Posts tagged talent

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.

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

Tibetan opera in India


As I could not get into Tibet due to China’s celebration of the ‘liberation’ of the region, I decided to visit the Tibetan government in exile instead. Mc Leod Ganj is a small village near Dharamsala in India where Tibetan refugees have made a home away from home. The place was covered in mist and apart from some monkeys and a dog that attacked me, I liked the mysticism of it. When I went looking for talent I naturally got lost three times before by coincidence I met a girl that was on her way to the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts. It turned out she was a performer in the Tibetan opera. I immediately assumed her voice could probably brake mirrors and that she most likely performed with bearded men having extraordinary jaw dropping mouth-capacities. When I visited for the practice session however, it turned out that this is a whole kind of different opera! No beards, no braking mirrors, but a ferocious attack of goose bumps out of nowhere. This is something you need to hear!

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The video was made during a practice session and contains just a small selection of different clippings. For the real deal, TIPA welcomes you to drop by!

The diversity of different cultures in the world for me is one of the most interesting features of traveling. The Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) is an organisation that tries to preserve and promote this kind of culture. More about this institute and how to get their music can be found on

To put it in the words of the Dalai Lama: “Protecting an ancient culture like this is the responsibility not only of the concerned nation, but also of the world community as a whole.”

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