Nepali Life: A Sherpa wedding and mitini ceremony

I set out from Kathmandu having been given instructions to get to Chahabil Chowk by 5am to catch a Jeep to Paplu and from there to ask for directions to Loding, in Solukhumbu. My friend’s cousin was getting married and due to being busy elsewhere (cycling here) I had to make my own way to their village in order to arrive for the third and final day of celebrations.

I made it to Paplu having spent 11 hours in the Jeep squashed by two oversized Israeli trekkers who hadn’t realised that four people, as opposed to the more European standard of three people, are expected to fit across the back seats. A small, aged, Nepali man was the other unlucky party who was unfortunate enough to have to keep their guitar between his legs too.

I asked six different people for directions to Loding and got six different answers. I went with the most promising and to my own astonishment made it. Although by the time I had walked there it was dark and I stumbled around managing to find a neighbour’s house, who led me by torchlight back downhill to where I had first left the road. My friend, Ngima, and his laughing mother, who had seen me veer off the wrong way uphill, were waiting for me.

Ngima and his brother had only just arrived back at their mother’s house from having walked with the bride and groom from the bride’s village back to the groom’s village. Two days previously they had walked with the groom from the groom’s village to the bride’s village; a 6-7-hour walk, which on getting lost, took them far longer, not arriving until well after dark at 9pm. Despite that the drinks flowed until 5am. The official marriage ceremony was conducted by a lama the following day and witnessed by several hungover family members and friends before the long walk back to the bride’s new family home.

 

 

At Ngima’s house we had an early night before the next day’s party. I was roused by a pot of milk tea in bed, a thoroughly welcome treat before lunch at 9am of rice, potatoes and achar (a hot tomato chutney). A pan of hot water was supplied for a shower and once we were all ready we set off for the groom’s house, a walk up the opposite hillside. It was a steep, rocky, muddy walk, which made me concerned for the return journey after no doubt much local alcohol…

To begin with tea was served, either sweet milk tea, or su cha, the traditional Sherpa salt tea. Gigantic vats of food were being prepared for the steadily arriving guests and one by one plates of dhal bhat with vegetable curry were handed out. There was also a constant stream of washing up being done, largely by the new bride, much to my shock, but that’s village life in Nepal. After eating and mingling with family and friends, none of who’s conversations I could understand, it was time to start drinking something other than tea.

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I moved onto chang, a local alcohol made from fermented corn, which is nicer than it sounds. Honest. When the cups ran out it was served in bowls accompanied by the Sherpa command shey, meaning ‘eat’ or ‘drink’. Once your bowl has been filled you are expected to drink some of it to make space for more to be served to allow the Sherpa hospitability to be indulged. Much like driving in Nepal, if you leave any space, it will be filled. After numerous bowls worth of chang had been partly consumed and then topped up we headed inside where another part of the marriage process was taking place. The bride and groom were kneeling in the centre of a circle while the friends and family danced in a ring around them singing, from what I understand, naughty songs.

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Having got everyone fired up the young men of the local village were now in charge of the portable speaker and the playlist and everyone hit the dancefloor (the earthen yard in front of the groom’s family’s house). The young men in their jeans and leather jackets danced alongside the ladies in their traditional attire to a mixture of modern and traditional Nepali music. Seeing the older ladies in their angis and striped aprons, including Ngima’s 73-year-old, tipsy mother, dancing to modern pop music was quite a sight.

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Not Ngima’s 73-year-old mother

The drinking and dancing continued until late on one of the village mothers said she would like to make me her daughter’s mitini (lifelong sisterhood) as I reminded her of her daughter. Following this declaration a number of us moved the party on to her house where her startled daughter had to begin boiling potatoes for everyone while her mother made more chang. The rest of the wedding party soon followed and the mitini ceremony began.

We were seated next to each other on a carpet in the centre of the floor while the rest of the partygoers crowded around. We were both given khatas (ceremonial Buddhist scarves) by the other guests and then exchanges them with each other while sharing cups of milk. We made some brief introductions to get to know each other and then peeled and fed each other boiled potatoes. It was certainly rather different than anything I had done with my friends back in UK. Once the official ceremony had concluded, and I couldn’t eat any more boiled potatoes, the music was cranked up and the dancing restarted.

 

 

After more chang and just one more song we finally made our wobbly way back down the muddy footpath to Ngima’s house where his mother was waiting, torch in hand, complaining about how late it was. We made our way to bed like naughty schoolchildren and by the morning all was forgiven.

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