Anushka Sharma’s destination wedding in Tuscany with 35 guests was a game changer, and young girls and brides-to-be on both sides of the border have been dreaming of a destination wedding ever since her pictures went viral.
While some tried to replicate her rustic décor, others went on to use the same theme song she did — but the smartest folks pulled off a destination wedding without breaking their bank.
How? By hosting a desi-tination wedding.
Desi-tination wedding is one that’s hosted at a local destination — in the hills, by the lake, in Murree, Nathiagali, Bhurban or even Hunza. It gives couples the best of both worlds — a stunning location without having to get on a plane and spend dollars, but that’s not all.
Desi-tination weddings are unique and charming, they give you the thrill of travelling to another place to tie the knot and the warmth of being around close friends and family who have travelled a distance to be with you on the most special day of your life.
The trend of travelling to a new location within the country to host a wedding is on the rise and why wouldn’t it be? It’s fun, different and more within reach compared to Tuscany or Turkey. And since Pakistan’s northern areas no less than the Swiss Alps, who needs to travel to exotic, foreign locations for a stunning backdrop for their wedding when they can do the same without getting on a plane?
Travel enthusiasts A & W (who chose to stay anonymous) knew their wedding was going to be the most special day of their lives, but they also wanted it to be exciting and unique, so they hosted an intimate ceremony at the Silk Route Hotel in Passu, Hunza.
The hotel’s lawn overlooks the mountains, making a stunning backdrop for any affair. “The excitement we wanted at our ceremony was not coming across in the idea of hosting it in Karachi, so we thought of doing it in a location that is beautiful, secluded, and naturally thought of heading to the mountains.”
Their wedding turned out to be a great adventure for the 60 people who came from 10 different locations and drove up north together, stopping at Naran for a night, where they hosted a simple dholki amid close friends, family, great weather and a naturally beautiful location.
The couple explained why they chose to host their wedding in Hunza. “The idea was not to have heavy clothes and [simply] change the backdrop, or have heavy make up and change the surroundings. The idea was to genuinely do things that make us happy, are exciting and should be prioritised at a wedding. For makeup, the bride got help from her best friends who knew their way around.”
So how was it different? Only the couple’s immediate families, closest friends and colleagues made it to the ceremony. They skipped on a lot of typical traditions to make space for new ones. The event featured speeches by the couple’s best friends, the bride’s brother was the MC and her father read out a poem in Urdu he wrote himself for the occasion, which made the event even more special.
The clothes were light and simple, but went well with the theme. Pictures were the last thing they were worried about and only hired a photographer at the last minute, which goes to show how real desi-tination weddings can be, concentrating on what matters most: the experience and not the material.
Besides being unique, this new trend is also making people value Pakistan’s landscape, explore new locations and think out of the box when it comes to weddings.
Zaina Arshad’s sundowner/bridal shower in Head Marala, near Sialkot, didn’t look any less than a celebration on a beach in Thailand. She had aspired for one of her wedding functions to be at a beach, but realised that getting all her friends to attend would be a challenge.
“It was difficult for all my friends from Pakistan to travel and my friends from London had already booked their tickets for Pakistan for the wedding festivities, so I decided to turn Head Marala into a fun location for a sundowner. It was kept as a surprise; my friends were told it’s a secret location and we’ll all go together. Everyone was surprised to see the place transformed into a little Thailand for the celebration.”
Desi-tination weddings are breaking stereotypes too. For starters, they are different from traditional weddings and add innovation to celebrations.
They help cut down the total number of events which, admittedly, works for everyone: fewer clothes to make, lighter on the pocket for hosts and guests alike, less time consuming and more fun.
Desi-tination weddings also help pare down the guest list. After all, not all 500 of your relatives are likely to travel miles to be at the celebration.
Fewer guests also mean more meaningful experiences. The bride and groom can be themselves and dance. The bride doesn’t have to don a lot of jewellery and heavy clothes and sit silently worried about log kya kahaingey. These are all the stereotypes I’m glad desi-tination weddings are breaking.
A & W, the anonymous couple who got married in Hunza, mentioned that while the ceremony was unique, they had to give in to parental pressure and host a traditional event with lots of food and even more people for extended family and guests when they returned to Karachi. But they admit that, for them, all that mattered was the event in Hunza.
It would be interesting to see our older generation understand that an intimate desi-tination wedding doesn’t necessarily need to be followed by a big event in the city. We’re still a long away, but it looks like we have started taking steps in that direction.
But were desi-tination weddings worth the challenge? It seems so.
A & W told Images that it was 100% worth it. “The event was so inclusive for all our friends and family — the wedding became something everyone was a part of; from the friends who helped the bride dress up to the ones who helped with make up, the friends who danced, the ones who helped coordinate logistics with the tour company and travelled with us together. The idea was to get everyone behind it and make them feel like a part of this adventure instead of inviting them to dinner with hundreds of people where they eat food and go.”
When everyone got involved, the event became a celebration of the couple’s love and friendship and a memorable week in everyone’s lives. “Even though we had so many challenges, when we saw our loved ones join in our happiness, it was an experience worth living. Spending five to six days travelling up north with our closest friends and family, doing things we genuinely enjoy and not having to worry about anything was memorable and beautiful.”
The beauty of having a short guest list and only people who genuinely care about and love you is that they don’t create issues for you; they try to make things easier instead, the couple notes.
“We saw that throughout the ceremony and the trip and was totally worth it.”
Hosting a desi-tination wedding doesn’t come without its own set of difficulties. The folks at Miradore Weddings, an event management company, told Images that the lack of infrastructure is the biggest challenge when it comes to hosting weddings in tourist destinations within Pakistan.
“There are many beautiful places in Pakistan, especially in the north, but due to lack of hotels and catering facilities, hosting a wedding there becomes a challenge and if you outsource everything from Islamabad, the cost increases by [three times].”
Faryal Qasim, who recently had her nikkah at a private venue in Bhurban, told Images that travelling and ensuring everything was right was stressful for her.
“Even though I travel all the time, this was very different. For me, the biggest challenge was getting my makeup done, timing and punctuality. Everything was late from the moment our day started (and it started at 6am). The day event turned into an evening affair.”
Faryal recalls that even though she was at the make up salon on time, it didn’t open at the time promised and she had to do her make up herself with the help of a cousin, which added to the stress.
For A & W, the logistics were the biggest challenge. “The northern areas are still not as accessible; there are issues with roads, flights and bookings. Initially, we thought convincing people to come with us would be challenging, but surprisingly, that was the easiest part. And since we only had our closest friends and family coming who really wanted to be a part of the ceremony, they took care of travel and accommodation expenses themselves.”
While desi-tination weddings can be hosted on your own with a lot of hard work, it’s often easier to outsource the arrangements to event management companies.
Since they are challenging, many wedding planners may not be up for the task, but Touristan, a tour agency that arranges trips up north, recently took up the challenge and curated a wedding ceremony in Passu.
With blue skies and gorgeous mountains in the background, the open-air daytime event was curated with simplicity and beauty, letting the location speak for itself. Touristan brought the flowers and décor all the way from Islamabad.
Miradore Weddings, which specialises in planning weddings in Islamabad, points out that it’s possible to curate a destination wedding effect without actually travelling to another part of the country.
“We have curated numerous lakeside weddings in Islamabad that give the effect of Italy or any other exotic lakeside destination. It’s important to select the location strategically, plan the décor intelligently without going over the top, letting natural beauty do its wonder.”
The folks at ARJ Innovation agree and add that hosting a destination wedding can be expensive, so they try to create unique events for customers within the city.
“Innovation is something we depend on and its fun innovating unique events. Lakeside weddings near Rawal Lake have been a hit and since most of them are in the afternoon, especially in the winter, the work begins in the wee hours of the morning to ensure the event looks no less than a destination wedding.”
It may seem very expensive to host a desi-tination wedding, but it doesn’t have to be. The whole idea of a desi-tination wedding is for it to be intimate and that’s how they’re done across the globe.
Ellen Degeneres laughs that she wasn’t invited to George Clooney’s wedding. Shahrukh Khan wasn’t there at Deepika or Anushka’s ceremonies in Italy, which were amid close friends and immediate families, and that is what makes them special — but can also be a reason why they can be hosted in a budget too.
The 60 guests at A & W’s wedding in Passu paid for their own travel and accommodation, a great gesture that shows that people who want to be there with you on your special day will make it happen. Having fewer people on the guest list is the only way to keep costs minimal.
Similarly, the flowers and décor can be simple because the location should do the magic and that helps cut down on costs too. According to most couples who hosted their wedding in desi-tinations, their weddings cost just as much to host as they would have in the city.
You don’t need a multi-million-rupee budget to host the most unique wedding. All you need is creativity and that's exactly what people who hosted weddings in Murree, Nathiagali and Hunza had.
But if you feel like that’s already been done, there are other spots perfect for a destination wedding that haven’t been explored yet. Need ideas? Here are a few.
The Kalash Valley can be the perfect backdrop for a daytime wedding affair that’s both cultural and contemporary.
Attabad Lake in Hunza is another perfect desi-tination wedding location that is no less than Lake Como in Italy. With new accommodation options opening nearby, it seems less of a challenge now, despite requiring a lot of effort.
Shangri-La Resort in Skardu, although a very expensive venue, can prove to be a very luxurious and unique spot to get married, and the palaces in Bahawalpur are another venue that haven’t been explored yet. After all, if people can tie the knot in Badshahi Masjid, they should be able to do it at Darbar Mahal in Bahawalpur too.
(Just don’t tell your parents I gave you these ideas.)
It’s easy to become irresponsible while celebrating, but when you’re hosting a wedding outdoors in the mountains or by a lake, there is an even greater responsibility on your shoulders to preserve the natural beauty and ensure your celebration isn’t destructive.
Similarly, if the wedding happens to be in Hunza or the Kalash Valley, it’s equally important to respect local customs and ensure your celebration doesn’t become a nuisance for the locals.
Zaina says that respecting natural beauty and leaving the place clean is very important. “It took a team of 10 people three days to clean and prepare the Head Marala location for the event. It’s sad that people pollute scenic spots with their trash. After the event, the team cleaned the space again to ensure we leave it in a better state than it was in the first place.”
Zaina believes Pakistan is no less than any other fancy destination in Southeast Asia or Europe. “As a nation, we must be considerate towards our heritage and our surroundings. Clearing up after a picnic doesn’t take significant effort. I believe together we can make Pakistan a better place.”
Let's all resolve to be mindful of nature and local cultures while celebrating. Here’s to getting married in the hills.