Abu Dabi

24.05.11

Abu Dabi 12.05am

And so I begin with the end, scribbling my thoughts down in Abu Dabi’€™s airport waiting-lounge, glancing occasionally at the screen for my EY015 flight home to Manchester Airport, England. My two months of travelling in Nepal is sadly behind me but I hope to rekindle some memories here on these pages for you.

When I was asked one week ago if I was interested in writing a monthly travel article for the newly launched Verse Magazine, I blindly took the bull by its horns -what with being an English Literature Student as of September- thinking it would not only be an exciting means through which I could experiment with my expression but also something fun and because it all came into play relatively fortuitously. And now I’€™m sitting here chewing my biro, my mind journeying down memory lane and wondering whether any of what I’€™ve seen, smelt or heard can fascinate and inspire a readership. What is travel writing? What is it exactly to ‘€˜travel’€™?

I sit here in this sterile and cold chair, surrounded by travellers poised over Internet pods, their sunken faces illuminated by the blue screen light. Everyone’€™s zoning in. Or zoning out. The cyber snare soon pulls me in and before I know it I find myself logging into Facebook telling the world ‘€œwhat’€™s on my mind?’€ Tragic, isn’€™t it? We have become like spiders no longer searching the world web but spinning it. Mapping finely tuned mandalas of self representation. And there’€™s no denying I’€™m a guilty party, having bored my 597 facebook ‘€˜friends’€™ silly with holier-than-thou gap-year soul-searching reflections. I remember, (now blushing at the thought), writing from Namche Bazaar on the road to Everest Base Camp, enlightening my cyber entourage with the following quote from Jon Krakauer’€™s novel ‘€˜Into Thin Air’€™:

Men play at tragedy because they do not believe in the reality of the tragedy that is actually being staged in the civilised world.

A profound statement such as this, and there’€™s no doubt there, has to have my audience thinking that through my travels I’€™m finding myself right? That is the point isn’€™t it’€¦the great affair of moving is to lose your luggage and retreat to the world within. None of us like to play the tourist with a Nikon camera hung over one shoulder, so we play at our own small tragedies instead, adding yet more and more adjectives to our tall tales of bare-footed wanderings (you’€™ve seen the hippies in Freak Street!). But I will say now that my tales are not so tall and I write merely as a tourist. Simply seeing.

Having finally boarded the plane I browse the flight entertainment, scrolling through the myriad movie junk until I happen upon Peter Weir’€™s new release ‘€˜The Way Back’€™. Inspired by ‘€˜The Long Walk’€™, a book by Slawomir Rawicz, a Polish POW in the Soviet Gulag, the film follows a band of soldiers as they escape the chains of communism through indomitable human will alone. Theirs is a harrowing story of man’€™s primal spirit to roam his world a freeman.132 minutes later and I’€™m exhausted, emotionally and physically, having crossed Siberian forests, Mongolian deserts and Himalayan Mountains. And they travelled by FOOT alone. Without being facetious, as theirs in an incomparable account, there were no tempos, Suzuki taxis or Sherpa mules to transport them to freedom. So I finally ask you, before you decide to start reading the world through my eyes each month, to take a moment to stop and see the world today for its accessibility and to relish the freedom of our feet.

But then the notion of the traveller’€™s freedom is of course relative to context and has changed over time. My Father, travelling in Nepal thirty years ago owned no mobile, no ipod, no laptop, just a few flimsy airmail letters for one rupee twenty five. Contacting the outside world meant a two to three hour wait at the Post Office calling Europe for the line to be relayed via Moscow and Stockholm. Today we take our world with us. Just perhaps we’€™re carrying too much baggage!

The Shadows

They claim to be mainstream, but different from the rest. They made their mark by bringing Nepali rock anthems to life which earned them the accolade of best group and best performers in 2006.  Then they disappeared.  With two guitarists busy in Australia studying sound engineering, The Shadows Nepal took a break, performing only one tour together within the last three and half years. In this time new bands have formed endeavouring to fill the rock music void The Shadows left behind. Now, after a much anticipated and long wait, The Shadows are back ‘€“ well nearly!  Before rocking out to fans at home, The Shadows will embrace an Australian audience playing songs from both their second album, Hidne Manchhe Ladchha, and soon to be released third studio album.

Released in 2005, Hidne Manchhe Ladchha is a combination of hard and alternate rock. Making a point of representing real people and depicting real issues in their lyrics, The Shadows strike a chord amongst listeners who can relate to the different themes of their songs. This includes nature, navigating a new modernity, persevering against adversity, nepotism, humanism and peace.

I sit down with Swapnil Sharma, the lead singer of The Shadows Nepal, to find out a little bit more about the band, their impending Australian tour and what local fans can expect when they burst back onto the Nepali rock music scene at the end of the year.

I have been in Nepal for a while now and haven’€™t heard of the Shadows. Where have you guys been hiding?

We haven’€™t been hiding, we’€™ve just been apart and taking a break. Both the bass guitarist (Amit Pradhan) and lead (Prakash Rasaily) are in Australia, one in Melbourne and the other in Sydney, studying sound engineering so we couldn’€™t do much here in Nepal.

And what did you do in all that time?

We were in such a good spot when Amit and Prakash left that I wanted to maintain the momentum going and keep The Shadows visible to Nepali audiences. We hired a few different session guitarists who played with us at different events.  But the guys did come back in 2010 for vacation. We played 10 concerts in all different parts of Nepal and received a huge response from the fans. We are definitely ready and motivated to do that again.

But first you have an Australian tour?

Yeah, it’€™ll be the first time we play overseas as a band, everyone is really looking forward it. Last year Amit and Prakash performed at a few festivals and in Nepali music programs in Melbourne and Sydney. They had a really good reception from both Nepali’€™s living in Australia and the locals.

So you have some fans there already?

It seems that way. Australia is a popular destination for Nepali students. Many would have known us years ago so they are waiting for us to come. Not many Nepali acts make it down there so I think they are nearly more excited than we are. Plus with the internet and facebook people can stay connected with the music even when they are not here. And I have a few friends who also live in Australia so it’€™ll be great to see them again.

Although the songs you compose are mostly Nepali, do you have plan to sing a few tracks in English for the Australian crowd? 

I sometimes sing in English. The last track on Hidne Manchhe Ladccha, Looking at the Sky, is entirely in English and I do covers as well.  But the most exciting thing for us as a band is that we’€™ll be performing some of the new songs from the next album. A few have been released as singles but we haven’€™t had much chance to play them live. Beyond that, though, it is hard to schedule songs. Much of being a rock band and performing live is that you have to read the crowd. You have to feel their energy; if they want fast, we’€™ll give them fast. If the mood is a little slower than we’€™ll tone it down a bit.

 

What is the creative process like for The Shadows ‘€“ how do you compose the lyrics?

As the vocalist I tend to represent the band as the writer but most of the time it is a group effort.  Everybody is always on the lookout for a new concept. Inspiration is everywhere. It could be from something you read while walking down the street or a conversation you have with someone. Our songs have a realistic, universal meaning so ideas can come from the everyday.  Whenever I write songs I have to work at it for a while. To express social issues you have to go to many places and talk to many people.

What’€™s your favourite song?

My favourite is Prakriti. It’€™s a popular song related to saving the nature and how we are all linked to the environment in a certain way. Every time I perform it I make a point of talking about the messages the song contains, about how we represent ourselves as nature. The audience response is very positive.

Any plans for a new album?

Once we come back from the tour and then Amit and Prakash join us at the end of the year, we will have a lot of time to concentrate on performing at home and working on a third album. Actually we have already recorded seven tracks for the next album and a few, like Kheladi Hun Ma and Paisa, have been released as singles. There are lots of new bands on the scene now so it’€™ll be nice to get back out there.

What can audiences expect from the new album?

It is still important for us to create songs with meaning. In a way the third album explores similar issues to before but the songs are written based on the current situation. One song Naya Nepal Purano Gatibidhi, for example, looks at the politicians repeated request for a ‘€˜new Nepal’€™ but the song highlights how their practices remain that of an old Nepal. We want to send a message that it’€™s not ok and we want people to realise this. We have already aired a few songs and have had a good response.

Something we didn’€™t do much of on the last album was play slower tracks. This time if we have to convey a soft message then will play something a little slower. But the feel of those tracks will still hit the audiences hard and with meaning; they give you more time to think.

Well enjoy Sydney. I would suggest going to the beach but it is winter now.

Thank you, I am sure I will. Even if it is winter and cold I have to go to the beach and jump in! We are landlocked here so it will be my first time to see the ocean.

 

The Shadows Nepal are touring Australia in July
23rd July in Melbourne at HiFi Bar
24th July in Brisbane at the Souths League Club
31st July in Sydney at Oxford Art Factory

Rock Sitar

Rock Sitar, an Eastern style influenced rock band led by sitarist virtuoso Bijaya Baidya, has been around since 2008 and has performed extensively in and out of the nation. Verse caught up with the group, as they were getting ready to embark upon the Blues festival happening in Bruges, Belgium.

What sets Rock Sitar apart from other Eastern influenced rock bands is Vaidhya’€™s standing sitar, which is contrasting to the conventional idea of a sitar played whilst seated. The sound intonation of the instrument (tuned to E) is also different compared with a standard sitar. On stage, Vaidhya takes on a persona, which reflects a true musician who has pioneered a new kind of sound. He commented, ‘€œI always wanted to play guitars. However, I could not find a place to go and learn the instrument in depth. So I chose sitar because I could study the instrument well.’€ He completed his Masters Degree in Music from Allahbad, India.

Every member has been involved for over a decade in the active music scene. Most notably, Vaidhya is popularly identified with Sur Sudha, an instrumental group popular since the 90’€™s and Tuladhar with the popular folk rock band, Nepathya. Their music is mostly instrumental and explores Eastern melodies over a rock setting. Both the flute and the sitar share the melodies while the guitars and bass provide the rock foundation. The overall sound is a unique blend, which the group says, is an addition to the traditional elements found in eastern classical music.

[quote_right]
Line-up
Bijaya Vaidhya
‘€“ Sitar
Pratap K.C
‘€“ Flute
Suren Lama
‘€“ Guitar
Nikhil Tuladhar
‘€“ Drums/ Percussions
Deepak Shakya
‘€“ Bass
[/quote_right]

One of the easiest ways to become an active listener is by noticing the chemistry between the players, live. It says a lot about how the art form is explored. Watching them live, it was clear that not only were these musicians experienced but they also made it look seemingly easy. The improvisation aspect was very alive in their playing and the themes of the compositions were reflected here as well.

Vaidhya composes most of their songs by coming up with the melody which is then built upon by each member, providing their ideas into the structure. Till date, they have released 3 albums: Chants of Himalaya, Rock Sitar and Sitar Sudha. The songs are very emotional in nature and though instrumental, they do have a voice crying out emotions that leave a deep lasting impression. They make you want to come back and listen again. The soothing melodies give their sound a distinct eastern feel, which comfortably fits over the rock elements. The name Rock Sitar thus is a perfect description of the nature of the band’€™s goal to fuse Eastern and Western components without harming the musical output of either side.

Rock Sitar have toured the globe extensively and are very excited this time about their summer tour of Belgium. On an international level, they believe they are representing Nepali art and culture through their music. They are also anxious about the audience that will be part of the festival there. Though the members are not unfamiliar to performing in different groups, ensembles and other performances abroad, this tour is a first together to Belgium.

The sight of Vaidhya pulling a Jimi-move on the guitars with his teeth is always a welcome sight. Other on-stage antics include flute runs, sounding like shred runs by K.C. and diverse blues licks from Lama. Moreover, it reflects the positive energy coming out of the band as a whole. The mellow nature of their songs shows expression of the top level from this bunch of talented upbeat professional musicians in the modern Nepali music scene.

Riding Into History


Nirakar Yakthumba, of 1974 AD, a well known figure in the Nepali music scene, is now making a name for himself as a cycle and environmental enthusiast. As one of the founders of Life Cycle, a cycling resort in Hetauda, Nirakar talks to Verse about the organization, the benefits of cycling and his hopes for greater accessibility to alternate modes of transport in Kathmandu.

How did your early days influence your ideas towards environmental conservation?

I spent a lot of time outdoors: hiking, cycling, camping and rock-climbing. I loved nature and spent a lot of time in the wilderness.

Do you always use a cycle?

I cycle most of the time but I use a vehicle too. It is not practical to cycle all the time. I work as a cycle guide and regularly take groups on cycling expeditions.

 

Tell us something about Life-cycle.

Four of us started this organization. We began with a plan to take cycling to places where mainstream tourism has not reached. We have started camping in places where people can go stay, relax, cycle and swim. Although it has only been around for two months, after September it will be carried on in full-swing. We are trying to project this in the local as well as international market.

Have you allocated specific locations for these cycling trips?

We have started the program in parts of Hetauda, Bishankhu-Narayan and Nawalparasi.

What age groups of people have usually been coming as part of your cycling trips?

There have been people from all age groups.

How have the local people been responding?

We have been training some local people to work with us and this has provided employment opportunities. Their involvement has been an integral part of our organization. We have also been trying to make proper bike parks in these places using natural and local materials.

What made you come up with the idea for this initiative?

Cycling is something I enjoy a lot and you might as well do something you enjoy. If you manage to make your hobby your job it does not feel like you are working.

Let us know something about Chain, the company.

Chain was started by twelve cyclists. We got together and designed the first mountain bike of Nepal. The parts are manufactured in China and assembled and sold here.

What difference can a user find between imported bikes and these bikes manufactured in Nepal?

The bikes made here are cheaper. The purpose of manufacturing these bikes was to allow everyone to be able to afford a mountain bike. A foreign mountain bike comes for around 40 thousand rupees or above, while these bikes will cost around 20 thousand rupees.

As a cyclist, how challenging do you find the roads of Kathmandu?

It is really very dangerous to cycle in the streets of Kathmandu. We do not have dedicated lanes and cycle signs. The traffic is very crazy and you have to be very careful while riding a cycle.

Can public transport be replaced by cycle transport in Kathmandu?

Of course it can. In the early 90s, when there were conflicts between India and Nepal for the Trade Treaty, everyone was riding bicycles. It was fine then, we didn’€™t even require traffic lights. The environment was saved of pollution. People still reached their destinations on time.

During your travels, have you found any difference between the cycling scenario here in Nepal and abroad?

In many foreign countries the government encourages city-cycling. There are minimum charges for cyclists and separate cycle stations and cycle lanes etc. There are a lot of facilities unlike Nepal.

How do you plan to carry this project forward?

I do not know about road biking, but mountain biking is certainly coming up and I’€™m sure it will do well. We are going to do as much as possible to help it. It is good for health, environment and tourism. That is why we are promoting mountain biking. I cannot say anything about road biking though. I would not advise a young biker to ride on Kathmandu’€™s streets because it is dangerous. I would recommend them to ride the bicycle outside the valley and enjoy the nature there instead.

Any last words to those enthusiastic about cycling?

Cycling is not a competition. Try to make it a lifestyle. You will always enjoy it. You’€™ll be able to see different things and places, especially in Nepal. I’€™ve been able to go to many places in Nepal and meet many people which I would never have been able to had I been in a car.

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