How to score big on the dry jungle photography challenge

Photo blog of Masinagudi, Tamil Nadu…

Wildlife adventure on our mind. Destination: Masinagudi. One of the five forest reserves of the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park, 250 kilometres from Bangalore, Karnataka. Nestled between the three states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Enveloped by the lush Nilgiri forests. A resort buried in the deep of the jungle, with patchy mobile connectivity. The promise of exciting jeep safaris and treks. The prospect of encountering dangerous, wild animals and exotic birds. Just one downside…the weather.

Last lap of February…still a few months before rains completely transform the landscape. Fantasy: blooming foliage and deep green. Reality: spindly tree branches and brown grass. Not the best time of the year to experience the full glory of the jungle. But we’re here, now. Plan B. Love it like it is. See it for what it is. Raw. Rough. Unpainted. Unadorned. Dry. Earthy. Natural. And no less magical.

The many moods of Masinagudi…captured on our camera. Lazy swaying palms lining the highway, reminiscent of coastal tranquility, hammocks and backwaters. An unending scatter of creepy, crooked, leafless trees along the road leading into the forest reserve. Bald patches where forest fires left their unsightly marks behind. A stubbornly snaking path that refuses to straighten out.

Cheeky birds that jump onto branches and peck around for feed. Sometimes blending into the background and sometimes standing out with bright beaks and feathers. A neglected lamp dangling from a thatched roof. Something mysterious about its dust- lathered glass case. A solitary tree-house clinging to the unfailing support of its host tree. With nothing but the wind for company. Mud huts of the resort glowing in the soft warmth of the setting sun, like a painting that you want to reach out and touch.

Animals at home in their natural surroundings. Graceful deer and peacock sharing the same grass. A herd of wild boar stopping to stare at unfamiliar intruders. A bed of crunchy, crisp fallen leaves that make you rethink the phrase ‘dull brown’. Huddle of trees fighting for space among a silence so profound you can hear your own breathing. The stark contrast between the hustle of urban life and the stillness of nature. Life unconstrained. Pure. Free. As it was meant to be. 

And the most spectacular forest sunset that washes the endless canvas of the skies with a million shades. Gold, pink, amber and flame. An artwork that unfolds, live before your eyes. A hypnotic red ball of fire that gets darker and bolder with every second, holding you captive as it dips downwards, and finally gets swallowed into the darkness completely.

So are you still timing your stint at forest photography for ‘perfect’ conditions?

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Dry jungle photography at Masinagudi

 

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The most exquisite craftsmanship awaits you in Bikaner

Head for Junagadh Fort in Bikaner…

Set against the 200,000 square kilometre golden sand carpet that forms the Thar Desert (Great Indian Desert), is an Indian city that often misses the limelight. It has a capacity to delight you with unexpected architectural splendour…from ornamental havelis hidden in a mesmerizing old town maze to sumptuous palaces overflowing with examples of rich artistic craftsmanship. So, if Rajasthan is on your mind, look beyond the J-trilogy (Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer). And be dazzled by Bikaner!

Kick off with the inspiring story of the city, the 15th-century result of an ambitious military adventure by enterprising Rao Bika, youngest of five sons of Rao Jodha, founder of Jodhpur. Bika realises that he doesn’t stand a chance at inheritance, so, he moves far from home towards inhospitable desert terrain to create a new kingdom of his own. State flourishes, generations thrive. Bikaner’s sixth ruler, Raja Rai Singhji accepts Mughal sovereignty and leaves behind a priceless legacy…Junagarh Fort (meaning big fort). The 986m-long wall with 37 bastions spread over a mammoth 5.28 hectares of land, encloses one of the finest examples of architecture in the country. Reserve a day for Bikaner’s magnum opus. Wow factor guaranteed.

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But Junagarh is more than just a monument of scale. First, tick off all the quintessential architectural elements of a Rajasthan royal palace fort… impressive public areas, luxurious private quarters, graceful pavilions, wide-open courtyards, elegant pillar columns, overhanging balconies, intricate jaali-screen windows (jharokhas) and the iconic chhatris.

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Now zoom in for the finer details and wait for the jaw-drop. Intricate wall murals, elaborate stucco ceilings, lavish lacquered doors, pretty enamelled mirrors, even Dutch glazed tiles and Chinese wallpapers. Not just panels…entire rooms studded with exquisitely styled, gilded walls. There’s delicacy in each flawless motif and innovation in every impeccable pattern…tasteful, inventive, poetic. Scan. And process.

Dig deeper into the leftovers of art that bloomed to cross limits of imagination under a series of prosperous military leaders from the 17th-century Karan Mahal to the 18th-century Chander Mahal and the 19th-century Badal Mahal. Mughal-inspired white marble with wide-spaced floral and geometric ornamentation that make you sigh. Elaborate stucco ceilings that tempt you to be taller. Glass mosaic with gold leaf that evoke a silent ‘unbelievable’. Gold plated deities that make you blink. Paintings inlaid with precious stones that challenge your conscience. Carved panels and mirrors that feel like Cinderella. Let your right brain take over.

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And finally, gear up for the best in this palace-fort-meets-art gallery with my favorite takeaway…the finest examples of local Usta art in the country. If you’ve seen one example, you can easily recognize it all over the palace complex. This highly ornate and detailed lacquer work on camel hide (‘Usta’ comes from Persian word ‘Ustad’ meaning master) uses vibrant colours and striking gold motifs in floral and animal forms. For the most elaborate, more intricate, more opulent example, swoon over the gold-vermillion Anup Mahal.   

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Usta stuns you wherever you go in the palace complex. Practice spotting the popular Taarabandi (a star-studded sky) and Naqqashi, (patterns of flowers and motifs) on ceiling surfaces, door or wall panels. Three-dimensional and embossed. Resplendent like Indian jewellery. Royal like Persian carpets. And regal like French tapestries. Undulating curves and strong shapes. Each pattern unique, all very distinctly Mughal in styling. Overwhelmed much?

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The handful of Usta artists who migrated from Iran to India during the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar were clueless that their craft would be relayed forward several centuries to become an icon of Bikaner. Ironically, just a handful of these skilful artists survive…as in all other demanding art forms across the world. But you can still scout the local handicraft stores for a handcrafted (very expensive) Usta souvenir. A coaster, goblet, vase, photo frame, or lamp…how deep is your pocket? More importantly, how large is your heart?

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Discover exquisite craftsmanship at Bikaner

Why you will fall madly in love with Meghalaya?

Wild romance with nature…

The love affair begins in the flight to Guwahati as your gaze is transfixed at the snowy outline of the Himalayan peaks in the far distance. You ignore the silent protest your neck makes from being subject to a weirdly obtuse angle. Its the only way you can successfully trace the entire length and width of that unbelievably massive waterbody miles below you. No, being called a river just doesn’t do her justice, you conclude decisively. Brahmaputra is in a different league altogether.

Continue reading “Why you will fall madly in love with Meghalaya?”

You need to risk a dangerous road for this ethereal vision. Game?

One of India’s highest glacial lakes…

From your tiny window on the plane, peer out far in the distance; till your vision hits that wall of white…the mighty Himalayas clad in snow…across the entire horizon as far as you can see. Somewhere in this 2400 km long ‘Abode of Snow’ is the Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest peak…try spotting it. 

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Treasure hunt for the most exquisite hidden havelis

Beauties and bounties in the bylanes of Bikaner…

“You won’t be able to find them on your own.” The hotel manager dismisses our valiant declaration of self-exploration with a mysterious smile. “I’ll arrange an auto rickshaw to guide you. The lanes are too narrow for a car.” Intrigue levels: brim high.

Our driver, Wali, nods knowingly, when I show him the google pictures in my phone. We climb into the well-padded back seat of our colourful three-wheel drive towards the oldest part of the city. At 11 am, its still a lazy morning in the marketplace. Steamy curls rising from chai cups, brooms swooshing across verandahs and biscuit-laden carts rumbling along to designated spots. The man stirring hot milk at Ramji Ghewar Wale sweet shop seems absent-minded…still not fully awake yet?  

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Spectacular, sensational, spiritual. One evening. In my city.

Tune in to the rhythm of Indian classical music…

When you’re living in Delhi, you’re not just living in India’s bustling capital. You are in a city with an enigmatic past, deeply entrenched in time as far back as 3500 BC! The enduring seat of political power over centuries, right from the Pandavas to the Mughals and the British…a perfect backdrop to experience the abundant culture heritage of one of the oldest civilisations of the world. Today Delhi hogs the limelight as India’s cultural hub and I highly recommend my city for a plethora of fascinating events all year round. Come winter, it hosts some matchless cultural extravaganzas, music fiestas, theatrical shows and food festivals. Enticing enough…

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Why India for the most exciting safari in the world?

Because you’ll go hunting down the tiger

So you think there aren’t too many good reasons to take a wildlife safari in India? You don’t need that many. Because one good reason beats them all. The tiger.

No one can go wrong with Bandhavgarh, which has the most dense population of big cats in India, especially the Royal Bengal Tiger. This 440 square km wildlife park, nestled in Vindhya Mountains, is abundantly stocked with deer, chital, nilgai, hyena, langur, rhesus and even leopard and sloth bear.

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