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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Great Hornbill in Pictures

I was thrilled to spot the Great Hornbill in my very first hour at the Nameri National Park in Assam, India. This rare sighting ensured that my spirits soared over the entire duration I spent here.


It was a thrilling experience to see this majestic bird in action. But, this sighting, came with a slight twist. It was not us that spotted the Great Hornbill, but the bird gave itself away after it took off noticing our nearing presence.


We noticed it only because of its ‘helicopter start’ like sound that it creates while flying. It seemed like it was on one side of our jungle trekking trail and flew to the other end. There were three of them. Their ‘helicopter’ like flying sound nearly scared a couple of my friends.


And all of them were sitting on the highest branches of the trees, but slightly far away for us. This didn’t give us a great vantage point, but it wasn’t bad either.


The Great Hornbill is quite special…its massive wing span, its huge beak, its phenomenal size, its screeching call that is a thrill to hear and its ability to ensure longevity of a forest.


Luckily for us, the hornbills gave us a great sighting for about 10 minutes, which was very special to us. This allowed me to capture them in good frames. I hope these pictures allow you to enjoy these mighty birds as much as I did.



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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Grey-Capped Pygmy Woodpecker

The grey-capped pygmy woodpecker is a small, but very pretty bird in its black and white colours. I was lucky to see this bird during my trip to Nameri National Park in Assam. It was right on the upper branches of a tree next to the forest rest house that we came across during our jungle trek.


I shot these pictures with my EF 100-400 lens. As you can see there is fair shake in the image. This was because the bird was vertically above me and I wasn’t carrying my tripod. These are times when I blame myself for not carrying my tripod.

 
I managed these images by holding my breath as much as possible. Is there a better way to shoot vertically (on a heavy lens ~3+ Kilograms) in handheld mode?

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Street Photography from Tawang

The streets of Tawang offer so much to the street photographer. There is colour, there is variety and then there is the oomph factor.


I am your standard travel photographer and hence couldn’t do much justice to the street photography per se, but I am sure that the true street photographer would have loved this experience.


Most of Tawang city and the district is made up of people from the Monpa tribe. Their culture, dressing sense, their physical attributes and their lively, yet calm demeanour offers so much to the traveller. It is such a joyous experience just to be a part of their culture.


In this case, I spotted these Monpa tribal women, who were decked in traditional colours and attire and sported interesting head gear. It looked like they had just picked up their kids from school and were heading back home.

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Places to note when on a Kenyan photography safari

A Kenya safari holiday is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Many travellers each year visit Kenya to immerse themselves in the fantastic East African culture and view spectacular wildlife in their natural habitat. Kenya is home to the famous 'big five' animals as well as diverse plant, insect and bird species. Kenya safaris give travellers the chance to completely immerse themselves in a different culture. Unlike many other holidays away, you will be living amongst the natives and the local culture.

Kenya safaris are also a must do trip for avid photographers. The diversity of wildlife in Kenya is unparalleled and there are some fabulous opportunities for photographers to get some challenging shots and refine their skills. Although many know about the magnificent wildlife in Kenya, many are not aware of the sheer beauty of the country's landscape. Almost anywhere you go in Kenya there are awe inspiring views that are heaven for keen photographers. Many safaris also begin very early in the morning to get the best views. This is ideal for photographers as they are able to get the best light and stunning sunrise shots.

When you are on a photography safari in Kenya there are many places that you should note. When on a photography safari in Kenya it is important that you spend some time before you leave thinking about places to visit. You should focus your attention on a few specific areas or reserves to maximise the success of your trip and ensure you do not waste time travelling long distances across the country.

One of the best reserves for avid photographers is the Masai Mara. This is a section of the famous Serengeti in North Kenya and is a popular destination for Kenya safari holidays. The Masai Mara is well known for its wildebeest migration which occurs from July to October. If you are planning on visiting Kenya during this time you should certainly visit this region. Although the Masai Mara has sometimes been criticised for receiving large quantities of tourists, its pristine beauty and diversity of wildlife mean you are sure to get some fantastic shots. This region is a great photography area for experts and beginners alike. If you are a beginner or wish to brush up on your existing skills you can find guided photography Kenya safari holidays in the Masai Mara region. Many award winning photographers set up workshops or holiday tours where they will show you how to develop your photography skills in one of the most stunning areas in the world.

If you are an accomplished photographer or wish to learn independently you can find Kenya safari holidays for very reasonable prices online. First check out where you wish to go and then find tours that match these requirements online.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tribal Houses from Dirang Dzong

While I was at the Himalayan hill station of Dirang, I visited some of their tribal settlements. And the most famous and easily accessible one is the Dirang Dzong.


The Dirang Dzong is a tribal area that is built on one side of the Dirang river and is just a couple of kilometres from the main Dirang market. In fact, it is on the road from Tezpur to Tawang.


The Dirang Dzong or locally known as the Dirang basti is just a normal rustic residential colony. But, the special thing about this tribal colony is its architecture.

 
Their stone and wooden houses are quite unique. They use the stone for foundation and the wooden structure for the roof and walls. Apparently, this method of building is quite efficient in handling the bitter cold weather of the Himalayas.


Further, they had a classic or should I say antique look about them that made me take notice of them. Their colours, the structure and the design were very interesting.

 
The Dirang Dzong is definitely worth a visit if you are planning a trip to Dirang in Western Arunachal Pradesh. The sight of these houses against the Eastern Himalayas and the Dirang river below is quite an interesting sight.

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Coffee Country of Coorg

Do you envision yourself sipping a hot cuppa local coffee amidst misty green coffee estates and tropical forests for your next holiday? If yes, then you don’t need to look too far as our own coffee country of Coorg can captivate your imagination beyond dreams.

Coorg, locally known as Kodagu is situated in the Western Ghats of Karnataka. It is a rare ecosystem that is seen the world over as one of the hottest bio-diversity hotspots.

 
Coorg is a great concoction of pristine nature, unique culture and exotic local cuisine. The land of the Kodavas is home to some interesting customs. To name a few, the Kodava women tie their saris with the pleat on the back side instead of the traditional front, the men dress like Maharajas on the days of religious events and nearly all the houses and buildings have tiled roofs. And if local cuisines appeal to you, then do remember to try out Kodagu’s pork (pandi) curry, homemade jam and their coconut based recipes, all of which have a huge fan following.


Coorg can be enjoyed in multiple ways, but the ideal (if I may) way to enjoy it is to base yourself away from urban civilization and inside some secluded coffee estate. This way you get to enjoy the best of the pristine surroundings, take relaxed morning and evening walks amidst the green coffee estates and tropical forests and the best part is that you can sip a cup of hot coffee in misty and slightly nippy weather while enjoying the green views of Mother Nature. You can also stay at hotels in the silicon valley of India and make day trips to Coorg. If you are the adventurous kind, you can follow the umpteen trails that lead deeper into the woods and onto tropical rainforests, remote waterfalls and mountain peaks. And, if you are the birdwatcher, then you can take out your binoculars and admire the rare sights of the birds that are endemic to the Western Ghats.


Places to stay:
A lot of luxury and budget options for accommodation are available right across Coorg. But for unique appeal you can check out Orange County, Green Hills Estate and Honey Valley Estate. If you are looking to base yourself at Bangalore, then you can look up Bangalore Hotels for options. For hotel options near Mysore Palace, you can look up hotels in Mysore.

Food:
Food is easily available at all larger towns, but if you are based at a home stay, then you would be dependent on the home stay’s kitchen.

How to get here:
Regular bus services are available to Madikeri and Virajpet, the two larger towns of Coorg. Jeeps/Cabs can be easily hired from Madikeri and Virajpet for local commute and sightseeing. The nearest airports are that of Mysore and Bangalore. The nearest rail head would be Mysore.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Wildlife and Birding at Nameri National Park, Assam, North East India

Nameri National Park is one of Assam’s main national parks situated in its North-West boundary and bordering Arunachal Pradesh to the north. Unlike the rest of Assam’s national parks where the Rhinoceros is the highlight, the sensation of Nameri National Park is the ‘Great Hornbill’.

Great Hornbill
The Nameri National Park, located in the foot hills of the Eastern Himalayas is situated about 30 kilometres from Tezpur in the Sonitpur district of Assam. Innumerable streams and rivers criss-cross through the national park, but the main river here is the Jia-Bhoroli river. The Jia-Bhoroli snakes its way through one corner of the national park.

Asian Elephant
In fact it is the Jia-Bhoroli river that sustains this national park. It was because of this river that angling became popular here. The mighty Mahseer fish is found in huge quantities here. And it was these angling trips that brought tourism into Nameri National Park.

Great Cormorant in flight
Today, rafting is done on the Jia-Bhoroli river both for angling as well as for birding. A huge number of migratory waterfowl can be found on the Jia-Bhoroli river in all seasons and especially the winters.

Malayan Giant Squirrel  
The popular waterfowl here are the great cormorant, Ibisbill, Ruddy Shelduck, Common Merganser and the Eurasian Woodcock. The Eurasian Woodcock is one of the rarest birds to be spotted here. I was lucky to see all of them during my recent visit.

Great Cormorants by the Jia-Bhoroli River
Apart from these, I also spotted the following birds here: Great Hornbill, Red Vented Bulbul, Grey Headed Fishing Eagle, Hill Myna, Common Iora, Scarlet Minivet, Fulvous breasted Woodpecker, Lesser Yellownape, Blue winged Leafbird, Indian Roller, Blue Throated Barbet, Blue tailed Bee Eater, Green Billed Malkoha, Rose Ringed Parakeet, Osprey, Spotted Dove, Pin tailed Green Pigeon, Pompadour Green Pigeon, Paddyfield Pipit, Black naped Oriole, Black Drongo, Spangled Drongo, Lesser racket tailed Drongo, Verditer Flycatcher, Grey Headed Canary Flycatcher, Little Forktail, Chestnut Tailed Starling, Sultan Tit (calling only), Pied Kingfisher, Crested Kingfisher, Pallas Fishing Eagle, Adjutant Stork, River Lapwing, Little Egret, Indian Pond Heron, Common Stonechat, Plain Martin, White Rumped Shama and Lesser Whistling Duck.

Ruddy Shelduck
All these birds were spotted either while rafting on the Jia-Bhorali river or while trekking through the multiple jungle trails available to the tourist.

Red Vented Bulbul
In addition to the birds, I also spotted some mammals. They were the Asian Elephant, Malayan Giant Squirrel, Assamese Macaque and Rhesus Macaque.

Fulvous Breasted Woodpecker  
The good forest tourist infrastructure, the vivid nature and jungles along with the rich birding and wildlife experience gives Nameri National Park a special place in India’s national park system. Whether, you are an angler, a birder or a wildlife lover, Nameri is bound to capture your heart.

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A Princely Jungle Moment!

What constitutes a princely jungle moment? Well, it varies with person to person, but for me, it is sitting on an elephant and exploring the jungle from a near-perfect position.


The elephant offers better view owing to its height, allows you to go closer to the wild denizens and gives you all-round motion capabilities. It is slightly uncomfortable to sit on, but that is the beauty of it.


The sheer vision of sitting on an elephant and commanding a view that is otherwise nearly impossible, the power you get in shooting (lens shooting) the wildlife makes you feel like princely material.

 
I do understand that this goes against animal rights, but if we were to feed the already tamed elephants well and not torture them, then I guess this is a good possibility.

Photos shot at Nameri National Park, Assam, India.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jung Falls: A Sensational Setting!

Remember the Bollywood movie ‘Koyla’ starring Shahrukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit. Many of the movie scenes were shot in the Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh. One such scene was shot at the sensational Jung Falls.


The Jung Falls is located about 35 kilometres from the centre of Tawang city and about 3 kilometres from the town of Jung. Jung is the valley that lies between Sela and Tawang. The current Chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Dorjee Khandu belongs to this town of Jung.


The Jung Falls, which is fed by alpine lakes and snow streams tumbles in multiple steep steps into the river below from an appreciable height. And everything around the waterfall is dense green adding to the beauty of the waterfall.

 

When I was here recently, the waterfall looked fairly strong to me, but the locals mentioned that this waterfall swells with water during the monsoons and is a sensational sight. I would love to see that sight live one day.



The waterfall, the hill stream below it, the surrounding greenery and the Himalayan mountains make this waterfall a great place to visit. No wonder, Jung/Jang Falls is ranked as one of the best waterfalls of Arunachal Pradesh.

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Sangti Valley–A Valley in Heaven!

Sangti valley is not well known to the outside world. In fact, very minimal tourist infrastructure exists here. But, in my mind, this is the place to be if you are looking at holidaying in a heavenly hill station.


Let me help you visualize Sangti Valley…Surrounded by the towering ranges of Eastern Himalayas, blessed with pleasant weather round the year with maybe some light snowfall in the winter months, covered with fruit orchards (kiwi fruit, apple, apricot, orange), dotted with pristine forests and meandering fast hill rivers and home to a very interesting culture and tradition.

 
And it is also home to the black necked cranes who come to the fields of this valley every winter. Sangti valley is situated about 15 kilometres from Dirang, which is on the Bomdila - Tawang highway of Western Arunachal Pradesh in North East India.

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Fall Colours from Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh, North East India

The fall season is one of my favourite seasons. It is the season, when the world gets dressed in some fine vibrant colours.


Himalayan India is one of the few places in India where one can experience a true fall season. And that too not in all parts of the Himalayas, but only in a few pockets.


One such pocket is the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary that is situated at an altitude of 9,000 feet in the Eastern Himalayas (France Car Rental).



The colours here were so vivid that I was simply awestruck and the bright blue skies just formed a perfect contrast.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

High Altitude Sela Pass–Backbone of Tawang District

Sela pass is a high altitude mountain pass that connects the Buddhist city of Tawang with the rest of the country.


This pass is situated at 13,700 feet above MSL and is located between the towns of Bomdila and Jung in Western Arunachal Pradesh.


The only way one can reach Tawang by road is through the Sela pass. If this road gets blocked for whatever reason…enemy trouble, bad weather, heavy snowfall, etc, then commute to the district of Tawang struggles.


And that is precisely the reason why the Indian army has stationed a huge battalion there to thwart off any enemy advances from this point.


This place is snowed in most of the year and offers excellent and heavenly views all year round. This part of the Eastern Himalayan range is pretty special for the Buddhists as it is believed that about 101 lakes exist in and around Sela pass and each of these lakes has a huge religious significance for the Buddhist community.

 
Overall, the Sela pass is one magnificent place to visit. Its Himalayan views are un-paralleled.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Buddhist Monk at Tak-Tsang Gompa, Arunachal Pradesh

This Buddhist Monk was the sign of peace, serenity and concentration while he was reading the verses from his holy book. I liked his posture so much that I knew I needed to take a portrait shot, but at the same time did not want to disturb him. Luckily for me, he took a break and that was when I requested for a short photography session and the monk happily obliged.


I spotted this monk sitting just outside the inner sanctum of Tak-Tsang Gompa or locally known as T Gompa. Tak-Tsang Gompa, situated close to Sangetsar Lake and the China Border, is part of the high altitude Himalayan region of Arunachal Pradesh. It is at a distance of about 35 kilometres from Tawang. Though, this temple is small in size, it compensates quite a bit in power and beauty.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Monpa Tribal Women from Arunachal Pradesh

I was backpacking through the lovely valleys and hills of Dirang in Arunachal Pradesh when I spotted a group of local women walking along the side of the road. It looked like they were done with their daily quota of work and were heading home.


Their colourful attire, head gear and their smart way of carrying loads were the things that stood out.

 

It was only later did I find out these women were actually the local Monpa tribal women and were labourers in the neighbouring village.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Shillong View from Shillong Peak

The Air force base at Shillong peak is supposedly the best place to catch a fabulous view of Shillong. This high security place is pretty popular with the tourists who come to Shillong. It is about 10 kilometres from the heart of Shillong.


I was there recently, but got there late in the evening and hence got a light mist cover blocking my view. In between the mist and the clouds, I somehow managed to get this picture of the colourful Shillong city below. The fading evening sun and its shadow on the city seemed to add a beautiful glow.

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