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AFC Flag Expedition #2:
The Sacred Source - A Portrait of the Ganges
Expedition Artist: David James Rankin
Purpose: To create a body of artwork that captures beauty and ecological complexity of the Garhwal and Kumaon Himalayas with an emphasis on documenting the ecological and conservation challenges facing the Ganges River system.
Location: Ganges headwaters region, India
Scheduled For: May-June, 2007
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David Rankin's Artist Journal Video
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
A dramatic 20 minute presentation of David Rankin's Flag Expedition that was premiered at the Artists for Conservation Grand Opening Exhibition last fall. This video presents the highlights of David's creative efforts in the Ganges Himalayas in 2007.
 
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Painting India's Elephants
Monday, October 15, 2007
Painting India's Elephants

Elephant Forests & Terrai
May/June 2007
In my efforts to paint a portrait of the Ganges Himalayas, I am focusing on 3 major features of this remarkable region...
• The Elephant Forests & Terrai along the outer regions
• The Ancient River Culture, Customs, & Heritage
• The Physical Features of the major Ganges Tributaries
• The Flora & Fauna of the entire region
• The High Altitude Glacial Regions of in the Garhwal

In all of these areas of focus, I am studying the region with the eyes of an artist rather than that of a scientist, naturalist, botanist, conservationist, environmentalist, hydrologist, geologist, or glaciologist. And although I do possess highly trained observation skills, I do not profess to be an expert in these other professional areas. I mention this because I do have many friends who are in fact the top scientists and experts in these areas of endeavor.
That said, I am however making a concerted effort to study & paint this region as it is in the beginning decade of the 21st century so that future artists can better access its condition.
Every artist, and especially landscape painters & wildlife artists, has to develop and refine a working process that works for them effectively. Sometimes this can be a frustrating and complex effort that takes years to evolve, as it has in my own case.
As I have detailed in my Fast Sketching book, when I first came to India back in 1970, I brought the wrong tools & skills. All of my creative skills were established in my studio and refined in art school. I was simply unable to be effective working in what I call DfN ( Directly from Nature).
It took me many years to develop my sketching skills and then more years to develop a method for painting DfN. And in fact, today I am undergoing yet another steep learning curve as I evolve newer and better ways to incorporate all of these new digital technologies into my working method.
So part of my efforts on this “Flag Expedition” have been devoted to demonstrating precisely how I work as I travel about the world in this 21st century.
Beginning in 1970, and for nearly 15 years thereafter, I switched to using my 35 mm cameras to capturing my visual reference for paintings that I’d do back in the comfort of my studio in Cleveland.
But those days are long gone, as I now have evolved a very effective working method that allows me to work anywhere in the world with full creative freedom and productivity. And my painting method begins with a comprehensive visual process that I call my “Observation & Evaluation Recipe”.
And this then leads directly to my sketching procedures and photographic efforts. This painting evolved directly from my recent Ganges Himalayas project and the sketch above was the germinal idea I sketched quickly showing a mother elephant leading her baby across morning mudflats in north India.
This is how the idea started but I soon decided I wanted to add some birds in flight across the background of the image. So this led to my efforts to sketch birds in flight; which is easy in India since birds are everywhere. When doing sketches like this I am only looking for the simplest shapes. And many times I use a technique I evolved called “After-Image Sketching”; in which I study a subject that is moving in order to settle on a particular shape. Then I look away, down to my sketchbook. The “trick” is to not look away from the sketch until you have captured something of the mental image from a few moments before. I employ this method whenever a subject is moving about, especially birds & animals.
Most artists make the mistake of “looking back” at their subject to quickly. And this simply overwrites new visual content & memory right over what you just previously saw. If you stick with your “after Image” from the 1st effort longer you’ll do better!

Here I’ve included a couple stages and detail in this painting to show you its evolution from the initial stages to the final. Note how I incorporated the birds into the composition and controlled the brilliant and very dramatic morning sunlight.
My interest in India’s Elephants
My fascination with India’s elephants began within hours of arrival back in 1970! As we drove into New Delhi from the airport we hit a traffic jam in one of the various traffic circles that are all over Delhi. It was September, but at 6 am the temperature was already hovering around 100° and there looming in the shimmering humid heat of a typical dawn in New Delhi, was the cause of the traffic snarl. It seems an elephant had decide to snack on the flowers growing in the traffic circle and its mahout was having trouble getting him to move on until he had munched his fill.
And although this halted an enormous throng of traffic, it was an amazing and captivating sight for this then, 25 year old artist, on his very first trip out of the United States. We simply don’t have elephants wandering about the streets in Cleveland, Ohio. But here in India, especially in big cities like Delhi or frequented tourist destinations like Agra and Jaipur, elephants are still a commonplace occurrence most any day of the week. So I have been studying, sketching, photographing, and painting them for many years.
And although other Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia, also have long cultural traditions with both wild & domesticated elephants, India’s is the oldest. In fact, the historical, religious, and cultural relationship in all of these other South East Asian countries actually all came from, and originated in, India.
Back in 1970 when I was living in a small classic yoga ashram right on the banks of the Ganges north of Haridwar, the wild elephants from right across the river would sneak silently and stealthily into the ashram in the dead of night to steal the ripe squash off of our ashram garden vines. The only 2 things alerting us to their nightly visits was their gigantic footprints left in the soft sand and the absence of our ripening squash.
Little did I know then that this jungle right across the river, where wild tigers roared in the dead of night, would one day become Rajaji National Park. Nor did I realize that this would become a major artistic focus in my career years later!
But in fact, the wild Asian elephants of India is now one of the top priorities in my artistic quest in the Ganges Himalayas. And it will be for several years to come.

India’s Elephant Forests & Terrai
The “terrai” is the wide flat grasslands that extend outward from the southern slopes of the Himalayas from Rajaji all the way eastward into Burma/Myanmar. And what I refer to as the Elephant Forests are these outer Himalayan regions up to about 10,000 feet. These heavily forested outer foothills of the Greater Himalayan range along with their terrai grasslands are the natural homeland of India’s great elephant herds as well as 1000 other species of exotic birds and animals of all kinds. I call these “Elephant Forests” because not all of India’s forests have resident populations of elephants. 200 years ago they did. But those days are long gone. And today these extremely vital forest homes, for India’s wild population of elephants , have come under tremendous pressures from all sides. And it remains to be seen whether or not India and Nepal can in fact manage to carve out a working 21st century relationship between man & beast. And that is why I am determined to make them a strategic central feature of my Ganges Himalayas efforts. Because... as the fate of India’s elephants goes... so goes the forests & terrai they live in. And all of these regions are a vital part of the greater Ganges watershed as much as the glaciers are!

Photos
  • Painting India's Elephants
Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
  • Indian Elephants (820 KB)
 
DfN in the Himalayas 07
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Working DfN, Directly from Nature, in the Himalayas.
Hard travel in
amazing landscapes
May/June 2007

With all of my years of travel in India, and my numerous explorations of remote regions in the Kashmir Himalayas, this year’s expedition was the most extreme, difficult, and artistically rewarding. The Ganges Himalayas was everything I had thought it would be and more.
However, the sheer physical effort of our explorations, much of it between 10,000-13,200 feet was at times grueling and exhausting. In the Gangotri region we trekked the 18 km up... and that same 18 km down.
And breaking camp and hitting the trail by 7:30-8am and not getting into camp until 3-4pm in the afternoon, left me fairly exhausted. Even when the trails were well marked and time-worn by millions of previous pilgrims, they were often very narrow, precarious, and dangerous. In a thousand places a sprained ankle or a accidental stumble in the wrong portion of the trail could easily prove life-threatening.
This expedition was designed to allow me to artistically study, sketch, photograph, video, and paint my way throughout this ancient and sacred region of the Himalayas.
But the sheer physical exertion and long days of travel made it very difficult to work in the way I normally do.
Because of this I tended to sketch and photograph more than I thought I would. We all shared video duties and came home with over 12-14 hours of raw video; which I am now busy editing down into bite sized segments and loading up onto the website.
We had thought we would be able to upload video and photos all along the routes. And in fact, amazingly enough, we discovered a “Cyber Cafe” sign on a building atop the Kedarnath plateau, at more than 12,000!
The problem was that editing video, even on the Macintosh laptops that we brought with us is time-consuming. But then finding and then uploading content to the web was not as easy as I had thought. We were able to do it at several places along the routes. But in many instances, we were all simply too tired by the end of the day’s travels to go through the process.

Photos
  • David Rankin at Goumukh / The Gangotri Glacier
Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
  • Working DfN in the Himalayas 2007 (1,564 KB)
 
Is Gangotri Glacier Melting?
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Is Gangotri Glacier Melting
Seeing for myself!
May/June 2007
For more than 2 years I’ve been reading how “Global Warming” is melting the Gangotri Glacier faster than any glaciers in the world! So I wanted to make the climb to see for myself. But in addition I wanted to actually take an accurate GPS reading from somewhere along the face of this glacier in order to provide a precise marker that shows where this glacier was in early June of 2007.
Following an artistic tradition
June 2007 Artists have been making important contributions to the overall exploration of the Himalayas since the early 1800’s. And all I am doing is following in the footsteps of these earlier artists.
I am not a scientist. Nor do I profess to be a trained naturalist, geologist, or expert on glaciers. However, I am an accomplished and professionally trained artist with a highly develop skill-set of observation skills. And the very first landscape images the world had of these remarkable regions, in the early 1800’s, were from the talents of artists, mostly watercolor painters like me.
In addition, because of my own personal spiritual heritage I have a profound interest in trying to help preserve and protect these amazing parts of the Himalayas in any ways I can.
So when planning out this expedition one of my main goals was to try and make our way up here to the Gangotri Glacier, at Goumukh, 18 km upstream from the Gangotri temple town. My goal is to create a collection of watercolors that depicts the extreme natural beauty of this region. And I wanted to establish an accurate GPS marker on the face of Gangotri in hopes that in future years it might be helpful in determining a more accurate rate at which this glacier is actually melting.
June 8, 2007 So on June 8th, our team made the very rugged climb up over the huge boulder field, moraine, that covers the Gangotri Glacier. Then Ashleigh DeVito and I got to within 10’ of the upper left exposed ice face of the glacier and took the GPS reading you see here – N 30° 55.6 / E 79° 04.9
Where will this glacier be in 5 years? I don’t know if others have contributed accurate GPS markers like this on Gangotri’s face. But if they haven’t I hope our efforts will be followed by others. As you can see from this photo above, the forward face of the glacier is frequently “calving” off huge chunks of ice into the stream. And if others in the coming years also take GPS readings it will help scientists and politicians get a more accurate understanding of whatever climactic forces are effecting the Himalayas.

As if on cue...
After taking the GPS reading on the upper left face of the glacier, Deanna and I made our way back down in front of the face, while Ashleigh and Kelly continued on up over the top of the glacier towards Tapovan.
And as if right on cue, no sooner had Deanna and I gotten back down in front of the glacier when we heard a huge explosion-like sound. It wasn’t a cracking sound like one might expect, but rather a sharp loud explosion. It startled us as we looked up to see this huge 30 foot chunk of ice crash into the stream with a thunderous vibration.
You can see this large section still in place in this small photo to the left, taken about 2 minutes before it crashed.
And then you can see these huge chunks of clear bluish ice churning their way past us in the rapids. Deanna reached in a grabbed this small chunk of the glacier that I am holding.
This was a remarkable occurrence in that we had just finished taking a GPS reading to help identify this glacier’s rate of retreat upstream. And I know that this happens frequently. But the sound of it snapping in a loud boom surprised us.
And the very clear ice that floated past us was also interesting in that the glacier is mostly covered by a thick rugged blanket, moraine, of rocks & sand at this altitude. But in fact it is a huge clear mantle of ice underneath this covering.


Photos
  • Flag Expedition GPS Marker on Gangotri Glacier 2007
Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
  • (939 KB)
 
Painting at Ohkimath in the Ganges Himalayas
Friday, September 21, 2007

Himalayan Cloud Temples / KedarnathSacred TraditionsThe effort to see God Kedarnath Cloud Temple: The temple sits at a little over 12,000 feet. But rising directly behind the temple is a massive ridge of peaks, 6 of which range between 21,000 feet to nearly 23,000 feet.

One of the things that has fascinated me about India since my very first trip back in 1970, is the pervasive cultural fascination with God, the Divine, Mystical, Spiritual, Mythological, and Magical. The amazing thing is just how wide spread and powerful India’s purely indigenous spiritual interests have become all over Asia. Many people forget, or never knew, that Buddha was not Chinese, Vietnamese, Tibetan, Japanese, or Korean! Buddha in point of fact, was from a royal ruling class family in North India.

And this spiritual aspect of India has been a constant fascination for travellers, merchants, military, political, educators, poets, tourists, and especially artists since the 1700’s; when India’s doors to the outside world really began to open wider.

But because of the physical extremes and efforts required to climb and explore the Ganges Himalayan regions, they remained un-explored and un-visualized until the early 1800’s.

But when artists finally did begin to explore the Himalayas they discovered that they were filled with ancient spiritual traditions that preceded the life of Buddha by at least 1,000 years!

As an artist of this 21st century following in these much earlier traditions of artistic exploration, what attracts my artist senses is the extreme beauty of these high altitude temples and pilgrim destinations set amongst the clouds.

I call these “ Cloud Temples” because they are all above 10,000 feet altitude. And depending upon the time of year one visits they can be virtually impossible to see in the dense mist until you approach to within yards of them.

I took this photo from the roof of our hotel at about 6 am. This is Kedarnath. It is one of the 3 most famous high altitude temples in the Himalayas. And you can see the temple rising above the town to the right. I had wanted to explore these regions during the traditional annual pilgrimage season of May/June, when hundreds if thousands of Hindu pilgrims make their way up here. My wife, Deanna, then designed our itinerary to coincide with the peak pilgrimage time to these 3 major sacred religious sites of Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath, so that I could observe and study the overall effects this was having on this otherwise pristine environment. 

I knew this trek would be an extreme effort. And we had been training for it for months. But it was in fact even harder than I had imagined. And our visit to Kedarnath was  marred a bit by the pre-monsoon rains which set in as we were half way up the mountain.

A very tough slog... all for “ Darshan” “ Darshan” is the term used by Hindus to define one of the traditional goals of any pilgrimage. In essence, it simply means “ A Vision of God”. In other words, one seeks the opportunity to have a “ glimpse” of God. And the effort to “ see” God, in whatever physical form, is simply part of the experience. In Hindu rationale it makes perfect sense that the extreme physical effort one goes through to attain a glimpse, or sight, of God, even for a moment or two,  is because, as one pilgrim put it ... “ it’s not such an easy thing...  to see God”!

The route up to Kedarnath bears this fact out in clear fashion.  The Kedarnath trek is deceptively labeled as moderate in the guide books. And even our experienced guides kept referring to it as “ not too difficult”. They went on to assuage my concerns by letting us know that “ unlike the trek to Goumukh; which is a simple and crude path carved directly out of cliff faces, over open scree fields, and sandy boulder-strewn trails...  Kedarnath is a paved walk way all the way up”!  What they conveniently forgot to mention was how steep it is. And the amazing crowds of pilgrims and horses.  We figured after awhile that the uphill grade was between 15°-25° for the entire 19 km climb.

The trail was no small feat of engineering and in fact it was kind of paved. But it was paved, or rather constructed of large irregular boulder-sized stones fitted into an uneven trail about 10’ wide. There were at least 5,000 horses on this same trail, along with their droppings; which mixed with the mud when it rained to form a slick and treacherous ooze. There were men trying valiantly to sweep the horse manure off to the side every hundred yards or so. But the rains made this impossible.

Then the pilgrims! The scene was like one of those old Biblical movies where the Jews were led out of Egypt by Moses. I estimated that the day we went up, there had to have been at least 10,000 pilgrims moving up as 10,000 were making there way down... every hour of the day, from 5am-8pm!

Many were actually walking barefoot the entire way. There were thousands of seemingly wrongly dressed Indian women in bright colored saris, mothers on horseback holding their babies,  groups of young boys on holiday, couples on honeymoons, rich business men and their families, and very old people slogging along totally alone with just a walking staff and a bundle, or in small groups. And then there were large numbers of Nepalis carrying people up in “ Dandies”, a lounge-chair suspended between to long poles. The Hindus own the horses & mules, while the Nepalis are better at lugging things up on their heads, backs, & shoulders. This was a wonderful sight to study as some of the passengers in the “ Dandies” had looks of utter terror on their faces, while others were so relaxed that they were actually dozing off as they were being carried on the shoulders of the Nepalis.

A slippery mess    The sheer spectacle of this timeless scene was far beyond my imagination. In fact, the extreme unrelenting uphill grade coupled with the high altitude, the intense congestion on the trail with tens of thousands of other pilgrims, thousands of horses doing what horses do, and the driving rain and dropping temperatures made this a very exhausting and difficult part of the trip.

Ashleigh likened this extreme effort to that which she once experienced with her family as they climbed out of the Grand Canyon.... only this climb had 10,000 people going each direction... up and down simultaneously... thousands more horses.... and of course the addition of the hard rain, manure & mud,and high altitudes!

After a very short distance I realized that I was not going to make it up on foot. So I shifted us all up onto horses; which in fact were mostly sturdy mountain mules. But although this made the climb much easier in some respects, once the rains set in, the uneven boulder-carved trail, worn smooth by millions of pilgrim’s feet, became quite dangerous. The rains quickly created a gooey mixture of horse manure & mud that was extremely slippery. So we had to use great care on “ mule-back” to be constantly prepared to either quickly shift our weight in the ill-fitting, formica-like saddles, or prepare to jump off should the mules stumble, or possibly wander over the edge.

Extreme beauty  Once we adjusted to the deteriorating conditions and the art of staying in the saddle, I began to look around at where we actually were. The rain became so hard that we had to put away our cameras and video for most of the trip up; which was a shame because it was so insanely beautiful.

I had read many articles about the problems with deforestation in the Himalayas. But frankly, I was astounded by the Himalayan forests, especially going up to Kedarnath. It was in fact the most dense cloud forest I had ever seen, with gigantic trees covered with all manner of exotic creepers and air plants on moss covered limbs.

Butterflies of all kinds fluttered amongst the branches. And because it was spring, tiny male Himalayan birds were flitting about through the canopy trying desperately to attract the attentions and of the girl birds. 

Working in the weatherThe weather up at Kedarnath never opened up much. The pre-monsoon rains came and went off & on most of the time. And the clouds covered the mountain top with only brief breaks.

But although I had hoped for more clear views of the massive peaks surrounding Kedarnath, the cloud cover produced amazing and magical qualities to the light and an almost mythological setting to the entire scene.

I’d walk around this tiny hamlet at more than 12,000 feet, sketching anything that caught my eye. The large dramatic temple, was of course the center of interest. But when the rains would bear down hard Deanna would simply move me indoors into a tiny shop or cafe where I would simply start sketching people. I always love to do this in India. And everyone seems fascinated by the process. So it is a great way to while away a rain storm or two.

When working like this I’ve trained myself to create a sketch of someone in 5 minutes or less otherwise they get impatient.

And I like to take pictures of my subjects afterwards to combine with the sketch. And hopefully, now that the internet is so pervasive, these kind people will be able to enjoy seeing their pictures in this way! 

An interesting phenomena that I’ve observed many many times sketching people like this all over the world, is how very taxing it is. I think it’s because I become so very focused sketching this way. Other than when I am painting, sketching is the most intense artistic procedures I engage in. I become so focused on my subjects that I lose awareness of everything around me.

And after I get warmed up a bit, after a portrait or two, it seems as though my artistic senses and hand-eye coordination click into some other higher gear. It’s really quite a wonderful and meditation-like experience.

This kind of visual display of artistic procedure always meets with enthusiastic responses in India. It inevitably produces large crowds of people peering quietly and intently over my shoulder as I sketch or paint.

Back down in Haridwar I was painting one evening by the Ganges and after about one hour I happened to catch the look of amazement on Deanna’s. It broke my attention and as I looked about I discovered that without my knowing about 200 people had quietly and respectfully gathered all around me watching in delight.

Another view2 days later, we had made our way down the mountain from Kedarnath. We were concerned about riding horses down the mountain because our guide had told me that he had heard from the Nepalis that a number of injuries had occurred when horses had fallen on the slippery pathways. So we decided to hike the 19 km down the mountain. But as anyone can tell you that has done much serious hiking in mountains, the hike down has it’s own unique stresses and strains upon ones knees. And Kedarnath is a very good example of this. The uneven and irregular stones on the path required near constant attention to ones foot placement. The last thing we needed was for any one of our small team to twist an ankle this far into our expedition.

By the time we got to our next rest stop at Okhimath we were ready for a little R&R. And I took this opportunity to do a watercolor of the vista looking back up into the very same set of peaks we had just come down from.

The view was clear and dramatic very early in the morning when I first began. But by the time I had finished it had gotten quite misty and over cast back up in the peaks. I had a number of breaks in my morning painting session because there were so many wonderful birds, especially tiny elegant sun birds, flitting about in the bushes and rice fields all around me. But I was quite happy to spend a couple hours relaxing and painting with this grand vista of the Himalayas spread out all around me.

9B Graphite Although I also sketch with ballpoint pens from time to time, the very best sketching tool is a 9B woodless graphite pencil. This soft black pencil allows me to create a wide variety of line values, from very heavy & dark to very light. But it also then allows me to blend it into a mid-valued gray to capture light source and the illusion of volume.

Note:  View an Expedition Video “ Ohkimath” of David painting this watercolor at David Rankin’s “ Flag Expedition Blog”....natureartists.com


Photos
  • David painting at Ohkimath in the Ganges Himalayas
Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
  • Painting at Ohkimath in the Ganges Himalayas
 
Himalayan Cloud Temples
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Himalayan Cloud Temples / Kedarnath
Sacred Traditions
The effort to see God

Kedarnath Cloud Temple: The temple sits at a little over 12,000 feet. But rising directly behind the temple is a massive ridge of peaks, 6 of which range between 21,000 feet to nearly 23,000 feet.

One of the things that has fascinated me about India since my very first trip back in 1970, is the pervasive cultural fascination with God, the Divine, Mystical, Spiritual, Mythological, and Magical. The amazing thing is just how wide spread and powerful India’s purely indigenous spiritual interests have become all over Asia. Many people forget, or never knew, that Buddha was not Chinese, Vietnamese, Tibetan, Japanese, or Korean! Buddha in point of fact, was from a royal ruling class family in North India.
And this spiritual aspect of India has been a constant fascination for travellers, merchants, military, political, educators, poets, tourists, and especially artists since the 1700’s; when India’s doors to the outside world really began to open wider.
But because of the physical extremes and efforts required to climb and explore the Ganges Himalayan regions, they remained un-explored and un-visualized until the early 1800’s.
But when artists finally did begin to explore the Himalayas they discovered that they were filled with ancient spiritual traditions that preceded the life of Buddha by at least 1,000 years!
As an artist of this 21st century following in these much earlier traditions of artistic exploration, what attracts my artist senses is the extreme beauty of these high altitude temples and pilgrim destinations set amongst the clouds.
I call these “Cloud Temples” because they are all above 10,000 feet altitude. And depending upon the time of year one visits they can be virtually impossible to see in the dense mist until you approach to within yards of them.
I took this photo from the roof of our hotel at about 6 am. This is Kedarnath. It is one of the 3 most famous high altitude temples in the Himalayas. And you can see the temple rising above the town to the right. I had wanted to explore these regions during the traditional annual pilgrimage season of May/June, when hundreds if thousands of Hindu pilgrims make their way up here. My wife, Deanna, then designed our itinerary to coincide with the peak pilgrimage time to these 3 major sacred religious sites of Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath, so that I could observe and study the overall effects this was having on this otherwise pristine environment.
I knew this trek would be an extreme effort. And we had been training for it for months. But it was in fact even harder than I had imagined. And our visit to Kedarnath was marred a bit by the pre-monsoon rains which set in as we were half way up the mountain.

A very tough slog... all for “Darshan” “Darshan” is the term used by Hindus to define one of the traditional goals of any pilgrimage. In essence, it simply means “A Vision of God”. In other words, one seeks the opportunity to have a “glimpse” of God. And the effort to “see” God, in whatever physical form, is simply part of the experience. In Hindu rationale it makes perfect sense that the extreme physical effort one goes through to attain a glimpse, or sight, of God, even for a moment or two, is because, as one pilgrim put it ... “it’s not such an easy thing... to see God”!
The route up to Kedarnath bears this fact out in clear fashion. The Kedarnath trek is deceptively labeled as moderate in the guide books. And even our experienced guides kept referring to it as “not too difficult”. They went on to assuage my concerns by letting us know that “unlike the trek to Goumukh; which is a simple and crude path carved directly out of cliff faces, over open scree fields, and sandy boulder-strewn trails... Kedarnath is a paved walk way all the way up”! What they conveniently forgot to mention was how steep it is. And the amazing crowds of pilgrims and horses. We figured after awhile that the uphill grade was between 15°-25° for the entire 19 km climb.
The trail was no small feat of engineering and in fact it was kind of paved. But it was paved, or rather constructed of large irregular boulder-sized stones fitted into an uneven trail about 10’ wide. There were at least 5,000 horses on this same trail, along with their droppings; which mixed with the mud when it rained to form a slick and treacherous ooze. There were men trying valiantly to sweep the horse manure off to the side every hundred yards or so. But the rains made this impossible.
Then the pilgrims! The scene was like one of those old Biblical movies where the Jews were led out of Egypt by Moses. I estimated that the day we went up, there had to have been at least 10,000 pilgrims moving up as 10,000 were making there way down... every hour of the day, from 5am-8pm!
Many were actually walking barefoot the entire way. There were thousands of seemingly wrongly dressed Indian women in bright colored saris, mothers on horseback holding their babies, groups of young boys on holiday, couples on honeymoons, rich business men and their families, and very old people slogging along totally alone with just a walking staff and a bundle, or in small groups. And then there were large numbers of Nepalis carrying people up in “Dandies”, a lounge-chair suspended between to long poles. The Hindus own the horses & mules, while the Nepalis are better at lugging things up on their heads, backs, & shoulders. This was a wonderful sight to study as some of the passengers in the “Dandies” had looks of utter terror on their faces, while others were so relaxed that they were actually dozing off as they were being carried on the shoulders of the Nepalis.
A slippery mess The sheer spectacle of this timeless scene was far beyond my imagination. In fact, the extreme unrelenting uphill grade coupled with the high altitude, the intense congestion on the trail with tens of thousands of other pilgrims, thousands of horses doing what horses do, and the driving rain and dropping temperatures made this a very exhausting and difficult part of the trip.
Ashleigh likened this extreme effort to that which she once experienced with her family as they climbed out of the Grand Canyon.... only this climb had 10,000 people going each direction... up and down simultaneously... thousands more horses.... and of course the addition of the hard rain , manure & mud, and high altitudes!
After a very short distance I realized that I was not going to make it up on foot. So I shifted us all up onto horses; which in fact were mostly sturdy mountain mules. But although this made the climb much easier in some respects, once the rains set in, the uneven boulder-carved trail, worn smooth by millions of pilgrim’s feet, became quite dangerous. The rains quickly created a gooey mixture of horse manure & mud that was extremely slippery. So we had to use great care on “mule-back” to be constantly prepared to either quickly shift our weight in the ill-fitting, formica-like saddles, or prepare to jump off should the mules stumble, or possibly wander over the edge.
Extreme beauty
Once we adjusted to the deteriorating conditions and the art of staying in the saddle, I began to look around at where we actually were. The rain became so hard that we had to put away our cameras and video for most of the trip up; which was a shame because it was so insanely beautiful.
I had read many articles about the problems with deforestation in the Himalayas. But frankly, I was astounded by the Himalayan forests, especially going up to Kedarnath. It was in fact the most dense cloud forest I had ever seen, with gigantic trees covered with all manner of exotic creepers and air plants on moss covered limbs.
Butterflies of all kinds fluttered amongst the branches. And because it was spring, tiny male Himalayan birds were flitting about through the canopy trying desperately to attract the attentions and of the girl birds.
Working in the weather
The weather up at Kedarnath never opened up much. The pre-monsoon rains came and went off & on most of the time. And the clouds covered the mountain top with only brief breaks.
But although I had hoped for more clear views of the massive peaks surrounding Kedarnath, the cloud cover produced amazing and magical qualities to the light and an almost mythological setting to the entire scene.
I’d walk around this tiny hamlet at more than 12,000 feet, sketching anything that caught my eye. The large dramatic temple, was of course the center of interest. But when the rains would bear down hard Deanna would simply move me indoors into a tiny shop or cafe where I would simply start sketching people. I always love to do this in India. And everyone seems fascinated by the process. So it is a great way to while away a rain storm or two.
When working like this I’ve trained myself to create a sketch of someone in 5 minutes or less otherwise they get impatient.
And I like to take pictures of my subjects afterwards to combine with the sketch. And hopefully, now that the internet is so pervasive, these kind people will be able to enjoy seeing their pictures in this way!
An interesting phenomena that I’ve observed many many times sketching people like this all over the world, is how very taxing it is. I think it’s because I become so very focused sketching this way. Other than when I am painting, sketching is the most intense artistic procedures I engage in. I become so focused on my subjects that I lose awareness of everything around me.
And after I get warmed up a bit, after a portrait or two, it seems as though my artistic senses and hand-eye coordination click into some other higher gear. It’s really quite a wonderful and meditation-like experience.
This kind of visual display of artistic procedure always meets with enthusiastic responses in India. It inevitably produces large crowds of people peering quietly and intently over my shoulder as I sketch or paint.
Back down in Haridwar I was painting one evening by the Ganges and after about one hour I happened to catch the look of amazement on Deanna’s. It broke my attention and as I looked about I discovered that without my knowing about 200 people had quietly and respectfully gathered all around me watching in delight.
Another view
2 days later, we had made our way down the mountain from Kedarnath. We were concerned about riding horses down the mountain because our guide had told me that he had heard from the Nepalis that a number of injuries had occurred when horses had fallen on the slippery pathways. So we decided to hike the 19 km down the mountain. But as anyone can tell you that has done much serious hiking in mountains, the hike down has it’s own unique stresses and strains upon ones knees. And Kedarnath is a very good example of this. The uneven and irregular stones on the path required near constant attention to ones foot placement. The last thing we needed was for any one of our small team to twist an ankle this far into our expedition.
By the time we got to our next rest stop at Okhimath we were ready for a little R&R. And I took this opportunity to do a watercolor of the vista looking back up into the very same set of peaks we had just come down from.
The view was clear and dramatic very early in the morning when I first began. But by the time I had finished it had gotten quite misty and over cast back up in the peaks. I had a number of breaks in my morning painting session because there were so many wonderful birds, especially tiny elegant sun birds, flitting about in the bushes and rice fields all around me. But I was quite happy to spend a couple hours relaxing and painting with this grand vista of the Himalayas spread out all around me.

9B Graphite Although I also sketch with ballpoint pens from time to time, the very best sketching tool is a 9B woodless graphite pencil. This soft black pencil allows me to create a wide variety of line values, from very heavy & dark to very light. But it also then allows me to blend it into a mid-valued gray to capture light source and the illusion of volume.

Note: View an Expedition Video “Ohkimath” of David painting this watercolor at David Rankin’s “Flag Expedition Blog”....
natureartists.com

Photos
  • Himalayan Cloud Temples / Kedarnath
Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
  • Himalayan Cloud Temples (1,014 KB)
 
Neelakanth Peak Light at Badrinath
Thursday, August 23, 2007

Photos
  • Neelakanth Sketch from Badrinath
  • Neelakanth Peak, 21,640 feet
Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
  • Neelakanth
 
Gearing up for the 21st Century
Thursday, July 19, 2007

Photos
  • Gearing up for expeditions like this.
Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
  • Gearing Up for the 21st Century (0.00 KB)
 
The Gangotri Glacier-David Rankin's Watercolor
Thursday, July 5, 2007
Gangotri is the most famous of all Ganges origin sites. For thousands of years it has been featured in countless Himalayan and Hindu legends, epics, sacred texts, stories, chants, songs, and poems... it had never been seen or studied by any Europeans until 1815! European interests in this fabled river had been stimulated as early as the 2nd century AD. But it wasn't until the 1600's that the first Jesuit missionaries ventured into the Himalayas. But their interests led them more towards Tibet. And even the celebrated maps titled, Memoir of a Map of Hindoostan, by James Rennell in 1783 misplaced the origins of the Ganges dramatically because they were based on hearsay rather than actual scientific exploration data.
 
Then in 1808-10 an actual scientific expedition was undertaken by the authorities of the East India Company, led by Captains Webb, Raper, and Hearsey. And although the team failed to reach the glacial origins of the Ganges, Captain Raper published a narrative of their explorations in the Asiatick Researches/1810. He erroneously concluded from testamony he had derived from Indian pilgrims that... "the road beyond Gangotri is passable only for a few miles, when the current is entirely concealed under heaps of snow, which no traveller has, or can, surmount. With respect to the"Cow's Mouth" ( Goumukh ), we had the most convincing testimony to confirm us in the idea that its existence is entirely fabulous, and that it is found only in the Hindu book of faith."
 
So for several hundred years, even though Europeans were hearing fabulous stories and legends about this region of the Himalayas, and especially regarding the origins of the Ganges River, their information was based completely upon conjecture, legend, and word-of-mouth testimony that was both historically and logistically inaccurate.
    But in late July of 1815, a talented watercolor painter from Scotland, James Baille Fraser became the very first European to visit Gangotri. And in fact, Fraser, then went on to create and publish the very first visual images ever seen of the region in a folio of 20 aquatints depicting the extreme beauty of the Gangotri Himalayas!
    2 years after Fraser, on May26th, 1817, Captain Hodgson, was able to make his way up past Gangotri to the actual glacial origins of the Ganges at what is known as the Cow's Mouth, Goumukh. In his Journal of a Survey to the Heads of Ganges in 1817, he included actual measurements of the river's depth and width at Gangotri. And then after 5 days arduous climb he reached, for the very first time by any western/European, the Cow's Mouth at Goumukh. In fact, he formally documented the smallish opening at the forward base of the glacier; which did indeed have the appearance of a "Cow's Mouth". And he estimated the thickness of this forward exposed wall/face of the Gangotri Glacier to be about 300 feet of vertical thickness. Then, using a measuring chain, he measured the width of the stream issuing from the "Cow's Mouth" to be 27 feet. Hodgson even waded across the surging rapids; which having seen it myself I would not ever attempt, measuring the depth to be about knee-deep, or about 15-18" most of the way across.
 
Then upon reviewing his accomplishments and the fact that he full understood that this indeed was the fabled origin of this most famous tributary of the Ganges, the Bhagirathi, he honored her with a full-breathed bugle salute.
 
This video segment shows us making our way up along the ancient trekking route on the 2nd day beyond Gangotri, from Chirbasa to our camp site at the base of the Gangotri Glacier. It also has one of my watercolors that I did there.

Photos
  • David Rankin at Goumukh / The Gangotri Glacier
 
Trekking up to the Gangotri Glacier
Tuesday, July 3, 2007

 
Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
  • The Gangotri Glacier-David Rankin's Watercolor
 
Okimath
Saturday, June 23, 2007

 
Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
  • Okimath
 
Back from High Country to Uttarkashi
Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Photos
  • Mussoori Hillstation
  • Sleeping Rhesus Monkey
  • Sunrise at 7,152 feet
  • Ganges at Uttarkashi
  • Shopping for Provisions
  • Depart Mussoori
  • Entering High Country
  • Following the Yamuna North
Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
  • Ganges Himalayas
 
Taking care of business - Mussoorie June 4
Monday, June 4, 2007

Early this morning the monkeys were up and about and so were Kelly and I, both busy photographing. I found particularly neat a rhesus monkey sound asleep that I was able to get within 5 feet of to sketch. Kelly got at least 20 species of birds before breakfast -- nuthatches, creepers, wrens, parakeets, thrushes, bulbuls, flycatchers, warblers, etc. It's been a good morning. We've had breakfast and now we're headed into town. We need to cash travelers checks this will be the last time we can before we're back in Delhi. Our hotel here in Mussoorie doesn't cash travelers checks so itís necessary to go to the bank and weíll try to find another cyber cafe. I don't know if we'll be able to download more in Uttarkashi but we're going to try! So look for more, we may be able to do it!


Photos
  • DfN Ram Kunj
  • DfN Sketch of Har Ki Pauri
  • Sketch of Rajaji Forest Ranger
 
What a Drive! Haridwar/Mussoorie - June 3
Monday, June 4, 2007

Up early this morning and off to sketch the ghats. Supposed to be back about 9:30, then head to Musoorie via Dehrudun.

One of my objectives in Haridwar is to capture some of the essence of the Hari Ki Pauri ghat. This is one of, if not the most sacred spot in India, dating back thousands of years. When I first lived here Haridwar was a quiet little pilgrim town. Today, on a hot Sunday morning at 7:00 am, the temperature already over 100 degrees, the place was bedlam. There were easily 100,000 people jammed into a 2 block long stretch of the river. Old women, young wome with their daughters, boys with Rambo t-shirts and hip sunglasses, entire families who have come here from all over India with the purpose of bathing in the Ganges River at this spot mostly ignoring each other, forgetting modesty because for most it is a sacred experience. We simply have nothing to compare this to. As I watch, trying to evaluate the scene from an artistic point of view, what to sketch, what to paint, how to arrange a composition, studying the light, values, colors, design, it is overwhelming. Behind all of this is my sense of amazement that all of these people no matter how chaotic the scene may look have an astounding deep reverence for this river.

I spent probably about 45 minutes working my way around the scene looking and studying the possibilities then selected a high location with the brilliant morning sun in front of me so that the temples and clock tower would be backlit. I started a sketch with the very top of the clock tower and worked my way down trying to capture as much of the detail as I thought I needed. Then I worked my way across to the temple in the middle and the darker one behind it and by the time I got to this point I had 2 to 3 dozen people watching me sketch. It is an odd thing they were so respectful of what I was doing that I didnít even hear them. I had been so intent on my observations that I hadnít noticed them pressing up all around me until one of them sucked air. This is a term I use to describe the sound I've found that Indians make when expressing that they like or approve of something. I checked my watch, it was 9:00 and it was time to head back to the hotel.

Time to get the car loaded up, stop at the cyber cafe, download journal entry, will have to do images later, and off.

The car drive was an experience. There had been an accident on the road between Haridwar and Rishikesh/Dehradun. Traffic was barely moving and a 2-lane road became 6 lanes. Motorcycles were weaving in and out, cars were trying to squeeze between each other, anything to move ahead. Several men got out and started walking down the middle of the road, and directing cars back into a more orderly process. That would last for a few minutes and then here would come those who couldnít stand to wait, squeezing in. Cars even came down the shoulder of the road going the wrong way. Motorcycles were going horizontally across the lanes weaving about. Although we have an air-conditioned car for this part of the trip, we couldn't run it, so there we were crawling along in the exhaust fumes and 105 degree heat, smashed in with cars, jeeps, trucks, motorcycles, 3-wheelers, bicycles and pedestrians. Some of the 3- wheelers had more than 12 people in them. A vehicle more suited for at the most 3-5 people. People were getting out with their babies and walking alongside, cars would come up behind them and honk their horns that they should get out of the way. It took 2 hours to do the first 12 kilometers!

The hotel is the highest in Mussoorie. It's an old hotel, a bit tattered, but spectacular views and birds everywhere. Babies are popping out of nests and everywhere you look thereís something else begging to be sketched or photographed. We were warned not to leave our balcony doors open or the monkeys would come in. We headed to the garden and had them bring a table out and ate French fries, pakoras and tea. We kept ordering more and jumping up to photograph another new bird every few minutes. Kelly was enchanted with a slate-headed parakeet that remained invisible to Deanna even with both Ashleigh and Kelly's directions of where to look.


Photos
  • DfN Ram Kunj
  • DfN Sketch of Har Ki Pauri
  • Sketch of Rajaji Forest Ranger
 
An 18 Hour Day - June 2, 2007
Sunday, June 3, 2007
At the end of the day, driving back to the hotel, Ashleigh looked at Deanna and said, “we were on elephants today.”

            It’s hard to put into words what we’re seeing and doing. It’s sensory overload. India is such a study of contrasts. In the forest today, searching the landscape for birds and animals, studying the vegetation, listening to the cicada – it was exciting as we became familiar with the songs of the different birds. The sounds were those of the jungle – yet in the distance there was another sound, faint yet there, people chanting their prayers. Thousands had been in at the rivers bathing in the early morning light as we headed to the sanctuary. The sun was rising over the Ganges. Where to look, what to listen to, how to tell the story…

            It’s an extraordinary experience -- crashing through the jungle on elephants, ducking and weaving to keep from being hit in the face by limbs of the trees---blackberries growing everywhere, huge mango trees laden with fruit and because of the way we had to sit on the elephant Deanna on one side and Ashleigh on the other, they each had bare feet hanging over the elephant’s sides, with one foot just behind the elephant’s ear. They could tickle the elephant (Arundhati, 70 years old) with their toes, and he would flap his ears back against their foot. Kelly's elephant, Raja, was your typical teenage boy (19 years old) and kept wandering into the brush to get branches for snacks.  Utter joy.

            Then, another contrast, back to the hotel where we picked up our flash drive, went to a restaurant, ordered spring rolls, pizza, malai kofta, dal makhani (Ashleigh was sure Leo, her dad, would love this) and naan (an odd mixture, but good!), and then to a cyber café. Where are we? The street was busy, the usual strange mixture of vehicles and people, shops selling everything – auto parts, clothing, fruit, bags – so we walked toward the back of a u-shaped area, then upstairs into a tiny office space where they had small booths set up with probably 6-8 computers. We put our flash drive in, loaded some photos and notes from the day before, tried to add our gps coordinates, crashed a few times (just like home) and in two hours had managed to get some things on the site.

            Switching again – back to the Ram Kunj. It’s about 5 pm. We arrive at the ashram just as Dr. Kelkar is going out for a bit. He says to make ourselves at home, he’ll return in awhile. So we do. Kelly immediately sets out to photograph a magpie robin nest we had noted earlier. Ashleigh is photographing strange colored bugs and squirrels, Deanna is talking with Nandanini and I go out to paint on the steps leading down into the Ganges. I set up and begin my first dfn (direct from nature) painting of this trip. How moved I am to be sitting here painting. Over to one side are mostly women in their saris performing a puja, on the other further down children were diving into the water, birds soared overhead. The sun was getting lower in the sky. People gathered to watch, gnats swarmed and flies buzzed – more challenging than other dfn locations, yet I managed to complete my first watercolor.

            Inside the ashram Dr. Kelkar had returned and brought with him guests including a well-known teacher, Swami Amarjyoti from Palampur and some of his devotees, including Dr. Rajeev Anand. After I finished my painting we sat and chatted for awhile.

It was around 9 pm by the time we made it back to our hotel. It had been an 18 hour day, but we had been on elephants.


 

 
Another gloriously hot day in India!
Saturday, June 2, 2007
Some other notes about our first day—we were enthralled with the ever-present mynah birds, the drongos, circling kites, hawks, peacocks in trees, collared doves, and vultures in a nest. Ashleigh is already identifying birds and Kelly was on her back on the roof of the hotel photographing kites! We went to one of my favorite restaurants, The Host on the inner circle of Connaught Place. Kelly was surprised that we were having Chinese food in India— and then she tasted it. She agreed that it was the best Chinese food ever! Then there was our drive today.  It was cooler – only about 106 degrees! The drive was 6 hours long and one of the best parts was a “diversion” due to a local demonstration. It took us through a small village where the boys were swimming with the water buffalo and of course we chose to stop and take pictures and talk with them. Also, we saw sunbirds, demoiselle cranes and more. In the car, we talked with the driver, Negi, who told us that it is a 1500 rs fine to talk on a cell phone and 600 rs fine for smoking when driving. Motorcycle helmets were displayed all along the roads, stacked and for sale—and piles of watermelons.

We arrived in Haridwar about 4 pm. We then checked into our hotel—the Ganges Rivera and then headed to the Ganges.

My journey truly began tonight. My desire is to create a watercolor portrait of the Upper Ganges River system and to call attention to the challenges facing the ecology and species of the Ganges River region. My fascination with the area began in 1970 with my first trip to this area. And tonight was a full moon and here I was, along with scores of thousands of pilgrims, on the banks of the Ganges, and it was Guru Purnima Day, remembrance of the Guru or Teacher day. So I offered flowers to the River and asked for guidance and assistance as we begin this project. It was a remarkable night. Om Rama Om. 


Photos
  • Humayun's Tomb
  • David and the Buffalo Boys
  • Deanna and Ashleigh at Humayun's Tomb
  • Drive to Haridwar
  • Sunrise over the Ganges
  • Our Mouhut
  • David Sketching
  • Out in Rajaji
  • Expedition Team at Rajaji
 
Jeep Safari - June 1
Saturday, June 2, 2007
After breakfast we set out for Rajaji National Park. My purpose for coming was to begin an in-depth study of the Asian Elephant in their western most habitat. This process will most likely take the next 3 years. My experiences in India began in 1970 when I lived in a small yoga ashram which is across the river from Rajaji.

Upon arrival, one of the first things I did was meet the Park Forest Ranger, Mr. Jaspal Singh, at the main entrance to Rajaji at Chilla. I love to sketch people we meet along the way. As we loaded into our open jeep and headed off into the park I checked my thermometer and it was already 98 degrees. Just before noon we reached a tall overlook on top of a hill and it was then 105 degrees!

The initial amazing thing we noticed about this park was the enormous assortment of hornbills, bee-eaters, sun birds, rollers, golden-backed woodpeckers, peacocks, jungle fowl, bulbuls, red-wattled lapwings, magpie robins, jungle tree pie, crested serpent eagles, white-breasted kingfishers, and many others! This is one of the truly magical qualities of India’s natural landscape. The bird diversity of India is incredible. The intense heat had driven the park’s 350 elephants deep into the forest undercover by early morning. But for us our initial safari into Rajaji was astounding.

We ended this day at Ram Kunj, on the banks of the Ganges, where my life in India began. Upon arrival we were delighted to find Dr. Kelkar residing there with his grand daughter, Nandini. Years ago on my first night in India, I slept on Dr.Kelkar’s living room floor. And now to find him living in Rama’s ashram was a wonderful reawakening of fond memories. My experiences with the Ganges began here.

   


Photos
  • Humayun's Tomb
  • David and the Buffalo Boys
  • Deanna and Ashleigh at Humayun's Tomb
  • Drive to Haridwar
  • Sunrise over the Ganges
  • Our Mouhut
  • David Sketching
  • Out in Rajaji
  • Expedition Team at Rajaji
 
On Our Way... Up Country
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Here is the first photo of our team on our way..."Up Country"... from Delhi into the Himalayas. I use this term because the early artists of the 1800's used to refer to this Himalayan region north of Delhi as "Up Country".  My team consists of David, Deanna Rankin, Ashleigh DeVito, Kelly Dodge. We had some upload problems here in Delhi that could not be resolved in time. Kelly already blew out the surge protector, with large flame emerging from socket, with a faulty connector. And Deanna left her large red suitcase at the airport! We'll correct our internet upload issues in Haridwar. Yesterday was 108 degrees here in Delhi., We now head up into Rajaji Elephant Park and it will be in the 100's as well. We'll upload 1st video from Haridwar.
Photos
  • David and Ashleigh at the Indian Parliament
  • Kelly Photographing
  • The Team at the Newark Airport
  • Delhi Beginning
  • 1st Group Photo
 
21st Century Artists
Sunday, May 13, 2007

 
Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
  • Gangotri article by Dr.Harshvanti Bhisht 2007 (634 KB)
 
 

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