On the road we become sensory junkies. We need this shit like a base head needs a fix. And places like India are absolutely chalked with sensory impulses. Our eyes explode with unbelievable sights; of the way that society exists -so ‘backwards’, ‘savage’ or ‘uncivilised’ some may call it- than your average Westerner, such as myself.
Your nose flares up with aromatics, whether they are from refuse, gutters, sewers or dead bodies; or from the home cooking taken place down a quiet street; or oil frying pakoras in the busy of central Varanasi.
Your touch becomes sensitive, for example, your skin; if you should dare to enter the Ganges for a swim. Years, maybe decades afterward, your skin might remind you of how stupid that choice was. And it’s not only your touch, but the touch of others, grabbing onto your shirt, or tit, or ass or pant leg. People ripping you out of your comfort zone, like it or not.
And of course your tongue sparks to something unfathomed before, with all the spices you’d never experienced -or maybe had but not quite like this. A Lassi made with fresh mango and unpasteurised, room temperature, home-made yoghurt, overwhelms your taste buds. The thick, masala gravies, so rich in flavour, but so cheap to buy -from the Dhaba- blast your mouth in all directions from bitterness to savoury.
Agonising horns, blasting to the base of a steering wheel, by the average driver simply steering his way through common, middle India, traffic. To me, it seems unnecessary, but for him and all the others driving on these streets, it is normal to communicate with the horn. This is just the way it is, for better or worse!
8. Mosque Chants Though annoying as all hell at 6 a.m, after a night of mayhem, or a couple hours earlier than you wanted to wake up, the mosque (or Jammi) is certainly a sound that lives in your mind forever, after travelling anywhere you can hear one -from 5 or 500 kilometres away. These things will haunt your very existence, or remind you, that you’re out too late and it’s time for bed. They will be the constant, unnecessarily robust, under-budget loud speaker chants that will, no doubt, remind you that it is definitely not Kansas anymore.
7. Church Bells Ringing melodically, in every small town you pass while walking the Camino de Santiago -and anywhere else in southern Europe between Portugal and Italy. These bells are not simply a reminder of prayer, they are a call, or were rather, an announcement of a child being born, a birthday, a marriage being sealed or the beginning of Sunday mass. It might even be, if clever enough, the gong of a boy whose run up the long stairs to sound the church bells, telling the world he’s lost his virginity!
6. Simit! Simit! Throughout the day, around Istanbul, you will hear a man howling for dear life to sell his little, traditional, sesame seed bagels. stacked on a plank of wood, strategically, either like bricks, or with a long pole, this man comes hollering every day to sell his goods. His voice is raspy, and it echoes through to your chest, and somehow it brings me this remarkable sensory force. His chants are not so much melodic, but in fact they become this over time. And every day I wait for that man to walk by my window (though I never buy a single one).
5. The Chai Guy! If you’ve ever ridden a train in India, you will certainly appreciate this reminder of a unique experience, either instantly or over time; and not only that, but your throat will equally appreciate his chai’s clove and anise, and cinnamon undertones.
Up and down, and down and up he goes, chanting along the way: ‘Chai, Chai, Chai’.
He doesn’t yell, he doesn’t whisper. No, he chants like a monk, as this sound harmonises its way into your soul.
4. Truckie Blow-Horns Any hitch-hiker can appreciate the value in a truck passing by, and even if he doesn’t pick you up, he still sounds his horn to say hi and good luck. Though sometimes they scare the shit out of me, especially at night, these horns remind me that I’m on the right course!
I know they got somewhere to be and are simply saluting me, from one road warrior to the next.
3. The Sheep’s Salute A sound that brought me company more than once and glamorised very lonely periods; a sound that reminded me of an older way, of pasture and hillsides and life before globalization. This was the sound of pilgrimage walking for me; of nature, of life cycle, of resource and hard work and community life. The sounds of sheep, and of their bells hanging, giving me somehow, unending peace and belonging. Knowledge that I was not on a path misguided, but instead, The Way; and these bells were there to comfort me as well as support, motivate and guide me along
2. Melodic Yaks As quiet as it is in the Nepalese Himalaya, there will never be complete silence while the walking, well-tempered, fuelling the fire of bitter, cold night (with their shit), grand Ol’ Yaks are there with dangling, humbling bells!
1. PRAYER FLAGS If you’ve ever walked in the Himalayas the sound of the prayer flags, flapping in the wind will certainly capture your attention, steal your silence, but also captivate your impulses. It’s dead quiet everywhere, but for the prayer flags rippling in the light wind, tickling your ears.
This sound slumbers you to sleep at night after a long day towards Everest; it puts you in a meditative state, while walking, until the next, and equally as perfect sound comes chanting your heart beat to follow along, the bell of a smiling Yak!
While little could beat the prayer flags whistling in the wind… The greatest sounds from the road, are without a doubt, the banter of those around you; between those you’ve come closest with, in a matter of minutes.