Posts tagged music

Troubadours of the desert – Jaisalmer

Artist Hotel

Coincidence is the engine of each adventure. Helmut, an Austrian adventurer I met in Jaisalmer, knows this as no other. At one point in his life, he decided that it was a good idea to take the oldest and cheapest car he could find (8 horsepower) and drive it from Sri Lanka back to Austria. Naturally, he had to dodge any hill that had a slope of more than 5%. This is how he one day found himself in Jaisalmer where coincidence and the desert’s sand made his car brake down right in the middle of some local musicians. Although they most likely didn’t have a song for this particular occasion, they seemed knowledgeable and helped Helmut to find a mechanic. By the time his car was fixed, Helmut’s love for the region and the people had set in motion the events that would change his life. When he got back in Austria, he sold his house and travelled straight back to his friends in Jaisalmer, where he started Artist Hotel. A place to benefit the nomadic musicians who settled here after modernity caught up with their life-style.

The golden city in Rajasthan, Jaisalmer, gets its name from the yellow sandstone by which its giant fort stands out from the desert surrounding it. Highlight in this outpost of the Thar desert is a camel ride through the sand dunes and harsh surroundings that make up the dry border-area of India and Pakistan. When I decided to take a trip for a few days on a camel called Papaya, I realized that traveling through this harsh surroundings (these days filled with windmills) must have been no regular picnic. The troubadours of the desert had the important task of spreading the knowledge which would give people the best chances of survival. While entertaining the people, they educated. By passing it on within their cast, they became a living library of ancient knowledge. Now this cultural heritage is slowly diminishing, if not for the efforts of people like Helmut with places like ‘Artist Hotel’.

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The song sang in the video is about how a peacock can predict that you are about to get soaking wet. Just so you know! Contact the Artist Hotel via their website. Lonely Planet review here. Profits go to local educational projects, ad hoc caretaking (e.g. blankets in the winter) and giving the musicians a stage to perform.

Kashmir shawls – Wani’s self-help group


How do you find the talents? It’s one of the most asked questions people ask me about the project. It’s always different and that’s what makes it so interesting. My time in Kashmir was definitely different… I arrived in the middle of Ramadan and celebrated AID (the end of it) with the local sufi-muslims. It turned out to be a very welcoming and open atmosphere in one of the most disputed areas of the world. Since I had seen Kashmir-shops all over India, I was anxious to see where these products came from. Especially the Kashmir shawls drew my attention. Since everybody I talked to seemed to be of the male-gender, I decided to search for a women’s group. Surely this wouldn’t be too hard?

A full week I stayed in Shrinagar, asking anyone that would listen where I could find a group of independent women that make Kashmir shawls. Nobody knew. Or if they knew and enthusiastically told me ‘sure, no problem!’, the shrewd Kashmiri businessmen would follow that sentence with a ‘so what will you pay me for that information?’. Youssef, owner of my regular restaurant, shook his head sympathetically each time he saw me coming back empty handed. Eventually one day he came up to me and told me for Allah’s sake to go to the local television studio. ‘They are educated people, there they will help you.’ Figuring I didn’t really have any alternatives, I decided to follow his advice.

My first attempt to get in failed miserably (‘no sir, security problem sir’). Being Kashmir’s voice to the world, the television station (Durdarshan), is one of the most guarded and well-defended buildings in India. The next day however, I met a more willing attendant and after some phone calls, some questions and a lot of waiting I could go through the multiple military check posts to visit the head of operations personally. I was pleased to see that the Durdarshan director turned out to be a woman. She immediately decided to help me and pulled some strings to find me my women’s group. In fact, she liked the idea so much, that she decided to make an item of it herself and consequently sent a whole television crew with me! Deep into the Kashmiri valley of paradise I eventually found what I was looking for: an independent women’s group making Kashmir shawls: Wani’s self-help group!

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The Sufyana music performed in the video was done by Mohammed Yaqoob Sheikh & Party. Their group is a well known performer of Sufyana music and is one of the only professional groups in Kashmir that consists mostly of women (albeit, being led by a man). Like with the women’s self help group, the Durdarshan director also assisted in arranging this music-performance in her studio.

To get in contact with Wani might be challenging. None in her group speaks English. If interested however, the contact details of the government official that helped funding their group are available by contacting the GTP. The same goes for Mohammed Yaqoob!

Dechen Dolma – Sculpturist in Ladakh


It wasn’t easy getting into Ladakh in the North of India. First I tried my luck on the infamous Manali-Leh road. But crossing the himalaya’s in the rain, dodging landslides, didn’t really seem appealing. Especially when in the days that I tried one bus and two shuttles went down causing 24 deaths. It took me almost a month to finally get there via the alternative Kashmir-Ladakh road, but the reward was astaunishing. I arrived in Leh right in the middle of its annual festival and was pleasantly surprised by its grandeur. Ladakh is as close to Tibet (culturally, spiritually and physically) as it gets and driving through the area, one does not have to think hard to determine its dominant religion. My guidebook told me about Ladakh’s history of women emancipation, so I figured it would not be too challenging to find talent of the female gender…

Dechen Dolma is a very special talent. Not only is she very gifted in making clay-sculptures, she chose to do it in spite of misgivings from her surroundings. Her world-famous teacher, master Nawang Tsering, created the Maitreya Buddha, amongst many others and considers Dechen one of his most talented students.

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The song played in the video is roughly translated in ‘the talent-song’. The full version can be found here.

Unfortunately, the magnificence of Ladakh is not visible for everybody. Searching for talented musicians, I stumbled upon Thukjey Dolma (not related to Dechen). Thukjey was born blind in one of the most beautiful places on earth. She is a very bright spirit nonetheless and her positive energy brought me to visit a very interesting school, Secmol, on which she teaches music. After she sang on the local radio, her star rose in Leh and when I met her in a local restaurant, the Indian phone-camera’s for once where not pointed at me, but at my blind companion! Rohan Dhar, a volunteer at the Secmol school, kindly accompanied Dechen in this performance.

Both Dechen as Thukjey can be contacted when you find yourself in Leh.

Dechen Dolma
Dechen Dolma
Dechen Dolma
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