This was done on the last day at Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, in the early morning outside our hotel. We were waiting for the taxi to show up and it came before I could finish the sketch.
The main street were just starting to stir as we drove out. Leaving was a wrench. We had had such a lovely time there. It had been such an adventure getting there in the first place -
- Wading through a flood in Guwahati in Assam to get the entry permit
- A tree falling in front of the bus on the way to Tezpur
- Staying overnight in Tezpur due to bad weather
- Two days of travel to Tawang
- Several landslides en route
- One car breakdown
- Getting close and personal with leeches
- Passing misty forests and towering snow mountains
- Driving through a snowfall
- Sharing one bed with the five taxi occupants (a married couple, a college guy and the two of us) at the night stop in Bomdila; it was election time and all the rooms were taken by the political workers, it was either share a room or stay out in the freezing cold. So we all huddled under the shared blankets and laughed so much we took a long time falling asleep. When we got to Tawang, we found that the Congress Party had won the elections and people were standing around throwing gulal. Extraordinary how hopeful people get at election time, then it's back to business as usual.
This was a valley view from the behind the hotel. We were the only people at the hotel that stayed on and on, so the staff treated us as 'one of the family'. They were a pleasant, cheerful lot, and it was really nice knowing them.
We met many Indian soldiers on our walks around Tawang, particularly at Tawang Monastery; some of them were there to get acclimatized before moving on to the border, and others were stationed there. Most of them were friendly, but one took me to task for drawing a hillside view of their camp. It was a top-secret area, he said, and I was endangering everyone. I was really flattered. I mean, in these days of satellite spying and cellphone photography, it's something to be told that your little sketch could make such a difference; particularly a sketch that, due to your half-frozen fingers, isn't even coming out all that well.
This was done in Pelling, Sikkim, at the Rabdentse Palace Complex.
We went to Pelling from Gangtok (and we went to Gangtok from Darjeeling, where we went after Tawang) on rather a spur of the moment decision and stayed in a small family owned hotel that we had discovered on a travel blog. Really lovely people again.
We were a bit weary of traveling - we had been traveling for two months at a stretch by now - so we stayed put for ten days and did nothing except take long walks with Tashi, our Lhasa Apso - yes, we were traveling with a dog, we got her in Tawang. The locals thought we were a bit cracke d - nobody stays here this long, they said - and the tourists asked us for directions.
What I like about sketching when traveling, aside from the pleasure of the work, is how drawing seems to act as a people-magnet. Park yourself somewhere and soon there will be a crowd gathering to see what you're doing. It's a good way to meet both the local and the visiting characters.
The nice ones don't bother you, are positive and encouraging, and sometimes overwhelm you with their kindness. I've had people bring tea and snacks for me so I wouldn't 'starve' while I worked. There was the tea-stall owner in Dalhousie who made all the porters and customers sit for me for a portrait marathon and kept plying the tea all the while - he refused to be paid for it later. There was the chanawallah sardarji, again in Dalhousie, who gave a great big laugh when he saw his portrait and handed me an even larger parcel of free chana. There was the Tibetan lady in McCleodganj who brought a glass of tea and sat down nearby and told me about an English artist who had been in town a few weeks earlier. He was just like you, she said, you artists can't do anything unless you imbibe, can you?
Then there are the twerps and the smartasses. They stand over you and tell everyone else what they think you're doing. Or they plonk right down and try to get you to talk about every brush stroke or pen line, if not your very private personal life.
And then there are the idiots. I'm sorry for not being PC here, but idiots are idiots, they ask very dumb questions. Someone probably told them it was a good thing to ask questions, for there lies the path to enlightenment, and since then there's been no stopping them. There was the chap who asked, "Did you draw this with your hand?" and, no offence to the Foot and Mouth artists, but that's kind of a strange question when you're sitting there with the pencil so obviously in your hand.
Does travel broaden your mind? To an extent, I suppose. If you give it a chance. Otherwise it's just carrying around the same baggage in different localities.
Some people seem to travel just so the natives can live up to their expectations. I remember a Spanish man in Nepal, a very intense fellow with a gimlet stare. He told me he had been a hippie in the Nineteen-Seventies and come to India seeking spirituality.
"Ah, those were the wonderful days!" he said. "Since then you lot have gone downhill. Every time I come to India now, all people want to talk about is getting a job, a flat, a car or a washing machine. You're getting as materialistic as us, and what's the point in visiting you if you're exactly like us?"
"To strengthen the kindred bond?" I suggested.
He wasn't amused. "I need you to stay spiritual, goddamn it!" he said. "After all I can get my fix of materialism back in Europe!"