I was recently speaking with a fellow photographer regarding our favorite weddings. It is actually something I hadn’t thought about before, but I it turns out I didn’t have to think long. My favorite wedding was one I wasn’t even invited to much less had a plan for photographing.
Last spring I had spent a few weeks in Nepal. One morning I went on a tour of the small village of Banepa. Afterwards, instead of taking the bus, I decided to walk with our guide back to the town of
Dhulikhel, where I was staying. He returned to the hotel, and I decided to head back to the main area of town to use the internet. As so often happens in Nepal, the electricity was out, and the internet cafes were closed. Since I had my camera with me I decided to make the most of my time and explore some of the back alleys of
Dhulikhel. Once I got off the main street with the never ending auditory assault of the constant car horns, things became much quieter. I could hear some people playing instruments down another alley and I decided to investigate.
When I found the source of the music, I wasn’t sure what was going on. There were about a dozen musicians dressed in red in the street, and maybe another 100 people in the yard of a large house. I didn’t speak much Nepali. And what I did speak was mostly limited to arranging a hotel room or ordering a meal. So, I looked for a someone who looked like they were school aged. When traveling abroad, I have found that most people have studied english in schools, but tend to forget it as they get older.
I met a boy who told me that there was a wedding happening, and he then introduced me to his father. It turns out his father was related to the groom, and he invited me to join the wedding party. It was really a huge honor to find myself in a small town in a country that I had only just arrived in, being allowed to join in such an important moment in this family’s life.
One of the best ways to experience another culture is to actively participate in their lives and ceremonies, and I’m pretty sure there isn’t a better way to do this than to be involved with a wedding. My favorite thing about photographing weddings is being allowed in to one of the most important things that two people will likely experience together. However this wedding was truly a new experience for me.
Weddings in the West are typically happy affairs in which the couple has known each other for years, and they can’t wait to finally get married. I had found out that this couple had only met a few weeks before the wedding, and only briefly. The groom looked nervous the entire time, and the bride was practically in tears during the ceremony. It was a little unnerving to say the least, but I tried to keep an open mind. A few days later, when I met up with some Nepalis my age, they were able to better explain what was going on. First they had explained to me, how much they appreciated their families finding there spouses for them, and how terrifying it must be to have to find our own here. I hadn’t really thought of things that way before, and I recalled how terrifying it was to propose to my wife. They also explained the crying bride. In Hindu culture, when a woman is married, she ceases to become part of the woman’s family and becomes part of her husbands family. So, her not being upset at the wedding would be a sign of disrespect to her family. In fact the woman is usually very happy about the marriage, but showing happiness on the wedding day is considered unacceptable. I did get the chance to see the same thing at another wedding I was at in Nepal a week later with a better understanding of the culture, and it was a lot different. Particularly because I was able to meet the bride the next day, and could see how happy she was compared to the day before.
I would have to refer to this as the “ultimate destination wedding.” At least it was for me. This wedding really let me experience the culture of Nepal first hand. I got to meet people and see things that I might not have otherwise had the chance to. The family welcomed me like I was one of their own. I got to experience traditional Nepali food (the taste as well as the consequences,) as well as the local homemade liquor, roxi, which not surprisingly after tasting it was brought to the wedding in plastic bottle which looks suspiciously like antifreeze containers. Best of luck to the Srestha family who really made my first few days in Nepal ones to remember always.