Havelis – Old Merchant Mansions of Shekhawati

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Can I share a secret? I have new obsession… On my last trip to India I discovered a world of beautiful crumbling mansions and faded frescoes. The only problem is they are hours away from the closest airport and a harrowing drive across the Rajasthan desert.

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The grand havelis of Shekhawati were owned by the merchant princes of Rajasthan (who are now some of the most successful business families in India). Located in Jaipur state, Shekhawati mansions are found in the districts of Jhunjhunu, Chur and Sikar. Many of these buildings have been left abandoned to the harsh desert climate by familes who have migrated to the modern commercial hubs of India.

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The word haveli comes from Iran, and means “enclosed space”. In Mughal India it was known as a home for the wealthy and powerful.

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Built by the business-minded Marwari, these mansions are a testament to past business successes and remain beautiful examples of Indian artistry from the early 1800s to the beginning of the 20th century.

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Haveli architecture exemplifies Rajput and Islamic building forms, as well as occasional European influences. The richly painted frescoes reflect both the religious and folk art of Rajasthan, combined with the colonial influence of “Company School” style painting.

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As in most of India, havelis housed extended familes. Havelis often consist of two courtyards – a semi public meeting place for the men called a “mardana” and a private “zenana” for women (who stayed out of public view).

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Havelis were built inward facing which functioned as both a mechanism of privacy as well as protection from the desert and invaders. The traditional Indian courtyard home is built on the principles of Vastu Shastra, which state that all spaces emerge from the center of the house. All activities revolve around the center, which has a divine power and energy associated with it. 

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Ornate haveli doors were built to reflect the family’s status and wealth. Covered in wood carvings,hammered metal and elaborate murals, these grand entrances only suggested the splendors inside.

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We had the opportunity to tour two beautiful restored havelis in the Shekhawati region. First stop was French artist Nadine Le Prince’s gorgeous old haveli in Fatehpur.

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She has been lovingly restoring it over the past 15 years and has maintained it’s original artwork and features. A labor of love and definitely worth a stop if you’re in the area. For more info on tours and hotel reservations, go here.

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Further down the road we stopped in Ramgarh, Shekhawati where we spent a wonderful night at Ramgarh Fresco. It is owned by Raghvendra & Priya Rathore, who are from a prominent Rajasthani family.

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We were woken early by the sounds of traditional village life – cows mooing and the local Hindu temple bells clanging.

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If you get a chance to visit Rajasthan, it’s well worth a trip off the tourist triangle to visit these elaborate desert mansions. One can only hope that some day this region will be recognized as a World Heritage Site and given the restoration and attention it deserves.

Travel Diary: Visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

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It was a full moon when we visited this magical Sunni Muslim mosque in Abu Dhabi. Earlier in the day, we had been told by a hostess in the Etihad that the best time of day to visit was in the evening. I love photography and I was skeptical – would I be able to get good shots at night?

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I shouldn’t have doubted. It was like stumbling into Arabian Nights, albeit designed by Steve Wynn. There were acres of gleaming white marble, shimmering gold leaf columns, and chandeliers illuminated by millions of Swarovski crystals.

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The mosque is named after Abu Dhabi’s late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, whose goal was to build a venue representative of the cultural diversity of the Islamic world. He is buried on the grounds of the mosque.

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Built between 1996 and 2007, it is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates and the eighth largest mosque in the world – covering more than 30 acres.

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Notice how small the Imam’s minbar (pulpit) is compared to the rest of the room.

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The mosque features the world’s largest carpet made by Iran’s Carpet Company, and designed by Iranian artists Ali Khaliqi. It is 60,570 square feet and took 1300 knotters two years to complete.

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Sheikh Zayed Mosque is inspired by Mughal, Moorish and Persian mosque architecture – particularly the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan and the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco.

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During Ramadan, more than 35,000 people visit a day. A sign board for the daily prayer times is mounted on the wall.

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We were blown away by the level of detail and artistry everywhere.

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The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has seven imported chandeliers made by Faustig in Munich, Germany. Each contains millions of Swarovski crystals.

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Women are required to cover their hair, arms and legs when visiting. The mosque provides covering if you didn’t bring your own.

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The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is situated between the three main bridges connecting Abu Dhabi City to the main land (Maqta, Mussafah and Sheikh Zayed bridges). It is a quick 30 minute drive from the Abu Dhabi International Airport.

Visiting Hours: Sun – Thurs 9am-10pm Friday 4:30-11pm

For more information go to: http://www.szgmc.ae/

Photo Diary: Morocco

We visited Morocco recently and it won’t come as a surprise to hear it’s a photographer’s paradise. There is design inspiration around every corner. Here’s a diary of images that stood out. Enjoy!

 

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Fantasia rider.
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Kitties, kitties, everywhere.
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Artist Hassan Hajjaj’s Riad Yima in Marrakesh.

 

 

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Pool overlooking the port city of Essouaria.
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Beautiful zellij tile work at Ben Youssef Madrasa.
Camel riding in Essaouria.
Camel riding in Essaouria.
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Mail boxes and tile work in Essaouira.
The colorful Taros restaurant overlooking the ocean in Essaouira.
The colorful Taros restaurant overlooking the ocean in Essaouira.
Cactii in the Jardin Majorelle.
Cactii in the Jardin Majorelle.
Rugs for sale in Essaouira.
Rugs for sale in Essaouira.
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Marrakesh donkey which made a run for it after we walked by.
Blue doors keep the evil eye away.
Blue doors keep the evil eye away.
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The High Atlas Mountains.

 

Meat for sale in Imlil.
Meat for sale in Imlil.
Fantasia riders charging.
Fantasia riders charging.
The stunning Jardin Majorelle.
The stunning Jardin Majorelle.
Arch detail in the Ben Youseff Medrasa.
Arch detail in the Ben Youseff Medrasa.
Artwork by Hassan Hajjaj.
Artwork by Hassan Hajjaj.
Overlooking Essaouira.
Overlooking Essaouira.
Thuya wood jewelry carvers in Essaouira.
Thuya wood jewelry carvers in Essaouira.
Streets of Essaouira.
Streets of Essaouira.
Exotic ingredients for magic potions.
Exotic ingredients for magic potions.
Ruins in Essaouira
Beach villa ruins in Essaouira
Sweets merchant in the Marrakech souk.
Sweets merchant in the Marrakech souk.
Boat in the harbor of Essaouira.
Boats in the harbor of Essaouira.
Magical tunnels leading to mysterious places in Essaouira.
Magical tunnels leading to mysterious places.
Zellij tile - stunning!
Zellij tile – stunning!
Sleeping kitten.
Sleeping kitten.
Aromatic spices.
Colorful aromatic spices.
Mosque in Marrakesh.
Mosque in Marrakesh.
Yves Saint Lauren's yearly "Love" artwork at the Jardin Majorelle.
Yves Saint Laurent’s yearly “Love” artwork at the Jardin Majorelle.
Colorful doorway in Essaouira.
Colorful doorway in Essaouira.
Call to prayer in Marrakech.
Call to prayer in Marrakesh.
Walled city of Essaouira.
Ancient walled city of Essaouira.
Jardin Majorelle.
Jardin Majorelle.
Fish vendor in Essaouira.
Fish vendor in Essaouira.
Riding camels in Essaouira.
Riding camels in Essaouira.
The stunning Ben Youssef Medrasa.
The stunning Ben Youssef Medrasa.
Overlooking Marrakesh.
Overlooking Marrakesh.
Shells for sale in Essaouira.
Shells for sale in Essaouira.
Walls of Essaouira.
Walls of Essaouira.
Riad Dix Neuf la Ksour in Marrakesh.
Our room at the Riad Dix Neuf la Ksour in Marrakesh.

 

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Gorgeous riad doors everywhere.

 

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Magical Jardin Majorelle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peacock Pavilions: Marrakesh Global Design Oasis

IMG_4959If you’re a fan of global design, you’re probably familiar with My Marrakesh, the blog about Moroccan living by designer, hotelier and humanitarian Maryam Montague. She’s become quite the phenomenon over the last few years. Not only the writer of a drool worthy design blog set in North Africa, she’s the author of the recently published “Marrakesh by Design” – a guide to fabulous Moroccan design.IMG_4594

Oh, and there was the article in Elle Decor… So when my husband and I decided to travel to Morocco for our 10 year wedding anniversary, a stay at Peacock Pavilions was a must.

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Designed by Montague and her architect husband Chris Redecke, Peacock Pavilions consists of a main house and two stand alone villas. We stayed for 3 nights and were lucky to have the Atlas Villa all to ourselves. IMG_4584

Peacock Pavilions is filled to the brim with Montague’s objets trouvés. Everywhere you look there are tassels, sequins, pottery, embroidery, feathers, carved wood, intricate tile work, and elaborate stencil designs. It is a veritable trove of Aladdin’s treasures. I was lucky enough to peak behind the doors, camera in hIMG_4984and…IMG_4567

Below is the gorgeous Golden Gazelles room we stayed in. J’adore the French poster and the luxurious stenciling behind the bed (based on a screen Maryam saw in a Christie’s catalog). Moroccan embroidered pillows and a vintage Kantha blanket make the bed pop while the African mud cloth fabric on the wood chairs are a nice contemporary accent. By keeping with the black and gold color theme, the different cultures and styles blend beautifully.

IMG_4533This is the view from the bed. What a marvelous fireplace! I could imagine cuddling up in this bed on a cold winter night. So romantic.IMG_4546This is the view from the rooftop patio above our bedroom. Throughout the day you can hear the call to prayer from the local mosque. Olive orchards surround the property and we enjoyed the delicious olive oil they produce from the trees each year.IMG_4745Here are some pictures from the main building. You enter Peacock Pavilions through these amazing rooms. I could spend hours looking at all the lovely and eclectic pieces (Egyptian driving glasses and Coptic crosses) in this collection.IMG_4578 IMG_4583 IMG_4586Maryam sells her treasures through the website Red Thread Souk. Here are some of the gorgeous Moroccan rugs on offer…IMG_4588If I had room in my suitcase I would have snapped a couple up. Morocco is frustrating in that way – too many beautiful pieces and not enough weight allowance in your luggage. But Maryam does ship internationally, so I may still buy one yet…IMG_4949And here are more lovely room shots…IMG_4974IMG_4596 IMG_4934IMG_4950 IMG_4963Drooling yet? Peacock Pavilions is all about the details. Inlaid antique door furniture, old Moroccan posters and French newspapers, jewelry hung as art… IMG_4975How about this tasseled saddle, old djellaba cape or hanging tasseled hoods? Have you noticed there are a lot of tassels at Peacock Pavilions?IMG_4923 IMG_4951Don’t you love the beautiful stenciled stairs and tile work on the floors of this kitchen?IMG_4970 IMG_4972The color and pattern mix at Peacock Pavilions is never overdone or too matchy-matchy which makes the decor feel fresh and not theatrical. The combined effect is totally inspiring. I came home and immediately started re-organizing my own travel collections. Isn’t that what travel does? Open your eyes to new possibilities?IMG_4572 IMG_4960 IMG_4967We hope you enjoyed our virtual Moroccan postcard and are inspired to new heights in global design chic. And if you get a chance, you really should visit…

Go to www.peacockpavilions.com

 

Travel Diary: Shanghai’s Shifting Skyline

IMG_3106We travel to China four times a year, and it’s always fun to watch the changing skyline. It has changed dramatically from our first visit in 2006, and I was curious to see what it looked like 20+ years ago. A friend recently sent me a photo, and I was blown away…s_s03_aTX1292LHere’s a shot of Shanghai in 1987. Wow! The skyline today is really beginning to rival Hong Kong. And from what I hear, that’s exactly what the government intends to achieve.IMG_3094

Shanghai is the world’s fastest growing city – growing at a rate of 10% a year. The current population is 23.5 – nearly double what it was in 1987.

IMG_3080This is the newest tower going up – Shanghai Tower. It will be China’s tallest building and the world’s second tallest skyscraper, at 2,073 ft high. It is scheduled to finish by the end of 2014.IMG_3083It goes up into the clouds…
IMG_3121One of our favorite Shanghainese restaurants overlooks the Bund – Shanghai Min (in Mandarin it’s Xiao Nan Guo). After indulging in amazing hong shao rou (red-cooked pork) our tradition is to take an evening stroll and check out the ever-changing river skyline.
IMG_3132The ghosts/buildings of Shanghai’s past, still line the Puxi side of the Huangpu River. These stately historical Bund buildings once housed numerous banks and trading houses from the around the world.IMG_3123Today they are home to high end restaurants, nightclubs, boutiques and museums. IMG_3119It’s fun to see the old and new in close juxtaposition. Shanghai continues to be one of the most dynamic, interesting cities in the world.

Travel Diary: Gotta Goa Beach Vacation

Goa Path BeachOn a buying trip to India in March, we finally got to Goa. (Sorry – the puns are hard to resist.) Long a stopover on the hippie trail of the ’70s, Goa continues to be a hot spot for jet set travelers, Bollywood stars and honeymooning couples.

IMG_2045I’ve long been under the misconception that Goa was a city. It is actually India’s smallest state, but with over 75 miles of coastline, there’s a lot to see and do.

IMG_2047The toughest part is picking your beach…

IMG_2202We flew into Dabolim Airport and drove an hour and half to Ashvem Beach in North Goa. Ashvem and Morjim beaches are both relatively quiet and draw a hip, artistic crowd.

IMG_2027We decided to go “glamping” – opting for tented luxury over a large resort environment. Amarya Shamiyana has four beach tents which are air-conditioned, complete with sitting room, two sinks and a shower.

IMG_2032IMG_2075Breakfast is served upon request, and you’re a mere 100 feet away from the Arabian Sea. I definitely was living out my Arabian Nights fantasies at this lovely hotel.IMG_2105We spent the third night at Paros, Amarya’s property down the beach.

IMG_2174IMG_2170The tents weren’t as large or glam, but the eating area has gorgeous ocean views. IMG_2183The food is delicious and we had access to a totally deserted beach. If I had to pick, it would be difficult to choose a favorite.

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I also spent one of the days browsing the funky boho-chic boutiques on Ashvem Beach. Full of eclectic Goa-wear, there are a lot fun things to shop. IMG_2052Jade Jagger has a hot pink shop here and I couldn’t resist picking up a dress and ruby ring. IMG_2061 IMG_2059I also got a sneak peak of her super cool compound (located nearby) when the credit card machine didn’t work. She has it decorated with Tibetan god/goddess pictures, rattan and a lot of hot pink. Very chic.IMG_2057

Another good stop down the beach is the chic French beach cafe – La Plage. It’s the heart of the Ashvem beach scene and serves up some yummy French and international cuisine. IMG_2043IMG_2072We had a lovely time in our brief Goa sojourn and are plotting a way back to sink our toes into the beach sand. If you get a chance, you must Goa too!

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Amarya Shamiyana – Ashvem Beach, (Next to La Plage Restaurant), Mandrem, Goa-403527, INDIA

Paros by Amarya – Turtle Beach, Temba Vaddo, Morjim, Goa – 403527, INDIA

The Society Inc – Sibella Court’s Sydney Shop

IMG_6368In honor of Sibella Court’s new book “Gypsy: A World of Colors and Interiors” which came out on the 15th, I’m finally posting the pictures from my visit to The Society, Inc. - stylist and designer, Sibella Court’s adorable shop in the Paddington neighborhood of Sydney. IMG_6362Sibella is well known for her series of design books and her work with clothing retailer Anthropologie. She has an eclectic, global design aesthetic that’s followed closely by avid devotees such as myself.

IMG_6363 Sibella re-designs her shop about four times a year, with different themes, colors and collections. IMG_6371 An eclectic mix of accessories, home goods, hardwares and whimsical art pieces, Sibella’s magic is how she arranges objects in interesting and unusual ways. IMG_6375While in Sydney, I was super excited to get an autographed copy of “The Life of a Bowerbird: Creating Beautiful Interiors with the Things You Collect”. I was hoping to meet the author, but unfortunately she wasn’t in the shop that day.

IMG_6376 Sibella also designs a line of paints for Murobond, which she often features in the store’s themes.IMG_6379In her latest book “Gypsy” she travels to the Galápagos, Ecuador, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Turkey, Scotland, and Romania—featuring local trends, architecture, color schemes and crafts.  IMG_6384If you happen to be in Sydney, enjoy a leisurely afternoon browsing the curiosities and collections Sibella’s collected from home and abroad. You won’t be able to resist buying a piece or two…

The Society Inc. 18 Stewart St Paddington 2021
Open Wed-Sat 11am-5pm
Telephone 02 9331 1592

Photo Diary: All The Beaches I’ve Loved Before…

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Sunset Beach – North Shore, Oahu

It’s that time of year when it seems like the winter will never end. I’m dreaming of sticking my toes into warm sand and baking in the sun as the sea laps against the seashore… Ah one can dream!

Join me for a trip to some beautiful sunny beaches of trips past…

Beach in Hoi An, Vietnam
Lone palm on the beach. Hoi An, Vietnam
Hayman Island - Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Hayman Island – Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Old dock - Koh Samui, Thailand
Old dock – Koh Samui, Thailand
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Doris Duke’s Shangri La – Oahu
Double infinity pool at The Hanging Gardens outside Ubud.
Not a beach, but this water was gorgeous! Hanging Gardens – Ubud, Bali
Zazen Resort - Koh Samui, Thailand.
Zazen Resort – Koh Samui, Thailand
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Rosario Islands – Colombia
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Crooked palm – Koh Samui, Thailand
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Cove view – Uluwatu, Bali
IMG_6573Whitsunday Islands – Great Barrier Reef, Australia
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Copacabana Beach – Rio, Brazil
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Bondi Beach – Sydney, Australia
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Uluwatu – Bali
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Whitsunday Islands – Great Barrier Reef, Australia
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Sunset Beach – Oahu

Are you ready to buy a plane ticket? Me too.

A Fairy Tale Hindu Wedding in Jaipur

IMG_0276Indian weddings are always intriguing to the Western imagination – they supposedly last for days, include elephants, loads of jewelry and music and a riot of colors. An exaggeration, right? I am happy to report that the wedding my husband and I attended in November lived up to our imagination and then some…

The handsome groom Lalit with his young nephew.
The handsome groom Lalit with his young nephew.

We’ve known the groom Lalit for 5 years or more. We buy furniture from his family in Jodhpur. When he informed us it was his turn to get married, we jumped at the chance to celebrate it.

The beautiful bride Shipra.
The beautiful bride Shipra whose family is from Udaipur.

His bride Shipra was introduced to him about 3 months before the wedding. She hails from the lovely city of Udaipur. 90% of all weddings in India are arranged. These arrangements are based on the couples religion, caste, profession and appearance.

IMG_0109 The day we arrived in Jaipur we joined the family at their home and participated in traditional henna painting. Usually the women of the family get their hands painted, as well as the bride and groom.IMG_0112 Traditionally the initials of the bride are painted into the groom’s hands and the bride must find them (or risk bad luck). IMG_0132Local village women chanted outside the groom’s room as he was treated with a face masque. They chanted all night long.IMG_0201The painting itself took about half an hour, and about 5 hours to dry. By the end of the evening we were impatient and started picking the dried henna off rather than wait until the morning. Fortunately the henna dye took.

IMG_0474 (2)The next evening we joined the family for a huge song and dance performance. There were about a 1000 (yes!) guests. Professional singers alternated with family Bollywood performances.  And the family was good! They had been practicing for weeks. It was fun to see how much they got into it.IMG_0333Less fun was when we were asked to get up on the stage and dance (I quickly demurred – not being up on the latest Bollywood dance moves). Let’s just say it’s been a while since I’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire.IMG_0515Pyrotechnics lit up the stage (this guys was wiring together the electricity below the stage). We didn’t stand too close…IMG_0366Long rows of tables were loaded with local vegetarian delicacies and we eagerly filled up our plates with these delicious dishes.IMG_0398Fresh baked rotis and chapati were baked in clay ovens and over coals, while warm spiced Masala chai was served in clay cups. IMG_0420 (2)We were introduced to a new drink – Kashmiri tea – which is flavored with slivered almonds and spices – a real treat on a cool fall evening.

IMG_0231And finally… the actual wedding night! We were running late because my sari top (called a “choli”) wasn’t finished on time and we had to fight Jaipur traffic back to our hotel. We quickly located the wedding planner who expertly wrapped and pinned me into my sari – no small task!IMG_0253We arrived at the wedding venue at 7:30 only to find we were among the first to arrive. Indian time tends to be a little on the delayed side, so we assumed we were early. Fine, except for the fact we didn’t recognize anyone. Concerned we had been dropped at the wrong wedding, we asked around and confirmed the venue was indeed correct. But where was the groom’s family? IMG_0255Suddenly out of the unfamiliar crowd a man appeared with a cell phone. We were told by the groom’s brother we needed to join the groom’s entourage – quick! We got into the stranger’s car and were driven a few blocks to a huge wedding procession…

IMG_0307We saw Lalit riding on a decorated white horse (with pony tails!) wearing $2 million dollars in nugget sized green emeralds and dressed in a glittering white wedding suit. Now this is how to enter a wedding!IMG_0319Accompanying Lalit were hundreds of women in colorful saris loaded with serious jewelry, men wearing saffron turbans pushing beaded white lamps on wheels, men dancing on stilts, and a live band with professional dancers. What a scene!IMG_0314 IMG_0336IMG_0317

We followed this colorful, joyous crowd back into the wedding venue, passing a painted elephant along the way….IMG_0342When we arrived at the wedding venue, we were serenaded by a red turbaned Punjabi bagpipe band whose set included throwing drums into the air and clicking their heels. IMG_0246And soon the bride arrived on a palanquin carried by eight men, proceeded by dancing women…IMG_0420Her family procession followed behind. Shipra wore a beautiful red sari embroidered with $50,000 in diamonds and a quarter of a million dollars in wedding jewelry – mostly necklaces. (!!!)

IMG_0424The wedding venue was huge – over two football fields long – and held approximately 3500 guests. I’d never seen so many colorful, bejeweled saris.IMG_0386And then there was the food… There were about twice as many tables as the night before. All sorts of amazing Indian delights.

IMG_0263 IMG_0384 (2) There were spicy curries, rich dals, warm rotis dripping with ghee, barbecued vegetables and tandoori cheese, Italian pizza, kulfi, ice cream, traditional Indian desserts including gulab jamun, and wedding cakes covered with candied silver and pomegranates. Divine…

IMG_0422 IMG_0456 The bride and groom participated in several choreographed performances (more dancing!) and then spent a good portion of the evening patiently posing for pictures with wedding guests. Their stamina was admirable!IMG_0476We finally left at 1am but party hearty guests, family and the wedding couple stayed until 7am the next morning performing Saptapadi (Hindu fire rituals) which sanctified the marriage union.

IMG_0383We left  the wedding with full stomachs, warm hearts and memories for a lifetime.