When my husband Phil and I flew to Nepal in April, we had no idea we would be part of a Hindu wedding ceremony.
Yes, we were aware our son Neil was planning to marry his longtime girlfriend, Sonam Shah, but he had made it clear he didn’t want a traditional wedding.
What unfolded was anything but traditional from a Western perspective, but it did turn out to be an outstanding cultural experience.
Before we arrived in Nepal, Sonam’s aunt, Pashupati, had already planned a Hindu ceremony at Bindabasini Temple Complex, located on a small hill north of Pokhara.
The city is the bride’s hometown and is also near the famous Annapurna loop trail, a favorite of Nepal trekkers.
When we arrived at the temple, Phil and I were immediately draped with ceremonial scarves and Phil and Neil were each given a matching topi, the traditional Nepali male head-covering.
Sonam dazzled in her bright red sari, red veil, and matching accessories. The wedding couple exchanged wedding garlands as a gesture of acceptance.
The ceremony took place around a sacred fire, into which were thrown offerings of rice and herbs.
Over the course of two hours, Neil and Sonam exchanged gold rings and literally tied the knot with a piece of white cloth pulled taut between them.
Each of them applied red tikka to the other’s forehead, and then received the same from the priest and Sonam’s brother. Sonam’s mother, Laxmi, ritually washed their feet. Ultimately, Neil picked up his bride and carried her around the fire seven times.
This was the couple’s interpretation of the seven sacred steps, each step representing a marital vow. We could not have felt more privileged to be part of such a ceremony. It was at once solemn, traditional and joyful.
On the day following the ceremony, Phil and I started on our trek around the Annapurna Loop and, as planned, the happy couple came along with us. The trek was epic, and there could not have been a better opportunity for us to get to know our new daughter-in-law.
We will show slides of the wedding and the 11-day trek that followed on two upcoming occasions. The first is at 7 p.m. Friday at the Sierra Center for Spiritual Living on Florence Avenue in Grass Valley. The second is at the regular monthly meeting of the Sierra Club Sept. 18 at Seaman’s Lodge in Nevada City. Both are free and open to the public.
Linda Horning is co-editor of the Sierra Writers Newsletter. She is currently working on a book about her adventures in Nepal.