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!
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:
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.
The 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!