Artwork in India (5) – Jaisalmar Workaway


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I chose to do a Workaway at a hostel in Jaisalmar because I wanted to go on a desert safari and the hostel owner said he wanted some help to decorate the rooftop terrace (along with some basic IT tasks).

When I got here it was apparent that many people had already contributed to the roof terrace decoration…some in a lovely way, some in quite a haphazard way!

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So, my exclusive rights to the wall space scuppered I set about capturing the beautiful view (above) of the fort while planning my strategy for mural painting in limited areas amongst a hotch-potch of other images.

camel, stencil, cutting, drawing, craft knife

I decided on a stencil with the .most obvious theme for a desert safari hostel – the camel.

camel, stencil, cutting, drawing, cardboard

I found a craft knife and the lid of a photocopy paper box in the market by the fort and set about preparing my template.

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Having painted several camels along with a bit of red shading and yellow highlights  I added a border inspired by a Rajasthan folk art design.

wonbin safari hostel, roof terrace, jaisalmar, rajasthan, India, camel, decorative painting, mural, wall art, wall painting, folk art, acrylic paint, illustration, stencil, camels

wonbin safari hostel, roof terrace, jaisalmar, rajasthan, India, camel, decorative painting, mural, wall art, wall painting, folk art, acrylic paint, illustration, stencil, camels

wonbin safari hostel, roof terrace, fort, jaisalmar, rajasthan, India, camel, decorative painting, mural, wall art, wall painting, folk art, acrylic paint, illustration, stencil, camels

I did go on a camel safari, it was tremendous fun if a little hard on the thighs. Even though we didn’t venture very deep into the Thar desert the peace and vastness of the landscape were still impressive. We had chai on the dunes while watching the sunset, then ate dinner around a campfire before settling down to sleep under the stars. Gorgeous.

camel, camels, desert, dunes, safari, desert safari, Jaisalmar, wonbin safari hostel, rajasthan, India, travel, adventure, camping, sand, trek

While wandering around Jaisalmar old town I was struck by the number of Ganeshes painted on the houses.

jaisalmar, Ganesh, wall painting, elephant, elephants, god, hindu, marriage, rajasthan, india

Then someone told me that since Ganesh is the Hindu god of celebration (elephants are lucky) the people get him painted on their houses every time there’s a wedding.  In fact the paintings serve as a kind of invitation since they contain the names, date and location of the union. Ah-ha!

And talking of weddings, I just got invited to one! I went up to the fort for a massage, my second in a week since hard beds, overnight travel and painting have taken their toll on my middleaged bones. There’s a team of sisters who offer Ayurvedic loveliness in their home but the house was very busy when I got there so I expected to be turned away. One of the sisters explained that they were preparing for her neice’s nuptials and I got my massage and an invitation to the wedding in two days.

Excited. There is definitely an advantage to sticking around in one place for a bit longer than is usual on the backpacker trail.

jaisalmar, rajasthan, fort, India, thar desert, travel blog, workaway

 

Artwork in India (4) – Bikaner

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I only intended to stay in Bikaner for two days, just to visit the famous Karni Mata rat temple in nearby Deshnoke (weird I know, but I’m a rodent fan).

I painted the little pen and wash study below from a photo I took at the temple.

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Then I met a guy who offered me free bed and board in exchange for some painting work at the hostel he’s renovating so I stayed an extra three days, and had a lot of fun.

bikaner, hostel, rajasthan, india, travel blog, wall painting, door, window, frames, decorative painting

I painted the frames around the doorways and windows behind my hostel buddies in the photo above, and below here’s me finishing off the stripes.

wall painting, acrylic paint, decoration, decorative painting, bikaner, rajasthan, india

That’s Auntie Gee in the background, she owns the place, directs the workers and delivers chai. 

Bikaner is beautiful in a dusty way and largely unspoilt by tourism. There are a number of guesthouses in huge hawelis in the old town which is where I stayed at the start of my visit. Then I moved downtown and took a lovely walk to the market most nights to eat street food near the stunning Bhandasar Jain Temple.

 

Artwork in India (3) – Pushkar

Pushkar has been wonderful; a strange and delightful mix of the spiritual and the decadent with a bit of filth and hassle thrown in for good measure.

pushkar, India, camel, temple, travel blog

Don’t touch the flowers that are offered down by the ghats (sacred lakeside bathing areas)- you’ll get dragged into a lakeside blessing ceremony  and charged well for the honour.

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I sat in the doorway with some kind young musicians while I sketched this little market stall. They insisted that I showed the greengrocer the painting afterwards. He loved it.

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Unknowingly I arrived in Pushkar during the most sacred week of the Hindu calendar, which coincided with the famous camel fair.

The streets were full of pilgrims from all over India and beyond. I met an Argentinian Hindu who was staying at the same hotel and he explained a bit about the bathing rituals and took me to a couple of temples.

Photography is strictly prohibited at the lakeside so I thought I’d sketch the scene instead.

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The photography ban didn’t stop me being asked to pose for a couple of pictures!

camel, pushkar, camel fair, camel decoration, pen and wash, watercolour, drawing, sketchbook, watercolor

In Udaipur I met a lovely young camel expert from New Zealand who spoke so passionately about the camel fair that I decided to visit. When I arrived in Pushkar I met up with her again and spent a very interesting hour or so meeting the camels. They’re surprisingly sweet and dignified.

Inspired, I drew the camel above, the circle is a design based on the ornaments the camels are dressed with.

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I then painted this version on the hotel wall before I left.

pushkar, moustache competition, moustache, beard, facial hair, rajasthani

The annual moustache competition was a hilarious highlight of the camel fair – Rajasthanis are certainly blessed in the hair department!  

Artwork in India (2) – Udaipur Workaway

 

udaipur, rajasthan, india, guide, guided, walk, old town, market, workaway

This is Rama, I just spent a few days staying with her and her family in Udaipur, a beautiful lakeside city in Rajasthan, India.

I contacted Rama through Workaway, an organisation that puts travelers in touch with a worldwide network of hosts who offer food and accommodation in exchange for a few hours work per day.

Although I’d known about Workaway for many years (having lived in the same Spanish town as its British inventor and many of the support team) this was my first Workaway post.

I was keen to volunteer with Rama because I wanted the opportunity to go off the standard tourist trail, stay with an Indian family and meet some of the overlooked and excluded members of their community.

This is how Rama describes her project:

“I run a project with the goal to spread happiness in local communities in my wonderful city, Udaipur. Everyone wants to be happy but unfortunately not everybody is. That’s why I’m trying to find different ways to help and spread happiness across the towns and villages in India.

Everytime I talk to the poor children, the homeless and elderly and those of ill health, I feel that they have so little in the way of possessions or wealth or status or perhaps even physical strength, and yet they have so much love to give. I started to spend more time with different local communities, I began to share with them, and they too, began to share with me. 

I work with a great variety of individuals and larger communities – with orphaned and homeless children, with rag-pickers, with tribal girls, women who suffer domestic abuse, children with physical and emotional difficulties, and with the elderly.

I feel that elderly people have so much life experience and so much to give, but sadly once they become old, nobody wants to interact with them or give them attention. They are pushed aside and forgotten. But I believe these people deserve our love and compassion, and I would like to bring happiness to them, through creativity and positive engagement. 

In the early morning the rag pickers collect garbage from the streets. They work long hours and in poor conditions but they are not respected or acknowledged for their work. They live together, in communities, and I visit their homes, or community halls, and play games with the children.
We talk and listen to each other, laugh together, we share our life experiences and we help one another. 

hopscotch, ragpickers, children, udaipur, happiness project, community, workaway, volunteer

I believe this is a two way process. We have much to bring to these communities, just as they too have much to offer us in the way of learning and compassion. I think its important to create an atmosphere of positive energy, of laughter, of sharing and of happiness. Because creativity, support and love are so good for healing any sadness, pain or frustration we can experience in life. Some scientific research shows that the level of creativity in children is much lower than what it was before. There is a lot of reasons for that, but there are also solutions. 

Through this project, I want to provide some kind of simple service in the way that I want to share every kind of knowledge or skills I have. I also invite you to come and work alongside me, sharing (whatever) skills you have – whether you are an artist, a musician, a crafts person, a teacher, a film maker or even a web designer. Any creative skills, circus skills, food skills, teaching skills, story telling skills, farming skills, listening skills, or simply a good open heart! 
I am grateful and open to all types of ideas and contributions!

I really look forward to hearing from you and finding news ways in which, together, we can create and share a little bit of happiness around the world!”

Here’s the link to Rama’s Udaipur Happiness Project on Facebook.

I went twice with Rama to visit the children – they’re delightful; lively, funny, friendly, cheeky and clever. They were really into hopscotch and the hokey-cokey (which they learnt from another English volunteer).

hopscotch, ragpickers, children, udaipur, happiness project, community, workaway, volunteer

The love and respect that the children and their families have for Rama was palpable – it was a privilege to be included in that warmth.

ragpickers, children, udaipur, happiness project, community, workaway, volunteer

We also went to visit a group of women who had suffered domestic abuse; they live in secure accommodation with their children, one little boy was born on a train.

Once again we were made very welcome although a couple of them were too shy to share their names. We did some stretching exercises on the lawn after another enthusiastic hokey-cokey session.

Rama and her family gave me such a warm welcome despite their profound grief at the recent loss of their beloved father, known as Papa, by all accounts a peaceful, dignified, happy and generous man.

Papa was enormously impressed by his middle daughter’s hard work and community spirit. Despite his initial misgivings when Rama, as a teenager, insisted on being treated the same as her two younger brothers – she identified with them equally if not more than with her two older sisters – he came to regard her as his teacher with respect to women’s rights.

My domestic duties involved washing up (no hot water let alone a dishwasher) and chopping vegetables (lots of onions and green chillies) which Rama or her older sister (and occaisionally their mother and younger brother) expertly turned into delicious spiced up dishes while creating huge piles of chapattis on the side. 

I was told more than once how lucky I am to have been born a woman in the UK. 

workaway, father, papa, pencil, drawing, portrait, gift, remember

I drew this pencil portrait of Rama’s Papa from a photo and it’s now framed in Papa’s room; Rama says seeing his smile every day gives her consolation and inspiration.

One of Papa’s mottos was “always be big-hearted”. Rama, a brave, strong pioneer of equal rights in a country where most people abide by rigid patriarchal and class rules is certainly a living embodiment of that.

sugar cane juice, rama, guided walk, udaipur, market, rajasthan, india

Rama used to visit the old city market with her Papa, preferring to support the local economy by buying fresh goods directly from the producers rather than shopping in supermarkets.

repair man, rama, guided walk, udaipur, market, rajasthan, India

Rama developed the route into a guided walk which I took with her one hot afternoon.

This is the link to Rama’s guided Udaipur city walk on Facebook

vegetables, guided walk, udaipur, market, rajasthan, India

We went there and back in a packed shared auto, an adventure in itself – I counted 12 passengers in the little rickshaw van at one point.

spices, rama, guided walk, udaipur, market, rajasthan, India

The market is a beautiful labyrinth of tiny colourful shops divided into categories: sweets, snacks, kitchenware, fruit and veg, grains and spices. So much to see, smell and taste.

haveli, rama, guided walk, udaipur, market, rajasthan, india

We also stepped back in time through the doors of a delightfully disheveled 300 year old haveli.

haveli, rama, guided walk, udaipur, market, rajasthan, india

All in all a wonderful, eye-opening and unforgettable experience and a reminder never to take white privilege and western women’s relative emancipation for granted.

Thank you Rama, you are so big-hearted, keep up your good works.

Artwork in India (1) – Udaipur

new delhi, railway, station, train, overnight, journey, sketch, sketching, sketchbook, illustration, travel, figures, platform

I got to the train station in New Delhi early with the intention to draw. It was a little overwhelming but a kind man insisted that I sit on his blanket with him and his son which made drawing more comfortable. My train to Udaipur left bang on time at 7pm and I had a good 12 hour journey in a bunked sleeping compartment.

udaipur, lakeside, lake pichola, rajasthan, India, pen and watercolour, painting, sketching, sketch, sketchbook, rooftop, moustache hostel, hanuman gat

This is the view across Lake Pichola from the roof of the Moustache Hostel in Udaipur. Rajasthanis have famously luxurious facial hair, hence the name of the hostel. 

wall painting, artist at work, stencil, cockerel, rooster, mural, acrylic paint, surface decoration, illustration, decoration, birds

The hostel had lots of wallpaintings left by many guests so I offered them some cockerels…

wall painting, artist at work, stencil, cockerel, rooster, mural, acrylic paint, surface decoration, illustration, decoration, birds

They then asked me to paint something in the space above the birds so I drew a design in my sketchbook inspired by a beautiful cow I’d seen on my first morning walk through the city.

holy, cow, sacred cow, holy cow, pen, watercolour, drawing, painting, watercolor, sketchbook, travel, India, rajasthan, udaipur, marigoldsAnd then transferred it to the wall (below) 

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Painting in the reception area was a great way to meet people, and the cow and cockerels got a very warm welcome.

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Here’s a pen and watercolour sketch I made at a little Hanuman temple in the street. The lady selling flowers next door kindly lent me a stool to sit on while I drew.

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This is Yogesh, one of the Moustache Hostel team. He asked me to draw his portrait so I worked in pencil from a photo.

udaipur, rajasthan, india, pen, sketch, lady, sari, cafe, illustration, travel

And here’s a quick pen sketch I made of a lady wearing a sari while she sat in a lakeside cafĂ©. I’m sure she twigged that I was drawing her, she didn’t seem to mind but she did leave before I had a chance to add colour.

All in all a very enjoyable and creative first week here in India. I’m leaving the Moustache Hostel today to go and spend a few days with an Indian family here in Udaipur.