Our summer holiday came early this year, the unconventional timing determined by the destination. India has been on our wish-list for a long time but unless you have a particular enthusiasm for apocalyptic monsoon rain, then two weeks in August – our usual escape slot – is out of the question.
The trip was another gem organised by tried and trusted adventure tour company Explore, who have yet to disappoint. The North India Explorer involved a very full-on 15-day itinerary starting in the capital Delhi and travelling to Udaipur, Pushkar, Jaipur, Agra, Varanasi and finally ending in Kolkata.
It was a lot to take in; we’ve been back almost a week and my head is still spinning somewhat from the experience. It’s a country like nowhere I’ve been before, throwing up a relentless succession of extreme and unfamiliar images, from the sublime to the downright surreal, with no pause to process what you’ve just seen before the next WTF tableau presents itself for your slack-jawed consideration. If you’re a remotely visual person, it’s an absolute blast.
Needles to say, India is a snapper’s wet dream and I came back with my memory cards stuffed. I’m still editing the results and could be at it for some time yet. As ever though, I also packed my sketchbook – a fresh Moleskine no less – and whipped it out whenever there was an opportunity.
The pace of the tour was such that there simply wasn’t time at most of the sites we visited to sit down and draw. However the trip did, by its nature, involve a lot of travelling – by train (including three sleeper trains, an experience in itself!), bus and boat – and it was during these stages that I would attempt to capture whatever was in front of me. Unsurprisingly, this consisted mostly of my fellow travellers killing time with books or mobile phones. Also, Indian roads being what they are, the sketches were often made in conditions more akin to a roller coaster ride than the zen-like serenity of the art studio. No matter – for all their jerky imperfections and repetitive subject matter, the following sketchbook entries still evoke the exact conditions and environment in which they were made, and with a Proustian vividness that a split-second photographic snap of the same subject could never aspire to.
The occasional odd gaps on the pages are where I’ve deleted diary notes – you really don’t want to be burdened with those – and the flat tone was added in Photoshop after scanning. There’s also one easy-to-spot iPhone finger-drawing included and you can, as always, click on any individual page to enlarge.