Friends First

After meeting in college and reconnecting years later, a North Bethesda couple enjoyed a hotel wedding with 520 guests

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Neha Mehta and Ashish Dhru kicked off their wedding weekend with 375 guests at a Friday night party at the North Bethesda Marriott Hotel & Conference Center. The event included singing, a live band, traditional dancing, Indian street food and vibrant decorations. Photo by Storymotion.com

 

THE COUPLE: Neha Mehta, 37, grew up in Germantown and works from home as a director of marketing intelligence and operations at New Jersey-based John Wiley and Sons. Ashish Dhru, 41, grew up in Olney and works in Rockville as a principal business analyst for FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. They live in North Bethesda.

HOW THEY MET: In 2000, when Neha was a freshman at the University of Maryland, College Park, and Ashish was a senior there, the two met at a house party hosted by a mutual friend. They had an instant connection, talking for much of the night. They stayed in touch, occasionally meeting up for coffee or drinks, and ran into each other at parties.

THE FIRST DATE: The two had not talked for a couple of years when Neha Facebook-messaged in June 2015 to wish Ashish a happy birthday. He responded the next day and they decided to meet at Stella Barra Pizzeria in North Bethesda about a week later to catch up. They spent nearly eight hours talking, “closing out” three spots—Stella Barra, Del Frisco’s Grille and a hookah bar. They made plans for the following weekend.

THE PROPOSAL: After dating for more than a year, the couple began having conversations about getting married. “He was really playing it off that he didn’t have the ring, that it was so difficult to find,” Neha says. On a Sunday afternoon in November 2016, Ashish asked Neha to go on a hike, one of her favorite activities. When they arrived at Lake Needwood in Derwood, the sun was setting. About five minutes into the hike, Ashish got down on one knee and proposed. Neha was shocked. “Oh my gosh, what’s happening right now? I did not expect it at all,” she says. They both had tears in their eyes. The couple went back to Ashish’s mother’s house in Olney, where he had planned a dinner for the two families.

THE WEDDING: Neha and Ashish were married on July 29, 2017, in front of about 520 guests at the North Bethesda Marriott Hotel & Conference Center. A Hindu priest who had been a friend of Ashish’s parents for more than 40 years officiated.

 

Photo by Storymotion.com

 

THE ENTRANCE: A tradition of Indian weddings is the baraat, during which the groom is escorted into the ceremony by family and friends. An Indian drum, the dhol, is played “to announce to the bride’s side that we’re coming,” Ashish says. The couple had planned for the road in front of the hotel to be closed so Ashish could ride in a convertible for the procession. Rain forced the baraat indoors, so he entered the wedding on foot through the basement of the hotel, followed by about 100 family members and friends and four dhol drummers—three professionals and one of his best friends.

THE CEREMONY: Ashish says he has been to plenty of Indian weddings that seemed to drag on, but being the groom made the one-hour-and-40-minute ceremony fly by. “You slowly realize that you’re getting married, and I’m getting to marry her, and that was cool, but everything goes by so fast,” Ashish says.

DANCING THE NIGHT AWAY: After the ceremony, Neha changed out of her red velvet lehenga, an ankle-length skirt embroidered with intricate designs, into a different one for the reception. Ashish swapped his cream-colored sherwani, which looks like a long coat and is worn by men at Indian events, for a tuxedo. The bride—who had trained as an Indian classical dancer for 20 years and taught classes—kicked off the night of dancing when she surprised her groom with a choreographed five-minute dance. After her dance, the cousins on both sides of the family took part in a “cousin dance-off,” a surprise to the couple. Their own first dance was to Adele’s version of “Lovesong,” which was written by The Cure. He’s a big Cure fan and she likes Adele, so to use this cover song was “awesome,” Ashish says.

 

Photo by Storymotion.com

 

EARTHY TONES: The theme of the celebration was “earthy colors” to acknowledge how grounded Neha feels when dancing or hiking. Due to the large number of guests, the wedding had to take place inside, but the couple incorporated the outdoors. The stage had a gardenlike feel with a trellis adorned with hanging greenery and leaves. The walkway into the ceremony was elevated and included two large plant arrangements at the entry.

Photo by Storymotion.com

THE HENNA: For almost eight hours on the Tuesday before the wedding, a henna artist decorated Neha’s arms in her apartment. “We wanted to make it more personal,” Neha says, so one arm had an image of Neha dancing and the other arm included an image of Ashish reading a book, one of his favorite pastimes. Intricate designs surrounded the images. The next afternoon, nearly 50 family members and friends gathered in Ashish’s mom’s backyard for a henna party, where two henna artists painted designs on the guests.

FAMILY MATTERS: Ashish says one of the most memorable touches of the wedding was a portrait of his father, who passed away in 2013, positioned on the mandap, the equivalent to an altar. “In memory of him, instead of having a picture, we had a painting of him that was right in front on an easel,” Ashish says.

THE HONEYMOON: The couple went on a “mini-moon” for five days to Bermuda right after the wedding. Last December, they went on a honeymoon for three and a half weeks to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean.

VENDORS: Bridal mehndi, Bhavna’s Henna & Arts; bride’s gown, India Couture at The Mall at Oak Tree in Edison, New Jersey; cake and dessert, Fluffy Thoughts Cakes; catering, Bollywood Bistro; décor and flowers, Imperial Décor; hair and makeup, SBS Styles by Swati; music, DJ Vibez; photographer, StoryMotion Studios; video, Shutter and Sound; wedding planner, Trisha Cranor of Working Brides.

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