I went to India for 12 days and had the time of my life. My brother was engaged and his wedding was going to take place in India. On a spontaneous whim I decided to join my family, saved, scored an amazing deal on my ticket, packed and left with quite a few tear. I will admit I was tentative and unsure what to expect, some people shared horror stories, others said it would be the most amazing journey. I asked for recommendations on my FB page and everyone gave great advice on where to go and what to eat. To be very honest I was expecting the worst but decided to go in with an open mind, a ton of dettol wipes and every type of medication I could squeeze into my vanity bag. Here’s how my trip unfolded….
We left on a Saturday morning from SA with a container filled with road foods and bags filled with gifts and wedding clothes. As mentioned, during Ramadaan we scored a fantastic deal on Air Seychelles (R4500 return). I completed my evisa application online and recieved it within a day. The airline was efficient, clean and communicated well, they do require lots of documentation like your evisa on check in and a you have to fill in a form regarding your health before you enter Seychelles. Their airline was very new, we were quite comfortable but food was not the greatest but I wasn’t phased as we had packed our own food and snacks. Landing in Seychelles was cool, the airport is small and quaint and right near the ocean. We had a very quick layover where we managed to freshen up, change and purchase some duty free chocolate.
Landing in Mumbai
We landed in the early hours of the morning in hot and humid Mumbai. I was really excited to set foot in another country further then I have ever been before. I was immediately amazed by how lovely the airport was and we cleared immigration very quickly. Outside chaos ensued as we had not yet purchased our sims and had to locate our driver to Surat. One of the porters somehow knew who we were looking for, located our driver and we made our way out of the airport. This was the toughest and most challenging part of our trip, a long journey by car to Surat. There was lots of traffic leaving Mumbai, rainy weather and our driver drove really slowly with constant hooting. We stopped at place called Fountain Cafe, where we had a light breakfast.
6 hours later we were travel weary, exhausted, stiff and hungry. Our hotel was a welcome relief and an oasis of calm in a busy street in Surat. We settled down and got ready for exploring and SHOPPING!
If I had to go back to India I would undoubtedly go back to Surat. I loved the vibe in the City, its chaotic but calm. Things seem very haphazard but there is a method to the madness. Surat is situated in the state of Gujrat, it is a dry state so no alcohol is served in public. I loved the people, the hospitality and I LOVED the shopping. We had a lot to do in the 4 days we were there. We had numerous invitations to visit family and friends, we wanted to see the gaams, we had to attend the wedding and also squeeze in as much shopping as we could! Exploring the streets was my favourite thing to do, we also felt quite safe.
Where we stayed: The Orange Hotel, the hotel was extremely budget friendly, the staff went out of their way to make us feel at home. This may seem silly but I was even fascinated by how much care they took in doing our laundry. The breakfast was strictly vegetarian and the had a nice variety of Gujrati foods. The location is also very busy, its right next to the train station. It was by far one of the most budget friendly hotels on our trip but the service was above and beyond anywhere else we had been, I would return time and time again.
What we ate: We had lots of invitations to family and friends so we didn’t eat out that much. On the recommendation of some of my followers we went to BBQ Nation and thoroughly loved the food there. Vegetarian food is readily available and delicious in Surat (try Sasumas) . I also had some of the best mithai I tasted on my trip at 24 Karat in Surat. Dumas mall also has some decent outlets, and nearby are some good fine dining options. Make up junkies, visit NYKAA instead of Sephora, their range of products are amazing!
What we shopped: Surat remained my favourite shopping destination on the trip. You can purchase the best Indian outfits here and its way cheaper then anywhere else (especially Mumbai). We shopped our Indian outfits at Lal Gate. Tip, if you’re plus sized get your outfits unstitched or purchase sari pieces to stitch back home. We also got lovely fabrics at the fabric bazaar, kitchenware, dresses, my brothers got tailored suits & trousers. Chota bazaar was a sensory feast and also so much fun, especially for trinkets and gifts. You need a lot of time for the shopping because at each shop they lay out item after item and only talk prices afterwards. Prices are fixed at the boutiques but you can negotiate at the textile markets and fabric stores. The bargaining is not as easy as it looks, we were lucky enough to have family friends with us to negotiate, also my brother spoke very fluent Gujrati so that made things much easier. Also, Surat was the best priced for all Indian outfits, the same outfits were ridiculously priced at Mumbai boutiques.
Getting around: The cheapest was Uber (cheaper then Ola) and the tuk-tuks for short trips.
I grew up in a traditional household, our culture and language are Indian. I knew about the gaams from my father’s anecdotes, he visited india 3 decades before me. I was also made very aware about the concept in the small town I lived in because where a lot of emphasis is put on this. In 2014 I was asked to MC the MAIK centenary where I did some research on my fathers gaam Kholvad. Knowing my heritage, and connecting with where my parents ancestors descended from is important to me. As I get older I want to know more about the stories of the people who form the tapestry of my unique DNA. I wanted to know where they came from and how they got to South Africa, and I wanted to see the land they left behind. I loved every second of walking through these gaams, seeing the people, interacting with the families and connecting with my roots. Having said this, I do not believe where your ancestors came from, inspire any type of pride or superiority complex. If anything it should humble you, to see where our ancestors came from and how brave they were to leave.
Where we went: My father’s family hail from Kholvad. From my moms side my Nani was from Simlak and my Nana from Kaphletha. Luckily all these gaams are within the same vicinity so getting to them was easy. We also visited family in Rander and made our way to Kohn for the the wedding. We spaced out our visits over 2 days, the longest visit was to Kholvad. We were hosted by family, explored the town, read salah at Kinara Masjid. Lunch was delicious Kurri Kitchri and our visited ended with a trip to the cemetery to make dua for all the deceased. In Kaphleta we went through the streets met a family who invited us to their home and made hagas (connections). We also drove by Dhabel madressa. In Simlak we visited the girls madressa where my mom met family and we had the tastiest orange ice cream. My son asked us to visit my late mother in laws gaam as well, so we did a quick drive through Lachpor. My mom was fascinated at how much some of the homes reminded her of houses in Fietas.
How we got there: For the majority of our visits we had family and friends fetch and drop us. However, when we went to Simlak, Dhabel, Kaphleta and Lachpor we arranged a car and driver with Salmaan. The driver was patient and allowed us time to explore and take lots of pictures off course 😉
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One of the reasons we went to India was because my younger brother was getting married. We were hosted by his in laws in our first experience of a proper gaam wedding. The wedding day was festive, we left the hotel, did a quick stop in Kholvad and finally got to the brides village. The atmosphere was so cheery, the village was small, animals roamed around and the waft of beryani cooking on the coals greeted us as we made our way to our hosts home. Tables were laid on the entire street as the entire village got involved in the celebration. We changed indoors and greeted our new sister in law/ daughter in law, she wore a gorgeous red lengha, mehndi and we adorned her with gifted jewellery . At the masjid the nikaah was being performed, they playfully hid my brothers shoes and negotiated a release. After all the locals had eaten the beryani we sat down to a meal of savouries, fried fish, green tikka chicken, kebabs, rotis, delcious falooda, sojee and other sweet treats. The bride then changed again into a light pink lengha, and reapplied her make up and redid her hair, as the sister in law I went with her as she changed and got an oppuritunity to break out my very bad gujrati skill. I was fascinated with the skill and precision of the local make up artist, all make up is applied expertly and by hand and during a power cut! The rains poured down as the couple exchaged garlands, rings and took pictures with almost everyone in the village. I was wandering around and popped into a local home where they brewed me a strong cup of black tea, the best I ever had as I spoke to them in broken Gujrati and figured out they’re familiar with my vlog (yes, really!).
The bride got ready to greet her family with tearful goodbyes as she embarked on a brand new adventure with my brother. I thoroughly loved every minute of the wedding. It was simple, but very enjoyable. I couldn’t help but reminisce about the weddings we have in South Africa, where no expense is spared. Attention to detail is meticulous, food is plentiful, everything is extravagant but most of the time devoid of real atmosphere and warmth. In this tiny village, where the inhabitants had the most simple homes and possessions, I felt a richness and warmth no money can buy.