Category Archives: Travel

With Alpine Accentors in the Polish Tatra mountains

SOM_0629 headerI was nearing Kondracka Kopa, a small peak in the Tatra mountains. This was my fourth day of treking in the Polish Tatra mountains. The last few days had been wet and cloudy, but the weather forecast had promised that it would get better from today. The birding had been quite slow till now, probably due to the weather conditions. But now it had stopped drizzling and the sky was brightening up. 

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The Western Tragopan – A Painting : Acrylic on Canvas 15″ x 19″

SOM_6937-headerAlmost a decade ago, in 2006, I, along with a Danish friend,  made a series of exploratory treks into the remote Himalayan jungles of the Daranghati Wildlife Sanctuary in Himachal Pradesh. We were conducting a preliminary survey for the presence of the elusive and rare Western Tragopan. The locals call the Western Tragopan the Jujurana or the king of birds (Juju = bird and rana = king), in my opinion a much more appropriate name for such a regal bird.

In all we must have spent about a month in the mountains. It was tough but it was also one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. You can read a more detailed write-up about those treks here http://somendras.com/?p=283 .

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Exploring Jaipur :

The Sheesh Mahal at Samode Haveli

Acco-IMG_9053header The busy lanes of the old walled city of Jaipur conceal many treasures. The walled city moves to its own beat and is very different from the more modern parts of Jaipur. Going into the walled city is a bit like stepping back in time. The architecture, the traffic, the shops, the houses, even the people and their mindset is different. The best way to experience this difference is to spend time in the walled city, preferable walking and meeting people.

In this series of posts I will explore the world hidden inside the fortification walls of the pink city of Jaipur. The restaurants, the eateries, the havelis, the shops, the craftsmen, the artists, the temples and much more. The walled city is a treasure trove waiting to be discovered by the adventurous traveller willing to step off the beaten path.

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Views of Nanda Devi and other Himalayan peaks from Berinag

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During the initial days of the Raj, Britishers were not allowed to buy land in Kumaon. In 1827, a Dr. Royale petitioned the British Government to allot a vast area of non-farming land in Kumaon to Europeans for tea gardening. In 1837 the British Parliament passed a bill allowing Europeans to keep private property in India and Lord Baton, the then commissioner of Kumaon ordered that hilltops with suitable climatic and soil conditions be given free of cost to Britishers for tea gardening as some people had found tea plants growing naturally in these areas. Thus started the tea gardens of Kumaon.

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The White Throated Tits – A Painting (Acrylic on Canvas) 15″ x 18″

White Throated tits SOM_4536 headingIt was a crispy cold December day. I was on an assignment, to photograph the Forest Rest Houses of Uttarakhand. After photographing the Janaki Chatti Forest Rest House I had decided to trek up to Yamunotri. Although the pilgrimage season was over and the shrine would be closed, I was curious to visit the source of the mighty Yamuna.
After a long and steady walk I was at the highest point of the trail. The track passes through a very old oak forest, crosses a ridge and then descends to the Yamunotri shrine. The forest was silent and the birding had been quite slow.

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Khajuraho, the jewel in the heart of India


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The temples of Khajuraho were built by the Kings of the Chandela dynasty during the 10th and the 11th century CE. The building of these temples started almost immediately after the Chandelas came into power. Surviving temple inscription suggest that many of the currently existing temples were completed between 970 to 1030 CE.

The temples are made of very good quality sandstone, with a granite foundation that is usually concealed. The builders didn’t use mortar: the stones are put together with mortise and tenon joints and they are held in place by gravity. This form of construction requires very precise joints. The columns and architraves were built with megaliths that weighed up to 20 tons.

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The Pink City of Jaipur – An architectural portfolio : Part II

IMG_4441 headerThe pink city of Jaipur is unique in that it is the only pre-modern Indian city that was built according to a master plan, in one go. The walled city of Jaipur still retains the distinct architectural character imparted by its unique heritage, and it still is a photographer’s dream come true.

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The Pink City of Jaipur – An architectural portfolio : Part I

IMG_4398-headerThe pink city of Jaipur is unique in that it is the only pre-modern Indian city that was built according to a master plan, in one go. The walled city of Jaipur still retains the distinct architectural character imparted by its unique heritage, and it still is a photographer’s dream come true.

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The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute at Darjeeling : Some memories

Header CRW_5781In May 2004, on a sudden whim, I signed up for the Basic Mountaineering Course at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling (HMI). In retrospect, it was a great decision. Although I was well past my prime, I was older than most of my batch, I was also physically quite fit and very keen. I enjoyed the course and I have very fond memories of the time I spent at HMI.
 

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Memories from a trip to the Kumaon Himalayas

Sunrise over the Humalayan ranges, as seen from Chaukori.

Sunrise over the Himalayan ranges, as seen from Chaukori.

While reorganising the images stored in my backup disks I stumbled upon these pictures from a long and leisurely road trip across the Kumaon Himalayas.

 

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Har-ki-dun, a trek in the Govind National Park, Uttarakhand

This trek was the result of another off beat assignment. I was asked by a relative, who is also a publisher, whether I would be interested in working on a coffee table book covering the Forest Rest Houses of Uttarakhand. I jumped at the opportunity and volunteered to shoot the remote and less accessible Forest Rest Houses (FRHs). The first trip was to the Northwestern regions of Garhwal and the trek to Har-ki-dun was a part it.

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Darjeeling : Still the queen of the hill stations

A chance conversation with a friend resulted in a short visit to Darjeeling, the “Queen of the Hills”. The idea was to commemorate a course I had attended at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling many years ago. Because of the incessant monsoon rains early September is not a good time to visit Darjeeling. But as we this was the only time slot available I decided to chance it.

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With the Palihas, Oraons and other tribes in the jungles of central India


Forest clad hills, huge trees, clear bubbling streams, strange bird calls, springs trickling from dense bamboo groves, men with bows and arrows; we are at Sarai Deeh, a small sleepy village populated by the Paliha tribe, deep in the jungles of central India. Sarai Deeh can only be reached in a 4×4 jeep with a good driver, and that when the weather is good. The nearest petrol pump is more than a hundred kilometers away, and modern India some light-years beyond the horizon.

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The Demoiselle Cranes of Kheechan


We reached Kheechan by first light and made our way to the terrace of a building next to the “Chugga Ghar” (literally feeding house) in the semi darkness. It was a typical cold and silent pre-dawn of a desert village. After ensuring that we had a good vantage point, Ram Narain, our guide went downstairs to organize tea for everyone. Soon we were enjoying a steaming cup of sweet masala chai (Indian milk tea) and biscuits while we waited.

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Birding in the Raksham Chhitkul Wildlife Sanctuary, Baspa Valley, Kinnaur

A tributary of the Sutlej, the Baspa river originates at a point near the tri-junction of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Tibet. It flows due west for about 60 kilometers before joining the Sutlej at Kharcham. This is the Baspa valley.

A part of the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, the Baspa valley lies in the lap of the great Himalayas. Sangla is its largest town, and therefore the Baspa valley is sometimes also referred to as the Sangla valley.

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Exploring the Zanskar Valley

It was late in September 2011. I was in Leh on a dream assignment. The assignment was open ended. I was to make my own itinerary and travel to places of my choice at my own pace. The idea was to make a nice portfolio of images from Ladakh. I was alone in my trusty Bolero 4×4 jeeep and I had already covered the main Indus valley and the Nubra valley.

I was planning to leave for Zanskar when, I came to know that my friend Tribhuvan was in Leh. We met at his favourite restaurant for dinner. When he told me that he and his friend, Charles, were also planning to go to Zanskar, I proposed a joint “expedition” to Zansakar.

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Shooting tigers in the Bandhavgarh National Park

The Bandhavgarh National Park boasts of the highest tiger density in the world. It is also tourist friendly, easily accessible, has good visibility and has well made jungle tracks. In short, it is the best place in the world to see tigers in the wild.

During the last couple of years I have had the good fortune of visiting this park many times. I was photographing the Samode Safari Lodge, Bandhavgarh, and my work involved repeated visits.

I must have made at least 25 jeep safaris into the park during this period. Given the number of safaris and the “highest tiger density in the world” one would be forgiven to think that I would have seen a huge number of tigers during this time. Not true. Seeing tigers is not as easy as seeing their more exhibitionist cousins, the lions. In fact the Indian jungle is very different from the staple diet of the “African Savannah experience” tabled by the TV channels every day.

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Looking for Argali (Marco Polo Sheep, Ovis Ammon) in Tso Kar

Kiangs in a huddle

While in Leh, in September 2011, during a chance meeting with an officer from the Forest Department, I asked him whether it was possible to see wild Argali (Marco Polo sheep, Ovis Ammon) in Ladakh. It won’t be easy, he said, but it is possible. He told me that there was a small population of Marco Polo sheep in the Tso Kar Wildlife Sanctuary. Numbering about 150, this flock lived in the northern regions of the sanctuary. But, he added, the Argali were very shy and difficult to locate.  He said it might be a good idea to look around for the Marco Polo sheep in the Tso Kar wildlife sanctuary on the way back to Manali.

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Looking for the Ladakh Urial (Ovis orientalis vignei)

A young male Ladakh Urial

I started  from Leh at about 8 AM. I was alone, as nobody was ready to join me on this wild goose chase. My plan was to head to Gurudwara Pattharsahib and look for Ladakh Urail (Ovis orientalis vignei). During a chance conversation, a forest officer in Leh had informed me that there were a couple of flocks of Urial (a kind of wild sheep) which lived in  the hills near the Gurudwara. The drive from Leh to Pattharsahib takes about an hour. I was there at 9 AM after an uneventful drive.

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