Trip to God’s own country!

Kerala is called ‘God’s own country’ but I had heard that in the monsoon season, it looks even more beautiful that it looks in the other seasons. The beauty and serenity makes it feel like heaven. It’s so clean and green.

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Weather in Kerala is pleasant throughout the year due to nearness to the sea and Western Ghats on other side. There are two monsoons seasons -: South-West Monsoon and North-East Monsoon. South-west monsoon starts from May-June and continues till September and Western Ghats gets the 1st rainfall.

Obviously watching sunset over the Arabian Sea while sitting on the Kovalam beach would be a romantic idea, but getting drenched under the cloudy sky and being in the huge tea estate will revitalize the mind, body and soul. So I chose to go to Kerala in the monsoon.

From Delhi to Kochi it was 3-hour flight journey, which was spent with half-sleepy eyes. By the time we reached Kochi or Cochin it was 9:30 am, and a cab was already waiting outside. We made a small halt for quick dosa-idli and filter-coffee breakfast and we were off to the mountains taking rounds & rounds that led towards Munnar. Some 135 KM away and at 6000 ft height, we were in between the misty sky and waterfall flowing among the greenness. Via a quick trip to spice garden (quite like our Sri Lanka trip, where the cab driver takes you to spice garden, elephant ride & shower) we entered Munnar. Quick tip – if you are in Munnar, buy some tea for sure and spices too.

Our hotel was overlooking the tea planted mountains and a small school, where bells rang every few hours and there was a cuckoo that woke us up at exact 6 o’ clock! Weather was cool and rain was just perfect to enjoy the vacation. (Especially if you were carrying the umbrella).


We did a mountain trek at Eravikulam national park and, funny enough, saw just 1 mountain goat! While coming back from park, one should try tree tomato or corn on the cob or have fried cashew nuts with a mug of coffee and not to forget homemade chocolate sellers along the way! Next we went to Mattupetty dam, it was a nice sight but nothing much. So we headed to echo point, which was 6 km from Dam. We absolutely loved the panoramic view with the mild rain-fall while sipping the masala tea with chilly vada-pav.

 

Next was driving down to Thekkady. It was some 110 KM drive amongst the most beautiful green patches made due to the grand Tata Tea Estate. We checked-in at our beautiful resort in the heart of Kumily with 8 acre of greenness, canopy of tall trees and a tree house café. BLISS. Soon we had to head to Periyar lake, where boating starts at 3:30 in evening and makes one witness one and half hour of cruising among flora and fauna with few sights of wild pigs, tortoise hugging the trees, sambal deers and wild elephants. Later we spent the rest of evening by watching Kalaripayattu (the martial art of Kerala) and Kathakali performance.

Next early morning we headed to Kumarakom, which is near Kottayam city. It’s set at the backdrop of largest fresh water Vembanad lake. Started a 4 hours shikara ride along the bird sanctuary with a break in between at some small resort along the Vembanad lake. The fresh homemade style food was heavenly. Well, shikara ride was different as it took you through small canals where houseboat couldn’t go. Later we checked-in at our resort and did some fishing at the resort private lakeside. The best part was Allepey’s nearness to Kumarkom, which meant we didn’t have to rush for early morning checkout.

 

We had heard so much about the backwaters of Kerala and when experienced, must say, one should plan a houseboat vacation in Kerala for sure. After driving through canals and lagoons and passing through villages when your houseboat comes to rest near a paddy field in evening, all you want to do is run towards that small church on the other side and return back to your houseboat living room only for freshly prepared traditional kerala food. Waking up on a houseboat with sun peeping through coconut leaves and some music coming from another boat was another world’s experience. As we went in July, we also saw the preparations for famous Nehru trophy boat race or Vallam Kali (which happens in August). These boats have 50 to 100 people seated in the Chundan Vallams (snake boats) and row hard to cover 1.5 Km in 3 minutes!

Before taking flight back to Delhi, we had a quick city tour of Kochi that included visit to Mattancherry palace or Dutch palace, Synagogue. Both places have Rs. 5 entry fee, so better carry the change. Chinese fishing net was another good place (if only visited at sunset time). We concluded our trip with a visit to St. Franchis, an oldest European church and a trip to private collection of interesting antique pieces at Folklore museum.

So when are you visiting Kerala? In monsoon or soon

Unofficial travel photography tips.

We have lots of photography material to read on how to get best frame – technical as well as composition related. But all these hardly matter when we reach a travel destination.

Ps: Im writing this for not so professional travel photographers, who spends day & night on research and after lotsa sweat get that one great. It’s for wanna-be-pro-photographer.

Mostly, when we are traveling, we are with friends or family or if alone than also on a short trip and have time constraints. This lack of time makes us cover all the tourist attractions in that certain time frame. Though we do research about the place, read about the tourist spot, and also check the weather conditions,

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when we reach we get a different story! (Also adding my own personal experience)

  1. If it is an Indian temple, we have to take off the footwear few meters away and that stone floor on a hot day just makes it difficult to go an extra meter to get that wide-angle shot. Or the marble floor is too cold on a winter morning. (Like Tajmahal, Agra)
  2.  Most of time, we don’t get a single photograph from the particular famous attraction because we didn’t check the signage ‘Photography not allowed’. And you have to deposit the camera / iPhone at the entrance. (Most of Indian temples like Dilwara Jain temple, Mount Abu)
  3. If it’s related to water or a beach vacation, we don’t have rain jacket for camera or forget to carry underwater camera. (River rafting at Rishikesh)
  4. Just when you are about to shoot a masterpiece, the monk who was busy in meditation politely asks you not to click. (Bodhgaya)
  5. You are in flip-flops and sand at beach is just too hot to walk. (Puri Sea beach)
  6. You are in a group or some facebook-photographers are standing next to you and as soon as you get the interesting angle or a subject, they too come and click the ditto and post it on facebook ASAP (no need to give example here :D)
  7. Time taken to change a lens and subject moves from its place in that time-frame – one of the common things. (Pinnewala elephant orphanage, SriLanka).
  8. Guy is ready to give a priceless smile but there is a price for it and you are out of local currency or not having small bills. (Musician at Statue of Liberty, New York).
  9. You captured the moment and some goon comes to you and asks you to delete all the photographs. No reason! (Gandhi Ashram, Ahmadabad)
  10.  Weather is unpredictable. So if you are planning for shoot with sunlight then keep in mind the other option to shoot too. Sometimes overcast sky does wonders too. (Napa Valley, California)

Handy tips:

– Wear a comfortable dress, especially if you are a girl and traveling in India.

– Carry 2-3 different types of footwear for travel.

– Apart from sunscreen, carry a scarf, hat or best would be an umbrella.

– Leave the extra lens at hotel room; you might need it for other tourist attractions – next day.

– Keep a water bottle, some snacks in backpack always for the instant energy boost.

Happy traveling and come back with lot’s great memories.

Marvelous Maldives

Maldives is called the sunny side of life and for me it’s a slice of heaven on earth. In fact, I have traveled a decent lot worldwide but am yet to find a naturally beautiful place as pretty as Maldives. One of the interesting fact : 99% of the country area is water and for the remaining 1% area, there are lots of islands dotted across 26 atolls.

We went to Sri Lanka 1st and from there went to Maldives and the airport we landed on was the only thing on that island.  The flight was going to London and due to turbulence few passengers were sitting in panic. But as soon as the plane started hovering over Maldives, the shades of blue took us in another world. We got our Visa on arrival, and looked for resort representative and from there our journey started on sea transports, like Speed boat.

It was drizzling when we started the journey to resort that was around 30 min away but as soon as we reached resort, it stopped and we were offered welcome drink followed by a quick tour of resort and then eventually escorted to our super deluxe beach resort. There is a saying, it’s not a beach destination but destination is beaches! It was amazing to see closest beach just few feet away from our bungalow and reef just below it. One could see hundreds of tropical fish, just from a few feet above water.

1st day we spent in walking around the resort. Sometime we sat on the wooden deck and watched the sun getting melted into sea of tropical colors and another time strolled around the resorts and watched different fishes in and out of turquoise reefs.  Did I mention that the dinner was awesome – we opted for half board so that we can eat at different restaurants in resort during the lunch time.

Next morning we were up and ready to go Male city tour. The island is the commercial hub of trades and hardly 2.5 square km in area. We visited some souvenir shops and bought huge shells and ceramic stuff and spent some time in a royal café. Once we were back to resort, we walked down to an Italian restaurant and had one of best pasta and wine. After some rest we headed for water sports. You have range of water sports to do from snorkeling to scuba diving to sailing to surfing, including not forgetting to bet at crab race at resort. It’s fun!

The best part about Maldives luxurious resort is that the chefs keep introducing different items every time you visit the restaurant for buffet. After a delicious breakfast, we headed for one of the interesting thing: a submarine drive. We 1st took Dhoni (the localized motor boat), which was fun as it kept going up and down with Indian Ocean waves. After 30-40 min ride we reached the jetty and from there we entered inside a capsule, which was submerged in sea. As soon it started going down, the underwater world started appearing in front of window. We saw eel, lionfish and many colorful fishes. I tried to make a video but it was futile.

Rest part of evening was spent watching sunset and when in morning sun was trying to emerge out we had a quick breakfast and started walking towards jetty with a thought to return back to this paradise once again.

For more photos please visit http://www.facebook.com/pureblissphotos or http://www.purebliss.in

The quick trip to neighborhood country

To me, Sri Lanka was like a dot below India’s map and I am aware of this country’s presence ever since I know India. Quite obviously, the charm to visit this country was always there but the right moment didn’t happen.

My trip to Sri Lanka was short and sweet but gave enough reason to go back again. I visited the capital city of Colombo and their hill station Kandy. As soon I reached Bandaranaike International Airport, Vesak lanterns were seen everywhere. The city looked quite clean and noticed a lot of traffic police taking rounds. Got to know from the cab driver that it is illegal to throw garbage or even puke on road and one will get fined if caught.

Day 1- Colombo:

It was drizzling in early morning so when I left for city tour, I knew it’s going to look more beautiful. Crossing the Galle road and viewing the spectacular five star hotels we reached 1st to a Hindu temple in Colombo. Nothing much to surprise there were every God / Goddess but no Hanuman 🙂

I read there were many Hindu temples but I wanted to visit Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple. I saw one of the awesome and valuable collections of relics of the Buddha there, elephant tusks and rare artifacts acquired locally and from abroad and also saw an elephant with ground touching tusk.

How can I miss this grand colonial building which is named as Colombo museum. This was founded by Sir William Henry Gregory, the British Governor of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1877. There were lots of coins, weapons, brassware and sculptures telling ancient cultures of sri lanka.

Next was one of the best place – Sima Malaka Meditation Island on the Beira Lake, designed by Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. You can spend some tranquil moment here while watching the fleet of birds around.

By this moment, it was lunchtime so had sri lankan buffet at Raja Boujan. It was so tasty and yummy that next day at Kandy also, I went to a restaurant to have Srilankan lunch buffet.

Day 2: Pinnawala and Kandy.

Day started early morning with a drive to Kandy via Pinnawala. (about 90 km from Colombo is the home to some 80 or more elephant orphans). Before the elephant orphanage, cab driver stopped and took us to an elephant foundation where I did elephant ride and learnt few facts about elephants (like, Elephant trunk has no bones while tail has lots of bones).

Next was Pinnawala which is famous for its impressive herd of pachyderms. The herd included one elephant that broke his leg in mines, some who were lost in forest and some who were left behind when they fell sick are part of this world’s biggest elephant orphanage.

Next was a quick visit to a herb garden and gem factory and then I visited Peradeniya Botanical Garden at Kandy. It was huge and had well manure grass, plants, and multiple varieties of tress – and I had taken the mantle of visiting this all in an hour! But it started raining, so quickly I visited the orchid house and left for the famous ‘Temple of tooth relic’.

This 17th century temple is one of the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site. Here, one of the Buddha’s teeth is kept.

Later in evening, I went to watch the Kandyan dance performance and after that finally reached hotel and was so exhausted that had dinner at the hotel empty restaurant only.

I had to rush to Colombo airport early morning to catch the flight so could not see sunrise from Kandy but enjoyed the ride and was looking forward to the next destination- Maldives!

Shopping:

Tour Guide cum cab driver Prem Sagar wanted to take me for shopping before even showing me the city attraction so I told a big NO. I guess I was wrong because later I learnt Colombo is famous for cloths manufacturing and export for international brands and they sell at very reasonable prices. I even didn’t visit ODEL shop L but when waiting for flight to Male at airport, bought a t-shirt.

But I knew what I wanted so I picked up a sri-lankan mask from a handicraft store and a dancing avatar from Laksala at airport and indulged in some ceylon tea shopping.

As a part of trip and guide’s commission to bring tourist to Gem store and Ayurvedic Garden, I visited those too but didn’t buy anything. I wasn’t sure if those were authentic and what price should I negotiate. I thought it better to avoid.

** Wrote this Srilanka blog long back because I travelled there in may 2011.

a Pro Hobby!

Since childhood one of our favorite question to ask while making friends is – ‘whats your hobby‘. When we entered in graduate school then also we didn’t mind sharing our hobbies and had long discussions on the same. Once we started working, we started trying to find time for our hobbies, infact creating new hobbies.

It is a no brainer to see that the most popular hobbies are – Reading, Listening Music, Video games apart from Watching TV/ Cinema, playing musical instruments and internet surfing & sleeping (yup, it’s a serious hobby). But in the past few years, photography has emerged as a serious hobby (also for some extra money making :)). Digital cameras, and mobile cameras has given birth to so many budding ‘Photographers‘. We started clicking with some mega pixels without worrying about dark rooms hassles or how many roles were used to get a perfect picture. Digital camera is a one time investment and you learn composition, light and many more things while clicking. Gradually you don’t mind buying not-so-better looking but better result giving ‘Digital SLR‘ (DSLR).

Journey by Paavani Bishnoi

Earlier SLR and photography books were not readily available (read expensive) and there was no concept of social media. Now you buy a cool gadget during your foreign trip or order from amazon and then keep clicking thousands of shots and upload the best one on Facebook, get ‘likes’ from friends and get ‘wah – wahi’ for your photography skills. Gradually you start using those photo editing softwares and even create a Facebook XYZ photography page to actually say, photography-is-not-your-hobby & you no more want to be tagged as an amateur photographer and  want to get paid for your hard work. After all you invested money in buying those big huge lenses!

Something which was a profession and something which was not sought by everyone, gradually became  ‘PRO hobby’ of technology aware people! Every other day, I see so many awesomeness on my Facebook page, tweet links on my twitter that I wonder how challenging it has become for a real photographer to survive & give a competitive pricing. As an example, a wedding photographer finds it hard to differentiate from a newbie photographer who got a cool- flash -website and whose work looks awesome in that wordpress theme, due to his last vacation (office) trip with variety & exposure. Will it differentiate from someone who is really enthusiastic, learned from scratch, walked a lot at 4am to get that perfect sun rise shot from mountains? Not until he first learns to be social media savvy.

Due to emerging breed of amateur photographers, few started going back to roots to differentiate themselves. They really started learning basics of photography from developing a role by using analog camera to printing with polaroids.

Someday, I will share my own photography journey. For now I will just say, I love well taken photographs even if it’s direct imitation of Steve McCurry’ Afghan girl or inspired from Henri Cartier Work.

Keep spreading the awesomeness in black & white or colors or with Bokeh or in panoramic shots, just keep clicking. You never know, someday while pursuing your hobby you may click a ‘master piece‘.

MTV – master at plagiarizing, 2010

Is it a matter of pride or a case of plagiarism – this was exact thought that came to my mind when on 18th august morning I saw my ‘Independent India’ image in MTV’s latest National Anthem video on Television.

Original MTV -jana gana mana video

After photo plagiarism case MTV India deleted previous videos, edited & uploaded new video http://www.mtvindia.com/newsense You can easily see the difference- so many images including mine was stolen by MTV.

I tweeted to MTV India and @MTVindia replied saying they are asking their production team & till then I stay a happy bunny!

STRANGE, I never got a response back after that. Instead, they deleted the tweet response, videos from MTV India website and their your tube links etc within in an hour. And 3 days later, I now see a new video, which does not have many images (including mine, which means other photos were also picked up without permission) – and the same video is on the Television and the Internet.

I kept writing to MTV on twitter and also I wrote an email to Viacom 18 COO, Rajesh Kamat  (Viacom 18 channels are Colors, MTV etc). But I didn’t get any reply.

People at Twitter / Facebook started suggesting me to send a legal letter to MTV for the same or talk to someone from media but when I tried contacting media like IBN (which is part of network 18), I didn’t get a reply.

The only option in front of me seems to be taking a legal route. In a country like ours, it is however a lengthy method to ask for credit and compensation by going to the court. However, I am tempted to do that not because of the wants for credit but also to spread awareness amongst other people of the illegal and unethical doings of these large companies. This photo steal case is 2nd for me, but there have been umpteen other cases like this which have happened with my photographer friends.

Through this blog, if there is one thing I want to do – it is to spread awareness amongst such media companies and their employees who routinely pick up pictures and content from internet without realizing that not only is it unethical but against the law as well. Perhaps it is their supervisor / seniors who don’t tell them about these basic work ethics!

When MTV India, a youth music channel, picked up my image and few more images to use in the national anthem ‘jana gana mana’ video, they probably searched for ‘india independence day’ or something similar and selected few good images and used in videos for which they spent few thousand dollars. This was all done and televised on TV without realizing that they had done a grave mistake of using images for which they did not have the copyrights.

Another bad ethical practice by MTV was them initially replying to me on twitter without understanding the consequences, where they later deleted video from website and Youtube and also deleted the tweet. They did not do the basic thing that they should have had done at the earliest was to handle this case of plagiarism in a mature way by immediately apologizing. Given what it was used for, I would have given my image for free but what eventually happened gave me a sad impression about MTV and seniors.

For saving few thousand rupees, MTV will carry a stamp of ‘pursuer of plagiarism’. They could have easily handled this more gracefully, but they ended up spoiling it and become the bad icon of the year!

I am hurt not because my ‘ Independent India ’  got stolen by MTV but for the shameful act of they trying to remove the traces of their wrong doings from the Internet. Poor MTV, you just become ‘plagiarizing icon of year, 2010!

a monk who sold her camera.

In essence of celebrating World Photography day– 19th august, I would like to share my perception on how monks & photographers are related.

Photography by Paavani, clicked at Bodhgaya, India

Monks are not simple human beings, they wear a peculiar dress and follow a set of rules. Just like photographers, they also observe extra ordinary in ordinary. Monks live an unconditional life and photographers try to give unconditional expressions via visuals. Monks change themselves from the very roots of his being and photographer present the things the way they want. A monk’s quest doesn’t end and a true photographer never gets tired of being hermit and rootless wandering habit to get her subject right. A monk gets peace when with God and a photographer gets solace with her gadgets which isn’t necessarily hi-fi. But just like having proper knowledge will lead a monk to a clearer route to God; proper equipment makes the findings easy for a photographer. But she can even do wonder with a mobile camera, and not necessarily a canon 5D mark II.

And if you have questions regarding what photographers do whole day, just like a monk, a whole day is less to pray (play) with images. So enjoy this photographic journey my dear photographer friends, and wishing lots such photography day (events & exhibitions) in your life.

Ps: it’s a pure religious post. A photographer relation with her camera and her respect hidden in photographs. Thank you.