Living with Monks in Boudha
December 21, 2009: Boudha, Nepal
For the past two weeks now I’ve been in Boudha. In traveler time, two weeks feels like two months, or maybe even two years. Indeed, it feels like I’ve lived here for a very long time.
The fact is that I’ve become part of this community and it feels real good. I love how everywhere I go I am surrounded by Buddhist monks and hear the perpetual clanging of bells and gongs, while monks line the road in prayer and rituals are taking place everywhere I look. Also, over the past two weeks I’ve come to know many interesting people around here. I now have a fun group of friends with whom I meet for tea or dinner. I know many great musicians and their performance schedules. I have my daily rituals, I walk circles around the stupa many times per day, and in general, feel really comfortable here. It’s easy to slip into this life and watch days and weeks go by.
Sometimes I get anxious and think that I should get gone to someplace else. I flip the pages of the guidebook and read about experiences that I’d like to have. But this sense of friendship and community is a beautiful thing and I guess I’m not ready to leave it quite yet. At least not until after Christmas.
The other thing that has kept me in Boudha so long is my cello. I brought it with me on my journeys so I could make music with musicians I meet. My goal is to write and record an album of music during this time that I’m gone, and if this mission goes as planned, I think it will be amazing. The problem, however, is that it’s simply not possible to travel with a cello. (Yes, I know many of you, along with my gut-instinct, warned me against taking it with me. But driven by crazy dreams, these are the situations Kieran finds himself in.) Anyhow, my cello doesn’t even fit in Nepali taxis, and the thought of taking it to India is just out of the question. So I have decided to leave it behind in Nepal while I travel around India. Therefore, I have a limited time to record with my cello before I must leave it behind.
And that is what has kept me busy for much of the past week. I have the mobile recording studio set up in my hotel room and have been working feverishly around the clock, laying down tracks and creating the foundations for a bunch of new songs. So far there’s close to fifteen of them, and the progress is encouraging. My goal is to record the foundations and formulate the structure of the songs before leaving Boudha, so that I’m prepared to begin adding textures and sounds as I come across musicians on the road. I will take my recording gear with me and am hopeful that I will meet tablists, flutists, and many other great musicians who will hopefully contribute to these recordings.
Last Saturday night I had my first “gig” here in Kathmandu. I sat in with a jazz group that jams at a happening little joint in northside of Kathmandu. These guys were only around twenty, but were serious musicians that sounded as good as anything you’ll hear in New Orleans. The audience consisted of Nepali hipsters and my friends Nika and Jasper. We were all gathered sitting on cushions on the floor with candles burning, drinking Nepali beer.
I was planning on leaving for India a few days ago but nationwide strikes have paralyzed the country. Strikes occur on a regular basis here. Sometimes one day a week, maybe a few days per month– or back in 2001, the country was shutdown for a whole month. The Maoists, a competing political party, strive to make their voice be heard and they go about it by declaring “bandh” and shutting down the country. On days of “bandh”, they go around telling all business owners to shut down or get beaten down. To get their attention, usually they whack a few people with sticks and kill a handful of dissidents. People take it seriously, but the Nepalese don’t seem to mind that much– they just take it as an unplanned vacation. It’s the foreigners who get all frustrated, because on days of strike there are no busses, no taxis, no nothing on the road, and no way of getting anywhere. I don’t really mind that much though, because I’m enjoying this limited time with my cello.
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