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nepal ( 2001 )

Field recordings made in Nepal.

Source sound for Annapurna: Memories in Sound and Kagbeni Variations.

Approximately 20 hours available.

alarm clock 925 KBWakeup call for breakfast, as interpreted on a riverbank on the verge of Chitiwan National Park on the Terai, the northern edge of the Gangetic plain.
back-alley swing2.4 MBIn a narrow lane in a less-touristed section of old Kathmandu, what sounds for all the world like a would-be Coltrane honing some chops. An alto sax? Another reed instrument? I couldn't tell, but stood in a traffic of small children and bikes to listen.
Bagarchap1.4 MBMorning chant at the Diki Kalsang gompa in Bagarchap, half way up the Manang valley in central Nepal. In the mid-90's the town was devestated by a landslide, something not apparent at first glance today. No precarious overhangs or steep slopes crowd the town; but a river of house-sized boulders cleanly removed its middle one day. I sat in on morning chant to record this gompa, then returned a half hour later to record again as I'd accidentally placed my recorder in 'mono' recording — cause for general amusement.
Bagarchap horns 860 KBAn hour after is started, the chanting documented here climaxed in a sudden burst of closely-tuned horns.
bamboo harvest 1.3 MBOn a hot hillside, we paused on the trail and let a father and son pass, dragging 18' (three meter) lengths of bamboo. You could hear the bamboo banging and clattering from half a mile away.
base camp hail 1.6 MBAt the 'base camp' below the Thorang La, highest pass of the Annapurna circuit, we weathered a sudden hailstorm under plexiglass skylights. Over lunch all conversation turns the same points over: press on to the more recently established 'high camp,' and shave an hour off the next day's long climb — but perhaps risk courting acute mountain sickness from the extra altitude?
a blessing 1.5 MBAn hour's climb above Manang, an elderly resident lama and his wife live in a cave house retreat. For an appropriate offering (five dollars was advised), the lama will bless you, hopefully sending you safely over the Thorang La and on your way. I still wear the string he tied around my neck, some two and a half years ago. Last year I learned his niece lived half a block from us, here in San Francisco.
blown cone 1.6 MBA neighborhood convenience store tempts passing foottraffic with a radio suffering from a blown speaker cone. I live for these grainy, gritty textures of failing electronics.
bus top travel1.2 MBSome of the happiest moments of my travels have been had perched uncomfortably atop ramshackle long-haul busses like this one, trading sunshine for safety, bouncing above roadsick fellow passengers and their unticked livestock, watching the beautiful world go by. In this recording the engine strains as the bus climbs the foothills, and as it rounds a corner you hear the verge pass close by, alive with insects.
butter lamps 1.4 MBIn Muktinath temple (famous for its benevolent Nandi-headed fountains which are said to wash the devoted free of sin) a middle-aged European Buddhist paid to have 108 butter lamps lit, and did prostrations on the floor while they were gathered, prepared, and lit.
caged chickens1.5 MBLunchtime: we pause to fill our water bottles, and porters headed uphill pause to cook soup. There cargo coos and clucks the most amazing assortment of noises: chickens stuffed in stacked cages, the stacks as tall as the man who carries it.
corn grinder 1.1 MBOne of several ingenious water-powered grain grinders we saw: above the soft lilt of the stream, you can hear a rock-tipped wooden stick bouncing on the grinding stone.
deep sea gurgle1.8 MBGurgling irrigation cistern at 13,000', Annapurna region, Nepal. An inexplicable bit of buried irrigation on an arid hillside above the tree line in the Manang valley of Nepal. Hiking past, I heard this deep-sea gurgle and of course had to stop to capture it. What you hear is not manipulated in any way; it's just the mysterious burbling beneath a sheet of steel, and occasionally the wind blowing by.
devotion1.6 MBAll-male amateur band, singing devotional hymns to Shiva I believe. We passed them gathered in a cozy green room down a narrow street in old Kathmandu; on noticing our interest, they welcomed us right in to listen to them play. Here's another moment.
donations1.5 MBIn the courtyard behind the 'Golden Temple' in Patan, monks count donations at the end of the day as a few late afternoon devotees make their quiet rounds.
dozing yaks1.4 MBMidnight in Yak Karka, at 16,000': yaks doze warily in bright moonlight in their rocky pasture; a newborn icy stream rushes down the valley below. Please listen to this one at low volume, it's a quiet moment. For my wife in celebration of our tenth anniversary together, and in memory of a snowy morning climb to the top of Yak Ri the following morning.
electric cicada1 MBThe low dry forst of the Terai was filled with buzzing insects: I call them cicadas, but what do I know? This was nearly as much energy as my niece, Cicada Jenerik, to whom it is offered.
elephants scratching 1.9 MBHere in San Francisco, tourists line up to ride the cable cars; in Chitiwan National Park, we lined up to ride the elephants. Awaiting our turn, we watched in amazement as the elephants picked up sticks and used them to scratch their legs. And you thought only primates used tools.Q
fire cracker blessing910 KB In Kagbeni we caught the town in its yearly celebration of what we think was the Buddha's birthday. As new prayer flags were strung all over town, firecrackers echo into the high rocky cliffs to disperse malevolent spirits.
forest floor 1.3 MBScratchy, dry-sounding insects, insistent birds, and 'monkey fruit' that tasted good but infected us with intestinal parasites.
fuzzy radio 1.9 MBWoeful reception, woeful playback, and a woeful wail, on a woeful day: dinner on our first night in Kothari, where we were stranded just shy of the Tibetan border when the Chinese refused to let our tour group pass. In Kathmandu, martial law had been declared not long after we left the city: the royal family had just been assasinated.
Ganesh shrine 1.5 MBIn a busy confluence of dark, moody streets not far from Darbar Square in Kathmandu, a Ganesh shrine does a brisk business as devotees look for luck amid the chaos.
grain threshing1.1 MBThankless work in the very poor hills: while parents thresh and toss grain on rooftops, their kids roam the streets and watch me with snot running unremarked down their faces, wonder what I'm doing below. Rice I guessed.
herding horses 1.5 MBJust below Manang, a mandatory rest-stop for altitude acclimation on the Annapurna circuit, we fall in with a herd of horses being driven up the valley by a family. Green hills that only suggesting lushness; the still-formidable river to one side. All around us, the jingle bells the horses wear.
high camp stream1.7 MBHigh camp, Thorang La: last stop before the Thorang La pass. Clouds whip and dance for a sunset amid the high rock so sublime I wept. As the light failed I walked the banks of the stream that far below becomes a river, stalking small, fast gray rodents we saw dash from rock to rock.
hydropower prayerwheel 1.6 MBWater-powered prayer wheel, Tibet-Nepal border. A hundred feet up the hill from Kothari, the last Nepalese town along the 'Friendship Highway' to Tibet, a racing stream spins a five-foot prayer wheel. The wheel rings a bell as it spins... making this recording, I became an unwitting dinner for a few leeches.
Indra chowk hawkers1.3 MBTireless call of child hawkers, selling something that I swear sounds like 'Punjabi.' My notes are little help; I scrawled that they were selling 'sink scrubbers.'
Jomsom swing 2 MBInsects in the forest at the bottom of the Jomsom valley, falling in and out of phase. Don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing.
jungle walk 1.6 MBCreeping theoretically soundless through Chitiwan on foot, in search of tigers, rhinos and sloth-bears. Despite my crashing, breathing, and stamping, we managed to see all three on our trip.
Kagbeni ritual 1.4 MBOne part of an elaborate ritual I recorded for twenty minutes, the source for my album Kagbeni Variations. The ceremony, a cinematic affair made more atmospheric by ritual dress, burning juniper, and cobbled streets, appeared to marry recognition of the Buddha's birthday with placatory devotion to a pair of life-sized anatomically correct animist figures.
long horns 840 KB Swayanabath hill houses many temples, including the one crowning itknown to incurious tourists as the 'monkey temple' for its troupe of rapacious monkeys. Farher down the hill, ten-foot Tibetan long horns come to life in what seemed to be a rehearsal: occasionally things would crash to a halt, and after a brief discussion, everyone would start from the top.
long lake chorus1.6 MBNepal is said to be home to a ridiculous proportion of the world's bird species. I have no idea how many can be heard calling in this excerpt, recorded on the shore of 'long lake' in Chitiwan National Park, but welcome attempts at identification. I'm pretty sure that's a woodpecker towards the end? Source for my multichannel piece What the Thunder Said.
Marpha courtyard 1.4 MBMeticulously manicured matriarchal Marpha on the Annapurna circuit: whitewashed stone town of neat fields, well-maintained walls, and an enchilada so delicious I ordered it again for breakfast. Bright and early we sit in the sun in a courtyard for a few minutes, listening to the kids play.
Marpha duet 1.6 MBDusk greeted in Marpha (see above) by two monks blowing unison horns out the window of their monastary.
metalcutting1.6 MBMetal cut in an alleyway workshop, in Kathmandu.
minstrels1.5 MBGandharvas, wandering minstrels of Nepal, playing a favorite (we heard it everywhere) at a house concert on an Annapurna trailside. As happened several times, when we stopped, curious, we were quickly invited in and bidden to sit and listen. My wife Bronwyn admired their nice leather shoes.
momo steamer1.6 MBThe Tibetan influx into Kathmandu probably brought momo,: stuffed steamed dumplings, with it. The grumbling buzz and bustle of a dedicated momo steamer. They were delicious.
pandit1.5 MBPublic speaker holding forth to a small seated crowd in Darbar Square, the central plaza of Kathmandu. If you can tell what he was lecturing about (it seemed more political than philosophical), let me know.
patan fountain bottles1.4 MB In the middle of the breathtaking medieval architecture of Darbar Square in Patan, young girls play with discarded plastic bottles at a decorative fountain/well. Patan is only a short trip from the sprawl of smoggy, dense Kathmandu, but it has a relaxed, intimate feel.
phasing prayer wheels1.7 MBAt the foot of Swayanabath temple hill in the Kathmandu valley, two taller-than-me, bell-ringing prayer wheels are kept in motion by mantra-muttering devotees with slightly different paces.
powerpole resonance1.6 MBA pole that once carried powerlines now just hums and whistles in the brisk wind. If you listen closely you can hear it climbing the harmonic series.
prayerflags flapping1.5 MBOn a high flat valley floor, a wind whipped the prayerflags of Ngawhal so mercilessly we could hear when the town was still barely visible. Stark, treeless slopes soar on either side, in the heart of the Annapurna range.
prayer wheels1.4 MB Everywhere I've been in the Himalayan hills of Nepal, I've encountered mani walls dividing the trail — walls built entirely from stone slabs carved with Buddhist mantras (the older the stone, the denser the carving). Some of the walls enclose prayer wheels to spin as you pass — spinning them spreads blessings on the wind from the mantras stuffed inside. Hopefully listening to this track has the same effect.
puja in Koto1.2 MBKoto in the Manang Valley: three nuns spin self-beating drums strung with balls that whip around like a familiar child's toy... after the ceremony, we were invited to join the local children in helping ourselves to the food that'd been offered. Mostly dry bread and sweets, reminding me of prasad in Hindu ceremonies.
rim tinkering 1.8 MBIn the aftermath of light rain, two men work on what I took to tbe rims of bicycles in Bhaktapur... and the inevitably inquisitive local children inquire what I'm doing.
river crossing 1.2 MBI've forded numerous rivers in my day, but I would always prefer to do it this way: perched on the back of a docile elephant. This time was in Chitiwan National Park. Eventually I'll post another such crossing, near Chiang Mai in Thailand.
sarangi sales1.7 MBI can't get the tune out of my head: bowed sarangi salesmen, bless them, offer to teach anyone who will buy their wares in Thamel, the tourist ghetto of Kathmandu. Notice it's the same tune the Ghondarbas play above...
snowland gamblers 1.5 MBKilling time at the Snowland hotel, a trekker's teahouse: Nepali guides and porters, and European backpackers, play cards at several tables. Too late to press on, too early for dinner, perhaps we'll have some tea.
squeaky shoes 1.5 MBThe proximity of Nepal to China occasionally revealed itself it in the mass-produced plastic goods that could be had cheaply in the bazaar: like these unbearable intentionally squeaky shoes, worn by two sisters I followed home. I have to admit, this is one of my favorite recordings.
suspension bridge 2.2 MBCrossing a perilous bridges over a rushing, ice-cold Himalayan river: no wonder they call it suspense. You've seen the pictures, but it's another thing to trust yourself to their sway and bounce. Especially when you've read the oft-traded quote in a popular trekking guide, attributed to an NGO that builds bridges in remote Nepal: 'Engineer them? We don't engineer them, we just build them.'
tea in Pisang1.5 MBUpper Pisang, or Lower Pisang? The former meant an extra few hours of climb, making an easy day a very long and hard one: but it held views so sublime of the Annapurna peaks that my wife and I were both moved to tears. At the end of the trail, we stayed overnight in a young woman's home-cum-lodge, perched on the hill. After making us this tea, she made us dinner: while we slept in her bed, she slept on the roof in a tent.
teahouse flute1.4 MBUnchained melody on a flute, as played by the lodge owner's son. A partly cloudy, hot and cold sort of day; the end of a long one, that saw us over the Thorang La. Hot lemon tea was had here to flute, but our dinner was an hour or so down the hill.
teahouse lullaby 1.2 MBDrunken(?) lullaby as a teahouse hotel closes down for the night, the tourists fed, the radio whining, and the donkeys standing motionless on the cobbles outside. We lingered after dinner, talking with a woman who worked for Doctors Without Borders here, and shared a pot of mint tea. At the bottom of the pot we found an unfortunately caterpillar among the boiled leaves.
terai thunder 1.2 MBCall and response under a grumbling gray sky, in the dry open jungle of the Terai.
Thamel tuneup1.2 MBAccidental concert as a pair of instruments destined for hippy bedrooms are brought into tune, in Thamel, the tourist ghetto of Kathmandu.
tibetan crow 1.5 MBTaunted by a huge Tibetan crow, pasture below Bragha monastar — which no matter when we visited, was always closed.
volleyball1.3 MBIn all honesty, I found it extremely refreshing and hopeful that these two adolescent girls had enough free time, interest, and energy to play what looked like conventional volleyball in an upper valley.
the walk 1.2 MBWhat it sounds like to climb a rocky trail at 15,000'. It's more like, out of thin air.
walking with donkeys1.4 MBDecorated hard-working donkey trains and their melodious bells: sometimes we walked with them, sometimes against them.
warbles from Bollywood1.3 MBTrapped by an overnight snowstorm-cum-whiteout, we passed time at Thorang Phedi high camp watching porters play carom, reading our books, drinking tea, and listening to sappy Bollywood songs played on an ailing tape deck. Everyone else had decided to press on in the near-zero visibility, defiant of all common sense and in defiance of the stern admonitions of every guide book we consulted. We stayed an extra day, and crossed the high pass the next morning under crystaline blue skies.
waterbuffalo grazing 1.8 MBOn the shores of scenic, Western tourist-overrun Pokhara lake, fat water puffalo crop the grass into a golf green. Not the most inauspicious of the many rebirths before me.
windchimes430 KBThe door closes at another tourist restaurant, this one in Bhaktapur's Darbar square. Farewell, Nepal.