Ranthambhore National Park – Trip Report

3 06 2009

Warning:

It’s a long post and a lot to read. This is part one of my trip report for my visit to Ranthambhore national park in India. As a trip report, the emphasis is on the report. If you don’t want to read all of it, you scroll through the page and you will be able to see most of the selected pictures. Once I am done making Part 2 of report, I will post a link for seeing just the pictures. So those who might not have any interest in reading, can wait till then.

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It had been more than a year since I took leaves from work. Being in Dubai and seeing endless construction was making me miserable. To top it, my family was on a long leave in India. So I packed my bags and started my vacations. I was missing natural surroundings that you have everywhere in India. This time we decided to take a break from everything and spend some time with our natural heritage. I made the arrangements and got us a 4 day break in Ranthambhore national park. This park is very famous for it’s tiger population but I was not bothered with them. Being in a non-concrete jungle was a lure enough for me. Some friends and family joined up and we had a small party of 5 and a quarter for the trip (my son is just 9 months old).

Day 1
And so it begun.

Ranthambhore National Park is about 4 hours drive away from Jaipur. After spending couple of weeks with my family there, we started from Jaipur. The plan was to start as early in the morning as possible. Target was to get out of Jaipur by 8am. But after a heavy breakfast and bidding goodbyes got us to start by 9:30 am. The route was scenic with mustard fields on both sides of the roads. Road conditions were not too bad and we reached our resort by 1pm. Our next safari was due in another 90 minutes. All formalities were hurried up and we had a almost quick lunch. Almost quick I say, as I had underestimated the power of great food. Excellent food from our hosts was to blame for the delayed start of our first glimpse of the magical place. On my special request, and my luck, our host arranged for a truly excellent guide for us. His name is Salim and he is the best guide for Ranthambhore. I am going back only if Salim is available for guiding me.

We had 2 gypsies booked for our party so we had enough freedom and it was great for photography. There was no need to jostle with 20 strangers in canter to get a good view of anything. On my first drive, I was assigned Zone 3. Zone 3 is the most picturesque zone that I saw. With lakes and great birdlife, it was buzzing all around. As we had a baby with us in our Jeep, we decided to take it slow on the first day. We took our first stop at Padam Lake. Aditya (our host) pointed our attention towards a croc sleeping on a rock. Honestly I would have missed it completely had it not been shown to me. Just a few meters away from us was a Snakebird (Anhinga) basking in the sun. A hopeful egret was looking for snacks in the shallow waters. Parakeets were making sure they were heard and in general I was hoping that time will freeze and I will be there forever.

Langoor Monkey

Langoor Monkey - an alert sentry

Anhinga - The Snake Bird

Anhinga - The Snake Bird

Lazy Crock

Lazy Crock

Moving on from Padam lake, we went further in Zone 3 and came across a family of spotted deers grazing. I was wondering how others will pass these creatures, knowing that you can find them everywhere. Spotted deers can be found everywhere in Ranthambhore (from what I saw) but everytime I see them, I want to stop and enjoy being with them. Specially if they have young ones around.

Young Spotted Deer with Mom

Young Spotted Deer with Mom

Chital on golden grass

Chital on golden grass

No messing with those antlers

No messing with those antlers

Conference Call

Conference Call

As we moved further on, we came across a pair of spotted owls. It was love at first sight. Really, for me they are just as majestic as eagles or falcons. As we watched, both of them cuddled up together and looked curiously at us. We decided to move on and not disturb them. Unfortunately I could not get any keepers here yet.

Further down the road we came across a Grey heron in breding plumage. A black headed ibis was around for the company. As we moved on, we came across a fresh kill or rather remains of a fresh kill. A peacock was ambushed and killed. Looking at the scene it looked like a battle ground. Colorful feathers all around telling the story of what happened. Our guide told us to be silent. “Must be a cat’s work” he said, “If you keep quite, you may hear bones crunching”. There was a loud thumping sound. Heartbeats are irritating sometimes. There was a rustling sound in the bushes. Tension was mounting. Salim said “Must have been a carcal” and my head became dizzie. A Carcal. Beats tiger anyday. Alas, that was not to be. We waited for about 20 minutes, but nothing came of it. Excitement of being so close to a kill was the reward for me.

As we drove back, we stopped at Rajabag lake. An egret was standing at the far end of the lake. The usual suspects were around the edge looking for food. We took out a pack of biscuits and broke one in the hand. All of a sudden we were getting mobbed by the over friendly treepies. Oh yes, I am guilty of feeding a wild animal and ashamed of it but it felt to darn good to have such a close encounter.

A winter visitor

A winter visitor

This is where we concluded our first day at the park. We drove back reluctantly and under the threat of heavy fines. As we drove back from the park, we realized how hungry we were. Spent the first night with good food, folk music, bonfire, bad jokes and most important with great friends. As the next safari was scheduled at 6:30 am, we all dragged ourselves to the rooms by 11:30 pm.

Day 2

Meet Zone 4

We got our wakeup call by 5:30 am. I was already up and ready by then. I wonder why I can not do the same when I have to go to the office. Matters not. Came down and saw that hot tea and rusks are waiting right next to a heap of blankets. I got me a cuppa and got into our jeep. Note to potential visitors: Do not mix morning tea and morning safaris on a cold day. Ranthambhore does not have scheduled pit stops and you never know what may be lurking on the other side of the bush you are “Marking your territory”. Anywho we were assigned Zone 4. This is the largest zone of all and the most bumpy ride of them all.

We got in and it was a misty morning. I did not even switch on my camera. There wasn’t much point in shooting anything till sun came out. We just enjoyed the views and marveled at the early morning wildlife. Slowly the golden light pierced through the mist and we saw a handsome blue bull sauntering away. A few minutes down the road we came across a couple of Sambar deers. Guide told me that both of them were male but the younger one was trying to get into good books of the older male. Well so much for the nature’s way. As we drove down on that cold misty morning, we came across three male Chinkaras playing in the grass.

Sambar Deer

Sambar Deer

On and on we drove till we got to a place called Semli in Zone 4. We saw a guard circling the pugmarks. As Salim spoke to the guard, our hopes of seeing the fuzzy orange cat were rekindled. A male tiger was supposed to have been around earlier that morning. So we decided to wait and listen for alarm calls. Almost magically the alarm calls started. Sambar started their barks. Then a langoor gave out warnings. A predator was in the vicinity. We decided to move a bit further and locate the source of the calls. Again we waited and the calls stopped. Whatever was lurking in the bushes disappeared. Or so we thought. As we started back, we came across fresh urine of a tiger merely 50 meters away from us. We were so close, yet so far. Then the bad jokes about seeing something related to tiger started (seeing the tiger part by part). We had gone on some roads in this zone that I would not even call roads. And no, I am not talking about bumpy jungle pathways. I am talking more like a vertical dive and accent.

We got back to the hotel and joined rest of the group for breakfast. Seems like there were some guests who had seen our tiger. Our tiger… but there was no worry. All of us were satisfied with seeing what was there to see. The orange stripped cat will have to wait.

After a heavy lunch we started back. As my luck would have it, I was back in Zone 4. While driving down in there, we came across wild boars having a party in Malik talao (Malik Lake). Instantly we said, Asterix and Obelix. Just a few meters away from us was a White throated kingfisher. Perched on a dead tree. It was one of the most vibrant birds I have seen.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher

Rolling down further in the forest we came across quite a few birds including Shikra, Black shouldered kite, Buzzard, Brahminy Duck, Storks etc. There were Spotted deers, sambars and jackals as well. My son was up by then and was thrilled to be on the bumpy roads. Who needs to know the calls of Deer when a 9 month old can say “aaaaa” and deer looks at you. 😀 Though he will not remember much, but I know he enjoys the outdoors (just like all other 9 month old).

Black Shouldered Kite

Black Shouldered Kite

Female Bluebull

Female Bluebull

As we passed the forest guard camps we decided to take a road less traveled. We were driving on the exterior wall of a dried lake and all of a sudden Salim asked driver to brake. Right there sitting a few meters away from us was a crested serpent eagle, perched on a dead tree. As we were on the wall, we were eye level with him. What a majestic bird. We were lucky. After patiently posing for us for a few minutes, it decided to take a flight. Unfortunately I was unprepared and got only a record shot.

Serpent Eagle

Serpent Eagle

Once again we came across some very fresh pugmarks and we started to follow them. I guess the Tiger god was not smiling down on us so the cat proved to be elusive once again. There were suggestions in the jeep that must be the guards dressed up as tigers to keep tourism up and some even more creative observations.

Brahminy Duck Or Rudy Shel Duck

Brahminy Duck Or rudy Shel Duck

Flame of the Forest

Flame of the Forest

As we came back, we met other people around the bonfire and one lucky fellow told me that he saw a tigers head in a different zone. My back was reminding me of the two rides I took in zone 4 on the same day. Once again a mix of great food and friends, folk music and a touch of Iodex took me back to dreamland.

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Part 2 should be up soon.

Note: All photographs shown are copyright by me. Do not copy or reproduce them without my express permission.

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Wanna buy a DSLR? – Part 1

26 12 2007

“Hey that’s a damn good photo, which camera?”
“Why do you carry that camera bag when you can have this gazillion megapixel pocket camera?”
“Should I buy this SLR thingy?”
“What SLR should I buy?”
“Why won’t your SLR zoom? Where is the Zoom/movie button?”
“What!!!!! your big camera can’t make movies? Why did you buy it then?”

Ever heard any of the above? Those are some of the questions I came across. If you read them carefully, you will realize that all of them are asked by someone who knows camera as a box with a click button. Some of these questions really cracked me up, some upset me. So I decided to write down my thoughts. Before we continue, a declaration is on the way.

Camera does not make great photo, photographer and light does.
A point and shoot is what my mother use.
Lens, viewfinder, aperture, ISO, Noise, shutter, exposure. All of them are important.
SLRs don’t zoom, lenses do.
No, SLR don’t make movies. Just like your car can not “make” coffee.

Phew. With that out of way, we can continue with more sensible discussion. First let us say that point and shoot cameras are not bad. In fact with the technological advances they have only become better. If you need easy to use, compact and lightweight camera, do not even think about DSLR. DSLRs are heavy, bulky and have a steep learning curve. You will not be able to slip DSLR in your shirt pocket and not notice it. If you want a good P&S go to the camera shop, try various P&S. Try different manufacturers, click test pictures without flash, see the pictures on a laptop at 100% size, then decide which is the camera for you.

When you are in market for buying a DSLR there are various factors which comes before you even start looking at a camera store. You would need to know the answers of following questions:

1. What kind of photography I want to do?
Travel, architecture, sports, fashion, wildlife, candid, walkabout… There are more than enough types to choose from. This is the most confusing question of them all as it is more of an artistic question rather than a technical one. You will be the best person to answer it as well. Just ensure that you are honest while deciding your shooting style. Shooting your son’s football game once a year does not mean that you want to do mainly sports with your camera.

2. What is my budget?
At least initially you will need to know what kind of budget you have allocated for photography. After you have started with the exciting world of DSLR, you will be broke anyways. As soon as you start understanding “sharp”, “IS/VR/OS”, “wide open”, “more reach” etc, your bank balance would be in serious danger.

3. How deeply you want to be involved in photography?
Though with time, photography has become cheaper than what it used to be, it still costs money, time and effort. If you go ahead and buy a top of the line DSLR for bragging right and use it only a few times in a year in full auto mode, you might as well donate that money to a good charity. A camera sitting on a shelf for months does not make you a better photographer. You have to give it some time and be ready to take efforts in learning various techniques.

4. Megapixels don’t not matter.
If you search the net, you will notice that people keep saying megapixels won;t matter. I can not agree more with that saying. You might want to consider that bigger sensor will result in better pictures. A compact camera with tiny sensor may have 10 Megapixel crammed on it, but a 6 Megapixel SLR with bigger sensor will almost always do better. Have a look at this article in DPreview.com.

5. Canon/Nikon/Pentax/Sony is better than Canon/Nikon/Pentax/Sony
Honestly, no. They are all fine. Still the DSLR market is dominated by Canon/Nikon as they have a huge lens lineup. When choosing what brand to go along with, consider what kind of lenses you will be investing into. Do a price comparison of lens prices on various sites. See the samples of various camera bodies/lenses. Go to the camera store, hold the camera, operate it, feel it and then may be you will have an idea on what camera feel “right”.

I will write the next installment of this article, in which we will explore various startup gears one can indulge into without causing a serious damage to his bank balance.





In Search…

24 12 2007

 

I Search … for those memory lanes.. where I can get lost again…

I search … for those moments.. where I can live again…

I search … for you … to find myself

 





Ground Zero

16 11 2007

Hmmm …. I have not posted anything for a long time. Though whenever I see something, I compose a scene in my mind. But somehow I can not bear to do the same with the camera.  It just one of those times when I can not think straight. Guess it’s a low time in my life. 🙂 Hope tomorrow brings a better day. Currently life is back at Ground Zero





Simple Life

30 10 2007

Everyday people in Rajasthan





Its a slugs life

23 10 2007

As an example of things that you may be missing when you are looking at the big picture. I came across this guy when I went to the local park and decide to take a break and lie down a bit. After noticing this guy next to me, first thing I did was to check if there are any that I might have killed without knowing. Luckily no one was hurt 😀

Now, I am not an expert on bugs/slugs/worms/larva, heck I did not even study biology but I liked this fella to be quite fascinating. Like someone said, life is what happens when we are too busy to notice. Right now am in the middle of sorting through pictures of my recent India trip. Will post some when I am done processing them.





Canon EOS 20D Part III

13 09 2007

I thought long and hard about why did I buy a 20D when I could have bought a 400D (10 Mega pixels, self sensor cleaning etc). To tell the truth, the most important factor was the fact that 20D felt much better in my hands than 400D. Xti or 400D felt too small and flimsy in my hands. Of course it is an excellent camera, but me being someone who prefers cf cards over sd cards cause they feel better in my hands, I found 20D feels just right in my hands.

Another factor was speed. 20D had great reviews about its 5fps shooting. Though I am yet to use that kind of burst, I decided its better to have that.

Then the most important factor. High ISO performance. 20D is known to have a good performance at high ISO. My shootings are generally done during the evening. Low light situations are a fact of life for me. So I decided to test the performance of my 20D and at the same time test my 50mm F1.8 cheapie too. So here goes

ISO 100, F1.8 (Full size image can be found here)
F1-8-ISO-100

ISO 400 F1.8 (Full size image can be found here)
F1-8-ISO-400

ISO 800 F1.8 (Full size image can be found here)
F1-8-ISO-800

ISO 1600 F1.8 (Full size image can be found here)
F1-8-ISO-1600

As you can see clearly from the images above, even ISO 1600 is usable, it just needs a good whipping through the noise reduction software. Actually you can get perfectly usable images for 8×12 prints. BTW, all the shots in the test were taken on a tripod, captured in RAW, resized to 8×12 and white balance corrected in CS2 and saved for web. No NR and no sharpening was applied.

Lets continue with the images taken at different aperture. At this point, I have no doubts about ISO performance, I am just checking at what aperture my 50mm is sharp.

ISO 400, F2.8 (full image can be found here)
F2-8-ISO-400

ISO 400 F4.0 (full image can be found here)
F4-0-ISO-400

ISO 400 F5.6 (Full image can be found here)
F5-6-ISO-400

ISO 400 F8.0 (Full image can be found here)
F8-0-ISO-400

Now, I have teh following two conclusions from my little test.

1. I do not have to worry about ISO performance. ISO 1600 is no problems for this baby. 😀
2. My 50mm gives a great background blur (*i don’t know what it is called*) and is quite sharp from F4 onwards.

One gripe I have with 20D is, I always smudge my LCD whenever I am taking photos. I would love to have a plastic protector like Nikon D80 has.

Anyone planning to buy a DSLR should look into refurb 20D units. If you check Adorama or B&H, you will get a decent canon refurb unit for @ $700. Obviously with the introduction of 40D a lot of 30D/20D are going to be sold and their prices are going to be affordable as well. All in all, Canon DSLRs buyers are going to have a lot of choices.