Meet the Correspondent: Omar Jaramillo > Berlin$show=/search/label/Omar%20Jaramillo

"I was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where I studied architecture. I moved to Kassel (Germany) in 1999 to accomplish a master degree. Although I have always drawn and paint, it was not until I started studying in the Uni-Kassel, that I started keeping a travel sketchbook. I had a teacher there who used to do a lot of sketches when he travelled on university excursions. When he retired, I helped to organize an exhibition of his sketches. He brought a huge box full of sketchbooks he had filled since he was an architecture student. I spent a whole day selecting the most interesting drawings. It was a wonderful experience that opened my eyes to a new world. In the last 10 years I have the feeling of being in a long journey. I like to discover the cities where I live, to understand why a place is the way it is and what makes it different and unique from others. Drawing is for me a way to learn to love a place, to become part of it. I like to draw architecture but I am more attracted to urban scenery, portraying how people live in the city. Since I’m a foreigner, everything that locals find normal and taken-for-granted, for me is exotic. I always carry a small watercolor travel set from Windsor and Newton and my sketchbook in my bag. I always thought that drawing was a solitary experience until I found Urban Sketchers. It was amazing to find so many people doing the same thing. It is a great place to share!" • Omar's blog. • Omar's art on flickr. • Omar's website.

Meet the Correspondent: Luis Ruiz > Malaga, Spain$show=/search/label/Luis%20Ruiz

Four days in Varanasi, India

On the Ghats, Benaras, India

By Suhita Shirodkar

I spent five weeks in India at the end of 2010, visiting family, travelling, and sketching. It’s always exciting to sketch in India: the colors, the crowds, the chaos... an urban sketcher dream come true.

These sketches are from my four-day trip to Varanasi, on the banks of the river Ganges. Varanasi is the holiest city of the Hindus, who make up about 80 percent of the population of India. Devout Hindus believe that a dip in the river Ganges, especially at Varanasi, will cleanse them of all sins. This makes Varanasi a destination that they come to from all parts of the country — and a perfect place to sketch.

The “ghats” in this city refer to miles and miles of steep steps that descend from the city to the river. This is where both locals and travellers gather: to wash their clothes, pray, fly kites, sit around and watch the sunset, bathe, and to cremate the dead.

Temples everywhere,Benaras, India
Almost anywhere in India, you can’t walk more than a few minutes without spotting a temple: from gigantic South India temples that are at least a block in size to tiny roadside shrines tucked under trees. But Varanasi beats out the rest of India in the number of temples it packs per square mile. They glow in shades of ochre and gold in the afternoon sun and are draped in saffron and red flags.

Morning on the Ghats, Benaras, India
I sketched this scene by the municipal water tower early in the morning. Bathers and worshippers dip themselves in the river and perform their morning prayers, while a man, wrapped in a shawl against the chill, stands by and watches.

Lady dressing after a dip in the Ganges
Another morning sketch. This time, a lady, who has just bathed in the river, carefully pleats and drapes her sari. The ghats are lined with holy men who sit under large umbrellas and perform rituals for pilgrims. In the distance, in stark contrast to the tranquility of the scene, are machine-gun toting cops. I visited Varanasi a few days after a terrorist attack on the city, which involved a bomb blast, and there were cops everywhere.

Burning Ghat, Benaras, India.
The Burning Ghats are two ghats within the city where Hindus cremate their dead. The bodies are shrouded in cloth when they arrive. The last rites involve one final dip in the river before the body is cremated on one of several pyres that are all kept alive by an ‘eternal flame’, a fire that has been tended to and kept burning for generations. In the background is an electric crematorium that the government built in the hoping to replace some of the wood-burning pyres with a system that causes less environmental damage, but people have been reluctant to abandon age-old traditions.

Chaat Seller, Benaras, India.
No trip in India is complete without tasting the local street food, known in North India as ‘chaat’. This fellow fried spiced potato dumplings and lined them up around the periphery of a large cooking vessel. When a customer appeared, he smashed one of these golden balls of potato into a plate, topped it with spiced garbanzo and garnished it with grated radish. You can see that his ‘food stand’ is a movable cart that holds everything: the food, his supply of cooking gas, and condiments.

Boatman on the Ghats, Benaras, India
One last peaceful sketch. A boatman awaits his first customer of the day. And while he waits, he fishes — or, at least, he attempts to. I never saw him catch anything all the time that I sat there and drew him, but he seemed so at peace. A mongrel dog wandered into the scene. These dogs are everywhere. They’re as prevalent as the electric wires that dangle anywhere you look. Or the crowds of people you can never get away from. Or the temples. I love the madness that is India.

Suhita Shirodkar is a graphic designer based in San Jose, California. She blogs at sketchaway.wordpress.com and is a member of the San Francisco/Bay Area Urban Sketchers. To see the more than 80 drawings from her trip to India, visit this flickr set.

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