There was a particular quality to the silence in the country in Nepal. Kathmandu was bedlam. The noise was so unremitting that I couldn’t think. But away from city and the main roads the silence had an extraordinary depth.
It was more than just the absence of noise as you might get in any area away from traffic etc. I have been trying to work out why it was so distinctive.
I think it was because the countryside is about as close to pre-industrial as it’s possible to get.
There is very little motorised transport. Feet, bicycle, rickshaw or bicycle powered carts, ox carts, rowing boats are the means of transport. Little electricity. No motorised agricultural machinery – or not where we were. The fields were ploughed by hand or by ploughs pulled by oxen. Not many planes passing overhead.
No TV or radio noise coming from houses. Some people had TV but most didn’t. Few telephones or mobile phones, no ring tones. No dishwashers, washing machines, or all manner of pinging or buzzing devices.
No TV or radio in the camps where we stayed. No electric sockets in the rooms so no means of plugging in any devices.
On the river we were asked not to talk because it would frighten the wildlife. I thought people would be unable to stop talking, because that is often the case. Silence for many is interpreted as ‘not applying to the very important things I have to say as long as I just hiss and whisper’. And it makes some people so uncomfortable they just have to say something to relieve the discomfort. But we all seemed to come under the spell of the silence. We had been told that Narayani River is holy because it leads into the Ganges, and it felt like sacred space. The emotion was one of awe.
A funeral site, the remains of the wooden pyre at the edge of the bank.
There were occasional groups of fishermen and their families camped on spits of land. But no noise from machinery. They did not have any machinery. It would probably frighten the fish anyway.
I think the quality of the silence was so immense because of the complete lack of background noise we take for granted and are often unaware of because we are so accustomed to it and it is so rare to be in place so remote as not to be able to hear it at all.
Perhaps people’s lives are much more in tune with natural diurnal rhythms than ours. Without electricity it is normal to sleep when it is dark and be up and about in the daylight. The day and the night are less interchangeable.
With no street lighting, the ever present risk from the wild animals, and no transport, there is nothing to do and nowhere to go when darkness falls.
So the silence deepens as the sun sets and the night arrives.
As always it is important not to romanticise the apparent attraction of life without modern conveniences. But maybe it is important to consider that the price of our comforts may be more than we realise.