Neil Chawla and Hemang Saraiya, Tulum, Mexico
Sporting their mothers’ wedding sarees as dupattas, the grooms tied the knot in a modern Hindu ceremony under the pride flag.
Neil Chawla and Hemang Saraiya took their love to the next level by tying the knot in a tropical extravaganza amidst lush jungle spaces and the beachfront beauty of Tulum, Mexico. Watch it come alive below.
How They Met
Neil Chawla, a primary care Physician hailing from the Bay Area met LA-based Event Planner and Photographer Hemang Saraiya on Bumble BFF in 2019. Living quite close to each other, they started hanging out often, hiking and spending time together. It wasn’t long before they sensed a deeper connection over a shared green outlook on life when they realized that they were both committed to leaving behind a smaller footprint by gardening/composting, choosing veganism and more. Over time they also realized that it was time to take the bond and love they shared to the next level. While the journey to accepting and sharing their true selves with their loved ones wasn’t an easy one, they knew what they had found was special, and so decided to take their leap of faith.
The couple popped the question to each other with thoughtful and memorable proposals of their own.
Since Neil loved pizza, Hemang had taken him to the opening night of L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele’s launch right before attending a film festival next door at the Egyptian Theatre in May of 2019. Flash forward to October 2020 when restaurants finally reopened, Hemang planned a special surprise at the same place. On the pretext of dressing up for a night out after long, he took Neil there for dinner where they sat at the same table. Excusing himself he walked back in a few minutes as one of their favorite songs played in the background to Neil’s surprise. Neil opened that same film festival program to find a childhood photo of himself running through a field and a velvet satchel that held a ring. As Neil said yes, all the guests and staff around them applauded. It was a truly magical moment with other guests dropping off celebratory drinks and letting them know how happy they felt during such a turbulent time in the world.
Neil, on the other hand, planned a surprise proposal for Hemang during their wedding photoshoot. The pair had reached out to Anna Mae Lam, Neil’s friend and fellow photographer, to set up an impromptu photo shoot in Griffith Park in September 2021 to get some good shots for their wedding website. Unbeknownst to Hemang, Neil and Anna were making secret plans of their own. The day was probably one of Hemang’s most emotionally taxing and stressful to the point that he almost wanted to reschedule. Luckily, Neil cooled him down and they made their trek over the Hollywood Sign to the famed park where Anna had them shoot around various locales. At the end of the shoot, Neil asked Hemang to close his eyes who immediately realized what Neil had planned. The jubilant duo poured some rosé and toasted to a successful round two.
Being an event planner himself, Hemang had a clear vision of the tiniest details of their celebrations, and so the couple focused on finding the perfect venue where they could celebrate their joy with their loved ones. They went to Tulum, where Hemang had previously visited solo and fallen in love with the small beach town. They picked NEST Tulum as the venue for their Mehndi, Haldi and Wedding ceremonies, while the gorgeous jungle-facing resort of Radhoo Tulum was chosen for the sangeet, and Nü Tulum hosted the cocktail hour and reception. Most of their planning was done virtually, with Cristina of Unique Stories Weddings helming the process. The renowned team and WeddingSutra Favorite – PTaufiq Photography captured all their precious moments.
Starting off the festivities at NEST Tulum, the Mehndi function brought together both families to mingle, get beautiful henna designs and enjoy the custom margarita bar. The casual but classy beachfront family event was hosted outside the villa. Provided by Tika Tulum, a local eatery, the lavish Indian spread had everyone licking their fingers! Neil and Hemang sported vests and kurtas from Project Bandi to match the tropical vibe.
The next morning began with a tranquil, transformative gathering where the couple invited their loved ones to partake in a Vinyasa Yoga session hosted by Yoga Dicha. After the session, the Pithi or Haldi function was hosted at the beach where everyone gathered around the grooms to anoint them with turmeric paste. The ceremony was filled with love and laughter, and the grooms jumped into the ocean afterwards to wash off and have fun with their friends and family.
The evening saw an enthralling poolside Sangeet function hosted at the nearby jungle resort of Radhoo Tulum. The guests made their way through the stunning local flora of the place, emerging onto the central pool deck to find it completely encased in glass with lights glowing underneath. A close friend of the couple and host for the night, Kerri Colby of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame had everyone grooving to her energy as she opened with a Beyoncé-Bollywood fusion number and took over the night. Involving the guests in a classic catwalk walk-off challenge, she had everyone enjoying the evening with unique experiences, pushing boundaries and creating awareness of all facets of the grooms’ LGBTQIA+ community, winding down the night with a Whitney Houston classic that made everyone emotional. Ohm Mexico led the party into the night with their fantastic DJ skills and lighting.
The Wedding Day started on a high note with dueling baraats on opposite sides of NEST Tulum with Drums in Paradise Dhol drummers and music from Ohm Mexico. Guests paraded through the lush jungle to get to the beachfront where both sides collided in a frenzy of cheers and competition before cooling off with fresh coconuts from Shaadi Destinations, even as they witnessed a traditional Milni ceremony between the two families.
The grooms walked down the aisle arm-in-arm with their mothers to Lady Gaga’s ‘Stupid Love’, a song that holds a special place in their hearts. They wore custom-embroidered achkans from Pranay Baidya which they teamed with their respective mothers’ wedding saris as dupattas. The modernized Hindu ceremony was performed under the pride flag by priest Hersh Khetarpal, a trailblazer from Chicago who had performed her daughter’s same-sex wedding over 10 years ago when it was only allowed in Massachusetts. It sure was a magical experience!
Themed ‘A Jungle Soirée’, the final cocktail hour including the reception was hosted at Nü Tulum. Guests made their way across the street to the beautiful rooftop venue for appetizers, cocktails and a stunning instrumental performance from renowned musician, Miguel Hiroshi. The formal reception was hosted downstairs at the expansive main veranda, surrounded by walls of lush foliage and lights, with simple yet heartwarming table settings of small flower jars interspersed with mandap garlands. The decor was kept to a minimum to highlight the natural beauty of the space. After introductions, the grooms did their first dance medley that consisted of ‘Only You’ by Yaz, ‘Remind Me’ by Emily King and ended with ‘The Humma Song’, wearing LED-blinking eyeglasses as everyone cheered them on. They both danced with their mothers to ‘Because You Loved Me’ by Celine Dion, before switching off to dance with their respective mothers-in-law, ending in a group hug that had everyone emotional.
The intimate energy of the first half of the evening flipped 180 degrees when the water drum performers from ‘Drums in Paradise’ performed on the jungle-level dance floor, after which every guest got up on stage and joined in. Ohm Mexico once again kept the crowd on their feet until the end of the night.
The Wedding Makers
Venues: NEST Tulum(Mehndi, Haldi, Wedding), Radhoo Tulum (Sangeet), Nü Tulum (Reception)
Wedding Planner: Unique Stories Weddings
Decor: Zuniga Designs (Wedding), Pentaflor Flowers (Wedding)
Outfits: Project Bandi (Mehndi), Pranay Baidya Atelier (Wedding)
Mehndi: Loto Mehndi
Catering: Tika Tulum (Mehndi), Shaadi Destinations (Wedding)
Entertainment: Kerry Colby (Sangeet), Ohm Mexico (Sangeet, Wedding, Reception), Miguel Hiroshi (Reception), Drums in Paradise (Reception)
Photography and Videography: PTaufiq Photography