We are wedding photographers based in Charleston, South Carolina, and this was our very first time photographing a wedding in Bhutan.
Christine and Chiaming wanted their friends and family to not simply attend a wedding, but to have an experience. An experience they would remember the rest of their lives. Luckily for us, they brought us along for their three-day destination wedding to record every moment of anticipation, beauty and wonder.
It’s a myth that the Kingdom of Bhutan, a tiny landlocked country between China and India, limits the number of tourists that can enter. But it does control HOW they enter. You can only travel to Bhutan through an organized tour, and you must pay a per diem fee that covers things such as transportation and guides.
Ben and I met up with the entire wedding group, which came mostly from Taiwan, before dawn in the lobby of a Bangkok hotel, bleary-eyed but excited. We all boarded the bus that would take us to the airport, stowed all the bags and took our seats… only to learn our bus had just broken down in the hotel parking lot and was definitely not going anywhere anytime soon. Losing time and starting to worry, Christine went into super-planner mode and instructed the hotel staff to order as many taxis as they could (not an easy task at 4 a.m.). Miraculously, we all made it to the airport just in time to catch our flight into Paro, Bhutan.
From the moment we arrived to the day we left, Christine had planned activities for nearly every hour of every day. There was always somewhere to go, something to see, something new to experience. Our hotel, Uma Paro, was the perfect combination of luxury and authenticity in a mystical, romantic forest setting.
Ben and I were immediately captivated by Bhutan. Bhutan remains a rural, underdeveloped country with stunning mountainous backdrops and unique, traditional architecture. Bhutanese homes are three stories – with the livestock living on the first floor, the middle floor used for storage, and the top floor as the living quarters. Most of the residents still dress in the traditional kera and gho, and most support themselves by farming. Children run barefoot through the streets. People pass by with bright red teeth from chewing betel nut. It is a colorful, vibrant, peaceful place. Christine chose Bhutan for her wedding because of the happiness she felt here during a trip with her sister.
Christine and Chiaming’s wedding day turned into an adventure in itself when the rain starting coming down just as Christine and her father entered the aisle. As everyone popped umbrellas and huddled together, Ben and I had the biggest smiles on our faces. Photographers love interesting weather scenarios, and honestly the rain in that forest setting just added to the already magical feel of the ceremony. For us anyway, the rain was a blessing and we had so much fun photographing the ceremony. Christine noticed, and told us afterward how funny it was to see Ben and me smiling and clearly exhilarated while everyone else looked stressed and worried. The rain cleared sometime during dinner, and we were able to have dancing and a bonfire in the courtyard.
The morning after the wedding day, the whole group donned the traditional Bhutanese clothes Christine and Chiaming gave us as a gift, and traveled to an ancient Buddhist temple where the monks performed a Buddhist wedding blessing for Christine and Chiaming. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us, and it is hard to adequately describe the wonder and fulfillment we felt as we breathed in the smoke from the incense, sweated in the heat, and allowed the dense, guttural sound of the monks’ brass horns to permeate our senses.
We stayed at the temple as long as they would let us, and then made the trip back to the hotel. That evening we all attended a farewell barbecue, still in our traditional outfits, on the grounds of the hotel. We were treated to musicians, dancers and a feast. It was a beautiful, relaxing way to end the trip. But Christine wasn’t quite ready for her wedding to be over with, and she insisted that we all go into town and find a karaoke bar. Everyone was exhausted, but clearly up for one last adventure. So our guide took about 20 of us, still in our keras and ghos, to a local hangout (I can’t really call it a bar, because they only served soda and beer, and we seemed to be the only ones partaking of the beer). And I can’t call it karaoke either. Bhutanese “karaoke” consists of a rotating lineup of entertainers lip-syncing to Asian pop songs while performing choreographed dances. It was only a matter of time before the tourists (all of us) were asked to come up on stage to participate in different performances. It was a hilarious, unusual experience that we will never forget.
Looking back on everything, it’s hard to believe we packed all of those experiences into just three days. Christine and Chiaming, we really have no words for how amazing your wedding was. You gave everyone memories to last a lifetime, and I can only hope we were able to give you photos that do the same.