This wedding in Kashmir will take your breath away

This wedding in Kashmir will take your breath away

Forget Harry and Meghan. Designer Devika Narain takes you behind the scenes of a gloriously romantic wedding in Srinagar

Rashmi Shankar

MAY 24, 2018

Aamir and Afsha share a moment at their nikaah, at the Jalali House. Photo: Stories by Joseph Radhik

It’s everything you want in a wedding destination—charm, history, an otherworldliness, and beauty that takes your breath away. So why don’t more people plan destination weddings in Kashmir? For major inspiration, we take you behind the scenes of the gorgeous nuptials between Kashmiri photographer and Instagram sensation Aamir Wani (@kashmirthroughmylens) and Dubai-based lawyer Afsha Karim in Srinagar, the city they met and fell in love in when Afsha was visiting as a tourist. Aamir tells us, “Neither of us wanted a ballroom wedding. We wanted something authentic and intimate. Kashmir, with its hospitality, culture, local talent and beauty offered all this and more. Whilst the region is often associated with political tension, we know this is a misunderstanding. We didn’t have any doubts or concerns as to the safety of our guests, and over a hundred flew in from abroad.”

Aamir studied business management in London, but returned to Srinagar, his hometown, in 2014. He was driven by the idea of doing something positive for Kashmir, and portraying it in a different light. He took to the camera. Today, he boasts more than 50,000 followers on Instagram, and you’d be hard pressed to find another channel with more romantic images of this beautiful state. So, it came as no surprise that the couple felt passionately about their wedding reflecting and embodying the best of Kashmiri culture and tradition.

I’ve always wanted a garden wedding in Italy; with its lush green hilltops and lakes. In Kashmir, I found all that and more.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Enter wedding designer Devika Narain—who recently styled the Anushka Sharma-Virat Kohli wedding in Tuscany—who took up the challenge. Devika describes the experience as “like being in a reality show”. She says, “I told them I didn’t want to bring anything in from Mumbai or Delhi—except maybe three or four cushions!”. Discussions began online, with Afsha in Dubai, Aamir in Srinagar and Devika in Delhi. The distance clearly came with its own issues: a lot of Afsha’s references were very international in feel, and it was hard for everyone to visualise what things would actually look like. She tells us, “I think at one point I was copied on over a thousand emails on the subject ‘Wedding’! But really, anyone who knows me knows I’ve always wanted a garden wedding in Italy; with its lush green hilltops and lakes. In Kashmir, I found all that and more.”

Miniature shikaras and carved wooden tables at the mehendi. Photo: Stories by Joseph Radhik
The goal was to create a truly Kashmiri experience for the guests. They started with the venues: from the welcome lunch on a houseboat in Srinagar with shikaaras ferrying the guests over to the the post-wedding ‘family moon’ in Gulmarg. Devika tells us, “We started with a checklist of all things Kashmir: shikaaras, chinar leaves, carpets, papier mâché, Kashmiri Jamdani fabrics, traditional Crewel embroidery which is a favourite on cushions, and flowers that locals have grown up looking at, like tulips from the gardens and almond blossoms from Badamwari.” They put together a nearly 50-people team of vendors, artisans and coordinators, who worked on-ground to make their plans a reality.

There was a crooked candelabra which we didn’t bother fixing. It lent so much personality and character.
The brief for the mehendi was colourful, so they went with miniature papier mâché shikaaras, Crewel embroidered fabrics in pink and aqua, and potted plants and local seasonal flowers as centrepieces. The nikaah venue was the nearly 200-year-old Jalali House, a heritage structure that dates back to 1863 and is a regular site for Bollywood shoots. (The bride and groom had to be interviewed before getting permission to marry there.) Constructed by Agah Syed Safdar Jalali using arch—Taq—structural engineering, it exemplifies old-world Kashmiri architecture and charm, with its traditional brick and lattice work, courtyards, balconies (dabs) and colourful windows. Afsha tells us, “after getting lost for around two hours, we walked through a door and were transported back in time—there was something so deeply spiritual about it that we didn’t even need to go inside. We knew we had to get married there”. The décor was subdued that night, because the interiors are already so ornate and beautiful. “There was a crooked candelabra which we didn’t bother fixing, because it was an antique and would definitely have broken,” says Devika. “It lent so much personality and character.”

For the nikaah, the Jalali House was kept as is, save a few additions like handwoven Kashmiri carpets, Jamdani fabrics and tuberoses. Photo: Stories by Joseph Radhik
For the reception, they wanted a simple but elegant vibe, so they created a tented setup—in lawns overlooking tulip gardens and the iconic Dal Lake (a recurring favourite of Aamir’s Instagram photos). They brought in tables for a sit-down dinner, and decorated them with tulips and daffodils, lots of candles, and custom-made frames with poetry by Rumi, Khalil Gibran and—for an incredibly personal touch—by Aamir himself.

I’d never known daffodils grew in India but he produced a whole basket, the entire tent smelled of daffodils
While sourcing, Devika wanted the focus to remain on handmade items, and says that one of the best things about the wedding was that no two things looked alike. “I walked in to artisans’ workshops such as Shah Exports, and picked up products I liked. For example, we met a 67 year-old man in the old town who hand paints papier mâché tables—it was their version of what’s beautiful, and the imperfection is what made it beautiful.” While a lot of the coordination happened over phone, video conference and via WhatsApp, what actually made its way into the wedding and made it truly beautiful all occurred when Devika arrived in Srinagar, only four days prior to the wedding day.

“I went to the flower market in the morning and the shikaara wallas walked up to me and asked whether we’d like some daffodils and hyacinths. I’d never known daffodils grew in India but he produced a whole basket, the entire tent smelled of daffodils!” Also, April is tulip season in Kashmir, and while there were no cherry blossoms, almond blossoms were in full bloom. “My team and I spent a whole day driving from departments to private orchards, asking people to spare a few stems for us to put those tables together.”

Blossoms, tulips and daffodils, all home grown in Srinagar, lined the tables at the reception. Photo: Stories by Joseph Radhik
One thing led to the other: the people at the nurseries guided them to a handicrafts emporium and to papier mâché artists who showed them where to find the baskets they were looking for. If there’s one thing that stood out, says Devika, it’s how hospitable the people of Kashmir are: from not letting the team go without a cup of kahwa to ensuring they find what they need. “We didn’t have to try too hard for anything; they were all ready to see how they can help.” Afsha adds that the artisans were the best thing about getting married in Kashmir: “they were so accommodating in making me sample pieces for the welcome boxes, walnut candlesticks and frames for Aamir’s poetry so we got exactly what we had in mind—this is what makes them so unique. I think future brides will thank us for convincing the local wedding teams it was a good idea to invest in tiffany chairs.”

The highlight for us was when our guests said they have never felt so at peace as they did in Kashmir
The morning of the reception, riots broke out and a curfew was imposed in Srinagar, but the artisans and vendors—most of whom were coming in from the old city to the reception venue—all arrived on time. “Everybody who was meant to be there was there,” says Devika. “You wouldn’t even know something had happened. Truly international standards of professionalism.” Aamir adds, “The highlight for us was when our guests said they have never felt so at peace as they did in Kashmir.”

Needless to say, the experience is one of Devika’s most creatively fulfilling ones. Does she have any advice for anyone wanting to get married in Kashmir? “It’s as safe as anywhere else. Find local people and work with them—the people of Kashmir are absolutely amazing. Keep account of what’s available there, because there’s lots you can find locally. If you can take what the city and its people have been through, and include that into your wedding, you can come up with something that’s absolutely special.”