Friday, October 06, 2006

OK, checklist...

Let's see there's close to 400 pounds in our overstuffed bags: a few hundred gigabytes of hard drive space, blank DVD-R's, way more DV tapes than you're allowed to bring into Nepal, various cameras, microphones, audio recorders, mixers, cables and adaptors, batteries, tripods, mic stands, banjo, fiddle, mandolins, guitars, a very tired laptop, plastic bags for waterproofing, water filter for drinking, assorted pharmaceuticals from Thailand, phrasebooks, passports, visas, ATM cards, hijacked airline blankets, heaping piles of children's clothing to be donated, and as many napkins (toilet paper) as we can pocket. So much for traveling light.

A late addition to the team is Dan Snyder, a Montana guitarist who's volunteered to help out in turn for getting to meet lots of musicians and maybe make his way to Dharmasala when we're done with our work in Nepal. It's his first time out of North America and he's adapting splendidly to the local insects.

Over the last two weeks Dan and I have been doing the whirlwind tour of Northern Thailand; meeting old Burmese friends in the border town of Mae Sot, playing Gypsy Swing with French aid workers, spending a night at our friend's orphanage near Tat Song Yang, giving a seminar about world music at a school for Burmese migrants, taking lessons on the Pin Pia up in Chiang Mai, and recording guys like my good friend Win. Here's one of his songs.

But that's another story. We meet Tara and Danny at the airport in Bangkok, and fly into Kathmandu the next afternoon, Everest and other Himalayas glowing to the north as the plane drops into Kathmandu valley. The low concrete buildings are a massive contrast to the glittery architecture of Bangkok.

Our minivan driver is happy that peace has returned to Nepal after several years of violent Maoist insurrection and general mismanagement by the king. The tourists are flowing back to the narrow streets of Thamel, a funky hippie/tourist district where Nepalis dress like Westerners and Westerners dress like Himalayan holy men; a perfect backdrop for our little musical marriage.

We drop our bags off at a guesthouse and head off to meet our friends around the corner at the Gandharba Culture and Arts Organization. I'm trying to remember everyone's name as we greet each other and sit down to dig on some of that old-time himalayan bluegrass. The sarangi fiddles and madal drums lay a musical bed for cheerful singing and dancing in the florescent light of their makeshift stage. They hold a free concert every night, but lacking much in the way of advertising, it's only the odd musically-curious tourist who can navigate the narrow alley and up the darkened stairs to find it. Hopefully we can help the Gandharbas with that while we're here.

We eat some dahl baht and make plans to meet several times over the next week to decide how the scholarship money we've raised will be distributed, where we're going to film, what the new t-shirt design should look like, and generally how to make everybody happy over the next 2 months. We've got about a week to kill before Praveen, our cinematographer, arrives from New Dehli, plenty of time to burn CD's for the GCAO to sell, practice each others' songs, and teach a few of the Gandharbas how to use the minidisc recorder we brought for them.

Then we'll be off to Pokhara, Lamjung, Ghampesal, and Gorkha, where Akal Bahadur Gandharba lives. He's the guy from the video on the last blog update, and has a great scratchy style of sarangi-playing. With time (and internet connections) on our hands this week, I'll update this as often as I can, so let me know what y'all want to hear about (gear, language, traditional culture, how to eat rice with your bare hands...) and I'll see what I can do.

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