Artwork in India (8) – Hampi

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So the day I set off for Hampi I see this on Instagram! It’s going to be worth the effort…

An early morning taxi from Varkala to Trivandrum, two domestic flights: Trivandrum – Chennai – Hubli, another taxi from Hubli airport to Hubli Junction railway station, a train to Hospet, a tuk-tuk to my guesthouse, an overnight break and then a local bus from Hospet to Hampi!

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And Hampi (this link can explain the history better than I can) proves to be a delicious and mind bending mix of surreal geological accidents and logic defying Flintstone style construction.

Of course with my meticulous research (not) I was well aware (not) that the day of my arrival coincided with the Makar Sankranti festival so the bus from Hospet was packed to the gills and Hampi was swarming with visitors.

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hampi, karnataka, india, hampi rocks, rocks, travel, illustration, pen and wash, watercolor, watercolour, painting, drawing, sketch, sketchbook

Here are a couple of pen and wash sketches…impossible to capture the mad grandeur of the landscape but fun trying.

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The site is vast and I’m staying in a guest house (Funky Monkey – friendly, nice food and music, bathroom prone to flooding through the ceiling a couple of times a day but no drama), which is in a sort of shantytown in the centre.

I’ve taken to rising just after dawn (6:30ish) and going out for a wander in ever increasing circles then returning for breakfast a few hours later. That way I have the place virtually to myself and it’s fairly cool.

This morning I got up a bit earlier and since I was fully covered decided to visit the imposing Vishna temple next to the guest house. I left my shoes at the entrance and didn’t take any photos inside.

A friendly man showed me around, with the unspoken agreement that I would pay him at the end of the tour. He took me to the inner shrines, demonstrated a 700 year old camera obscura which projects an image of the huge tower (top left and bottom right in the photos above) onto an interior wall at sunrise, pointed out some stone carvings of Vishna in his various animal forms and some others which were frankly pornographic (unexpected, given the sacred nature of the site and the Hindu’s prudish attitude towards sex).

Just inside the entrance, to one side there was an elephant chained by his feet to the floor. His face and ears were painted with the red, yellow and white markings of the blessed. As I went in I noticed him pacing, as far as the chains would allow, in a rhythmic way reminiscent of a depressed person rocking. On my way out I saw two women offering him food, he knocked them to the ground with his enormous trunk. Shaken, they got to their feet with a laugh and left. Another woman sat to the side and spoke to elephant; I think she asked why he was so angry. Aptly he threw rubbish at her. I’d be well pissed off under similar circumstances but in the absence of industrial strength chain cutters and a PETA intervention order I left the sad scene.

hampi, sunrise, mountain, view, temple, wanderlust, solo travel, travel blog, banana plantation

On my first day in Hampi I’d noticed some people on the top of a huge crop of rocks but, tired and disoriented I wasn’t able to find the way up.

This morning, quite by accident I stumbled (not literally, I am quite sure footed for an old bird) upon the stone staircase around the back of the rocky mountain. I scaled it…admittedly not without misgivings, bouts of gentle vertigo and a few rest stops…

kathryn hockey artist illustrator

But the view! And the sense of calm…and achievement…and awe at the vast beauty of the landscape juxtaposed with the crumbling buildings. I’m so happy to share that view with the squirrels, birds and lizards.

hampi, climb, mountain, ruins, temples, rocks

Luckily I found an easier way down, although I did shuffle part of the way on my bum.

hampi, karnataka, india, sunrise, mountain, river

So I’m quite chuffed at this point, imagining the delicious breakfast I’m going to have when I get back to the guesthouse…when a cheeky monkey bounds over and robs me of the bag of bananas I’ve been carrying since I left the first temple. No way I’m arguing with him, ha!

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There are centuries worth of stone carvings at Hampi; some of them crude and some so skillfully intricate it boggles the mind. Obviously the surviving carvings exist in various states of dilapidation and most are fully accessible to examine at close range with eyes and fingers.

I saw many, many examples of the woman above, all unique. I love the way her arms are entwined with the stone archway so I decided to paint a version of her.

stone carvings, hampi, karnataka, india, ancient civilization, ruins

Artwork in India (6) – Jodhpur

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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!

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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).

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.