Tag Archives: Why Travel

How I Became a Sculptor in Mamallapuram

The main street of Mamallapuram is lined with countless stalls selling immaculately handcrafted sculptures and most of the shops owners spend there days working on new pieces in front of their store. I was in the rare mood for shopping probably because I had a good reason this time, my dads 50th birthday was coming up and I wanted to send something home for him.

Wandering through a few different stalls nothing seemed fitting, I got chatting with a local sculptor out of the front of his workshop and he downed his tools and invited me in for chai. I was asking him about getting a small piece custom made and engraved when he suggested that rather than pay someone to make it he’ll teach me to make something myself. The idea sounded great except for one small thing – my discernible lack of artistic talent. He was persuasive enough that I agreed to come back and start Sculpture 101 with him the next day.

Sculpting away...

Sculpting away…

Venkat – my new sculpture instructor – was patient, persistent and extraordinarily resilient, nothing was a better example of this than his story of losing his home, store and complete collection of his work and tools to the 2004 tsunami. An event tragic enough to floor even the strongest of characters didn’t seem to deter his spirit and with the help of the community he managed re-open his shop not long after.

I walked into his shop at 9:30 the next day and he was eagerly awaiting with the tools laid out and a cup of chai and biscuits. We shared chai and looked through some of his work while I decided what I wanted to make and the type of stone to make it out of. I started carving away at big block of greenstone with the idea of a lizard perched on a rock, this was to be my first piece and more of a practice piece than anything too serious.

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The next two days were spent drinking chai, going out for lunch and sculpting in-between. It was awesome I began to make friends in the town and despite my now sore and calloused hands my lizard was starting to take shape.

Then it all came crumbling down.

I was starting to put the final details on the head of the lizard and must have hammered a little too hard into a fault line in the stone and a huge crack ran through – off with the lizards head! I was pretty disheartened, my hands were killing me and a day and a half of work had just gone down the drain. In hindsight, it seems petty to have become upset at losing one piece when Venkat had lost so much more in the tsunami 9 and half years earlier.

Out came a new block of stone, this time I was using a stronger stone which would be harder to carve but also harder to break. I chose a seated Buddha in the palm of a hand. This piece was literally make or break.

The days rolled on in more or less the same fashion – lots of sculpting and lots of chai. Venkat gave me a little help here and there with some of the finer details (I was still a little rattled about breaking my last piece) and my Buddha was starting to take shape. Four days of sculpting and polishing paid off, I had completed it and couldn’t have been happier.

The finished piece!

The finished piece!

In celebration I took Venkat out for dinner that night at a little local restaurant where we feasted on lamb thali. As with all celebrations in India they never just last one day so the next morning we went to the market to pick up some fresh fish, lamb and beer. Venkat invited his friend, a chef of 15 years at Mamallapuram’s nicest hotel to come and cook for us at Venkat’s hut. Venkat lived in a village about 15 minutes away in a hut with a tiny kitchen and no electricity. That didn’t stop his friend serving up 4 amazing dishes.

Cooking up a storm.

Cooking up a storm.

I’m glad to have made such a great friend in Venkat and it is a true example of his genuine friendliness that during my 6 days of sculpting not once did he ask for a fee or a tip for his services and was reluctant to take my money when I offered it. Mamallapuram is a place I will hold in high regard for a long time to come.

Why Travel Solo?

Why travel solo? It’s become one of the big questions I seem to hear over and over again; Won’t I get lonely travelling solo? Wouldn’t it be easier with some one else? Is it dangerous to travel solo? Are you worried about being able to meet people?
Fresh Coconut milk!
As a human being with my own wandering mind and natural anxieties all of these questions had crossed my mind. Sure it would be easier and probably cheaper to travel with some one and I’m sure there would be a slight increase is safety but safety isn’t something that bothers me. For the most part I’ve found even the so-called ‘dangerous’ third-world countries like Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala to be some of the most friendly and inviting communities I’ve come across.
For all of the benefits of travelling with a friend there’s an equally big and inviting list of travelling solo.
Freedom: Is there anything as freeing as waking up in a new place filled with endless opportunities for exploring the sights, culture, people and cuisine? I have endless opportunity for exploration and it’s not marred by the usual indecision that comes between people trying to decide what to do. This allows me to go with the flow, ran around town guided purely by my own energy and desires.
This is why I travel.

This is why I travel.

Meeting New People: As I found out on my last trip, when you travel with friends from home it becomes far too easy and comfortable chat with them rather than getting out there and meeting people. Travelling solo you don’t really have a choice; either you meet new people or stay in your room alone. I met some fantastic people on my last trip, people that I will consider friends for life but I feel I only met a fraction of the people I could have met had I made more of an effort. At the end of the day, it will sound cliche but backpacking is as much about the relationships you form as it is about the actual destinations.
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Stepping outside the comfort zone:  This is a big one for me. It lies at the core of my backpacking philosophy and it’s the stand-out reason I’ve picked India as my next journey. Travelling for me isn’t about 5 star hotels and first class flights, I want something that will challenge me. It could be anything from skydiving to trying to order food in a foreign language, both these things and everything in between give a great sense of achievement . All forms of backpacking are going to come with moments where you take a trip outside your comfort zone and this is only multiplied when you decide to rock it solo.   Adversity goes hand-in-hand with travel, inevitably you’re going to miss flights, check into a dodgy hostel, maybe have something stolen or trek around a town trying to find accommodation. It’s not all doom and gloom though because it’s when you get forced outside your comfort zone that the next point really takes place.
Tarantula's in Guatemala
Character Building: I learnt more about myself in 9 months of travel than I had in any other period of my life. I feel as though from the moment I left to the moment I got back I had completely transformed myself as a person. I gained an entirely new perspective on the world around me and discovered passions I wished to pursue, one of them being further travel.
I don’t think you’re ever quite alone when you’re traveling, the backpackers trail is so full of amazing people that you very quickly forget that you got there alone and often end up on adventures you’ll never forget with friends you made over a beer at the hostel the night before.
theboywander