Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Winter Vacation at Death Valley National Park

Visiting Death Valley National Park is never boring. You discover something new every time you go there. It’s also a great destination to carry your camera gear. However, if you go with your family and kids, as I did two weeks ago, do not expect to spend too much time on photography.  

Day 1 was cold and windy (ironically, Death Valley National Park is the hottest place in North America). Kids had great fun in the sand dunes. We spent about half a day in the dunes. Kids were reluctant to get out of the dunes. They had left behind their sandals on the sand while playing. By the time we returned, one pair was buried somewhere deep in the sand not to be found. Hard lessons learned!

Death Valley is a vast place. We spent a lot of time just driving to the vista points. For example, it is about 30 miles from the sand dunes to the next main vista point, Devil’s Golf Course. Our next hops were Devil’s Cornfield, Devil’s Golf Course, and Bad Water Basin. Because of the tall mountains all around, the sun set very early - around 4:30. It got dark by 4:45. 

One good thing about early sunset was, it gave us more time to see the stars in the clear sky. It is impossible to see so many stars from anywhere near a city. I excused myself from my family to perform some night shot experiments. Night shots require long exposure. Unfortunately family members of photography enthusiasts do not have the same level of patience as the latter do.

Day 2: We started our day with a trek on the Mosaic Canyon. Mosaic Canyon gets a lot of visitors. Yet, the 2 mile road from the main road to the entrance of the canyon is a gravel road. I wonder if there is a reason why they have left it so. The walk inside the canyon was nice. I carried my little one on my backpack carrier. The canyon got narrow and slippery at places. It wasn’t extremely hard, but I had to be a little more careful at such points. 

We had missed the Artist’s Palette the previous day because of the early sunset. I haven’t seen any hill or mountain as colorful as this one. Artist’s Palette pictures look great. However, it is impossible to capture the real look and elegance of the place.

Zabriskie’s point was closed due to road construction. That was a disappointment. We drove to Dante’s Point by 4 PM - just around the time for sunset. The view of the valley from the top was awesome. It was a punishment to get out of the car. The temperature was below freezing. Wind chill contributed more to the misery. I started shivering as soon as I stepped out of the car. I held my camera to shoot a picture. I could barely feel my fingers and could not press the shutter button however hard I tried. I decided to hell with the picture and rushed back to the car immediately. 

 Panamint Mountains on the west rim of the national park

 Sand dunes in the foreground, Black Mountain in the background

Panoramic view of the sand dunes 

Sand Dunes

 Kids having a blast

 A windy day at the sand dunes

Sand dust provide a hazy view of the mountains 

Devil's Cornfield 

Devil's Golf Course 

Son at Bad Water Basin 

Night sky 

Light Painting experiment - applied the lessons learned from here  

 Son at Mosaic Canyon

Artist's Palette

Friday, November 28, 2014

Viva Chile!

Central Chile is at the same latitude as California’s, but on the other side of the equator. One overnight trip transformed my world from winter to summer. The sun was already shining bright early in the morning when I landed in Santiago. I purchased a prepaid taxicab to go to my hotel. I was so glad I did that; all signs at the airport were in Spanish, and hardly anybody spoke English. The taxi driver was quite friendly. He smiled and nodded his head for whatever I asked him. I settled my score with him very soon. For anything he asked me in Spanish, I did the same too. That was my first public encounter in Santiago, and it gave me an idea on how I would have to depend on voice intonations and sign language for communication in the coming days.

At Parque Arauco Shopping Mall

Las Condes, Santiago

Santiago was much bigger than I had imagined before. There were tall mountains in all directions. The mountains on the Andes range seemed to reach the sky. My hotel was in the posh Vitacura neighborhood of the city. I was surprised to see so many multistory buildings given how seismically active this part of the world was. No sooner I lay down on the bed in my room on the 8th floor than I felt a sudden shake of the ground. It was an earthquake - 4.8 on the Richter.

I got a chance to go around Santiago and experience a few things during my one week stay. The highlight was the soccer match between Chile and Uruguay. Watching an international soccer match in the soccer frenzy nation was an unbelievable experience. I went to see the game along with my friend, Pablo. The game was at Estadio Monumental, a soccer stadium with the beautiful Andes mountains in the backdrop. The game started at 9 in the evening. La Roja fans filled the stadium an hour in advance. They shouted “Chi chi chi he he he viva Chile” all the time - before and during the game, and that echoed in my ears even after the game and all through the night. Chile played better, but Uruguay won the game 2-1.

Chile vs Uruguay at Estadio Monumental

I roamed around the city center for a couple of days during evenings. The city had a festive look all the time. The street vendors sold clothes, toys, sun glasses, caps, electronics, and many more things. I tried bargaining for some stuff a couple of times, but the language barrier did not let the sellers and I understand each other. Understanding the conversion factor Chilean Peso was tricky. I solved the conversion problem in my own way: 1000 Pesos ~ 100 Indian Rupees. The most economical place to shop I found was just outside Patio Bellavista (not inside Patio Bellavista). I found Los Dominicos handicraft village the best place to window shop. The prices here were outrageous. Chilean Pesos were already multiples of 1000s. The sellers in this village had added a few more 0s to the right.

Near Patio Bellavista

Being a vegetarian, eating out was always challenging. I learned the basic Spanish phrases - “Vegitariano, no carne, no pollo, no piscado” - and repeated them a few times in every time I ordered the food. Some restaurants had one person who would know little bit of English, and that helped a lot. I found soon that they served sparkling water if you did not ask for water with no gas - “sin gas.” At one of the restaurants, I explained my food restrictions to the waiter. He seemed to have understood my requirements very well. He suggested me a dish that was on the menu. I wanted to know what one of the ingredients meant. He tried explaining it in Spanish. I asked him what was the “nombre in Ingles?” He went in, asked somebody, returned, and said, “Octopus”. Had I not insisted on understanding what the dish was made of, I would have probably ended up tasting an Octopus.

 Papas Duquesa

Vegetarian Platter

On the last day of my stay, I took a tour bus to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso. The two cities are on the Pacific coast, about an hour and a half from Santiago. Vina del Mar was good; Valparaiso was better. I wish there was a tour bus just for Valparaiso. The roads running up and down the hills, colorful houses, picturesque scenery with Pacific Ocean in the backdrop, beautiful murals on the buildings, etc. makes this place an artist’s paradise.

The streets of Valparaiso

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Finding Blossom Trail

2014 has been the worst year for my blogging since I began doing it a few years ago. This is not because I have not much to share. I, in fact, have so much to write about that I am overloaded with a huge backlog.

March 1st, Saturday: We decided to explore this supposedly one of the most picturesque trails of California - Fresno's Blossom Trail. If not for Sierra Nevada, Fresno would be one of the most boring places in the state. On this particular day we would probably be the only folks from Northern California going all the way to Fresno for sightseeing.

When we searched for the blossom trail on our little smart phones, they took us to a sleepy town of Sanger in the Fresno suburb. After driving for about 3 hours we ended up at this town that had all but cherry blossom trees; there were acres of land waiting to be watered in the drought ridden California. I stopped my car at a gas station to enquire about the famous blossom trail. The attendant showed me the direction to a place that turned out to be Blossom Trail Inn. The next few minutes my wife and I scrambled our smartphones to get more information about the trail.

My wife found something in Reedly, which was a few miles south east of Sanger. Perhaps that place had the so called "Blossom Trail", but we landed there in despair. There was no Blossom Trail anywhere. There were a few private cherry orchards with a big sign, "Private Property. Trespassers will be prosecuted." I once again pulled over at a gas station in Reedly (Why do I always stop at a gas station? That's because that was the only place where I could find people. The roads were empty, otherwise.) The lady at the gas station pointed me across the street and said, "That's the Blossom Trail." I looked outside the window and asked her, "There? But there are only some warehouses?" She said, "Yes, that's it." We were duped once again. We drove next to those big warehouses and just made a U turn. Kids showed signs of restlessness after sitting in the car for more than four hours. The gas station lady also told me that there was a sign board for the Blossom Trail. I drove up and down the same road a few times searching for the sign. That frustrated the kids and their Mom even more.

After being behind the wheels for five hours, we gave up looking for the so called, world popular, beckoning Blossom Trail. We decided to go towards Fresno, and then head back to San Jose. On our way back we stopped at a private cherry orchard where an old man was strolling inside the orchards. I asked him about the Blossom Trail. He was extremely rude. Whatever he said sounded like, "Just get out of my property." We went a little further to find a small patch of cherry trees. There was nobody in the orchard. It was indeed a private orchard, so what the heck, we got out of our cars and took some nice pictures with the kids. I also took this picture, the one below, which puts me in awe. The orchard looks grander and more beautiful in the picture than it really was. Somethings really look good in the pics.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary

Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary deserves more hype than it gets today. Full credit goes to the Forest Department of Karnataka for maintaining the park so well. The park is visitor friendly – has good parking space, a restaurant, an information center, and boat ride services. There’s not much one can see without a boat ride. The boats take visitors close to the small islets that are crowded by trees and shrubs. Nature has designed these islets as perfect places for the birds to breed.

The boatmen who take the visitors around the river know everything about the birds. Their eyes are sharper than that of the birds: they locate the tiniest bird camouflaged in bush by even closing their eyes. They show all the birds – pelicans, storks, spoonbills, hornbills, terns, egrets, darters, herons, cormorants, and also explain their characteristics and behavior in great detail. They also give some good tips to amateur as well as professional photographers about what makes a bird’s picture a great one, and how to capture such pictures.

Ranganathittu Birds Sanctuary

I got a chance to visit Ranganathittu last December. At first, I settled myself for a short 10 minute boat ride. That was around 4:30 in the evening. The boatman saw my excitement and gave me a few tips. First, he suggested that I go for another boat ride at the time of sunset as that was the time all the birds returned home. Second, that the 10 minute wasn’t good enough and that I took the more expensive personalized ride for about an hour. He assured me that it would be one of the most memorable boat rides of my life.

My second boat ride was way more expensive – Rs. 1000 for half an hour. I thanked my stars for being an Indian national at that moment; it would have cost me Rs. 2000 if I were a foreign national. (It’s unbelievable and also deplorable that foreign nationals are given differential treatment at almost all places of tourist interests around Mysore). Siddu, my boatman steered the boat to every interesting corner of the river showing me some of the exotic birds. Then he parked the boat for about 10 minutes at a place that would show me the nature’s celestial dance. It was at this time of the day all birds return home in flocks. Hundreds of birds – mostly egrets – returned home in flocks. This was indeed the best experience of the day.

These are some of the pictures that I could capture with my lens.


Spot-billed Pelican

 Spot-billed Pelican

 Spot-billed Pelican

Spot-billed Pelican

 Black-crowned Night Heron - Juvenile

Black-crowned Night Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron

Asian Openbill

Asian Openbill

Asian Openbill

River Tern

River Tern

River Tern

Large Egret

Little Cormorant

Purple Heron


The Celestial Dance of Birds Returning Home



 Little visitors

Price Board