Let me show you the beauty of Sikkim

Wanting to explore the unexplored India, Sikkim had been in my bucket list for a while. On 20th Dec, I finally got to see the dreamy landscape of the landlocked state. The curvy roads, dense forests and friendly faces – Sikkim is one of the best experiences I have had in India. People have preserved the nature, maintained utter cleanliness (you will find proper clean restrooms everywhere on road), honesty (no one ripping you off) and live a simple and happy life. They also have a great sense of driving and you will not find the lawless driving and parking rampant in other parts of India. This tiny state is bordered by Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan.

You will never be alone here: fascinating Kanchenjunga range above your head and the bountiful river Teesta below follow you constantly between the mountains. So, what are we waiting for, lets see it in the photographs.

Gangtok

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stony street in Gangtok Market
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Rumatek Monstery

On way to Lachung

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River Teesta

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All through the region, you can see the Buddhist prayer flags flying colorfully, celebrating the tranquility of their peaceful and simple people.
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Yak tail hair are considered sacred and white hair are sold for 10k a bunch!

Yumthang Valley

This valley blooms with rhododendrons of million colors in summer but is no less picturesque in winter, the mighty peaks and dazzling snow made it the experience of a lifetime.

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Kanchenjunga peaks cannot be described in words, I could gaze at them for hours

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Frozen waterfalls

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After the intense snow fight, we headed for some refreshments in the valley (read instant noodles and coffee at a very reasonable price) –

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Katau

This unmentioned place in all the tourist books, just km away from Lachung, was the highlight of my trip! The view from above the mountains is simply breathtaking and uncrowded. Do not miss!

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The semi-frozen waterfall made a loud gushing noise.
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Sun sets at 5 or 5:30pm at most places in the mountains!

Temi Tea Gardens

The only tea garden in the state but worth a visit!

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Pelling

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The holy lake near Pelling
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Mighty Buddha statue at the Buddha Park. The statue has a museum inside it with mesmerizing wall paintings from Buddha’s life.

That’s the beauty. Some cons though – roads are bad (due to frequent landslides) and tough (very curvy mountains). So your taxis will not travel beyond 20km/hr (yep, last day, we took an entire day to travel 200km). So, do not try to cover too much in a short time and enjoy wherever you are. Cars are the only means of transport – keep 1-2 extra days just for unforeseen travel lags. Closest airport is Bagdogra in West Bengal (did I tell you West Bengal is extremely dirty and has disgusting roads). Traveling from there to Gangtok took nearly 5 hours! So, be prepared for loooong travel times.

However, just looking at these pictures (just few of the hundreds I clicked) is making me fall in love with Sikkim once again. Next time, I would want to visit Bhutan too. Some day!

  

Viewing Taj Mahal on a full moon night

There are places to see and there are PLACES TO SEE. And, then there are moments that leave an indelible imprint on our memory. I’m fond of traveling – in fact, I could spend a lifetime traveling and seeing places. I’m the type who enjoys roaming in local markets instead of shopping malls. I like to see a place and read its history and story. History is romantic to me. I like to see things from uncommon angles and uncommon times. I get wary of tourist spots for they tend to get so crowded that I feel I’m losing the connection with what I came to see. So, it’s inevitable that I tell you the story of Taj Mahal as it stands alone on a full moon night.

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Taj Mahal on full moon night by Nistha Tripathi

I have seen Taj Mahal when I was a kid long time back. I also have the embarrassing ‘holding Taj’s top in your fingers’ snapshot. Since then, my love for traveling, sightseeing, old monuments and photography has grown by leaps and bounds. So, when a family trip to Agra was planned, I was excited to revisit this ‘most photographed site in India’ with my own SLR camera. I had done some research about how to photograph and was delighted to catch Taj’s moods at the sunset.

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Taj Mahal being photographed (photographer: Nistha Tripathi)
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Taj Mahal at sunset by Nistha Tripathi

But what I was more excited about was the chance to catch Taj on a full moon night. Taj closes down at sunset on normal days but is reopened from 8:30pm-12:30am on 5 nights every month – full moon or Poornima and +-2 days when you can view Taj lit just by the moonlight. Needless to say it is quite an exclusive experience. The tickets are sold physically only one day before the actual viewing night. Night tickets are Rs 500 as opposed to Rs 10 for day admissions and have limited seats of 50 people in each of the six half an hour slots between 8:30pm and 12:30am. Ideally you want to go when moon is going to be the brightest (Sharad Poornima, summer nights, 10pm or later slots). It’s also a high security affair and they don’t allow any bags or mobile phones inside. I was relieved to find the camera was permitted (only still and not video). So, with half an hour to play around, I excitedly entered the main gate. By the way, they don’t let you go all the way in, you are only allowed to watch it from the main gate.

We entered at 8:30pm a day before full moon, so it wasn’t the brightest but it was still magical in its own ways. Imagine the silhouette of gracious Taj standing on a dark night with white moon rays forcing it to reveal it’s identity. Imagine the violescent sky and stillness of time. Imagine as it stands piously with a lamp lighting inside its dargaah. And most importantly, imagine viewing it unpolluted by swarms of heads and bodies. It is truly a unique experience and one unparalleled for admirers of art, history, culture and beauty in general.

Now, who can resist trying to capture that scene in eternity on a camera? But it’s a photographer’s nightmare to shoot it in such darkness without a tripod (tripods are in general not allowed on Taj premises). I found a decent support in the metal railings put as a barricade. Then, I set the focus to manual since it’s too dark to auto-focus. Setting the ISO to highest, I clicked multiple pictures experimenting with the exposures. Eventually, I was able to get 1-2 decent pictures and the above is one of them. I was amused to see the desperate efforts of few fellow visitors who just didn’t understand that you can’t photograph a scene like that with flash.

Also, if you ask the locals, they might tell you that night viewing is a waste of money as you hardly get to see anything in the dark. I guess it’s a matter of perspective.

P.S. If you share these images, please do so with appropriate credits and backlinks. Click here to see my other photographs of Taj Mahal.

  

Perseverance

Perseverance, originally uploaded by DufferLong.

“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”
Newt Gingrich

I could not agree more with Gingrich’s definition. Ideas are not easy but motivation can easily fuel them. However, motivation wanes with time and if ideas do not succeed by then, they are dropped in the graveyard of obscurity. Only persistence can keep them nourished in adverse conditions of failure. I hope the above image and quote and these little words of mine will help revive few of those starving ideas from back of your mind.

  

The chronicles from India

Namaste (and this is the authentic one, not some oriental person trying some voodoo in Lost!) from India.

Every time I come to India, people scare me or warn me about vaccinations, water etc etc. I am yet to fall sick after eating roadside pani pooris. My immune system very sweetly supports every patriotic beat of my heart and I am very thankful for that!

I was as excited to see the great Rann of Kutch as I was for Grand Canyon and it was worth every minute I spent in heat standing on the sultry white salt under my foot. Walking on the Rann was like walking on a spongy water bed. The water would ooze out unabashedly as soon as I put a little more weight on my foot. The white salt glistening in afternoon sunrays kept me mesmerized till the heat broke my trance. I got to see a very small strip of Kutch but it was adequate to trigger my imagination into picturing the rest.

Long ago, the Rann was covered shallow with Arabian Sea but eventually water evaporated leaving behind a vast reservoir of raw salt – creating a huge salt-marsh. Kutch expands to tens of thousands of kilometers, even reaching out to the international boundary we share with Pakistan. Flooding easily in monsoons and cracking its heart open in dry summers, Rann could beat the best of natural wonders anywhere in the world.

  

How to HDR: Vintage Cab at Times Sq

Vintage Cab at Times Sq, originally uploaded by eterniti.

I have been playing with HDRs and Photoshop for a significant time now and yet, I keep discovering something novel on the power of digital enhancement. And I suppose that is why I love this picture I created so much. It is a reasonably good shot of Times Square but accentuating the old fashioned yellow cab in middle of the frame gives it a totally surreal feel. I had to spend few hours on this one. The actual process went something like this-

  1. Pick the right RAW shot.
  2. Create few HDRs with different level of smoothness and luminosity. I picked two: one with plastic and animated feel for the cab, second with more realistic blending and less contrast.
  3. De-noise both HDRs in Photoshop.
  4. Desaturate the more realistic HDR on bottom and mask the full comic book layer on top except the portion displaying the cab.

And, voila!

To heck with any modesty, it almost felt like I turned a pro with this 🙂

The real trick here lies in the effort to make the cab stand out by using a subdued background. If I had just desaturated the rest of the dynamic plastic layer, the whole image would have been loud taking the attention away from the cab. For demoing the difference, here is what I am talking about:

Loud version of vintage cab
A simpler effort would have resulted in this.

Now, I know some people overdo HDRs and the resulting pictures look oversaturated artificial posters. I like HDRs to be vibrant and wider in range but not overbaked. I think its a subtle yet make or break step. And if you start playing with HDRs, don’t forget to retouch in Photoshop esp removing noise. Lastly, try out some new experiment – the ultimate beauty of a picture or painting lies as much in knowing what to and not to highlight as it does in the original composition.