Wednesday, October 31, 2012

sketching at the stupa

On a fine, bluish afternoon, Pedro, Pema and I took the art students to Boudhanath Stupa to sketch. For the older kids, this was a rare treat; to be able to leave school grounds to draw in public, and for the younger students, who had never done something like this before, it was utter excitement. Due to the high risk of child trafficking in Nepal, students are not allowed out of the school gates until their final year at SMD, so getting to explore the world outside their dorm room windows was a unique thrill. Their concentration was astounding— the wee ones drew for nearly two hours without losing focus or interest, and the older kids looked after them like hawks, offering advice and making sure the little artists were comfortable.

Just look at all those beautiful smiles!
How can I not keep returning?

Monday, October 22, 2012

a space to breathe

There comes a time when you need a break from the noise, dirt, and dust of Kathmandu. Thankfully, the botanical gardens at Godavari Park are a taxi ride away in what feels like another world— no more beeping and honking, no need for a face mask. Birds, bees and butterflies. Cool, green shade and leeches. Yes, leeches.

I got two that day.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

master of masks

Every day in Boudha, I would pass a cluttered yellow workshop front nearly obscured by the heaps of bangles, embroidered slippers, and cheap bags that were growing like vines from a little stand just outside. From time to time over the past three summers, my attention would be drawn to sculpted brown faces carefully arranged on the pavement. I was always intrigued by the grinning skulls and suspicious deer, but for some reason felt a little intimidated to enter the workshop and inquire about their purpose. This was the summer I got past my silly inhibition, and walked in. It was a small, musty, badly lit room— the walls were covered with bulging eyeballs, ferocious teeth, and expressions of horror and surprise. There was a wispy-haired man sitting under a wildly coloured Garuda, carefully shaping a skull with knowing fingers coated in glue.

The man scarcely looked up from his hands, though he was willing to answer my nearly inaudible questions with a smile and a gentle voice.

"Not for sale— only for monk ceremony."

I learned through our quiet exchange in broken English, that he was commissioned by the local Buddhist monasteries to craft these beautiful masks for their ceremonies and celebrations. Last year, Lama S.T. had taken me to see a Lama Dance at a nearby gompa, in which I was lucky to see these masks in action— leaping and spinning in all colours. The man revealed that the masks are made by molding a mixture of sawdust and animal glue, then dried in the sun and painted with acrylics.

How I would have loved to have taken one or three home!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

colours of the road

It was time for bumps, shudders, and squealing brakes— for roadside tea, and those itty-bitty bananas that I'm so fond of. Time to be squished into a hot bus, and time to feast on the colours that fly by the rattling, dusty window. I must admit that though a roadtrip in Nepal is often a frustrating, sticky experience, I find it quite fun, and miss the mayhem when on a more orderly bus in Turkey.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

sketching skulls

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.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

in a canoe

It is an odd yet thrilling feeling to be rocking back and forth in a skinny, roughly hacked wooden canoe upon a swift, opaque river, knowing that beneath you lurk prehistoric monsters with jaws full of teeth... And the water's edge is so close to the rim of the little boat. Looking over to the other shore, the specter of mountains in the distance— we are on the Indian border, and yet, there they are: the Himalaya.  

They are that big.