My favourite New Year’s Eve party occurred on either the 13th or 14th April 1988, from which you may conclude this was not at home in England. I was in the Himalaya, walking the Annapurna Circuit. And my uncertainty about the date is due to the fact I didn’t keep a travel journal in those days. In fact, I’m not even sure exactly where we were staying that night, although I do know we were still heading up towards the high pass, the Thorung La, and that we were still well below the snowline. At the end of the day’s walking we camped, as usual, and while we were eating supper we were informed that we were invited to join in the New Year celebrations in the village close by.
It wasn’t the place in the picture above – it was smaller – but it was definitely what could be described as a little one horse place somewhere rather high up in the Himalaya. The celebrations involved drinking, singing, and dancing. Actually, the celebrations were drinking, singing, and dancing. The drink was chang, which is rice beer, a traditional Tibetan drink, which is drunk on any and all occasions, by everyone. It is cloudy, it doesn’t taste very strong, it’s not very strong, and it slips down easily.
And then there is rakshi, which is a distilled liquor and a whole new level of peril. We were warned about that.
Up where we were, the singing consisted largely – possibly entirely – of folk songs. We were already familiar with at least one of them; when we had been in Kathmandu, the hit of the season was apparently a song called paan ko paat which we heard on radios everywhere – you can find many versions of this on YouTube if you feel curious – and as the chang flowed, so the singing increased in intensity. So too did the dancing – there was what might very loosely be termed a band, consisting of a number of people playing traditional instruments – and we either tried to keep up or stood around drinking and talking with our most hospitable hosts.
I have no photographs of this, sadly, since it was dark and I had no flash on my camera. The only light came from oil lanterns. You’ll just have to imagine a host of Nepalis and half a dozen westerners crammed into a tea house and having a jolly good time.
And then we were informed it was our turn to sing.
They asked us to sing something traditional from whichever countries we came from. I think the others made a reasonable fist of it, although maybe that’s just me assuming that everyone else sings better than me. Which they do. And some of their interpretations of ‘traditional’ may have been rather elastic. And then came the words I had been dreading, the words that sent a frisson of horror through my entire being: ‘Your turn, Mick.’
I must have been drunk, because suddenly I knew that if I had just one more drink I could do it. And so I did. I do at least know quite a few folk songs although I couldn’t remember the words to more than a couple of verses of the one I chose, but no one seemed to mind. On reflection, I suppose no one even really listened.
The rest of the words came to me as I lay in my tent that night, listening to sporadic bursts of singing and shouting – but by then, there was little difference between the two…
Happy New Year, folks.