A Bhutan wedding to remember for a couple from New York. L. Craig Smith
Some brides-to-be dream of walking down the aisle in a white dress, but not Randi Lass. Since reading National Geographic as a child, she had dreamed of visiting Bhutan, so when she and her fiancé, Patrick Reyes, decided to make a trip there in November 2011, Randi had an idea. Why not make the experience even more memorable by journeying from their home in Brooklyn, New York to get married in Bhutan?
With Patrick’s enthusiastic agreement, Randi contacted a US-based adventure tour company with years of cultural connections in Bhutan to see if it would be possible to arrange a traditional Bhutanese wedding celebration during their READ Bhutan educational and cultural tour. Myths and Mountains President, Dr Antonia (Toni) Neubauer, who personally leads this tour once a year, jumped in with both feet to orchestrate all the arrangements in the Land of the Thunder Dragon.
The wedding took place at a picturesque 350-year-old farmhouse. Antonia Neubauer
The wedding was held at a 350-year-old farmhouse owned by the family of one of the tour operator’s Bhutanese partners. In a Bhutanese wedding, the man comes to the woman, so at her hotel Randi dressed in a kira, the traditional women’s garment, early in the morning and was brought to the farmhouse. The wedding guests, who included fellow trip participants, staff from Myths’ Bhutanese partner companies, and relatives of the farmhouse owners, arrived later in a procession with the groom, who was wearing a traditional men’s garment known as a gho.
After initial celebrations in the courtyard, the actual marriage ceremony was held in a special prayer room, with a lama and several monks conducting the rites in the ancient formal manner. Traditional entertainment and lunch followed at the farmhouse.
“In addition to all the planning for a wedding,” Toni recalls, “you also have to consult the astrologer to see what day and time to do it. Nothing is left to chance because an error in planning could start the marriage off all wrong.”
Some celebrations were held in the courtyard while the traditional marriage ceremony moved indoors. L. Craig Smith
“The wedding was way beyond our wildest dreams,” reported Randi. “I can’t say wildest expectations because we really had none. The entire day was nothing short of magical. We both laughed and cried because it was so hard even to believe this was reality. The ceremony by the head lama was more moving than anything I’ve ever experienced.”
Bhutanese country dances enriched the celebration. Antonia Neubauer
The ancient traditional marriage ceremony took place in a special prayer room. L. Craig Smith
The most memorable moment for Randi was standing at the front of the house waiting for the wedding to begin, and seeing the huge procession coming down from the mountains. “There were flags, horns, all of these wonderful people, and then there was Patrick,” she says. “There are no words for that moment.”
Randi and Patrick were also touched by how many people came to celebrate with them, how joyful they were over the couple’s happiness, and the tremendous hospitality of the Bhutanese people. Randi describes the feeling: “When each of them came and presented us with white scarves, gifts, and other things, it was so hard to accept and so humbling when I know how little these people have materially. The most touching was when Dasho, the family patriarch, presented us with an actual stone from the farmhouse.”
Other READ tour participants wholeheartedly embraced the celebration by purchasing Bhutanese outfits to attend the wedding.
The seven other Myths and Mountains tour participants welcomed the opportunity to share Randi and Patrick’s joy and the unique opportunity for each of them to experience Bhutanese culture from the inside. In preparation for the event, they all went shopping and bought their own kiras, ghos, and traditional boots.
“The wedding was a momentous occasion for everyone involved,” says Toni, “and a highlight for me in more than a quarter century of planning and leading adventure travel.”
The bride and groom clearly enjoyed the ceremony, lunch and traditional entertainment. Antonia Neubauer
Bhutan will always be in our hearts. I continue to read the Bhutanese daily online newspaper and keep in touch with friends from there through Facebook. I am even on Facebook with the Prime Minister who wanted to come to our wedding but was at the Southeast Asia Economic Development Conference in the Maldives instead. I met the Prime Minister when he was in New York for the UN General Assembly!
Patrick and I are both avid animal lovers and do volunteer animal rescue work in the US. We hope to assist with a charity in Bhutan to control their feral dog population. We are seriously considering putting both of our skill sets and passions to good use by doing something like tracking tigers in northern India/southern Bhutan). Royal Manas National Park is high on our travel wish list.
We were so touched when Dasho, the family patriarch, presented us with an actual stone from the farmhouse. We took it home in our carry-on bag anticipating we would have to explain to Customs what it was and why we had it, and hoping they wouldn’t think we were stealing archeological or historical treasure. Thankfully, no one asked about it although they did confiscate our bottles of Bhutanese Scotch and honey.
Patrick and I had wedding Part II on April 20, 2012. Although Thailand and some other countries have agreements with the US where weddings performed there can easily be legalized in the States, Bhutan has no such agreement. So we went to City Hall in downtown Manhattan wearing our Bhutanese wedding attire, and my parents and our best friends got to witness us getting married again.
Dasho, the family patriarch, presented the newly weds with a stone from the farmhouse. L. Craig Smith
Operating in 17 countries in Asia and South America, Myths and Mountains, www.mythsandmountains.com, creates hand-crafted, life-changing experiences that take adventurous, curious globetrotters inside a country’s culture. Among the company’s most recent recognitions are About.com’s 2011 Top Adventure Travel Companies of the World, Travel + Leisure Magazine’s 2010 Ultimate Adventure Outfitters From Around the Globe, Travel + Leisure Magazine’s 2010 Global Vision Award For Development, and National Geographic Adventure Magazine’s 2009 Top 10 Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth. In 2011, Condé Nast Magazine also recognized President Antonia Neubauer as its 2011 Nepal Top Travel Specialist.
A former language teacher and education researcher, Antonia Neubauer harnessed her company’s resources and founded in 1991 Rural Education and Development (READ), www.readglobal.org, in Nepal. Today, more than 57 self-sustaining, community-owned, READ Centers are transforming communities in Bhutan, India and Nepal. Toni’s approach to empowering rural communities has been widely embraced, and through her travel company she leads READ trips to all three countries each year. There, visitors may witness first-hand the impact READ Centers are making in some of the most rural and isolated communities in Asia.