My first painting trip to India was to Jaisalmer, in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, in the heart of the Thar Desert. Jaisalmer is a former medieval trading center and enormously rich, at the crossroads of trade routes. Known as the "Golden City," it's distinguished by its yellow sandstone architecture. Dominating the skyline is Jaisalmer Fort, a sprawling hilltop citadel buttressed by 99 bastions. Behind its massive walls stand the ornate Maharaja's Palace and intricately carved Jain temples and havelis, dating back to the 13th century. The more or less complete absence of rain has preserved this profusion of intricate carving. It was still, when I visited in 2001, relatively unknown. With its thriving markets, a huge variety of local dress, and age-old building techniques being deployed to reinforce the ramparts of this giant sandcastle, it provided infinite subjects for the watercolourist.
Later visits took me to a Brahmin village outside Jodhpur, to paint the blue walls and simplicity of life of even the most elite of Indian castes. And on to Kerala, to paint such a different watery landscape, the rivers and canals of the Backwaters, and the lives of fishermen along the coast, employing time-honoured fishing techniques.
Frost & Reed, of King Street, London SW!, offered me an exhibition. I suggested a visit to Sri Lanka, a very beautiful, mountainous island, which had recently been devastated by the tsunami. Tea plantations, tea pickers, rock and cave temples and iconic white stupas provided many weeks of colourful painting. Shoes and hats not allowed in the holy sites, so shade was at a premium to protect the folically challenged artist! Watch out for the monkeys too, which were all too quick to run off with my brushes!