Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Moonrise on desert

It was a chilling day of January in Bikaner city and I was busy shooting the camel fair organized by the Rajasthan Tourism Development Authority. As most of the events were happening inside a stadium, I was not feeling very energetic to shoot the crowd. By end of day one, I came to know the second half of next day would be interesting as it’ll showcase their camel race and other folk stuff in a desert village called ‘Ladera’. Accordingly I booked a vehicle which will take us to that village & will take us back in the evening.

The journey to the village was interesting. After we crossed the main road & entered the mud road, the surroundings changed dramatically. A complete feel of a village where women are in brilliant colored saris, and moustaches of men kept on growing multiple folds with their age, the turbans, everything were giving a sense as if I’m back in the era of Maharajas!

The car parking lot was little far and we had to walk a kilometer or so to reach the place where the actual fair was taking place. Paratroopers from Indian Air Force were showing their stunts and there were few cultural programs. The best part of the afternoon was the camel race where the local camel jockeys took part with their best breeds. I really couldn’t imagine that the lazy animal can really run that fast. Perhaps the laziness is the guise of the camels.

After the race, it was some common shots of sunset with the camels here & there. I was little tired after shooting continuously for few hours on the desert. Just to take some rest, I sat on the sand with some snacks & tea and was enjoying the twilight on the desert. After sometime, when it was almost dark, the moon started rising. I suddenly remembered that it’s a full moon night and the desert was almost deserted by that time. There were few local people burning fire on the mid of the desert to keep them warm. It was a heavenly beauty to see the moon rising on the desert and those villagers warming themselves on the sand. Though this is one my best shots, but yet the camera of my mind took much better image than the handheld one!

Call of the stones

It was early this year when three of my friends heard the call of the stones of Hampi along with me and we decided to make a visit there. Hampi was the medieval capital of Hindu empire Vijayanagara and not very well known tourist place in India. Lots of people were interested to know where the place is and what is there. Today Hampi is listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Bus from Mumbai to Hospet takes little more than 12 hours. There are good hotels in Hospet, but it takes time (also money) to go & come from Hospet to Hampi every time. Therefore, we decided to stay in Hampi. Though there’s no star-class hotel there, the available ones are the backpackers’ accommodation but suits good for those who really have the urge to see the place from inside. It was difficult for us to find a comfortable place, if not good, as we didn’t book our accommodation beforehand. Finally, by around 2 O’clock in the afternoon we were able to park ourselves.

‘Mango Tree’ – the restaurant you just can’t ignore when you are in Hampi. Authentic local food and in ethnic style makes ‘Mango Tree’ unparallel. But there are few other restaurants who serve English breakfast and Italian stuff, but unfortunately all vegetarian stuff. Hampi is considered to be a sacred place and therefore no non-veg food is allowed there. At the most, you can get egg curry at places officially.

First day of our trip was limited to Virupaksh temple and the great formation of stones at Hemakuta hills which is just beside Virupaksh temple. We watched the fantastic sunset from Hemakuta and found an Argentinean gentleman playing flute…it was splendid!

Next day we took an auto-rickshaw which took us to Vitthala temple, Tungabhadra River, Queen’s bath, stepped tank, etc. After visiting all these, we found roaming with rented two-wheeler would be much easier rather than hiring auto-rickshaws. The next day we took 2 two-wheelers which were cheap and we kept on traveling in our own terms. It was the last day in Hampi for us and we wanted to see the sunrise from the hilltop. We started early in the morning, almost dark and parked our vehicles at the base of the hill. Then it was a tiring trek to the top but surely it was worth it. We enjoyed the first rays of the sun on these historic stones which might have experienced this kind of morning for million years!

The stones were placed on each other in such precision that it feels like someone did a very complex trigonometry to fix these stones so that they don’t fall down. Natures creations make our jaw dropped in every turn in Hampi.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mystique Munnar

It was late September 2005 when we headed for the southern beauty – Munnar! The approach to this green hill station has a long winding roads and hardly any vehicle was visible on the way. It was around midday when we saw the first beauty of it – immeasurable tea garden and a black road in it looks like a big Anaconda sleeping on the green field. Our jaw dropped with the first view and there were more to come.

After reaching the Munnar town, we didn’t have to struggle much to get a comfortable accommodation as it was off-season. Hotel ‘Westwood Riverside Garden Resort’ became our address for next 3 days. Munnar was one of the favorite places to British people on summer. It was a hill station where many used to come for change. And now it’s the biggest tea cultivating place in southern India.

When we came out for stroll, the lash green tea gardens were everywhere. There’s huge lake which is known as Munnar Lake few kilometers away from the town. When we reached there, the overcast sky had created such an out-of-the-world view that all of us thought it could be the end of this earth! The local farmers were bringing the fresh vegetables from field & washing them on the water. I never saw that freshness in vegetables in life!

Another element which made the Munnar trip memorable is ‘Nilgiri Thar’. This is a kind of goat that can climb mountains straight. There are only two kinds of Thars available in India, the Himalayan Thar & Nilgiri Thar. I had to trek little to get a closer view of this almost-extinct species, and was lucky enough to find some cute baby Thars roaming around. But they are shy, jumped towards their mother after seeing the camera.

Finally before leaving this mystique place, we visited the Munnar church. It’s one of the oldest churches in India completely made by stones. When I went inside, I found some local ladies were praying. But the loneliness of this church touched me and I felt like spending some time with myself there. Unfortunately, the call of duty came in the form of the horn of our car, and I had to bid adieu to Munnar.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Journey through the world’s highest motorable road

It was around 6:30 AM when we started for Nubra valley from Leh. Before coming to Ladakh I did a thorough study of each area and the world’s highest motorable road which goes to Nubra valley from Leh via the highest motorable pass ‘Khardung la’ was biggest my biggest attraction. Not only as a photographer, but as an adventure driving enthusiast, I wanted to drive on this road. Lucky enough, we got a Scorpio which was in mint condition.

First half of the drive was not much difficult barring the sharp hairpin turns on that narrow lane. Driving experience in different ghats of Maharashtra did a little help, but the steepness was not comparable at all. It was end of April and tourist season was not started in full swing as the temperature at night was going to freezing point often. We wanted to keep the windows of the vehicle open to enjoy the surrounding natural beauty, but the biting chilling wind was just not tolerable to our Mumbai-temperature habituated skin. We had to use moisturizing creams heavily each hour. I really don’t think I’ve these much creams in life that I used in a week’s time at Ladakh.

South Pullu (around 15000 ft.) – our first stop on the road for breakfast and official check for valid permits. There were few companies of army and a senior officer told us they have been sent here for acclimatization for Siachen. Shortly, they will be on their routine 90 days posting at the worlds’ highest battlefield – Siachen glacier. Our breakfast was simple; Maggi (that’s the most widely available food in entire Ladakh) cooked in five times more water than needed. As soon as we finished the watery Maggi, there was hot tea which getting cold in few seconds in that temperature of around 7OC.

The next phase of the drive was really nerve-ratting. Snow was cleared by the BRO team on early in the morning, and there were fresh snowing after that. And with the wind, powder-like snows were everywhere and we had to start the wiper on to get a clear vision of the narrow road. Driving at less than 10/hr speed, we were merely crawling. At times, when the vehicle was skidding on the snow-filled road, I was actually thinking to put the iron chain on the wheel. And finally, just before 2 kilometers from Khardung la pass, we had to stop. There was one small bus before us which couldn’t cross one snow and water filled area. We came down from our car and the road was slippery like anything. We were taking support of the vehicle to keep us straight for taking photographs. By the time the bus was able to cross that stretch, we couldn’t do anything but sitting idle inside the car and taking some images here and there.

Then finally we reached Khardung la top, local people call it K-top or just ‘top’. It was a sheer sensation to be at the top of the world’s highest motorable road at 18,380 ft. We got down from the car and started taking photos as quickly as possible. I knew that spending longer time in this less-oxygen area means falling ill. We couldn’t even spend more than 10 minutes on the top it started snowing along with a biting wind. Amazingly, we found there are couples of families who stay over there, probably paid by BRO to look after their jawans & officers. It’s all about habit; where we can barely stay for 10 minutes, habit made them stay for life!

Then it was a steep descend till North Pullu. South Pullu – Khardung la – North Pullu these three point make a bell curve on this terrain. Due to lack of oxygen at the top, most of us were having some problem of breathlessness which were making us little drowsy. To break the dizziness and to celebrate crossing the K-top, we stopped at South Pullu. It’s the acclimatization base camp for Indian army who’ll be posted at Siachen glacier for 90 days. There was only one restaurant (if you can call it!) open and they were serving hot mutton thukpa. The morning watery Maggi was digested by then and this thukpa did the magic of bringing us back in form. And then our driver brought our attention to an black animal which was coming down from the snow-clad mountain – a Yak. Our lenses were ready in seconds people who had bigger lenses in their kit, opened them up and fixed the biggest possible lens to get the Yak as big as possible in their images. I don’t think that yak ever experienced this kind of attention and therefore, became little shy. It just looked at us for some time trying to understand what exactly happening and then slowly turned away.

Drive from North Pullu till Diskit was piece of cake comparing to what we had crossed some time back. River Shey was our companion throughout this road. In this route we crossed the Indian Army’s supply point where we came to know Lt. Col. P. K. Chowdhury – who’s heading that point. A great gentleman, who treated us like his family members, told us how Indian army is defending the enemies from both Pakistan & China. The feel of desert soon started surrounding us as soon as we entered Diskit at Nubra valley. And the beauty of the desert area with a water body within it came to the forefront when we reached Hunder village after crossing Diskit. The Diskit monastery is one of the oldest one in Ladakh area and its surely worth a visit. Just beside that, they are now constructing a huge size statue of Lord Buddha which should be finished soon.

The Yak

When we reached Diskit monastery, a sandstorm started and we had to take some time to come out of the monastery. In this mean time, we the priest told us about the monastery, it’s culture and history. We got some exceptional shots from the monastery and then headed towards Hunder village. Our drive to Nubra valley through the world’s highest motorable road proved to be an unforgettable experience!

Monk at Diskit Monastery

Monday, July 6, 2009

'The Great Driving Challenge'

The Great Driving Challenge has become the newest craze for me. I was game for it from the very first advertisement published on June 22. But I couldn’t figure out who could be my partner in this as I was in need of a partner, who has got a driving license older than July, 2007. Finally, it was Shifra, my old friend and ex-colleague who was instantly agreed to join this.

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