Minus 30 Degrees Celcius / -22 Farhenheit

I had always wanted to visit someplace cold. Very cold. For example Siberia and Lake Baikal in winters. Or Svalbard in Norway, which happens to be the northernmost city in the world which I wanted to visit after reading Michael Palin’s book Pole to Pole. Little did I know that such extremes exist within India itself! The Zanskar valley in J&K, which has the Zanskar river flowing through it is cold. Very cold. So cold that the river freezes! A blanket of ice, a few feet thick forms. This lasts for a couple of months. The chadar trek is a trek about 60-70 km long and you can do sections of it. I went along with a community called “Indiahikes”. I had done a skiing program with them earlier, so I knew they handle such excursions well. The Chadar forms early Jan and melts away end of Feb/early Mar. If you were wondering about how cold -30 celcius is, let me assure you , it is cold! Unless you are in multiple layers.

Since this is more of a photo blog post, here are a few pictures:

Ice

 

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Which are some of the coldest places you have visited?

Dreamy Horsley Hills

Postcards from a place called Horsley hills, a small quaint place in Andhra Pradesh, about 170kms from Bangalore. Good for a 1 or 2 day getaway. There is nothing much to do here. There is no ‘lake’  nor ‘boating’. Barring one ‘view-point’, there are no ‘must-see’ spots. There is no botanical garden nor are there any vendors selling roasted corn-on-cob or salted cucumber or ‘Amul’ ice cream in a push cart. If you want a simple getaway with only the chirping of birds and the sound of the gushing winds all day long, go there! Take along a book or some games to keep yourself occupied. Accommodation options are very few and the only decent option is the APTDC which have very nice cottages and room. When I visited last weekend, the entire place was covered in mist all throughout and the place had a very dreamy feel to it in the evening and night. Here are a few pictures, bordering obscure and abstract. I am not putting any day time pictures to add a sense of suspense and mystery about the place. ImageImage 

 

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Raghu Rai – 30 minutes with the genius.

Sitting all alone in a maroon suede chair, a feet away from an oak dining table, he picked up his mug of brew and took a sip from it. The cold air from the air-conditioning vent blew over his balding head. The fried samosa and cottage cheese which was kept on his table was becoming cold. His muffler and black waistcoat probably kept him warm. Attentively, he was scanning his environs. Outside the glass window, about 10 feet away, the dark monsoon clouds loomed large, threatening to burst and flood the streets which were about 16 floors below. Below the clouds, a 270 degree panoramic view of Bangalore city was visible. Tall glass buildings and lush green trees formed a homogeneous mix of vibrant colors and gave the perfect bird’s eye view of the garden city of India.

I went up to his table and asked if I could join him for some time. With an enthusiastic “Yes!”, almost bordering relief from seeming boredom, he gestured me to join his table. I sat down.

It took a couple of moments to realize that I was sitting next to Raghu Rai, the best Photojournalist India has seen. He has the distinction of being the only Indian photographer to be a member of Magnum collective. He is a Padma Shri awardee((the fourth highest civilian award in the Republic of India, after the Bharat Ratna, the Padma Vibhushan and the Padma Bhushan). His work has been published in almost every publication/journal/newspaper worldwide. A civil engineer by education, he became a photographer by accident. Even his first picture, that of a wild donkey, received critical acclaim! His most noteworthy work was on Indira Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Bhopal gas tragedy and Kargil war. He has numerous books( 25+) to his credit. His other work included pieces on Agra, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Tibet, Khajuraho etc.

ImageNikon India had organized an event (Nikon-Through The Lens) for which I was invited. I remember asking the Nikon team the agenda for the evening. When they said Raghu Rai will be there to give a talk, I was delighted! The talk was short and hardly lasted 15 mins. I wanted to hear more from him. I had many questions. Now was the time to ask!

In his talk, he mentioned about how he had been a user of nikon film cameras and with the advent of digital, he had to transition to digital cameras. He mentioned that film grain was the spice of the pictures from the yesteryears and that people despised grainy pictures when digital technologies made an appearance and how people are beginning to like grainy pictures all over again. He also mentioned that black and white photography was what he grew up on and it had taught him more about composition and photographic elements than color which came later. He chided the current day photographers and mentioned it was too easy to take a well exposed picture these days. The learning curve is non-existent he exclaimed! He also said that people are getting carried away by the glittery, “colorful” pictures. “All pictures look the same these days. No one wants to differentiate their work from others”. In his closing remarks, he implored the audience to immerse in the craft to get better at it.

Raghu Rai addressing the gathering

Raghu Rai addressing the gathering

Back at the table, after having heard his talk earlier and having heard other talks by the technical team of Nikon, I was ready for some discussion and a few questions with Mr. Raghu Rai.

My first question was: Why is there only 1 Magnum Photographer from India? What gives?

[Note that the responses below are not verbatim answers, but 90 percent of what he said.]

Mr. Rai: The photojournalist’s world is changing. People are not coming up with photo-essays like they used to. There is no revolutionary photojournalism happening. Not many are working on elaborate projects. Anyone with a mobile phone camera can get you pictures which can be printed in a newspaper or magazine.

Me: True, I’ve heard most media houses and newspapers don’t have full time photographers and are working on a freelancer model. For E.g, Chicago time laid of it’s entire full-time photojournalist staff which included a pulitzer prize winner.

Mr. Rai: …which is why I work on my own and still continue shooting to this day. *Points at his camera on the desk*. I still carry my camera everywhere I go. *Points outside the glass window* Btw, I was shooting around the building earlier today and this just not feel like the India I know. (We were in UB City, a plush mall and he was alluding to the extravagant high rises. His work has taken him to the heart of India and I agree with him here.)  Photojournalism is dying a slow death.

Me: Which project of your’s was your personal best?

Mr Rai: I can’t really say. All my projects are very endearing!

Me: *Nodding in agreement* Indeed, I have been following your work and have chanced upon a few of your books and I must say they are all great. (I expected this answer because it is very tough for an artist to favor one project over another!)

Me: Raghu ji, how do you chose your projects? How do they happen? How do you ideate and execute them? Do you take on a project and work on it exclusively and move onto the next?

Mr Rai: I never have just 1 project on hand. I work in parallel! I always have 2 or 3 projects at any given time. Some projects have lasted a few days, a few months and some a few years! Besides, I am always shooting, so every project is ongoing!

Me: Any project that you are working on right now?

Mr Rai: (*non-commital* 🙂 )Well….yeah…let’s see how it goes. (Mr Rai, I’m sure it’s going to be par excellence as usual!)

Mr Rai: ….But let me tell you about something that I am really interested in. I would like a double censor camera. I could do wonders with such a camera. You know, in which there are two sensors adjacent to each other which gives you a wide frame in a single shot. I hate and cannot use stitching in my work since they scene changes very fast.

Me: Wouldn’t we need a new line of lenses for it to avoid vignetting and distortion?.

Mr Rai: No, the sensor size can be reduced slightly to accommodate the extra width.

Me: Nikon must surely be working with you on this? (@Canon, @Nikon, @Sony, @Pentax, @Olympus, are you listening?)

Mr Rai: Yeah, sort of.

Me: Would taking a large MP camera and cropping help?

Mr Rai: It’s too cumbersome! I would prefer if straight out of the camera.

The brews and grub get replenished and we continue our chat.

Me: I know you got into photography by accident, but what made you continue it? When you started off, it wasn’t a very popular profession.

Mr Rai: Sometimes, you just need to forget about everything and do what you feel like. It was unknown, but I didn’t care! (Touche’, Mr Rai!)

Me: What was it to work with Henri-Cartier-Bresson?

Mr Rai: Great experience!

Just when I was about to get into his work on Bhopal Gas tragedy, about Mother Teresa, and many other points, he was invited on stage to give out the awards. Both of us finished our brews, clicked a couple of photographs and I thanked him for the opportunity.

He had chosen a picture for an award some time earlier. It was displayed and it was a shot of clouds against a moonlit sky. While presenting the award, he mentioned why he picked it as opposed to others. “It’s different from the others”, he said. “It’s not the glittering picture that we see so often these days”.

Raghu ji, wishing you the very best! I went back and saw each and every one of the 2323 of your pictures which are on the Magnum website.

You can see his pictures HERE.

Bhopal Gas Tragedy - Picture by Raghu Rai

Bhopal Gas Tragedy – Picture by Raghu Rai

Thanks Nikon for this wonderful event and for giving me the opportunity to chat with Mr. Raghu Rai himself!

What would you have asked Mr Raghu Rai if you had 30 minutes with him? Did I do justice? Leave your responses in the comments!

Related post: https://abhinavrm.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/one-reason-why-street-photographers-should-start-with-bw/

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Monsoon Roadtrip

The onset of Monsoon during June is an ideal time to witness the transition from dry and brown to green and fresh. The entire Indian sub-continent undergoes a transformation within a few weeks. What better way of witnessing it than driving through it all.

Route: Bangalore – Wayanad – Kannur – Marvanthe – Karwar – Hubli – Bangalore
Distance : ~2000km
Days: 5
States: Karnataka , Kerala

This is the first time I was shooting video as opposed to clicking pictures like I mostly do. In a way, this is my first experiment with video.

Music: N’to – Trauma (Worakls Remix)

Monsoon Roadtrip

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Contrast, Contrast, Contrast

India is diverse not only in its culture, but also in climatic conditions, terrain and temperatures. These are a few pictures and illustrations taken during my travel escapades. We have some of the  highest, lowest, coldest, hottest, driest, wettest places in India.

  • From extreme cold of Dras, Kargil district, Jammu & Kashmir (lowest recorded of -60 deg celcius)  to the extreme heat of Dholpur, Rajasthan (highest ever of 50.6 deg celcius)

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  • From the wettest place in the world Cherapunjee, Meghalaya (annual rainfall 1,041.75 in) to the dry Thar desert, Rajasthan ( annual rainfall <10 inches).

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  • From the highest Mt Kancehnjunga (height 8,586 m (28,169 ft)) and the snow clad Himalayas to the large coastline (length 7,517 km (4,671 mi)) and the 2 seas and 1 ocean that surround it.

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  • From the dense forested areas of the Western ghats or Arunanchal Pradesh(total India forest cover 23%, with very dense forest of more than 70% tree canopy at 3%) to the arid expanses of Rann of Kutch, Gujarat and Rajasthan.

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Coming to think of it, India has a lot of contrasting stuff if you look around!

A Natural 360 Degrees Astronomy Dome In Dholavira, Gujarat, India

There is a place, somewhere in the western extremities of India, which offers a perfect 360 degrees dome perfect for astronomy observations, star gazing and astro photography.

Let me highlight the elephant in the room first. There are many challenges of finding such a place. For many years, I have been on the lookout for “The Perfect Dome” – An unabated 360 degrees view of the night sky without any terrestrial features blocking the view. And more importantly, without any light pollution. It is very tough to find such a place these days with light pollution from cities, towns, villages and vehicles. You might say that there are many stretches in India where there are no towns,villages or cities. This does not really apply for long exposures, since having a bunch of light sources as far as 60 kms away can ruin your 3 hour night sky exposure!  And if light pollutants were not enough, there are hills, mountains, trees blocking your view.

To illustrate my point, check this picture that I had taken almost 4 years back. I drove about 130kms from Bangalore on NH-7 and then a further 15 kilometers on an untarred road to find an absolutely pitch dark place( to the naked eye). Once I setup the shot and clicked, the illusion of having found a dark place went through the roof. Take a look at the shot and look at the light pollution!

Starry Night

Considering all the above issues, finding the perfect dome was quite a revelation. On the way to a place called Dholavira in Great Rann of Kutch in the western most state of Gujarat in India, you come across a stretch of road that is dead straight for 50 kilometers and surrounded by salt pans in all directions. This is what it looks like during daytime:

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Come nightfall, this place transforms into a star gazers and astro-photographers paradise. The milky way is clearly visible to the naked eye. Millions of stars light up the night sky. What you had seen in a planetarium when you were little kids suddenly seems like reality. (Wait, what?! counter-intuitive right?).  A friend brings out a light saber and we study the night sky. The light  saber in question is an astronomy laser used for pointing stars in the night sky. It is a green laser beam (wavelength of 532nm) and <5mW power rating so as not to be strong enough to bring down airplanes with it. (In fact you can see a glimpse of the laser in the picture below.)

After identifying the pole star , a few star trail shots were taken with a 11-16mm Ultra-wide lens. Since there was no foreground( and we wanted it that way!) there is no scale of reference except the little laser beam.

Star trailsThe best part about this road is that there is absolutely no traffic on it. I was on this road at this spot for about 5-6 hours and just 1 vehicle passed by. The irony is that the vehicle took about 20-25 mins to reach this point from the time we could first see it( from about 15-20kms away). Imagine shielding your camera for that long to avoid flooding your long exposure shot with the vehicle headlights. You will also have to pardon the high noise in the shot. My humble  Canon 450D just does not cut the chase for astro-photography. The shot was a 40 minute exposure. I wish I could have gotten a longer exposure of a couple of hours atleast. In case you are wondering which laser was used, THIS is the one.

So that wraps up this post. The verdict is out: In case you want to get some clear views of the night sky, head to Dholavira, Gujarat  and setup camp!

Bitcoins And Why You Should Watch This Video First

The world has been swept by a new currency- Bitcoin. It is a very interesting concept which has seen increased acceptance globally due to lack of trust in current currency systems and government policies, especially in Europe. 

 

But before you start exploring the nuances of the bitcoin currency, here is a must watch documentary on the very concept of money.. What is the note or coin that you hold in your hand? What does it mean? How inflation and deflation works? It is answered very effectively in this video. 

 

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April Thundershowers And Why Bangalore Rocks During Summer

April Thundershowers And Why Bangalore Rocks During Summer

When the parched plateau of Bangalore received rains on the eve of April fools day, thunder and lightning accompanied. For 2 hours, it poured relentlessly, much to the delight of the city’s residents. With no electricity for a couple of hours and the camera nearby, I got a few pictures from the balcony. I only wish that it rains everyday for the next 3 months of summer. Sudden downpours when it gets too hot is one of the main reasons Bangalore totally rocks!

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The Great Indian “Revert”

re·vert
intr.v.re·vert·ed, re·vert·ing, re·verts
1. To return to a former state, condition, practice, subject, or belief.
2. Law To return to the former owner or to the former owner’s heirs. Used of money or property.
3. Genetics To undergo reversion.

Indians often use the word “Revert” out of context. It is used as a synonym for “Respond” or “Reply”. This is incorrect. “Revert” does NOT mean “reply or respond”. 
 
To give an example , http://www.yourstory.in had a post earlier today which said: 
 
At the event, a few Big Data startups will have a chance to pitch their startups to Accel Partners and Amr, the CTO and Co-Founder of Cloudera and get direct feedback.  If you’re interested in this opportunity, do fill out this form and we shall revert to you.
 
Now, when the above article says “revert” , they mean respond. I am not sure when/where/how this incorrect usage started, but it is increasingly being used – in print media, articles, websites, official communications, emails (“revert to me soon” and “revert to me with details”)
 
For example, the above article should have said: 
If you’re interested in this opportunity, do fill out this form and we shall get back to you. 
or
If you’re interested in this opportunity, do fill out this form and we shall respond. 
or
If you’re interested in this opportunity, do fill out this form and we shall reply. 
 
The true meaning of revert is “to return to an original state” and not “to respond”. The correct usage of “revert” is best illustrated by this example. 
 
After the firm’s employees found a spelling mistake in their company’s new logo, they reverted to their old logo.

 I hope that this blogpost and rant atleast prevents a few people from incorrectly using “revert” after reading this. 

Let’s Get Knotty (….With A Theatrical Encore)

I never went to any NSS camp. I never went to any Army school. I never really learnt any knots.

There have been numerous occasions when I have been stuck with two ropes that I had to tie together or tie a rope securely to a tree or a pole. I would have made numerous attempts to tie the ropes, only to realize 5 minutes later that the knots have slipped. I always resorted to the “Granny knot” ( I just came to know that’s what it’s called!) or a double overhand knot. It’s called a granny knot because even grandmothers can tie knots better than that(apparently). Turns out that this knot is the worst possible knot that you can tie and is mostly ill-suited for most occasions for two reasons a) gets extremely tough to untie once it has been bearing load and b) its tough to untie when wet c) its not a stable/efficient knot.

On most occasions, I thought to myself- ” If only I knew these damned knots”. My lifelong predicaments with ropes instigated with my new found interest in mountaineering inspired me to learn the ropes(get the pun?). So here I am after a week of learning the most important knots that everyone and anyone should know. Even if you are not into mountaineering/climbing/sailing, trust me, these knots are *very* useful for everyday use-cases. Often, once I have tied ropes, it had been very difficult to untie it. The main advantage of using standard knots is that they are easy to tie and easy to untie(even when the rope is wet)

I armed myself with four lengths of rope ( 2 rope lengths each of varying diameter), an internet browser with Youtube and set off into the seemingly unknown and infinite world of knots. Let’s not kid ourselves, but there are literally hundred’s of knots, if not thousands, to learn. I settled for 11. Here is a quick rundown of 11 very useful knots( +1 bonus knot for a theatrical encore)

A knot’s charecteristics are evaluated by multiple factors:

1. Strength

2. Security

3. Releasibility. 

Here are the knots along with their use cases.

1. Figure of Eight. 

Use-cases: -> To prevent a rope from running through a pulley or a loop or a retaining device. -> Used in climbing and sailing.

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2. Follow Through Figure of Eight

Use-caes: -> Tying into a rope using a climbing harness. -> Tying a rope around static pole.

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3. Double Fisherman’ s knot

Use-cases: -> Tying two ropes of same dia together.

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4. Sheet Bend

Use-cases: -> Tying ropes of different dia together where stress is in opposite direction. Eg towing a boat.

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5. Bowline

Use-cases: -> Single most important knot to tie a loop. Easy to untie even when subjected to very heavy loads.

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6. Bowline on a bight ( Double Bowline) 

Use-cases: For getting two loops out of a single bowline knot.

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7. Clove hitch

Use-case: loosely tying a rope to a pipe/pole .

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8. Prussik Knot

Use-cases: Arresting ascent or descent.

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9. Slipknot( No, not the band!) 

Use-cases: To tie a rope very loosely to a boat and as a stopper knot.

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10. Noose Knot 

Use-cases: -> Snares , Lasso.  ( Rodeo style lasso anyone ? )

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11. Handcuff Knot

Use-case: Go figure!

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And for a theatrical finish and for the encore, presenting the……

12. Hangman Noose. 

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I have managed to learn all these knotty and I can tie them even when half asleep. I strongly urge you to learn them too! You never know when they will come in handy. Here’s to knotty times ahead!

Useful resource: http://www.animatedknots.com

Please Note: All illustrations in this post are courtesy of http://www.animatedknots.com.

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