Wednesday, 28 May 2014

A Nepalese Wedding

I usually write my blog after I have visited a country but this weekend an exceptional thing happened.  Avid readers will note that I do a cooking class in almost every country I visit, and with my return to Nepal I wasted no time finding one in Kathmandu.  More on that later.  What I was not expecting was to be invited, along with my fellows cooks Dominique & Yvonne, to the wedding of the brother-in-law of Amrit, our host.

The day before heading out to the celebrations we had a bit of preparation work to do.  Dominique & Yvonne had been able to borrow saris from Amrit's wife, but I needed a dhaka topi, a traditional Nepalese hat.  These are commonplace in Kathmandu, but finding one with an even remotely tasteful design takes a bit of work and a helping hand (always take a woman with you when shopping for random clothes for weddings!).

Additionally we needed a large supply of biscuits and sweets as a present to the grooms mother as a thank you for inviting us into their home, and of course a present for the happy couple.  Some good haggling in the lanes of the Thamel area of Kathmandu saw us walking away with a simple picture frame with a peacock motif.  Not knowing exactly what we were doing, I thought we had done pretty well.

In the morning we met Amrit and his daughter, Anu, and got an early bus for the 3 hour ride to Falante, a small village where the grooms family lived.  There we met Amrit's wife and his sons, Aksh and Asis, the groom, Birendra, and his brother, Bimal.  We were treated to a welcoming plate of fresh buffalo curd and celebration bread, a local delicacy only made on special occasions.  The houses were stone with dirt floors comprising few rooms, beds everywhere, a simple kitchen but large compared to others in the village.  Animals were kept outside, unlike villages I had been to in other countries, and they had a garden with lychees, mangos, bananas, coffee and much more.  In addition they had a flock of around 700 chickens.  Clearly well to do in the community.

We were taken to visit Amrit's sister-in-law and her children, who were very excited to meet us, before the rest of the village arrived to begin the celebrations.  A feast was laid on for the whole village to celebrate the marriage as only the men and close female relatives were to attend the actual ceremony the next day.  Dominique & Yvonne were indeed privileged to witness the following days ceremonies.  The food was plentiful and delicious - mutton curry, potato curry, bean stew and much more, washed down with Nepalese tea, thick, heavily spiced and brewed over a wood fire for a unique flavour.  The children were fed first and then the adults, scattered around the buildings anywhere we could find a seat.

After dinner we were shown the rest of the village and the school.  We were joined by what seemed every child in the village eager to talk to us and practice their English.  They were very good, although conversation was generally limited to 'what is your name?', 'where do you come from?'.  They loved to play and act for our cameras, loving the photos we were taking when shown.

One girl was so taken by us she asked if we would come back to her house for tea and to meet her family, which we more than happy to oblige, the pleasure it gave her to be taking the westerners to her house truly heartwarming.  It was a smaller house, with only a couple of rooms but clearly a house full of love.

With an early start the next day and little to do in the village we had an early night.  Due to the number of people staying in the house at the time, this meant that Aksh and I had to sleep outside on the balcony.  Thankfully the night was neither cold nor wet.

Then it was the morning of the big day.  While Dominique & Yvonne were dressed in their saris by Anu, I dressed in a smart shirt and trousers (for a backpacker I am unusually prepared for these occasions) and donned my topi.  We were decorated with tikkas on our heads before being introduced to the groom.  Birendra looked suitably nervous as he began his marriage rituals  Before he left his home to go to his brides village, he paid respect to his ancestors for peace and received gifts from his family, and of course the picture frame from his honoured guests.

Then it was time for us to board the party bus for another 3 hour journey to the brides village, Bhorle.  This was really entering rural Nepal as the roads gradually turned from tarmac, to dirt and gravel.  Arriving at a couple of roadside huts we waited a short while.  Music could be heard approaching down the road - this was the welcoming party from the brides family come to carry the groom to the brides house on a palaquin.  It was quite a sight as we wound our way along a forest path to the small collection of houses, a very beautiful setting halfway up the hillside.

In a small yard outside the house there was a buzz of activity, the brides family and villagers having already gathered awaiting the groom, the women all dressed in their finest saris, the priest preparing the jagya around which the various parts of the ceremonies would take place.  And without much fanfare at all the bride, Chamedi appeared.  The ceremony takes several hours, as the groom is welcomed to the brides family, the bride given to the groom thus joining his families lineage, and their feet washed by any people.  Birendra was still looking a but nervous but Chamedi was clearly delighted.  As these rituals take some time another feast was held, fairly similar to that at the grooms house but much more richly spiced.

In the meantime the happy couple had preceded indoors for their own meal and further rituals, and so the band started playing and the local villagers entertained us with dancing.  Soon the final stages of the ceremony commenced, with the bride and groom making offerings to a fire in the centre of the jagya.  Armit explained that all this was in order for the bride to say goodbye to not only the traditions and beliefs of her family but also to her family itself as she was now a member of her grooms family.  The time had come for her to leave her home and journey back to Falante.

Now comes possibly the daftest part of the proceedings.  Aksh convinced me to ride on top of the bus.  It is not comfy and the roads are fairly bad.  Hanging on for dear life as the bus wound its way up and down the hillsides, through clouds of dust thrown up by the preceding marriage car, ducking and dodging tree branches and low hanging power cables, I was somewhat concerned I may end up at the bottom of one of the 100ft cliffs that loomed below me.  How the 30 or so Nepalese boys riding up there with me acted so nonchalant I will never know.  And just when I thought things couldn't get any worse room was made for the grooms wedding gift - a wardrobe and a bed.  In all honesty it was great fun and I would happily do it again, but I'd like to have a cushion.

Back at the grooms house we were greeted by children chasing the bus and singing and dancing from the women who had been waiting for the arrival of the married couple.  A short ritual was performed to welcome the bride to her new home and family.

By this time it was late and we were all tired.  We had another early start in the morning to return to Kathmandu.  It was emotional in the morning.  We said farewell to the family who had welcomed us into their home and honoured us by inviting us to this special occasion.  The ceremonies were not over for Chamedi however.  She would perform more rituals to be worship the ancestors and deities of her new family and their ways an traditions.

I am truly grateful to Amrit for inviting us all to participate in this joyous occasion.  I will never forget the children who showed so much joy in our presence or the generosity and hospitality shown to us by the families and friends.  In a way it was a privilege in their customs to have us as guests, but I felt much more privileged at the opportunity to experience real Nepalese culture.  This was one of the most wonderful experiences of may travels so far.

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