It was an invite to a wedding that inspired Gary Holden and his wife Leanne to travel to India for three weeks in December 2013. But travelling to this colourful part of the world was a big step for the former military man, as he had been diagnosed with Sudden Adult Death Syndrome after collapsing in Edinburgh in 2008 – leading to the fitting of an Implantable Cardiac Device (ICD).
Gary, who lives in Nottingham, told Staysure: “At the time I was exceptionally fit, having left the military after a 30 year career just a few weeks earlier. The consultant’s advice was no physical exertion, ever again. I had to give up everything: scuba diving, karate, rugby and mountain rescue. I threw my bucket list away, it was Hunstanton (a quiet coastal town) for me now.
“But one item on my bucket list always stayed with me – India. As an army man I had a deep interest in the Raj British Military History. Then my wife got invited to a friend’s wedding in India. The medical advice had always been to make sure my ICD is supported by the local medical services, wherever you go. As luck would have it the wedding was in Pune, which is full of top universities and outstanding hospitals. I remained very worried about the flight, but plucked up the courage to give it a go. After a great deal of very careful planning, including Comprehensive insurance, we flew to India shortly before Christmas – the wedding was on 26th December.”
The plucky pair arrived a week before the wedding and headed to India’s deep south, to a state called Kerala, where they enjoyed two nights on a rice boat. Popular with Indian couples on their honeymoons, Gary and Leanne had wanted to do this for years.
Gary, who now works as a project manager in the NHS, said that this was the highlight of the trip.
“It was fabulous, there were hundreds of these rice boats floating around,” said the dad of two.
“There’s nothing to distract you (and no alcohol). There was an abundance of birds everywhere – it was tremendous. There’s a captain and a chef, and the chef is constantly feeding you with little knick-knacks. You just sit there watching life go on, passing little villages and watching people going about their everyday life.
“We watched people coming down to the river and preparing a fish for dinner, washing, shaving and you just drift on by and see it all. In any other way you’d feel like you were spying but as you are floating past it was okay. They seemed very much happier with so much less and you kind of envy that.”
After two relaxing nights on the rice boat they made their way to Pune to get fitted for their traditional Indian wedding attire, which is a process that can take several days.
Gary said: “We spent a few days getting fitted with a different outfit for each day. For the men the outfit was very simple. I wore what could be described as a granddad-collar shirt that almost goes to the floor, with pyjama bottoms, sandals and a silk scarf. We just thought if you’re going to go all the way to India for a friend’s wedding, we may as well do it properly. And we enjoyed the experience a lot more because just shopping for the outfits was fun in its own right.”
As for the four-day wedding, it was ‘theatrical’, ‘colourful’ and ‘fabulous’, according to Gary.
He recalled: “We had the most wonderful time, there’s quite a process to it. The first day was the bride’s day, which was like a wedding reception here. All afternoon and through the evening all the guests have to perform. It’s a bit like Britain’s Got Talent and everyone has a slot. We had to dance on stage. All relatives had to do it and you had various aunties up there too. No one laughed, it was all quite endearing. We did a rendition of Queen, Abba and a Christmas carol.
“The second day was the groom’s do, and everyone had to do their party piece. We were given a few minutes of preparation and then had to do a traditional Hindu dance, I’ve not seen any videos on YouTube but I’m pretty sure I was not very good at it. It was quite entertaining.
“Then on the third day was the wedding proper, it was in a garden under a gazebo, but it was much prettier than that. There were a lot of traditions and in a sense it was very theatrical. The groom pretends to walk away and one of the brothers has to run after him and bring him back. Then later the bride gets the opportunity to run off and the groom has to go and get her. It goes on for hours like this with all the family sitting around watching. I’m not sure at which point they actually got married, but we had these little printed out cards to let all the foreigners know what was going on. It was just fabulous.”
Gary added that on day four they had a traditional wedding reception, while the celebrations were then extended by a fifth day after one of the bride’s brothers unexpectedly announced his plans for his wedding.
After the celebrations, the couple caught a train to Goa, so they could watch the sunset and see in the New Year on the beach.
“That was what it was really about,” said Gary.
“We wanted to be on one of those overcrowded trains that everyone’s seen. It was trundling along at 25 mph, and what a way to see the country. There were people hanging off the roof! We didn’t sleep much as life was going on all around us, people were walking up and down the train selling stuff. But it was going so slowly, it was a quite journey.
“Goa was marvellous. We didn’t go for the party as we are not really party people. We just sat on the beach and watched the sun go down. In India, it was lovely to see the sun come up and set – it’s the nicest part of the day watching the dancing light. The country just lends itself to sitting with your feet in the water and watching the sunrises and sunsets, which we did a lot of.
“I was also able to visit one or two hill forts by car. I regretted the lost opportunity to hike those hills, but nonetheless, it was so much more than I thought I would ever do again.”
While at the wedding Gary got chatting to one of the guests who gave him some great advice for people who are thinking of visiting India.
Gary continued: “He told me that because India is such a massive place you need to theme your trip. By that I mean choose something you like such as culture, history, architecture, temples or food, and if you theme it then it will help you work out where you should go. There’s so many wonderful things to do out there and you need to work out what’s for you and what’s not.”
And as for why he chose Staysure for his medical travel insurance, he said it was a recommendation from his support group that he attended after being diagnosed with Sudden Adult Death Syndrome.
“I had trouble getting insurance,” said Gary.
“There are not many companies that would insure me reasonably. But Staysure was one of the ones that did give me a sensible quote.”
And when asked if they would ever visit India again, he said yes.
He added: “But there’s a hesitancy as we are 52 and there’s so many other fabulous places to go to now that I have more confidence. On our next trip we plan to go around New Zealand in a campervan and I’d love to visit America. Obviously with my heart complaint I will be less able to travel sooner than I otherwise might have. It’s a degenerative complaint so for the minute while we can I want to visit the far-away places.”
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