Wedding Crasher In Ulan Bator. I am no Jeremy Grey or John Beckwith, but I have crashed a wedding or two in my day. The most recent one was in Ulan Bator in Mongolia.
Courtesy of New Line Cinema
It all started off innocently enough. I lazily snapped photos of the historic Gandan Monastery. This Buddhist monastery dates back to the early 1800s. Despite a massive religious eradication under the Mongolian communist government, the monastery escaped complete destruction and instead was shut down. Gandan Monastery was revitalized as the communist government was over thrown in the 1990s.
My pulse quickened as I spied a black car pull up with a miniature bride/groom attached to the hood. My camera lens is attracted to kids, old people, and anyone in a traditional uniform/costume. The final category also includes weddings. For the next 90 minutes, I brazenly stalked the wedding party during their personal photo foray at the monastery. With gratitude, I approached the groom and offered to email all my photos to him if he so desired. My offer was met with thanks and an impromptu invite to their wedding reception. As they say, when in Ulan Bator …
It was crisp and cool weather in September as I made my way across town to the hotel. I made one pit stop to purchase a bouquet of flowers. I did not want to show up empty handed. (I was already poorly dressed for the occasion.)
I entered the wedding mid-stream and was quickly ushered to one of the tables. I sat at a table with some of the bride’s family. I was met with tremendous warmth and hospitality, despite the lack of English and my one word of Mongolian and fifty words of Russian. I witnessed some interesting Mongolian traditions, some cheesy Western elements, and some Russian influences.
I noticed a giant stack of food, almost appeared to be wooden blocks, next to the cake on the wedding party’s table. I was to learn this food was curdled milk. The Mongolian diet is derived directly from cattle, horses, camels, yaks, sheep, and goats. The curds were hard, salty, and bitter.
There was also another milk driven tradition. Some of the family headed to the stage to pour milk into a cascading fountain.
And finally, I witnessed many greetings between the guests that involved the exchanging of a small, stone bottle. The bottle would be accepted with an open palm. The receiving party would sniff the bottle and pass it back.
Mongolia was firmly in the Soviet universe for many decades. If you have visited any ex-Soviet countries or Russia you might recognize the table below.
The wedding was am incessant combination of action and sound. There was never a subdued moment. The wedding was a combination dancing, speeches, cheesy wedding singers, and a band.
Near the end of the reception, all the guests lined up to present gifts to the bride and groom. I was extra appreciative that I managed to pick up the bouquet before arriving at the wedding.
The magic of travel can be explained in this one simple anecdote. A historic temple. The arrival of a wedding party. And an unexpected and gracious invite of a complete stranger. A wedding crasher in Ulan Bator.
When in Mongolia, go visit surreal North Korea.
Wedding Crasher In Ulan Bator