Three years after Nepal's Supreme Court recognised same-sex unions, the Himalayan republic on Monday hosted Asia's first public lesbian wedding with the couple flying from the US to exchange vows under the aegis of the country's pioneering gay rights organisation, the Blue Diamond Society.
Courtney Mitchell, 41, a university psychologist and researcher based in Colorado, wed Sarah Welton, 48, a lawyer, in a spectacular traditional Nepali wedding ceremony with a Hindu priest declaring them man and wife at power goddess Dakshinakali's temple on the outskirts of Kathmandu valley, a tantric worship site where earlier Nepal's royal family used to offer animal sacrifices for wish fulfilment.
Temple goers flocked to the wedding venue to glimpse the unusual wedding while the 25-year-old priest, Upendra Lamichhane, remained unflustered though it was his first lesbian wedding.
The couple, who arrived in Kathmandu last week, shopped for their bridal outfits - the gorgeous red sari with heavy green and gold embroidery and costume jewellery for the bride and traditional men's wear, the daura suruwal in Dhaka weave for the groom, complete with a matching cap - in the New Road area chaperoned by Bhumika, Nepal's first transgender to join a political party openly in her new identity.
Celebrated gay makeup artiste Rajesh Lama took over three hours to transform the short-haired Sarah, who arrived at the wedding venue wearing trousers and a mannish yellow shirt, into a vision in red, receiving extravagant compliments.
Musicians played traditional music while members of Nepal's gay community danced in abandon, surrounded by cameras and onlookers.
"I had worked in Nepal for six years, first as a Peace Corps volunteer and then with UN's World Food Programme," Courtney said. "I had worked in several countries but Nepal has my heart. So I brought Sarah here to share Nepal with her."
Colorado, where the couple lives with their nine and a half-month-old adopted daughter Stella, has not yet recognised same sex marriages though some other American states have.
"I am so surprised and excited at the gay rights movement in Nepal," Courtney said. "Nepal has become a role model for the whole world and I hope the US will follow Nepal's example."
The wedding was organised by a tourism agency started by Sunil Babu Pant, the founder of Blue Diamond Society and Nepal's only openly gay MP, to promote Nepal as an adventure and cultural destination for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders.
Pink Mountain's unique selling point is offering spectacular same sex weddings, complete with elephant-back processions, dancing and even a trip to the Everest foot hills for the adventurous.
"At a time the government of Nepal is celebrating 2011 as tourism year with the avowed intention of bringing in one million tourists but doesn't have the money to run campaigns outside Nepal, such weddings and the interest they generate worldwide is bound to boost the government's efforts," Pant said.
Though the couple is Christians, Pant chose a tantric temple because tantra, he said, "was a bivalent world which accommodated men, women and the third sex as well."
Pant remained unperturbed by a new civil code drafted by the government that considers same sex as unnatural and therefore a punishable offence.
"The draft was produced by a small team of bureaucrats and judiciary officials," he said dismissively. "The draft of the new constitution (that is expected to be promulgated in August) recognises the rights of the gay community and MPs cutting across party lines have said they would oppose the restrictions in the new civil code bill."
Earlier, Blue Diamond Society also hosted the first publicly gay wedding between an Indian and a British citizen of Indian origin. Pant said Pink Mountain has been receiving a flood of enquiries from other interested same sex couples.