to giggle. Our freezing bones warmed beautifully next to the roaring fire – it was so lovely and soothing after being so cold and their hospitality so generous. They offered us peanuts and food. I thought for a moment just sitting there, with complete strangers in Jalandhar why weren’t we more like this at home – open, welcoming and hospitable to travellers, to complete strangers?
Young men walked around the neighbourhood streets beating drums and playing obnoxiously loud music asking for money. The woman explained it was similar to how we allow our children to wander the local streets at Halloween – a kind of tradition done around Lohri Bonfire Festival, but instead of receiving treats, these young men received rupee.
We walked back and the bride’s family party had finally kicked off. People started arriving and food was being served outside – tikki (I love warm tikki) and chaat (not really my taste). We felt so underdressed. Women wearing amazing attire and men in suits. Not everyone though – the range of what people wore to this party was wide from dolled up to very tracksuit casual. But we were here amongst it all and taking it all in. We had finally been able to peel our dry henna off, but Dacey’s henna looked smudged and she was starting to get angry about that and with us. She went really dark and sombre, and didn’t really participate in photos or anything. Not sure what was up, but she wasn’t overjoyed for some time. Billie was quiet too. I think she finds all these parties kind of pointless and would prefer to be at the hotel. We managed to find a shower recess, get some hot water to wash the thickly applied henna off our feet and finally put our socks back on.
Then Steve was invited inside for a scotch. We girls stood outside chatting together.
Drinking in India is a kind of taboo. It exists, but it’s sort of black listed. No one drinks in public like we do back home. There’s no arrival champagne for the girls at this wedding, or a Crownie for the boys. But when they hold family parties, like this one, bottles of Chivas Regal, Vodka and locally made Indian Whisky come out. However, only the men drink. Women are not allowed to drink in public! So after 10 minutes of succumbing to the cold conditions outside, we walked inside to try and get a little warmer. And there was Steve sitting at the head of a very long dining room table, with all these Indian men sitting around this long table and they were drinking beers, scotch, and whisky in plastic cups. They don’t mix the drinks with coke or anything like that – it’s straight or neat or on the rocks (but ice is hardly available). I ended up going inside to see this drinking table and Steve, while the women were dancing to their Indian beats in the room adjacent. I was offered a beer by Garry, and enjoyed sipping it from the side area off the kitchen. Then a mixed scotch (found some coke). They asked us onto the dance floor and Dacey came out of her dark stage and started having a good time at the party. The men came in to dance too and pretty much took over the dancefloor. And what happened than was quite sad, but I suppose it happens in most cultures – the women stood there watching and laughing at the men dance all silly and drunk from the sidelines. The whole party seemed to be about them and their celebration of whiskey. The quietest of the Indian men, Vicki was worst, and his wife had to calm him down a bit. All this and not one woman, except me, had a drink!
We were driven back to our hotel by Money and Ankit at around 1am – it was fun driving through the quiet backstreets with them. They are doing so much for us and we are so grateful for their hospitality. We belong to another family at the moment, and it feels welcoming and comforting. We are looking at changing our flights to Aurangabad to attend Aarti’s brother Spanish Rahul’s wedding on the 17th. We can change things, and if we do Steve would like to travel to Delhi via train to see the capital rather than head straight to Buldana where we are stopping for 2 months. If we do this, it means we will celebrate mine and Ash’s birthdays in Delhi.
That morning at about 4am I started to vomit.