Pilgrimage Gained Momentum
y now you probably have a few questions. How come, four articles in, you’re still in Nepal? When are you going to stop hob-nobbing with faux-Western musician types who cater almost exclusively for the high-caste glitterati and start devoting more of your word count to what the normal people “out there” (including yourself) are listening to? And what about the politics?!
Well allow me if I may, to satiate your collectively curious palette. Firstly, by the time you read this I won’t be in Nepal; I’ll have crossed the Southern border at Sunauli to get to Varanasi, probably having to endure a lot of tedious disruption and political strike action in the process (but more on that in a moment). Provided that goes well I’ll have finally begun my Indian tour. I stayed so long here because, well, I love this country—simple as that. Apart from working on Get Miles, I spent my days teaching English to children in a city school; trekking in the hills and Himalayas; and just trying to take it all in.
Allow me, if I may, to briefly postpone my response to the second question so that I might first tackle the third. As the more internationally aware among you will already know, there’s been some politics here. Oh dear God, there’s been politics, and it looks like there will be for some time to come. All of that should uncover another layer of explanation to the first question: I stayed so long because frankly, I can foresee a time when it won’t be possible to visit Nepal as a tourist. Get it while you can, guys—it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.
Circling outwards and upwards like incense smoke, the music permeates a city. Not the city it wasn’t invented in or for, but nonetheless a city which gave it an alternative geographical location, a place to settle. Of course the music has its spiritual home up in some monastery in the clouds over the roof of the world (i.e. Lhasa, Tibet), but that doesn’t mean it can’t come down to comparatively kinder Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. I guess in these modern, economics-driven times, the music could even set up home here—a nice room by the tourist district, perhaps—see if it can’t earn a softer crust here.
So anyway, the circling. The circling and the permeating. Yes—it can be a little difficult to concentrate for long periods of time, to focus, because this music, with the circling and all, is considered some of the most spiritual, meditative, and plain old awe-inspiring in all of Asia. “Om Mani Padme Hum” is epic Tibetan Buddhist chant music; it’s “Cop Shoot Cop” for peace-junkies. Clocking in at just over twenty-four minutes (and backed with the remarkably similar “Mantra Of Avalokiteshvara” and a stripped-down version of the lead track), this music isn’t for the tourists, it didn’t make the playlists and it shouldn’t be the only piece of music you’re guaranteed to hear however long you spend in Nepal. But it is.
Two weeks ago I took the initiative to move out of the smog and the smoke of the city, to go and catch some mountain views, sunrise/sunset etc, taking with me only one CD—yes, the chant music—as listening fodder. I spent a long weekend up in the hills of Nagarkot, at two-thousand-and-whatever metres above sea level doing all the things I’d planned. And although I was often accompanied by a borrowed Discman and the sound of harps, chimes, keys, and instruments whose
Wandering also, to what I could be listening to. To what I have been listening to:
The Four Tet reworking of “Scatterbrain” on Radiohead’s Com Lag. Car horns. Johnny Cash Live At San Quentin. “Impossible” by The Charlatans. People in bars talking mercilessly over Bob Dylan’s incredible, blistering “Hurricane”—a song I hadn’t even heard before I came out here, and has since become my favourite of all his tunes. “Rickshaw, sir?” Meanwhile Back In Communist Russia. That moment where Björk starts gambling with stars until she gets what she wants, all in a near-void of throbbing electricity and fridgebuzz. Everything by Belle & Sebastian. “Sometimes trekking, sometimes rafting…” The first two minutes of Tom Waits’ Real Gone LP, before I got bored. “Mr. Brightside.” ( ). “Smoke something, sir…? Hashish? The first few songs from Idlewild’s first album, especially “I Don’t Have The Map.” Nick Cave’s perfectly ludicrous cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower Of Song.” A simple Nepalese folk song called “Resham Piriri”—it’s about prayer flags blowing in the breeze atop a mountain, or something. I learnt the words whilst working at the school, and can now occasionally be pressed to sing them for the entertainment of locals whose reactions vary anywhere from impressed stares to teaching me comedy reinterpretations of the lyrics.
Believe it or not, along with the music with its spirals and the sombre voices of its sages, I also brought with me the questions I opened with. I wanted to check I was still on the right track, to readdress the balance between my allies—music and travel—and to make sure I was doing my job properly. I mean, I thoroughly enjoyed the music (it’s so much more serene when you take it out of the city), and it definitely did me some good. I’ve always believed in the healing qualities of music, and whilst I haven’t gone hippie just yet, I think that perhaps the music of the most peaceful people on the planet is itself the most peaceful background noise available. Perhaps you can immerse yourself in it, perhaps you have to understand the language and the philosophy, and perhaps you just have to love the sounds.
And so, my answer to the second question: Now, guys. Now.
By: Colin Cooper
Published on: 2005-04-06