Nepal: Pokhara #4: Massive Feasts, Foot Water, An Incredible Wedding... and The Band That Played On
Of all the great experiences we've had here in Nepal over the past few months the 2-day wedding we attended on December 13th-14th has got to be the most special. That and the day we went to Suresh's home for "tika" and lunch back in November in Kathmandu. This wedding was definitely the most interesting thing we've witnessed here. As a romantic event it was sorely lacking, but as a cultural experience it was simply amazing. And I can't stress enough how lucky I feel each time we get to experience such an unexpected treat. Being invited into people's homes is already extremely special; we never expected to be invited to a wedding. Not for two hours let alone two whole days!
We had been going to The Laxman Restaurant, next to the lake here in Pokhara, every day for 2.5 weeks by the time of the wedding. We were actually first invited by Bishnu, the cook, which was strange since it wasn't anyone in his family's wedding. That was in the morning of the 12th, the day before the wedding, but that evening the owner of The Laxman also invited us. And, since it was his brother's son getting married, that felt a lot more like a real invitation. His brother runs a restaurant right next door and we were told to meet there at 10AM the next morning.
And so we did. And when we arrived there were people everywhere. Both restaurants and the trees next to the lake were all decorated. The decoration on the groom's family's restaurant was particularly elaborate. There was a colorful wall built out in front and a big archway for an entrance, with banana trees set up on each side. Meanwhile out front, next to the lake, a band played very lively Nepali folk (wedding?) music. They'd started playing really early in the morning (we had heard them from our hotel) and they continued playing until late that night. Hopefully they were all well-paid because it sure was one hell of a long gig.
After a while we were told to get on one of the waiting buses, which were to take us, along with hundreds of other people, to the bride's home. We sat on the bus for a while talking to some kids and when we finally left we realized the band was now on the roof of the bus, continuing to play. It was perfect!
We slowly made our way through town in a small convoy: the buses, a few cars and many motorbikes. It took at least 45 minutes to get the few short kms to the bride's family's home. All the while the band continued to play up on the roof.
Right after arriving, at around noon, we met up with Bishnu, who recommended that we go straight to the food tent. Good advice. When we got in line it was still relatively short and we were therefore able to get some food after only about 30 minutes or so. Others who got in line just 15 to 20 minutes after us had to wait well over an hour. The line wound its way back for 200 meters or more and right out of this huge long tent. This was no small wedding! We were told different things from different people, with some saying there were 700 in attendance, others saying 1,000. My guess is there was probably somewhere between 600 and 800. Now that's a big wedding! And of all these people there were only 2 other foreigners in attendance, a British/German couple.
The food was mind-bogglingly magnificent in both quantity and taste. Both families were quite rich- well, at least before this wedding took place they were - and they were clearly competing. This became extremely obvious the next day when The Gigantic Massive Feast was at the groom's family's home/restaurant and the father came up to us and asked us how the meal was. We said it was amazing and he then told us "It's better than yesterday's". He also told us this was one of the biggest and best weddings in Pokhara in years, much bigger than most weddings. So much for modesty. But lucky for us.
Anyhow, back to Day One at the bride's home. This meal was simply the best food we'd ever had in Nepal: an unbelievable 13-14 dish banquet with every kind of Nepali food. There were fish dishes; chicken dishes; curries; salads; and many other dishes I'd never seen before. Every dish was delicious and the servers kept bringing more from somewhere out back. I'm telling you it was incredible food! They even had dessert: yoghurt and fresh fruit. While eating we sat with the groom and his friends and talked for a while. If they were wondering "Who are these people and what are they doing at our wedding?!" they never let on.
Across the road, in a field, there was a smaller tent set up where a different, bigger band was playing. The early-morning-till-late-at-night band was taking a much needed break at this time. Some people were dancing Nepali style and, after a bit of prodding, I joined them and did my best with all the far-out arm movements. I'm sure I looked pretty ridiculous, but I had fun nonetheless.
After a while we were told that we should go through the house to the small courtyard out back where there was a ceremony in progress. In the middle of the courtyard, side by side, sat the bride and groom. We watched for over an hour or so as people came and went. I guess the best way to describe this ceremony is to call it "The Drinking of the Foot Water Ritual". People would kneel down in front of the couple and then proceed to pour water over the couple's bare feet with one hand, catch it with the other and then either rub the water onto their own foreheads or drink it, or both. We didn't partake in this ritual for 2 reasons: 1) We didn't really know the couple that well and therefore didn't think we were expected to, and 2) We weren't that thirsty for foot water after stuffing ourselves at the Massive Feast just a little while earlier.
The groom was dressed in a Western-style suit, but the bride looked beautiful in a traditional Nepali-style red wedding dress with a thin red veil covering her head and face. A Hindu priest came and read something from a book, but this didn't seem to be anything that special as people continued to come and go, drinking the foot water. A Holy Cow was brought in decorated with flowers. It was either part of the ceremony or a gift - or possibly both. It looked rather confused.
The only thing that was strange, at least for us, about this whole fascinating and wonderful wedding ceremony was the fact that the bride and groom hardly ever looked at one another and never smiled or looked happy at all. If I understood what someone told me properly, by tradition the bride isn't supposed to smile at all. Not sure why that would be. But to me it clearly seemed to be something more than simply trying to follow tradition. I mean, over the course of the entire 2-day wedding, I couldn't help but notice just how unhappy the bride looked the whole time. She was leaving her home to become part of her new husband's household. And I'm not quite sure if any of this was her idea at all.
Anyhow, we left the Foot Water Ritual and went back out front to watch the band play again. Later on we were told we should go have another meal in the big tent, but we were simply too full. I mean, it was tempting, as the food was so good, but we were just too stuffed.
At around 6:30 or 7PM, after it had become dark and the bride's dowry of furniture, washing machine, TV, etc. etc. had been loaded into the back of 3 pickup trucks, we headed back to the groom's home/restaurant; Son on the back of a motorbike, me wobbling back and forth atop some furniture in the back of a truck. When we arrived the band was already there playing under a tree next to the lake. These guys were great! There was a big circle of people gathered around with a few wild dancers in the middle. I helped unload the 3 trucks then went to watch the band and dancers for a while. I decided not to embarrass myself again. We also watched, a bit later on, as the bride arrived in a car and entered her new home for the first time.
We were told to be back by 11AM the next morning as it was Day Two and, therefore, the groom's family's turn to entertain. The second day was "only" a feasting day, but oh what a feast it was! The banquet was as big, probably even bigger, and just as delicious as the previous day's. I don't want to make any judgment on which was better because A) They were both out-of-this-world fantastic and B) I don't want to endorse the Who-Threw-The-Better-Massive-Feast Competition that the two families were clearly competing in.
On this second day we were the only non-Nepalis in attendance. Hundreds of Nepalis and us. We sure felt honored to be there. Just like the previous day, the women were all dressed in incredibly beautiful and colorful clothing. No two women were dressed alike, which seemed amazing considering how many people were in attendance. There were many different styles, but mainly traditional "saris", and there were so many colors: blues, purples, reds, oranges, greens, pinks, etc.
We sat there talking, watching everyone, and listening to the groom's father talk about how superior his Massive Feast was to the one at the bride's place the previous day. And all the while we continued to stuff ourselves full of amazing food once again.
What an experience! What a wedding! What an unbelievable two days! As far as cultural experiences go, it just doesn't get much better than that.
Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Monday, January 20th, 2003