October 1st, 2015

Set Destination then I will say ‘Yes’ to marriage” is the chime we increasingly hear from younger couples seeking to take their wedding vows. Is it a fad? Is it convenient? Or is it simply romantic to be married in far-away exotic destinations? Amidst this conundrum, a few destinations constantly host wedding couples from all over the world… tracing what makes them special our food expert and travel writer ‘That Foodie Chick’ travels to the land of the maharajas to experience a royal wedding …..Let’s join her on this magical journey.

In a diverse country like India, one can have a perfect fairytale wedding at numerous breathtaking locations - from snowy mountains, historical forts, sandy beaches, cooling backwaters and more to make your wedding a memorable event. I feel a beautiful destination wedding catapults the couple and their friends and family away from their chaotic lifestyles into a charmed life – even for a few days.

Travelling to the city of royalty aka Jaipur the ‘Pink City,' is on top of the list of these ‘wedding destinations’. As one enters the city, you are instantly touched by its rich heritage, cultural offerings, stunning shopping, rare architecture and gorgeous palace hotels. Renowned for its food and music, the city also offers some of the best shopping for gems, fabrics, rare weaves which certainly piqued my attention. There are also some great wild life sanctuaries and the city and its outskirts are filled with romantic, charming palace hotels like Samode Palace, Havelli and Samode Bagh, Rambagh Palace - which offer provenance of rare heritage.

In juxtapose there are modern day luxury properties like the Fairmont, which played host to my friend’s wedding. Nestled in the majestic Aravalli hills, filled with tranquil gardens, breathtaking forts and stunning palaces this verdant green hotel adds to the city’s grandeur. On our arrival, we were met by Rajasthani folk dancers swinging to beautiful regional tunes; this set the note of excitement for the celebrations ahead. Commencing with a traditional Mehendi (Henna Ceremony) and Pool Party amidst twinkling lights we indulge in delicacies served under the shade of these neon shaded scenic tents.

The next day we took a whirlwind tour into the city, as the sun glistened off the pink shade of its walls adding a tint to our touristy eye. From the domed architecture to cobbled alleyways, Jaipur seems to resonate with wordless romantic tunes, echoing through its ancient forts, right to the warm hospitable smiles of the locals. Regal and iconic in every way, the grand Amber Fort sits on a hilltop as you enter the city’s gates; a grand representation of the Rajput style of architecture in white and red sandstone.

In the center is City Palace built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, which still resonates with regal beauty. Entering the many historical buildings Mubarak Mahal, Diwan-i-Khas, Diwan-i-Aam and Maharani Palace I couldn’t but notice how the Princess protects India’s living heritage. Visiting Govindjee Temple and Chandra Mahal, partially a museum and partially serving as main residence of the Princess, is a breathtakingly beautiful experience. I indulge in some artistic shopping buying Rajasthani artwork at the vast hall completely devoted to hosting local artisans and craftspeople under the royal patronage, another attempt to preserve the rich traditions of the land.

One of the most innovative architectural wonders of the world, the Jantar Mantar stands tall made from sandstone and marble, the sheer ingenuity of this ancient Indian astronomer’s structure amazes me. This sets the tone for the night to follow. The Moroccan themed sangeet held at the Grand Ball Room is filled with couples dressed in cocktail gowns and finery, dancing to Bollywood tunes.

Day 3, I slip on my walking shoes and head towards the spellbindingly beautiful Nahagarh Fort which offers a panoramic view of the city and is filled with elaborate living spaces including Madhavendra Bhawan. The architecture is a cursory nod to the Indo-European colonial style and an interesting feature is the Bawri aka stepwell where the royals went to pray, retreat and carry out their rituals.

MI Road, the central street, is a chaotic experience filled with stores offering touristy shopping and kitsch curios. I preferred the side lanes filled with real artisans who are happy to customize items - like kulhads (clay glasses), beautiful hand rolled bangles, juttis (soft leather shoes). I fell in love with Silver Art and Palace and Jaipur Gems. I also liked the leather crafts, the weavers, mirror work craftspeople and the wood carvers who produced some of the finest wares. This long day whipped up my appetite for wholesome Rajasthani delicacies like onion kachoris and dal choorma. I liked Choki Dani which offers traditional hospitality with song and dance. For a quick bite, Laxmi Bandar is well known for its awesome thalis, snacks and sweet delicacies.

The next morning, I wake up to the trumpeting of a beautifully decorated elephant carrying a handsome groom in full finery with his family, friends (aka baratis) doing a frenzied dance routine, led by dholwallas (drummers) moving to collect the beautiful bride. Not to be outdone, the bride makes a grand entrance as a Modern Maharani in a royal palanquin accompanied by four male family members dressed as warriors. Both bride and groom meet, greet and wear each other a jaimala (exchanging of garlands) and then walk towards the stage where the pious phera ceremony begins with the sounds of holy chanting.

If a ‘Jodha-Akbar’ style wedding is your dream, this is the perfect destination to make it come true.

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