Rajasthan prospers as the wedding destination
Jaipur: Marriages may be made in heaven, but many are surely billed in Rajasthan. From Indophile celebrities to lovelorn backpackers, weddings for foreigners have become the state`s latest money-spinner.
Trade estimates put the figure at over Rs.500-800 million ($11-18 million), with an average annual growth rate of 20-25 percent.
As per travel industry estimates, about 300 foreign couples travel to India every year to get married in Rajasthan. Towns like Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur and Pushkar are the most popular, with around 100 marriages held every year.
The Oct 23 wedding of British comedian Russell Brand and singer Katy Perry near the Ranthambore national park, with Vedic rituals, costumes and even a safari thrown in, is a testimony to the state`s popularity among celebrities and foreigners wishing to exchange vows in exotic locales.
In March 2007, Hollywood actress Liz Hurley and businessman Arun Nayar had flown in to Jodhpur for a traditional Indian wedding.
Most of time the couples are already married, but can`t resist the temptation of marrying again amid the deserts and grand palaces. Even for couples tying the knot for the first time, the marriages are finally registered in their country of origin and the rituals conducted here therefore have no official status.
But it does make the weddings an elaborate `Incredible India` experience.
"These celebrity weddings popularise the state as a wedding destination for tourists," said Navendu Goswami of Jaipur-based Grand Tours.
Pandit Rajendra Sharma, a Hindu priest who has solemnised many such weddings, said foreigners are impressed by the cultural nuances.
Wearing swirling lehngas, a ghunghat and gold jewellery "fascinates foreign ladies", he says.
"They really don`t want to go into why rituals like touching the feet and putting vermilion are performed, but they still want to practise it because it`s a fun activity for them, something they have never seen before," he said.
For men, Goswami said, the variety of turbans, Maharaja-style dresses and the jewellery makes the ceremony a colourful, exotic experience.
"If marriages are made in heaven, then Rajasthan is no less a heaven for solemnising these marriages," he added.
The travel agents say more than the traditional aspects, it`s the glitz and glamour of Indian weddings that attract foreigners.
"It is the pomp and show that prompt foreigners to re-marry here," said Karan Singh, a travel agent.
The long marriage processions, including horses and elephants, warm hospitality, variety of delicious cuisines, amazing fireworks and the like are things which attract foreigners, he said.
And how much do these fairytale weddings cost?
"A normal wedding costs a minimum of Rs.1-2.5 million ($22,000-55,000) and that includes all the marriage arrangements plus a dinner party for 100 people," a manager of a Jaipur-based travel agency said.
A wedding package could be for anything between four and 15 days, depending on the pockets of the client, he said.
"Sometimes we have to provide a traditional venue, a dinner party, a procession including the horses and elephants and fireworks, but everything is on demand," he added.
However, if a person wants a bigger and fatter wedding with the procession of camels, elephants, horses bands and other things then the budget can stretch to Rs.5 million ($112 million).