Artwork in India (12) – Himachal Pradesh

tirthan valley, himachal pradesh, india, collage, airmail, pen and wash, watercolour, landscape, travel blog, travel illustration, river, mountains, rocks, watercolor, sketchbook

Himachal Pradesh was on my wishlist from February but the weather was just too cold to make the trip pleasurable until spring finally arrived halfway through April. 

I kept seeing gorgeous photos on Instagram and eventually booked two sets of accommodation in the Tirthan Valley. It was still damp and rainy when we arrived but we had a wood burner and electric blankets in our room to turn the chill into cosy.

To reach Himachal Pradesh from West Bengal we took a taxi from Siliguri to Bagdogra, flew to Delhi then on to Chandigarh (both steaming hot), then hired a car and driver to drop us in the Tirthan Valley.

Flights from Delhi to Kullu Manali (Himachal Pradesh’s airport)  are extremely expensive and unreliable due to the weather conditions, and while night buses from Delhi to Kullu are cheap, they take about 10 hours and don’t have proper sleeper berths (just reclining seats).

So that’s why we opted for the car and driver; door to door convenience, comfort and a reasonable price. Salman the driver loved the trip too, it was his first visit to Tirthan and he was mightily impressed by the phenomenal landscape.

A landscape which I found impossible to capture well in watercolour. I made one attempt which ended in frustration so I covered the mess with a collage and did a simple sketch on top. Life is too short to labour over landscapes when you can simply admire them.

tirthan valley, himachal pradesh, himalayas, mountains, india, travel photography, wanderlust, travel blog, springtime

Still with an eye on the weather in desirable destinations like Manali and Mcleodganj (the Dalai Lama’s base in India) at higher altitudes we decided to stay put in the Banjar region until we had to return to Delhi and then to London. Comfort won out over curiosity; a sign of age perhaps.

Himachal Pradesh is a fantastic place to finish my trip. The weather is gentle as are our generous hosts here in the Tirthan Valley. 

I also found this epic book in our guesthouse and was immediately hooked.

India had been a profoundly wonderful and confusing experience, there were many points when I felt like I’d had enough but then something amazing would happen and I’d bounce back. 

Arundhati Roy, perhaps as only an Indian woman can, weaves a beautiful tale entwining the tragic, seemingly eternal (and universally human) threads of sexism, racism, classism, religion, corruption, exploitation and violence in ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’. The book is mostly set in Kashmir and Delhi but encompasses the whole of India.

“They aren’t very good at other people’s pain. But then who is? … What we have on our hands is a species problem. None of us is exempt.”

A sad but funny and fascinating read and a great Indian history lesson.

Europe will undoubtedly seem pale after India but I will be happy to dress and express myself as I wish again without worrying that I’m offending anyone.

That’s a huge luxury, as is white privilege – being born in a relatively rich, secular and democratic country.

tirthan valley, himachal pradesh, himalayan foothills, kullu, india, springtime, countryside, flowers, mountains, cactus, slate roof

Himachal Pradesh is so beautiful in the springtime and the people of the Tirthan Valley are so warm, kind and hospitable. We climbed up a really big hill today; up a dirt track, stone steps, through flowery meadows full of butterflies, we passed a waterfall, a few slate roofed cottages and a tiny school. Near the top a dog started barking at us quite enthusiastically; his lovely family gave us a glass of cold cordial and invited us in to see the temple in their new wooden house. We had very few words in common but they worked.

bidi, beedi, leaf cigarette, indian cigarette, bundi, rajasthan, india, travel illustration, illustration, pen and wash, watercolour, watercolor, painting, drawing, sketchbook, collage, packaging

Little sketchbook homage to the humble bidi (or beedi) a cheap but tasty India smoke. Basically it’s a leaf rolled around a tiny bit of tobacco, secured with a string. There was a bidi factory in Bundi, a beautiful town in Rajasthan that I visited in January. The bidies in the image above are painted, the rest is a collage of beautiful bidi packaging.

Artwork in India (9) – Khajuraho

I must admit that I was exhausted by the end of my stay in Hampi. Tired of the heat, tired of traveling alone and tired of the attention of strangers; getting shouted at from a distance and asked to pose for a selfie had lost its curious charm.

I also had a creeping nausea, mild upset stomach and complete lack of desire to sightsee or draw.

I guess you could call it ”travel fatigue” and I figured that I needed a safe and comfortable place in which to rest and wait for it to pass without losing heart or forcing the issue.

I decided to head for Bundi (Rajasthan) to catch up with the friend I’d made in Bikaner in November; to enjoy some honest conversation and easy company.

I got a sleeper bus from Hampi to Bengaluru (surprisingly comfortable) and spent a few hours relaxing at a suburban health food cafe (they even had a hammock for a nap) until it was time to head for the airport and fly to Jaipur.

jaipur, rajasthan, india, pink city, fort, palace

Having spent a comfortable night in a hotel close to Jaipur airport I took a listless taxi tour of the main sites of the city before boarding the evening bus for Bundi.

The Bundi bus turned out to be a ‘fly by’; without warning the driver let me out (alone) on the highway at midnight with vague directions to try the nearby train station for onward transport into town.

As luck would have it there were two guys on the other side of the road; one waiting for the bus to Jaipur and the other (having dropped the first guy off) about to drive back to Bundi.

Lift sorted.

bundi, rajasthan, india, street photography, wanderlust, travel blog, travel photography, wanderlust, doors, step well, elephant stables

I rented a charming but basic room at a guest house converted from the old elephant stables right next to Garh palace. A comforting slide into a lax routine ensued: gently exploring the beautiful town and sharing street food snacks with my buddy. Such a relief not to have to watch my back and field questions all the time.

bundi, rajasthan, india, street photography, travel blog, wanderlust, doors, dhaba, scooter, street scenes

bundi, rajasthan, india, colours, texture, abstract, street photography, wanderlust, travel blog, travel photography, wall painting

Bundi may be extraordinarily beautiful but it’s not spared the mountains of filth and litter that are ubiquitous in India. The culture of “drop it for someone else to deal with” is so at odds with the anti-litter campaigns we were subjected to in the UK during the 70’s that the sight of the rubbish never ceases to be shocking; especially so when it’s in a rural setting and / or  it’s being consumed by cows.

bundi, rajasthan, rubbish, litter, polution, plastic, packaging, india

I deliberately cropped the garbage out of countless otherwise stunning views but today I decided to make it a feature.

taragarh fort, bundi, rajasthan, india, travel blog, travel photography, wanderlust, ruins, ancient, fort

Taragarh Fort above Bundi is one of the oldest and largest in India; the uphill trek past the palace to reach it (the guide books recommend taking a stick to ward off potentially aggressive monkeys) is well worth the effort. You’re treated to feeling like an intrepid explorer as you step carefully through the unchecked undergrowth and gingerly tackle crumbling staircases to encounter deliciously dilapidated ancient wall paintings and ever elevated vantage points from which to gaze over the city. Bundi is much bluer than Jodhpur which is famed for its blueness.

Bundi also has an impressive number of step wells, many of which are in a good state of repair and free to visit. When the water table was higher they were filled with fresh water and people would descend the beautifully symmetrical steps which line their sides to collect it.

Around a week later, feeling refreshed (if no more motivated to draw) I set off for Delhi by overnight train. My mission was to pick up my travel companion for the second half of the trip.

new delhi, india, metro

The New Delhi metro is wonderfully clean and efficient and is easy enough to negotiate at 6am, even after a night on a train and with a map in Hindi (note the colours, count the stops).

The hotel tried to fob me off with a dark little room that stank of damp so I stepped out for breakfast to give them the time to come up with a better option, i.e. the room I’d actually booked.

It was then that I discovered that my travel bank account had been cleaned out by a card fraudster. Luckily I had a backup bank account; luckier still the first bank responded swiftly and refunded the stolen money within a couple of days.

My travel companion’s flight was delayed by 20 hours due to a bungled Aeroflot transfer in Moscow. I took the opportunity to sleep. We were both delighted and relieved when we finally did meet up at Indira Gandhi Airport.

We set off on the six hour drive to Rishikesh (Uttarakhand) the following morning in a cab with no driver’s side wing mirror and half a rear number plate. By the time we were clear of the Delhi smog we had full faith in the skills of Ashok, the man behind the wheel.

rishikesh, uttarakhand, india, laxman jula, river ganges, ganga, sacred, temples, hiking

Several people had recommended Rishikesh as an unspoilt beauty spot which attracts chilled out travelers into yoga and meditation (neither of which we intended to do formally).

It didn’t disappoint. We enjoyed gentle hikes along the banks of the Ganges, good food and the evening spectacle of the Hindu temple rituals.

It was chilly however, so we opted to travel south when the time came to move on.

My friend from Bundi and Bikaner had also moved on – he was by now in Khajuraho, a town famed for its elaborately and erotically carved ancient temples and spring dance festival. We decided to pay him a visit and booked a rail route via Varanasi.

train, tracks, india, indian railway, misty morning

A note on train travel in India

The railway network is vast and runs well. Even journeys of 12+ hours can be very comfortable if you prepare properly.

Delays are notorious, so are hideous toilet stories but my experience with both has been thankfully mild (reek of urine excepted). 

Wear modest, comfy clothes in layers, pack a book, water (they do sell it on board), fruit and snacks (they sell food on board too, but without seeing how it’s prepared I’m wary), toilet paper, hand sanitizer, a lock and chain for your luggage – security eases the mind. Also keep your valuables tucked in your pants at all times (except during inevitable and hopefully brief toilet visits).

The Indian Railways website  is tricky to negotiate. I persevered long past my usual patience limit and managed to register myself as a user but couldn’t pay for the tickets I wanted because they don’t accept foreign credit / debit cards. Hmmm.

So I booked train tickets on third party websites, through hotels and travel agents and at train stations (make sure you know the train number and that you have your passport with you). This man (in seat 61) is an expert on Indian train travel.

Tickets sell out pretty fast on popular routes so it pays to book well in advance. There are slim allowances for last minute plans but the numbers of seats are limited and they cost extra. Tatkal tickets are released the day before travel at 10am and you need a sharp agent with good karma to catch one. Tourist quota tickets can only be booked at railway stations and are similarly limited. 

First class carriages are divided into compartments with two or four berths and lockable doors; obviously these tickets are the most expensive. Not every train route runs with a first class carriage so it may not be an option.

Second and third class carriages with air-conditioning (2AC and 3AC) are both comfortable. They’re divided by curtains into compartments which contain four berths (in two tiers) and six berths (in three tiers) respectively. There are also two more berths on the other side of the corridor which runs the length of the carriage.

All AC sleeper berths come with cotton sheets (in a paper bag from the laundry), a pillow and a blanket. The aircon can be pretty harsh so socks and a hat may be useful too.

Book an upper berth if you’re traveling alone. It affords more privacy and you can still lie down during the daytime stretch of the journey if you want; it’s mandatory to share a lower berth as a bench seat with other travelers in the same compartment during the day.

The middle berths in 3AC are supported by chains and are folded back to the wall during the day to allow enough space for passengers to sit up on the the lower berth.

Standard sleeper carriages do without AC by having no glass in the windows. Passengers there are expected to bring their own bedding. Not for the faint hearted.

There’s something very comforting about settling into your berth for a night on the train. The relief that the train has turned up on the correct platform and that it’s leaving more or less on time gives a sweet glow…as does having a well stocked snack bag and pretty much nothing to do. Rock on.

For shorter ‘local’ journeys you can buy your ticket for a simple seat at the time of travel.

varanasi, india, ghat

So, back to Varanasi…it was absolutely choked with traffic, filthy and weirdly religious to our secular western eyes. We lodged in a homestay with a balcony overlooking the neighbourhood wedding garden; two nights in a row we had front row seats for the fascinating festive goings on with an ear splitting sound track of Hindi pop hits and the waft of delicious feast smells.

From Varanasi we trained it to Satna and overnighted in the filthiest shit hole guesthouse I have so far encountered. Luckily for one night only as I couldn’t bring myself to brush my teeth in that bathroom or undress to sleep. 

We skipped the complimentary breakfast and caught the morning bus to Khajuraho. A four hour bone rattling journey in a thundering old machine driven by a tiny man who expertly multi-tasked. Hooting the horn, spitting betel juice out the window, swerving to overtake slower vehicles and avoid dogs and cyclists.

khajuraho, madhya pradesh, temples, stone carving, kama sutra

There are astoundingly intricate stone carvings to be found on temples in all corners of Khajuraho. The most impressive cluster of temples is the Western Group; there’s a modest fee to enter the spotlessly clean and well manicured compound.

Khajuraho has the air of a town where the number of residents who want to make a buck from tourism exceeds the number of tourists needed to make the equation comfortable. So the hassle factor was pretty high.

khajuraho, madhya pradesh, india, stone carving, erotic art, kama sutra, temples, travel blog, travel photography, wanderlust

We did have fun exploring, we ate well, we enjoyed the company of my buddy and his local friends with whom we played badminton and attended (yet) another wedding. We saw some delightful classical dance performances and both suffered mercifully short bouts of d&v (unconnected).

khajuraho, madhya pradesh, india, sketchbook, travel blog, travel illustration, watercolour, painting, drawing, sketch, pig, temple, lake, illustration, pen and wash

My sketching mojo returned one day while I was wandering about the outskirts of town. A modest doodle but a relief nevertheless.

rajnagar fort, madhya pradesh, india, ruins, travel blog, travel photography, wanderlust, travel

The day before we left Khajuraho we went to Rajnagar to eat a delicious lunch at the family home of a lovely young man who worked at our hotel, he also showed us around the gorgeous ruined fort there. Lovely.

Artwork in India (6) – Jodhpur

jodhpur, blue, blue city, rajasthan, india, travel blog, scooter, indigo, fort

Jodhpur is huge compared to Jaisalmer but it feels much more relaxed; probably because most of its people seem pretty disinterested in tourists. It’s a relief after the near constant solicitations to ‘let me help you spend your money’. The kids are pretty keen to ask your name and tell you that their hobby is collecting foreign coins…hmmm.

jodhpur, rajasthan, india, travel blog, sunset

I went on a guided walk from the Moustache hostel (friendly staff, nice room, great common areas, lovely rooftop restaurant) to the blue part of the city yesterday afternoon, it was deliciously decrepit. 

ancient, communal, kitchen, jodhpur, market, rajasthan, india

We watched the sun set then headed back through the old market, some parts of which (the old communal kitchen above) outdate the 600 year old fort.

god of sex, hindu, fertility, jodhpur, rajasthan, india

Apparently these gods of sex can be invoked to improve fertility by placing appropriate fruit offerings in their orifices (an apple for the lady and a banana or cucumber for the man).

They’re conveniently situated next to a fruit and veg stall…I bought  bananas but I kept them to myself!

jamie oliver, jodhpur, market, rajasthan, india, chillies

I came across this man posing as a stall holder in the market today!

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Here’s a street sketch I made over a couple of sessions. I attracted much interest from stall holders and passers by alike; especially children making it a little tricky to concentrate at times!

jodhpur, fort, mehrangarh fort, rajasthan, india, travel blog, wanderlust

The steep hike up to the Mehrangarh Fort, which looms over the city is rewarded with stunning views. The huge and beautifully preserved monument boasts an excellent museum, a couple of temples and a garden. Well worth the entry fee (six quid).

jaswant thada, cenotaph, jodhpur, mehrangarh fort, rajasthan, india, travel blog, wanderlust, sunset, moonrise

About half a kilometre’s gentle walk from the fort is the serene and beautiful cenotaph, Jaswant Thada – a gorgeous spot to while away the late afternoon.

jodhpur, old town, blue city, architecture, blue, sunbeam

The oldest part of Jodhpur is famous for its blue facades. It was originally inhabited by Brahmins who considered blue a sacred colour. Nowadays the number of indigo buildings is slowly diminishing as people opt to show their wealth and modernity by cladding their houses in tiles or painting them in different hues.

jodhpur, market, architecture, blue, detail

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!

jaisalmar, fort, rajasthan, india, workaway, rooftop, wonbin safari hostel, pen and wash, watercolour, watercolor, painting, sketching, sketchbook, travel illustration, travel blog, illustration, landscape, painting, drawing

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.

camel, stencil, painting, mural, illustration, repeat, acrylic paint

Having painted several camels, a bit of red shading and yellow highlighting  I added a border inspired by a Rajasthani 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 that removes obstacles and blesses new starts 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!

I had a go at a Ganesh…

jaisalmar, Ganesh, watercolour, pen and wash, drawing, painting, illustration, elephant, elephants, god, hindu, rajasthan, india

Then I got invited to a wedding! 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 niece’s nuptials and I got my massage and an invitation to the part of the wedding ceremony which would take place two days later.

hindu, wedding, bride, saris, jaisalmer, rajasthan, india

And it was a delightfully colourful evening – the whole marriage ceremony takes place over several days and nights and costs the bride’s family an absolute fortune. There were saris of every hue, mountains of delicious food being cooked and consumed (the bride’s family aren’t allowed to eat though) and a cocophany of drums and firecrackers when the groom finally arrived at midnight. He strode moodily to the stage at the front of the main room at the ashram and sat on a sofa.

The bride, who was hidden in a back room for most of the evening then walked to the stage under a kind of awning. The groom appeared to ignore her completely for a good long while. I left the party at that point.

I saw the bride’s brother a couple of days later. He said his whole family were exhausted after the extensive marriage ceremony – the final part of which lasted through the night. They were also grieving the loss of the their sister / daughter / niece from the household but grateful that at least she still lived in Jaisalmer. He added that he had already started saving up for the eventual wedding of his eight year old daughter.

Jaisalmer has a frontier town feel – it’s close to the border with Pakistan and there were several days when there were fighter jets roaring overhead (Indian government posturing I was  told). It’s certainly the most ‘male’ place I have stayed in so far. There were a few women with jewelry and vegetable stalls in the market and a few women street cleaners but their presence was mainly domestic and behind closed doors.

There were no female staff at the hostel and while I was mostly treated with kindness and respect there were times when I had to robustly defend my boundaries around personal space. I did it with as much patience and good humour as I could muster.

There is definitely an advantage to sticking around in one place for a bit longer than is usual on the backpacker trail. Taking time to talk with local people and other travelers creates deeper connections and insights.

I met a splendid fellow from Spain who went to the wedding with me, then the following evening I joined him for dinner at the home of a delightful local couple who have a shop. They were all so sweet and generous and the food was the best I’ve had in India.

jaisalmar, rajasthan, fort, India, thar desert, travel blog, workaway, travel blog, travel solo, travel, workaway, jaisalmer fort, haveli, gadisar lake, workshop

To add to the excitement there was an election for the legislative assembly of Rajasthan on the 7th of December. The election takes place every five years and this one was eagerly anticipated because the people were generally bitterly disappointed by the broken promises of Modi and the right wing BJP who won in 2013.

The BJP is India’s largest political party in terms of representation in the national parliament.

Campaigning for the centre left Congress party (INC) which is associated with the Gandhi family was enthusiastically underway while I was still in Bikaner and in Pushkar there were reminders to vote spray painted on the lakeside ghats.

It took four days for the votes to be counted and when Congress was declared the winner on the 11th of December there were fireworks, drumming, chanting and cheering well into the night.

indian national congress, flag, inc, rajasthani, election, political, legislative assembly, india

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.

rat, rat temple, temple, deshnoke, rajasthan, karni mata, rodent, hindu, pen, watercolour, watercolor, study, drawing, painting, travel blog, travel illustration, illustration, rodent, art

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.

fruit, vegetables, greengrocer, market, stall, pushkar, rajasthan, india, pen and wash, drawing, sketch, sketching, painting, watercolour, watercolor, travel, illustration, street painting, travel blog

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.

saris, devotees, bathing, ghat, lake, pushkar lake, pushkar, rajasthan, india, pen and wash, drawing, sketch, sketching, painting, watercolour, watercolor, travel, illustration, street painting, travel blog

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.

camel, mural, pushkar, camel fair, wall painting, painting, decoration, decorative painting, acrylic paint, illustration, travel, india

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) 

holy cow, cow, mural, wall painting, wall art, detail, nose, acrylic paint, emulsion paint, decoration, illustration, surface decoration, decorative painting, artwork, india, rajasthan, udaipur, moustache hostel, travel

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

holy cow, cow, mural, wall painting, wall art, detail, nose, acrylic paint, emulsion paint, decoration, illustration, surface decoration, decorative painting, artwork, india, rajasthan, udaipur, moustache hostel, travel

hanuman, monkey, god, temple, udaipur, rajasthan, hindu, india, pen, watercolour, sketch, sketchbook, painting, travel, illustration, drawing

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.

portrait, pencil, graphite, drawing, Indian, man, moustache, beard, rajasthani, moustache hostel, udaipur, India, travel, illustration

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. 

udaipur, lake, rajasthan, India