Monday, 24 July 2017 07:05

Forts of Rajasthan or Castles of Italy

I was seven years old when we first went to Italy. I remember Venice with its gondolas bobbing on green waters - my mother refusing to get on a gondola stating that the waters of Venice were the same colour as the Ganges. 

I remember the delight of seeing glimpses of medieval castles driving into a Tuscan sunset. I remember falling in love with a country, its language and its castles. 

  

Twenty years later, I fell in love with a man who shared my passion for Italian food and movies. Two years later when he proposed over prosecco, I accepted. 

 

Italy would have been our choice to get married. We spent evening after evening pouring through castles online as we held hands and imagined our wedding.

We had looked at majestic castles in Apulia for large weddings, spectacular castles on the Italian Riviera for royal weddings and fairytale castles in Tuscany just outside Florence for romantic weddings.

Finally, we narrowed it down to Tuscany to a pretty castle surrounded by olive trees and vineyards. It was a short drive from Florence.

  

 

It seemed perfect. Maybe too perfect. 

Five months before the wedding, my mother was advised not to travel long distances because of her health. The news hit us hard. I remember holding her hand. We had wanted to postpone the wedding, but my mother said no.

It was a while before I was able to focus again. The idea of Rajasthan came to us one afternoon. My mother had gently suggested it while pouring tea as she did every afternoon. The distance would be short enough for my mother to travel. We could invite more family and there would be no visas or translators to worry about. I loved her for thinking of it. Our wedding was a fairytale. We arrived in Jaipur at dusk. There was a cool breeze and a big moon in the sky. We had chosen a palace, now a resort, and an hour’s drive from Jaipur. I remember feeling excited as a child as I saw craggy forts, dotting hills, bright lights twinkling and later, the occasional camel.

  

The resort was beautiful. We were treated like royalty the moment we walked up the marble steps. There was a traditional dance in the courtyard, which we watched as we waited for our rooms. He even allowed us a peek into our bridal suite. We had a small private courtyard outside, looking up I could see the stars. Inside, there was a king-sized bed, which would be lined with flowers, a huge bathtub in front of the bed and everything we could possibly want. 

  

Dinner that night was served in a dancing hall with mirrors everywhere and beautiful chandeliers that took my breath away. The food was exquisite. Our wedding was the next evening. We started off with a camel ride to the venue. Girls threw petals at us as we walked to the venue. Then the fireworks went off spelling our names for all to see. Tears were in my eyes at the beauty of the event and being surrounded with so much love. 

The ceremony was surreal. Afterwards, we were entertained by women dancing and jugglers as we sat for an outdoor dinner overlooking the mountains. My perfect night ended with a lot of laughter and dancing. Later, when we walked into to our room hand in hand, there was a bottle of Prosecco waiting.

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Our family friend’s daughter, Sharmista, was one of my mum’s favorites. Growing up, we’d always be told: “Arre, look how good she is at studies!” or “Why can’t you be more like her?” It was no surprise that Sharmista won a scholarship for Economics at an Ivy League university where she graduated top of her class for her bachelor's. 

 

Coming home one day after work a few years ago. I saw my mum was a little agitated after a phone call. “Can you believe that Sharmista?” she exclaimed, “Hai Ram! She has met an Italian boy in America and they are planning a wedding in Italy!”

 

Sharmista had met Antonio in the library while she was studying for a MPhil. Even Sharmista’s mother was surprised. Everyone had always thought that she’d opt for an arranged marriage - including Sharmista herself.

 

“I honestly didn’t expect it!” she confessed. He was a banker who had taken time off to do his masters. She was initially scared to tell her parents. But he won her over with his warmth and sense of humour (he proposed by singing her favourite Bollywood song and giving her a diamond ring). After she’d met his parents, she knew she couldn’t keep it a secret anymore. 

 

Antonio’s grandparents and extended family lived in Southern Italy, although he was born and brought up in California. So Italy it was - much to the excitement and shock for all of us it was.

 

Sharmista and Antonio knew that they wanted to have Italian elements in their wedding. In fact, it was the only thing that she fought with her mother about. 

 

It was a lovely Sunday morning in Naples when Sharmista stepped out looking radiant in a floaty white dress that looked like it was made for her.

 

Include local customs

 

“The fun started from the moment we left for the church,” she later said laughing. True to local tradition, Antonio carried a little iron with him to ward off the evil eye. 

 

The ceremony was beautiful in its simplicity. Strong drinks were served as the festivities started and even Sharmista’s mother (remember, she was one of the strict aunties) joined in dancing to the tarantella. Much to her mother’s horror, the groomsmen cut Antonio’s tie into little bits as it was traditionally given as payment to the band. She gave a sigh of relief as Sharmista whispered how much the tie actually cost.

 

What I loved about Sharmista’s wedding was that you don’t have spend a lot of money in incorporating local culture into a destination wedding. All you need is a local wedding planner or friends well versed in the local culture!

 

 

Sights, sounds and action!

 

Of course you can go all out like my friends Ayesha who got married in Bali last year and went all out with traditional performers which were stunning. She had a super-efficient wedding planner at the resort in Bali. 

 

All guests were taken sightseeing around the beautiful island and treated to local Balinese massages before the ceremony. I wasn’t able to make it to Ayesha’s wedding but I did notice local elements such as beautiful local orchids. 

 

 

Food fare

 

If you and your guests are gastronomically adventurous, you can go ahead opt for local food at your wedding. Ram, a former colleague of mine, got married in Kerala. He had elephants as part of the wedding procession and a beautiful spread of local fare for his guests (which they are still talking about!).

 

It doesn’t have to be a great feast. Two of my closest friends got married in New Zealand recently (they are huge Lord of the Rings fans). Budgets were tight on both sides. Close family and friends attended. They included local culture with an exquisite bottle of New Zealand wine. 

 

If you personally ask me, I’d secretly love something like Sharmista’s wedding. It should be fun and I’d love to include local culture to make it an occasion to remember. Now all I need is an Italian man!

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