Friday 26 February 2010

Photography Trip to Ooty

Photography Trip to Ooty

Yet another photography trip with CTC. This time, it is to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of CTC. Not the mention the excitement and the fun that comes along with this. People registered for the trip from Chennai and Bangalore. I was one of the first to register myself for this trip.

Due to some work, I had to go to Bangalore and join the team from Bangalore instead of the Chennai team, which was the original plan for me.

Just like any other travel the adventure started for me right from the start, when I forgot to take my jerkin along during the last minute. Knowing about the weather in Ooty, this is a grave mistake. But this cannot be undone, as I realized this only after I boarded the bus to Ooty.

A team of 5 including me started from Bangalore on the night of 19th Feb. The bus from Bangalore goes through the Mandya-Mysore-Bandipur route. The bus has to halt before Bandipur as it is a Wildlife Sanctuary and does transport is restricted from 9:00pm to 6:00am. The person who booked the tickets from Bangalore did not know that there are a couple of buses that has permission to ply through the sanctuary non-stop.

We reached the checkpost of Bandipur by around 4:00am and halted till 6:00am. The Chennai team in the meantime had planned to travel till Avinashi (near Coimbatore) and take 2 private vans for the travel to Ooty. By the time we resumed the journey from Bandipur, the Chennai team had reached Avinashi and were having their breakfast.

We reached Ooty around 9:30am and had our breakfast in a small eat out, which did not mind calling itself a hotel!!!. Once done, we made sure we cancelled the return ticket that was originally booked and bought tickets in the non-stop bus, so that we can reach Bangalore early in the morning on Monday and do not have to bunk work J

We then learnt that the Chennai team will be arriving in about 15 minutes. We decided to meet up at the Botanical Garden. Just about 15 minutes after we reached Botanical Garden the team from Chennai (22 people) arrived there to join us.

We had an initial round of introduction and were really excited to have Mr. Hopeland (yes that is his real name!!), a zoology student with tremendous knowledge about flora and fauna. No, he is not from England or Ireland; he is very much from our land – TamilNadu, India.

After the initial introduction, everyone went on our own way exploring the garden and taking photos of whatever we saw and liked. We regrouped at around 2:00pm to have lunch and then proceeded to one of the tribal villages in Ooty. We spend a good 1 hour there talking to the people there to understand their culture and way of living. It was really informative and interesting and a lot of misconceptions about the lifestyle of these people were cleared.

We then proceeded to 9 mile a famous picnic and shooting spot in Ooty. Upon reaching there were saw some film crews there and enquired with one of the productions guys what is being shot. When he replied that it was Vijay’s 50th film Sura that is being shot, we thought of running away from there for a moment, but the beauty of the place really held us with itself. There were also an excursion from a local school and kids of about 6 or 7 years thronged the entire place, making it even more beautiful.

After photographing some of the children all of us started exploring the places on our own. Myself, Samyak and Hopeland decided that we will trek down from that place to the forest below (about 500 – 700 feet down) and try our luck in getting a glimpse of some animals or birds.

We climbed down and once we reached the forest, we became extremely silent, that even a whisper was considered loud. The idea is to make sure that the birds and animals are not disturbed and we get a good photograph of whatever wildlife we see. With the light fading out fast we had only about 30 minutes to get any usable photograph. We watched our steps very closely, trying to land in places where there are no dry leaves, so we do not make any noise (failing in this attempt mostly).

We had good luck in spotting some birds but not all that lucky in photographing them. The Lapwings were the first one we spotted, but they saw us coming before spotted and raised a sharp alarm alerting all the birds and animals in that surrounding and flew off. We then proceeded further and were really lucky in catching a glimpse of Verditer Flycatcher, Oriental White Eye. We also spotted Francolin, Grey Wagtail and Jungle Fowl, but did not get a clear photo, due to very low light (the sun has already gone to the horizon) and the birds being very quick for our lenses, in those light conditions.

While we were tracking the Jungle Fowl, Hopeland suggested that we maintain absolute stealth, so it does not notice us and we can have a close look at the bird. We did manage to do that until I coughed, due to bad throat. Though the cough was much muffled and low, the bird heard it and started moving away from us. Hopeland later was telling us that it thankfully was only a Jungle Fown and had it been a leopard, my cough could have cost even our lives. J

When we climbed back to where others were, we heard the shrill noise of the Langurs and knew that there were about 4 or 5 in that surrounding and they were communicating with each other or alerting each other of intruders. We waited for a while to see if we can see any and found one sitting in the outer branch of a pine tree very far away. The others were well in hiding. We also spotted foot marks of Wild Boar, Sambars and heard sounds of Bisons, though we were not able to spot any.

We returned back to the peak where the rest of the crowd were photographing the beautiful sunset and joined the party and took some photographs of the sun along with the crowd and some individual shots as well.

Anu in the meantime was calling us again and again to remind us that it will take about an hour to reach the town and dinner may not be available for long. Ooty being a hillstation and a very cold place, not many shops are open later than 8:00pm.

We went to the forest guesthouse which was booked by Anu, for our stay, to refresh ourselves. While everyone were relaxing, myself and Narasimhan decided to go to the place were we had lunch that day and bring back Chappathis and Omlet for the people. We had ordered for it in the afternoon itself. Only when we brought the food, did we realize how hungry people were. With Samyak and Venu distributing the food to the crowd, it was over within 5 minutes and was considered only a snack and not a proper dinner. So we went back to the town to a restaurant and had a very good dinner for the night.

While others were still having dinner, myself Anu and Narasimhan finished our dinner quickly and went to a nearby bakery to get breads and cakes for our breakfast the next day. I am sure the bakery guy will not forget us for the rest of his life for the amount we bought.

After returning to the guest house in the night, people were really tired of traveling and not having any time to relax throughout the day, and being informed that the next day we will be starting as early as 6, most of them hit the bed immediately. It was a huge hall where people spread their blankets and got into their sleeping bags. Some of us who were interesting the day’s activities decided to have a chat with Hopeland. We had lots of questions on flora and fauna and Hopeland had answers to every question we had and gave us a lot of information with interest and passion. It was really a use chat with Hopeland that lasted for over an hour. We are HOPING to have more such session with HOPELAND in the near future.

The day ended with it and when I got into my sleeping bag (brought by Anu from my house as I was stuck in Bangalore), I realized that not having a blanket is really going to trouble me. The floor was so chill that I was unable to sleep. The sleeping bag could not really help stopping the chillness entering the spine. The 4 girls who were with us had a room with a real cozy bed and were comfortable. I some how managed with a towel that I had brought. Folded it in 4 and kept in under the sleeping bag, so the chillness did not affect me much. Only in the morning did I know that there was another sleeping bag (Anu’s – she did not use it as she had a bed to sleep in) lying around without being used. I could have used that to cover the cold floor had I known early L

Day 2 started at 7:00am for us, though most of us got up by 4:00am. The forest guide came only at 7:00am to take us to Avalanche – it is a place about 30km away from Ooty. The place got its name when an entire village was destroyed in a land slide quite some years ago. The Avalanche lake was a one of the picnic attractions and we had planned to do there to try our hands on photographing some good landscapes. When we went down to the lake from the road, it really was a beauty and scene to behold!

It is one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen and everyone got into the act immediately. With hills surrounding the lake in all three sides, the weather perfectly clear and the reflections of the hills in the still water, it is a dream for every passionate photographer. After spending quite sometime in taking photographs, we had our breakfasts there itself, which we had packed the previous day itself.

After spending some real quality time there, our guide suggested that we go to the Bavani Lake, which is another 40 minutes away from there. The entire route we took to Avalanche and beyond was completely under the control of forest department and Anu had managed to get permission to enter the place through her influence :P

Since the entire place and the route towards is protected by forest department, it was untouched by human activity and was full of natural beauty. We stopped every now and then to take photographs. Now even the van drivers got used to this and stopped the vehicle wherever he felt had a good landscape to photograph.

We reached a point before the Lake and got down to walk towards the lake. The road was very narrow and covered by shrubs on both sides that bigger vans cannot travel beyond a point. We had one big van and a car, but decided that everyone will walk till the lake. We reached a small temple (Bavani Amman temple) which was worshipped by the local people there and the forest department employees who work there. There was a small falls which was flowing near the temple which flowed down beyond the temple and made the place quite scenic. We came to know that during the monsoon this falls will be really big – reminded about the Monsoon Trek we did 3 months back.

After snapping some photographs there, we proceeded beyond the temple in the beaten path to reach the Bavani Lake. We were disheartened to see that the land is completely dry and there was only a very small creek with water not more than ankle level. We were informed by the guide that the lake will have lots of water and the place will be lush green after the monsoon. Again everyone started exploring the place on their own.

Myself and Anu went on a different trail reaching down to the small creek below and traced it back to the falls near the temple. We reached the small falls which ends up some 200ft below the Bavani Amman temple, took some photographs and trekked up to the road leading to the jungle while some of the others were returning back to the temple thought the road. This path was really adventurous. After a bit of reasonably steep climb, the place became very dense with shrubs and tress literally blocking the access to the road.

Now the options that we had was to get back down and trace our route back to the route, or to pursue further through the bushes, find a trail that will lead to the road. I asked Anu to stay back and crawled under the shrubs and trees and found a trail to the road. I asked Anu to follow me once I have found and within 5 minutes or crawling we did reach the road and joined the others.

In the meantime a group of 3 had explored further on the other side and had found a very big water body. This is a part of the lake where a tunnel has been built to supply water for the neighboring town. When we had news of this place, we went back to the place (through the road of course), and spent sometime clicking photographs there. This place was really beautiful that it ate up quite our time.

By the time we returned to the vans the time was already 3:30pm and we had a good 90 minutes drive ahead to reach the town. Everyone were famished by the time we reached the town and wasted absolutely no time in gulping (yes we did gulp) our late lunches. The guys who had to return back to Chennai had their buses starting at 10:00pm from Avinashi, which means they had to start by Ooty not later than 6:00pm if they have reach Avinashi to catch the bus at 10:00pm.

Immediately after lunch the Chennai team headed back to Avinashi in the vans and we 5 returned back to our guest houses. I returned back to the guest house before other so I can take some photographs of the guest house and the farm behind. The forest department had a small garden behind the guest house which had a few varieties of medicinal plants that had cure for common headache, migraine, wheezing, jaundice etc. There was also a model farm for harvesting earthworms. I took some photographs of those, but not all that good ones due to lack of light and my lack of experience in product photography.

We refreshed ourselves in the guest house and left by around 8:30pm, had a light dinner and headed back to Bangalore and reached here by 6:00am in the morning. It was a very enjoyable and fun filled trip with some really useful sessions on flora and fauna and of course about photography too!

Friday 12 February 2010

Birding trip to Lalbagh

Birding trip to Lalbagh
Lalbagh, in Bangalore is one of the biggest ecological parks created by man. It dates back to the period of Hyder Ali who first created this park. It was created along the lines of the Mughal gardens which were gaining popularity during his period.

There are quite a few interesting information about the Lalbagh and loads of stats about the flora it boasts to contain – in fact the largest collection of rare plants in the Indian subcontinent.

My interest in Lalbagh through was a bit different on the 31st of January. I set out to Lalbagh quite early – around 6 am for bird watching, without having any experience in it and having no company to guide me.

When it entered the park, it was about 6:15am and Bangalore being a cold place, it was quite dark then. I just wandered around for sometime listening to the sounds of birds and trying to figure out if I can see any. But nothing was visible to my sight at that time, but could sense that it is a haven for a huge variety of birds!

I walked along the length and width of the park, reached the lake in the park, which had some pelicans, egrets, cormorants and ducks of course. Took stock of the place and kept moving observing various sounds made by birds, though unable to place them.

Once the light came, I decided to get started with photographing whatever birds I can and I think I was fairly successful. Later I was also helped by a few veterans in bird watching in identifying a couple of birds that was unable to identify.

Here is the list of birds that I was able to spot.

Asian Koel - Female
Asian Koel - Male
Black Drongo
Black Kite
Brahminy Kite
Chestnut Tailed Starling
Golden Oriole
Grey Heron
Little Cormorant
Little Egret
Pond Heron
Purple Heron
Purple Swamphen
Rose Ringed Parakeet
Spot Billed Pelican
Spotted Owlet
SunbirdWhite Browed Wagtail
White Cheeked Barbet
White Throated Kingfisher

I wish I had the company of an experienced bird watcher so I could have understood the behaviour of these birds and who knows, could have spotted a few more as well.

I am hoping to get one more chance for a bird watch, but this time with some experienced people. Would any experienced birder like to join me?

Here are the photos