Friday, February 29, 2008

More sights

Getting back to our travels, we went to Mahabalipuram, part of a 7th century dynasty, with massive rocks and rock cliffs. As you can see from the photo at the right, artists spent some serious time carving figures in the stone. I liked the little elephants under the big ones...

so I drew them.

This wall represents only a small fraction of the amazing carvings located here. Whole temples with bas reliefs and pillars and inner rooms were carved out of the huge stone cliffs. As we left, we saw a stone boulder with cruder, unfinished carved figures in no particular pattern; the guide said this was a "practice" stone, perhaps for evaluating a carver's talent.

Here's a photograph of some of the bas reliefs we found inside the temples. Very sophisticated work.

Our first glimpse of monkeys came as we climbed steps here to see a temple carved on top of a hill of stone. Not having drawn monkeys before, I was working out their shape in my mind, as you can see here.

We headed out & over to another complex of unfinished temples. There, the grounds were being weeded by several women, two of whom I drew. As usual, the clothes presented a kaleidescope of pleasure.

This complex included some gigantic stone sculptures of several animals, one of which was the elephant shown below. You can see a couple of tourists taking advantage of his shadow-- the day was quite hot.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Let's talk about driving

I think the difference between countries can be summed up in one word: driving. Every country has its style.

We spent a considerable amount of time driving from one area to another on a variety of roads. Many of them looked like this one, out in the country.

This is actually an unfinished sketch. My intention was to fill it with the many vehicles and creatures that one encounters on a given road. Here, one sees a public bus, a woman carrying a load, a bicycle loaded with plastic pots for sale, a motorcycle and a somewhat strange checkerboard on a tree trunk. Frequently many other types of vehicles shared the road with us besides what's here.

The strange checkerboard pattern is a variation of the tree decor indicated below. Every tree along every road we traveled had red & white paint on it. Paint is cheaper than reflectors, and, in the dark, India doesn't want drivers wrapping themselves around trees any more than we do.

Drivers in India are in a continual game of passing each other. To do so, they use their horns as signals. The passing car approaches the vehicle to be passed until it is very close on his/her tail. Then the passer honks. He keeps peeking to the right (India drives on the left) to check oncoming traffic; if it seems clear, he pulls out and offers two big honks. As he's actually passing, he honks one very long honk. The vehicle being passed courteously slows slightly, or at least does not speed up, while the passing vehicle is moving ahead.

Needless to say, heavy traffic leads to a LOT of honking.

As this sign indicates, however, honking is outlawed in some areas.

Or, possibly, some neighborhoods don't like horn quartets.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


To get a sense of the lively nature of every village and city, one must keep in mind that the whole of India is approximately one-half the size of the continental U.S. but holds 1.3 billion people-- almost a billion more than the entire U.S. Though that conjures up a vision of no square foot of ground ever being visible, the areas we traveled through were very agricultural, with rice as a major crop. When stopping or driving through towns, however, the numbers of people were between large and very large, everywhere. The sense of 'personal space' is wholly different, as a result, and it is reinforced by a cultural commitment to community, starting with the extended family.

Many people sell their crops on the street near active areas, such as the temple I talked about a day or two ago. Though the number of vendors is staggering, the amount of foot traffic is so large that it must work out, somehow.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Still in Madras, we went to the first of several temple ceremonies we were privileged to witness on our trip. Walking through town, we looked down an alley and saw this sight-- which looked rather like a straw hat to me. In fact, it is a palm-leaf scaffolding that covers the top of the entry gate to a temple. The gate is being re-stuccoed and re-painted to restore it to the lively and colorful sculpture it has been in the past-- you can glimpse a bit of its glory in the lower center, underneath the palm fronds. Imagine the entire tower looking like that.

We removed our shoes and entered the temple complex. People were starting to stream in, in anticipation of the ceremony. In fact, the ceremony itself, done within the sanctum sanctorum, was so crowded that we could only glimpse the swinging, flaming chandelier-like object being flung about from over the shoulders of many people--no mean feat for someone as short as I.

Afterward, the temple resumed its usual tempo, a place to be with one's family... which included the priests being with their families, as the priest is here, playing with his toddler.

And men and women congregate to gab, gossip or perhaps commiserate, as people are wont to do....

Friday, February 8, 2008


I have a particular fondness for laundry lines, so naturally I drew the first one I saw in Madras, a colorful line hanging near a couple of palm tree-frond shacks in the middle of a busy traffic area.

Better yet, we sped by a young man on a tall ladder, whitewashing a huge wall. I promise that my drawing is not exaggerated!

We visited a small church, then drove over to the beach (the Indian Ocean!). The beach was a long and wide stretch of sand. As we continued to drive along, we started seeing the gorgeous, colorful boats of the local fishermen. It reminded me of a classic Van Gogh painting... and later I found cheap reproductions of that same painting in various hotels we visited.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Inda, continued

We arrived in Madras (India) after dark, at about 9 p.m., if I remember correctly (which is suspect). Aside from the vague recollection of many, many people waiting at the airport to greet arrivals, the first thing I noticed was the festive artificial palm tree at left. Lights that blinked in succession enlivened it. Needless to say, one has to wonder why a place with so many real palm trees... well, never mind.

The hotel was the Taj, a lovely old place with fabulous food and a beautiful garden and pool. New birdsong greeted us the next morning, though there were still some familiar bird sights....

We started out, in our half-conscious, jet-lagged state, visiting a museum so as to familiarize ourselves with Hindu sculptures (the country is 80% to 85% Hindu, still, today) and the artistic progression of artists through many centuries, starting with the 4th century (or thereabouts).

More later...

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The missing blogger

For those who've visited and wondered what happened to me, I've been away-- to India, specifically, for most of the month of January. It's a bit dusty in the blog, so I've brought a sweeper with me to help with cleanup.

What a rich cultural experience India is! The difficulty in communicating even a small part of the experience is daunting. I assimilate by sketching, so I've got quite a few pieces to share. I imagine pictures will get added a bit slowly, and at some point I'll be able to offer a link to a scroll or two.

This is a woman who came with a group of people doing a pilgrimmage to a temple by the ocean in Southeast India. (The temple was wholly underwater during the tsunami.) It was a beautiful day, and she gazed so longingly out at the ocean as the rest started to move away...