And it was all yellow

If I were musically inclined I would have certainly started singing Yellow; or woven words together like Sting about The Fields of Gold. Or like the author of A Sea of Poppies written a historical saga about love, money and opium.

But being a poor wordsmith, I could only take my camera out and try to capture the hillsides covered with yellow sunflowers.

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In November when the cool breeze begins to blow, the green hills turn golden as the Mexican sunflowers blossom. During this period, if you travel from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son by Highway 108, you will be fascinated by a sea of golden Mexican sunflowers blooming along both sides of the road over the rolling hills for miles.

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Unfortunately it was unseasonably hot this year, and the sunflowers were barely there. But to my city dwellers eyes, the little which was there was a marvel to behold.There were green fields, blue skies, smooth roads ahead and rolling hills behind and around me. The bees were buzzing and I had I could only marvel at the beauty all around me.

But no I couldn’t sing Yellow.

 

 

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No Plastic Zone

Here are a few more pictures taken in and around Calcutta last month. These are from the airport, Victoria Memorial (VM) and Babughat or the promenade along the Hooghly river.

I was impressed by how clean Calcutta looked this time. Frequent signs announced VM and Babughat as no plastic zones and the effect was clearly visible. The water bodies in VM were clean and free of algae. The riverside wasn’t littered, it was well-lit and piped music was playing.

But somewhere inside me I wished the old Babughat was there. No lights, no music but yes I would still like it cleaner.

Nearly forgot to mention that this last picture has been taken outside a restaurant which sells the most divine pork momos, thukpa and the works. If you want to know the secret you must message me.

Calcutta Chronicles

To me Calcutta is the place I go to eat, shop and meet up with friends. The camera stays neglected in my bag, which is a shame, considering the fascinating locations just around the corner.

So I dusted my camera out its bag and accompanied a school friend and keen photographer to a photo-shoot in and around the streets of North Calcutta specifically Chitpur and Bagbazar. It was a typical winter morning cold and misty and it was interesting to document the scenes of a city waking up from its slumber.

The lanes and by-lanes reminded me of Varanasi but somewhat cleaner and considerably less chaotic. The peeling paint, political slogans and the ubiquitous tea shops created a picture of an old forgotten world where things have not changed much over the centuries. The stray mongrels and muffler clad people moved in a world of mist and smoke from the clay unons (ovens).

By the time it was eight am, the light was decidedly better and the roads were bustling with rickshaws, vendors and people off to work. Just before leaving Chitpur we decided to check out just one more lane and hit the jackpot. The small workshops down a narrow alleyway were crammed with karais or woks in various stages of production. There were men with huge hammers beating the woks into shape; wielding welding torches and smoothing surfaces and edges and putting the final touches to these gigantic cooking pots.

Bagbazar, the citadel of old Bengali aristocracy, cleaner and with wider roads, had remnants of the old buildings now in ruins, speaking of a greater past. After some hing (asafoetida) kachoris and jilipis (jalebis) in front of Girish Mancha, we decided to call it a day.

The Palaces

I was so tired from the monumental effort of writing the one thousand words post on the elephants of Kabini that, that it’s been a while since I have written in the blog. But many unsaid wonders remain from my last trip. So let me tell you about the palaces of the Wodeyars.

I can see you are frowning and wondering who the Wodeyars are? I remember reading about Tipu Sultan but there was nothing about the Wodeyars in the school history books.

There is a lot of interesting history there including how two princes from Gujarat helped to rescue the beleaguered princess of Mysore from the attention of an unwanted suitor; the eldest married the princess and became the King Of Mysore.

If you want to read more on this just check this link, worth a visit.

http://www.themysorepalace.com/palace_royals.htm

Their palace, the fourth at this site, also has a chequered history. It was destroyed by lighting, burnt in a fire and demolished by Tipu Sultan. A real chapter of accidents.

I was lucky to be there on a Sunday to see the palace lit up with ninety-seven thousand bulbs shimmering in the night. I went back the next day to see the interiors and the grounds. While extremely lavish with detailed decorations in every nook and corner, I was mildly disappointed as it all seemed a bit excessive. But I guess that was expected of a royal dynasty.

Kabini (4) Kabini (5) Kabini (3)

Having seen the palace in Mysore, I had to go to the Palace in Bangalore. A relatively new structure, this was more tastefully done yet luxurious with gilded ceilings and wall length mirrors and a beautiful curved stair-case.

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Now for the bad news. If you are a photographer, you are not allowed to take the camera into Mysore Palace though you can photograph the lights. At the Bangalore Palace, the camera is allowed but with a stupendous fee of Rs. 650(even a mobile camera is charged around Rs. 280). Considering the entry fee of Rs. 280, that is close to a thousand rupee outlay just on one Palace.

Kabini Chronicles ( An Addendum)

That evening at the resort, I am watching a documentary called Nagarhole -Tales from an Indian jungle, which captures the essence of the forest and its animal life through the seasons (watch an excerpt at http://www.froghopperdvds.co.uk/nagarahole-indian-jungle ). I learn that the elephants at Kabini are endangered by human encroachment and the silting of the river which threaten their habitat and source of sustenance. The coffee plantations which have come up in the neighbouring areas also block their traditional migration routes. It’s disheartening to think that unless we are careful, these elephants may only be seen in photographs.

Facts & Figures

Adult Asiatic elephants are between three to six tonnes in weight and about two to three and a half metres tall. Their African counterparts are heavier, taller and have bigger ears which reach upto the neck. Asian elephants also have a convex or straight back and not a concave back.

Getting there: Kabini is around 250 km from Bangalore and 80 km from Mysore. Trains between Bangalore and Mysore are frequent and it’s a short two to three-hour trip. From Mysore again it’s a two-hour drive and the road, except for the last ten odd kilometres, are mostly good.

Places to Stay: There are a few resorts near Kabini which are priced somewhat exclusively. Another alternative is to stay in Mysore which has many reasonably priced home-stays and drive to Kabini for the safari.

Photography Tips: Go for as many safaris as you can afford. At least one in the morning and another in the afternoon. And carry a good long lens or a good lens fitted with a converter especially for the birds. There is good light but all the birds and animals are really far away. A walk in the nearby villages can also be extremely rewarding.

Kabini Chronicles

Even for a foodie like me, lunch had been a bit too extensive; or may be expansive is the right word. Just when I thought we were done, the smiling waiters brought in yet one more course. After this ‘foodorgy’, I was contemplating whether to lounge on a deck chair in the garden and pretend to read a book in the balmy wind blowing in from the Kabini river or give up all pretence and just take a nap. I must have drifted off while trying to make such a difficult decision when there was a knock on the door. Another smiling face. This time it was the resort’s driver. “Madam, its three o’clock and we are leaving for the safari in thirty minutes”.

I was in Kabini near Mysore for a few days of relaxation and photography. The scenery was breathtaking with a meandering river, green fields and the parched red soil. The sky was a brilliant shade of aqua, as if somebody had pumped up the vibrancy slider a tad too much.

The Riverside

Kabini is one of the most popular destinations for wildlife enthusiasts in South India and forms the south-eastern part of Nagarhole National Park. Spread over 55 acres of land, this area was once the favourite hunting ground of Maharajas and British viceroys. It’s now known for its extremely successful conservation projects. The National Park is the habitat for the largest number of Asian elephants in the world and also has a sizeable tiger population. You can also frequently see leopards, wild boar, wild dogs, spotted deer, barking deer, Malabar squirrels, hyenas, sloth bears and a variety of birds.

My destination is just a short drive away by the forest department’s safari vehicle which is ideal for viewing as well as photography. It’s late March but not unreasonably hot and the trees are rustling in the wind. The forest is brown and red, the monsoon now a distant dream, and there is a palpable excitement in the air as we wait to spot the most majestic of animals, the elephant.

A blue roller watches us sceptically. There are six of us in the vehicle, talking in hushed tones while scanning the trees for any signs of life. Everyone has a binocular or a camera or even both ready to fire. Suddenly the keen eyes of the driver spot something and he whispers “A Bull” and points between a cluster of trees. There between the towering crocodile trees is a patch of grey; it moves slowly and comes to my line of sight.

Through the Trees

The elephant walking through the forest is not fully grown but impressive nonetheless. He looks around and gradually starts walking towards the other side of the road, where there was a largish water body for it to bathe and drink water. Branches brush against his body but they might as well have been twigs for all the attention he paid. I remembered reading somewhere that the elephant’s skin is about an inch thick. All around me I hear the click of camera shutters like AK47s in a war zone.

There was another elephant next to the watering hole and a wild boar was keeping it company. But I don’t think the elephant was impressed and soon chased the boar away. And when an elephant chases you, you stay chased!

With the Boar

As the sun dips more and more pachyderms join the group. Soon they are knee deep in water, spraying themselves with their trunks, the droplets forming liquid sculptures.

And the forest is silent except for a coppersmith barbet going “duk, duk” in the distance and the commotion in and around the waterhole. A rather irritated cormorant flies off after a while unhappy about the ruckus. In the golden hour, I watch these gentle giants play like children until it is closing time.

Irritated Cormorant