Tag Archives: photography

Riding on the sea: Amazing Bali Mandara sea link


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It is not yet five years old, as it was opened only in September 2013, but it certainly leaves tourists coming to Bali in an awe. Almost 13 km in length stretching across the Gulf of Benoa, the Bali Mandara sea link is often referred to as pride of Indonesia. This beautiful sea link runs over sea and some part of it through protected mangrove forests, making it a beautiful experience to drive. It gives wonderful views from the road and the sea as well! It is claimed to be one of the “most beautiful” road stretches in Indonesia. The name Mandara is an acronym for Indonesian words — maju (move forward), aman (safe), damai (peaceful) and sejahtera (prosperous).

Toll gates with Balinese architecture style
Toll gates with Balinese architecture style

Bali Mandara Toll Road or Nusa Dua-Ngurah Rai-Benoa Toll Road is a toll road carried by a bridge 12.7 km in length. This highway connects the city of Denpasar and South Kuta, Badung Regency, Nusa Dua and Ngurah Rai International Airport, thus providing additional link to northern and southern parts of Bali. The reason behind construction of Bali Mandara Toll Road would have been to prevent traffic jams on the Ngurah Rai By Pass Road, but slowly it has also become an attraction of sort. This toll road was officially opened on 23 September 2013 by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Whole project took just 14 months to be completed. It was an amazing feat, considering that there was no sort of foreign help involved at any stage.

Aerial view of the sea link
Aerial view of the sea link
Aerial view of the sea link

Numerous academics, scholars and environmentalists had voiced serious concerns over the construction of the sea link, which could have deviated from its approved environmental impact analysis and perhaps dangerously affect both the mangroves and surrounding marine habitat. Local fishermen and nearby fishing villages also no longer have access to their previous fishing grounds. Indonesian authorities however claim that this infrastructure masterpiece was built with environmentally friendly and advanced technology. Undoubtedly, the views from the toll road are breathtaking. Even the local norms and traditions were respected during the construction. You can see the water below the road and green mangrove forests all over the place. To minimise the impact of construction almost 16,000 pieces of mangrove trees were planted after the construction of link was completed.

Mangroves around the road
Mangroves around the road
Approaching the beautiful mainland

Want to know about India’s oldest sea link? Read: Pamban bridge enters hundredth year!

smooth traffic on the toll road
Bikers in the two-wheeler lane

The road runs over the sea and was built using 33,835 concrete columns, some of them through an area of previously pristine mangrove forest. The road has a separate lane for motorcycles on both the sides, thus providing separate drive ways for two wheelers and four wheelers and making it more safe. The length of Bali Mandara Road is equal to Penang Bridge in Malaysia which too is 12.7 kilometres in length.

Massive structure on the sea
Many loops, flyovers on the link road
Already an attraction for the tourists

The road runs through a fragile environment and rough seas. Hence, there are many checks and controls involved. There are strict speed limits and all activities are thoroughly monitored. There is exhaustive system of CCTVs and also a wind monitor to keep measuring the wind sped. Anemometer are installed at every toll gate (Nusa Dua, Ngurah Rai, and Benoa). If the wind speed reach 40 kph or more than the movement on this road is controlled or stopped temporarily.

Travel with me to this Bali Mandara sea link through this video on my YouTube channel by clicking on the thumbnail below-

So next time you visit Bali, get a driving experience on this Bali Mandara toll road. It will certainly be worth.

Have you driven on this amazing Bali Mandara Road? How was your experience? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Satsar to Gangabal : Photo journey to the climax!


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After a satisfying fourth day, it was time to move towards the climax on the 5th day of the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek. It was supposed to be the last day of climb. Satsar campsite is at an altitude of 12,000 ft and Gangabal campsite is at a an altitude of 11,500 ft but on the way we have to cross the Zach pass at an altitude of 13,400 ft.

How to prepare? Read: Thajiwas is a perfect acclimatisation for Great Lakes Trek

So, lets travel through the day’s trek in photos. Starting right from the first light of the day-

Its early morning after a wonderful night of stargazing. You just can’t imagine, how this sky looked like in the night. Its cold still, but all ready to move.

Its getting brighter and campsite is buzzing with early morning activities.

Also Read: Kashmir Great Lakes- First day trek to Nichnai

Its climb right from the word- go. A steep fall on the left and cliff on the right. We had to cross through boulders and loose rocks.

Looking back at the Satsar campsite from bit of height.It is tiring though. Crossing boulders is always tricky and tough on knees. Reaching to another ridge.

Time to have some rest after having crossed most of the rocky terrain. Looking at those mountains make you you so humble.

Closer look at the mountains far on the other side of the valley with a stream flowing down.

Though flowering season has almost ended, but we could still find some smaller carpets here and there.

Also Read: Kashmir Great Lakes- Romancing the rains at Nichnai PassContemplating the moves! Looks like another peak to climb!! The ridge at the top is the Zach pass, the last high pass of the trek. It would be all down after that hopefully.And than climbing to the top turns out to be a feast for the eyes, when all of a sudden nature turns out to be a big canvas spread right in front of you (see the video below)

They were indeed moment of pure joy. Everybody assembled on the pass with twin lakes in the background. Tricolour was unfurled and numerous pictures were clicked with every possible angle.

What was one of the best places to click an image of the lifetime… our guide stands here.

Harmukh Peak in its full glory. See hoe the snow cover its edges.

The view of Gangabal lake (also called as Harmukh Ganga) located at the foot of Harmukh peak, as seen from the Zach Pass. It is one of the most sacred places for Kashmiri Hindus.

This is Nandkhol lake at the base of Harmukh Peak, it is smaller than Gangabal, but is used more often for the camping.Also read: Paradise regained- As beautiful as it can be

It is now descent of around 1400 ft till the campsite. Looks easy?Not so, if you see from this side… Mules on their way to the campsite at Nandkhol.It isn’t a straightforward descent as well. What we see is the first halt in a valley at the base of Zach Pass in this side. We can see some shepherd huts and a small stream flowing down from Gangabal lake.

Another view of the Harmukh peak in the glaring sun.

Reaching at the first stream. There is another small hill to climb, before another descent.

Time to relax, as we were aware that campsite isn’t far now.

 

The perennial trekkers for the company in this huge meadows.

The Harmukh Glacier that feeds the twin lakes. Glazing in the sunlight.

Whodunit? A rock as big as this one, cut into two pieces in the manner would have been due to hell of a happening!Finally the campsite on the banks of the Nandkhol lake. Looks so pristine!
The man-made bridge to cross the stream coming from Gangabal lake towards Nandkhol Lake.Finally, the Gangabal lake an altitude of 3570 metres. This fish is home to many types of fishes including rainbow and brown trout.Joy of reaching the climax!July to August is the best time to be here. You will find more snow if you are here in June. You feel so calm and relaxed here.

Having visited the Gangabal lake in he evening itself, there was an urge to go there again in the morning. Campsite was at Nandkhol lake and it is almost a 20 minutes trek between the two lakes. So, quite determined, it was the early in the morning.Mules were getting themselves ready for another hard day.It was getting brighter on one side.And then, there were first golden rays of sun on the Harmukh Peak.

The 4th Day: A tale of seen Lakes – Gadsar to SatsarSun was very quickly to its full glow..Calm waters of Gangabal lake in the morning. But it was still not calm enough to get a clear reflection. You never feel like it is enough of the photographs. Its amazing that how nature keeps changing its colours. Kashmiri Hindus still come to this lake for many rituals or to pay homage to their ancestors. Locals often travel from Naranag to Gangabal for fishing or just a short trek.

Light falls on the Gangabal lake and the whole colour of the nature changes once again.
Also read: Kashmir we know less about – Naranag

Some tents at the banks of the Gangabal Lake.Reminiscent of what would have been a part of a pontoon bridge  long time back. It looked quite astonishing as to how these extremely heavy pieces of iron would have been transported here. They seemed too heavy even for a mule to carry it. Its all bright, mules have had their green feast and everybody seems to be ready to move on the final day…You can also watch a video of this 5th day trek on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

Have you been to Kashmir Great Lakes Trek? How was your experience? Please share in the comments section below.

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Morning lights at Menar – the birds village!

City of Lakes Udaipur is famous for many things but rarely for its birds. Ironically village Menar, 15 kms from Udaipur’s Dabok airport is known for many things including its birds. Menar is also called as the bird village.  More than couple of lakes in close surroundings of the village are known to host a huge number of migratory birds every year. Menar also has a long history which connects it closely to the Kings of Mewar. Rich in culture, this village also has an honour to produce some of India’s finest chefs who have worked in kitchens of many celebrities- home and abroad. Residents of this village have been known as Menarias.

But my recent trip to this village, roughly around 45 kms from my hometown Udaipur, was purely to catch some morning light. Capturing birds at sunrise (for that matter also at sunsets) has been always very delightful.

The Wild Fire!

And, indeed it turned out to be so. With sun playing hide and seek in the clouds and birds, ready to start their day- it was morning worth every minute.

Lakes around Menar get good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits, Pintails and Shovellers in the winter months.

There are two lakes- one inside the village and another at the far end. Later one is better for spotting birds because of its calmness and undisturbed environs.

Early morning movement of the birds

Menar has always been hosting here birds but it has come to the radar of bird watchers across the world only recently.

Now a large number of bird watchers flock here in winters to capture some memorable images. The local community here has played a big role in conservation efforts and popularising this place as the bird village. Volunteers here are called as Pakshi Mitras (friends of birds). They take care of patrolling, rescue and reporting of any attempts of poaching. Many other steps are taken to maintain the ecology of this place as a safe haven for the birds. Besides regular weeding and prohibition of fishing, locals have also stopped using water from these lakes for the purpose of irrigation. These lakes have no other source of water besides the rains. Hence, it is very significant to use the water judiciously.

The water of gold!

As the light gets brighter, birds are off to their daily routine.

Flying in tandem

Besides waterfowls, Menar is also second home to many other birds, small and big including this Bluethroat-

Among the goose family, these Bar-headed goose make a big colony here every year-

Here these common (Eurasian) coots seem to be having a morning meeting before starting day’s business-

Eurasian coots at Menar

Interestingly, Menar also gets fairly good number of Flamingos. Here greater flamingos look in small number but in another lake close by, there are good number of flamingos visiting every year.

How to reach: Little known village of Menar is 45 kms from Udaipur. It is 15 kms ahead of the Udaipur’s Dabok airport. That means while going to Menar from Udaipur, one has to first cross the airport and than move ahead towards Menar. Menar now has a few homestay options for those, who are serious in bird watching and want to spend more time around. But alternatively, you can always make Udaipur as the base and go to Menar early in the morning for bird watching. There are many young people in Menar village who can be your guide for the bird-watching tour of the village. One of them is Dharmendra Menaria who is also pursuing B.Sc. in agriculture.

P.S. Menar is also famous for some of its festivals which include a grand festival to commemorate the valour of local people. The festival is held on second day of Holi every year.

Have you been to Menar? What was your experience? You can share it here in the comments section.

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Once in a Blue Moon!


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Rare phenomenon  need to be captured through extraordinary attempts. My extraordinary was to be stationed at same place for more than two hours clicking images at regular intervals. But not a big ask when one has to capture a rare spectacle of Super Blood Blue Moon.

To me what was more exciting is the fact that there were many enthusiasts at the India Gate waiting anxiously to watch this rare astronomical event. It was also heartening to see that many had come by shedding their myths about an eclipse. There were many who had a look to the moon through my telephoto lens.

‘Space’ had also organised this event by putting up a telescope at India Gate lawns along with few scientists to give a pep talk about the event. Although clouds played a spoilsport when they almost hid the moonrise and than most part of the eclipse from touch to the complete, thus depriving viewers of the Blood Moon views. Blue moon views were still good.

Second part of the efforts started with processing of the photos and mixing multiple exposures. With a event like this, which is viewed and captured by millions across the globe, it is worth to present the images differently. For me individually, these were first attempts of this type.

You can also watch a time-lapse video of this two hour phenomenon summed up in a 25 second video on my youtube channel by clicking the link below-

Did you watch this year’s Super Blood Blue Moon on 31st January? How was your experience? Share in the comments section below.

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Changing colours of the City Palace : Shades of light and life!


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Shades of light are as mesmerising as the shades of life. How often they go hand to hand! I might seem like being too philosophical but often loss of somebody very close makes you so. Its not quite very often that you are able to watch the changing shades of light during the course of the day at an off-routine place, more so at a place worth a zillion images.

Morning view of the city palace of Udaipur. Its January but the winter this year is not so harsh.

It happened to be so with me when I was at Ambrai Ghat in Udaipur from morning to sunset for a stretch of more than ten hours at the same place. Udaipur is city of my birth and my education.

It gets brighter and bluer as the sun comes to the top. There are many boats taking tourists to small trip on the lake

City Place of Udaipur is one of the prime tourist attractions of the City of Lakes. This more than four hundred years old palace is located at the banks of Pichola Lake in the heart of the city.

Its the start of the second half of the day and light has started to make changes to the colours

The palace is best viewed from the side of the lake. That is where you get the panoramic view of the old city of Udaipur and the City Palace together.

The brightness of the sky gives way to softer tones

The Pichola Lake has got many ghats and these are the places where the old city of Udaipur exists. Ghats are the stairs on the banks of the lakes to let people have easy access to the lake. These ghats were often used by the locals to take bath.

The shades of white turn to yellow…

Ambrai ghat or the historically known as Manji Raj ka Ghat is one of such ghats around lake Pichola in Udaipur. This ghat has a temple of Charbhuja Ji which was originally stated to have been constructed as a palace for the queen mother after she became a widow.

…and the yellow turns to golden…

These ghats are also the reflection of the cultural heritage of the city. They are part of daily life, they are also place for rituals. They are deeply associated with the history and stye have been the silent spectators to the dramatic transformation of the city.

…and even the gold turns to copper, what we say as तांबई colour in Hindi

Be here and you will find small boats filled of tourists taking a round trip in the lake and amazingly clicking the pictures of life on the lakeside.

As the sun sets, the dusk gathers around, its going to be dark soon

Now most of the old houses around the lake have been converted into heritage hotels, catering to a wide range of tourists coming to the Udaipur. Many of them give fantastic views of the lake and city around. Many of the hotels have got lakeside or rooftop restaurants. There are also a number of souvenir shops around these hotels in the area alongside lake.

…its then the lights come to play and give altogether a new shade to the whole surroundings

The visit to Udaipur is often not deemed as complete unless you visit any of its ghats to feel the pulse of the city. Be there, see, interact and get amused! Its worth a lot, just like this interplay of lights on the City Palace during the course of a single day.

Have you been to Ambrai Ghat in Udaipur? Share your experiences in the comments section.

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Lot more than flamingos at Sambhar

Though flamingos were my primary interest and they were who actually pulled my all the way to Sambhar, but wintering at Sambhar is not all about flamingos. Flamingos might be very high in count and attraction but there are many other birds coming for winter migration. As I said in my last post, there are more than 70 species of birds coming here every year.

Pied avocet at Sambhar Lake
Pied avocet at Sambhar Lake

So while I was busy admiring flamingos at Sambhar lake, I couldn’t have failed to notice and try to click few other migratory birds. Pied avocet (pictured above) was the among the first one to come across and was quite attractive because of its distinctive beak and black & white appearance.

Northern shovelers and gadwalls at Sambhar lake
Northern shovelers and gadwalls at Sambhar lake

Though there were some northern pintail and pochards as well, but I could manage to get close view of only these northern shovelers and gadwalls.

Black-tailed godwits in flight at Sambhar lake
Black-tailed godwits in flight at Sambhar lake

Black-tailed godwits gave me some very nice shots while  flying as above and some wonderful reflections like below. It was indeed one of my favourite photos.

Black tailed godwits make a good reflection
Black tailed godwits make a good reflection

Among the pink glare of flamingos, these migratory birds also had their marked presence. Actually besides the lesser flamingos, eurasian curlew and black-tailed godwits have also among the threatened species of birds of Sambhar.

other migratory birds at Sambhar
other migratory birds at Sambhar

Among the common birds often found on backyard shorelines to be seen here were black-winged stilts (below). This thin legged bird is often considered to be cutest among the waders.

Sambhar Flamingos14
a pair of black winged stilt at Sambhar lake

And, then when I covered whole distance from ramp (where I parked my bike) to the railway track, then across the railway track on a high tension power line, I suddenly saw this crested lark (below). It looked so fascinating and keen to give me some cool poses.

Sambhar Flamingos18
Crested lark

I finished with the flamingos and was on my bike again on way back to the main city. I crossed the salt fields and deserted railway stations. Just when I though that I had finished everything at Sambhar for this trip, then suddenly few metres before the railway crossing I noticed another marshy area to my right and there were more birds and in fairly good numbers.

a flock of marsh sandpipers flying over the Sambhar lake
a flock of marsh sandpipers flying over the Sambhar lake

A flock of flying marsh sandpipers caught my notice and in a flash my bike was parked and camera was out. They looked so fascinating in their flight.

a group of Bar headed geese
a group of Bar headed geese

Also with them was a small group os bar-headed geese. I had recently seen them in Kankwari Lake in Sariska and it was easy for me to recognise them. I tried to go closer but they were quick to avoid and flew away at a distance (below). So cute! Isn’t it!

bar-headed geese in flight
bar-headed geese in flight

In the same group of bar-headed goose, I was also able to notice two Brahminy shelduck. This distinctively beautiful bird migrates from south-east Europe and central Asia and winters in Indian sub-continent. But I could see only two of them.

a pair of Brahminy Shelduck
a pair of Brahminy Shelduck

With this shot of marsh sandpipers, I reluctantly switched off my camera and was back on my bike.

marsh sandpipers
marsh sandpipers

It was indeed a great mini photo-tour. Quite satisfying for me in terms of number of birds as well as number os species, that I was able to capture in my images. The feeling made the return journey a bit less tiring.

and finally… the pink flamingos

Moving ahead from Devayani, I was asking every other guy the way to Chatri (cenotaph) of Daadu Dayal. The way wasn’t far from Devayani. Just half a kilometre ahead was a railway crossing and the just before the railway line was a dusty path going inside the salt fields along side the now unused railway track. There were many structures in the area, all of them actually remnants of a very well-planned rail network meant for the salt extraction. It looked like a no-man’s land. I kept on moving ahead till there was a way. Till that time I didn’t even had an idea that how the chatri of Daadu Dayal looked like. Track wasn’t easy, but still negotiable and enjoyable. Then, I suddenly saw a man out of nowhere and asked him about the exact location of the cenotaph, and luckily also about the possibility of birds.

Chatri (canatoph) of Daadu Dayal
Chatri (cenotaph) of Daadu Dayal

Thankfully enough, that man told exactly about both the things and all of a sudden I had wings in my wheels. My primary interest was in birds. Cenotaph was bit ahead in the salt fields and I needed to walk. Bird site was towards left. I unhesitatingly turned towards the lake. I was so anxiously waiting for that moment. Already had pink salt and pink sunset as prelude to this. There was a ramp being built to connect the village directly presumably to the cenotaph. Ramp actually bifurcated the water body which sheltered the birds. I parked my bike on the ramp and then walked alongside the mud-mounded wall to separate the salt fields from the normal water body. And then I was filled with joy on seeing this-

Flamingo colony close to railway track
Flamingo colony close to railway track

That was how the flamingos looked from the distance while lake water was filled with different types of waterfowls. I laughed out at the fact that this was the same railway track from where I and Sohan Singh turned left towards the salt fields last evening. We were searching for birds, hardly aware that they were just on the other side of the railway track, but were not visible from that side as track was on high earthen mound. Now, they were, right in front of me.

I kept moving closer to the colony-

Sambhar Flamingos8

closer-

Sambhar Flamingos9

and yet more-

Sambhar Flamingos11

until they decided to move away a bit farther-

Sambhar Flamingos12

I will admit that my primary objective to go to Sambhar was to see some pink flamingos. The reports of their dwindling numbers were already making rounds for past many years. So I wanted to be there at the earliest available opportunity. Had seen flamingos earlier at few places in India, including Chilika and Rameshwaram. But Sambhar was ought to be quite different from others.

I was so amused that passengers travelling from Jaipur to Jodhpur via train can always enjoy these birds next to their coaches. These images were so interesting-

Saline wetlands of Sambhar have supported large population of flamingos and more than 70 species of other wetland birds. Flamingos have been found to breed in this area. Sambhar is said to be unique ecological habitat for winter avian migrants.

But this place has many challenges which actually threaten its very existence. What can be a bigger irony than this, that though Sambhar Lake was designated as a wetland of International importance under Ramsar convention way back in 1990 and was also marked as an Important Bird Area (IBA) but this is neither a bird sanctuary, nor a wildlife sanctuary or a national park. Hence there is no protection to this site under wildlife protection act. Isn’t this disgraceful to these wonderful creatures-

Sambhar Flamingos13

After Great Rann of Kutch, Sambhar Lake is the second largest wintering and breeding ground for flamingos in India. Its an ideal habitat. Its vast spread of open waters allows most aquatic birds to land in flocks and find for themselves enough space to remain aloof and separated with no resource competition.

Sambhar Flamingos7
fall in line!

Sambhar has both-Lesser flamingos as well as Greater flamingos. But there has been considerable decline in number of Lesser Flamingos in last few years.

Flamingos were aware of my presence and they kept moving from one place to other. There were other disturbances as well- grazing cattle, dogs, trains, humans, as this part of the lake was right adjacent to the Sambhar town. What was interesting that they all moved in unison.

Fly away
Fly away

Feeling threatened they will fly together, not high enough-

Sambhar Flamingos16

and then land to a safer place-

Sambhar Flamingos17

Even while walking in shallow waters, their movements were very swift-

Sambhar Flamingos19

All together-

Sambhar Flamingos20

But what looked most fascinating was their flight. Normally they will daily take rounds of the region in afternoon and then come back in the evening-

Flying high
Flying high

But what gave me best shots of the day was a little game between dogs and the flamingos. Two young dogs first kept playing with each other in the water and then all of a sudden they thought to give the flock of flamingos a chase in shallow waters of the lake, although very aware that it was very futile. But than it was all in the game and to my delight, I was able to get some satisfying images of their flight. See for yourself (click on images to have full view and enjoy)-

These were some low moments but there was also few high and close ones-

I kept on clicking and clicking till I touched the deadline to leave for the return journey of another 350 kms. Otherwise, it was never enough for me-

Sambhar Flamingos28

Sambhar Flamingos29

… and as if saying goodbye to me-

Sambhar Flamingos31

I will surely be back, for more time perhaps. But still this isn’t all from Sambhar…

…the pink sunset

We had already crossed the visible stretch of the Sambhar Lake from railway station to the refinery close to dam. Charmed by the Pink Salt we were on the next part of our evening trail. While crossing the lake bed, we were slowly and cautiously following the path created by jeep tyres, as any attempt to deviate would have been dangerous for our bikes in that slushy mud. Winter sun was quickly moving westwards and I was now getting anxious for some sunset shots in the vast expanse of the lake bed. After pink salt, was it the turn for a pink sunset? You would see for yourself-

Pink Sunset5

I somehow believed that sunset would be splendidly beautiful and quite different from sunsets that I have experienced so far at other places. Colours in the sky and on the land had started changing.

Pink Sunset10

The appetite for a wonderful sunset has been increased by shots like these on the way to Sambhar Salt refinery-

Pink Sunset26

…and also this, just ahead of above-

Just past refinery, me and my lecturer guide Sohan Singh ji rode upto the dam. Private salt operator Vijay Chaudhary had asked us to go till dam to see if there is any water on the other side and I am able to locate any flamingos (my primary motive to be here).

On to the dam
On to the dam

The lake is actually divided into to unequal parts by this dam that runs through almost five kms. An old railway line runs through almost full length of the dam. This rail track was earlier used by salt trains. But it is no longer in use. So our journey to the dam involved biking along that old railway line through some wide stretches like above and some tricky ones like below-

Sohan Singh, a senior secondary school lecturer from Sambhar guiding me on his bike.
Sohan Singh, a senior secondary school lecturer from Sambhar guiding me on his bike.

Interestingly enough, even Sohan Singh had not visited this part of the lake ever earlier despite being resident of this area for quite a long. Actually, this was the reason that kept him motivated to travel with me throughout the evening.

Western side of Sambhar Lake
Western side of Sambhar Lake

Across the dam is the western part of the lake which is more of a open water undisturbed natural lake ecosystem. Shakambari temple is almost 20 kms far in this lake bed. There are also some villages (dhanis) and occasional salt fields. There have been many dredging channels created on the lake bed for salt extraction. On the north-western side is the Gudha village and further 10-15 kms is Nawa. Lake runs upto there. There is a railway line to Nagaur from Sambhar on that route. There are number of brine reservoirs for salt extraction all along.

Pink Sunset11By the time we reached the dam sun was getting ready to take the plunge. I was looking for some open place where trees and shrubs don’t obstruct my view of the sunset and I can find a comfortable place to click the photos.

It was rather easy as there were not many people (actually rarely anybody) passing through that way. I expected some of the colours of the lake bed to show up in sunset and they actually did. See for yourself-

The vastness of the lake bed actually made the foreground similar to a sea or ocean, perfect for the sunset. And then, colours started to show up, interchanging between pink and orange-

Finally, I decided to go closer to sun, not literally but optically, and the results were again very pleasing. And I kept clicking till sun itself said, it was enough. And what colours the sky kept throwing, I was amazed-

As the sun went into hide, it was time to move. Sohan Singh ji had already spent more than three hours with me. He was also getting late perhaps, although he never got anxious on my photographing capabilities! It was time to find some resting place for the night. We had come quite a distance from the Sambhar town. We headed back.  After reaching town, we had a parting tea together at the bus stop. We said goodbye to each other but not before, my search for a night shelter ended.

Day was over. Not a bad one by many counts. But I was still restless due to missing those, for whom I had come all the way along. Will I see them or- not?

Birding in a tiger reserve

I am not a birder specifically, but being interested in wildlife I love bird watching as much as I love sighting tigers. Both give you equal chance to play with your camera. All the tiger reserves and national parks per say (other than specific bird sanctuaries) too have rivers, lakes, ponds and other water holes which are shelter for waterfowls and migratory birds. Jungle themselves are best places to see the birds. Having been to few bird sanctuaries, this was first time I specifically kept time to see birds in a tiger reserve and I was certainly not disappointed. Hence, comes this fourth post from Sariska visit.

Kankwari Lake surrounded by hills of Rajaurgarh
Kankwari Lake surrounded by hills of Rajaurgarh

Sariska is a big national park and has many perennial sources of water which in turn become good harbouring ground form birds. Hence, when you are close to a water body, it makes easy for you to locate birds, rather than when you are in jungle as then you are always moving in a safari and desperately looking for bigger animals. It is tough to locate birds while on move, unless you are an expert in movement and sounds of birds. I am neither. Hence I tried to give some time close to lakes to see birds. One is the Kankwari lake, which is right at the base of the hillock on which Kankwari fort is built. Other lake is close to Sariska gate on right side of the main road leading to Pandupole.

The lakes or the water bodies of the Sariska Tiger Reserve also have many crocodiles, as is normal with this region. Ranthambore too has man crocodiles and Sariska and Ranthambore share the same topography.

Sariska Tiger Reserve has almost 225 recorded bird species which makes it ethereal for bird watchers. Among them are many rare species as well. Few are even endangered ones. While there is a large number of resident species, it is also a good wintering ground for many migratory species of central Asia. I was delighted to see a big colony of Bar Headed Goose at Kankwari Lake. This bird migrates from Central Asia and is said to one of the world’s highest flying birds. It is distinguishable by two black bars on back of its head.

There were also Brahminy ducks, as they are commonly known in India. This Ruddy shelduck also migrates from southeastern Europe and central Asia. This is quite distinctive due to its colour.

A Brahminy duck
A Brahminy duck

At Kankwari lake, I was also able to see a group of Black headed ibis on the other side of he lake as they probably didn’t want to get disturbed.

Black Headed Ibis
Black Headed Ibis

There were also painted storks and a black-necked stork high up on a far tree. Clicking storks in flight is very fascinating because of their size and amazing flight.

While returning from the Kankwari fort, we also got to see few spot billed ducks distinctive due to  a yellow spot on the tip of the beak and orange-red spots at the base of the beak.

Also were fortunate to locate a Golden-backed woodpecker on a tree. This bird is so agile that it is tough to click it, still I was able to. Although it is quite common but too beautiful, not to click a photograph.

Golden-backed woodpecker
Golden-backed woodpecker

At the other lake, I was also able to see Eurasian Spoonbill. This migratory birds is identified with its spoon shaped bill.

Eurasian Spoonbill
Eurasian Spoonbill

Another interesting sight was of Yellow footed green pigeon. They get so camouflaged with the colour of the trees that it is tough to spot them, but they really look beautiful. These common green pigeons are residents of Sariska.

Overall it turned out to be a good sightings in limited time and was quite enjoyable. There were few more like cattle egrets and command pond herons and others.

SO, next time you are in Sariska, keep your eyes open for birds as well. Mansarovar Dam near Tehla gate is also a big wintering ground for migratory birds. So when, you go to Neelkanth Temple, you can keep some time to visit this dam also for a bit of birding. There is a also a lake at Karnakawas.

Any question? Please write me and I will be pleased to answer to best of my knowledge.

 

Visit to Haji Ali shrine is a bliss!

Almost six hundred year old Dargah of Haji Ali at Mumbai is not just one of the most important Sufi shrines in India but also one of the most revered religious places in India. This is also one of those popular shrines which have been part of Indian cinema, especially Bollywood a lot. Many sufi songs and qawwali have been filmed here, which went on to become popular musical numbers as well. More recently the shrine has been in news for all the dispute related to entry of women to the inner sanctum sanctorum  of the shrine. Putting all this aside, this shrine is going to celebrate its annual URS on 15th January this year.

Haji Ali Shrine

This shrine is also popular for its structure. Dargah is built in Arabian sea, almost half a kilometre offshore from the coast at Worli in Mumbai. A pathway for pedestrians has been built from the Mahalaxmi area in Mumbai upto the shrine. Here is the most fascinating part of this structure. This path has no railings on its sides. Hence, when there is a high tide in the sea this path gets submerged in the sea water and the shrine becomes inaccessible by foot. Shrine turns into a island then. So, in practicality this shrine is accessible only in low tides.

Built in 1431 this shrine is said to be a fine example of Indo-Islamic architecture. The structure has typical white domes and minarets reminiscent with the Mughal architecture of the period. It was constructed in memory of Sayed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. There is story about this saint. He was a wealthy merchant. He hailed from Bukhara in Persia (in present day Uzbekistan), hence he got his name Bukhari. He travelled a lot around the world and finally settled in Mumbai. There are many legends about his settling in Mumbai and subsequent death on his visit to Mecca. Since he never married and had no descendants, hence most of things about him have been learnt from the caretakers and trustees from generation to generation. In the process many other stories and sub-stories have entered into the play.

Haji Ali Shrine at night

Nevertheless, he was a great holy man and had asked his followers to cast the coffin carrying his body into the ocean so that it should be buried by the people where it is found. Now according to some legends, he died on his trip to Mecca and as per his wish when the coffin was pushed into the ocean, days later it miraculously floated back to these shores, getting stuck in the string of rocky islets just off the shore of Worli. Thus, the tomb and dargah was constructed there. It was a very small structure for many centuries. Its current structure was built only in 1916 when a trust to maintain the shrine was officially formed. The entire structure is spread over an area of around 5,000 sq. m. and stands adorned with an 85 foot high minaret. Inside the shrine is the tomb of Haji Ali decorated with red and green sheets. The main sanctorum is made in marble decorated with coloured glass. Main gate is also covered with pure white marble.

Many miracles are attributed to Haji Ali and as with many other sufi saints in India, Haji Ali is also revered alike by people of all religions. People visit the dargah to seek his blessings. There is a huge rush mostly on Thursdays and Fridays. On Sundays too, many tourists and local people come here to see the place. Besides being a religious place, it is also an important destination on the Mumbai Tourist Map. The location of the Dargah serves as one of the major attractions luring tourists here. With the sea forming the backdrop, Haji Ali becomes a sight to behold.

The annual URS (Death Anniversary) of Haji Ali Shah Bukhari takes place on the 16th of (Rabi-ul-Aakhir / Rabi-al-Thaany) (17th Shab) as per Islamic Calendar. This year (2017) this URS will be on 15th January.

Its very enjoyable and relaxing to listen to qawwals here in nights singing sufi songs. Actually visiting this place in late evenings brings a different feeling altogether. Watching the shrine as one moves from the pathway to the shrine and then watching the glittering Mumbai all around the shrine… simply fascinating.

Where and How:

For all those who want to be there in Mumbai for URS of Sayed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, Etihad brings you direct to Mumbai daily from almost all destinations in Gulf and Middle-East. Staying in Mumbai is never a problem as there are accommodations available for every pocket. For those who want to stay longer and enjoy the mega metropolis there are many resorts in Mumbai for luxurious and comfortable stay.