I’ve wanted to go to India for a very, very long time. In my head I’ve always thought I’d go for an extended trip, a few months or so – the country is so vast and there’s an unbelievable amount to see, so I never really considered a holiday there, assuming I’d need longer to satisfy any sort of craving. That said, sometime last year I was musing on the idea of going to Goa to do a smaller, more manageable chunk of India using my annual leave, to get a taste of the place. Imagine my delight when a potted palm with an incense stick shoved in its soil landed on to my doorstep, inviting me to celebrate my friends Hannah and Adam’s wedding in Goa.
Whilst I haven’t written one of my usual travel guides due to the nature of my week in Southern India celebrating Jungle Wedding: drinking all the drinks (seriously, a new cocktail menu every day, this is Hannah after all), laughing constantly and countless renditions of the Pina Colada song, I wanted to share some memories and photos from my time there because they are too happy and colourful not to share.
We arrived on the Sunday after a mammoth twenty-something hour journey from South East London to Goa via Heathrow and Mumbai on a plane with no gin, heading off the lack of sleep with some well deserved Kingfisher beers in the infinity pool at our hotel. A few hours later we somehow made ourselves look human for a welcome cocktail party under palms and festoon lights, where I ate the best biryani of my life thanks to Giles, Shagun and the incredible team at Coco Shambhala. Hannah gave an amazing who’s who speech welcoming us and introducing us all, which meant that the excellent story about her getting punched by a monkey at sunrise during our time on Gili T once again got the airtime it so rightly deserves.
The next day the girls and guys split for a mini stag and hen, hangovers and jet lagged being seen off with some kayaking in the river where I found out too late that they were in fact NOT joking about crocodiles being a thing there. By ‘too late’ I mean I was already in the kayak. Had I known, I wouldn’t have got in the water because I am TERRIFIED, and I mean terrified of crocs. Happily we all survived with limbs in tact: we didn’t see any crocodiles, no one fell in and my arms got a surprisingly good work out.
The afternoon brought all of the fun at Coco Shambhala, which had been beautifully decked out in stunning tropical flowers and colourful bunting. We drank gin and St Germain elderflower cocktails whilst we were decked in bindis and our arms decorated with traditional mehndi.
Later, gin happy and covered in flowers, henna and bangles we headed to the beach to meet the guys for a sunset BBQ, beer pong and to dip our toes in the sea.
On Tuesday we donned our brightest colours and tropical prints to celebrate the main event – our wonderful friends tying the knot in their happy place. We were taken to the beach in tuk tuks for the most gorgeous ceremony which I essentially bawled my way through until we were handed absolutely gigantic tequila shots after the most beautiful of vows. (I’ll leave you to check out Joanna Nicole Photography’s incredible photos from the day as none of mine will ever do it justice!)
After mojitos and margaritas, the Jungle Wedding reception kicked off with champagne at Coco Shambhala, where on arrival so much incense was wafted through the grounds you honest to God felt like you were walking onto a magical film set.
Alas, destination wedding or English countryside, the one thing you cannot control is the weather, and before long the most conveniently timed storm of all time rolled in to bring a new meaning to the song we sang all week: “I like pina coladas…and getting caught in the rain”! It couldn’t have happened to a more chilled couple and the team at Coco worked outrageously hard to move the entire wedding breakfast inside to one of the villas whilst we cracked on with the speeches and more drinks.
Of course, no destination wedding worth its salt is complete without a recovery pool party with plenty of Aperol Spritz and an array of nineties and early 2000’s RnB tunes courtesy of the best man’s DJing skills.
After the wedding festivities were (sadly) over we all headed to Aswem beach for recovery time at the gorgeous, rustic Palm Grove Beach Resort. Beautifully designed with wicker chairs and lamp shades everywhere (you can see where the inspiration for The Well in Margate comes from), the beach huts are shaded by palms, incense wafting down the pathway to the beach every day at sundown. Absolute bliss, despite Delhi belly finally hitting me.
Storms rolled in with the most dramatic of skies before pelting it down, everyone drinking through the torrential rain at the beach bar – the absolute best way to handle a tropical rainstorm.
Those famous pink sunsets make a day on a plane oh so worthwhile.
On our final afternoon some of us took a taxi to a local market around forty minutes away to bulk buy the incense and wander around, where I was in my absolute element.
Piles of pomegranate and grapefruit, coconuts and mangoes. Sacks overflowing with red chillies and bags of turmeric and cascades of star anise. Orange, yellow and white flowers brightening up every corner.
I satisfied my street food craving with the best bhel puri I’m ever likely to have for the grand total of 30p (until I get myself back to India, that is).
We made it back to Palm Grove in time for what looked like it would be an average sunset, the sun sinking below clouds far above the horizon. Instead we were given a wash of powder pink unlike I’ve ever seen before, and we all ran into the sea one last time. I couldn’t have asked for a more fitting end to one of the best weeks I’ve ever had.
Until next time, India. You’ve got me.