Category Archives: Photography

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Where cranes sing and flamingos dance: Into the Banni Grasslands Reserve

Thousands of birds call the Banni Grasslands Reserve in Kutch, Gujarat their home. An excursion into this dry but rich ecosystem, has delightful surprises unfold, as you turn every corner.

“Leave nothing but footprints; and plant trees. Lots of trees.”

Flamino with Sunrise Kutch
Flamingos against a beautiful sunrise over the Banni Grasslands. Photo credit: Jugal Tiwari

Only someone wise and passionate can utter these words. And they come from none other than Jugal Tiwari of the Center for Desert and Ocean (CEDO). Established in 2005, the organisation has been tireless working on ecology and conservation issues for the last 9 years. Tiwari, who is originally from Rajasthan, on a visit to Kutch, fell in love with this area.

Banni Grasslands

It’s not hard to imagine why. What appears at first sight to be dry scrub desert, has more surprises, twists and turns than a detective novel and you look forward with anticipation to the next sight!
We enter the reserve in the early morning hours. The cranes are already up, and fly across the morning sky, just beginning to glow with the first rays of the sun. In the horizon, another flock is taking off. And then yet another. Flying in their trademark V formations or sometimes in a line, behind each other.

Banni Grasslands

The common crane is resident of the reserve from September to April.

Banni Grasslands
Says Tiwari, “when they leave, it’s like your mobile has gone into silent mode”. Their song is replaced by silence. And then again in September (between 17-19) when they arrive, the skies are taken over by their happy song, heard even from a distance. This is what has kept Tiwari going, every year for the last nine years. He knows each and every specimen in this area, their behaviour, their whereabouts (most of the time!).

Banni Grasslands

As the early morning light casts a magical glow on the surroundings, I ask him why it’s called a grassland. This is something even Tiwari is not sure of. There are wetlands, dry scrub, bush, Prosopis juliflora (invasive non-native species) and weeds (as in the picture). But there is no grass anywhere. And yet this area is called a “grassland”. Perhaps, the guy who named it was sitting at a desk somewhere and somehow forgot to actually visit the region!

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The lesser flamingo takes flight. Photo credit: Jugal Tiwari

For miles on end, all around you, there are cranes everywhere. On the ground, and up in the air. Of course, you can’t really get close to them. The minute they see you approach, they take flight, gliding gracefully across the skies. In the opposite direction.

Banni Grasslands

We park in an open area where for miles we see weeds and Tiwari points out the Chari Dhandh – the main water body where the flamingos arrive in droves. The pink flamingo is resident in the park during this time. They are usually in the water, feasting on small water insects. From the distance, I can easily count hundreds. This time, the rains haven’t been good enough, says Tiwari. As a result, the water will dry up soon.

In another corner of the lake, are a flock of pelicans. These large birds float on the water and move together, as if in slow motion. It’s like watching a ballet performance. With birds. Another corner, Tiwari points out spoonbills – I drink in every sight hungrily – through the binoculars. As a city resident, the only thing we usually see around for miles are roof tops and ugly concrete structures. This is paradise; a sight to be remembered.

Banni Grasslands

Up in the air, there is more drama. A marsh harrier is being chased by a couple of smaller birds, trying to scare him off. And then a whole drove of rosy starlings sweeps across my field of view.

Banni Grasslands

After watching the watery ballet and on air drama, we move towards the dry scrub area. The birds are up early morning and they’re dancing from one shrub to another. We’re lucky to see a jackal strike a pose and look towards something.

Banni Grasslands

A little further down, a Steppe eagle is surveying his prey. It strikes a majestic pose; and when in flight it has an impressive wing span of around 6 feet. On a tree top is another bird of prey – the long-legged buzzard. They’re all looking for breakfast.

Banni Grasslands

From the shrub, we move on to an even drier area. Just small clumps and scorched earth. Even here, there are birds, small mammals and insects. You just need a keen eye. Our driver, well acquainted with the environment by now, spots a sleeping fox. She is curled up beside a shrub and let us gaze at her for a few minutes. Our few minutes of paparazzi like behaviour is more than she can take. After giving us a glance, she slinks off into the distance.

Indian Eagle OWl
The Indian Eagle Owl in all it’s glory. Photo credit: Jugal Tiwari

Painted Sandgrouse
The painted sandgrouse. Photo credit: Jugal Tiwari

There are many birds – including bulbuls, the desert warblers, drongos, larks, babblers, bee eaters – this is truly birder’s paradise. I have limited knowledge of birds, but am always fascinated by these tiny creatures, with their rich plumage and beautiful and distinctive markings. It’s not difficult to imagine how bird watching can become an all consuming and addictive hobby.

Banni Grasslands

As we wander around, suddenly we notice a huge herd of cows walk purposefully towards the Chari Dandh. They have been grazing all night and are now all thirsty. All of them rush towards the water.

Banni Grasslands

Having had their fill, they move away, and we’re treated to yet another beautiful sight – hundreds of camels moving towards their water. It’s time for the cows to go home and give way to the camels.

Banni Grasslands

They enter the water one after another and one of the herders also goes in with them. I read somewhere that a 600 kg camel can drink 300 litres of water in 3 minutes. How’s that for a guzzler?

Banni Grasslands

Tiwari tells me a little more about the extensive research he has conducted in this area. He is hopeful about putting it all together in a book – he has pictures of even the rarer creatures like the striped hyena, the nightjar and the owl. All he needs is a bit of help on the writing front. If he can get some funding, Tiwari is confident about publishing a book on this region – an area that needs more awareness. After all, this rich bio diversity and wildlife should be acknowledged and recognized.

Banni Grasslands

I have no doubts that there’s enough in this dry desert landscape to fill a book. Tiwari has accompanied many photographers into the field on different assignments, helped channels such as Discovery (one of these programs is being currently aired) and National Geographic to portray and take back data, photos and documentation from this region.

Banni Grasslands

What upsets him however is the lack of etiquette of people. Whether it is the way plastic is being used and consumed to the irresponsible behaviour towards our natural environment – Tiwari expresses his disappointment. And rightly so. Even I was alarmed. The day before, when walking on a dry river bed near CEDO, he points out rocks that age to the Jurassic era.

Banni Grasslands

This is very close to the town and yet hardly anyone knows about it. Which is probably a good thing. Except that some irresponsible campers found their way here. Using some of these pre-historic stones as props for making a fire, they’ve left behind remnants of their celebrations – banana skin, tissue paper, charcoal and firewood. What a shame. There are some things Indians shouldn’t do. Camping for one. They have no idea about etiquette. They’re so used to littering everywhere, that their natural instinct is to leave behind all the rubbish. Even if it’s a beautiful viewpoint or a place of historical importance. As a collective people, we don’t have enough sense or responsibility about the impact of the damage we’re doing. There is absolutely no respect for nature. Look at all the plastic people throw around carelessly. No one cares. This beautiful area should be safeguarded and treated as a “historical” site, and yet, people do the only thing they know – trash it.

This is where Tiwari utters his words about “leaving nothing but footprints”.

Why do we go to national heritage monuments, and beautiful view points and leave behind all our rubbish? Something that confounds me greatly. Much as I’m proud of this beautiful and diverse country, I am ashamed at the way we treat our national and natural treasures.

Tiwari’s foundation today is doing some great work in both conservation and helping villages by bringing them the power of solar energy. All this, he does apart from his work and his homestay, which brings him some income. All the rest of his initiatives like workshops, awareness sessions, and planting trees – especially for schools are all free.

His message resounds in my mind long after I’ve left. Plant more trees – everyone in their lifetime should plan at least a few 100 trees. Don’t leave planet earth without planting a few trees. Actually, at least a hundred. It’s the very least one can do to preserve our beautiful and diverse planet.

(Note: With many thanks to Jugal Tiwari for being a wonderful guide to the Banni. And also for the usage of some of his beautiful pictures, as I wasn’t equipped for bird photography!).

Flickr Album: Into the Banni Grasslands

Update: Discovery is currently showing this show: Revealed: The Rann of Kutch. Two more days to catch it!
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14/12/2014 01:00 PM

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Wanderings in Bhuj: a photo journey

Like any other small but burgeoning town in this country, Bhuj exhibits all the usual signs. Development on one side – good wide main roads, vehicles, ATMs, and everyone flashing smart phones. But on the other hand, the litter and garbage everywhere is an indication that no lessons in waste management have been implemented. Sadly, it’s just everywhere, including the water body in the middle of the city – the Hamirsar lake.

Steeped in history, and scarred by a devastating earthquake in 2001, some parts of the old fort are still standing and visible as you move through the town. There are monuments that are crumbling, derelict, which give you a glimpse of those glory years. The small gallis through the town hold a quaint charm, albeit a little diminished by large amounts of garbage lying everywhere.

Wanderings in Bhuj
Like any small but growing town, Bhuj has fallen prey to all the usual problems

Wanderings in Bhuj
The narrow lanes are abuzz with activity

As I touched down in the small Bhuj airport and made my way down the main road, I am excited about my first trip to Gujarat. I decided to bypass Ahmedabad and Baroda, the larger towns, and head straight to Bhuj. My primary reason being that my hosts, Katie and Jehan Bhujwala have graciously offered to put me up at their ancestral home in the town and also help me out with my itinerary.

Wanderings in Bhuj
Situated in the camp area, the view from the home of my hosts Katie and Jehan

Wanderings in Bhuj
The house is lovely and is currently being renovated. It will soon be possible to stay there as Katie and Jehan will open it out as a home stay, hopefully from January 2015 onwards

The house is in the camp area and is constructed in the old style, with tall ceilings, filled with charming antique furniture around a large centre courtyard. The old world ambience still lingers on when you enter.

Once I’ve gotten my bearings, along with my hosts, I set off on a small “discover Bhuj” tour. The town still has the remnants of the old fort, and in places it’s quite intact. We pass by a beautiful gate with some detailed carvings.

Wanderings in Bhuj
Parts of the old fort, still stand tall

The narrow gallis take us to an old building from the British Raj – an orange coloured structure that was the district collector’s office. In the afternoon sun, it reflects the light and still looks regal and stands out amidst the new concrete structures. Today, it faces a grim fate though. Like many of our beautiful old buildings; it will likely be ruined totally or razed to the ground.

Wanderings in Bhuj
A building that is now abandoned; testament to the glory days of the past

A short ride away, is the Prag Mahal palace. The old jharokhas and balconies are still intricate and stand out on the palace wall. To the opposite side, is the new version of the palace. The earthquake of 2001 affected quite a lot of the palace walls and structure.

Wanderings in Bhuj
The old palace walls, though affected by the earthquake still sport intricately carved jharokhas

Wanderings in Bhuj
The new Prag Mahal palace, opposite the older one

The new building has an imposing clock tower and with its red brick walls, it projects a feeling of warmth in the fading light.
We wander over to the Bhuj market. Like any Indian bazaar, it’s busy, crowded and filled with people, cows and assorted creatures. Two wheelers and rickshaws honk, trying to assert their right of way. Mostly to be ignored. The honking gets more insistent. Women are about doing their clothes shopping, buying vegetables, silver jewellery, “farsan” – you name it, and it’s available in the market. Including music systems in case you’re missing one at home.

Wanderings in Bhuj
For any kind of shopping, head to the Bhuj market

We wander around the streets for a while peeking into the different shops. A farsan shop walla generously allows us to taste a bit of his freshly fried goodies.

Wanderings in Bhuj
Women flocking in front of an obviously popular shop
Wanderings in Bhuj
A shopkeeper gets creative with his doors!
Wanderings in Bhuj
Beautiful antique silver jewellery for sale
Wanderings in Bhuj
No trip to Kutch without stocking up on their intricate embroidery work

A great place for juice is Bhudia’s which is another ride away from the market in an area near the Hamisar lake. The juice is fresh and we choose a delicious mix – guava and pomegranate – much recommended. They also have an organic farm a little outside of Bhuj where you can get a taste of the local thali, if you want to make the journey.

I’m happy with my first taste and sights of Gujarat. I even have fish fry for dinner, (after a visit to the local fish market) which I was a bit surprised about. I had planned to go vegetarian for this trip!

Wanderings in Bhuj
The local fish market in Bhuj is an assault on the senses. But we did get some fresh fish

Wanderings in Bhuj
A fish monger at work

I settle into my large room, adjoining a busy road listening to the hustle and bustle of traffic. My initiation into Gujarat has been hectic, noisy, smelly and colourful. But then I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Also check out the Bhuj Diaries album on Flickr

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A Malaga moment

When I look back at my Europe trip, I have so many moments and sights that stand out. So many things to write about – just looking back is a bit daunting. But I’m trying to organise everything and share useful information in nuggets, along with tips and travel information. Hopefully, over the next few months I’ll get to share some of it.

In the meanwhile, enjoy this lovely view of Malaga with me. It was a cloudy day to start with. My host was quite disappointed by the weather I was getting to witness (it’s never like this, she kept telling me). But I set off anyway on a bit of sightseeing. I borrowed her son’s cycle and decided to explore the city on two wheels. At the end of my gallivanting, the skies cleared quite a bit and I decided to climb to the Castle of Gibralfaro. Even though I wasn’t optimistic about the views that day, I started off. It was a good decision. As the evening set in, suddenly I got a display of some brilliant colours – orange, purple, yellow – the sky was on fire!

The sea-side city of Malaga awash with brilliant colours as the sun sets

The sea-side city of Malaga awash with brilliant colours as the sun sets

Malaga is on the southern tip of Spain, and apparently one of the oldest cities in the world. It also has some of the warmest summers in Europe. I spent quite a few happy days there and can recommend a visit to Malaga to anyone who is heading to that part of the world. It is also the place where I lost my passport, but I’ll reserve that story for another day.

In the meanwhile, enjoy the view!

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Walking around Aarschot, dreaming of noodles

I spent a week in the town of Aarschot. If you’re wondering where that is, it’s very close to Leuven (a university town), around 50 from Brussels. It’s a city and municipality in the province of Flemish Brabant, in Flanders, one of the three regions of Belgium.

A walk in town: Aarschot
The town of Aarschot, with a population of 27,864 (in 2006)

My home for a week was a caravan in the home of a farming couple and their two children. My caravan mate was a lovely girl from England and I was glad I had some company. I hadn’t really lived in a caravan before and this was a different experience for me. (But I’m saving that story for later).

Aarschot turned out to be a much larger town than I initially thought so. I had an impression that it will be a smallish town the size of my locality in Bangalore. But it turned out that I was wrong. The town is actually quite large and has a nice big square with different restaurants around it. On weekends, there is some activity as people come out to enjoy the sun and some of the famous Belgian beer.

A walk in town: Aarschot
A small and neat town, great to walk around. Also has cycling tracks

A walk in town: Aarschot
I love this – it’s a bread machine! So you can pick up your dinner on the walk home…

But otherwise, it’s pretty quiet as I discovered while setting out for a walk with my caravan mate, Lou. We decided to explore the natural “reserve” area, a few kilometres down from where we were staying. From there, we’d venture into town and maybe grab a glass of wine.

A walk in town: Aarschot
Off we go, Lou and I

I like seeing places on foot. Or bicycle. You can stop and stare. Do unplanned things. And generally get a feel of the place. Something you wouldn’t get if you were whizzing past in a car. Or a bus.

A walk in town: Aarschot A walk in town: Aarschot
A walk in town: Aarschot A walk in town: Aarschot
Quiet picturesque roads, where we encountered a few cyclists and a nice trail leading to a green forested area

The natural reserve (I am really not sure it was one, but calling it that for reference) turned out to be a rather pretty area. We walked on the edge of it, I think. Met some cyclists on the way, but we were the only walkers.

A walk in town: Aarschot
Means, watch out for cyclists!

A walk in town: Aarschot
Lou running up the slope as we enter the green forested area

We went in for a bit and then decided to turn around towards the main city centre in search of food. Lou was a bit suspicious of my direction skills, but I had the map with me. A distinct advantage.

A walk in town: Aarschot A walk in town: Aarschot
A walk in town: Aarschot A walk in town: Aarschot
The town is quiet, with flower lined roads, signs and routes for cyclists and a large square where most of the restaurants are located

We walked through the pretty streets of Aarschot and got a bit lost. Some of the streets didn’t have any names. Or they had hidden them well enough. So there were periods of time, when we stood at a crossing and didn’t really know where we were. This is where cathedrals play an important role as a GPS. Using the tall tower, you can make your way towards it. So, as soon as I espied the tower, I knew we could head in that general direction. We did, and landed up at the town square.

A walk in town: Aarschot
The main square where most of the action is!

The sun dappled square was quite busy since it was a holiday and people were enjoying their beers and drinks in the warm afternoon sun. We basked in the sun ourselves for a bit; had a glass of well deserved wine.

A walk in town: Aarschot

We stopped to enjoy a glass of wine at a cafe in the city centre

And then set off in search of Asian food. Well, I was dreaming of noodles (I have these cravings sometimes) while Lou said she’d be happy with fries. We didn’t land up getting either. Roamed around a bit looking for an Asian place. Every town, city and village has to have an Asian place. Surely.

A walk in town: Aarschot
The Beginhof in Aarschot, a very beautiful stone building

A walk in town: Aarschot
City roads of Aarschot
A walk in town: Aarschot
Do we want Indian? Not me!

We weren’t about to give up though Lou was getting quite swayed by the thought of “frites”. But that particular day, there were no frites in Belgium. Well, at least not in Aarschot. In our vicinity anyway. We walked around to the station area and finally sighted a Chinese restaurant. By then we were tired and hungry.

Dreaming of noodles, I ordered my “nasi goreng” (not a Chinese dish I know, and I had no idea why it was there) from the menu. Around 15 minutes later two plates of rice arrived on the table. That’s when I realised my mistake. Obviously, even my recent trip to Malaysia hadn’t helped differentiate between “mee” and “nasi”. Ah, well. Nobody’s perfect.

So, of course, my noodle dreams had to be shelved for another day. We enjoyed our food, never the less. And then walked back to our life. And the caravan.

More pictures from Aarschot

More from the Europe wanderings:
Swiss summer
Of missed flights

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A few different ways to enjoy Switzerland

It’s difficult not to enjoy Switzerland. Not only is it picture perfect, it is one of the safest countries in the world. Where you can go off on a trek into the mountains pretty much by yourself. Or travel from one part of the country to another without too many worries about your safety.

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A view of the lake on my first trip in 2005

Geneva and Zurich happen to ranked among the top cities with the highest quality of life in the world. (And as a result, Switzerland also happens to be the most expensive country in the world to live in).

I’ve been in Switzerland since the first week of August and I must say that I’m enjoying it more than my first time. For one, I have more days in hand. And rather than rushing around, I’ve had the opportunity to soak in some cultural experiences, walk around some amazingly scenic trails in the Swiss mountains, experienced living in a small village and devoured inordinately large amounts of cheese and wine. My quota for the year, is definitely over.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
A traditional dish called raclette. Among other things, it has a lot of cheese.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
Enjoying the beautiful green mountains

But what better way to enjoy a country? Here are a few…

Trekking around the mountains

They’re almost painfully beautiful. Well, the pain is partly because the climbs are tough in parts. But the views more than make up for all the effort and hard work. In my first week, I got whisked away to the mountains and I wasn’t going to complain. Though I was informed this has been a really dismal summer by Swiss standards, we were lucky enough to get a few days of sunshine and clear weather.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
Views from the chalet we stayed in

We stayed in a cosy chalet up in the village of Gryon, a town located around an hour’s drive from the city of Lausanne. From there, it was a matter of planning where to start the trek from, where to end, pack our picnic lunches and then set off. We did 3 treks into the mountains and each one was memorable in it’s own way.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
The village of Gryon is the perfect place to base yourself for treks around the area

To be able to walk out into the mountains without a care in the world is a feeling unmatched. The routes are really well marked and it’s unlikely you’ll get lost unless you’re really bad with directions. Someone commented how it seemed so safe – just both of us traipsing through the countryside. And yes, it is actually. At no point did we feel unsafe. With a walking map in hand, and an excellent guide in Stephanie, who was brought up climbing the mountains around the area, I couldn’t have been in better hands.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
Gushing alpine streams accompany you on many portions of your walks

Enjoying a Swiss summer
Nothing like a dose of fresh mountain air

The three treks we did:
1) Pont-de-Nant

Enjoying a Swiss summer
The approximately 8km trek begins with a gradual climb and then gets slightly steeper, goes up to a view point and then descends through some tall trees on the other side

2) La Croix des Chaux-Bretaye

Enjoying a Swiss summer
Around 15 kms, we hiked to a peak called La Croix des Chaux at 2012 metres. From there, we hiked through some narrow paths and valleys to the village of Taveyanne, climbed to Ensex and ended the trek in a small picturesque village called Bretaye.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
Don’t miss a walk around the lake in the village of Bretaye

3) Javerne-La Tourche

Enjoying a Swiss summer
View from the top of the climb at a point called La Tourche, and we did around 8 kms to and from a high altitude pasture called Javerne.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
A couple enjoying the view from the top

Enjoying a Swiss summer
Stephanie and I enjoying the trek to La Tourche

Switzerland’s walking and trekking routes are really well marked and you can check out these websites for more information.
My Switzerland
Wandersite
Walking Switzerland

Enjoying a Swiss summer Enjoying a Swiss summer

Biking on beautiful scenic roads

It’s almost a sin not to be able to ride on these roads. I look with a certain amount of envy at cyclists enjoying the beautiful countryside roads, with hardly any traffic. Also, most cars give a wide berth here and besides there aren’t too many of them on the back roads. I’ve encountered quite a few cycle friendly trails. One particular one I’d like to do one day is the Vallee de Joux area. With some nice climbs, scenic routes and amazing views, I’ve marked this area for future reference! Otherwise too, summer is a great time for cycling with the weather just right. Not too warm and not too cold. I almost regret not getting my folding cycle along with me.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
Cyclist enjoying a perfect day

Cycling in Switzerland
Mountain bike land

Of bovine pleasures: visiting a dairy farm

I am loving the cows here. Not to take away from our beautiful specimens back home in India. But they’re extra large in size.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
A good looking specimen, if you ask me!

They also are quite curious. And they are adorned with these beautiful bells. When you’re walking in the countryside, it’s not unusual to hear their synchronised ringing from a long distance, the sound echoing through the countryside.

High on alpine pastures, are these charming dairy farms that look inaccessible and remote. And they probably are, by Swiss standards. We passed by quite a few on some of our treks.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
Grazing their hearts out. And enjoying their daily dose of fresh air and grass

On another occasion, we dropped in at one of the farms and got a glimpse of the mechanised “milking”, and a taste of the excellent cheese with a glass of wine. As we settled into the bench outside, sipping on wine and nibbling on cheese, I looked out into the sun dappled valley, with the cows letting out an occasional moo, the bells ringing and just nothing else in sight but the green mountains beyond. What an idyllic place to be.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
The cows looking a bit curious at the human intruder on their blissful chewing

Gruyere is a famous brand in these parts

Life in a Swiss village

With their community centres, their churches, and pretty wooden houses, it was a delight to experience life in a small Swiss village called Le Vaud. I have to go back to the hustle bustle and chaos of Silk Board and Bangalore after this is over, so I’m determined to relish every moment.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
Life in the cosy village of Le Vaud proved to be a far cry from the chaotic Silk Board. And no, not complaining! It was much welcome relief for a weary “honked out” Bangalorean

I discovered some inside roads ideal for running and walking. You hardly bump into a soul. In the centre, there’s a grocery shop, a boulangerie and an auberge communal for those looking to rest for a night or two.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
I welcomed these empty roads like a fish takes to water! And no, I am not missing our honking drivers

A really nice feature in these towns are communal “basins” or water fountains where you can go and refill your water. They seem to be always running and are probably fed by underground streams. The next village, around 2-3 kms down the road is called Bassins and has around 6-7 of these basins or fountains. With pretty flower pots adorning these spaces, they make for a nice sight.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
The communal fountain, served by an underground stream I suspect

I walked, ran, watched the hills and the snow capped peaks on a clear day, across the lake. Said “bonjour” to dozens of people on the road. Ate some really delicious food, thanks to my lovely hosts. And enjoyed walking up the hills in the evening, watching the skies change colour over the lake. Back in chaotic Bangalore crossing Madivala market, I’ll remember these moments.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
A beautiful summer’s day in Le Vaud

Tasting the local wine and cheese

Happy cows seem to make for delicious cheese. And of course, what better drink to wash it down than some local wine. Whether it’s a rosé, a white or a red, make sure you’re not empty handed when eating your cheese and bread. My bread intake has gone up drastically over the last couple of weeks, something I don’t much care for back home. At the dairy farm we visited, there’s a room where the cheese is made and another where it’s stored. I take a glimpse inside this room and it’s like a vaulted chamber with a very precious commodity – cheese.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
The cheese chamber – here is where it all comes from

Wine is more popular than water. I think. And I’m not complaining since it’s my drink of choice.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
My love for wine only got stronger

Enjoying a Swiss summer
The fondue has more cheese than I eat in a year. But I finished it at one go. You have to give me points for assimilating.

So the Swiss summer is turning out nicely. The doses of cheese and wine have done wonders to my now forgotten diet, which I was asked to chuck out the minute I landed in Switzerland. Right now, I’m doing what I would advise all of you to do – give in and enjoy the summer!

The Swiss Summer album

(NOTE: Cover photo courtesy: Stephanie Booth)

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My favourite portraits from Vietnam

I’m a little scared of street photography. Timid actually. In fact, I think a lot about taking pictures of people. (Unless, it’s for a assignment, which is a totally different matter).

I’ve seen street and candid photographers at work and I’m really impressed. I’ve seen those who go up right upto a person and start clicking immediately. I’ve seen others who have no fear and just shoot anyone and anything.

For me, I always try and ensure my “subject” doesn’t mind. Or is not offended. However, the problem in this case is that in the process, the “moment” is often lost. Or the shot is not right anymore since I’ve been doing too much thinking.

On my recent trip to Vietnam, I decided that I was going to do more portraits. At least attempt to.

The lenses I used were: 70-300 mm (courtesy Bookmylens.com) and the 24-70 mm, a great lens from my own collection. These were the only two lenses I relied on. The 24-70 mm is definitely one of my favourites. The 70-300 mm helps when you want to shoot from a distance. The only disadvantage is that it doesn’t do well in low light situations. But otherwise, quite useful for street photography.

Here are some of my favourites.

1. Black Hmong tribal lady with a baby

She walked with us the entire duration of the Sapa trek with her baby on her back. Not once did the baby complain (nor did she). This was during a trek we did from Sapa town, down into the valley to a home stay.

Mother and baby

2. Lady with the fan

When we visited the Ethnology Museum in Hanoi, we were walking around with our guide looking around at the different dwellings of the indigenous tribals of the country when we met a big group of visitors. They were all from a neighbouring village and it seems like their day out in town!

Lady with the fan

3. Cat at the temple

This rather cool cat was lounging around at the Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi. With my special affinity for the feline species, I get easily distracted when I see a gorgeous specimen like this one. And he (she?) was happy with all the attention. Soon, some kids also noticed the cat and we had a bit of a cat appreciation party right there.

The cat at the temple

4. Lady making rice paper

It’s a fine and delicate art, this one. Imagine making paper thin wisps (so thin, you can barely see it) over a hot griddle and then taking them out carefully and drying them. If it was me, I’d have lumps of rice all over and no paper, that’s for sure. This was taken during our trip to the Mekong Delta, where as a part of the package you get to see a coconut (sweet) production facility, buy some candies and also watch the making of rice paper.

The lady making the rice paper

5. Lady on the motorbike with the hat

Everyone wears it. Especially in the smaller villages and towns. It’s made out of bamboo or palm and is incredibly light. Which was surprising since I actually perceived it to be much heavier. It’s not only a style statement, it also keep out the sun, which the Vietnamese are extremely sensitive to (as I discovered; they wear face masks all the time).

The lady on the motorbike

6. Friends on the river

During our trip on the Mekong Delta, at some point of time our boat stopped. Stalled. In the middle of the water. So while our captain (or driver?) made arrangements for another boat to bring in a replacement engine, everyone relaxed and sat around waiting. I noticed this bunch of 3 friends, obviously enjoying themselves at one end of the boat.

Hanging out: Friends enjoying themselves

7. The lady who rowed our boat

While on the Mekong, after lunch we were transferred to those smaller row boats with around 2-3 passengers each, so we could negotiate the narrower streams that flow into the delta. This was an enjoyable part of the trip and we were in the capable hands of this quite frail looking lady. However, she managed the 3 of us large (compared to Vietnamese standards) Indian women rather well!

The lady who rowed our boat

8. The lady who didn’t

This was a lady who rowed another group. She was extremely thrilled since she seemed to have been tipped in dollars. So afterwards, she sat on the shore, smiling broadly at her tips for the day and showing it off.

The lady who didn't!

9. The girl on the unusual ride

Well, definitely not your usual ride to school. Or to the supermarket. But this little girl seemed really comfortable on the back of this rather large bullock. Probably something she does everyday.

A nice ride, wouldn't you agree?

10. The girl playing with water

After a rather tough and long trek through some mushy parts and ups and down, in Sapa, we stopped at this rather gorgeous waterfalls. Where everyone relaxed, enjoyed the view and took a long break. One of the girls accompanying us was happily playing in the water with her friend.

The girl playing with water

11. The lady who embroiders

At the same point, higher up on one of the rocks was this lady who was seemingly quite focused on her work for the day. Embroidery. It’s something tribal women do even while walking, sitting and possibly even in their sleep – they are so good at it!

The lady who embroidered

12. The baby with the cute hat

Now isn’t that the loveliest cap? Spotted these few kids playing around at our lunch stop while on our Sapa trek. This little kid was one amongst them. He was happily playing and looked up for a while. And then his hand went into a sign. Was he sending his blessings? :-)

The boy with the lovely cap

13. The lady who sews

Yes, did I mention it already? The women love to sew and do it all the time. It’s rarely that they sit idle. Most of their attire is all sewn by themselves and the work is gorgeous. I mean, I can’t sew to save my life so I think it’s really beautiful. This lady is wearing a really nice shirt (overcoat?) and even the bag on her side is extremely pretty. And of course, she’s still busy sewing – her next new coat perhaps?

The lady intent on sewing

These portraits are from a June 2014 trip to Vietnam where I covered Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon), Mekong Delta, Hanoi, Sapa Valley and Halong Bay.