AFC Flag Expedition #2
In this second Flag Expedition, David Rankin, accompanied by his wife, Deanna and fellow AFC member Kelly Dodge, travelled through Northern India. Their journey took them deep into the Himalayas to the Gangotri glacier, at the headwaters of the sacred Ganges River. David’s intention was to create a body of artwork that captured the 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.
David’s expedition objectives were ambitious and numerous. Primarily, he set out to create a watercolor portrait of the Upper Ganges River system in the Gharwal and Kumaon Himalayas through his sketches and paintings, focusing on the astounding beauty and complex nature of this fabled region. David also wished to document a 21st century view of the region-specific ecological and conservation challenges facing the Ganges River system including: 1) The visible and tangible effects of tourism, including pilgrims and trekkers, industry, agri-business, and increased infrastructure development; 2) Observable evidence of glacial recession in this region and tangible effects on the Ganges headwaters; 3) Fragmentation of Himalayan elephant forests and its effect on the migratory patterns and genetic diversity in regional elephant, tiger, leopard, and bird populations; and 4) Shrinking botanical biodiversity throughout the region particularly in alpine meadows and especially in the Valley of the Flowers.
His long-term hopes are to leave a legacy of artistic representation of the region that will help foster a greater respect for and desire to maintain and care for the area on into the future in a fashion similar to the artistic influences which have helped to protect and care for America’s Yellowstone National Park. In David’s own words: “The birds of the Himalayas are an integral feature of the landscape, as are the many exotic species of wildlife that now share the landscape with man. Nowhere on Earth have humans and wildlife shared a more intimate and respectful co-existence than in India and especially in these vast Himalayan reaches. In fact, the world’s first formal conservation laws and edicts governing man’s conduct in and protection of both forests and wildlife were written and enacted into law in India more than 2000 years ago (Ashok’s Edicts). It is our goal to try and provide some tangible measure of assistance to the image of this most unique region through my watercolors, books, lectures and articles.”
The Gangotri glacier is the most famous of all Ganges origin sites, featured in countless Himalayan and Hindu legends, sacred texts, poems and songs for millennia. It was in the year 1815 when 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.
David’s expedition took him through a range of habitats, including grassland, dense forests and the rugged terrain of high-elevation glaciated mountain slopes. The “terrai” are the wide flat grasslands that extend outward from the southern slopes of the Himalayas from Rajaji all the way eastward into Burma/Myanmar. These are the natural homeland of India’s great elephant herds as well as 1000 other species of exotic birds and animals of all kinds. David uses the term “Elephant Forests” to describe the heavily-forested outer foothills of the Greater Himalayas ranging up to approximately 10,000 feet in altitude. Although not all of these forests have resident populations of elephants, 200 years ago they did. Today, these areas are vital habitats for India’s wild population of elephants, but unfortunately have come under tremendous human population pressures from all sides.
The future is unclear whether or not India and Nepal can sustainably support wild Asian Elephant populations. The expedition has galvanized David’s resolve to make these animals a strategic central feature of his Ganges Himalayas efforts. In David’s own words: “Because... as the fate of India’s elephants goes, so goes the fate of 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.”
Rankin’s experience is captured in hundreds of photographs, video clips, studio paintings and a spectacular journal containing nearly 300 pages of watercolor sketches and writings. A comprehensive section on the AFC website has been dedicated to showcase this incredible body of work, in the remote regions of the Indian Himalayas.
Below is an excerpt of roughly 1/4 of David's Flag Journal - a masterpiece compilation of watercolors capturing the spirit of his journey. To preview all pages, please go here.