Friday, December 31, 2010

Wildlife Photography workshop - Session 2

A very Happy New Year to all my friends.

2010 had been a year of learning and I thank you all for the motivation and appreciation extended since has gone live.

It gives me a great pleasure to announce yet another session of Wildlife Photography workshop and this time it would be much more enriched, much more interesting and much more interactive. This module has been conceptualized, designed and drafted based on the various feedback received during the last workshop. We aspire to be better every day and this time this workshop is focusing on post processing magics.

We have organized this Wildlife Photography workshop in two parts

1. The first is on 9th January, 2011 and this is a field trip to the beautiful Matheran, Maharashtra, located on the Western Ghats range at an elevation of 2625 feet above the sea level.

2. The second workshop is in Mumbai on 16th January, 2011. This is an advanced workshop and will be focusing on post processing tips and tricks to enhance your images.

Registration enquiries: Call 9819839821 / 09920772965

Please take a note of the following details:

9th January, 2011 – Matheran

Matheran offers a variety of flora and fauna to the photographers. Bird attractions include White cheeked Barbet, Vigor’s Sunbird, Nilgiri Flowerpecker, Malabar Parakeet, Orange headed Thrush, White-rumped Shama, Gold-fronted Leafbird etc. Butterflies found include Blue Mormon, Blue Oakleaf, and reptiles like Green Vine Snake, Bronze Backed Tree Snake and Deccan Banded Gecko. There are also pretty good chances of sighting the Indian Giant Squirrel, the state animal of Maharashtra.

Meeting point – Dasturi Naka at 7 am

Transport to Matheran – To be arranged on your own – 90 km from Mumbai and 120 km from Pune.

Team led by - Mr Amit Rane and Dr Caesar Sengupta
Basic necessities – your interest to learn photography
Additional requirements – Carry along your digital camera
Activities - Light trek to the various spots, on field photographic guidance
Package includes - Lunch at camp site and entry fee to Matheran.

16th January, 2011 - Mumbai

Venue: Hotel Sharanam, Eastern Express Highway Service Road, Near New R.T.O. Thane West - 400604

Session 1 (9 am – 1 pm): Post Processing – Live Demo - will focus on tools of Photoshop and tips and tricks to enhance your photographs.

Session 2 (1 pm – 4 pm) : Post Processing – Practicals - will focus on hands on experience on editing your own photographs.

Basic necessities – your interest to learn photography
Additional requirements – Carry along your best photographs (digital image) and your laptop if you have
Duration – full day – 9 am – 4 pm with breakfast, lunch and tea

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Lens review on Canon 400 mm published in Smart Photography, November 2010

Dr Caesar – it seems you have got a new Canon 400 mm f/5.6 - I would love to hear your views on the lens.

In one word - awesome. I had taken hundreds of feedback from seniors and contemporaries before buying this lens and I thank all those who advised me to go for it. I don’t think I could get anything better than this for my needs and in my budget.

What do you like most in the lens?

Canon 400 mm f/5.6 is known as a birding lens. My basic genre is bird photography and the lens is of great use for me. It is the lens made by Canon for birds in flight. The best part of the lens is the amazing clarity and sharpness of the pictures. I had a dilemma between Canon 400 f/5.6 and Canon 100 – 400 mm zoom before I actually went for this one. Today, after using both - I would rate 400 mm f/5.6 far ahead over Canon 100 – 400 mm in terms of sharpness.

I also like the sturdiness of the lens… its lightweight,, sleekly designed and very solidly built. Infact I banged it against the jeep rod during my last trip in Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve… and all was well.

It is a relatively fast lens… although many would not agree to it. For my needs, I find it quite fast and the fast focusing is due to the ring USM (Ultra Sonic Motor) that it has in it.

I haven’t noticed any chromatic aberration or vignette. Color, saturation and contrast output are just excellent. The background blurring is simply superb. I am really feeling the difference a prime lens can create.

What do you dislike about the lens if any?

Many said this doesn’t have IS and hence is not advisable. I have clicked animals from a distance of 70 feet handheld and have got razor sharp pictures. So if the light condition is good, I don’t think lack of IS is a minus point from any angle. Yes – one disadvantage that any prime lens would have is lack of the flexibility that a zoom lens has. Especially when you are in field shooting mammals, you may land up shooting all close-ups when you would actually have preferred to shoot a few habitat shots. For me it didn’t make much difference though.

What was the long lens you were using earlier and how does the new one compare against the old lens?

I have been using Sigma 170 – 500 mm. I don’t think it is wise to compare it with this lens as they are not in the same bracket. Yes… I have used Canon 100 – 400 mm and I was simply surprised with the quality improvement it brought to my images. So, when I was planning for a new lens, I was confused between these two. Canon 100 – 400 mm comes for a higher price, for the IS that it comes with. I think I took a wise decision by choosing Canon 400 mm f/5.6.

Is hand-holding possible?

Very much. Take a look at my image of the Sambar in Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve – that was shot handheld from a distance of 70 feet… the picture says it all.

How sharp is it wide open?

Look at the same image of the Sambar - this image is shot at f/5.6 at 1/800s shutter speed and ISO 400. I think the lens rocks !!!

Do you look back and feel that an IS lens would have been better?

Absolutely no. This is just perfect. Handheld pictures are absolutely fantastic if the light conditions are good. Even in low light conditions, using a stable tripod can give simply great images using the lens. I am happy without the IS and I wouldn’t prefer to pay some bucks more for an IS to it.

Do you feel that a filter (UV, Skylight) degrades its sharpness?

No – I don’t think so… I use a UV / Skylight filter and I don’t think it has hampered any of my images. Using a good quality UV / Skylight filter is rather advisable at least as a protective measure from any accidental damage.

Do you feel that the collar base is strong enough or is that its weak spot?

It is strong enough but yes it could be stronger… you are right

Is the lens equally sharp at close distance, mid-distance and far away distance?

I think yes.

Would you recommend the lens to your best friend?

Ofcourse (I would have gifted if lenses were a bit cheaper – ha ha)

How does it stand up in flare causing situations?

Quite good in handling flares. I have encountered situations in my last trip to Tadoba with direct sunlight hitting the lens with very minor reduction in contrast

Do you find any difference in image quality in similar shots taken with and without the lens hood

I believe you are referring to pictures takes in overcast / soft lighting, where many people don't bother to attach the lens hood. It wouldn’t matter according to me.

Overall a fantastic buy… value for money. The lack of IS didn’t matter for me. The sharpness I got using the lens is simply amazing. It has given a tremendous improvement in my images – a great buy any day.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Glimpses of the first Wildlife Photography workshop

Wildlife photography as a carrier used to sound like a dream a couple of years back. It remained as an expensive hobby for years. For the enthusiast, the call of the wild always posed a subtle magnetism but he always found it difficult to be serious about it. But I see today more and more people are taking interest in learning photography and adopting wildlife photography as a full time carrier.

In India there are maestros in this field. But I sense a lack of systematic knowledge distribution / channelization. Wildlife photography workshops are being conducted only focally in some major cities, viz. Bangaluru and very occasionally in Delhi and Mumbai. Charges for such workshops range from Rs 4000 to Rs 10,000 because it involves hiring experts for lectures, hiring costly gadgets and infrastructure. Budding photographers and novices are enthusiastic about the art but the cost of it becomes a major challenge.

This was for the first time someone made a bold attempt to dissipate knowledge in a non commercial way with an intention of helping the budding photographers. There are plans to take this ahead to all major cities if not free but definitely at an extremely affordable cost in a non profitable manner.

The workshop was conducted on the 10th of October, 2010 in Hotel Sharanam, Thane. Mr Amit Rane obliged to be an invited speaker.

Since it was a free workshop, we had to keep the availability of the seats limited. Although there was a huge list in the waiting – a count of 15 participants were finalized. The crowd was a mixed one. There were enthusiasts who are planning to take up wildlife photography seriously and there were amateurs who are already well versed with the basics of a DSLR. Hence the challenge was tougher to simplify as much as possible and impart knowledge as much as possible. There were participants who travelled from Solapur to Mumbai and they deserved an appreciation for the keen interest shown.

The workshop was conducted in three sessions. The first session was on PHOTOGRAPHY BASICS from 9 am – 11 am. The highlights of this session was knowing your camera well, exposure control, what is shutter speed, what is aperture, what is ISO, exposure settings – histogram, depth of field, focal length, tones and contrast, white balance, what is pixel, metering etc. Practical examples of composition and framing were demonstrated – the session was appreciated by all and it ended with useful field tips on wildlife photography.

Second session was on gadgets. Different types of camera, the difference between compact and digital SLR, different types of lenses, choices available and commercials, various storage Media (Cards), file types, accessories, camera care were discussed. It was an overall interactive session and the participants were happy to have a one to one interaction in this session.

Following the lunch break, the third session was on post processing techniques. This proved to be the star attraction. It was conducted as a live demo and step by step image processing was demonstrated live on screen and this was highly appreciated. Various modules discussed included controlling Contrast, Saturation, Sharpening, Cloning, Noise Reduction, Framing and presenting your images and more.

The session ended with an interactive session – overall satisfactory

Friday, September 24, 2010

Wildlife Photography basics - one day free workshop

Date: 10th October 2010


Hotel Sharanam, Eastern Express Highway Service Road, Near New R.T.O. Thane West - 400604

Registration enquiries: Call 9819839821 / 09920772965

Registration charges – free workshop – limited seats available



1. Know your camera
2. Exposure control
3. Shutter Speed
4. Aperture
5. ISO
6. Exposure & Exposure settings - Histogram
7. Depth of field
8. Focal length
9. Tones and contrast
10. White Balance
11. What is Pixel
12. Metering
13. Auto focus
14. Field tips

TEA BREAK: 11 am – 11:15 am

SESSION 2: CAMERA AND GADGETS – LIVE DEMO: 11:15 am – 12:30 pm

1. Different types of camera
2. The Digital SLR
3. Different types of lenses
4. Storage Media (Cards), File Types
5. Accessories
6. Camera Care

LUNCH BREAK: 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm


1. Contrast
2. Saturation
3. Sharpening
4. Cloning
5. Noise Reduction
6. Framing
7. Presenting your images

INTERACTIVE SESSION (Q & A) 3:30 pm – 4 pm


This is a free workshop – limited seats available
Basic necessities – your interest to learn photography
Additional requirements – Carry along any camera (Digital compact / SLR)
Duration – full day – 9 am – 4 pm with breakfast, two teabreaks and lunch

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve - a trip report

“Good night” – Amit said. I looked at my watch. It was 2 am. I set the alarm at 5 am. Was feeling thirsty… finished the water left in the bottle and I switched off the light….

Silence… ! not pindrop though – some insect was making a screeching noise somewhere. Amit must have been fast asleep. Wasn’t feeling sleepy though… closed my eyes and tried to sleep… felt irritated … what a rush ! Tried to close my eyes again but sleeping seemed to be a remote possibility. Recalled the last evening rush hour … I had probably faced traffic like this for the first time in my seven years in Mumbai. Had started off from home by 3:30 pm and it was 7:30 pm when I realized that I was still stuck in the traffic and I had missed the flight.

Tried to sleep again – Ah ! Recalled a few mails received during the day, which couldn’t be answered easily before the weekend was over! … a flow of passing thoughts … closed my eyes tight in a desperate attempt to sleep – it must be 2:30 am. Remembered Kavita was upset for no reasons when I left… Oh God ! It was really difficult to sleep. I am just left with one and half day to explore the forest of Tadoba and I wasn’t sure whether I’ll get up tomorrow morning or not.

I don’t remember when I slept - but the old habit got me awake by 5 am sharp. The jeep was ready. Manish greeted “Good morning”. I must say, the morning was refreshing enough to make me forget everything back home.

Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, “the jewel of Vidharva” - is Maharashtra’s oldest Tiger reserve. Tadoba was established in 1935 and was declared a National Park in 1955. Andhari Wildlife sanctuary was notified in 1986 and the Park and the sanctuary was unified in 1995 to declare it as Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR). It is one of the 28 Project Tiger Reserves of the country and is one of the best of these 28.

TATR till date is less known amongst the tourist; least commercialized and thus maintains the pristine eco-system of the rich bio-diversity of the forest. Apart from Tiger, Leopard, Gaur and Sloth Bear, the forest hosts a number of other mammals which are uncommon to be seen in other forests – viz. Rusty Spotted Cat, Ratel, Indian mouse deer, Spotted deer, Sambar, Wild Boar, Four horned antelope and Wild dogs. Not only mammals – there are 195 species of birds identified in the Park and it is a heaven for the avid bird watcher. Grey headed fishing eagle and Crested Serpent Eagle are two of the most well known raptors of the forest. Seventy four species of also make the Park rich in entomological resources. Reptilian fauna is no less. Tadoba lake harbors quite a number of crocodiles. Also found are Indian Python, common Indian monitor and the poisonous Russel’s viper.

The Park is situated in the Moharli hills of West Chandrapur district of Maharashtra. It is 623 km² in area, the biggest amongst all Naional Parks in Maharashtra. On north and western boundaries of the forest are hills with dense forest. To the southwest is a huge lake.

It is a southern tropical dry deciduous forest with Teak as predominant species. The bamboo forest defines the typical tiger territories. This is one Tiger Reserve in the country which is open throughout the year. Summer is the best season to visit the park as the wildlife remains around the sources of water. However, Tadoba has its unique charm of Tiger in the rains !!! Immediately after the monsoon, the grass is green and sighting a tiger with a green background is a photographic delight to the wildlife photographer. The Park remains closed on every Tuesday.

The name Tadoba comes from ‘Taru’, the local God and Andhari gets its name from Andhari river which flows through it. Legends say that Taru was a village chief who was killed in a legendary battle with a tiger. A shrine dedicated to Taru still exists near the Tadoba lake. Local villagers are mainly Gond tribals – they speak Marathi and Gondi.

We were left with three safaris only and I had kept my fingers crossed for at least a glimpse of the tiger …

Safari 1:

We planned to explore the Moharli region for some time. The jeep kept moving back and forth round the same location. “The cubs were spotted here last evening” – our guide said. One unique thing to be noted while visiting a Tiger reserve immediately after the rains is – you don’t get to hear ‘alarm calls’. Normally in forest, when the Tiger moves, deer and monkeys start making alarm calls. That’s the most convenient way to spot a tiger. But immediately after the rains, the grasses are thick and long. The beast remains completely hidden and the slightest movements go un noticed and hence spotting a tiger cannot be done using alarm calls. When we didn’t spot one for 1 hour… we thought of moving to Tadoba gate and suddenly … Amit said –“Leopard”! Our first subject for the day – clicked a dozen photograph may be – the light condition wasn’t very favorable though… my first photo of a leopard in the wild … even Amit’s. Next few hours were uneventful. While coming back, I tried my new 400 mm f / 5.6 handheld on a Sambar around 70 feet away and I was so happy to see the results.

Safari 2:

The evening safari was again in Moharli to begin with. Saw a vehicle stopping ahead. They were pointing towards a small stream. I couldn’t see anything as we reached. Guide said – “they must be around”. Within no time – we saw the male tiger coming out of the forest to the main road – Yeda Anna !! The famous male tiger of Tadoba. Anna posed for my camera for a few moments but he was keener on showing his back to me. Soon we could spot the cubs. One – two – three – oh ! there were four of them… playing around… they crossed the road. Unbelievable … there were hardly three vehicles and four tigers. They came close, posed, played around… for more than 40 minutes. I kept changing lenses, kept doing experiments … I said – Oh God ! This is heaven !

Safari 3:

“Thoda aur wish karo” – Amit said. I was hoping – if only I could get a photograph of a tiger in water. I regret I should have wished more. All four cubs again. They were so playful – so lively. There was a small water body… all the cubs kept playing and splashing water. I had no use of my 400 mm there. Had to change to 18 – 55 mm to capture the entire action sequence… one of the memorable moments of my wildlife experience.

Tadoba gave more than I expected. Much more. I fell in love with the forest… came back with wonderful memories of the lovely, cute Moharli cubs …

Facts and figures

Langoor - 2770
Spotted Deer - 2039
Wild Dog - 1758
Indian Bison - 1052
Sambar - 669
Barking Deer - 512
Blue Bull - 228
Wild Boar - 195
Mongoose - 184
Sloth Bear - 165
Four-hornedAntelope - 145
Jackal - 79
Jungle Cat - 44
Tiger - 43
Porcupine - 22
Leopard - 15
Hyena - 5
Indian Pangolin - 2
Ratel - 1

How to reach Tadoba

Nearest Airport – Nagpur, Maharashtra
Nearest Railway Station – Chandrapur, Maharashtra
Accommodation – MTDC resort

Contact person – Manish Varma – 08055920303

Friday, September 3, 2010

From the diary - Sahyadris

It was raining throughout the day... contemplating to write a blog... sitting lazy beside the window, sipping the steaming hot evening cup of coffee, I looked out … rain kissed roads, rainbows in raindrops … mists and clouds and a refreshing green that was so soothing in its lushness and purity… Suddenly a flow of thoughts from the memories unlocked the nostalgia


August 2008

Malshej – I closed my eyes… the nostalgia gets stronger. Ah … it was one of my very early explorations in the Western Ghats in the monsoons. Nestled in the clouds, a mountain range covered with lush green coat - the scenic beauty of the Ghat, especially in the monsoons is simply awe-inspiring. A drive through the road leading towards the cloud covered mountain peaks with green overhanging tree canopies on both sides of the road… it just cannot be explained. It needs to be experienced. I didn’t know for years what I was missing till I finally was walking on the clouds.

Malshej makes a fantastic weekend gateway for most of the Mumbaikars and a drive from Thane takes you to Murbad in no time where you may halt for a cup of tea and by another one hour one can reach the dense foggy patch of Malshej Ghats ... the fog sometimes is too heavy and that day it was. Visibility can become almost nil beyond 2 meters...

The locals told us that Shivneri fort, about 18 km ahead is worth visiting. It is the birthplace of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and is a protected monument by Archeological Survey of India. The fort is beautiful. The top offers excellent panoramic view of the entire area.

We couldn’t realize that it was time to come back until our driver reminded. We were on our way back … Thane was still 100 kms away. The vastness of nature kept us amused for quite sometime... we weren't talking. The magic was still keeping us day dreaming


August 2008

A pending wish, Kavita's boredom and 2 consecutive holidays - all helped for a rapid execution of the plan. Since we had 2 days in hand, we thought we’d spend the night in Igatpuri. Igatpuri happens to be a small town on the Mumbai-Nasik highway, mostly ignored and passed by the thousands of cars running by the busy highway. Thanks to our decision of staying back overnight at Igatpuri - I am sure it is only people who have spent a day in Igatpuri will know that just half a kilometer from the highway; there lies a peaceful green valley surrounded by the hills.

Amazing!!! ... We all admitted.

Bhandardara is 40 kms from Igatpuri. Green is name of silence … and one can find in the magical heights of Bhandardara. Besides being a visual delight to the tourist, the place also has a number of unique attractions. The biggest of them, according to me, was ‘Wilson dam’.
Dodson-Lindblom Hydropower Private limited (DLHPPL) and Ascent Hydro Projects Limited (the companies) are India-based companies formed between 1994 and 1997 to develop, own and operate hydropower generation assets in India. The other places of interest around here, which also remained unexplored, are the Agastya Rishi Ashram, Ratangad Fort and Amruteshwar Temple. nested amongst the clouds of the Sahyadris, Bhandardara is undoubtedly one of the best creations of god


November 2008

It was November 2008, so many times in that year, we had planned and cancelled ... repeatedly.... Bhimashankar had become an ecstasy. It was almost an 8 months old desire that finally came true and we decided to climb and get back home the same day ... that was something people usually don’t attempt… is what my friends told after i came back! The plan was to start hiking early in the morning so that we reach to the top before 12 noon and as we planned to come down on same day, we were aware that we would have very little time to allow the muscles to relax after a continuous hiking of 3296 feet uphills.

The base village is Khandas. We had reached Neral on Saturday evening, spent the night in a hotel and started off in the morning. As you approach Khandas, the vast rocky wall of Bhimashankar range of Sahyadris starts sending a chill down your spine…

There are two routes of trekking. One is by Ganesh Ghat and the other Sheedi Ghat. The Sheedi Ghat is short but risky. We trekked through Ganesh Ghat route. The total trek is nearly 4.5 hours by Ganesh Ghat. After hiking for sometime, we reached a plateau. Chirping birds were all around accompanying us throughout. The Sheedi Route also comes and meets in this plateau at a common place and after this there is a common steep climb. After walking for quite sometime within dens forest, it seemed that the plateau was now heading again to steeper heights. This second part of the hiking is really strenuous. At places, there is almost vertical climb, at places there is no route, at places only rock wall and at place grass slopes. We walked, crawled, jumped and rolled… my reluctance to walk everyday, was paying its price. After a continuous 4.5 hrs of climbing we reached the peak where the famous Bhimashankar temple is there. We rested for a while inside the temple premise and then started looking for stomach fillers. a number of pure vegetarian restaurants serve to the needs of the pilgrims visiting the temple. We should have rested for a while after the lunch but as we had to come down before the sunset, we hardly rested for 15 minutes and started trekking down again. My misconception of the fact that descending takes 50% of the time taken to ascent was proved wrong. It took us complete 4 hrs to come down as well. Tired, exhausted but such an enjoyable experience; i would cherish every moment of it when some day in future I would look back to the nostalgic past of association with good old friends.


January 2009

I remember, when we said Matheran, the number of enthusiasts were relatively more in number. Some said ... ah.. I have been frequenting this place... have trekked almost 5 times. Matheran is one of the most popular weekend gateways for all Mumbaikars. Situated in the Sahyadri ranges, Matheran is typically famous as a hill station with relics of British era and the narrow gauge railway track, which used to get them to the top of the hill station. For most people, a weekend visit to Matheran means taking a train from Mumbai to Karjat or Neral and then hire a taxi to Dasturi naka from where one can walk up the road and see some tourist attraction points.

We had plans to climb … climb the rocks via Garbet valley ... the trek starting from Asal Gaon, Bhivpuri. As a sudden notice on the previous night, Sandeep showed a genuine interest, although he was still not very clear about the difference between a picnic and a trek...

There are several trek routes to Matheran – one is via Rambagh point. From Karjat one can start walking towards Ambewadi village to reach the trail, which leads to the Big Chowk point or the Elephant Head point. Finally the route ends in Shivaji steps, which is a steep vertical climb. Reaching the top, one can see, one tree hill point on the left. It’s a 3.5 hrs climb. Or else, one can reach Karjat and take a bus to Bhor village. From Bhor one may get the same trail leading towards the Shivaji steps and reaching near one tree hill point. We started from Bhivpuri station ahead of Neral and we parked the vehicle at Asalgaon, from where our actual trek started. It’s a refreshing trek otherwise, however, Sandeep was having a tough time carrying himself up. It’s a total of 13 kms trek and we kept trekking through villages and forests and once we reached the top, we found a forest trail leading towards Matheran.

Matheran was declared an ecosensitive region by the union environment ministry and is called a health sanatorium. The only form of automobile allowed in Matheran is an ambulance operated by the municipality. It is clean, green and vast. Landscapes spreading till the horizon and the vastness of the valleys was just mesmerizing. It was magical indeed... spreads of valley across the mountains and patches of mist at the mountain bases upto the horizon till where you could look upto - altogether it wasn't a realistic situation at all. I was daydreaming!! It could have been finished faster but Sandeep was getting tired and stressed. As we reached the top, we touched the forest trail – the road that leads to Matheran. We had a fantastic Misel Pav at hotel Ketkar and a hot cup of tea. We spent some more time around and then had our lunch and came back by 3 pm. We were back to Thane by 8 pm.


February 2009

Mahul Gaon – Koli food festival – locals were dancing to the tune of the folk music! That was a pleasant evening… a fishy evening rather… we were eating away to glory till 1 am … fish, fish and fish. I had a serious doubt that we would not be able to make it upto Kothligad this week. Slept at 2. Old habits die hard, I was awake by 5 am. It wasn’t an easy task to think about the trek after 3 hours of scanty sleep with a heavy stomach … but finally we made it possible to drive to the railway station to catch the immediate next train to Karjat.

Kothligad is a fort to the east of Karjat at a considerably easily achievable height of 1550 feet above the sea level. The trek starts from the base village of Ambivali. One can reach Ambivali fron Karjat using various modes of transport; there are auto rickshaws, tomtoms and buses available. We took a rickshaw, which took us to the village of Ambivali. The initial part of the trek is a continuous uphill walk / climb till the Peth village. It took us 1.30 hrs for us to reach Peth. Peth is a silent and nice village. The hospitality of the villagers is appreciable. If you happen to be in Kothligad, do meet Mr Sriram Sitaram Sawant, and don’t forget to ask for a glass of limewater to freshen up… it would work wonders after the strenuous trek. Trekkers come to him to for lunch or dinner and even spend nights on overnight treks. We decided to come back and have lunch after trekking the pinnacle of Kothli gad.

Contact details: Sriram Sitaram Sawant; Bhairavanath Bhojanalaya, Peth; Mobile: 09270322859, 02148686017

The pinnacle appeared a steep piece of rock. The pinnacle is quite interesting. It is carved from inside, and there is a rocky steep staircase made to reach at the top internally. One can see 13th century cave and temple carvings inside. The history is not known in too much detail till 18th century. British captured the cave in 1716 and later on the same year recaptured by the Marathas under the leadership of Bapurao who belonged to the generation after Bajirao. However, in 1817, the British again recaptured it.

The last portion of the climb is quite risky and there are a few areas where one would hardly find any place to keep feet and climb with the body weight pushed towards the rocky wall. Looking down would be scary for anyone with acrophobia. The top of the pinnacle gives an amazing view of Bhimashankar towards north and Dhak Bahiri & Rajmachi towards South-West. The landscape was vast – as far as one could take his sight. We were happy we made it to the top – one more peak was added to the list.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Malabar monsoon magic !

No sooner than the monsoon had set in, the team was gearing up for the long awaited dream expedition of this season – the hottest biodiversity region of the state … Amboli. The excitement was prevailing all throughout…

With the camera in hand, I have always captured nature in frames as I saw it… Amboli proved to be adding a touch of maturity to my passion and this one was going to be my first such photo expedition, which was specifically planned with a definite agenda – the venomous Malabar pit viper – the star attraction of Amboli.

Aptly called Maharashtra’s Cherapunji – this place, situated deep within the dense foliage of the Sahyadris range in the southern most portion of Maharashtra exhibits the highest rainfall to the tune of 7446 mm. An amazingly calm and serene atmosphere of this place has still not seen the ugly face of commercialization. With the exotic lesser fauna, eye catching waterfalls, greenery spread upto the horizon, play of wind with clouds and densely packed fog in the woods with a surrounding silent and calm atmosphere and mouth watering Konkani food – one is bound to feel out of the world during his stay in Amboli.

The first glimpse of the forest mesmerizes with a typical picture of a mystic rainforest with tall trees and their whispering canopies, creepers and climbers, with intertwining branches of trees with mosses hanging down and most of times made even more mysterious by the dense fog packed above the forest floor. Every corner of the forest is alive, below every little leaf, behind every dried bark and under every soaked rock, there is a life vibrating. The mystery unfolds at night. Croaking of frogs from all sides, fire flies dance in front of you… you are in absolute darkness with that torch in your hand and constant shrill call of some unknown insect from deep within the forest bed and suddenly you realize – there are hundreds and thousands of leeches under your feet.

Amboli was developed as a hill station by a British political agent, Col. Westrop, who chose this location in the Vengurla – Belgaum state highway no. 112 situated in the Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra. Extremely rich herpetofauna, wild flowers and birds make this place a dream destination for any naturalist. I was speechless as I witnessed the parental care in the insect world for the very first time. Below every little rain soaked rock piece was a life vibrating – I was enjoying every moment of it.

Racko was one of the major agenda - Malabar gliding frog (Rhacophorus malabaricus). It was not easy for novices like us to look for this small creature in such a dense and huge forest. So obviously the rescue was to contact Mr Hemant Ogale, the famous naturalist and undoubtedly the one point resource person in Amboli for all visitors… a pleasant welcome to his farm and a glimpse of the nesting Racko kept me dreaming for the rest of the night. The Racko were nesting in the tree just in front of his house… it wasn’t possible to get a better image of it at 8 pm but I was content with whatever I could see through my eyes.

The forest is thickly populated with variety of snakes. Although we had not been lucky enough to see too many of them but we were kept busy by atleast a few of them and I must thank Adesh wholeheartedly for the sightings. The green Vine snake is a slender, green and handsome guy – about 2 cm thick, and may have a length of about 1.5 to 2 meters. Its tail is long and very delicate, mostly used to hold on the branches while reaching for prey. A fantastic aerodynamically-shaped head is quite eye catching. The green vine snake follows its prey from higher branches of the trees and tries to smell it carefully. It bites into the head if it finds a suitable prey and lifts it approximately 20-40 cm from the ground thus leaving it helpless and unable to use its strength. The toxic saliva then penetrates the wounds and immobilizes the prey.

Two days had passed and we were yet to sight the star performer – the venomous Malabar pit viper. Malabar pit vipers are nocturnal creatures and mostly lie inactive during the day either basking on some rock piece or in some small tree branch near some water collections. It was raining and I was worrying about the amount of rain water that might have gone in my camera during the over enthusiastic approach towards the vine snake out of excitement… and suddenly …. Adesh called – “hey … Malabar Pit Viper”! Oh it was so heavily camouflaged, wouldn’t have been possible to trace without an expert eye like his.

Mainly found in the South Western India, Malabar Pitviper is a venomous snake – normal timid and slow but capable of striking with unexpected fastness. However, unless disturbed, they are so cute creatures. We went to an amazingly close distance and it didn’t bother a bit. Later, as the group gathered to get a closer view of it, perhaps disturbed by the unwanted crowd it slowly moved its way towards the denser foliage. I was happy I could capture a few close shot of it, would have been happier with a different background though…. as I feared - my camera conked off due to the water that had gone in.

I was left with no option but to see the creature as much as I could till it vanished in the woods… they say there is always a next time…. and that all the more confirmed my second visit to Amboli for sure.

The mystic Janjira

Zapped, but amused! Exhausted, still excited! Surprised and confused! A very unusual, mysterious and not so well heard chapter of the history just witnessed – we were just back from the ‘Murud Janjira’… a fort built deep in the Arabian Sea that remained unconquered throughout history either by the Portuguese or by the British or by Moghul or by the local Marathas – the only impregnable fort in the entire 720 kms of Maharashtra coastline of Western India. Ever since I had heard about Murud Janjira, I was curious to visit this place atleast once.

Murud is not unknown to the people of Mumbai – infact it is one of the quite well known weekend beach gateways around Mumbai. What is not known to the tourist planning for a relaxed afternoon sleep on the beach side hammocks, is the mysterious tale of Siddhi emperors who reigned this majestic island fortress of Murud.

It was a weekend and as expected, the outbound traffic was a heavy one towards the outskirts of Panvel with hundreds of Mumbai residents desperately trying to drive out of bounds of Mumbai city looking for a short break to their monotonous corporate weekdays. It took us approximately 4 hrs to reach Murud. It is a 165 kms drive from Mumbai via roadways. We drove through Panvel, Pen, Alibaug and then Revdanda and once Revdanda is crossed, one can see a bridge across the Revdanda creek. Taking a right from there headed us to Murud. A great drive there onwards - the road ran parallel to the Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary on the left and the creek on the right. After driving down for approximately 30 kms, we reached the Murud village. Aman Palace was the place which was booked beforehand for us to stay overnight – an amazing homely resort built right on the beach offering a straight view of the serene beach with the breezing coconut trees, the roaring sea water with the flock of sea gulls - Murud definitely is a highly relaxing weekend gateway. I was fast awake next day morning and as I looked out through the window, I was pleasantly surprised. It was more than I expected...

Murud - Janjira – the word sounded foreign when I first heard of it. It is the local name for a fort situated at the village of Murud, in the Raigad district of Maharashtra, India. As I was told and read, this fort is the only one along India's Western coast that had remained unconquered despite of repeated Maratha, Dutch and English attacks. The word Murud - Janjira originates from two Arabic words – ‘Morod’ meaning – a relatively dry land and ‘Jazeera’ – meaning an island. The only way to reach the fort is via sailboats available from the Rajpuri port. That’s again a unique experience altogether. As we approached the fort we started realizing the vastness of the fort gradually – a whole of island converted to a fortress. Certain amazing things noticeable at the first glance were ... One cannot see the entrance to the fort until one reaches the fort; the untiring continuous splashes of salt water of the sea through ages has eroded the rocky surface of the fort base but the joint materials still stand out prominent; and the most amazing of all... I am still surprised to have witnessed it - there are wells of fresh and sweet water inside ... although the fort is being surrounded by salty seawater all around.

We were told about a secret figure of 22... The fort is made on a 22-acre land, there are 22 towers in the fort, 22 steps; it took 22 years to build the fort and the biggest of the canons were 22 tons in weight. I touched the canons; the metallic surface was so cold even in the scorching heat, the local guide talked about the alloy having been used for construction of the canons, which I could not quite well understand. Back home, a bit more depth in the pages of history told some more interesting story

As I read on… the history dated back to 15th Century. It was the reign of the Nizam. The fishermen of Rajpuri – the ‘Koli’s - took permission from the Nizam’s Thanedaar to build a wooden fortification on an enormous rock piece in the middle of the sea to protect themselves from the attacks of the pirates and thieves – they named it the ‘Medhekot’. However, one amongst them, a chosen leader – Ram Patil, opted to declare himself independent… he was a rebel and he revolted and refused to obey the then Nizam’s thanedaar’s commands anymore. The fort that was built by then was already difficult to penetrate.

Nizam was not to sit quiet. Piram Khan, one of the commanders, disguising himself as a trading merchant, could however, make a concealed entry to the fort with three ships loaded with soldiers and captured Ram Patil to convert him to a Muslim. Piram Khan was followed by Burhan Khan, the minister of the ruler of Ahmednagar, Nizam Shah, who abolished the wooden fort and erected the majestic, huge, impregnable rocky fort of Murud – it was somewhere between 1567 to 1671 and thus the state of Murud-Janjira came to be known as Habsan, the land of the Habshis.

Then came the Siddi pirates from Abssynia, who seized the bastion. The Janjira soon became an unconquerable base for the Siddis. History says that Maratha emperor Shivaji had made at least 6 serious attempts to drive the Siddis off the Janjira and even Sambhaji, Shivaji’s son himself led an powerful but unsuccessful force against the Janjira. So did the Peshwas and so did the Angreys of Alibag but all failed every time. Shivaji's inability to capture this fort led him to build the Vijaydurg fort down the coast, and Sindhudurg on the island of Padmagad, near the town of Malvan. Despite of his repeated attempts to conquer the fort, the Siddis remained a intimidating enemy to him until his death …

Till date the Janjira stands tall – unconquered – formidable as ever… in the middle of the Arabian Sea … sending a chill through the spine of whoever looks at it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Flame birds of Airoli !!!

I could never imagine that Airoli could be such a visual treat - so magical. 4000 flamingos - all around you, wading, flying, swimming, diving, fishing - a pink panorama - dumb struck we were!

Flame birds - 'Agnipankh' - as Adesh calls them... a couple of hours on one fine Sunday morning - a reward of a lifetime! Shutters on job - click click click - they were all over, they were all around us - carefree of the presence of the boat - the boat went straight into the flock! Wings beating together only when you are too near! Amazing - amazing!

It was 26th April 2009 – would surely be a memorable day in my life. Hadn’t heard of such a big Flamingo base in Navi Mumbai before.
Until a few years back, Navi Mumbai wasn’t a hotspot for flamingo watch except for Uran. It was no big planning - a near weekend unanimous decision for flamingo watch in Airoli – and we all said ‘wow – would be great fun’. My long pending dream of visiting Nal Sarovar for flamingoes was seemingly getting true in the neighborhood itself.

Sewri bay and Mahul jetty has been centers of attraction for flamingo watch for years. Although Mahul, a branch of the Mithi river, is now choked and clogged with garbage – still it used to offer a good treat to the eyes of the novice bird watcher with its flocks of flamingoes in thousands during the high tides. However, after the police supervision was made stricter, after the unfortunate incidences of violence a couple of years back, Mahul was no more kept open for public for bird watching. To top it up, the disturbances in the habitat base created by the Bandra-Worli sea link apparently has caused the flamingos to shift base to Navi Mumbai and hence the pink panorama in Airoli.

There had been incidences of illegal trading of flamingo meat in Uran in the past –thanks to Nikhil Bhopale and Sandeep Athavle that the matter was finally taken to police. Both greater and lesser flamingoes are now protected under schedule 1 of wild life protection act, 1972, - this, fortunately has been addressed by some of the highly active NGOS now and as there was a great extent of decibel created in the market - such inhuman incidences were not heard thereafter.

Flamingoes migrate from Nigeria, Africa. The two sub species that migrate to Mumbai are the Greater Flamingoes with dark pink colour and pinkish beak and Lesser Flamingoes with distinct pink colour and dark pink beak. They stay here for quite a few months before they fly to Kutch for breeding.

Uran is completely destroyed. Hardly in history of ecosystem conservation, someone might have witnessed such rapid and massive avian habitat destruction due to human encroachment. A birdwatchers heaven, which used to entertain hundreds of thousands of migratory every year, would never vibrate again. As if Uran was not enough… to add on to it - with NMMC’s approval to go ahead with developing an entertainment and recreation center in Airoli creek, the new habitat base is again at stake… who knows this year could have been the last year we could see those pink beauties in Mumbai … the fate of the flamingos of Mumbai is definitely uncertain. launched !!!

It all started initially with posting the weekend birdwalk photographs on the online forums like Orkut, Facebook, Flickr or Picasa and getting flattered by few appreciations from friends and colleagues with resultant loads of self-motivation!

Thanks to the local bird clubs, online groups, wildlife forums and the social networking sites, which facilitated to interact closely with the maestros in the field and helped me realize that there are miles to go …

I was learning everyday. Learning from mistakes was a fantastic knowledge building exercise. Weekend photography outings had become a habit. like-minded friends grew in number, network of the fan followers grew bigger, my interest level became deeper, my ventures into the wild became more frequent, I could realize the quality of my photographs improved over time… I started spending more time in displaying some of my works, which I felt are worth sharing…

Awards and appreciations helped me in improvising my skills better and better. Thanks to all who supported me in this venture… its been a wonderful journey so far… as I said… there are still miles to go... and I already started to lose tracks of my various networks, latest updates, trip reports, announcements, contest entries, awards, publications ... and so on. I was trying to consolidate my activities in a webpage and finally ...

... was live and I started a fresh blog ...