At the Intersection of Appalachia and Himalaya

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At the Intersection of Appalachia and Himalaya

by Kara Bachman

It might seem odd to compare the folkways of Appalachia to the culture of the Himalayas, but to music teacher Tara Linhardt, these mountain communities aren’t such strange bedfellows. Some similarities are apparent while others are more obscure, and this bluegrass musician first discovered the commonalities and disparities while traveling abroad during college.

“I was studying Buddhist philosophy in Nepal…I stayed with a Nepali family,” she said. She was introduced to woodcarving, classical Indian drumming, and an array of artistic and cultural folkways with which few Americans are lucky enough to interface.

“There are so many similarities between the music and the culture,” Linhardt summarized.

These connections are all mapped out in a one-hour film called “The Mountain Music Project,” a 2006 documentary (available on Amazon) that includes Linhardt and tells the story of the two rural roots music forms.

Nepali esaraj player
Buddhist monks dancing at a holiday
member of a tour getting to explain how to play his banjo to some young Nepali musicians
Jam session with bluegrass pickers from Tara's tour and some local Nepali musicians

She loved learning about Nepali culture so much she decided to start a tour company that allows bluegrass musicians and fans to take in things that seem both familiar and exotic. The deadline for the next Music, Arts, Adventures tour – happening in the Fall of 2022 – is essentially here.

“I like to keep it pretty small [between 5 and 12 people], so it’s like a group of traveling friends, so even if they’ve never met, they become friends pretty quick,” Linhardt said. You don’t have to be a musician to join the tour, but about half of her guests are people who make music.

“I have it arranged so the first week is the arts and culture tour… so you don’t have to be in great shape,” Linhardt said. “It’s not cookie-cutter stuff…I pour my soul into it. We see the Unesco World Heritage sites—we visit temples, monasteries—you can meet the woodcarvers and even try it out.” She added, “Some of the best woodcarvers and bronze-casters are in Nepal.” 

Following the cultural tour is an optional “trekking week.” It’s not grueling but does involve lots of exercises and outdoor activity. It provides the perfect balance of physical activity and comfort.

“I try to pick hikes that are culturally interesting,” Linhardt explained. She brings the group on walks through “cool villages” and past views of “majestic mountains.” It’s communing with nature but isn’t all-out “roughing it.”

“We have porters carry most of our stuff and sleep in beds in guest houses, not on the ground,” she assured.

Linhardt’s passion for this is evident.

some of Tara's group on a hike
member of Tara's tour getting to try out the largest sarangi in the world

“What inspires me is inspiring other people,” she said. Linhardt teaches music lessons as her “day job.” These skills inform her tour planning and interactions with tour participants and the Nepali musicians they encounter. “I love that spark and sparkle when their minds are blown, and everyone who has gone on my trips has had that, and I feed off that fun,” she said.

Many are inspired by the new music they encounter on the tour that they’ve purchased instruments while abroad to bring some of the indigenous Nepali sounds home to the states.

“I’ve had people buy the Nepali Sarangi; It’s a four-string fiddle. I’ve had people buy the bamboo flute and the traditional drum,” Linhardt explained. She takes them to meet kids who play music. Linhardt said she funded music education at seven different orphanages. Part of the proceeds from trips goes to donations for disadvantaged Nepali kids.

The best part is that this interface isn’t unidirectional: It flows both ways.

“I have gotten some [Nepali] kids hooked on bluegrass stuff,” she said. “They’d play for us, and we’d play for them. The look in their eyes watching a Scruggs-style banjo roll. It was like— whoa!”

“One of the kids,” she reminisced, “one of the first things he looked up [online] was banjos.”

He asked if Linhardt could get him one. Her initial reply was funny and true.

“Kathmandu is a hard place to find banjos!” 

“I teach mandolin and guitar, and as I bring Nepali musicians and American musicians together and watching them inspire each other…watching that cross-fertilization that transcends cultures…” she reminisced, a dreamy sound to her voice. “We can all get our groove on together.”

Tara and Barta Gandharba (sarangi player)
Tara and Nepali luthier with an instrument he just finished

How does the intrepid traveler know whether this tour will be a fit? Attendees aren’t required to be musicians, so Linhardt simplifies it into two easy questions.

“Do you like music? Do you like seeing cool stuff?”

If your reply to both is a resounding “yes,” then you’ll want to visit Musicartsadventures.com. If you’re interested in finding out more, time is of the essence, and Linhardt said she couldn’t wait to facilitate what she considers to be a genuine life-changing experience.