If I'm honest, I've always had a great deal of anxiety when it comes to photographing weddings, which is why I generally try and avoid them at all costs. However, mid-way through the year I received a message from my close cousin, Conor, asking me if I'd like to have the privilege of photographing his upcoming wedding to his wonderful fiancé, Mendy. As well as helping out family, this wedding had an extra incentive; it would be held in Goa, India. My bags were packed before I'd even sent my reply!
Friday 7th October: once I checked in at Heathrow and waved goodbye to my girlfriend (who I must mention was extremely supportive about me flying out to India, which subsequently meant that I would miss her birthday), it suddenly dawned on my that in 24 years this was the first time I'd travelled solo. With airport Wi-Fi archaic at best, I did the only logical thing you can do when waiting for a flight; hit the bars!
(Breakfast consisted of fresh coconuts, which cost us around 20p!)
I arrived at Goa Airport somewhat bleary eyed the following day at 6am, carrying what seemed like a ton of camera equipment with me. A nice chap carried my bags to the exit, and then proceeded to demand 1000 rupees (more or less £10) for a 50 yard journey. I've never been one to be very good at standing my ground, so suffice to say that baggage handler did very well out of me. If by chance you happen to be reading this blog post, I hope you invested that money wisely. Luckily, across the sea of taxi drivers I spotted a familiar face. Conor met me at the airport to take me to our hotel, despite a heavy night of drinking with the in-laws!
(Gigalo, one the three resident hounds at the wedding venue, Vivenda Dos Palhaços)
(Also at Vivenda Dos Palhaços, a stunning 12m fresh water swimming pool fed from a nearby well)
Determined to combat the jet lag, I decided to power through to the evening to reset my body clock. So I found myself needlessly wandering around the hotel waiting for everyone to wake up. I got chatting to one of Mendy's friends who had travelled 12 hours on a train from the other side of India (Pune)!
(My close friend Ronan and his girlfriend, Monica)
Fast forward to the evening and we all decided to have a big meal with the whole group. It was so amazing to hear how far some people had travelled to make the wedding. Mendy's mum for example lives in Bhutan. During the off-peak season there's no direct flights from Bhutan, so she had to fly all the way down to Thailand just to get a connecting flight to Goa (check Google Maps to see how mental that is)! Mendy has a great group of friends, and it was lovely to see how welcoming they were.
The next day we took a trip down to Palolem, a beach in Canacona in the south of Goa where we would later move to after the wedding. Palolem is an incredible place, a vast coastline surrounded by dense jungle. Just picture a scene from The Beach (if you've ever watched it). We spent the day exploring the street market which was the one thing I was adamant we should do during our trip. It's a photographer's dream! The enticing smell of all the herbs & spices on sale lure you in to the stalls where the vendors will insist that what they have on offer is exactly what you need to buy. Needless to say I came away with a lot of stuff I didn't intend on buying! Mum, if you're reading this, I hope you enjoy the year's supply of Masala tea I bought you!
(A street vendor preparing us coconuts. This man wakes up at the crack of the dawn to collect coconuts in order to sell them.)
(Me trying to look cool...)
(Health and safety seems to be a term that has been lost in Palolem!)
The day of the wedding arrived, and this for me is when the anxiety and stress starts to settle in. However, this was probably the most chilled out wedding I've ever photographed, which quickly put my mind at ease. I sat and had breakfast with Mark & Karen (Conor's parents), before we made our way down to the wedding venue, a beautifully unique place called Vivenda Dos Palhaços. Situated in the peaceful village of Majorda, Vivenda Dos Palhaços is run by Charlotte and Simon Hayward, an incredibly charming brother and sister originally from England who bought and renovated this 100-year old venue into the stunning place it has become.
If you're ever in Goa, I wholeheartedly recommend that you stay at Vivenda Dos Palhaços. Charlotte and Simon are two of the most friendly and hospitable people you will ever meet, and along with their amazing staff, you'll have an experience you'll never forget!
(The rain held off, and the team at Vivenda Dos Palhaços beautifully prepared the outside of the venue.)
(Mendy, sporting an awesome ACDC t-shirt, has her hair prepared on the morning of the wedding.)
(Conor and Mark's suit blazers.)
(Conor before the big event!)
(The whole venue was beautifully decorated throughout)
(Conor & Mark pose for a photo before Mendy made her way down the aisile.)
(Mendy looked amazing in her dress)
The area for the ceremony was exquisitely prepared. The concern was that it would rain throughout the entire day, but luckily the weather held out and it created a wonderful setting for the wedding. The staff really did an amazing job to put this all together.
I got chatting to the marriage officiant, and it turned out that she was originally from Brighton, but had moved to Goa ten years ago. Small world!
(A view from the aisle)
(Proud mother and sister)
(The ring exchange)
(The first kiss as Mr & Mrs Allen)
(Two families unite)
After the ceremony, I took them down to the local beach to get some couple shots. Simon insisted that we take (what I refer to as) the Vivenda-mobile, a three-wheel "Tuk Tuk" traditionally used as taxi's across most of Asia. What was amazing was that everybody from the village had congregated outside the venue to watch and offer their well wishes.
When we arrived at the beach, everybody wanted to have their photos taken with us, which was a surreal experience. I actually had one of the people add me on Facebook to share the photos he had taken on his phone. The internet is a crazy place!
(The best wedding car I've seen!)
(Off to the beach)
(The happy couple)
We made our way back to the venue as dinner was almost ready to be served. I'd been looking forward to this as it meant I could actually put my camera down and get to know some of the people around the table.
The food was out of this world! The guys at Vivenda did a stunning job providing us with such a wide selection, from whole suckling pig to red snapper. The barman even insisted on refilling my Jack Daniels & Coke personally. No need to leave the table, fantastic!
(Not suitable for vegetarians...)
(Conor and Mendy pose with the amazing food that the staff had prepared for the evening)
(The talented chefs at Vivenda Dos Palhaços personally bring their food to the table)
(Probably the tastiest wedding cake I've ever tasted!)
(Andrew, the "One Man Band" played some iconic hits throughout the evening)
(The new bride and groom pose with their wedding cake)
(Conor had prepared a brilliant speech to thank everyone who could make it)
(Mendy changed into traditional Bhutanese dress after the ceremony)
(A toast to the new Mr & Mrs Allen)
(The evening's entertainment!)
So what an incredible experience India was. Not only did I get to see my cousin marry his soulmate, I got to experience life on the other side of the globe. I will always be eternally grateful to Conor and Mendy for their generosity, and I hope that the photos serve as a fitting thank you for everything they did for me. I'll never forget it.