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Weekly Pullouts » Himachal Tribune

Posted at: Jul 7, 2018, 12:12 AM; last updated: Jul 7, 2018, 12:12 AM (IST)

When hills come alive with sounds of music

The ordinary scene is very far from ordinary, and greatly enhances life in the Himachal mountains

Nancy Metashvili

The hills, as they say, are alive with the sound of music.

In the summer time, troupes of musicians from Rajasthan arrive in here, and whole families can be seen sitting by the side of the road playing and singing folk songs. Grandfathers, nursing mothers and little girls with raucous voices whom you rather wish would not sing however cute they are. The men all have magnificent mustachios, and are the instrumentalists, bowing their ravanhattas and trying to earn a few rupees. Some of them seem to have quite a lot of talent, and others do not (or maybe they are conserving energy in an often-thankless profession. Busking is not easy work. Truth to tell, it can be very dispiriting if you put heart and soul into your music, and no one seems to care or give remuneration.)

But we must admit, these desert troubadours are extremely colourful.

Occasionally foreign musicians pass through town (?) and also do a spot of busking. On one memorable afternoon, a drizzly day, I came across a Russian sitar player perched on Temple Road, playing Indian classical music. His ragas seemed to fit the mood, and many of us sat down to listen to this unexpected concert, sharing umbrellas and dreamily drifting off to the plaintive modes.

In other times there has been a duet between a Swiss man on classical guitar and an American playing the silver flute, performing Vivaldi in a local restaurant. Perhaps the high quality of the music did astound the travellers listening, who might be more accustomed to thrashing guitars and rythmless drumming. But it happens. One never knows what kind of music and what kind of talent one might encounter here.

As well as tunes on the streets, there are various venues around McLeodganj and Bhagsu that from time to time put on concerts. I’ve never yet seen anything that was particularly outstanding, but then I don’t often go further up the hills for night concerts. Wandering between Dharamkot and Upper Bhagsu one sees numerous foreigners carrying guitars, didgeridoos, djembes and increasingly, ukuleles. I asked one Israeli with a guitar on his back where a jam session might be, and he replied, “Oh, every night, somewhere, people gather and play music.” Walking further on I heard some 1960s Dylan-like singing coming from an upper balcony.

More formal schools also exist. Along that path is the Jolly Music House, where instruction is given on guitars, bansuri, mandolin, sitar, tablas, harmonium, santoor and probably anything else you might like. Shandyanshu, Mr Jolly, is originally from Varanasi, and is the founder and main teacher. Their clientele seem mostly to be foreigners, and probably not terribly serious or able to stay long-term. I saw a group seated on the terrace learning the mysteries of the hang drum.

Following the path onwards and downward, along tiny goat trails, hopping over boulders and avoiding the dreaded stinging nettles, one can find Trimurti International Music School. Set in elegant gardens, with residential facilities, a splendid café, enticing common area, the founder is Ashok Kumar Rahela, a renowned master tabla player. They on occasion put on quite serious concerts of Indian classical music. Masters on the voice, sitar and santoor play all night long in a serene atmosphere under whispering trees.

Down in the crowded streets of McLeodganj, one may shop for instruments. Anything from green guitars may be found, to ukuleles, cheap bamboo flutes and the occasional poor-quality mandolin. A friend once found a very decent violin and is polishing up her skills and may be someday appearing at the Illiterati Café, further down Jogiwara Road. This rather elegant restaurant-cum-bookstore hosts spontaneous musical evenings, depending on who is passing through. One time there was a delightful performance of Hungarian folk song, accompanied by accordion.

Perhaps iconic along the nowadays traffic-jammed Bhagsu Road is the Nepali flute seller and player from Kathmandu, Ram Krishna. He has been in that spot for 20 years, playing his haunting Nepali tunes and instructing interested potential customers on the fine art of flute playing. His array of instruments range from simple to beautifully carved. “It is the same technique as thanka painting,” he says, as he sits by the road carving. He is however getting very discouraged by the polluted, noisy and congested state of the town, and thinking of moving elsewhere. It would be a loss, as his sweet flute tunes add a pleasant lilt and joy to the mundane business of squeezing through the traffic.

At the JJ Exile Brothers Café also on Bhagsu Road, Tibetan Blues Rock music may on occasion be found, as well as a couple of bluesy guys sitting out front playing.

There’s no lack of music in Dharamsala and around, and this is without discussing TIPA (Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts) as that is another whole story. The Tibetan music scene is vibrant, both ceremonial and folksy. 

But the ordinary scene is very far from ordinary, and greatly enhances life.

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