I’m just back from the Himalayas. Somewhere I’ve wanted to travel to for years but only just had the chance and time to do so. I have to be honest and say that I didn’t spend a lot of time planning the trip – maybe a bit surprising when you realise that I was trekking in the Annapurnas and heading to Annapurna Base Camp at a (quite literally) breathtaking 4,130m! Luckily I was blessed with fantastic weather and great company and although the trek was tough, it’s a time I’ll look back on and always be struck by the beauty of the scenery and the sheer disbelief that I actually did it!
It’s not a deliberate thing but I tend not to travel or walk with music plugged into my ears. There’s something about travel that gives you the space and time to take in everything around you – the sounds, the smells, the sights that, in places like Kathmandu, overwhelm the senses. The constancy of the traffic, the beeping horns of scooters and taxis, the chattering voices in the markets make up the colourful city soundscape that’s rich enough without the addition of incongruous western music. That’s not to say that I didn’t hear any – Ed Sheeran’s Thinking out loud is quite a hit at wedding receptions and given it was wedding season, I heard this quite a lot! But there were also glimpses of the more traditional wedding celebrations with Nepalese Narsingas (a large, curved trumpet) heralding the arrival of a wedding party.
Out on the trail and the sounds are quite different… the distorted sound of music pushed through blown amps drifting from village festivals in the valleys, the thwack of the millet crop being threshed by hand on sunny terraces, the clanging bells and clopping hooves of the mule-trains that ferry everything from chickens to cement to propane between the high-altitude villages strung out across the hillsides like Christmas lights. The songs of birds, the barking of dogs and cockerels crowing at dawn all paint the sonic picture of this majestic landscape.
The mountain guides too sing their own song. A song of love about the ups and downs of life, Resham Phiriri, roughly translates as ‘Billowing Silk’. The rhythm of the music mirrors the beat of the trekker’s steps and the melody captures the happy optimism of the people encountered along the trail. Here’s just a short clip of the Resham Phiriri sung to us by Dawa Sherpa and Nema Sherpa on our last night in the mountains – you’ll hear Dawa give an idea the sentiment of the song at the end. It wasn’t until I returned home and did a little more research on the song that I realised how popular it is, with different versions sung for trekkers!
Of course, I’ve also come home armed with many photos taken along the way. But the more I travel and take the time to consciously listen to what is going on around me, the more I realise the importance of capturing not only the sights, but also the sounds of a place to bring your feelings and memories of that point and place in time back to life. Namaste!
Notes from Last Night
About Debbie Nichol: A lifelong lover of music of all types, Debbie Nichol is currently studying an MA in Music, focussing on music performance and repertoire, and music reception and social histories. By trade she’s a freelance marketing specialist and when not studying or working, spends time singing with a chamber choir and performing solo, and writing a music blog: www.notesfromlastnight.co.uk