Chang in the mountains

Mugs of freshly brewed barley beer, a view that knocks the wind out of you and some great music. The Ladakh Confluence is coming up next month, and you'll be willing to renounce the world

An endless expanse of khakhi and blue stretches out in front of you, and you won't have had your fill of the mountains even after months of staring at the Zanskar range. Maybe it's the deliriously low levels of oxygen or some altitude-triggered pheromone. There's something about the Ladakh high that no other mind-altering substance can even attempt to induce.





If you are planning a trip next month to the mountain retreat, mark your calendar for the second edition of the three-day Ladakh Confluence scheduled between July 15 and 18.

In its first year, it saw performances by UK percussionist Talvin Singh, Mumbai's electronica dance group Shaa'ir+Func, fusion folk group Rajasthan Roots and santoor star Rahul Sharma. Sharma's association with Ladakh goes back to the time he shot the big budget Vande Mataram video for Bharatbala Productions in 1998 with the Himalayas as the backdrop. Sharma inspired by Ladakh also cut an album titled Ladakh - In Search of Buddha in 2007. "It's a pretty surreal experience both, for listeners and musicians. The Confluence has the WOMAD (World of Music Arts and Dance, world music fest) atmosphere and a spiritual vibe because of the monasteries and monks who are an intrinsic part of Ladakh," says Sharma. "I remember my performance started at eight in the evening. It was an open-air performance." Sharma laughs at the memory of watching Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah dance at the fest. "Now that's a rare sight."

Surprise jam
The festival site is at Choglamsar, nine kilometres from Leh, the capital of Ladakh, in the heart of the valley. This year, the performances are as varied as an instrumental group from London to rockers from Kolkata to a jam band from Mumbai. A surprise mash-up this year which is not mentioned on the line-up is New York based percussionist Karsh Kale collaborating with Indian Ocean drummer Amit Kilam and Kailasa's Sanket. "I won't be performing any material from Cinema or any other album. But I'm looking forward to see Vikku Vinayakram (ghatam guru) as he is one of my heroes.  I'm also looking forward to catching Hipnotribe since they are friends but I have never caught a live show," says Kale in an e-mail interview.

When we chat up young rock band The Supersonics' bassist Nitin Mani over the phone, he's as enthused about making music in the mountains. "We know what we'd get in Mumbai or Delhi. But in Ladakh, to be honest, we don't know what to expect. That in itself is a big deal," says Mani. The Supersonics will perform a few acoustic numbers and play it "mellow". "We'll also do tracks like Blotter which are not on the album," adds Mani.

If you've never heard the Hang drum or The Hang, a shield shaped drum that can produce the most melodic percussion sound you've heard, you have another reason to make it to The Confluence. Hang drum player Manu Delago who will perform at the fest this year says in an e-mail interview, "We'll perform with Living Room, which is a bass clarinet and hang duo that I formed together with Christoph Pepe Auer. We play original compositions for bass clarinet and hang," says Delago, who promises to work with "little surprise instruments" and dish out instrumental versions of The Beatles and Nirvana classics.

We watched some videos of The Hang, an instrument that was developed in Switzerland, and it sounded like it belonged to the mountains, along with the Buddhist chimes and gongs. As Sharma puts it, "Nothing comes close to the experience of playing in the mountains and looking down at the Indus, which flows right behind my stage."

The Ladakh Confluence is scheduled between July 15 and 18. For details log on to theconfluence.in

What's to do?

Go trekking with the only female guide in Leh

Thinlas Chorol, one of the youngest trekking guides in Ladakh, and the only female guide, is also the only one to have completed a certified mountaineering course (from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Uttarkashi, India). She's a sought after figure in Leh. Chorol will fix you up with home stays that give you a slice of the local life.
Call +91  9622956151, 01982 250973. Mail ladakhiwomenstc@gmail.com

Chorol's top 5 picks
>>Likis to Chingmosang (4-day beginner trek) >Markha Valley trek (6-day moderate trek)
>>Lamayuru to Chilling (6-day moderate trek)
>>Rumchey to Tsomoriri (8-day tough trek)
>>Lamayuru to Padung (22-day tough trek)
>>The first 4 can include home stays

Basics
You'll need at least two or three days to acclimatise to the altitude. Avoid trekking or any other strenuous physical activity on these days. Travel very light � pack a set of thermals, thick woollens including sweaters, scarves, gloves and socks. Throw in moisturiser, sun screen and lip balm, and you are set.

Consume
Chang:
beer made from barley
Skyu: stew with coin-shaped pasta and root veggies
Gurgur cha or butter tea: a pink tea has salt, butter (usually yellow butter) and is churned in a massive brass vessel
Yak cheese: dry, salty and with an aroma that takes getting used to
Dried apricots: available in plenty at the Leh marketplace.

What's beyond music?
The phyang festival usually held in mid July is a good place to start. Located 15 km to the west of Leh, the monastery at Phyang is 495 years old. If you are headed out for a glimpse of the icy blue Tsomoriri lake, one of the biggest tourist spots of Ladakh, be sure to catch the Tsomoriri fest held at the Korzok monastery. Tsomoriri is located in Changthang, which is the coldest, least inhabited part of Ladakh and home to the nomads. The two-day festival includes a mask dance performance.

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