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There Were Bollywood Songs and Sitar Players at this Carmel Valley Wedding

By Patricia Garcia | Photography by 

Will T. Yang

Nikhil Lal, director of sales for Just for Wraps, and writer Sheila Marikar’s relationship started off as what you might call a slow burn. They met at Cornell University and were friends for a long time, but didn’t start dating until 2015, a full decade after they had graduated college.

Two and a half years later, Sheila and Nikhil went to visit his family in India. “Like him, I’m a first generation Indian American, but my parents are from the south, and his are from the north,” she explains. “I hadn’t seen much of north India before. He organized a luxurious tour through Rajasthan that ended at Lake Palace, an 18th-century palace in the middle of a lake in Udaipur.” On their last night there, they went up to the terrace, for what Sheila assumed was a pre-dinner drink. “Indeed there were drinks, but not until after he got down on one knee at the rose petal strewn terrace and proposed.”

As wine lovers based in Los Angeles, the couple knew they wanted to get married on a vineyard and initially set their sights on Napa and Sonoma. But after failing to find a venue large enough to accommodate their big families, they went on a weekend getaway to Carmel Valley and discovered Folktale Winery and Vineyards. “It checked all the boxes: rolling vineyard, epic barrel room, a greenhouse that would be the ideal venue for the pre-wedding Sangeet (the night of music and dancing that precedes a Hindu wedding). There was even a chateau on property were we could house older relatives,” Sheila says. They set the date for May 12, 2018 and hired Charley King of Bluebell Events for help with the planning and execution.

Sheila and Nikhil decided to shop for their wedding outfits in India, where there’s a much larger selection of lehengas (traditional Hindu bridal dresses) and achkans/sherwanis (for grooms). A friend of Sheila’s suggested designers Falguni and Shane Peacock, who’ve created outfits for Beyoncé and Rihanna in the past. The couple met Falguni Peacock at her Mumbai atelier and she had the bride try on a few samples. “The blush pink lehenga with pearl and foil appliqué felt right from the moment I put it on;  appropriate for a daytime vineyard wedding and the evening dancing that would follow,” she says. She bought all of her jewelry from a New Delhi store with her in-laws, while Nikhil found his eggshell-tone achkan in the Indian capital, too. (Sheila, who is working on her first novel, wrote about her wedding dress shopping experience for the New York Times.)

For the Sangeet celebration, Sheila wore a peacock blue gown with a mesh back and intricate beading, which she found in Old Delhi. “It felt very Game of Thrones, a totally different vibe from my wedding day look,” she adds. Her bridesmaids were all dressed in pale green, off-the-shoulder lehengas that were sourced in Jaipur, while groomsmen were in tuxedos.

In May, the wedding day festivities kicked off with the baraat, a parade to welcome the groom, led by Nikhil’s family and friends. “While Hindu grooms often ride in on an elephant or horse, Nikhil chose a vintage Porsche for his grand entrance,” says Sheila. The parade started from the chateau and made its way up Folktale’s central courtyard, where the bride’s family was waiting to bless the groom and his family.

After waiting at nearby greenhouse with her bridesmaids, it was time for Sheila to walk down the aisle, while accompanied by her elder cousin Raghu. “My father passed away ten years ago, and Raghu is one of my closest ‘uncles,’” she explains. A sitar player, Ronobir Lahiri, who specializes in pop music covers, provided the music and for the bride’s walk down the aisle, he played a rendition of Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be.” “One of our favorite things to do is watch music videos,” says Sheila. “It was a cool way to weave the songs we love into our heritage.”

After exchanging garlands of roses (a ritual called Jai Mala), their pandit led the couple in a series of prayers and rituals, including walking around a fire several times. The ceremony closed with the couples exchanging rings and reading vows to each other, which they had written themselves.

Once the ceremony had concluded, guests headed inside for a family style meal catered by Aabha, a modern Indian restaurant in Carmel. The couple worked with the chef to offer guests some of their favorite dishes, including chicken tikka masala, lamb rogan jhosh, crispy okra, and masala jackfruit.

Family and friends gave toasts throughout the dinner, but the most memorable speech by far, for Sheila, came from Nikhil’s 97-year-old grandfather, a world renowned archeologist, who traveled all the way from Delhi to attend the wedding. “He spoke, impromptu, about his love for his family and how delighted he was to be able to attend his first grandson’s wedding,” she adds.

The reception also included plenty of dancing. “After an hour and a half long cocktail hour by the vineyards, we kicked off our reception with dancing to a mix of DJ curated hip hop and Bollywood hits,” Sheila says. “Everyone flooded the dance floor the minute we asked them to, after the first dance. [To UB40’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love”] The energy in the room could have launched us all to the moon.”