Just across the road from Gaida Lodge stands the tiny Wildlife Display and Information Centre, which houses an interesting collection of the region's animal skulls, hides, casts of footprints, as well as various beasts floating in formaldehyde. I loved it. For a mere thirty rupees, one could sit on the warm floor for two hours in front of a gharial skull and draw. While mentally disappearing into the many curved teeth of this unusual crocodilian (which I was fortunate to have seen in the flesh on my first day in Chitwan), the lady at the ticketing counter tiptoed over and sat down next to me. She didn't say much— she mostly smiled and watched me draw.
This was my meditation. No bells, no incense, no chanting. There was nothing in the world except me, the skull, my pencil, and the page of my sketchbook slowly filling— even the occasional mosquito or influx of Nepali and Indian tourists snapping photos of me with their phones could not move my eyes from skull or page. When the heat became too much to bear, and we had exhausted our fingers and eyes, we packed up.
"You come back tomorrow, no pay." The ticketing lady smiled.
"Oh yes, we'll come back!" I laughed, and thanked her profusely.
We couldn't make it the next day, but two days later, we were greeted by her warm smile. I already had my subject in mind, and sat down in front of a very yellowed one-horned rhino skull.
While I was lost in the lines of the rhino's nasal cavity, a small wave of Indian tourists took over the Centre. Suddenly, I felt a presence next to me on the floor, and in barely a second, a hand aggressively grabbed my chin, and shoved my face in the direction of a grinning older man with a camera.
I was ordered to smile.
His wife, wrapped in a colourful sari, had wanted a photo of herself with the foreign girl drawing on the floor. I was stunned— I've encountered some interesting reactions to my sketching in public before, but never have I been shoved or told to do anything— and she grabbed my face. I don't know about you, but for me, the face is an intimate part of the body, and mine is reserved for only a select few to touch with their hands. I was so shocked, so taken aback, that it only occurred to me after the flash blinded me, that this behaviour was uncalled for. What ever happened to asking for a photo? Once it was taken, they disappeared as quickly as they appeared, and I was left on the floor, without a word, my mouth agape.