The return to Nepal was a fantastic experience, sadly the trip was only four and a half days, but as guests of a traditional wedding we had a rare and privileged insight into another culture. Although the traditions surrounding the event were different, there were also plenty of similarities in the way in which the families and friends of two enamoured people publicly celebrate their union.
The festivities were spread over several days, the first of which involved a big party for the bride’s family and friends. This event was very similar to a traditional Western wedding reception, except that it was held the night before the blessing and was only for the bride’s family and friends, even the groom was not invited.
We’d had saris made here in advance ready in Meena Bazaar, although we had to go to the family home first and have one of the bride’s friends help us put the saris on! The family (including spouses) all wore red saris, while the rest of the women were decked out in a rainbow of colours. The men wore anything from Western style suits and more traditional kutras, to jeans and t-shirts.
There were more than 500 people present and myself and my friend (her boyfriend was the bride’s brother) were quite visibly the only non-Nepalese present, which meant we had eyes on us at all times, and were quite regularly asked for photos. The bride sat on a stage with her mother, grandmother and aunts for each of the guests to come up and greet them, have photographs and give gifts. There was a bar serving beer and home-brewed firewater (a not-so-affectionate nickname we gave the throat burning home-made spirit that was continuously pushed into our hands with great gusto!) We had some nibbles that were passed around, before a quick dance on the dance floor (the Bollywood moves were much appreciated and I’m sure are already plastered all over YouTube, judging by the number of camera phones on my friend and I!) A buffet was served upstairs and as is the way in Nepal, everything drew to a close by 11pm, leaving my friend and I to return to the tourist district of Thamel for a relaxed drink and to scowl at each other (our faces had been stuck smiling for so long, we needed to engage other facial muscles!)
The second day was the blessing itself, this time we were more comfortable in the traditional kurtas/salwar kameez we’d had made. We went over to the house in the morning but soon gave up on trying to help the military operation that was already underway. The family had roped off areas of the public square using rugs and blankets strung from building to building, and huge tarpaulin sheets on the floor already showed signs of a feast in preparation – bowls of chillis, huge chunks of raw meat being cut with overly large knives, and vegetables all being chopped and thrown into pots, while fires were lit and vats of liquid started to bubble. Meanwhile the streets between the square and the house had been lined with plastic chairs. I was fascinated to watch the preparations, the men did everything and this is apparently commonplace in Nepal – men do all the preparation, cooking and serving, and cleaning up, leaving us women free to play with the children, drink and chat – a system I am in full favour of! We were fed several times throughout the course of the day, for the two main meals mats were laid down on the floor, then we were offered water to wash our hands – very useful considering all the food is eaten by hand. Then each man would ladle something delicious from a pot onto our plates, and my friend and I began the challenge of trying to eating rice and dhal with only our right hands. The trick we learned by the end of the day was to push the food into a lump of sorts and then use our thumbs to push it into our mouths. In the beginning we had caused a few giggles from friends with our attempts to use gravity to our advantage, at the same time resembling nesting chicks receiving food from their mothers, heads tilted upright to drop the food in!
In the middle of the day, we heard the tell-tale pipes and cymbals of a local band, signalling the approach of the groom and his family. We all gathered outside the house and received the puja (blessing) from an aunt as part of their family. I had been expecting a dot of red powder on my forehead and was not prepared for the thick, lumpy red mixture, a large amount of which was dolloped in between my eyes. The arrival of the groom was amazing, he was preceded by a band playing beautiful music from flutes and chimes and drums, and then all of his family, who made their way into the house and onto the roof. We later followed them to see the groom already seated on cushions on the floor with the priest, we were invited to sit directly in front of them, which made us feel incredibly special as the space on the rooftop was so limited that only half of the family were able to view the ceremony. We did not understand a lot of what happened during the blessing, Nepalese religion is a mix of Buddhism and Hinduism, but nevertheless it was beautiful to watch. Symbols were drawn on the floor in powder and water, rice and flowers were scattered over different parts of the drawings as well as over each other and the fathers of both bride and groom. Then the couple joined hands with a red cloth and circled several times, before money was given to the priest and a large handmade necklace of what looked like grass was fastened around the groom’s neck, at which point the bride had to bend down and lay her head on his feet. They then exchanged necklaces and rings, and the bride was given yet another bangle, after this there was much applause and the ceremony was over. We went back outside for more refreshments while the bride sat with her closest family and cried. The bride traditionally lives with her family until marriage and then has to move to the groom’s family home with his parents and grandparents. We later learned that for some, the louder the bride cries, the better the daughter is regarded, but it was certainly not something I will forget in a hurry – the wailing and crying was as if someone had died, and not just from the bride, but from all the immediate family.
We were called back some time later (after more food) for the exit. The bride was carried out on one of the men’s shoulders, with her face in a handkerchief still wailing loudly, and was carried around the car which had been reversed up the narrow streets to be right outside the door. The car was decorated with marigolds in the shape of a love heart and spelling their initials. They both got into the car and their luggage was passed over people’s heads to be packed in, then they drove down the streets with the throng of family surrounding them until we reached a wider clearing, where the car parked and the family walked on. At this point a semi-circle had formed with the fathers and the priest in the centre, and from what we could understand, this was the point where the father of the bride made a speech to ask the father in law to take care of her and gave some money, the other in return made a speech about how they would look after her.
After this the crowd dispersed, the car drove the happy couple off to the groom’s house where there would be another party for him but which we were not privy to as part of the bride’s family. Apparently this party was due to have almost 1000 guests as the entire village had been invited! The bride’s family headed back to the square where another meal was served and where we spent the evening drinking home-brewed beer, a little sweet but a taste we soon adjusted to! We tried smoking the strange bong-like mini shisha but it was far too much like smoking a burning fire for me! The day of the celebration coincided with Shivaratri, the celebration for Lord Shiva, and as such there were huge bonfires lit all over town, including in our little courtyard. At this point, we were quite tired and decided to call it a night rather than go into the house with the rest of the family, so we headed back to our bar of the night before – to the surprise of the staff, who openly questioned our choice of clothing two nights in a row, but who were incredibly complimentary and flattered that we had made so much effort to look like Nepalese girls!
We decided to leave the family to it for the rest of the celebrations the next day so that they didn’t have to worry about hosting us. As we had both spent a lot of time exploring Nepal on our previous trip, it was great to just take some time to relax in Kathmandu. Our guest house – Ambassador Garden Home – was absolutely amazing and was a great place to relax in. It was a beautiful retreat with a tranquil garden and trickling fountains, tucked away from hustle and bustle of Thamel. We also found a few chilled out cafes, our favourite of which was Electric Pagoda, where we laid around on cushions on the floor drinking Everest beers and eating momos. We spent some time wandering around the backpacker district of Thamel, reaquainting ourselves, only stopping for masala tea (never too much of a good thing!) and cake at Yin Yang – another gorgeous little place we had wanted to try on our last visit.
We spent our last day walking down to Durbar Square (the traditional centre of town), playing tourists. The time before we had visited the site but it had been a pubic holiday and most things were closed, plus it had been pouring with rain. We had more luck on this occasion and were able to spend a lot of time wandering around the old temples and market stalls, taking photos and absorbing the atmosphere.
I would have loved to have extended the trip, but I know that Nepal is one country I will keep on returning to, especially as I hope to attend another wedding there. I’m lucky to have already had many fantastic experiences there, and I already know what the next trip will entail – white water rafting and a trip to Burma! (Well you have to think ahead!)