In the tiniest of tailor shops in Udaipur, in the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan, a squad of tailors chaotically fussed over me. It was the peak of autumn wedding season and I was being fitted for a sherwani, the traditional Indian garment worn among Rajput aristocracy at Rajasthan weddings.
My friend Dianne was standing in a nest of chiffon and georgette, trying on colorful saris. She was debating between the sequined turquoise and the glittery hot pink.
We had been invited to an Indian wedding. As the hand-painted invitation put it: “You’re cordially invited to the wedding of Sau. Kan. Hanupriya Jodha and Chi Kr Navdeep Singh.
The newlyweds-to-be were not old friends from college, family members or even friends of friends. Truth be told, we didn’t know the bride and groom or any of their 1,000 other guests. We had been invited thanks to a New York-based tour agency called Micato Safaris, one of a handful of tour agencies that provide access to Indian weddings. Weddings in this region, which are mostly arranged, are a big deal — and for a tidy price, crashing them can be a great way to poke one’s head into a rich cultural window that you won’t get from a guidebook.
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Wedding season in Rajasthan is October through February. Micato’s Rajasthan tours have seen a seasonal uptick in guests’ requesting access to these lavish three- to five-day ceremonies, long known to include elephants, tigers, over-the-top Bollywood dance troupes and firework displays.
“Big industrialist weddings often have Bollywood actors perform for as much as $200,000 for a five-minute gig,” said Lisa Alam Shah, Micato India’s Delhi-based operations manager.
Luxury tented camps, like Camp Bliss in Pushkar, have been known to invite travelers to weddings, while some travel outfitters, like Cox & Kings and Kensington Tours, scout out hotels where weddings are booked and place their guests there. “Our hotel was hosting a two-night wedding while we stayed there,” said Amanda Dun, who traveled from London with Kensington in 2011.
If the idea of wedding crashing reeks of colonialism to you, keep in mind that many Indians are especially warm and welcoming to visitors, and that many relish the chance to show off their English. You might, as I was, be complimented on your choice of sherwani color, asked about your profession and even be told which guests are local pariahs.
The one I visited (in 2011) was so big that it had other interloping wedding crashers: three 50-something blondes from San Diego with henna-swirled arms and sparkling saris were shepherded around by a handsome Rajasthan guide. I stayed at the wedding for only one night — and never met the bride or groom, which is not uncommon. Since they didn’t invite me personally, it didn’t bother me at all.
Many travelers leave these weddings feeling more connected to Indian culture and surprised by how universal expressions of love and marriage are. One main difference is that Indian weddings eschew the sentimental for the celebratory. “The more the merrier” remains the golden rule.