Category Archives: Photography

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Vietnam: A few first impressions

This was a different kind of trip. I didn’t do much research since my fellow traveller and photographer Hema took control of everything including the planning and organising (which I usually enjoy doing for my trips). For a change, I took a backseat as I was already busy planning an all girl’s trip to Wayanad. So I didn’t really have any notions/impressions except a guide book that I’d borrowed from a friend.

The guidebook indicated there were a few scams in some parts of Vietnam. But we didn’t come across any such unpleasant experiences. However, another group we met did tell us that cab drivers purposely take long routes even if the places are close by, just to make an extra buck. But after dealing with auto drivers in Bangalore, I think one is armed to take on a few greedy errant taxi drivers.

At no point during our trip did we actually feel threatened or unsafe in Vietnam. (In fact, I have at time felt more unsafe in some parts of India). The people are quite stoic but once you converse with them (or try as their English is very limited), they are quite friendly. Except for one very surly cab driver (he was definitely unhappy with his life) people were generally quite nice. English is not their strong point, but with a lot of effort (and gestures) usually we got our message across. Sometimes not successfully. But no matter. We managed to navigate despite all of these issues.

Streets of Hanoi

We walked out of our hotel located in District 1, Saigon on our last night and there were people everywhere. This was at 1130 pm at night. There were people singing, eating, drinking, chatting and generally lounging around till 3 am in the morning. Unlike Bangalore, where you feel like a criminal at 11 pm, this was place was just the opposite. Many street side pubs were also cashing in on football fever.

Night life in Hanoi

There are millions of motorbikes in the cities, especially Hanoi and HCM which we visited. Interesting though the fact that even despite heavy traffic, there is lesser (noticeable) aggression. In India, we’d be punching one another and bringing our dear departed generations into our brawls. However, the Vietnamese all congregate in the center of the road, at the same time, and then make their way around each other. Magically, everyone finds a way. In the few times we went out, we didn’t see too many folks lose their temper. The honking is relatively lesser too.

Two wheelers rule the streets

And then there are cyclists. Even in the middle of this chaos, cyclists of all ages made their way on two wheels. And they didn’t seem to be bullied into corners or edges of the street, unlike what happens in India. They were very much a part of the ecosystem, demanding an equal share of the road. No one was treated as a lesser mortal on the road because they happened to be on a cycle. And there were so many women, girls, older folks cycling even in peak hour that I was quite amazed. I even saw a dad with two of his young sons cycling on a busy road (a sight that you’ll be hard pressed to see here).

Everyone cycles - old and young

Everyone is a moving market!

Masks are a fashion statement. And supposedly keep pollution at bay. I’m not sure about the efficacy of these masks, which mostly women wear. They adorn every second face. A young university student called Ly I met on a bus said women are very beauty conscious and basically do it to protect their skin from the sun and pollution. I was tempted to buy one for myself, but couldn’t find a mask with cats on it.

Street corners and roads are relatively clean. I saw a lot of sweeping going on in the mornings. This might also be due to the fact that the Vietnamese eat on the streets all the time so they probably want to keep it clean. Except some parts where there was littering (like the China town area in HCM), largely the garbage disposal system seems to be working. And people seem to be a bit more conscious of littering than us Indians.

Street food is a way of life

There is excessive use of thin plastic bags everywhere. They possibly don’t know how much harm all this will do to their environment (yet), but shopkeepers are only too eager to flash out the bags even for the smallest purchase. Whether it’s water, chips, biscuits or anything you buy, the first thing you get is this flimsy plastic bag. And tourists are equally responsible for accepting these despite the fact that everyone is carrying a rucksack or a bag they can carry the stuff in.

Packing it in

Clean rest rooms (and no smell!). What a boon. Especially coming from a country like India where the level of sanitation can drop to dismal lows, I was really thrilled to find clean loos. And most of them didn’t smell. I’m not sure how or what they did, but they didn’t announce their presence the way Indian loos did. Even in remote villages and towns, we were quite pleasantly surprised with the cleanliness and accessibility of restrooms, a major concern for travellers in India. And hardly anyone pees on the road (if it’s practiced, it wasn’t as noticeable as in our country).

Connected everywhere!. This was surprising as we were gearing up to be off the network for a few days. In fact, my fellow travellers armed themselves with local SIMs, which I decided not to go in for. And there was connectivity everywhere – whether it was the hotels, cafes, restaurants, a rustic home stay in a remote village or even our cruise boat on Halong Bay. Wi-Fi is a given and most places will let you use it for free. We actually weren’t off the network anywhere at all!

There are no overweight/obese people in Vietnam. This is actually true. In all our travels there, we didn’t come across one overweight person. Everyone seems to come out of the same sized mould! Despite the fact that their portions are generous and everyone is eating all the time. They’re doing something very right. I want their secret!

Enjoyed the trip immensely and wouldn’t mind returning to see parts of the country, which we missed out this time around.

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Why buy when you can try? Camera Equipment from Bookmylens.com

I’m super thrilled to announce my photography gear/equipment partner, Bookmylens.com, a camera and lens rental service based in Bangalore. They also offer additional services like photo editing, and monitor calibrating services.

FACEBOOK: BookMyLens | TWITTER: @bookmylens

On my Wayanad trip earlier in the month, I tried out a Canon 500D and a 17-85 mm lens and most of the photos from my earlier post was taken by this camera.

For me, photography is a way in which I can bring my stories alive. And it makes sense therefore to take updated gear and lenses when on a trip. But I discovered that you don’t really need to buy so much equipment, when you can easily just try it out for affordable prices instead. That way, depending on the kind of trip you’re going on and what you’re planning to do – you can decide on the equipment you want to carry. It’s a much better deal according to me, rather than accumulating a lot of equipment, which you might use only sporadically. Not to mention the fact that equipment can get frightfully expensive.

Goutham Shankar, who is the founder of BookMyLens (with a lot of support from his friends, family and customers, he says) answered a few questions I had of their service and I am sure you’ll find them useful too.

Q1. When did you start off and how did it happen?

BookMyLens is a photography equipment rental service company. We provide an easy and quick service for photography enthusiasts to experience all kinds of photography related equipments.

We have wide range of equipment covering entry level DSLRs, Pro-DSLRs, and Lenses ranging from 50mm to 600mm, video equipment (including our newly acquired cinema cameras like Black Magic), support rigs, audio equipment used for video shooting etc. which are used by budding photographers, wildlife photographers, wedding photographers, short filmmakers alike.

I started testing the waters sometime early 2011 and within a period of 5-6 months I was convinced with the business model, which I had in mind. By Sep 2012, I quit my IT job and started full time.

First and foremost reason for me to start this venture was my passion for photography. Having started as an amateur photographer in early 2005, which slowly turned out to be serious hobby over a period of time. That’s when I realized that not everyone could afford to buy photography related equipment owing to the huge cost and hassles involved in procuring them here, also felt the need for have different equipments under one roof.

I could figure out a huge potential in the market with just not hobbyist photographers but also for ad agencies, event companies, short filmmakers, wedding photographers etc., the demand is going to increase in the future.

I realized a rental service providing high quality gear at affordable prices was essential.

Q2. How has the scene changed over the years?

There has been a fantastic response (+ve). Lot of people want to try their hands on photography without the need of spending huge amount on buying these expensive equipments. On the other hand, there are lot of other rental companys which have come up in recent times which has lead to price wars.

Q3. Any bad experience or learnings in the last few years – things you hadn’t accounted for?

Lot of learnings, everyday there is a learning as in when we meet different customers. Lot of things we learnt and implemented it in a jiffy to make the entire business model stronger.

Q4. So who is your typical customer?

It’s a mixture of professional / amateurs. Apart from that we have lot of companys who rent our equipments for their in-house shoots.

Q5. What would you say your USP is? Why should someone come to you?

The market for photography is growing day by day exponentially. People have started to realise the ability to rent any kind of equipment without spending huge amounts.

There is a high demand for the same and so are the services available. One has to take care of all aspects including providing high quality gear, delivery/pick up and guiding people for picking the right equipment.

Our aim is to provide the best in class lenses, DSLRs, video equipments and accessories at affordable rentals and we believe that our service and range speaks for itself.

If you want to try out their services, head across to BookMyLens.com

Six reasons why you should travel in the monsoons

I’m sure there are more, but let’s start with six. In fact, while many tourists shy away from travelling because it’s raining, true travellers will tell you that a place can be enjoyed despite the rain. It’s a mindset that you need to avoid a destination when it rains. Unless, it happens to be a big city. In which case I would say avoid it like plague. You don’t want to deal with clogged roads, drainage overflowing, traffic jams and all the associated issues that the rains bring to our very well planned cities.

A little piece of paradise
The view from a tea garden in Pozhuthana, Wayanad

Anyway, this is about the monsoons. And why it’s a great time to travel. Any place takes on a different hue during the rains. I was in Goa last year for 3 weeks and had the time of my life despite the torrential downpours.

It’s lush and green

The valley before you spreads out like a lush carpet. The roads are framed by green trees and grass on both sides. The hills are showing off their full foliage, again in green. It’s so green that if you’re not used to it, you’d probably need tinted glasses to tone it down. But seriously, green is definitely the colour of the season and we all know that it’s the best one to get your relaxed and rejuvenated. Nature really wears this colour well.

boys having fun
A sight for sore eyes!

You get better deals

You might need to look around a bit and even ask for discounts, but this is a season where you will get lower prices from a lot of home stays, resorts, hotels. If you’re not sure, just ask them. We are spoilt for choose today in the array of options available. And in this era of social media, even if we don’t look for them, they will probably land up in our stream anyway.

Lesser people to fight with for space

So one of the reasons I travel is to get away from the city (where I clearly see the alarming impact of producing a billion and more people) to smaller destinations and locations where you’ll see a soul once in a while. Get away from the madding crowds, the hoi-polloi and give yourself some breathing space. I love the feeling and I recommend it to everyone (at least once in a while).

Nestled in between
Choose places a bit away from the main towns – usually they’re much more peaceful and calm

There’s colour everywhere

Just before the onset of the monsoons, it’s a pretty sight all around. While on a walk outside today in Wayanad where I am currently, I saw so much variety in foliage that I couldn’t stop myself from clicking everything in sight. From vivid reds, to oranges, to colourful yellows and pretty pinks – there are beautiful blossoms everywhere adding to the prettiness quotient of your frames.

A time for blossoms
It’s amazingly pretty this time of the year and you need to step out to witness nature’s gorgeous hues

Carrying a torch for you
A flower called ginger torch that I saw for the first time

Rediscover the joy of getting soaked

I remember as kids, we loved getting wet in the rains. In fact, we would wait impatiently so we could all rush out and do our rain dance. Our parents had to cajole us to come indoors since we would just be out for hours on end. But what a feeling. Do it sometime. Just get wet. Feel the rain on your skin. Instead of running for a raincoat or an umbrella, soak in the sensation of a rain bath. I can tell you from experience – it’s true joy. Last year, on a trek in Wayanad, I got soaked to the skin as it started pouring cats and dogs. But once I gave in to it, began to enjoy the feeling, I realised that I need to let go. (And yes, we will eventually dry off.)

Comparing notes
With or without rain gear, have some fun

Smell the coffee. And the flowers

The monuments are done and dusted. The hectic sightseeing has been completed. Now, just sit on your balcony and watch the rain. Meditate. Open the door of your room and just relax. Do yoga. Listen to the birds. The rains are a great time to just not venture out and give yourself the “me” time you so badly need (and you didn’t even know)!

A welcome view
I totally believe in doing nothing holidays – they are good for the soul

ADDENDUM:

Another reason, contributed by a friend

Monsoons are the best time for ayurvedic massages

So, during the Kerala Blog Express, we met a doctor at the Manaltheeram Ayurvedic resort who told us about how the ayurvedic massage is the most effective during the rainy season. In fact, many guests come specifically during this period for treatments. A combination of the temperature, rains and other factors all adds to increasing the effectiveness of the oils. So, isn’t this reason enough?!

So there – I hope I’ve given you enough reasons to step out this rainy season. And if you did, or plan to, do share your “getting soaked” experience!

More photos on Flickr

(NOTE: On this trip, I am using the Canon 500D body and the 17-85 mm lens. All photos [except no 3 and 7 from an earlier collection] in the post are with this equipment provided my photography gear & equipment partner, “Book My Lens”. I’m happy to announce them as a partner and I’m quite impressed with the kind of services they provide. They are a photography equipment rental service based in Bangalore which provides quick service for photography enthusiasts who want to experience all lenses and accessories from Canon and Nikon. Their aim is to provide the best in class, at affordable prices. Do check them out on bookmylens.com)

janewalk1

Jane Jacobs themed photo walk in Bangalore on May 4

Came across this interesting concept called Jane’s Walk, named after Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), an urbanist and activist, whose writings championed a fresh, community-based approach to city building.

More about the walk: Jane’s Walks are free, locally organized walking tours, in which people get together to explore, talk about and celebrate their neighbourhoods. Where more traditional tours are a bit like walking lectures, a Jane’s Walk is more of a walking conversation. Leaders share their knowledge, but also encourage discussion and participation among the walkers.

And who is this walk targeted at? According to the website, “Everyone knows something about where they live. Every perspective is important to building vibrant and healthy cities.”
This walk is intended for:
– Anyone who enjoys getting to know their city and neighbours.
– People who want to participate in meaningful conversations about the social and built future of their neighbourhoods.
– People engaged in the work of building cohesive communities and improving the walking environment.
– People who want to change their cities and neighbourhoods, for example to narrow the gap between the haves and have-nots in our cities and towns.
– Youth and children who experience the impact of current transportation choices disproportionately, but who are rarely consulted on their aspirations for walking or cycling.

You can also get involved as a volunteer, add your city or create a walk.

Sounds interesting? “Framing Shivaji Nagar through the eyes of Jane Jacobs“, led by Nithya Ramesh is the theme of the walk in Bangalore on May 4.

“On this photo walk, we’re not only going to look closely at our city, but also capture some of its scenes on camera.Since the walk is themed on Jane Jacobs’ ideologies, we’ll be paying attention to key concepts such as the ‘sidewalk ballet’, ‘eyes upon the street’ and many others from her book. Participants will be given a brief at the start point of the walk and will spend the next one and a half hours along the route for the walk taking pictures in line with the given brief. While on the walk, participants are welcome to  step into St. Mary’s church and observe the tamil mass and compare it to the musical service at St. Andrews church, peek into the parade grounds and the police canteen and join the walk leader for a discussion on community engagement in the city building process at Koshy’s.”

Jane's Walk, Bangalore
Reference: — Urban Design Collective

Munnar and God's own country

Two weeks in God’s own country!

A month or so ago, I came across the Kerala Blog Express and on a whim, decided to give it a go. Why not, I thought? I have travelled quite a bit in Kerala, but a chance to go back is always welcome.

So, was quite pleasantly surprised, when the results came out and I was chosen to get onboard the Express, which departs on March 10. Two weeks going around Kerala with a bunch of enthusiastic, well travelled bloggers, who will converge in Trivandrum from different parts of the world (including a few from India) and then set out together.

Here’s to a different view of Kerala. More experiences, and many more pictures and stories!

(This photograph taken in Munnar a few years ago, on another trip).

Spotted deer caught in the morning light

Tryst with nature: The Kanha National Park

In December 2013, I got the opportunity to spend a few days exploring the Kanha forests, and relaxing at the Kanha Earth Lodge, a comfortable haven for wildlife and nature lovers.

A trip into the forests of Madhya Pradesh is incomplete without a tiger sighting. Or so they say. Though it was something that was on my mind, I wasn’t really too stressed about it. My guide, on the other hand, was. He tried his hardest to make sure we sighted a tiger, but unfortunately, the two times we went into the Mukki and the Kisli zones, the tiger wasn’t in a mood to come out in public.

Early morning landscape
An early morning scene as we enter the Kanha National Park

The tiger is one magnificent animal and there’s nothing as memorable as seeing one roaming free in the wild. But with the dwindling numbers and the poaching reports, I am not very hopeful of this animal’s future. We’re definitely bent upon eliminating this majestic creature from the Indian landscape and doing a good job of it too.

But leaving aside the tiger, I still considered myself lucky to be ensconced in the lap of nature. To see beautiful creatures like the sambar, the spotted deer, the bison, the barasingha, and many different species of birds in their natural habitat.

Barasingha in the water
A barasingha takes a sip from a water body

As you venture deep inside, you feel how small and insignificant you are in the larger picture. The breadth and depth of the jungle is hard to really comprehend. And to think that only 20% of the area is open to tourists. The maidan (a huge area with long wild grass) could hide a few tigers easily. You would be hard pressed to sight one in the thicket even he (or she) slinks right past. And the adjoining hills provide a great place for them to wander, totally unseen.

Into the jungle
The morning safari into the forest

In my two forays into the forest with our guide, naturalist Chinmay Despande, I caught sight of the sambar, the spotted deer, barasingha, owls, many different birds including large birds of prey. Since we went in the morning and the afternoon, we got to experience different moods of the forest. And I highly recommend both the trips – the morning and the evening.

You looking at me?Bison by the roadside Male spotted deerThe male specimen of the spotted deer
Tiger killA large sambar lying by the road, fresh tiger kill LangurLangur, enjoying the morning sun

More pictures in the Flickr photo album

In the lap of luxury at the Kanha Earth Lodge

After that, it was back to our base for some rest and relaxation at the Kanha Earth Lodge, located around half hour from the Kanha gate. What I really liked about this particular property is it’s earthy construction. The exteriors and interiors blend with the environment so that nothing is glaring or a misfit.


The dining area at the Kanha Earth Lodge
The central dining area

Care for a swim?
Relax on a warm day by the poolside

Interiors of the Kanha Earth Lodge
Interiors of the lodge

One of the cottages
Your cottage: Earthy and comfortable

The main construction material is stone, which has been sourced from the area and sal wood, which is one of the primary varieties of wood available for building in this region. There are 12 cottages in all, 6 on each side of the central dining and living area. And this common area has 2 long dining tables to cater to a full house.

Looking out,
Enjoy the peace and quiet in your cottage sit-out area

This Pugdundee Safaris property became functional around 2010 and their other properties are located in Panna, Bandhavgarh and Satpura. There is a property in Pench under construction. Each property is different with the Satpura property topping the list in terms of location, with it’s beautiful view of the Denwa river.

The Lodge tries to encourage sustainability practices like sourcing vegetables from neighbouring villages. Setting up the villagers with seeds, supplies, manure etc. The harvest is then procured by the resort for consumption. Around three farmers are now a part of this program and Chimnay oversees this too.

A village ride
A cycle ride to the nearby village
Looking over his farm
A farmer looking out into his field

The staff is also mainly local, except the chefs, naturalists and senior staff. Some of the naturalists are from around the area – they are trained and some like Chinmay are from other states – he is from Maharashtra, Mahesh is from Nepal. Pugdundee has around 2-3 naturalist (12 in total) for each of their properties.

Though the Kanha property doesn’t boast of other luxuries like a gym, sauna/spa etc. it does have a swimming pool for you to lounge around, especially when the weather gets warmer. The Bandhavgarh property also boasts of tree houses, which remained on my wish list. The interiors too have won several awards, and the accolades are all displayed on a wall.

Locally made items
A wall display of traditional arms

Local handicrafts
Handcrafted metal lamp

A nice idea
A boat doubles up as a bar

Interiors of the Kanha Earth Lodge
A wall displaying local masks

All the mementoes, knick-knacks and handicrafts have been sourced from local crafts people from the state. I spy a wall of beautiful wooden masks (Bastar), wooden bow and arrow sets, a intricately carved animal stool and a tall metal lamp and beautiful cushions embroidered in a signature style.

Tiger, tiger… burning bright?

We’ve heard of a lot of numbers around the tiger, India’s national animal. In fact, after reading reports and statistics about the tiger in India, it’s not probably unusual to draw the conclusion that this animal is going to be extinct soon.

There’s something about the tiger. It elicits all kinds of reactions. From fear and respect, to admiration and obsession. There are many wildlife enthusiasts who visit every sanctuary in India just in the hope of catching a glimpse of the elusive tiger.

On a short trek upto the sunset point nearby, I chat with naturalist Chinmay Deshpande and Ashish Abraham (manager of one of Pugdundee’s new properties in Satpura) and they are surprisingly optimistic about the fate of the tiger. Working closely with wildlife, forest officials and the government, they feel that there are enough champions of the tiger and they will ensure that this animal will survive. I am not so sure. The numbers are already manipulated so much that no one really knows the actual number or anything close to it.

But I’m happy that these youngsters still feel optimistic about the tiger’s future. Who knows – maybe next time I venture out into the jungle, I might still see one?

(NOTE: This trip was made possible on an invitation from Pugdundee Safaris. The opinions expressed in the blog post, needless to say, are all mine.)