To wrap up the week we have a sophisticated fairy tale affair captured by the wedding storyteller Gary Coelho Photography. Shaila and Alok were lucky enough to wed in the magical grounds of the Saddlerock Ranch. A lot of emotions started kicking in with the anticipation of the day, beautiful Shaila started getting ready for her ceremony and was pampered by the bridal beauty expert Dolled up by Lulu. She glammed up the bride with a fantastic high updo and a glowing makeup which enhanced the bride’s natural beauty. The exquisitely crafted red lehenga was paired with a long dupatta that she accessorized with an elaborate gold and pearl jewelry set! As soon as she finished her beauty routine, Shaila met her Raja Alok for a super sweet first look amidst the beautiful vineyards and romantic landscapes. To tie the knot, Alok opted for a radiant white sherwani and a turquoise turban bringing an authentic touch of elegance to the assemble. See all the wonderful images of this cute pair during their first look in our full gallery!
How did you meet your Groom and when did you know he was "the one"?
I met Alok at a wedding in San Francisco (which was also featured on Maharani Weddings Amrit+Alex) in January 2017. Alok is Alex's cousin and was a groomsman at the wedding. I am a friend of Amrit's. I spent most of my time at the wedding with the rest of Amrit's friends as we had gotten to know each other from the bachelorette etc.. Luckily, one of my closest friends was attending as well and he got to know more of the guests, with just 20 min left of the reception he told me that the perfect person for me was Alok. So, I mustered up my courage and went over to Alok and started chatting with him (he says he doesn’t remember that conversation – haha), after the reception a bunch of us went out to a bar where we spent more time talking. As we headed back to our hotel, he asked for my number and we have spoken to each other every day since. Our entire relationship has been long distance, he was in Phoenix I am in Southern California. We both knew from the beginning that we were looking for someone long term, this knowledge didn't scare either of us. I think we both knew this was special early on because even though the relationship was long distance it was effortless getting to know one another, we looked forward to our FaceTime calls and visiting one another. I never had a moment where I didn’t know how he felt. We really enjoyed being together and shared a similar sense of humour, long-term goals, values, our views on family etc. It was the right time in both of our lives to meet each other. It also helped to have mutual friends as it gave us a better understanding of where we came from.
In May I met his parents and sister and then in August I attended his family reunion in Chicago, my parents flew down from Canada and we had a small roka ceremony. Alok officially proposed to me in November in San Francisco.
Share the scoop on your Proposal Story!
Since we had a long distance relationship we tried to plan little ge aways for ourselves. Alok planned a weekend in San Francisco in November. He took care of all the details, where we were staying, where we were going out for dinner and our outdoor activities. He lived in San Fran for a few months so we visited his old neighbourhood and work. Since our parents had already met and we had our roka I knew an official proposal was coming, but I didn’t know exactly when during that weekend. We went for a beautiful hike north of San Francisco we got to the main lookout point, and during lunch while sitting on a rock Alok went down on bended knee and proposed. It was just the two of us and the ocean, it was very sweet and perfect.
Tell us how you went about planning your wedding, and your overall experience with the Venues, Hair & Makeup, Outfits, Decor Theme, and all of the other important details.
At the very beginning of the whole planning process my fiancé and I brainstormed what our goals were for our wedding weekend.. and we came up with one word – memorable. We wanted it to be a memorable experience for our guests. We then prioritized the things that mattered most to us: photo/video, food and entertainment.
Wedding planning was very hard..
Starting with finding a venue. Alok and I are the last two in our families to get married and we both come from very large extended families. All of my cousins are married with kids, the majority of his cousins are married with kids and neither of our families live in California. We chose California because I live here and I would be doing most of the planning, my family is located in Canada, his is all over the US. We had to put on an event that catered to newborns all the way to seniors in their 80s, it was really hard. We needed to have a traditional Indian wedding, as that’s what our families wanted, and we needed to make things as easy for our guests as possible and of course we did not want to break the bank. We really took to heart our guests’ experience so we prioritized the following when looking for a venue: an affordable hotel for their stay, a place to easily provide them meals for all 3 days, and minimum travel time to each of the venues from the hotel. My husband and I also wanted our wedding to be a memorable event for our guests as they were making the effort to fly there, that meant the venue had to be extra special, a place they wouldn’t normally visit. I started my search for venues with an excellent resource Shaadishop, I got quotes from multiple hotels in Southern California, but we quickly learned that having a Sangeet plus breakfast and lunch at the ceremony and a beautiful reception would cost the same as having three receptions - we couldn’t afford it. I had seen photos of Saddlerock ranch and thought it was a beautiful venue but renting every single item seemed really daunting to me. By pure luck I saw on Facebook that a few of my friends attended an Indian wedding at Saddlerock Ranch - I got them to put me in touch with the couple, Sheiley and Raju. They are the nicest couple ever, they didn’t even know me and they were happy to walk us through their learnings, send us spreadsheets, give us a list of their vendors, and provide us with an overall idea on budget, throughout our planning I messaged them with various questions. A huge selling point for us with Saddlerock Ranch was our friends and family could stay at Homewood Suites in Agoura Hills, just a 15 minute drive from Saddlerock Ranch. Homewood Suites allows you to bring in outside food without charging a per head fee, no other hotel does this, we just paid for the rental of the banquet room. We visited Saddlerock Ranch in person and loved the property, we visited Homewood Suites and found it very convenient (there is a Tader Joe’s right in front of the hotel and each room has a kitchenette) and their staff was excellent, we asked both venues about possible Sangeet venues nearby and they recommended Agoura Hills Recreation Center. The Recreation Center is beautiful, it is brand new with windows from floor to ceiling it was perfect for a Sangeet. Once we had our two venues and a hotel for people to stay at it was time to look for our vendors. Since Sheiley and Raju had already done this before, we went with their planners Bel Events and had the same head planner, Dana. From there we used a lot of the people Dana recommended.
Our caterer, Sumit Sharma from Mantra Catering was spectacular, now, even months after our wedding people talk about the food. I didn’t know a lot about what the menu should be, I just had a budget and I knew I wanted vegan options as my family is vegetarian and we had a lot of vegan guests. My only vision was I wanted the Sangeet to have food stations and the reception to have a good quality indian buffet. Sumit put the menu together and delivered. He even took care of arranging the lunches and dinners that were delivered to the hotel for our families on the days we didn’t have the bigger events. I can’t sing his praises enough.
The first vendor I called after finalizing our dates was Lulu from DolledUpbyLulu. I had heard of her from some friends and I saw her Instagram account that I knew I could trust her with my hair and makeup. Luckily she was available on my wedding day and she sent her associates for my Sangeet day. She is well known in the industry for a reason, she is exceptional.
Another major stress with Indian weddings is all the outfits. I didn’t know where to go as I am very new to Southern California. I ended up using Sheiley’s recommendation - Aanchal’s Designer Gallery on Pioneer Blvd. I am so happy I went. Sham’s the owner is incredible, she really takes to heart her clients’ happiness she won’t let you leave unsatisfied. I was by myself doing all the shopping for the wedding, I really needed to shop at a store that understood that stress and let me take my time with my decisions. Shams has an excellent collection and treats her clients with kindness and respect, she let me take pictures, put outfits on-hold until I was certain I wanted to purchase them (without a deposit) and she included all alterations in her price. I struggled with my Sangeet outfit so we found another outfit in her collection that was grey and a gown, together we changed the color scheme, the shape of the top and made it into a lengha, she had it delivered in just a few weeks. I must have visited her store 15 times over 10 months she ended up becoming my emotional support during my wedding planning. Her son was getting married around the same time so she completely understood my stresses. Aanchal’s designer gallery was an integral part to my planning process.
During the last couple of weeks before the wedding Shams had recommended I hire Ronobhir as they had hired him for her son’s wedding the weekend prior and all their guests loved him. I really hummed and hawed about this as I thought my venue was already so beautiful that maybe I didn’t have to spend the extra funds. But, after I saw more of his Youtube videos and spoke to my fiancée about it we decided to just do it. Ronobhir was very easy to work with and hiring him was one of the best decisions we made. When I think back to my favorite parts of my wedding listening to Ronobhir play during dinner was high on the list. He was wonderful, all of my guests loved him.
Another key vendor was our photographer, Gary Coelho. We used BEL Event’s recommendation on hiring Gary and One Story Weddings. While prioritizing what really mattered to us about our wedding, photo and video was ranked very high as these would be our key takeaways from the day. We considered just doing photo and not video, but after sitting with that decision for a couple of days I knew I would regret it. We got to know Gary during our engagement shoot, he really helped us become more comfortable in front of the camera. He was easy to talk to and open to our asks and concerns for the wedding day. On our actual wedding day a lot of things went wrong with the rentals so our planning team was preoccupied and couldn’t attend to us, Gary stepped in and was photographer extraordinaire as well as planner by our side making sure he addressed our needs. He is engaging and fun and does whatever he needs to support his couples. Another excellent decision.
As for the unique parts about renting a venue like Saddlerock ranch, it can be intimidating as you have to bring/rent everything and you have a lot of different vendors to work with. I was surprised when I learned that I had to bring towels, toilet paper for the bathrooms; straws, napkins, garnishes for the bar. I recommend putting together an excel spreadsheet as you start thinking through every detail of what you need to bring. We did this for both Agoura Hills Event Center and Saddlerock Ranch, it was complicated as we had to anticipate how much would be used for the Sangeet. For Agoura Hills Event Center we used BEL Events for the décor, the rec center had all the tables and chairs free, and we bought eco-friendly dishware (plates made out of banana leaf). Saddlerock Ranch has two rental companies they use so we went with one of their preferred vendors – we got lighting, generators, chairs, bars, tables, dishware etc from that vendor. Anything that was décor related we used BEL Events. Dana helped make sure we had all the items we needed from the rental company. In retrospect, I liked the flexibility of renting exactly what I needed, which you can’t do with a hotel venue. For example I reduced the number of shot and wine glasses recommended for our guest count as majority of my family does not drink. We hired a wait staff through our planner’s recommendation. I used the same florist that Sheiley and Raju used as they did their homework and shopped around. We also hired security and transportation. We used our planners to recommend vendors, but we did the final selection and negotiated each of the contracts ourselves.
Other than that, I worked a lot with my planners on the timeline of the day, getting guests to and from the venue, the rentals and all the other details. I hired some really cool entertainment for the kids called Bubblemania to keep them busy during the ceremony. The kids were talking about the Bubblemania show for days. I also got programs made from someone on Etsy. The combination of the kids being occupied, plus a clear and well done program and an excellent pandit made every single guest stay in their seat and pay attention to the ceremony, there was no wandering around, which we were really happy with.
As for décor and vision.. I struggled with this question when people asked. I felt the venue itself really lended to the atmosphere and feel of the events. For the Sangeet I knew I wanted colorful and I wanted a flow that was conducive to walking around and people moving from indoors to outdoors so I opted for lounge furniture in the room and outside on the lawn. I had market lights outside as well. As for the wedding day I wanted the décor to be simple, so I went with coral, gold and ivory as our theme. We kept the flowers simple and we had lots of lighting the venue itself was so beautiful that there wasn’t a lot to do. I skipped charger plates, I couldn’t justify the expense and nobody missed them. I did use chivari chairs though as they complimented the gold theme.
How did you select your bridal lengha or wedding dress? Did you have a favorite color in mind?
I found my bridal lengha the first day I walked into Aanchal’s designer gallery. I’ve always loved gotta pathi work and a brighter red. I knew I wanted red, but I also wanted something more contemporary so I steered away from the deep reds. I had done some research on pinterest before shopping, but I wasn’t stuck on a particular style, which I think helped me be open to liking something I had never imagined. I had also never thought I’d have a jacket blouse for my wedding lengha, but after trying it on a few times (as Shams, the owner of Aanchal’s designer gallery let me put on hold for a month) it grew on me and I ended up loving it. In the last few weeks though due to the stress I lost a few more pounds than I expected so the blouse was a little looser than I would have liked. I should have gone back and had it altered some more but I got busy with other tasks. I ended up loving my outfit and got lots of compliments. Finding jewelry to match was really difficult, luckily Art Karat had a pop up shop in Cerritos and I found something in their collection, which was again very different from anything I would have imagined purchasing.
What was the most enjoyable part of the planning process, and why?
Walking into the planning process I was nervous because I never thought of myself as creative or a visionary in how I pictured my wedding day. During my initial meetings with my planners they asked me to walk them through my vision of the day – I didn’t have one. But what I quickly realized I did have was my experience as a Product Manager. So, I put myself in the shoes of my guests (ie. my customers) and defined what I thought would be a unique and memorable experience for them. With this mindset I had lots of ideas to make our day memorable and easier for all who attended, some examples: a Bubblemania show for the kids, a special cartoon drawing of Alok and myself for the kids to color during the reception, a donut wall, additional golf carts on the day of to drive seniors around, a sitar player who played top 40 hits, a larger mandap instead of the one that was already on the property so our parents could comfortably take part in the ceremony – all of these decisions were driven by what I thought our guests and key stakeholders would value. In the end I enjoyed putting something together that I thought my guests would appreciate.
What did your guests particularly love about your Wedding?
My guests gave me so many compliments on our wedding. First of all just having so many of our family members make the effort to be there made the experience special. Everyone stayed at the same hotel and had 3 meals together every day for 3 days. I don’t know if we ever had the opportunity to do that before. Our weddings are normally in Toronto and everyone is staying in various houses.
I’d say if I had to order what they most loved it would be the venues, the food and the entertainment.
Venues: Most of my family does not drink and have never visited a vineyard before. Having them experience a scenery they have never been to, set the stage for a memorable weekend. The ceremony was under a 250 year old weeping willow which was so beautiful and serene. During cocktail hour we had a feeding station setup where the kids could feed the giraffe that was on the grounds. Then as the day became evening you could start seeing the lights turn on on the trees, by night time it was spectacular and everyone was excited for the reception.
Food: Everyone loved every bite that Mantra catering served. I am a bit of an environmentalist so we weren’t extravagant, but our guests enjoyed themselves. Everyone had breakfast that was included with their room stay at the hotel, we had lunch delivered at the hotel and then they came to the venue by 1:00. During the ceremony we had a lassi station and then as soon as the ceremony was over (around 5:00) we had a heavy appetizer buffet setup, it was delicious. My parents were nervous that guests would be hungry between their arrival and the buffet, but that was not the case at all, the food at lunch was heavy enough that it held them over and the appetizer buffet was open immediately. We then served dinner around 8:00, again the buffet was delicious. We even had a donut wall with vegan donuts from Whole Foods which was more of a rage than we had anticipated.
We had a combined Sangeet and opened up the entertainment with my father-in-law singing a Punjabi folk-song where he called up various relatives from both sides of the family to dance (ie. mom’s brothers, mom’s brother’s wives, father’s brothers etc. etc.). We both have large extended families so was a really fun way to break the ice and introduce ourselves to each other. It was a very memorable part of our wedding weekend.
As I mentioned earlier Ronobhir really upped the ambiance of our cocktail hour and dinner. I kept saying he was a gift to myself, it was incredible.
I am not a dancer at all, but I took lessons from Adha Dance Company in Irvine for a few weeks before the wedding and performed a really simple number at the Sangeet. My family was completely shocked and my parents loved it. Alok, his sister and her kids and husband surprised us with a dance as well. I think the little personal touches made the evening more intimate and special for all of us.
Was there a really special moment in your wedding that constantly replays in your mind?
I always thought that the big moments like walking down the aisle, or the vidai would play over and over again in my head but it turns out it is the smaller ones that do.
I remember sitting at the mandap and looking out at our guests seeing how happy everyone was. Our pandit was very engaging and involved our immediate family members in the ceremony. Just being at the mandap and seeing so many familiar faces was really nice. It was also the first moment where I let out a sigh and knew all of my planning was done and it was time to enjoy.
I also remember sitting at the reception with Alok’s arm around me and Ronobhir playing the sitar and taking a moment to enjoy the music and the setting. These small moments really stick with me.
For events other than your ceremony, please tell us as much as you would like about the decor, style, dances, and all the special details.
I think I answered this in some of the other questions..
For the Sangeet I wanted lots of color so I went with green and fuchsia for my lengha, the decor was kept pretty simple but colorful. Again the venue was really nice so we let that shine.
I have been to weddings where they have too much entertainment and the crowd get antsy so I made sure speeches plus dances/singing did not go beyond an hour. My father-in-law did a wonderful song that involved our guests and had people up and dancing, one of Alok's cousin's daughters did a really fun upbeat number, then my cousin's daughter who is a phenomenal dancer did a dance, and then Alok surprised me with a song and a dance with his family and then I surprised him with a dance. We tried to keep it to minimal. For the reception we just had a few speeches, which again was under an hour, i think it was closer to 40 minutes. I was very prescriptive on how much time each person had for their speech.
Do you have any words of wisdom for Brides-To-Be?
This is a tough one. My planners told me my wedding was the hardest one they did in 3 years so I think there is lots of opportunity for learning from my experience.
Everyone says not to expect things to go as planned, which is very true but I think it is important to plan for success and then let go. I was meticulous in my planning so still having a stressful day was disappointing.
Some of my learnings:
1 - Meet each member of the planning team who will be servicing your wedding and understand their roles. My head planner was great, but her team members were inexperienced. One was especially rude to me - the bride - on my wedding day.
2 – If you have a complicated venue like mine hold a conference call and do a walk-through with your planner and the support staff. I know it is their job to manage the vendors and it seems unnecessary but you need to understand all the intricacies. One of my vendors did not deliver as they had promised so my planners were busy troubleshooting but that meant no one was attending to me – I did not get breakfast, drinks or lunch, and I had no idea why. It also helps with making sure everyone understands your expectation, not just the head planner. I put so much effort into having a friend draw a cartoon picture of myself and my husband as an indian bride and groom and bought 40 packs for crayons to hand out to the kids to color during the reception and my planners didn’t give them out. We had a van allocated for all the leftover alcohol and supplies to go into at the end of the night, but someone didn’t know this and put them in another van causing additional hours at the end of a really long day for my cousin and my husband to reorganize stuff.
3 – Put the effort into a well-designed mandap as it is in a lot of pictures, I hated the look of mine. The draping was exceedingly low so my parents were completely covered when they were seated. The flowers and draping did not go well together so last minute the designer and florist reoriented the florals, it looked really bad. I recommend getting the designer to provide you with pictures of successful mandaps they designed (have them explain to you why they think they are successful) and then have them work with the florist and draw up some recommendations. Make sure you are all in agreement on a conference call on what exactly is being designed. They have far more experience with mandaps so make them do the work. I wrongfully assumed that my florist and designer worked together.
4 – I didn’t have bridesmaids, if you don’t either make sure to have a friend, not a family member be by your side to assist with getting ready and running errands and keeping you calm. I told my friends not to worry about me on the wedding day as the planners would take care of me. If there are unforeseen circumstances the planners won’t be by your side. I had my sister and mom with me, but they were just as busy as I was getting ready.
5 – Have a friend or cousin on each side setup a whatsapp group for the wedding weekend. It is a great way to share pics and messages and keep everyone really involved in the wedding. I could see that my cousins took advantage of their downtime and went hiking together. They shared their room numbers, when they were at breakfast, when to go to the pool it was a really easy way to communicate and have fun. You (or preferably a friend) can also easily message any last-minute instructions like which is the last shuttle they must take to be on time.
6 – If your wedding is in a remote location like mine ask your planning team what their backup solution is if their cell phones and walkies don’t work. My team couldn’t get theirs to work and that caused chaos, this is not a trivial issue.
7 – When you are negotiating with each of your vendors get the name and contact info of the person who will be on-site during the wedding day. Most of the time it is not the person you are dealing with. One of my rental vendors said they had someone on-site but when their generator did not work no one could locate that person.
8 – Be very prescriptive on your timeline. My guests loved that I had a very clear timeline and they weren’t waiting around much, it was well organized from their perspective.
9- Get every promise in writing. There was a tent on the property from a wedding the night before, which we agreed to keep as long as it was clean and useable for us. It was really dirty and the rental company denied that they promised to clean it.
10 – If you are really disappointed with a vendor’s deliverables know that if you paid by credit card you have the ability to dispute the charge. We had issues with a vendor charging us twice and denying it and another vendor not delivering as promised so we used our credit card to dispute their payments. The credit card company did an investigation and arbitrated on our behalf.
10- Lean on your friends and family, but warn them ahead of time that you’ll need their help. I told my elder cousins (who did not have small kids) that I would be leaning on them a lot so they were prepared and stepped in to solve problems whenever they saw one. My husband didn’t do that and took on more than he should have that weekend.
11 – Have one set of cousins or siblings in charge of supporting your parents. It is a nerve wracking day for parents, it is almost as if it is their wedding day as well, so they need to be attended to. I had my sister and her husband take care of them the entire weekend, my parents didn’t have to drive anywhere and had someone to turn to for all their questions.
12 – Don’t shy away from venues like Saddlerock Ranch. Hotels might be easier to execute but venues like Saddlerock provide a unique experience. There are also more opportunities to save money - we saved a lot on alcohol as we purchased it from Costco.
13 – Lastly, try taking a second to re-center and just soak it in. It is far more overwhelming than you might anticipate so try and stop and just know you are sharing a very special days with the people you love.
Anything else you want to tell us? We'd love to hear all about your other details! (jewelry, mehndi, venue, cake, bouquets, etc.)
All of my jewelry was from Art Karat. Mehndi was Rachna Desai. We decided not to have a cake. I really debated about having a bouquet, but in the end I am glad I did as it gave me more variety in my pictures and I would have felt awkward walking down the aisle without something to hold.
The dreamy outdoor ceremony is next!