Saturday, 18 November 2017

Birds of Modinagar


Week 8 November
The infrared swirl straddles central India on the map, twisting through dark red and purple towards two black boils at its epicentre sitting over Delhi and including Modinagar. Through the window there is no visible sign of this storm, the air is deadly still, but the authorities advise people to stay indoors to avoid harm, schools are closed and events cancelled. Ministers in Delhi blame the silent storm on crops being burnt in neighbouring states, the same practice carried out for many thousands of years. Either way, the region is in a state of emergency; that deep red static tornado on the satellite map signifying air quality declares a reading of 999 micrograms of pollutant per cubic metre (the scale does not go above 999, true levels have at times reached 1300). This is toxic air that can clog arteries and cause premature death on a mass scale. To put it into perspective, London when it has broken the EU regulated maximum pollutant levels by several fold has never exceeded 200 micrograms per cubic metre. Outside the window each morning I can make out the metal work of the balcony and just beyond a slight silhouette of the huge ficus that normally dominates the view and that's it; total white out, Jack the ripper type smog. Stay indoors; I have often opened my bedroom door this week to find a hazy cloud hanging menacingly in the hall. I leave the compound, I need to explore, draw.

Sometimes I go out early, pass over the threshold cut out of the compound gate, salute the guard as I go and step into a world of saturated grey tones and wispy spectres. Car's horns blare as they emerge with a rush and disintegrate again into the mist. I move freely, my own whiteness bleached out in the smog makes me almost incognito; Westerners don't usually have reason to visit Modinagar, so our presence on the street always draws considerable attention. I enjoy these quiet mornings, lingering. By 7 o'clock the road is already clogging with vehicles, often stuck behind the lumbering carts off to Modi Mills, laden with sugar cane. This main street is the only route between Delhi and the city of Meerut. M5 level traffic skims fruit sellers and food stalls, and pedestrians and motor bikes all jostling for space on the narrow, ambiguous fringes squeezed between heavy traffic and the toxic verge of open drains that run beneath the houses. Down there, open flumes run purple black drain water, steam rising where domestic waste mingles with run off from the Sugar mill. A syrypy sweet mildew smell permeates the sharp tang of exhaust fumes and thickens the soup in my lungs.

When I first arrived here, I quickly accepted that I was not going to be making work about wildlife in this crowded concrete strip. It was a surprise then on one of these smoggy mornings, to find myself drawing several Indian Hornbills clearly outlined on the branches of a dead tree in Modi Mander park a few metres from the main street. They were directly overhead circled by the simple silhouettes of tropical foliage, spade shaped leaves that taper to a long crimped thread, long frond leaves and fine showers of bamboo all staggered into shades of mist. The heavy beaked, long tailed hornbills grounded at roost by the dense smog turned this corner of a polluted park into a jungle scene of my imagination.


On one of my free days this week, I walked to the fields around Junta. As if I were ten again, I took the long route balancing on leats and ducking behind bushes to avoid some children I knew would sweetly harass me to breaking point and ruin any chances of drawing. My aim was to reach the raised platform around a solitary banyan tree under which was a small domed shrine. When I got there I found a new field had been flooded that throughout the day, drew down more and more birds until the whole 200 metre square was jammed with avian activity. Numerous bright egrets sparkling in the wet mud, white against yellowing smog, black drongos with their long quilled tails quivering as they spin a flight back and forth from the bushes catching insects on the wing, a ridiculously heavy billed kingfisher loudly zigzags from perch to perch. Pond herons stalk more stealthily between the erratic dance of the egrets, yellow wagtails and other small passerines dip in and out the flooded furrows, two red naped ibis, unmistakable long curved bills, scream out their intended approach from the tip of a near by pylon. The Ibis arrive at the field edge wearily probing their way around the periphery, red wattles lapwing enter in force and more boldly. They are the first to be spooked though, taking flight occasionally, after some unknown threat sending the skittish egret up in a wheeling raucous flock along with other previously unseen sandpipers and a single dotterel. The stealthy, cryptic pond herons stay still as statues, cool and calm. I try to draw the whole scene but need to zoom in on the birds. I work in my sketchbook for a while using binoculars. Its nice to just relax and strangely for me use a pencil to work things out. I build up a few studies then draw an entire composition in front of me before return with watercolour, lightly moving around the picture as birds fall into position, reflections and light into place. The key is good composition and rhythmic brushstrokes. I think this approach will work for more complicated field paintings than I have been making.

Worn out on Friday I procrastinate about leaving the house, the street, the market, the mill, the back-roads, the fields; all are possibilities all relentless. I look out my window for the 100th time across the unkempt lawn, ficus rustling with the business of Macaques foraging, towards the red slabbed walls of anther crumbling wing of the house curving around a disjointed patio with its swimming pool centre piece, a foot of half silted turquoise grey water at the bottom. A dumpy silhouette on the corner of a rusted, twisted anti-macaque cage catches my eye, another on a vertical drainpipe; too small and upright to be the ubiquitous pigeon. A quick look through the binoculars confirms two Smyrna kingfisher, double the size of our European kingfisher, but the same iridescent blue blaze on its back, a rich chestnut brown head and flank and white breast. Its red bill is proportionately longer and much thicker, the upper mandible chevroned and lower one downwardly curved and heavy giving it a near shoe bill shaped appearance. The kingfisher remain for near enough two hours, allowing me to make several brush studies.


More recently, I have discovered a river uptown attracting birds for all the wrong reasons, as it runs black with raw sewage and clogged so completely with rubbish it turns to a mire where pigs wade accompanied by an egret entourage, black kites as well as the pond herons and other water birds I found previously in the fields. The main street crosses this swampy travesty, temples line its banks, and people live all around in the fowl stench. It's corrupted, fowled, distressing, wild, precious and sacred.








Wednesday, 15 November 2017

IIFA Teaching Week 3 and 4: Figure in Space, Pattern and Colour


We started the week tutoring the painters. Our focus was to get the students concentrated on drawing space in proportion. Starting in the studio, we set up a simple subject of 2 pieces of A1 paper, one on the floor and one on the wall in the corner of the room for the students to draw. Before starting the students made schematic drawings of the room, the A1 sheets, themselves and the space between them and the paper. We had interesting results varying from areal views, maps and plans made of energetic lines of trajectory, which hopefully helped the class better understand the proportions of the space they were drawing. Drawing the paper in the room produced some good results, students enjoying it more than they expected, with some pleasing drawings that included the artist as well as subject and room. Next we introduced a model seated on the papers. Before making a sustained drawing we showed examples of artists drawing interior spaces such as Hockney and Martin Shortis, discussing, proportions, scale, composition techniques such as cropping, peripheral vision and foreground space for example. We then asked the students to make thumbnail sketches, encouraging them to move around to explore different compositions. This is something they very rarely do and we had noticed previously that they have had a tendency to launch into a large drawing starting with one detail and working outwards hoping for the best. Many of the thumbnails were more successful than the main drawings and some students used the session to make a whole series. Three students based their main drawing on a thumbnail composition and came up with interesting interpretations of the figure in space using imaginative view points, grounded figure, devices to lead the eye and sense of the artist's position in relation to figure. All strong compositions that considered the importance of tying the design to the edges of the page.

For the afternoon we hang A1 sheets around the campus which is built out of the old Modi cloth factory buildings. We pin the paper amongst the derelict cloth factory sheds, tumbled down chimneys uncoiling to the ground, down alleys stacked with old vents, in a boiler room, on the bonnet of a rusted old Buick and on the tarmac lane cracked and broken under the strain of weeds pushing up the soil. The students found a sheet to draw using it as a reference point for scale, proportion and composition to focus their landscapes and especially examine the breadth of space in their view points. They began with thumbnails and then more ambitious large charcoal drawings.


My favourite class so far was on Tuesday with foundation, section A. We had planned to work outside but the smog in the morning reduced visibility so much it would have been impossible. Instead we set up what we were going to do at one end of the classroom were there was a large wall sculpture of a tree filling the whole wall, a nice backdrop for our rather theatrical lesson. Our class was on figure in space, leading on from last weeks introduction to drawing the figure and would draw on classes I had learnt whilst training at Whitechapel with Becki. Arranging the class was a military operation with three tiers crammed into the small space, sitting on floor stools upturned as board rests, sitting on stools and standing at the back behind the wonderful sloped, teak stained Victorian type school desks filling the classroom. We gavr the class tiny A5 sheets, asking them to draw the class room, really explaining that they need to include walls on bothside, the floor, ceiling and foreground which is as important above us as below. We took this further explaining that those on the sides of the room would have to draw behind them to get the walls in. We did another small drawing asking them to this time put themselves/their position in the drawing so they were really exploring their entire field of view before starting with the main piece.



We stopped for a crit to look at the small drawings, which allowed us to see and discuss how differently we all perceive space, evident in the brilliant little felt tip drawings scattered at our feet in the middle of the circle. We then got into our huddle to look at images on my tablet, as I showed examples of different ways artists have interpreted space in art from Duccio and Massacio to Nadal Chand through to Hopper, Hockney, then Van Gogh, Bonnard and Tim Hyman drawings.
Before getting back to work we reiterated how important planning in this way is; many students helpfully shared their experiences of having to redraw the space several times after incorrectly estimating the proportions of the room. Using the small drawings as a guide, we asked the students to make larger drawings of the room and also introduced colours for them to use: two pastels one cold and one warm colour as well as a choice of black or white paper (this was to introduce a new element for variety but also were running out of materials after being so liberal in the first two weeks). After 5 minutes drawing the space we introduced a model. After 10 we moved the model to a different position in the room for the students to add to their drawing. We repeated this and as the model moved around more and more students were struggling to place the figure. To resolve this we extended their drawings by adding more paper, so the work got bigger and bigger. The scene became quite theatrical and it was exciting to see the strange drawings that were being produced, not least because of the mind bogglingly wonderful way some dealt with the space and all in striking colour tones.


We repeated the class for Section B&C, this time in the park but with less success due to various issues. Probably to do with the classes mood that day as well as the difference of being outside both for their ability to focus and also because the task was more difficult in an open space. A couple of student made some of the best drawings in this session however.


Matisse with Fashion Design and Textiles on Wednesday. Our first time with these groups and they were great, they also have by far the best studio; light, airy, open planned top floor with a glass exterior wall opening out onto a lawn terrace. We made a set for them with draped patterned fabric, rugs, flowers and fruit for them to draw from. We introduced Matisse to them for the first time ever and talked about using pattern shape and colour to draw something. We took this further discussing how the space in Matisse work is on one often flat plane, how this turns things into pattern and how we would like to challenge the class to do the same with the set in front of them. We worked on thumbnails and felt tips to begin with, which worked well. The sustained drawings were harder as there was a tendency to over work and fixate on detailed rendering of forms instead of simplifying and focusing on compositional edits/decisions, especially when we added a model.



We repeated this class with foundation on Tuesday 12 November. Rosy was back with us and since this was really her area she took the lead and the students produced some fantastic work. We had tweaked the class slightly so, for example,  we worked on coloured paper. This group seemed to take very naturally to the idea of making patterned, rhythmic colour compositions by flattening the space they were drawing. The work produced certainly showed inspiration from the Matisse and Vuillard work we looked at but also the patterns, design and feel of Indian miniature painting in some. 


For fashion this week we worked outdoors using ink, exploring pattern and mark-making again, leading on from the Matisse inspired class last week. We set up a scene against the large studio windows for a more sustained ink and brush drawing. Some of the work produced was very illustrative and really well thought out compositionally. Some used thick and thin lines with pattern and a variety of marks to create rhythm and balance in the work. Others used the single black tone and white of the paper to capture a sense of light and dark in and out the room. We moved on to colour using oil pastels on colour paper with ink. This introduced using limited colour with black and also new texture and mark making combining wet and dry materials and resist marks.

for painting we had prepared a lesson on sketchbook work. Making sketchbooks and working on the busy streets to gather source material for a studio drawing/painting later on. Due to various other commitments most of the class were absent so we postponed and instead went on a sketch crawl with the four students present. We explored a very interesting area around the school, which is the opposite end to where we live and definitely more down town. From blacksmith families in their tents on the roadside to the blue black toxic river damned with rubbish where pigs and egrets feast, this is a rough, gritty sometimes repulsive but vibrant place to explore and draw.


Monday, 6 November 2017

Rural Modinagar

03 November 2017

Modinagar has grown up spreading along the length of the Meerut highway. A short walk North away from the road leads into quieter, domestic streets, mothers and sisters in doorways, children on bikes, cakes of cow dung drying on thresholds ready to fuel the cooking fire. A little further on, the houses stop as abruptly as they began along the crush of the highway and are replaced by fields. The road begins to meander, bullet carts slow their pace right down, creaking in time to the sway of the buffalo's hips.

The fields of double overhead high sugar cane are ready to be harvested, other fields already bare are ploughed ready for planting wheat. Some are furrowed dusty brown, others recently irrigated are rich with clots of purple black earth. This patchwork of colour is neatly stitched together by a web of leats designed for running water from a well prominent in the distant flat landscape. The narrow raised banks of the leats also carry people through the countryside from field to field, balancing on the crumbly soil like tightrope walkers.


Off the road I come across a field of sugar cane being harvested by six or seven women (they come and go). They are stripping the leaves and bundling them up, these are carried away where I think they are used as fodder for livestock. I sit on the verge drawing until one comes over and we communicate through mime, she is warning me of snakes so I move to the ploughed field where she says I'll be safe. Turning to move I see a 2 metre snakeskin shed in the ditch amongst the scratchy dry foliage. After I finish my drawing, I meet Ashok whose family owns the farmland I am on and we eat the sugar cane given to me by one of the workers. This cane field is 100 hectares he tells me and that it is normal for farms to be 1000 ha or more in India. They will of harvested this field in ten days.

I walk along the leats where I find a spot that seems to overlook the decide between industrial town and country. A family gathers brush wood, expertly transporting it along the narrow leat paths. The father squats and watches me paint form start to finish in complete silence. Later I head back to the road where a man is flooding his field from the leats. Metallic grey water calmly fills the ploughed furrows advancing towards where I stand pushing ahead of it a tide of white cattle egret, greedily feeding on fleeing insects. A drongo perches on the wires above with kingfisher and the egret are around my feet. I am joined by a large group of children, the only drawback to this peaceful location being the constant entertainment and fascination I provide to the residents. Meet S and finish the day drinking chai with his family in a beautiful farmhouse.


Saturday, 4 November 2017

Teaching Week 1


Friday 27th Icebreaker with Foundation: Drawing Portraits

Teaching at International Institute of Fine Art (IIFA)

Monday 30th: Painters
2nd and 3rd Years

Intro to Figure Drawing
Drawing figure as whole (moving away from head to toe outline). Discussed this in relation to weight and posture, looking at Goya drawings. Rembrandt ink drawings in discussion of economy of line. Practically encouraged students to look at connections or 'invisible lines and angles' though the body to rapidly find the form. Doing this while emphasising weight and effect of gravity with importance of grounding the figure. Using charcoal for many different marks (not heavy outline).



Tonal Drawing. Used lighted brick to introduce drawing without lines; looking for contrasting tones, edges not lines. 30 minutes drawing figure, naturally began to include interior in drawings.
Figure in Space. Drawing the room - then introduced model. Discussed e.g. plains of figure matching room, space in extreme foreground in one students work (who had added page) created sense of sharing the space (words used: intimate, artist's view point) (re. Tim Hyman).



Afternoon. Working on single large drawing outside. Chose backdrop at end of road, old factory gates overgrown weeds and rusted up truck. Asked students to think about including whole space in drawing (using thumb nails to plan - seemed not to have done before) . Introduced figures one at a time in different areas of scene. Often extended pages. Encouraging to loosen drawing, rework drawing, use mark making and more tonal variation, think about spaces - calm/busy and breadth of vision i.e. peripheral.




Tuesday 31st: Foundation
Groups B&C in Morning. Group A in Afternoon




Introduction to Figure Drawing
Similar introduction as Monday class, followed by longer tonal drawing. This done by covering model with sheet to give basic shape defined tonally. Sheet removed and students tasked to render their figure over tonal figure.

Wednesday 1st: Applied Arts
2nd and 3rd year

Character Portraits
Class set up in circle, students take turns to model two at a time in centre. Using ink and brush on an A1 sheet divided into 16 A5 sections for each portrait. Focusing on ways of drawing, use of media, marks, design and composition as means of visually communicating a message about the sitter i.e. personality, character. Once students got the hang of this, we introduced a charades type exercise where each sitter chose a piece of paper with a characteristic written on it which the students then had to communicate through their drawing. Each time we discussed the characteristic, asking for words to describe it and then a Hindi translation, sometimes encouraging the students to direct the pose in an appropriate way. Final exercise was a full figure drawing based on an event chosen at random, introducing students to using the space around the figure to build atmosphere.









Sunday, 29 October 2017

Rooftops

Modinagar factories, late afternoon.

From the roof I look over Modinagar station directly below and out across the maze of angular rooftops dissipating into a milky haze of morning smog. Macaques rummage unseen, deep inside the crowns of fruiting trees. A train pulls into the 1000 metre long platform, cutting off the flow of pedestrians on the line. People climb into the open doors and disappear into the windowless carriages.

I cross the roof to the West, climbing between a web of cables, through narrow doorways, along terraces and around rusted cages built over satellite dishes and skylights to keep off the macaques. Drains clog with green algae and another is full of old light bulbs that crunch under my feet. Concrete turning to rubble and dust mixed with guano cascades down the walls, collecting on sills, ledges and the broad leaves of garden creepers grown wild below.

To the West I overlook the sugar mill; decorated lorries, bullet carts and tractor trailers loaded with sugar cane form a cue below. Macaques clamber, unseen on the high loads nonchalantly chewing on the cane, an easy target ( I have seen pedestrians in town steal a stick from the slow moving tractors as they cross the road, gangs of school boys snap canes on their knees, the unsuspecting victim rumbling down the road behind them). Pure white egrets pick amongst the empty trailers and heavy machinery, looking for insects, small mammals and reptiles. A family of mongoose weave in and out of corrugated shacks built around a giant silo. The convoy of sugar cane snakes around this silo and into warehouses where cranes transport the sugary loads into the dark recesses beyond. Above, more silos rise amongst a network of overhead pipes. Chimney stacks reach even higher into a static clot of yellow haze.

In late afternoon the sun hangs above the factory, a visible disk smothered by smog, an orange crescent around it, purple brown below. Macaques troop through the factory in a long procession appearing and disappearing over rooftops as they travel into the distance.

As night falls on the 31st, the convoy into the factory is double thick snaking out the gates into the main road. Lorries hidden from above by the gigantic bundles, spindly canes piled high and overhanging. Macaques clamber over them, bathed in phosphorescent light. A boy washes clothes on the pavement below, men mill around, a bullet cart starts rolling, the farmer takes a running jump onto the edge of the cart whilst examining his bill of sale he carefully folds it into his pocket and pulls at the rains of his buffalo. The factory is lit internally, the workings now visible, mechanical claws lifting cane and piling it high in the yellow glow. Vertical sheets of shadow beam into the night sky. Techno rumbles out of the streets beyond the railway, mingling with the workers radio station punctuated by the clang of metal claw and woody cascading of cane.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Himalayas: Trithan Valley


Shrine to Shiva
18th. We stay four nights in the foothills. Steep sided wooded valley, fiery yellow hillsides, terraces climbing high, crystal clear river below depositing granite beaches and boulders. The road runs along the Southern bank, our home-stay is on the North side serviced by a zip-wire with a hanging basket that you can pull yourself across on. Well trodden footpaths lead up in every direction, weaving between terraced maize and orchards. They link the farmhouses together, the highest must be several hours walk up very steep terrain. 200 metres up from our home-stay the path leads us onto the porch of one old farmhouse built into the hill, a bright green wooden veranda jutting out on the first floor, supported by simple wooden pillars and clad in red panels. The walls are lime wash, heavy granite tiles on the roof and a small shrine just visible under the eaves. A larger shrine is on a terrace above the house, green painted wooden frame on a stone platform supports a roof. Underneath the roof; offerings of grain, flowers and gold woven material are arranged amongst more permanent calved figures, tin metal snakes nailed to the eaves and rows of iron tridents on the outside. People pass by this family house and shrine as the path network runs from house to house through one another's backyards. Many carry maize or the papery leaves stripped from the cob used as cattle fodder. Many stop to talk, one mentions the shrine dedicated to Shiva, recognisable in the weathered carved tablets leaning around the shrine platform, they look ancient, older than the farms and the people around, yet there just there in the open untouched. Shiva is the Hindu god of the Himalaya, Great Shiva the Re-Creator and Destroyer.

Trithan Farm
Over the next two days we get to know the family of the red house; a couple married two years ago, in their early twenties with a 18 month old girl and another baby on the way. An old gentleman said to be the younger's father but must be his grand father. He is kind, bringing us fruit from the orchard, straightening out the shrine when he sees me drawing, a beam is out of place he mimes and some overgrown weeds are pruned. His wife would come and watch us paint fascinated by the process, then drift off to do some washing or spread out the chillies drying on the roof. The old man is death, determined in his communication and resolute in getting his point across especially when he disagrees with how I have drawn something; as is often the case in India, drawings with an audience like this one become a democratic process. His son/grandson tells me he is an artist, a very good painter but my enquiry into this got lost in translation. Through out the days painting the son would visit, sit with us sometimes with his daughter who he sung to, sometimes his wife would come too meeting passing neighbours on the footpath. The old man loved to visit but he was seen as a nuisance to us by the family so would be shouted at a lot if seen sneaking up to peek at what were doing, poke and point at the work in progress. He was a humorous, mischievous character, who once made us laugh by setting down a bundle of kindling on the lawn and lighting it with sparks that burst into such vicious flames that he had to fling himself away onto his back.

19th. We spend Divali here, invited into the family home of our hosts, sitting in an upstairs room with grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and nieces eating sweets. Everything builds up to the fireworks which is an exciting display managed by the youngest members of the family. As a rule the lighted fireworks are something to run towards or throw at each other. 4 -18 year olds immerse themselves in the close proximity of the explosions unscathed, whilst we suffer minor cuts, burns and tinnitus as we try to shelter close to the farmhouse only to be ambushed with bangers by the elders on the balcony above. In the shadows of the farmyard a grandmother goes about fetching things in buckets completely unfazed by the mayhem her family are creating.

20th. This morning I get up to work on the farmhouse painting whilst it is still cool. I swim in the river at midday and manage to stay in the icy water a couple of minutes this time. Once the shade hits the river shore around 3pm, I start a new painting on the beach. I lay out a piece of the large printing paper and with a broad brush wash in the valley sides. Then the wooded banks now turning to silhouette against the orange hillside to the East catching the last light.
I finish the river drawing in the morning before the sun is up, adding the crossing, highlights to the foliage and the boulders on the beach. (um, rs, ru, aur, rmg, qr and pas ...I think).

Trithan Stream and Crossing

Afterwards, hike with Matt towards the East peak, making it as far as eye level with the Griffon Vultures, soaring on the first high ridge, probably 800 metres or so above the river. The views are spectacular on every turn as we climb quickly on steep paths. We make some sketches before descending with a much greater perspective of this valley and reason to return with so much more to explore. A pair of oriental white eyes pick at a plumb tree on the way down, a stunning acid yellow bird the size of a goldcrest, sparkling white eyes; gems hidden on the vast hillside.


Himalayan Griffon Vulture

We walk into Gitiorni and eat a bowl of the fresh spicy pasta they make here, before I pick up a fishing permit and spend the rest of the afternoon spinning for trout in the river. I catch seven brookies, two of which we eat along with three more hooked out by our host's brother in a tenth of the time it takes me. We leave early the next morning for Shimla, travelling ten hours over about 250km on the local bus.

Trithan Valley from High





Saturday, 14 October 2017

Himalayas One: Manali

14/10/17 Manali Towns

From the temple, Old Manali evening

New Manali is booming, hotels and holiday apartments are going up everywhere, steadily filling in the skyline to block all but the highest peaks such as Nasogi and Bashisht that still dominate the sharply rising valley. For the last couple of hours daylight we explore the surrounding park; paths winding under a giant conifer forest canopy and amongst glades strewn with huge glacial dumped boulders. In a clearing we arrive at an unusual temple: wooden framed construction with steep teepee shaped granite tiled roof within a round outer pitched roof. The doorway and beams are carved with figures and all around the outside hang horned skulls of Ibex, blue sheep and other mountain animals. Stooping through the doorway into the surprisingly small, thickly plastered interior that muffles all the outside noise, I find a simple shrine dug under the floor in one corner, opposite is a fire pit and in-between the two sits a plain dressed man amongst an arrangement of brass dishes of dye powders, grains of corn and puffed rice, orange marigolds for people to buy and make offerings of.


We walk another kilometre or two, crossing the river to old Manali. Steep streets wind past hippy hangouts, chill zones, cafes offering real coffee and agents selling trekking tours each pumping out there own solemn variation of a Goan trance beat. Real coffee and chicken burgers can wait as we push on into the oldest part of town where some of the traditional half timber long house type buildings with jettied second floors still remain, all be it amongst the concrete new builds and extensions that seem to be smothering the valley. Livestock occupy parts of the long houses and loose hay is stored in the upper parts of some, or in separate ricks neatly billowing out between the wooden beams on all sides.


We reach the temple at the top of the village and look out over the rooftops at the awesome peaks beyond, changing blue to ochre and deep orange as the clouds spill over, the sun drops behind us and the crisp cold air rolls in.


15/10/17 Rhotang Pass


Prayer Flags, Rhotang La

Start the day with omelettes, two eggs beaten in a metal cup with milk, onions, salt and chilli; fried on a gas stove with four pieces of bread soaking up the mixture, folded up and served on a paper plate with chia, cooked one at a time by a smiley street seller as we enjoy the cool morning air. After we hire a car to take us up the Rhotang Pass, 3978 metres up, gateway to the high Himalayas. Beyond here I imagine true wildernesses existing in legendary places like the Spiti valley, territory of wild blue sheep and the almost mythical snow leopard or beyond the next, much more treacherous pass, Rangcha La, a few miles on where landslides and avalanches cut of the civilisations beyond for much of the year. Halfway up, our driver points out a tunnel under construction that will bypass Rangcha La making the outlying region easily accessible when it opens next year, surely this will have a revolutionising affect on the region.


Looking into the Chenab River valley; snow coming down.

In truth the Rhotang Pass is far from this kind of isolation and adventure, but a popular attraction for Indian tourists, who pile out of cars in 1980's onesie ski suits and long fur coats, hired on the roadside for a couple hundred rupees. There are chia sellers, offers of rides on a mule or photos with a yak, but most of the visitors aim for a selfie in a snowy scene, in complete polarity to the landscapes where most of them have come from elsewhere on the subcontinent. As slightly eccentric looking Westerners with easels, paints and drawing boards we however, begin to rival this awesome backdrop in the selfie stakes. All this going on, hardly detracts from the epic panorama of deep valleys, vast peaks spun with clouds that build and fade and build with dramatic speed, sometimes clearing enough to reveal the higher peaks hidden for hours. An animated landscape, shifting, reinventing kaleidoscope, a never static, panning out on every side. We paint and draw through flurries of sleet and snow, pausing only to catch our breathe in the thin air.

Rani Nallah
Rani Nallah - Scale

16/10/17 Beas River

Beas River at the Manasula confluence

We walk up river from Manali Model this morning, over the steel girder military bridge spanning the gorge and up river from the town to where views open up towards the Solang Valley and snow capped Patalsu Peak in the North. The extent of the river torrent in wet season is made apparent by the 200m or so width of the dry boulder strewn river bed. The main dry season channel of icy clear water runs a bright cerulean blue in the pools between the torrents. The valley is narrow and wooded with mighty conifers that run up the steep valley sides. Brightly coloured farmhouses cling to the river banks and high up the steep valley on improbable terrain, precarious amongst the new build resorts and guest houses going up all around. Above the road, golden bill magpies flop from tree to tree dragging their long streaming tails, stray dogs loyally trot alongside us, dropping away at invisible boundaries. We find a way down onto the river bed, where tin roofed shacks sprawl down the banks from the road, families finding space to live below the flood line. A limping dog that tagged along a kilometre back springs in to life at the site of hens scratching up invertebrates. The commotion alerts some women washing clothes in a brackish stream at the edge of the settlement, their clothes; lime green, chilli red, fiery orange look brilliant amongst the neutral grey river bed stones. I notice for the first time, a tawny coloured cow motionless amongst the boulders behind me, a social plover reels closely overhead, griffon vultures cruise along the rising air at the edge of the ridge a thousand metres beyond. By midday it is too hot and flat bright for painting, so we wait until early evening to find a new spot at the confluence of the Manaslu river looking back up the Beas. The Seven Sisters and the 5932 metre Hanuman Tibba peak rise in the distance, snaring the first wisps of cloud seen all day, reflecting the last colours of sun light.