Dutchman Robbert van Hulzen's road trip from India to The Netherlands will culminate in an album
Dutch drummer Robbert van Hulzen visited India in 1998 and learnt to play the mridangam. It was a tour of discovery for the Dutchman: he got hooked on Carnatic music and also began to appreciate other Indian music traditions. As a result of this bond, he has made many trips to the country.
Sometime ago — during a ‘music pilgrimage' to India — Hulzen was struck by a strange thought. “It dawned on me that every time I took a flight to this country — mostly Chennai or Bangalore — I was leaving one world and going to another. A vast chasm of cultural and social differences separates The Netherlands and India. Between these two lie other countries that offer totally different vignettes of culture and society,” says Hulzen. “Travelling by plane, this vast diversity is lost on you.”
The drummer decided to do a motorcycle trip that would allow him to experience India in its fullness and also the other countries on the way to The Netherlands. During the road adventure, Hulzen will stop at various places and work with musicians for a project called ‘Elephant Songs'.
The title draws upon the popular allegory of the elephant and the blind men. Hulzen explains that music is approached in a similar fashion. Limited by geographical and cultural factors, musicians are clued into certain aspects of music. When they come together, they get a better grasp of the whole.
When Hulzen's long ride on a 1979 Royal Enfield Bullet ends in his hometown Amsterdam, he would have covered around 15,000 km and, more importantly, would have completed a music album. In addition, he will have a wealth of video material for a film on the journey.
Hulzen did not rush into this adventure, but prepared patiently for it. From Amsterdam, he flew to Kathmandu, where he spent a month looking for an old Royal Enfield. A 1979 Bullet with an evident gear box problem — which he set right later — was all he could find, but he nevertheless ventured into India with the bike. With his compact drum and his bags containing essential items fitted to the motorcycle, he made quite an interesting sight, especially while travelling through the rural parts of India. He enjoyed being on National Highway 76, which stretches from Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh) to Pindwara (Rajasthan). After visiting Gujarat, he was riding towards Mumbai, when he had his first brush with rash driving. “Two buses almost took me out,” recalls Hulzen.
From Chennai, Hulzen plans to go to Kanyakumari and then turn back towards North India. He is expected to get a letter of invitation from Lahore which will enable him to apply for a Pakistan visa. His route to Amsterdam runs through 14 countries, including Iran, Armenia, Turkey, Georgia, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Germany, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
He has already identified music groups in a few countries that he will collaborate with for the ‘Elephant Songs' project.