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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 December 2007, 15:31 GMT
Chopper weddings for Indian farmers
By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Delhi

Jagdeep the groom was thrilled (Photo: Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times)

Maan Singh and his family are the most talked about people in his village in India's northern Haryana state these days.

The 49-year-old farmer shelled out a whopping 140,000 rupees ($3,600) to hire a helicopter to ferry his son to his wedding.

Thousands of villagers in Farrukhnagar, where Mr Singh lives with his family and five brothers, cheered as the private Bell Jet Ranger helicopter flew off with his son, Jagdeep, 23, and two other relatives for the wedding on Monday.

Police had a hard time keeping the crowds behind a barricade as Mr Singh's family, togged out in shimmering attire, posed for the cameras before boarding the chopper.

However, they did not get permission to land in the bride's village in Kapashera, barely 20km (12 miles) away, because the ground was too soft for a makeshift helipad there.

Instead, the wedding party flew for 12 minutes to Palam airport in Delhi, and then travelled in a hired Mercedes Benz for the wedding.

Land prices

"I am a simple farmer. But I always dreamt of my son travelling by air to his wedding. So I thought I'd give him a gift by sending him in a helicopter," says Mr Singh.

Hiring a helicopter for a wedding is a good way of showing off your wealth
CS Chaturvedi,
Trans Bharat Aviation

Mr Singh belongs to a growing minority of rich farmers in India who are willing to splurge on marriages and family functions.

Many farmers have become rich overnight in states like Haryana and Punjab where land prices have seen steep rises due to growing urbanisation and industrialisation.

Estate agents and businessmen typically buy farm land to build posh townships and set up industries.

In Farrukhnagar, for example, an acre of farm land fetches nearly 10m rupees (about $250,000) these days.

One of the ways for rich farmers like Mr Singh to splash their cash is to hire helicopters for weddings.

Indian politicians have traditionally hired helicopters to travel to villages during election campaigns.

The "udan khatola" (flying carriages), as helicopters are popularly called by villagers, are, therefore, a symbol of power and wealth.

Land earmarked for an industrial zone in Haryana, 1 July 2007
Farm land in Haryana does not come cheap

"Hiring a helicopter for a wedding is a good way of showing off your wealth in the village," says Col CS Chaturvedi, who runs a chopper rental company in the capital, Delhi.

"It is a novelty for a lot of people, and you attract a lot of attention automatically by getting a helicopter to land in your village."

Col Chaturvedi's company Trans Bharat Aviation, has already rented out its helicopters half a dozen times to rich farmers during the current wedding season.

Most of the 15 or so helicopter rental companies in Delhi have similar stories.

'Amazing'

Maan Singh says its not easy to pull off a chopper wedding though.

"I had to get permission from some 10 government departments to hire a chopper and get it to land in my village. And there is always the problem of weather and landing facilities which can upset your plans," he says.

For example, Mr Singh planned to bring back the bride, Neetu, after the marriage in the same helicopter early on Tuesday but could not because of foggy weather in Delhi.

His son, who is studying law, was overjoyed with the experience, but says he missed flying direct to the wedding.

"It was an amazing feeling. But I'd been happier if we could have landed at my wife's village," he says.

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