A blessed extravaganza

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My girlfriend, Debbie and myself have returned recently from a trip to Nepal. We really didn't plan to have another holiday in Nepal at all. Since our trip last year we've had every intention of going back, but I imagined it would be for another stay of a month of so, so that we could go out on a long trek or take time for another yoga retreat or suchlike. This trip was kind of sprung on us.

Three weeks ago, Douglas, fine fella that he is, and Director of CWS, came to Hong Kong for two weeks on a fund raising trip and was kipping over at our place. We met Dougie while we were in Nepal .We were visiting our friend Katy there who became their education manager last year, and married into the Charity too, the saucy devil. I was also very lucky in having the chance to go out on an 8-day trek with another friend, Purna, around some of the villages where CWS work. These are all way off the normal, well-beaten tourist trails. Isolated in beautiful, though harsh foothill country, very basic, if not primitive lifestyle, and very unique in their Culture and language. They are tribal areas, so their identity and way of life is not even typically Nepali, it is Gurung or Tamang. Life in these villages is pretty hard. They live very much hand to mouth, in country that is all either going up or down (bloody hell, they seem to be able to climb like billy goats there, and find a flabby wheezing Scots bloke quite amusing). But they also live incredibly close to nature in a very honest way, innocent of the kinds of financial, material, social and ethical worries that we all drive ourselves doo-lally with.

Dougie came over to Hong Kong for a fortnight of fundraising - all of CWS's major sponsors are here. When he arrived he socked us with the surprise news that he had got married 3 months before - in secret to a Nepali woman, Insuba, who is the health-care worker for one of the Day Care Centres. On top of that was the news that he was going to do it all over again (with the same woman, thankfully), and that was where Dougie set off badgering me and Debbie into the idea that we should head back to Nepal with him to help him celebrate his second time around. Y'see, since Dougie is most certainly not of the same cast as Insuba, there was no way that her people, in the village, would have approved of their getting married. So, they went about it sneaky-like and got married in secret with only a few friends there (and the Lama dude, of course) to help see it in. Once that was done, they then told Insuba's family - met with lots of p-too, spitting on the floor, so I'm told. But in the long run, they accepted it (there wasn't a lot else they could do), and so wanted to have an official blessing ceremony in the village (Saimarang - the first village where CWS built a day care centre, and the one that Insuba works in). As it goes they had three weddings as after their secret one, and the one in Saimarang, there was another celebration in Pokhara. Multiple weddings seems to be the way with these charity types; Katy and Gary got married out in one of the villages last February, and then again in Cornwall in June.

Not surprisingly it didn't take much badgering from Dougie to persuade me and Deb that going back with him was an opportunity not to be missed. Not only to help our chum celebrate the glorious occasion, but to be able to experience a traditional Nepali tribal wedding. Very chuffed indeed now that we did go, 'cause it was quite an experience.

We flew back with Dougie two Saturdays ago - he was giving himself the huge leeway in time of two days to get back from Hong Kong and then up to Saimarang for the wedding on the Monday. As we flew into Kathmandu we had a very clear and quite, quite stunning view of Mt Everest and the tips of various other mountains peaking out through the clouds. It gives you a bit of perspective on yourself and your life to look out on those giants. Last time it was too hazy to get that view. In Kathmandu we quickly changed planes to take another flight over to Pokhara - this time in little 14-seater, with us as the only passengers! Again, stupendous views of the foothills and the mountains beyond for all of the 30 minute journey. When we got to Pokhara, the next few days were just as vertiginous and dizzying. That night we went out on Dougie's stag night. A good feed, a hefty amount of boozing and a lot of big boms. Debbie sensibly went home early, and left it to the lads. I, as one of the lads, quite insensibly have very little idea what went on for the rest of the night.

Sunday saw a lot of sleep (we had had to get up at 5 on the Saturday morning to leave HK, after a night out in HK, so sleep was lacking), then Monday we were up early for the trip out to the Village. Insuba was already out there, with her family and friends, so we were the groom's party saddling up and heading for dem hills (away ower 'ere, ye ken). First off there was a pretty rough mini-bus journey (groom travelling behind in style in clapped out cab) for a couple of hours. We either had to bring along, or acquire on this part of the journey certain key ingredients - a wapping great fish from the lake, a live chicken (who wasn't too happy about it), 240 roti breads and two gallons of raksi (the local mountain firewater). Thankfully there are hearty chaps prevalent in Nepal called porters who will gladly carry large heavy objects over moonscape for cash, so I wasn't to be seen balancing a box of roties on my head. The chicken, however, was put into the care of an Irish fella, called Keiran, thus provided endless entertainment for the rest of the journey ('one man and his rooster' - for it was indeed a bloke bird).

At the end of the bus ride we stopped for a quick spot of tiffin, and then set out on the five-hour trek to Saimarang. At this point it was rather sad to see a spot that I had walked through last May, that had been serene and nature bound - a narrow path leading down to a gurgling river that needed to be crossed in order to get over to any of the villages - this place had been a real crossing point, a place where you leave the outside world behind and enter the otherworld of Nepali village life - now a new road has been cut running down to the river. Literally cut. A new town leader had brought in the bulldozers and dug out a road winding it's way down the hillside - an ugly scar, trafficked by angry busses that fight against the slopes and sharp curves and blast out their pa-pa-pa-PA-pa horns to the whole of that valley and the next. A sign of progress, communication welcomed by the villagers, but an insult and regression for nature and placid life.

The trek was a big down to the river, then a big up - a bastard big up to me and Deb, but not to the billy goats - and a path around a couple of valley sides (pa-pa-pa-PA-pa still audible). Keiran carried, and caroused, his rooster for all of the walk, wrapped up in one of his trouser legs, zipped out from his handy trekking troos. Never had man and cock become so attached (!?!), and the fact that chicken did not feature in any of the dishes in the later meal was cause for concern and relief.

Half an hour before we reached Saimarang we stopped so that Dougie could change into his outfit - a traditionalish Nepali garb with various parts that seemed to be ridiculously tricky to put on - trousers that looked like they were built for a sumo, and when put on left enough room around the arse for several good doses. There was a sash that had to get wrapped round his head too - over his topi hat. All of the guys in the group, me too, had topis on, and Debbie changed there into a lungi skirt and shawl, making her look quite the hillwoman. At this point it was also necessary to have a good swig of raksi and a hefty drag on a joint to boost courage; Dougie was starting to look distinctly shaky - now I understand why. He knew what to expect.

From there on, as we curved round a hillside, round the back of a valley, with the day care centre of Saimarang visible in a clearing as a marker for where we were headed, we could hear drums coming over the treetops. It was a real moment to catch yourself and think 'whoa, Tarzan film, or wot?'. We called out a couple of whoops and the drums got more manic, voices started to holler back.. As we got nearer, faces started appearing now and again from behind trees, or the doorways of occasional houses we passed, trying to get a look at the groom, the foreigner that was coming to take one of the villages girls away, and the guy that had come here years ago and built a school for the village kids, bringing health care and education.

One of my clearest mental images of the whole trip is the point where we turned a corner onto a slope that led up to the start of the village proper, and at the top of this narrow path there was a welcoming committee, with a band playing - the band being the drums we heard, two whiney little pipes playing out a choon, and two great big muckle horns that curved an arc a meter above the heads of the guys that were playing them, going 'booowaaaaaaaaooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuu'. The village people (YMCno, no) were lining the banks on either side of the path cheering us in, and there was Katy, ignoring the groom, and her husband, the best man (how rude), pointing at me and Debbie going 'what are you doing here?' She'd been in the villages for the ten days previous and didn't know we were coming. Dougie's mum, Theresa, was out there too, with his step Dad. She's 71 and not looking it, doing bloody well to be out there in the hills, and she's been a few times before.

After this point it started to rain bananas. We'd had warning of this, so the wise stood well back as local women and kids chucked loads of old bananas and splashed buckets of red ticka paint all over Douglas and Gary, with the valiant efforts of an ace young guy called Krishna trying to get in the way and protect Dougie, getting himself dyed deep red in the process. They were symbolically - or not so - driving away the man that was coming to take away the village's daughter. Dougie's traditional Nepali sumo outfit was not quite so spanking and clean after that.

It took us a while to get to the spot where the ceremonies were to be held because at various points on the path through the village Dougie had to stop and take flowers out of the necks of bottles of raksi (which was then all poured into big communal buckets for later - 'hehheheh' thinks we booze-hounds) and cough up a bit of cash for each one (the first of many cash lobbings for the poor lad). They had strung up banners across the path at these points too, with mottoes like 'Marriage Douglas and Insuba 28 February 2000 Saimarang'. Very sweet.

The main place for the do was a tarpaulin-covered patch of open ground looking out into a deep valley with hills rolling off into the distance. A more venerable place for a wedding would be hard to find. We arrived there around five in the afternoon; Dougie set to taking more flowers out of bottles and ladling out cash, as we set to drinking the accumulating raksi and having a jig. Dougie, Gary, Dougie's mum and step dad then took up their places in the seats that were theirs for the rest of the night - for Dougie this was literal as he and Insuba were there, sat cross-legged until we left the village at about eight the next morning.

Meanwhile the band were ripping up a storm. The same group that greeted us into the village kept playing all night, and there were turns by most of the lads in the village getting up and birling dervishly around to the applause of all on-lookers - lots of 'hoy's and cries of 'shabash' ('well done' I think). Early in the evening there was a pair that got up and birled themselves into the a trance. A very strange sight indeed; everyone clapping and cheering this bloke and woman on as they spun round until they became distinctly floppy and required the assistance of willing helpers to keep them upright. When the music stopped they literally collapsed, they looked very giddy and I'm sure in Nepali they were saying 'whatefoxsgoinon?'.

Insuba didn't get to come out until almost midnight. We'd already had a huge big dose of dal bhat tekari (lentil broth, veg curry, rice - no chicken - the local staple), plenty raksi and a few whirls, before she arrived. A Nepali woman's lot is not the best one when it comes to her wedding. She also had to keep a mournful weeping look about her, as, rather than celebrating her betrothal, she is meant to weep the fact that she is leaving her family, home and people.

Throughout the rest of the night the main deal was that Dougie and Insuba sat while all of the village and people from all of the villages around (I think a lot of people wanted to come and honour Dougie's wedding) came one after the other and gave them tikka (blobs of gloopy rice stuck to the forehead, and flicked over their heads and generally around the place, much to the perturbation of Theresa who was sitting behind them and in the firing line), and puja, a blessing and a bit of cash in their laps. Lots of cash appeared, but it all seemed to get whisked off by various people from the village. So, Dougie was down again. Bummer. They were there right through the night. Allowed up for a couple of pee-breaks, but apart from that they were brought their food, and scant drink, and had to stay cross-legged till everyone had been through with their blessings. We, on the other hand, nipped off and had four or five hours kip on the floor of the day care centre. It was very weird getting up from a night's sleep and finding Dougie and Insuba still in the same positions, and still upright! The band were still cranking out the big choons too, and there was a fair bit of hurlin' and birlin' going on.

After another big dal bhat strengthener it was time to leave, but it wasn't as simple as picking up our belongings and departing, Douglas and Insuba had to get carried out of the village. Both of them got onto a chap's back and grabbed round his forehead, then were taken across the small paths over terraces. You'd think they'd get the local biggest strapping chaps for this job, but both of them were on a bloke who looked smaller than they are. On the way out of the village the group was stopped three times; but the village elder, by the local lama and by the 'Ama Tolle' - mother's group. At each point there was a rigmarole in which Dougie had to offer the person some money to pay for taking the village girl away, getting refused, offering more and eventually being allowed past, with the whole village lined up watching on either side. The old lama was great crack. He really hammed it up, giving Dougie a hard time, scoffing at the money that was offered and waving notes under Dougie's nose. Eventually Gary passed a note to Dougie, which he then offered - one US dollar - at that the old fella was like, 'Haway ye go son' and let them through.

It was almost a relief to get out of the village - the leaving process took about two hours - but it was a great shame to be leaving behind that very unique (for us) experience and head back to the comparably modern and urban world of Pokhara.

We came out of it up by one goat (I did just write 'up a goat' but it didn't quite sound right), swapped for a rooster perhaps, but Keiran was unwilling to stick this one in his trousers.

After the trek back down, and then return journey to Pokhara, there was just enough time for a shower, brush of the teeth, a strong cup of coffee and then onto the next party. Tuesday night was the next celebration - in a nice big open-air restaurant down by Fewa Lake,. Buffet dinner, top table, wedding presents being given instead of Puja, wedding cake, traditional band into rock/blues/reggae band into techno hopping and a man dressed up as a giant peacock (!?!). A very excellent party indeed, with all of the friends, colleagues and charity contacts that couldn't make it to the village wedding - I think there were about five hundred people who passed through there. Most notable sight of the evening was Dougie and Insuba still dancing after no sleep and all the different activities of a very long day, and they were both definitely loving it.

It was good to see them then, and in the few days we had left after that. A couple obviously very much in love. A strange situation - a village girl, who has seen a little more, Pokhara and Kathmandu, a bit of different life, but who still has the innocence and simpleness of village life, getting hitched to a western bloke who knows the village ways but also still lives very much in the busy life of a mover and shaker, and who knows a lot more of life outside of Saimarang, Pokhara and Nepal. They know fully what they are taking on though, what this commitment to each other means to their lives and I think they have thought a lot about how they can make it work. The best of luck to them indeed. They certainly provided Debbie and myself with the opportunity to experience something quite unlike anything we expected (in the middle of a dreary February). We weren't expecting to take a week in Nepal for a start.

Luckily the rest of the week was time for calm and do-nothing (lots of shopping, Nepal is ace for that, particularly if you have a cushion cover fetish like Debbie does) and we were brought back to Hong Kong nicely chilled with a slightly new perspective on life. I'm pretty damn certain that we will be back in Nepal when the first good opportunity arises - I'd recommend it to anyone, a sure fine country to visit. So we will be able to report on how the newlyweds (three times over) are coping.

Lots of love

Andrew Doggy Doig Doigy Andy XOXO

-- Andrew Doig (dogmonster@hotmail.com), March 13, 2000


Great story dude. I can't wait to get back there myself and see Douglas's Insuba.

-- Simon Johnson (virtual3@mos.com.np), March 14, 2000.

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