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We both love to see, and, if possible, participate in, the festivals, celebrations, ceremonies and rituals held in the communities we visit. Our last visit to India was actually planned around festivals – Phool Waalon Ki Sair in Delhi, Diwali in Jaipur, since we’d read that Jaipur was the best place in India to be for Diwali, which takes place across the country, and the Pushkar Camel Fair.

But the serendipity began really in Bali. We like to be flaneurs, from the French to saunter, where we just set out to discover a place by following our feet. Wandering along one of the back streets of Ubud one day we saw some people making a big decoration at the entrance to a family compound. We stopped to ask about it, and as a result were invited to a day-long Balinese coming-of-age initiation: the tooth filing ceremony. What incredible luck to be able to attend that. There we met a guide who offered to take us to a wedding later in the day. Although the wedding was nearly over, we did get to see the bride and groom all dressed for the occasion.

Later we contacted a guide who, as part of a day out, took us to the second largest temple in Bali, where there just happened to be a huge two week long annual pilgrimage happening. After spending time in the temple, and conveying to our guide how moved we were by it, he invited us to join him and his wife as they made their pilgrimage to the most important temple a few days later. This time we were able to participate, since we had Ketut and his wife there as our sponsors, and to show us what we needed to do as part of the ritual. We were also able to witness the performances and dancing that only take place in that temple at that time of the year. What luck. The same guide also took us to witness a village cremation. So in Bali by pure serendipity we got to see a tooth-filing ceremony, a wedding, a cremation, and one of the most important religious ceremonies of the Balinese year.

I think the experience there somehow started something, some energy in the universe, because it keeps happening, over and over. So far. I take nothing for granted, and don’t want to jinx our luck.

So far, by pure luck, we’ve seen and/or attended a wedding in India, and two country weddings in Cambodia, one across the river from Phnom Penh, and one at Angkor Wat. We were invited to attend a huge family celebration being held at the family owned hotel we were staying at in Vientiane, Laos to farewell the owner’s brother and nephew into the monastery. In Myanmar we went, briefly, to two country weddings, one across the river from Yangon, and one in a Pa Oh village in the mountains near Inle Lake, and we happened to be in Mandalay at the time of an all day special full-moon celebration at Mahamuni Pagoda. Also in Myanmar I was lucky enough to see a race between two boats of leg-rowers on Inle Lake, and at a monastery near Mandalay we saw, and were invited to join in with, a large gathering of people dressed in their best clothes as if for a wedding. Only it was for seven boys who were dressed as “kings” in very shiny sparkly outfits, and who, by the end of the day, would have their heads shaved and become monks for a few weeks or months. A few days later, near Bagan, Myanmar, we came by chance, through a village holding the same ceremony only this time there were about fifteen or so boys, all on horse-back, and several girls in bullock carts, all dressed in fantastic regalia, all to become monks or nuns by the end of the day.

You can’t plan this stuff. We just seem to keep running into it. And I hope it continues. We do search it out somewhat – each place we visit we look for traditional performances and dances, but nothing compares with coming by chance upon a local ceremony, celebration or ritual. And almost always there’s an open invitation to join the party. Serendipity indeed.

I’ll write about all these events in more detail in future posts.

Photo of the day: Sleeping sausage seller, Bangkok. I believe he is sitting in front of his home.

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.