Sunday, 31 July 2011

A Timeless Train Travel - On Indian East Coast

It was a chance sliding of the curtains to catch my bearings during my recent train travel from Bhubaneswar to Visakhapatnam and the following sight was waiting for me :

On business tours, one normally likes to take night travel to save time but as it happened, I was on this train starting in the early hours. I managed to ready myself early enough after the busy and tiring schedule of the previous day but I was a bit disappointed to see that a side berth was allotted to me which is no one's favourite, usually. But I had some sleep to catch up with and the bed-roll provided by the Indian Railways looked cozy enough.

I must have dozed off into a deep sound sleep within moments of touching my back to the flat surface  because after about an hour when I woke up to a tea-vendor's call, I was feeling very fresh and ready for the day. Out of habit, I just slid the curtains of my window to peep out expecting some dreary scene and I gasped. The sky in the distance was just waiting for me to take out my Canon 500D from the bag before bursting out. I did not waste any time, not even to finish my tiny cup of tea. 

My train was moving fast and the view outside was kaleidoscopic. The skies changed almost at every blink of the eyes, if you allow me some exaggeration. The second picture below was clicked soon enough after the first one and the change is there to see.

I also patted my back for having charged the camera batteries fully after my 'shoot at sight' expedition to Nandankanan earlier day. While all the crowd was busy looking at the white tigers for which Nandankanan was known for, my local guide had taken me into other direction in search of Open-billed storks and in my guide's own words - thousands of them saar!. Sorry for my change of topic of this blog because when birds enter into a discussion, I have to linger a little more. The following picture is from Nandankanan skies but the same birds were also seen floating leisurely in the distant skies from my train window so this is not entirely a digression. Also click the link at the end of this blog to see my pictures at Nandankanan.

This train journey is more about skies in different attires, palm trees lining the farms, distant green rolling hills, the farm-hands that were found dotting the fields and the cattle grazing in the fields.

I feel blessed whenever I come across any one of the above scenes and here I had all together ! When I speak of green rolling hills it is first Austria ... (remember Climb every mountain....... the opening number of Sound of Music ?) and then Visakhapatnam that comes to my mind. A little calculation told me that the train had just left Orissa behind and was in Andhra Pradesh. During my previous visits to this state more than a decade back on another project work, I had spent some good time in Vizag and what impressed me first were these green hills surrounding the city. 

Palm trees add a good value to a landscape, be they in a row in a distance trying to touch the skies or just one of them standing tall in the foreground.

Before moving further I must also inform the readers that it was not going to be an easy task taking pictures from a train moving at more than 80 Km per hour. While the motorman was making sure we would reach our respective destinations in time, I would have been happier if the train had stopped or moved at snail's space at least on this one occassion. Weren't our memories of train journeys in the past always filled with such 'dead-slow' moving trains? It was fine when clicking the distant hills but when it came to the subjects close enough, it was a tricky business. While the air-conditioned coach took care of comforts of its passengers, it was not particularly convenient to have a glass window, even though surprisingly clean enough by any standards. In the end, however, it all turned out to be a good experience and some new lessons in  photography.

It was a situation where one could just aim and shoot any where any time except for the difficulties presented by the moving train. It was a morning in a monsoon in its prime with the farm labour just starting their day in the fields and shepherds and cowherds tending their wards. It was a bit comical to see cowherds standing in the middle of the fields with an open umbrella protecting themselves from the fury of the Sun god or the Rain god. How the perspectives changed ! Probably on such a pristine morning on a weekend, a city dweller would have loved to go out without an umbrella.

What one sees below must be some of the typical landscapes that one would find through out on the Coromandel trail:

I was also lucky to catch this washerman at the right moment from the running train. I don't want to comment on how clean his clothes would be ! Did any of the raucous detergent company advertisements ever reached this 'common' man of India or he knew how these companies were fooling the urban common man? 

And was there anyone resting nearby to take away the clothes well in time for rains? See the following  picture :

This was a train journey of 6 hours and landscape did not change much. This sounds like a contradicting statement after my earlier use of the words like kaleidoscope but this monotony had its own beauty.

So next time I am on a similar journey along any part of Coromandel, I will make it sure, it is in a monsoon and it is day time and I have a camera. And a piece of advice for those who do not carry a camera with them : The best camera is with us all the time : our eyes.

 Happy clicking !

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Mussoorie and its Camel's Back Road

Visit any tourist town in India and you will find yourself listening to the list of places of attraction from taxi drivers, tour arrangers, hotel staff and so on. Mussoorie is not different.

"Camel's Back Road" prominently appears in everyone's list in  Mussorie. I heard three different versions about the name. First, it was so called because the mountain range in distance looked like a resting camel from this road. I tried to imagine but the fog and the clouds in the valley did not allow me the complete view. On another occassion while having a break at the road side tea stall, a local mentioned that there is about 8-10 meter tall stone with the shape of a camel back at the end of this 4 km road. I never reached the end of the road as the winding road itself held enough charm and reaching its end never  occured to me. And in the evening in the hotel room, one internet site said that the road itself was of the shape of camel's back. I decided that all the versions could be true. Here is a Mussoorie map and one could decide if by any stretch of imagination they see a camel's back in the map or may be a more interested reader takes help of Google-earth.

The Camel's back road appears in the centre of the above map and one can  also see a Camel's rock but I never reached this rock.
After completing the regulation visits to temples, water falls, gardens etc, I decided to explore this road on one afternoon all alone and asked the cycle rikshawwallah to drop me at the start of the road. 

After collecting his 40 rupees, the rikshawallah pointed in the direction in which I should walk. About 300 meters in the direction and the picture changed entirely. In front was a green valley and beyond it, the mountain ranges in lush green attire. It took me some time to register that the noise of the vehicles, shopkeepers and tourists had just melted. 

How did the owner of this house reached this place? I wonder.
This was across the valley.

Soon enough the farthest end of the road came in sight and there was the Sant Nirankari Mission.
All along this road, there is a green valley on one side and the rising hill but still with a lot of greenery, on the other. There were only a few walkers, many of them resembling typical city joggers. Vehicular traffic was even lesser. A few cycle-rikshaws leisurely carried their fare but some of them were also carrying families with baggages, I wondered where? Soon enough the farthest end of the road came in sight and there was the Sant Nirankari Mission. Later it was also obvious that some special occasion was being celebrated at the mission that day.

Another thing to expect during this monsoon season was the ever changing weather. At one moment the valley basked in golden sunshine and the very next, dark clouds hid the sun and it resembled more like a full-moon night.  Hill side bunglows were hardly visible due to the mist cover.

Camel's back road is a clean and neatly paved road with strong hand railings along its side. As one walks, there are good number of comfortable (ergonomically designed) seats along. In the valley, one sees variety of wild flowers and even the rocky hillside has something to offer as seen in this picture below.
While this experienced lady is looking for plants for her kitchen garden the younger one is busy sorting them out on a nearby comfortable seat.

The lady probably collected all these flowering plants
because later I found her walking back purposefully
with her collection with her junior alongside.


How could such a place exist within a town isolated from the hustle-bustle of the town ! Our hotel staff had said :  "Kuchh nahi saab, sirf chal-phir ya horse riding kar sakte hai. Taxi nahi jayegi !" (Nothing much, Sir. People just go for a walk or horse riding. taxi will not go there).

I did not dare to imagine my loss had I taken them seriously.

See this happy face in the adjacent picture whom I came across on the road. Speaks a lot about this part of Mussoorie and its people.

Does it sound as if I have come to an end of my blog? Hardly. 

I keep looking for birds wherever I visit. Though I saw enough evidence of them  during our train journey from Delhi to Dehradun, the Mussoorie town did not hold much promise. But that was only until I visited Camel's Back road.

See for yourself, what I saw on this stretch of about 3 Kms. Amazing bird life and I had to say "Wow !" which does not come too easily to me.





One finds many habitats of Hill Mynas in the fortification of the hill side. This particular Myna was terribly upset over my intrusion with my camera into its territory.

There was also a close relative of House sparrow. It was dusk and the family had gathered around the nest in the hollow of this tree for the evening meal. But they did not oblige me with their family photograph.

It was time for me to return to my hotel. The show, however, was not over. Not yet. I could hear bells tolling in a distance and soon enough, the following sight was in the front :

Another view that I can not forget is this bird fearlessely resting on this high wire in the valley with a building block, on its way to its under-construction nest. 

I spent some time with it before I realised that my Mussoorie visit too is coming to an end and soon I would be back in my wired world.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Pipavav .... My birding school

My first visit to Pipavav, a village in Gujarat, some years ago, had an interesting future in store for me. Every day on way to my project site I came across water bodies which later I came to know as sea water which rose and ebbed with the tidal cycles. Some of the ponds attracted various kinds of water birds. Surprisingly the locals hardly took any notice of them.

My first formal meeting with these birds took place on a Sunday morning and all my pictures during this particular phase of my project were shot using a 12X zoom camera. Later as my aspirations grew, I moved onto a Canon DSLR with a suitable and good enough zoom lens but not the one I would like to have, purse permitting. During my very recent visit I tried to visit the same familiar places and as they say ... a criminal always returns on his location of first crime !!! 

Here for the sake of continuity with my past visits, I am posting 3 of my pictures which even today bring me back my memories of early days in bird watching. After that, you will see the ones I shot on the recent visit. It was amazing how many birds I could sight and click during this rather a short ... just over a day's visit to the area. Here we go first with 3 pictures from the very spot from where my bird watching began in November 2006 .


Local environment, culture and farming as the main occupation has fostered growth of both flora and fauna. Some credit should also go to the local government which has ensured water for farming.
There are n number of places in India which could boast of such scenic beauty but it never stales. This is from a nearby village
While this man is relaxing in a shade under a tree on a morning having an overview
of his village, the women of the towndo not seem to be that lucky. But smiles on
their faces tell a different story.

The balancing prowess of the local women needs a special mention. It is not rare that one
sees 3 pots balanced on the head with an infant on the waist !


Now I come again to my pass-time to which I got addicted to after spending a few months in this place. Pipavav is between the 2 airport towns of Bhavnagar and Diu, the Union Territory. Anyone with some interest in bird watching will not miss the abundance and variety of birds while driving down between these 2 towns, a distance of about 200 kms and surrounding areas.

My interest in birds was stirred originally in another formally known birding haven i.e Dandeli in Karnataka, a decade prior to my Pipavav visit. But only with the advent and affordability of digital technology in photography, could I practice it with some acceptable results. Still an amateur at both photography and bird watching, all credit for good pictures goes primarily to the technology and abundance and friendliness of these birds in the area. Here we go with what I could sight just over a day on the recent visit :

For this shoot, I was in a precarious situation. On one side I had the urge to snap this bird in flight which was hovering over my head and on the other , here was a ferocious mother trying
to protect her babies from the invaders like me.

The following 4 shots were shot on the hotel property where I stayed overnight. I was cursing the driver that he had not reported as agreed nor the breakfast was ready at 7 as promised by the hotel staff. So there was only one thing I could do. Carry the camera and walk outside. And this was the outcome.


My morning tour commenced an hour late but as it is often experienced, all was well at the end of the day. Following shots were the result of my time on the road around Pipavav in the first half of the day before hitting my favourite dhaba serving Gujarati thali. Not bad because I had some anxious moments with dark clouds and some intermittent showers. 





It is not unusual to sight a flock of birds flying above, as we move.
One has to be constantly on alert with the camera not to miss any photo opportunity.

Most often seen water species in the area are the egrets and herons of various
kind, Black, white and glossy Ibisis, Spoonbills, Painted storks, Pelicans,
Demoiselle cranes, several kind of smaller waders, moorhens, coots, ducks and
not to forget, flamingos. All of course depending upon the season.

Apart from these, I have been lucky to sight other land based varieties few of
which are in this post.

Lastly, I should not forget the Neelgais and of colaboration between man and the birds in and around Pipavav. I considered myself quite lucky that 4 Neelgais posed for me during my recent visit. Also the close collaboration between the man and the birds is evident in the last picture of this blog.

Neelgais often cross your roads and if the driver is not alert, it can lead to accidents. Neelgais are all over the area and we often hear complaints and the menace they cause in the fields. I had heard a story that a few lions who were let loose from the near by Gir forests had helped keep their number in control but could not check its veracity. Unfortunately, I have never sighted a lion during my visits to Pipavav. Who knows I would be lucky some day to sight the King of the Jungles !

Thanks for your attention. Your critical comments on the post would be more than welcome.