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I went with a great group of students and practitioners and wanderers to Ladakh India in June and July of 2008. We had some incredibly amazing experiences – just coming back home, safely, after riding around the Ladakhi roads is saying something. But one of the surprising events, not on our itinerary, was on June 22nd. We were coming back from Chemray Monastery, when, luckily the trip guide had the windows down in his car. He heard some music coming from far off and asked the driver to stop. They backed up and sure enough, there was a wedding going on, out of sight but relatively close to the road. And of course you bring your 16 Caucasian, Western (clueless) tourist / pilgrims to a random wedding! I mean who doesn’t?
In the first picture, is the significant pile of wedding gifts, which I will get into. But first, we were a little hesitant. Was it okay to crash a stranger’s wedding? Did Namgyal, the guide, know these people? No he was not sure but he was insistent anyway. It turns out he knew some relatives of the bride and other friends. There was an enormous tent set up, with tapestries (dyed cloth) serving as the roof. And under this tent, there were at least 200 people – seriously. Up front where we came in, there were five or six musicians, playing big drums, little drums and a couple had wind instruments – horns of sorts. Every once in a while, the drummer with the largest drums would shlop some oil on his drum and smooth it around before continuing to play.
The Ladakhis were so, so sweet and generous. They made room for us up front and then they proceeded to treat us like we were honored guests – have you ever heard of such a thing? The parents of the bride and groom came by and greeted us – shaking our hands. Then they passed around plates and cups, along with the traditional Tibetan / Ladakhi butter tea – a very salty, buttery tea. Normally that tea is not my favorite, but on this day, it was awesome – of course it is like a meal in a cup, but it is filling and warming. Quite nice at the right time. Then someone came around with the celebratory rice with small sweet-potato-like roots in it, sweetened with raisins. I think it is called trol-ma-drey-see in funky phoneticized Tibetan. And that’s not all! After they had given us something to drink and fed us, someone passed us some Ladakhi Chang – it was called “Godfather.” Chang is the fermented barley beer / wine. Little did I know, and thankfully it was not a problem, but in Ladakh, this is not pasteurized – so the probiotics and vitamin B’s are better but you better hope they used clean water!
We arrived as they were about to start dancing. In Ladakh, they do a rhythmic, slow circular dance which I believe resembles and signifies a flower blossoming. The matron of our guest house explained it later on in the week. Some of us got up and danced with them, some people had to be pulled. For some reason, I was enjoying the Godfather (beer) too much to dance – or I had not had enough yet! On a side note, I have given up drinking for the most part, except on Tibetan holidays or with religious celebrations and on this day, I made an exception. Hey – when it Ladakh, do as the Ladakhis do – right? The tent was so large that, despite 30 or 40 people dancing in a circle, there were still rows of people in the back and they only circled a small part of the space (where the gifts were situated).
Later, once the dancing paused, the groom and his friends got up in front and started talking amongst themselves and occasionally one of them would go and talk with the parents of the bride / groom (I could not tell who was with whom). If this wedding was anything like a traditional Tibetan wedding, which I only know a little bit about, the families involved probably planned the union. We were there for at least an hour – maybe two – and we did not see any vows being exchanged and only rarely was the groom anywhere near the bride.
The groom and his friends were wearing some very interesting clothing and accessories. The groom had a traditional Ladakhi / Tibetan / Chinese tunic, blue jeans, Nike running shoes and he and his friends (about half a dozen or more) were wearing hats that looked like they were trying to communicate with extra terrestrials. I’m not sure if this is traditional garb for Ladakh, but see for yourself.
The bride was wearing the traditional turquoise and semi-precious stone head dress herself. I have heard that these are very heavy, and since I mainly saw the bride sitting down, it made sense. The ceremonial female headdress is like a cobra’s hood of sorts and actually the money in the Ladakhi families is controlled by the women because it is in their jewelry. Patriarchal religion but matriarchal family structure of sorts. See below for a picture of the back of the bride’s head – she was turned away from us and I did not feel like running around being a photographer (might have been rude at an otherwise awkward situation to begin with).
Thanks for reading and have a good day.