Friday, January 30, 2015

The Five Senses of Nepal - Sound

It is a difficult task to convey the “feel” of Nepal, even with the help of anecdotes and photographs. Barring acquiring the skill of apparition or a very expensive plane ticket, most of you, my readers, will not get to experience this amazing country with me. Allow me then to paint a picture of Nepal with words. For context, every day my senses are slammed with stimulants, and it can feel like getting walloped by a truck. Do not skip through busy city streets or rice paddies to gain first-hand knowledge of what I describe, but do allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the words.

Sound – This might be the least interesting thing I perceive, which is surprising given my musical background. It is, however, the second-most grating (the first being smell, which you will understand when I get there), due to its constant, buzzing presence. Most of the noises are the same we hear in the US: dogs barking, children playing, crows making crow sounds, motor vehicles whizzing past. Others are familiar, but unique to Nepal. The language is different, and the voices that speak it are often loud and strident. Nepalis seem angry even in polite conversation. Everywhere you go, though, people call out “Namaste” or “Namaskar” (a slightly more polite version of the former).

And the music! There is always a blend of Nepali and Hindi music playing from unseen speakers, ringing over the terraces. In South Asia, there is a very different opinion of what constitutes a beautiful voice. While in the Western world, we are impressed by the resonant vibrato of opera singers, over here, they favor singers with high nasal tones. Some of the music is super catchy, and I find myself humming it while walking or riding the bus. Some of it makes me want to stuff cotton in my ears. And sometimes, when you least expect it, a bus driver will start playing Pink Floyd.

The noises last into the night, especially those made by canines. Barking is tolerable, if a bit annoying when you’re trying to sleep. Worse is high-pitched screeching, like brakes squealing, when packs of dogs fight each other.  But when 11 o’clock rolls around, the world goes completely silent. The kind of silence that I’ve never experienced at home in New York, where I could always hear trains going up and down the Hudson, or cars speeding along 84. It’s so very peaceful.

Until the roosters start crowing at 5 am, and the world starts over again. 

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