More Indians opt to say 'I do' in exotic places

In India, destination weddings are the latest trend among middle-class Indians and remain popular among the rich, where the wedding couple whisks family and friends away to an exotic location in India or even abroad for about three days.
Indian celebrity Shiamak Davar (above) performing at Udaipur's City Palace during the wedding of businessman Binod Chaudhary's son, Varun, and his bride, Anushree (right). Around 2,000 guests were whisked to the Rajasthan lake city on chartered fligh
Indian celebrity Shiamak Davar (above) performing at Udaipur's City Palace during the wedding of businessman Binod Chaudhary's son, Varun, and his bride, Anushree. Around 2,000 guests were whisked to the Rajasthan lake city on chartered flights from Delhi and Mumbai, and back.PHOTOS: BADAL RAJA
Indian celebrity Shiamak Davar (above) performing at Udaipur's City Palace during the wedding of businessman Binod Chaudhary's son, Varun, and his bride, Anushree (right). Around 2,000 guests were whisked to the Rajasthan lake city on chartered fligh
Indian celebrity Shiamak Davar performing at Udaipur's City Palace during the wedding of businessman Binod Chaudhary's son (left), Varun, and his bride, Anushree (right). Around 2,000 guests were whisked to the Rajasthan lake city on chartered flights from Delhi and Mumbai, and back.PHOTOS: BADAL RAJA

Destination weddings now make up a third of planners' business as middle class join trend

Billionaire Nepali businessman Binod Chaudhary wanted to give his son, Varun, and his fiancee, Anushree, a memorable wedding.

So he and the bride's father, Indian jeweller Rajkumar Tongya, did what more Indians are doing now - hold a destination wedding.

They whisked around 2,000 guests to Udaipur - a tourist hot spot known for its lakes and palaces - in the state of Rajasthan aboard three chartered flights from Delhi and Mumbai, and back.

Over three days last month, guests enjoyed a performance by the Shillong Chamber Choir - an award-winning Indian choir that also performed during former United States president Barack Obama's visit in 2010.

On another night, they watched European acrobats float on giant balloons and slide down the side of the 16th-century City Palace, as Indian dancers gyrated to English pop and Bollywood music against a light show on the palace walls.

Nearly 1,800 people worked behind the scenes. Hundreds of cars and drivers, as well as boats, were hired to ferry guests from the airport to multiple hotels and half a dozen venues that ranged from five-star hotels to palaces.

Mr Chaudhary, chairman of Chaudhary Group, wanted to give guests, who included Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and actor Salman Khan, an unforgettable experience.

"The destination wedding is very handy and unique because... you are able to sort of take a moment from their (the guests') lives, away from the standard routine. So they are focused (on the wedding)," Mr Chaudhary told The Sunday Times.

"The logistics were mind-boggling. We had six different venues. The (show at the palace) was the making of an epic...

"You can compare it to the making of a blockbuster."

He refused to divulge the cost of the wedding, saying "on some occasions, money is irrelevant and secondary. What is important is to do your best and make a statement and leave far-reaching memories".

In India, weddings are serious business, apart from being a statement on social status. The industry is estimated to be worth US$38 billion (S$52 billion), with a 30 per cent annual growth. Around 10 million weddings take place annually.

Wedding planners say destination weddings now account for 30 to 35 per cent of their business.

Families typically spend one-fifth or sometimes all their savings on weddings, according to estimates.

Wedding planner Neeta Raheja said: "Earlier, they were restricted to the elite. Now, even a normal upper-middle-class person feels, 'Why shouldn't I have this wedding in some exotic place?'"

Ms Surpreet Kaur, co-owner of a Delhi wedding photography company, said the trend picked up last year. Out of 25 weddings have staff have photographed this year, 10 were destination weddings.

Costs range from 1.5 million rupees (S$32,000) to billions of rupees, but having a wedding abroad can cost less than one in Delhi.

Ms Amisha Bhardwaj, 26, who works in an event management company, held her wedding in Hua Hin, about 200km from Bangkok, on May 6 and 7.

The couple invited around 200 guests who bought their own air tickets, but hosted them in a resort hotel where prices started from around 8,000 rupees per night.

Said Ms Bhardwaj: "We belong to middle-class families. We wrapped up all the functions in two days as we didn't want to pay for another day for the guests."

The destination wedding cost a few million rupees, she said.

"If we had done it in Delhi, the guest list would have crossed 1,000 and costs would have been higher."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline 'More Indians opt to say 'I do' in exotic places'. Print Edition | Subscribe