Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Colors of Kerala

I've kind of had more of Kerala than I'd have ever expected. Or anticipated. Thanks to a passport renewal process which underwent full blown Murphy's law (All that can go wrong will go wrong!) I've been in Kerala now for almost a month. This is the longest yet I've stayed with my parents continuosly since I was 18 and went off for my undergrad engineering. Looking back, it was a fantastic time - great food, enjoying the almost unabated Kerala rains from our porch having hot tea and bhajji (The Kerala variety which is made of raw bananas fried in some great tasting dough) and planning some great bird shoots. I might soon get my new passport finally. Though I'm pissed off and frustrated currently about the who episode, looking back a year from now, I'd probably be glad of the forced break !
The project on which I spent considerable time at home was shooting sunbirds. I've always wanted to photograph those tiny few cm long birds flitting from flower to flower. Approaching them on foot had never ever given me even one decent shot. After studying their habits for couple of days, I created a make shift hide using some brown/green cloths and mother's bunch of sarees of similar color. (Since it's long since Ive spent time with them, they were prone to turn a blind eye to my crazy acts!). After around 20 hours of shooting spread across around a week, I finally nailed some great ones. Used 100-400 on Canon 40 D with very high ISOs of 800 odd given the cloudy weather and continuos rains. (Have used noise reduction software to reduce some effects of the high ISOs) The overcast conditions did help to preserve the color shades better than otherwise though. So here goes the output of the project !

1. Loten's sunbird - male

2. Loten's sunbird - female

3. Purple rumped sunbird - male

4. Purple rumped sunbird - female

Exif : Should be f6.3-7.1, 400 mm, ISO 400-800, speeds of over 1/200

Friday, October 15, 2010

Forced vacation !!

Seldom does events conspire to give one a forced holiday ! That is exactly what has happened to me. Though I'm not complaining, it has been frustrating few weeks. My passport renewal got rejected and now I can't travel outside of India. I had around 5 government provided identity proofs for my address and still they did not renew my passport from Kerala for reasons best known to them. So now I'm forced to be in my native place waiting for the police to come home for verification. Anyways, there isn't much I can do. So rather than fretting about what could have been, I'm enjoying the walks in our garden and the lovely rains. It seems it never ends raining - torrential downpour every now and then. It's beautiful just sitting back in an easychair, listening to the sound of rain having ginger tea prepared by mom ! Haaaaa. What is there to complain !
I just walked in my garden with couple of lenses (One tele and one normal walkabout with a reasonably macro). It's unbelievable how the small gardens in kerala are all examples of natural richness of the state. Hope some of this remains over the next couple of decades atleast if not more.
The following is the output of just 1 day of garden walking with a Canon 100-400 and Tamy 28-75 on my Canon 40 D.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Reading !

I realised how little reading I do these days. I might still pick a tintin or a scott adams or calvin - but seldom words that make me think deep (Ok - Calvin and Scott are bad examples - they probably are more profound than most people can guage!)

Blogs like this here at ecologic makes my day these days - takes me back to the days of reading things which make you take a deep breath, pause for a moment, think about life. It is not the dabanggs of writing but the kurosawas that really makes one do that. I needn't fully agree with the authors - I do trust only capitalist ways can save our forests, one of valuation and equitable distribution. (ESOPs to tribals around forests?)
However, I do wish the world was full of Shankar Ramans and not Suhas Anands - but I know,we, as a race have lost the privilege of making that choice !

And that Schaller quote is worth reproducing multiple times. Reminds me of the National Geographic of sometime around late 80s or early 90s that I had bought from roadside seconds at Churchgate which was my bible - cause it had Schaller's interview !

For epochs to come the peaks will still pierce the lonely vistas, but when the last snow leopard has stalked among the crags and the last markhor has stood on a promontory, his ruff waving in the breeze, a spark of life will have gone, turning the mountains into stones of silence.

―George B. Schaller, Stones of Silence

NB: Just back from yet another conference on water conservation and sustainability that a friend had invited me to. Completely delinked from conservation ! Everyone spoke about the feast, no one spoke about the fields !

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Has obviously been very busy over the past few months to blog. Just back from a whirlwind UK tour where the most peaceful fact was being in Cambridge for around 4 days - enjoying the campus, the legendary pubs (Including The Eagle where the discovery of DNA was announced to the world) enjoying the ghost stories and also getting trained in leadership !! (Ok stop laughing!). I was staying at Christ College right opposite Charles Darwin garden. Across it was Kings & Trinity (At one time my dream place to study arts - ok stop laughing again!) Cavendish's study, Newton's room and what not ! I just wonder how can students there not study ?! It will be sacrilegious to waste time there like what I did during my engineering days ! (LOL). I tend to think I did not waste time during post graduation, atleast first year at Ahmedabad (Ahem ahem..).
Back to India and loving the rains here (Why do we never love rains in London ?!) - conditional to me being in Mumbai. Since Ive been in Delhi more than Mumbai, it is indeed disastrous ! But surprisingly all flights Ive taken are on time - the new rule from AAI is really kicking some ass and Im loving it !

Sharing some Cambridge shots. All taken with my obedient 40 D and Canon 18-200 on with a Hoya CPL. Worked in PS CS3 - the usual workflow, nothing dramatic.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Conversation with a call centre executive

Me: I could not web checkin. Can you figure out what the issue is ?
She: Can I tele check in ?
Me : That is fine, thanks. But do figure out what the issue with webcheck in is,ok ?
She: Ok sir. There is a problem sir.
Me: Thanks, What ?!
She : Sir it is a problem !
Me: Yea. I got that much. What is the problem and what is the solution ?
She: Sir your name is spelt as Anand Suhas Mr instead of Anand Suhas Mr.
Me: Hunh ?! Isnt that both same ?
She: No sir.
Me: Is my name spelt wrongly ?
She: No sir. But it is Anand Suhas Mr.
Me: That is how it always is. But I have never had this issue before.
She: Sir there is no space between Suhas and Mr !
Me: Oh so that is the issue ! How will I know that if you just pronounce Anand Suhas Mr and Anand Suhas Mr ?!!!
She: Sir you are male no sir ?!!
Me: What ?
She: That is why Mr Sir !
Me : !!!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Indian Hatch market - Victory of customer and liberalisation

The recent happenings in the Indian hatch car market is an example of what globalisation, liberalisation and the resulting competition can do for customers. The pricing of the newly introduced Chevy Beat and Ford Figo is a stark contrast to the days of waiting in the queue for sub standard value products like Ambassador (Whatever nostalgia people might have for the car, it definitely is not VFM at the pricing and features that it provides).
Three things that make me happy

1. The pricing is definitely value for money. Right from barebones to the top end version (LT and Titanium respectively), each price point is VFM. The top end diesel Titanium version of Figo will be sub 6.5 lakhs OTR. This is clearly due to competition and the need to beat incumbents like Maruti, Tatas and Hyundai.
2. These cars are not "dumb down" versions of cars made for western markets. These are made in and for India. And no, the designs do not cry out "Sorry India - we have made this sedate box for you in which we have put windows, chassis and a sub 1 L engine tuned for 15+ kmpl".
3. The top end versions come with ABS and Airbags. These safety features, pretty much standard across the west are atleast provided as optional in the top end versions. A significant shift in safety feature provisioning for Indian small car segment.

With VW, Nissan, Honda and Toyota too coming into the segment, we would have a bevy of beauties to choose from. (A sub 6 L German car in Indian roads - My grandpa, if alive, would never have trusted his eyes on this one. But yes, the Polo is here!)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hunt for food !

It's almost a year now since I've been shuttling between Delhi and Mumbai - I can safely say I'm a half Delhiite now (Will separately blog about a BOM-DEL comparison - it's lose-lose since someone will take offense!!)
Anyhow, to the more mundane. I realised I was free last evening by around 8 - a free calendar with no work, no calls and no meetings ! Since I had never had Kerala food in Delhi I had this sudden urge to check out places. Some net browsing gave me two options - Keraleeyam at Yusuf Sarai and Coconut Grove at Hotel Indraprastha. Thankfully, I decided to call them up to check if I need to book seats. Both are closed ! Former years back and latter taken over by the new Shangrila. I called Shangrila to check if they still have the coastal food restaurant and they said no !
Many FB status replies asked me to head to Hauz Khas village having multiple options like Gunpowder (Quaint name!) and Naivedyam (Sounded very vegetarian !)

Neither my gardner nor cook had any clue about Kerala, let alone Kerala food. Cook even threatened to cook Masala Dosa for next day's breakfast which I politely refused (He had made a version of Idli sometime back which was well, lets say, not quite it's namesake from South). Security guard asked me to go to PVR Priya market saying it has many good restaurants like McDonald (!!), Subways (!!) and Pizza Hut (Ughhh) and anyways it's 5 minutes walk from our house.
So without much help from internet, Delhi friends et al, I decided to search for Coastal Food instead of Kerala food. Figured out Swagath had a few choices - situated at both Def Col and Malviya Nagar. Avoided the former given the traffic mess during peaktime. For a change my driver took me to the right place - Malviya Nagar market. (For someone who took me to West Delhi via Gurgaon from Vasant Vihar this was an A+ performance!)
Decent place - mid market ; decent food (I even packed a curry for tonight - I'm sure my cook is going to be disappointed at this affront). No alcohol was a big let down - Kerala place without Alcohol ? The owner has clearly not read this
Drove back home, walked to Priya and had the Chocolate Pan to top off a nice evening. (My first dinner date with myself, which I realised is not all that bad !!)

But alas, it still feels a let down that there are no good Kerala food place any where close to Vasant Vihar !! Quite unfair !

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Ranthambhore Diary, Jan 2010

Ranthambhore - that little tiger habitat amidst fort ruins in Rajasthan's Sawai Madhopur has been in my dreams for the last 3 years. The last time I had gone there was in 2006 and I had not seen even a single tiger back then.

This Republic day weekend (Taking leave on Monday) me and missus were planning a relaxed drive away to Goa for sun, sand and buckets full of beer. The idea was to leverage some "army" connection to get to a beach no open to junta. Since it fell through we ditched Goa. Just another Goa trip did not sound like fun.
So Friday night, 22nd of January she flew down to a fogy IGI airport in Delhi. I picked her up and took a train from Delhi to Sawai Madhopur after arrangin stay at ITC Welcome Heritage through Junglelore.
We were quite apprehensive of the trip given the extreme fog, lack of Gypsy booking and not staying with Ranthambhore photo experts like Aditya Singh, a friend from INW. We were cursing ourselves for not planning this better. Finally we decided we will just go and enjoy the forest not worrying about photography.

Day 1 Afternoon Safari - Zone 4

Rated as a "good" zone, we were off in a Gypsy (Thankfully could manage one last minute) accompanied by two Brit couples. Nothing major happened other than the usual suspects like CSE, Wild boars, Sambars, Cheetals and Nilgai. It was quite chilly during the evening drive and it forced us to deck up in all winter finery for the morning on Sunday
Oh yea, some normal forest / land birds too for the camera !!

Day 2 - Morning Safari - Zone 4

Again Zone 4, said our lady luck. And we were reasonably pessimistic. TO top it we were in a canter with 16 odd folks. Thankfully not daily tourists decked in red sarees with cry babies throwing plastic biscuit wrappers all around the park - atleast helped my blood pressure as well as avoided fighting with them ! Was driven by one of the most experienced drivers around, Raees Bhai. He soon became my favorite driver - almost as good as Ive seen in other national parks.
Nothing happened till about 9 a.m. Did see some forest birds blah blah. Just when people were settling back for the drive back out of the park, the guide shouted "Tiger Tiger". And there she was. Some where down on the right side close to a water hole was Machali. (We had a long debate on her identity and finally the guide and driver said it's indeed the legendary Machali). Machali was recently conferred the Life time achievement award by BBC and rated as the most photographed / videographed tiger in wild along with B2 of Bandavgarh. I had B2 in my last Bandavgarh trip and adding Machali was indeed a nice bonus.
Had 10-12 good shots of her flehmen response, scent marking the territory and generally moving around the grassy landpatches. Angles were tough, a big challenge of shooting in Canter. So was light. Since unlike in a Gypsy I cant ask the driver to move around the big canter with ease for best lighting. Whenever the light was good, it was divine. The winter light in Ranthambhore is stuff of dreams for Photographer.
Day 2 - Evening - Zone 3

The usual..nothing exemplary but for the great scapes and fort ruins across Rajbaug lake, Padam talab. Also could shoot Sambars in water, few water birds, bar headed geese, pied avocet, brahminy ducks etc. But the real essence of Ranthambhore in a way is in Zone 3. Majestic is the only word that comes to mind.

Went back to the hotel. Rested a bit around the pool and went to meet Aditya dicky singh. Had a great time at Ranthambhore bag with him, his wife and couple of friends from INW. Had dinner around a good fire to ward off the biting cold. We were quite jealous about his charming life so close to the tigers that he loves so much. We then took a walk back to the hotel in the moonlight with the forest right beside and the sounds of forests in our ears. There was flowing Rajasthani folk songs wafting from some faraway hotel. Was a great day that ended all too soon !!

Day 3- Morning - Zone 3
Zone 3 again. Again waited close to the lake for a tigress who had made a Sambar kill a day back to appear to drink water. 3 hours wait and nothing happened. Go back to the hotel. Had lunch. Downloaded pics. Charged batteries. Removed winter attire and got into something more lighter. By 2.30 was ready for the second safari

Day 3 - Evening - Zone 3 !!
Ok..Now this was becoming all too familiar. Off we went again to Zone 3. Shot the brahminy ducks and pied avocets at Padam Talab and scapes of Sambars eating at Rajbaug lake. ALso couple of cute little mugger crocs. Waited for couple of hours close to the lake for the tigress to appear at water. Again nothing happened. We had invested a total of close to 10 hours for her to appear. Shot vultures, white brested drongo, treepies, partridges and prinias in the meantime. Drove back with a rather heavy heart.

Day 4 - Morning - Zone 1 !!

Aditya had told us Zone 1, was the most underrated zones of Ranthambhore with most tourists not liking Zone 1. Though it had leopards with cubs, bear with cubs and 2-3 potential tiger opportunities including T 38 male. Since it was very dense sighting would be tough unless on the road. The forest in Zone 1 is lovely, giving feel of a pench or tadoba for some reason. Shot a spotted owlet which was pretty cute. Nothing happening other than that.

By around 9 there were alarm calls from a Sambar. Waited at a point close to the end point go Zone 1 for some movement. After 15 minutes we decided to go further up and there she was. A beautiful shy young female tigress in all the glory. THought light was still not super good, we got some head on shots. Got atleast one eye level shot when I got down to the canter steps , hunkered down as low as possible and waited for her to come into the view finder.

All too soon the trip was over....Two sightings, 2 GB worth of pics and some nice evenings lying on hammocks listening to Rajasthani folk songs in the cold weather. Was also great catching up with Dicky and getting some connects with guides and good drivers like Raees bhai. Might plan a return in April. Sighting will be better but I guess I wont get the winter light. That is only if Im not going to Bandavgarh !! ;)