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CHINA: Gorgeous Tiger Leaping Gorge Trek. DAY 1.

The Tiger Leaping Gorge is a breathtaking (literally) trek in southwestern China.  Around 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) in length, the gorge is located where the river passes between the 5,596m(18,360 ft) Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the 5,396m (17,703 ft) Haba Snow Mountain in a series of rapids under steep cliffs. Its poetic name derives from a local legend about the tiger, that allegedly jumped the river at its narrowest point in order to escape from a hunter. I do not know if the bigger surprise is that the narrowest point is 25 meters wide, or that there were (and still are*) wild tigers in this area …

*as many as 10 individuals

The journey started with peculiar series of unfortunate events (tropical diseases,kidnapping etc.), that I’ve tried to describe shortly, but somehow I produced a huge chunk of text instead. So if you are not interested in the pre-trip drama, go directly to the glorious ‘Hiking Day 1’ section (I’ll understand).

I. Pre-Trip Drama

This day was supposed to be intense but … quite uninteresting. The journey should take us about 24 hrs. Starting with a flight from Singapore (and the brand new Terminal 4! 😀) to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, then few hours of downtime and lunch, next flight from Kuala Lumpur (or so-called ‘KL’) to Kunming in China, 3 hours to get from the airport to the railway station, night train from Kunming to Lijang, and finally a public bus from Lijiang to Qiaotou, where the trek starts. Phew!

The first on the list of unfortunate events was that Simon missed his flight… even though he showed up in the airport in time! How is that possible? Simon was the only person who booked v.early morning flight, about 2 hours before the rest of the gang. When Michal nobly drove him to the airport, they both make themselves comfortable at the Terminal 4, not realizing that Simon’s plane could take off from another terminal than ours … (in their defence- it was 6am). Fortunately, we had a long transfer time in KL so Simon got on the next plane and still arrived ahead of time for the next flight.

In the meantime, on our way to KL, the most prudent member of the whole group -Michao left his phone in the plane’s seat pocket , which had its consequences a little later that same day. Laughing at what a misfortune morning we had so far, we found Simon waiting at the gate to flight to China. It should go smoothly from here! Except that Simon did not look very good, claiming that he feels a bit sick. When we got off the plane in Kunming, he looked seriously ill and not just for us. The thermal imaging camera detected his fever and Simon was detained for a checkup …

After quite a long wait, several medical tests and negotiations with the officers, Simon was let go, but his face was deadly serious. Quick tests have detected an infection -possibly Malaria… What now? Should carry on and hope it is not as serious? Or should we assume the worst and fly Simon back..?   The clock was ticking and after stormy discussions we decided to split into three groups: Eve&Alvaro will take Simon to a local hospital and find out if it really is malaria and if not then whether he can continue the trip. Me,Michao&Wen, and Sandeep, Gigi&Jeremy will go to the train station to pick up tickets and wait there for group 1. The problem was only that nobody in my group had roaming, internet data or Chinese applications (google, facebook and whatsapp do not work in China), except of Michal, but he lost it, remember? As we got into the taxi, we realized that there are several railway stations in Kunming, and in all this chaos we didn’t coordinated which one to go. And although in our taxi we had a Chinese-speaking Singaporean- Wen, it was quite difficult to communicate with our driver.

Not only were we not sure if we were going in the right direction, but suddenly our taxi drove off the highway and  … stopped under the flyover. Not minding our slight shock, the taxi driver got out of the car without a word. After a while, another guy got in (also without a word). He  looked very angry and unceremoniously moved off. Wen tried to talk to him in Chinese, but the only thing he snarled was that he knew where we were going …. After a few minutes of disbelief and suspicion that we’ve just been kidnapped … we decided to keep calm. In part because we were in a strange place and we did not know local customs, and partly because there was nothing we could do. . It turns out that all taxis in Kunming have robust metal bars installed to separate the driver form the passengers. Meanwhile, as usually in such moments – it started to get dark …

Over a dozen tense minutes later, we arrived at the train station, which turned out to be exactly the one we were looking for. We paid the correct amount of money. We found our friends right away, waiting for us at the entrance.  Relieved and a bit ashamed, we went on to grab a quick dinner. Only after ordering at cheap local eatery,  we noticed a poster with a sad face, indicating that this place got a C grade from local Food Administration… (on the scale from A to C, where A is safe and C is a health hazard).

Convinced that tomorrow will start with food poisoning, we returned to the station to pick up tickets. It would be quite difficult without our Chinese-speaking friend, because as you can see there were several windows for different purposes.

::: What a day! Traveling from the early morning, not knowing what is going on with our sick friend and with the night on the train ahead :::

When we got to the train, we could finally breathe a little. Until the last moment, we hoped that in a moment our friends from the hospital group would join us. Unfortunately, the train left on time, and Alvaro, Eve and Simon were not there. We convinced a nice Chinese lady to let us use Wechat (Chinese WhatsApp) to contact Eve. It turned out that 2 different hospitals could not help Simon, so he just returned to the airport, where he would catch the first available flight back to Singapore. Eve and Alvaro got on the next train so we would them meet only the next day.

::: Two-story sleeping cars: D! The lower deck (or ours) turned out to be the 2nd class but it was very cozy, clean and comfortable :::
 

II. Hiking – Day 1

When we arrived to Lijiang very early in the morning, it was still dark and freezing cold. We got 4hrs to kill before Eve and Alvaro would join us, so after dressing in all possible layers that we had with us, we sat back in the bistro at the station. It was just a little bit less cold than outside (there were no real door but rather a a curtain of plastic strips hanging from the doorframe). We would find out soon that for some strange reason heating it is quite uncommon in this area and the only way yo warm up is to wait till the morning sun rays.

::: 6 am at Lijiang Train Station :::

::: Only in China  –  beef noodle soup for breakfast :::

:::: Finally! Reunion with Eve and Alvaro after airport drama ::::

::: Due to wait for AlvEve we missed the bus, so we rent a van to get to the small town from which the trail begins :::

::: Even thought the driver was local, he had some difficulties finding the right way. Luckily he was did not mind asking the people around, such as this nice lady: :::

::: The symbolic leaping tiger in front of the ticket office in a small  city of Qiaotou :::

::: Michal can’t wait to start the hike already::: 

Of course, in a large group, nothing goes too smooth, so before we started the trek, a few people remembered that they do not have Chinese money so we returned to the nearby town to find an ATM

::: Residents of a small town in China: :::

After a successful attempt to find an ATM, it was time for lunch, so we stopped in a colorful hostel along the way.

 ::: In the meantime, it got a bit warmer, so we did not miss the opportunity for a cold beer;) :::

::: After a short a night on the train, supercold winter morning and a van ride – ready for adventure! :::

Happy that we could exploit our van to the fullest we drove to the end of a dusty road, where public buses do not venture any more (and I suggest you do the same if you have a chance).  The road was narrow, steep and without road shoulders or any interesting views.  It would take us more than an hour of strenuous climb risking being ran over by the trucks coming up and down.

Using our van to the max, we have reached the end of a dusty road,  (and if you have the opportunity to do the same).

::: The upper trekking route start! (29 hours after the departure from Singapore)😀 :::

::: For the next two days we were moving on our own legs, sleeping in hostels along the way :::

::: My first climbing trip where I did not have a comfy base to store my backpack and I had to carry it all the way 🙂 :::

:::: Landscapes from the very beginning were so epic that we stopped every 5 minutes to tak a pic! ::::

::: Surprise on the route – and one of my favorite moments of the whole
trip – tiny furry donkeys! <3 :::

 :::: Stopping every 5 min to take a picture :::

::: The girl with the  …mountain tattoo 😉 :::

After about 4 hours of hiking, we stopped at the beautiful Naxi Family Guesthouse for a quick rest (and another epic photo and video session of course …) :::

::: Alvaro aka my video director :::

::: Yes, this is a shopping bag (with snacks inside but still). Classic Alvaro who looked like he was going to a shopping mall, not a  hiking trip in China 😀 :::

We spend way more time than we planned waiting for AlvEve, missing the bus, enjoying the lunch and some team members started to be anxious if we can make it to the first hostel before dusk.  Michal even found a map on one of the guesthouse walls showing clearly that we didnt make even 1/3rd of the way. See the yellow arrow that the shadow point at? That’s the Naxi House where we were then. See the other one? That’s the Tea-Horse Guesthouse that we supposed to get to before the dusk. The problem was that not only we did not make it far, but that it was quite late and the most difficult part -the 28 bends, or that snake you see on the map – was still ahead…

Waiting for AlvEve, enjoying the beers and landscapes made us arriving at Naxi Family Guesthause quite late (~3.30PM) and some team members beginning to worry whether we would be able to reach our hostel before dusk. Michal found a map on one of the walls of the Guesthaus, clearly showing that we did not make even one third of the way. For illustration: the first yellow arrow, which Michao’s shadow points to, is the Naxi Guesthause. The second yellow arrow is Tea-Horse Guesthouse, which we should get to before 6:30PM. The problem was that not only did we not get too far, but the most difficult part – the 28 Bends (ie. this steep, winding snake on the map below), were still ahead of us …

With a of little scare we went ahead (WE will not succeed..??! So far everything went great;)!) When we were really tired and we were hoping for at least the majority of the 28 corners behind us, to my horror, we encountered a sign that 28 corners were just beginning …

Climbing a steep, snaky path, I was wondering if the route took its name from the number of corners, or was it an allusion to having to stop every few steps and bend over from exhaustion, trying to catch a breath of thin air..?

:::  When you are somewhere deep in China, on the steep high mountain slope, with your head’s down, mouth open gasping for breath, your heart is pounding and you can’t manage to suck in enough oxygen, thinking why are you doing this to yourself … :::

::: … but then your brain is flooded with endorphines and you feel the kind of happiness that only comes from utter physical exhaustion :::

If you are wondering if you are fit enough for this climb – I have good (?) news. Locals along the route are offering to rent their horses that will take you up the most difficult part of the route for you. Personally, I believe that the deadly 28 Bends can be done on your own you only have a enough time and perseverance (!).

:::The picture does look cool though:::

Looking through the pictures, I realized that I was too focused on taking the next step, that during the 2hrs hike up the killer 28 bends, I did not take ANY. I do not even recall any  views other than my feet. So… let it stay a mystery and a motivation for you to see it by yourself ;)!

:::5.42PM, my effort was rewarded with great satisfaction and an amazing view <3 :::

::: A great test of fear of heights and a bird’s eye view of the Jinsha River, the upper stretch of the longest river in Asia – Yangtze River! :::

Sun was setting slowly, and yet another cheerful photoshoot we started to go ahead – down to our destination for a night. For the first time feeling quite optimistic that we will make it. 

::: With the sun setting it started to be cold again :::

We reached the Tea-Horse Guesthouse triumphantly only 10 minutes after dusk. Only Michao started to suffer from something that seemed to be an altitude sickness *. The canyon at the maximum depth is about 3,790m from the river to the top of the mountain. This makes the Tiger Leaping Gorge one of the deepest and most spectacular river canyons in the world, but fast climbing in a short time without proper acclimatization can be dangerous if not you’re unlucky **.

* we were not sure if this was not the symptoms of regular flu. Besides we were consoled by the fact that the most important thing with such disease is descending from a dangerous height. In the case of this route, the top of 28 Bends is the highest point – then it only goes down almost all the way to the river.

** everybody reacts differently and even the most prominent climbers are not immune to altitude sickness.

In the next episode: the unbelievable view that we woke up to the next day AND the second day of hiking – did we manage to get to the legendary place that the tiger was supposed to leap from…?;)

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PS. If you are wondering what happened to Simon – after returning to Singapore in a large hospital near the airport, a proper examination was finally done and it turned out that luckily it was not malaria but a milder and not life-threatening viral infection, so Simon quickly recovered.

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TOP 10 Tropical Beach Destinations in ASIA- no.9: MALAYSIA, Langkawi Island

Lucky no. 9 goes to a beautiful place that I got to enjoy with a big bunch of my friends from Singapore (featured extensively in the pictures below). Take a look with me, Michal, Wen, Eve, Simon, Lukas, Nihar and Jeremy at …

Langkawi Island in Malaysia !

SCORES:

  • nature: 3/5 -> spectacular views but a bit ‘spoiled’ with civilization
  • party: 2/5 -> cosy beach bars opened till late
  • atmosphere: 2/5 -> quite touristy* but enjoyable as soon as you get out of the town
  • ease of travel:  4/5 ->no visa needed, easy scooter rental at the airport,  English is widely spoken and understood by the locals.

*why so touristy? here’s the first fun fact:

The island was legendary cursed in late 18th century for 7 generations by the beautiful young women named Mahsuri, after the local villagers wrongfully accused her of adultery and executed by stabbing.

The curse ended around 1987 with the birth of  Sirintra Yayee (8th grandchild of Mahsuri, now living in Thailand), and strangely enough a new era of Langkawi as a tourist destination began. The island was granted a tax-free status and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad decided to transform it into a major tourist resort, helping to plan many of the islands buildings himself . The island flourished as a tourist destination, and by nowadays receives over 3 million tourists a year…

FOR WHO?

Mostly for families and people who want convenient holidays and don’t mind the touristy feel all around them (banana boat rides, Mexican restaurants, cable car to the mountain top etc.). Mind that it’s quite difficult to experience truly Malaysian culture here.

:: My Singaporean family <3 :::

WHERE IS IT?

Langkawi Island is located 30km off the mainland coast of northwestern Malaysia.  The island is a part of the state of Kedah, which is adjacent to the Thai border.

THE BEACH:

There are few beaches here, namely: Pantai Cenang, Pantai Tengah, Burau Bay, Pantai Kok, and Datai Bay, but due to time constrains we’ve been only to one. Pantai Cenang is a 2km long stretch of fine white sand. The beach is lined with casuarina trees and spectacular, tall coconut trees <3.

The water is not very clear so you can’t go snorkeling just off the beach.  However, there is plenty of watersports and attractions such as jet-skis, bananaboats etc. if you are into this sort of things. My group was more into smoking cigars, acroyoga and posing for odd pictures:

Along the beach you can find all type of shops, bars&restaurants, open till late. They are great for chilling,eating, watching the sunset and after dusk- fire shows to crazy loud drum’n’bass music.

BESIDES THE BEACH:

  • Advice no 1 -as always- : rent a car or motorbike/scooter and explore the island (especially that there is no public transport…).

Langkawi is not too big (only 25×40 km) and the roads are in a great condition and safe to drive. The rental offices are located at the convenient places – airport, jetty, or by Pantai Cenang beach.

The rate is reasonable (~30-40 RM for 150cc motorbike/scooter) but make sure you agree with the rental office how and when you are going to return it  (if your flight out is early in the morning, the office might be simply closed and you might loose your deposit).

Remember to drive on the left side of the road and enjoy the tropical views!

The gas is dirt cheap – you can fill up you bike for aprox RM5 but keep track of the fuel level, gas stations are quite far from one another (~10 km).

  • Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls aka Seven Wells, (Gunung Mat Cincang, Northwest corner of the island, 45 kms from Kuah, walking distance from Oriental village and cable car (10 min) )

We have been only to the base of the waterfall but if you climb 350+ slippery steps to the higher area you will reach the seven natural pools that this waterfall is named after. Legend has it that fairies used to come down to the pools to frolic- when we saw the inviting cold water we could not resist it either. The water felt amazing after a long bike ride!

  • Klim Karst Geoforest Park

My favorite part of the trip! You are seated in the long boat and swam around a park with a few stopovers:

Depending on your time/budget you can opt to see more or less:

Bat Cave was turned out to be smelly&scary but eagle* feeding was quite spectacular. We were not allowed to do it ourselves (too dangerous!). Instead we observed as our guide throw pieces of meat into the water and immediately large number of large birds appeared to fight for it.

*fun fact! One of the theory behind the name of the island involves combination of the Malay words ‘helang‘  (meaning “eagle”)  and ‘kawi‘ (meaning “reddish-brown” or “strong”)

 

::: Thick mangroves forest outside the bat cave :::

::: Tiny Fiddler (‘calling’)crab says hi :::

::: Prepare for many funky fish-like creatures that you can touch on Fish farm… if you dare (here : horseshoe crab) :::

  • The Langkawi Cable Car, taking you up to the peak of Gunung Mat Chinchang, where the Langkawi Sky Bridge is located.

The cable car ride strats from Oriental Village (watch out: tourist trap!). It costs around RM55 for foreigners. Wikipedia says that the The SkyBridge is at the top station of cable car which can be reached using an elevator/cabin on a track (SkyGlide, RM15 for foreigners) or through a small forest trail (RM5 for foreigners), the trail is only around a 10 minute walk but involves a lot of stairs. We did not get that opportunity though…

The trip to the top in the late afternoon looked promising…

But after a while we entered a milky cloud that successfully prevented us from seeing the precious view…

The viewing platform did not give us the promised views:

::: All that we were able to see in the ‘viewing’ platform ::: ::: Eve’s takes on the ‘selfie with a view’ :::

::: …and ours 😉 :::

::: Simon’s ‘rain dance’ and our over-excitement on a slightest glimpse of a view:::

HOW TO GET HERE:

It’s quite easy and straightforward, since there is an international airport on the island, with connections available from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and others. You can also enter the island via ferry from Kuala Kedah, Kuala Perlis, Tamalang and Penang.

* fun fact: There’s also ferry service to a nearby Ko Lipe island in Thailand for a fun side-trip (operating October till June)!

ACCOMMODATION

There are many hotels available that you can search through booking.com. As a large group we rented a house through airbnb. Here’s view from our place;

OTHER FUN THINGS ABOUT BEING IN Malaysia:

Remember Malaysia is a Muslim country, so your daily ‘beer routine’ might be interrupted as it won’t be sold in some places (eg. local food court).

Prepare for the sight of wild animals. I managed to meet not one but two (!) specimens of extremely rare Malaysian tiger:

In summary, we enjoyed our short stay in Langkawi, even though for my taste it is a bit too ‘touristy’ and not wild enough. Although I must admit that the wild component was filled out with this crazy bunch: 

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TOP 10 Tropical Beach Destinations in ASIA- no.10: CHINA, Sanya

I’ve been living in tropical Asia for a few years already and my European friends keep asking me for holidays recommendation in this area. Thus – I decided to prepare a very special series of posts proposing few quite amazing tropical beach destinations.

So there you have it – a completely subjective list from a person that tends to buy flight tickets to random Asian destination only because it’s cheap, and then figure out what’s there to do!

And the number 10 on the list goes to…

CHINA – and its beautiful resort city – Sanya !

If you didn’t know that China even has a tropical destination or a resort cities – high 5! We found out about it when we were planning trip to completely different place, a mountainous region of Guangxi nearby. Sanya did not disappointed – it had everything that I am looking for in life in general – challenge, little chaos, and palm trees.

SCORES:

  • nature: 3/5 ->the green hills surrounding the city & vast empty beaches
  • party: 1/5 -> zero beach bars and clubs, BUT there are Chinese ladies practicing dance routines to Chinese pop songs on every free spot of the promenade 😀 (check out the video at the end of the post)
  • atmosphere: 3/5 -> nice people, cool holiday vibe, the city and beach coming to life in the evenings
  • ease of travel:  0/5 -> complicated visa process, Chinese signs instead of alphabet,  no google or google maps

FOR WHO?

It’s a perfect place for people who want to escape from Western style holidays –  beach parties, Justin Bieber songs, bikinis, and banana pancakes. Such as this guy:

::: Michal -happy to be in a Chinese resort (note the empty beer can in a back pocket) :::

WHERE IS IT?

Sanya is the southernmost city of a little island Hainan, the smallest and southernmost province of China. Historically, known to Chinese as Tianya Haijiao (天涯海角), meaning “the end of the sky and ocean” or “the end of the earth”.

THE BEACH:

The beach is vast, clean and empty – what else do we need?

::: My favorite view::

You don’t have to worry that you won’t find a place for yourself on the beach – in Asian culture the most beautiful and appreciated skin tone is ghostly white. Big plus for no tourists from other cultures (besides us 😉 )  

::: beach babes in China:: 

:: The beach came to life only when the sun was setting down ::

BESIDE THE BEACH

  • as always- rent a scooter (no license needed) and explore the city !

It’s quite interesting how modern the main streets are and how simple and basic it is becoming as soon as you enter the side street. As we rode along the streets and promenades, we could spot many older ladies practicing their dance routines to pop Chinese songs, which was really cute.

Fun facts about scooters: we got the electric one and of course-  it died on us JUST before reaching our destination :

  • Deer Turning Head Park (Luhuitou Park 鹿回头公园).

Climb the hill outside of the city for the amazing views above Sanya harbour:

Half-way through you can stop to feed the deers in a small enclosure (if you don’t mind their sad faces):

At the very top of the hill you will find a large stone statue, to commemorate the local legend. According to the story,  the hunter chased a deer to an isolated headland near the sea. When the deer could not escape, it turned its head to look at the hunter and suddenly… turned into a beautiful woman! The hunter could not kill the deer-girl and instead- fell in love with her. What’s the moral of the story? I have no idea, but it made such an impression on locals that they named a park after it.

HOW TO GET HERE:

:: Haiku Train Station ::

This was a bit tricky. We took a flight from Singapore to Haiku- the province’s capital. Then, we took a taxi from the airport to the train station, hoping that we will find a quick transport to Sanya. At the train station we found a huuuge que and a big display board, obviously all in Chinese. Luckily, smart Michao figured out which signs stands for Sanya and noted what appeared to be the time of departure, so later he could point on the train number we wanted the tickets for. Thanks to the huge que we missed the earlier train and got a chance to walk around Haiku until the next one in the late evening.

 :: Display board at the train station ::

ACCOMMODATION

You would think that in the age of booking.com, you can book a place anywhere in the world easily, right? We also thought so, and easily booked a hostel online that … didn’t existed. When we arrived to the place it turn out to be a giant construction area. We were roaming in the dark allays for quite some time, until we finally found another place to stay for the night . It’s name turned out to be coldly ironic:

FOOD

Personally, I am not a fan of Asian cuisine (lightly speaking). But, if you are at least minimally tolerant person, probably you will find few things for yourself, eg. famous Chinese dumplings:

Ordering is quite easy – simple restaurants often have images of the menu options displayed on the wall, so you just point on what you want.

:: white Coca cola? Nope, just a soy milk in a suspiciously similar bottle ::
You can also find some healthy snacks in convenience stores :

::: chicken feet- yum! :::

::: mmm dried fish – even better :::

::: yyy..a fancy ant delicacy..? :::

OTHER FUN THINGS ABOUT BEING IN CHINA

It’s hard for you to distinguish between the Chinese faces? Well, it works the other way too! Don’t be surprised when people would want to take a photo with you because -to them- you look like a Hollywood star or a famous soccer player 😉

::: Michao and David Beckham- find 3 differences :::

It’s funny how everything have some peculiar equivalent in China. You’ve seen healthy snacks already, but here’s 2 more examples:

:::  Chinese version of the Apple Store  :::

:::  Who needs roses when you can get a bouquet of… bears :::

:: Luckily one thing is universal – I always (always!) appreciate good-old hipster coffee shops where I can have my cappuccino ::

That’s it for the Chinese beach resort. Let me know if you curious about anything I mentioned in the post. As you can see my holidays rarely stop on the beach. I would rater rent a scooter to go check out the beach, stay there for some time, get bored and then go ride around the city/island to see what else is there.  Luckily I am not alone and I can share the adventure with like-minded Michao!

 

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Our Big Fat Indian Wedding- Part III: Sikh Wedding

 

Sikh Wedding was scheduled for the morning after Sangeet, and it was the last ceremony for us to attend. Because the only words that comes to my mind when I hear’ sikh’ are … turban and maharajah, I have done a small research on it:

Who are Sikhs..?

India has 28 culturally different states, more than 1600 spoken language, 9 religions and 1 billion people. Out of that- 21 milion are Sikhs.

Sikh” properly refers to followers of Sikhism as a religion, not an ethnic group. However, most Sikhs share strong ethno-religious ties, therefore many countries, such as the UK, recognize Sikh as a designated ethnicity on their censuses.

Sikhism is a panentheistic religion which originated during the 15th century in the Punjab region in Northwestern India. The term “Sikh” has its origin in the Sanskrit, meaning disciple, student or instruction.  A Sikh, according to Article I of the Sikh Rehat Maryada (the Sikh code of conduct), is “any human being who faithfully believes in One Immortal Being and Sikh holy book: Guru Granth Sahib– the teachings of the ten Gurus .

Sikhs who have undergone the khanḍe-kī-pahul (the Sikh initiation/baptism ceremony) are obligated to wear the ‘five Ks’ (panj kakaar) – 5 articles of faith.

  • Kesh: Uncut hair, usually tied and wrapped in a Dastar (turban)
  • Kanga: A wooden comb, usually worn under a Dastar(how convienien!) 😀
  • Kachera: Cotton undergarments, historically appropriate in battle due to increased mobility when compared to other traditional garment-  dhoti. Worn by both sexes, the kachera is a symbol of chastity.
  • Kara: An iron bracelet, a weapon and a symbol of eternity
  • Kirpan: An iron dagger in different sizes. In the UK Sikhs can wear a small dagger, but in the Punjab they might wear a traditional curved sword from one to three feet in length.

The symbols represent the ideals of Sikhism: honesty, equality, fidelity, meditating on God and never bowing to tyranny.


Awaiting for the bride and groom at the temple

Sikh Temple is called Gurdawara  ( “the doorway to the guru”). We were sited in reception hall on the first floor ( the actual praying room is on the 2nd floor). Awaiting for the groom and bride, we had some time to enjoy cold&re-freshening fruit juice and some -traditionally over-offered – fancy starters.

SOME people used that time to the fullest… :

::Hot Indian noon is not for everybody, especially if you were dancing to the Bollywood beat until 2am the previous night ::

::: aaand the hats are back:D: Dress-code for today- Sikh wedding outfits should be modest but brightly colored ::

::: drinks section of the amazing buffet: fresh coconuts (by the waiters) and some cold juice drinks (at the back) :::

::: Buffet getting ready for after-the-wedding lunch for the guests -no meat or alcohol is served at this event as the celebration takes place at the Sikh Temple:::


Maharajah entrance!

 ::: we could hear the loud grooms procession from afar…:::

Shikha arrived first in a boring luxurious car, whereas Aman…

::: the temple entrance and decorations :::

… had a true Maharajah entrance… !:D

Groom leaves his home to the wedding venue on a decorated white ghodi (horse) (but the more extravagant Sikh can also choose an elephant!).

All the way from his house, his family members led the way in a big procession (Baarat) with a lot of pomp, including: music, orchestra and dance.

The groom is covered in finery and do not usually take part in the dancing and singing; that is left to the baraatis or people accompanying the procession. The term baraati is also more generically used to describe any invitee from the groom’s side.

Traditionally Sikh groom must wear a beard (!), turban, sehra (headdress ) and carry a kirpan (ceremonial sword).

::: no such thing as too much gold;) :::

Along with the groom sits Sarabala – his ‘best man’, usually a younger brother, cousin or nephew, and acts as his caregiver or protector. How come a small boy is supposed to be a caregiver of a grown-up groom…?

In the old days, while the wedding procession- along with its valuables -was on the way to the bride’s village, they would be prone to robbers attacks . Therefore, the concept of Sarbala was introduced to assure the groom’s safety. Often times the groom would get killed and the Sarabala would end up marrying the bride. The tradition continues till date, without having any practical use. Whereas, during the olden days grown-up men were involved and were expected to ensure a safe baraat and wedding,  as times have changed, the Sarbalas have turned younger.  Sarabla is dressed in the same attire as the groom, which nowadays makes him look like a cute, miniature version of the groom.

::: Perfect Maharajah Look, from tip to toe- check out Aman’s shoes!:::

What is hanging in front of Aman’s face? Is this on purpose..? Surprisingly- yes! It is a traditional headdress worn by Indian grooms, called Sehra. It typically comprises a head adornment that has garlands hanging covering the groom’s face.  This decorative groom’s veil, can be made either out of flowers or beads and is tied or stitched to the groom’s turban. Sehras are a part of the rich heritage and these days it is trendy to wear ethnic accessories to give a different look.  As you can see, the lightweight beads are the latest trend (set by the Bollywood starts and their real-life wedding of course).

Wearing a Sehra adds royal splendor to the groom’s overall look and it also adds an element of mystery as his face is veiled – much like the bride’s face :D.  The other purpose of the Sehra is to protect the groom from… the evil eye.

When the baraat arrives at the wedding venue, a ceremony known as the milni (literally, meeting or merger) is carried out, in which equivalent relatives from the groom and bride’s sides greet each other. This usually begins with the two fathers, followed by the two mothers, then the siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins; even distant relatives are included in the milni, which symbolizes the unification of the two clans.


The Wedding ceremony

Upon the couple arrival, we moved the party upstairs – a proper prayer place where everybody has to take off  the shoes and cover their heads before entering. Men wear turbans, and women were using either the part of their serees or a separate shawl (dupatta).

We were seated on the carpet floor – women to the left side, men to the right. Out of all ceremonies that one was resembling our church wedding the most, with the priest behind the altar, reading from the holy book, serious religious singing and sleeeepy atmosphere…

::: another example of how crazy was the previous -Sangeet- night :::

First,  hymns (kirtan) were sung as the Shikha and Aman sat in front of the Sikh holy book – Guru Granth Sahib. The hymns ask God to keep this occasion and ceremony pure, untainted. Then the granthi (Sikh priest) performed the Anand Karaj (the central ceremony). This consists of readings from the writings of the fifth Sikh guru, Guru Arjun Dev.

The ceremony is conducted in four parts, each one dedicated to different religious aspect: the karma, the dharma or faith, the trust that grows out of practicing one’s dharma or faith and finally the blessings of the Guru. After each part, the couple pays obeisance to the Guru Granth Sahib and circles (lavan) the Holy Book, signifying the union of the husband and wife and their journey together (this time it was Sikha who was clueless and had no idea what to do:) ). The ceremony was concluded by a ritual of special prayers: Ardaas ,Shukrana and Hukunama. 

:::The wedding is official over- now it’s time to eat (again;) ) and take pictures with the bride and groom…:::


after the wedding

After the Sikh wedding, we were served vegetarian lunch, next to the special booth were the smiley bride&groom were patiently taking pictures with every single family member.  After we got our turn, we hopped to the bus and went back home to change for sightseeing ( or for Singaporeans – shopping)

::: Singapore-family photo <3 :::

To finish-up, I can’t stress enough how amazing was to submerge into completely different world of Mumbai Weddings. The heat, the people, the food, the music but also- the magical, colorful, Indian-princess-like outfits were one-of-a-kind experience. So, to celebrate that, and because I could not decide which picture to choose, here are some more snaps of my amazing gold-blue saree that I borrowed from Nihar* (thank you Nihaaaaar!!!).

* No, Nihar does not secretly wear sarees- it was his moms. For anybody going to India that does not have Indian friends (yet), or if you are just curious what are the options, here’s an awesome portal to rent top Indian outfits : click! ( for men and women!)

::: My amazing saree with ‘impressed’ boys… ::: * after this we had to switch and do the same pose for them…:/::: …. Beishi :* :::

::: … Monika :* :::

::: … and the hotel’s balcony :* :::

 


 

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Our Big Fat Indian Wedding- Part II: Sangeet!

“The word Sangeet  means music, but when it is used as a term to describe a celebratory event during an Indian wedding it translates to Music Night or Musical party. This musical night is a celebration of the union of not only the couple but the bonding of both families. It is here that both sides bring down their barriers and mingle in a fun environment.” [1] Sounds familiar?:) Yes- its an Indian version of what we all know as a wedding reception.  I am often surprised how similar other cultures are to mine, and celebrating Sangeet in Mumbai felt like a fun alternate universe. Everything was stunningly similar but… with an Indian twist!

1. The dress code.

Let me start with something most obvious…  Being a guest at a wedding normally means dressing-up accordingly to the occacion –  elegant,  formal, rather in neutral tones, right? Well, in India there in no such thing as neutral tones, but wait to see their version of elegant outfit :

::: one of the most fun experience for us was just to wear those amazing outfits!:::

::beautiful bride and groom::

Before coming to India we got instructions from Shikha, that for this night we should prepare an Indian outfit that is both: sexi and convenient to dance in.  Also, that this is the night to show off, and we should wear the most colorful and blingiest clothes and jewelry. Shikha recomeded Lengha – for girls-  an elegant crop top paired with long skirt, and Kurtha -for boys- a knee-length shirt and tight pants ( so tight that at the end of the party – after all the crazy dancing- boys where comparing who has the biggest holes in them:P!)

*fun fact* all the Western boys were wearing Indian outfits, whereas Indian men went for… western style shirts and suit pants!

*fun fuct no2* guess what I wore …  I finally managed to get somebody to dress me in my amazing saree, only to find out, that its the most inconvenient thing I could wear for the occasion! I was walking like geisha throughout the whole party, and was almost unable to perform our dancing routine…

2. Dance performances … by family members and friends (yup-that’s us)

I got used to see the bride&groom performing the first dance to some romantic song, while all the guest are watching , but … it never came to my mind that hey, why the friends and family wont get some limelight and perform as well??

Shikha taught us 3 different routines-one for all of us, when we ‘introduce’ the couple to the party, one for girls only and another for boys only. The rehearsals started few weeks before the wedding and ended… 5min before the show.

We managed to click a few (before-all-the-drinks) fancy photos, grab a drink for courage and… all the Indian eyes were on us. Yes- we danced at an Indian wedding in front of an Indian crowd…wait-for-it…  bollywood style! Moreover, we danced at the very beginning, when everybody was still paying attention. It turned out that many family members wanted to warm themselves in a spotlight for a few minutes – in pairs (wife-husbands), trios (parents+kid), same-sex groups and many many other combos…

::: Shikha and Aman performing their first dance – Bollywood style of course!:D :::
:::female cousins performing their dance::: 

:: the scariest and most fun moment of the wedding- entering the stage to dance in Bollywood style in front of Indians…::

3. Food and Booze

The food is always one of the best part of the wedding ceremonies. We know Indian food already from Singapore, but of course, when catered in India by the best in the industry, it is unbelievably tasty! Free flow of fancy (or just pure alcohol) drinks made everybody let loose (if the funky Indian beat didn’t do the job already).

4. Dancing on the open floor 

This was a time to go crazy and release all the energy we have left to the funkiest and loudest Bollywood music!

::last ones on the dancefloor- yay!:D::

::Nihar posing on the Young Couple Seat, from which they watched the performances::

The biggest surprise was that the party finished quite early ( ok, Im Polish, so for me 1-2am is early, since Polish wedding can last up to 7-8am..;). Michao was particularly disappointed and wanted to keep parting and go clubbing, but most of peops preferred to go to sleep and …not being a zombie the next morning on the Sikh Wedding…

 

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Our Big Fat Indian Wedding- Part I: Hindu Wedding !

India!

So far there was no reason for us to come here, UNTIL we got invited to our fiends wedding. Together with bunch of people from Singapore we landed in Mumbai for a crazy weekend,full of beautiful ceremonies, traditional parties and luxurious Indian food.

Since we are lucky, we got to experience not 1 but 2 Indian weddings, because the young couple comes from families of different religions- Shika is Hindu and Aman is Sikh.

First on the agenda was Hindu Wedding in the morning. Michao claimed, that it was only for family members, but when I came down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast, everybody was already dressed (or semi dressed) in Indian outfits. I swallowed my food quickly, run upstairs and put on a simple dress- my saree had to wait until I have some more time for preparations (saree is actually a long strip of material that is supposed to be wrapped around the body in a very particular way, which takes at least 15min and 2 Indian girl-friends).  The ceremony started soon after that, and continued for few hours. Although we didn’t understand what was going on for the most of it, it was nice to look at (especially that there was a professional camera filming all the rituals closed-up, so the guests could watch the details on the screens, placed in the seating area). Take a look!


I. Hindu Wedding!

::me and my own Indian- Michao::

::the hall of our hotel turned into a wedding reception. The main function took place in the room in the background::

::no idea what was happening here ::

:: the Singaporean team! Large but superfun group of young-couple’s friends::

::Aman’s looking rather hesitantly… He was laughing throughout the whole ceremony, which we took as a sign of happiness. Only later he explained, that as a Sikh (not Hindu) he doesn’t know this ceremony very well, and wasn’t sure what to do next and if he does things correctly::

::performing small hindu wedding rituals in front of an open fire – in the hotel room..?why not:P ::

::the strangest and most contrast thing to the western weddings, was the overall chaos. The guest were coming in and out of the hall, eating, talking and taking pictures as they wish::

::some more rituals..::

::how beautiful are their wedding outfits? I was absolutely blown away!::

::yup- that ceremony was veeeery long…::

::Just Married! at least for Shikha’s side of family::

::Finally! 😀 Time for congratulations…::

::Happy bride:)::

::… and selfies with the beautiful bride:: 

The rest of that day we spend on sightseeing – check out the last post! –


II. Mehendi, or ‘henna party’

The next day, girls woke up early for so-called Mehendi. Thinking that it would be rather small affair (only girls were initially invited and it was around the lunchtime), I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a giant ball room in a 5* star hotel, opposite the place we were staying. It housed not only dreamy ‘tents’ with colorful curtains for the henna painters, but also a bar, dance floor, set of dining tables and huge amounts of food in the adjacent room. What started as a henna painting, quickly turned into crazy party with free-flow of drinks and wild dancing! And all that before the actual Wedding Party (‘Sangeet’),  that was supposed to happen later in the evening…

::My first henna party! Indian henna is actually a dark-brown paste that dries out and fall off leaving the orange paint (and smell!) on the skin for about 2 weeks. The most difficult part of this experience is to leave the henna to dry, which meant not to touch anything for 2hrs- not even a cup of fresh coffee served to you by the waiter!::

:::the patterns are improvised and different every time::

::the party getting started – can you spot the bar at the background? Apparently it is not only Polish wedding, where people start to ‘have fun’ from the early morning;D::

::what you can’t see here is a large delicious buffet in the adjacent room …::

::…so not only you can enjoy delicious drinks but also that amazing Indian food – unlimited…  yum but also – ouch!::

::surprise no 23846: disco lights and fun club music, with the western songs mixed into Indian style- it was awesome! If you haven’t clicked  in the beginning of the post, here’s your second chance: ::

::drinking,eating, dancing – and all that around the lunch time, BEFORE the actual wedding party…::

::the young couple finally arrives in yet another set of insanely beautiful outfits::

:: yes- I am somewhere there , can you see me..?:P::

::who said that the ‘photo opportunity swing’ is for  couples pics only? Michao socializing & making new Indian friends after few drinks..::

:: Beishi got tired;) and guys could not miss the photo opportunity..::


This would be enough for me already but (!) few wedding ceremonies were still ahead of us. Including: Sangeet, where we dance an Indian dance in front of actual Indians, official party in a groom’s house in the centre of Mumbai and the Sikh wedding…

Part II coming soon!

 

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This time pics not only by us but also whole bunch of people- thanks to all the friends that shared their pic in the whatsapp group!:*:*:*