The fact that we were going to be flying across the country to a state that hardly anyone had visited for a wedding enthused many of my relatives. Either the fascination for visiting a new place or the excitement of trooping down in one big wedding party, we were nearly 40+ people flying down to Bhubaneshwar. However, my fears that everyone is out for a joyous picnic was completely unfounded as everyone’s excitement and joy regarding the wedding was palpable. After all, I was the eldest ‘kid’ on both sides of the family and there was a wedding in the family after more than 20 years. Even seeing Abhishek Bachchan at the airport wasn’t half as exciting for my cousin sis (and my aunt). And that is saying a lot since they are big AbhiAsh fans.
The wedding party flew to Bhubhaneshwar in two separate flights and we learned that even the most direct flight with Indian Airlines still halts at Raipur to unload and take in some passengers just like a S.T. bus would. Ash’s dad was at the airport to receive us accompanied by couple of Taveras (we would later need a mini bus) and escorted us to our hotel. We stayed at Tata’s latest chain of budget hotel, Ginger. If you haven’t seen one yet, this chain is modeled on the U.S.style of motels i.e. almost everything is self-service. You get luggage trolleys that you use to carry your own baggage. You check in and take it up to your room. There is no room service and if you have forgotten your toothbrush, you’ve to go down to the lobby vending machine to get one. I advice you to check the night before instead of trooping down in your nightwear. This is primarily a business hotel and everyone is up and about early in the morning. I’ll probably expand on the viability of the Ginger concept in a later post.
As Inkspillz has already anointed Ginger as Hotel from Hell, I’m sure we were partly responsible for making it so with the hustle-n-bustle that usually accompanies a wedding party. However, the rooms were clean, well-maintained, and the housekeeping staff was pleasant. One of them even kept my brother’s gold chain that he had carelessly forgotten in the bathroom, on the night stand. Rest of the wedding jewelery was stashed in the hotel rental lockers. The three buffets (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) were good with a variety of options for all people. It even had some local fare i.e. fresh water fish that everyone relished. We found it best suited to our convenience since it standardized the menu and made the food arrangements for our guests a whole lot simpler. Although a tad pricey, I realized that for the convenience in a new city, this was a small price to pay.
Bhubhaneshwar is a new planned state capital city much like Chandigarh and Gandhinagar except it has grown much more organically. Although the airport gives you the impression of the city being a one-horse town, it eventually opens up to you. The roads are wide, clean, and delineated with footpaths that no one uses. Although well planned, you cannot really change the traditional behavior of our dear Indian people. A simple road divider meant to regulate traffic simply makes people drive in the opposite direction and since everyone does it including our drivers, road rage is non-existing. Our hotel was in a business district that had other upscale hotel as well. We got married at Mayfair, touted as Bhubhaneshwar’s best hotel and it certainly looked the part. The older city which houses most of the historic temples of course are more chaotic and like other Indian cities with narrow roads and your stereotypical cows in the street. We are told that Bhubhaneshwar is trying to attract IT talent into the state and is developing special regions (we didn’t hear the SEZ word) for such business that have superior infrastructure. However, we never saw that region but I learned that the areas around those regions are appreciating quickly and prices are rising astronomically hence are posing to be lucrative options for investment.
The first day at Bhubhaneshwar was mostly spent in the hotel and taking in the sights in the evening. After being taken for a ride through Unit 1 and Unit 2 markets by the tourist drivers, Ash’s aunts rescued us in the evening by taking the ladies for their shopping needs. The shopping craze would continue for the rest of the trip since in India no trip is complete until you have shopped to death for local merchandise even if you could easily get it in Bombay. However, silver filigree artifacts and Orissa-style saris meant that every lady that flew in from Bombay had at least a couple of purchases first for herself and some more for her relatives and friends who couldn’t make it. Couple of more such weddings and I’m sure Orissa Economic Development Board might contemplate adding weddings in the state to the activities meant to boost local economy.
Amidst all the shopping and driving around, I nearly forgot we were in town for the wedding and more importantly, my wedding until one aunt spotted an ingredient for the next day’s haldi ceremony. Not that the ingredient wasn’t already bought back in Bombay but yet it was purchased to add to the reserves. I’m sure, we had enough ingredients for a rehearsal wedding as well.