From Ambarnath, India

Ballpoint pen on paper, 14 x 16

 

One lazy afternoon 30 years ago, I stood by this ancient temple – an 10th Century stone jewel incredibly tucked away in the clangor of a bustling Mumbai suburb.

Ambarnath

A couple of men were getting ready for their afternoon siesta even as a goat foraged the stubbly grounds in search of a green morsel.

More than a thousand years ago, upon this very spot, architects may have looked on watchfully even as skilled artisans chipped away at obdurate stone, immortalizing poetry in stone.

Braving the onslaught of persistent flies under a sweltering sun, I used my ballpoint pen on my sketchpad to capture this inspirational moment.

 

– Check out the link to my book Rambles into Sacred Realms: Exploring Divinity through Pen and Paint, where I invite readers to experience such adventure, humor and imagery illustrating my travels.

From Akko, Israel

Watercolor on cold-pressed paper, 12 x 16

 

It was 1996. The Ottoman-era streets of Old Akko with their teeming souks looked truly charming as sunlight dappled upon shop awnings. After a dash of tasty tahini, I walked past stalls that peddled colorful spices and souvenir shops stocked with the most curious objects I could never have ordered from a catalog!

Even more fascinatingly, a fantastic world lay underneath these cobblestones. I noticed a group of archaeologists working to uncover an enormous underground city that had been built by the Crusaders. The Knights of St. John had originally been established in the eleventh century A.D. to care for the sick of Jerusalem — but had soon become a powerful political organization.

 

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I explored this endless subterranean world of dining rooms and pillared hallways, dungeons and an elaborate sewage system that crisscrossed under the entire city. Somewhere here Richard the Lionheart may have entertained his royal guests from France.I could also imagine knights clad in mail and armor, exiting the city in a swift march through an escape tunnel that connected the seaport to the ancient fortress, even as invading forces were penetrating the main defenses. They wanted to live so they died fighting for the bigger cause they were here for – the liberation of the Holy Land.

At one point my son’s movements caught my eye. With only his little plastic shark for protection, he looked awed, even overwhelmed by the enormity of the vaulted ceilings and the somberness of the place. Yet behind him, the morning sun had found expression through the arched entrance, lightening up the mood of the moment.

I later painted in the brilliance of the light through several watercolor washes of New Gamboge and Raw Sienna on cold-pressed paper.

– Check out www.kvkrishnan.com to get more insights into my new book Rambles into Sacred Realms: Exploring Divinity through Pen and Paint, where I invite readers to experience such adventure, humor and imagery illustrating my travels.

From Sukhothai, Thailand

Conté crayon, 14 x 17

This could have been a scene from ancient Sri Lanka. The influence of that country’s architectural motifs was unmistakable, from the stroke of the chisel to the slather of the trowel.

I was walking in the central part of the Sukhothai Historical Park when I chanced upon this masterpiece in the deserted shine of Wat Sorasak. It was commissioned to be built in the early 1400s by one monk Nai Inthara Sorasak in honor of the governor.

In awe, I gazed at the parade of 24 stucco elephants that protectively emerged from the bricks holding up the chedi. “These elephants,” my guide told me,“are eternally upholding our great tenets of Buddhism.”

The bricks that made up the base were now worn out by 600 years of exposure to the elements, but the stucco was firmly holding up the line of resolute pachyderms.

I would have liked to wander around here some more, but the mosquito orchestra was getting a bit sonorous and aggressive.  I took a few pictures and later sketched this in the air-conditioned comfort of my room.

 

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From Sukhothai, Thailand

Scratchboard with line tool, 12 x 16,  Time taken: 2.5 hours

Living in Thailand for nearly five years, I had adopted the common mode of transport and took the motorcycle taxi or simply the “motorcy” as it is known in local parlance. Like everyone else I’d weave furiously through the dense Bangkok traffic, clinging to the handlebars for dear life. Several times on Bangkok’s main street – Sukhumvit Road – I had come close enough to tickle an elephant on its leg. But then at some point they stopped these animals from plodding the streets in Bangkok. Now I was back for a brief visit, having lived over fifteen years in Chicago, and I longed to come across an elephant again.

I had desperately called up a well-known elephant sanctuary in Sukhothai. However, they would accommodate only guests who stayed over in their lodgings so that these gentle giants could bond with the visitors. Even if I was able and willing to do that, their location was more than an hour away from the ruins and it wouldn’t serve my purpose given that my time here was short.

Maew, my Sukhothai guide, was eager to help me in my quest. We could, he said, wander the forests of Si Satchanalai in search of elephants that often emerged out of the thickets in search of sugarcane fields. He even suggested the far-fetched notion of lying in wait in one such clearing, from which, he assured me, a trumpeting herd would emerge during the sunset hours. Alas, those forests were more than six hours away, and in such sweltering heat, wasn’t the most appealing of options.

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Out of the blue, we bumped into a mahout by the name of Tong, who was ambling towards a welcome patch of shade with his handsome charge. Tong was headed home, to his village which was located between Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai.

Happy at my good fortune, I took a few pictures of Tong and his pachyderm companion — simply known as Nok. As a token of my gratitude I gave Nok a bunch of bananas I had tucked away in the van.

A month later I recreated this scene on scratchboard, using a line tool to capture the soft yet wrinkly skin.

– Check out www.kvkrishnan.com to get more insights into my new book Rambles into Sacred Realms: Exploring Divinity through Pen and Paint, where I invite readers to experience such adventure, humor and imagery illustrating my travels.

From San Ignacio, Belize

Scratchboard, 16 x 20
Hiking the densely-forested terrain of the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve in Belize, I had spotted several troops of howler monkeys, gibnuts, white-lipped peccaries and countless exotic birds. Sadly the only jaguar I spotted in that trip had been at the Belize Zoo.

Not content with such an interesting animal parade, upon every rustle in the thicket my ears would perk up for the faintest whistle of that gentle giant. The Baird’s tapir that had once rubbed shoulders with the ancient Maya indeed proved to be a shy creature. A scary herbivore when enraged, I had to be careful lest I stumbled upon an unsuspecting full-grown adult or worse, a mother and its baby. Unfortunately the closest I came to spotting a ‘mountain cow’ – as the tapir is known – was only a set of fresh tracks on a trail leading to a pond.

Mother and Child - A Family Portrait

My foray to the Belize Zoo surprisingly proved futile since the resident tapir had decided to nap out its afternoon, much to my chagrin. Determined, I ended up at the Field Museum in Chicago, picking up where the taxidermist had left off.

Lighting up the fur, and the eyes of mother and child with bolder cuts of the blade, I needed to breathe some life into this rather sterile setting. I used an X-Acto #11 blade, nicking out each strand of fur, hair by hair. It took me several weeks to complete one of my bigger pieces I had ever attempted in this medium.

 

– Check out www.kvkrishnan.com to get more insights into my new book Rambles into Sacred Realms: Exploring Divinity through Pen and Paint, where I invite readers to experience such adventure, humor and imagery illustrating my travels.