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Beauty in the Ordinary

A Trip to Bikaner, Rajasthan

Several people had told me that Rajasthan was the place to go if I wanted to see Indian art. It was also an opportunity to experience travel by train Indian style. The train left Delhi late at night and was a general class sleeper car. This is India and it is warm here, so I won’t need any heavy clothes, I thought. Whoops!

As the train continued west into the desert, the air became cold in the open-windowed carriage and by morning, it was close to a frost. Add to the lack of warmth, the bouncing, rocking and noise of the train and the cramped space at the top level of a three-bunk tier and, you may imagine, it was one long night!

Bikaner is a much smaller city than Delhi and much less intense. Yes, there were the autotaxi drivers offering to give us a ride; however, they were less demanding. We chose one driver who was very accommodating and brought us to the Shri Ram Hotel. Home at last!

As I knew we would be traveling to a number of places in a short time during the trip to India, I had sent my painting equipment to Ireland where I would pick it up later. For this portion of the journey, I relied on my camera to capture images that would have potential for painting in the studio upon my return to Taos.

Wonderful images were abundant. Just as in Delhi, people stopped me and asked to have their picture taken, like this young fellow on an early morning walk to town:

Or these camel drivers, the second of whom had to run into the picture when he saw I was taking a shot of the driver in the foreground:

And everywhere there were cows:

Architectural images:

And images of the old city:

We were lead through the old city by, Bilal, a fellow who befriended us at a small restaurant

Bilal also introduced us to local several artists. It was our last day in Bikaner and here was an opportunity I had been looking for: to meet with artists from India and find out about their approach to painting. Before leaving on this trip, I had been intrigued to see a painter from India in a movie called ‘1 Giant Leap’. In that movie, the artist was working on an oil painting of Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god. Bilal lead us down a short alley to the artist’s studio.

What I found in the studio was surprising. Indeed, everyone working in the studio was painting devotional images, just as I had seen in the movie. However, all the work was copy work from old texts. Any work that was original was not devotional; rather it was paintings of landscapes and people! So, at least in this case, my imagination about Indian art was jarred by reality.

Next: Sanchi, India – A Break from the Crowds

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