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Alaska Seward Highway landscapeKite Surfing near Turnagain Arm on Seward Highway

It is very difficult to keep your eyes on the road. You can see why from the above photograph, a few guys Kite surfing right next to the Seward highway. Running through the scenic Kenai mountains, Turnagain Arm and Kenai Peninsula, Seward highway from Anchorage to Seward has to be one of best places to drive in the world. I pulled over many a times to appreciate the beauty of the picturesque landscape as I drove on a bright and clear sunny day.

After flying back from Katmai photographing Bears, I Couchsurfed at Brian’s place in Anchorage for a night. I had rented a car from the Anchorage airport. The following day, I drove towards Seward. The weather was incredible, with clear skies and bright sun. I was lucky since most of the summer days are drought with rain. July is a very busy time of the year in Alaska. Salmons, Halibuts, Trouts and other fish attract anglers from all parts of the world. This means getting a place to stay would be quite a challenge if you don’t book in advance. I decided to stay at Moose Pass for a night, a short distance from Seward.

Whale watching and glacier cruise was on my plan. After reading up on reviews for cruise on into the Kenai Fjords National Park, I was more than sold to take the cruise. However, I had not booked until I get to know the weather forecast for that week/day, as suggested by some. Rain and rough sea could not only make wildlife sightings rare, it would also make my cruise very uncomfortable. This proved a costly miss as I couldn’t get on the smaller ‘photographers boat’. I instead choose the Northwestern Fjords cruise, covering almost the same route lasting from 8:30am to 5pm. I missed sighting an incredibly rare mammal, Wolverine, that Dario and Max saw on the other boat. However, my consolation was to watch a humpback whale mom and calf for a good 30min.

Cruise in Alaska Seward Resurruction Bay

Alaska-Seward-Resurruction-Bay-Humpback-Whale-Calf-8116Cruise on a clear sunny day was great and the Humpback whale breathing with her playful calf at Resurrection Bay made it even better

The cruise is as much for wildlife as it is for the glaciers at the Kenai Fjords National Park. There are many glaciers on slightly different routes near Seward. Exit Glacier is one that can be reached on road by car. Although the glacier itself was not as impressive as some of the others I saw while on cruise, there is access to Harding icefield. It was an all day hike to the icefield and I had not planned for it. May be next time! Another place I was considering for wildlife and glacier cruise was Prince William Sound. Seward, however, is the more popular one with at least two cruise companies operating from Seward harbor on a variety of cruises, lasting a few hours to all day cruises. I chooses the all day cruise to the Northwestern Glacier, named after the university. It was an incredible experience. The chill in the wind and the sound of the glacier caving as you watch it from up close is an experience that is to be felt. No words, images or videos can make justice to that experience.

Northwestern Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

Glacier-calving-Alaska-7975NortheWestern Glacier. Glacial calving is a natural phenomenon. However, the rate at which glaciers are retrieving is effect of climate change.

The captain of the boat did a 360 of the view from a certain location. The beauty of the place is to be experienced. Here is an unedited video with the 360 degree view of the glaciers in the Kenai Fjords national park:

The challenge of photographing wildlife on a boat is something totally different. First, it is hard to anticipate where and when do the creatures breach or come to the surface. Second, the rocking boat makes it even harder to compose and focus. Fortunately, the sea was calm. It still was quite a challenge. Sea Otters, Harbor seals, Loons, Sea Cormorants, a variety of Terns, Tufted and horned Puffins, Dall Propoises, and Humpback Whales were all a treat to watch. Towards the end of the cruise, we chanced upon a pod of Orcas. Orcas are the Elephants of the oceans, with a matriarchal society with a strong social and communication structure. The dubious reputation of ‘killer whales’ where they kill humans is the fictional creation of hollywood. ‘Blackfish‘ is an excellent documentary on how these beautiful creatures are tortured and confined into small pools for entertainment at SeaWorld and similar places. Please do watch Blackfish on Netflix.

Orca-Killer-Whale-Pod-Alaska-Seward-Resurruction-Bay-8047Orca or more popularly known as Killer Whale Pod in Resurruction Bay, Seward, Alaska

After the cruise, I started towards my stay for the next day – Ninilchik. The drive didn’t yield much exciting except  a pullover for speeding. Fortunately, I was let off with a warning – respect for Alaskan troopers. Ninilchik is a small Russian village. Yes, Russian.  It is a fishing village on the banks of Cook inlet. The place I had booked to stay in Ninilchik village was one of the most beautiful places you can have your vacation homes. Perched atop a small ridge cliff, the house overlooks the Cook inlet bay and the two volcanoes, Mt. Iliamna and Mt. Redoubt, on the other side. Mt. Redbout erupted as recently as 2009! Watching the sunset from there was one of the most spectacular views. Brain had told me visiting the beach at Ninilchik for the spectacular views of sunset behind the volcanoes and I didn’t know if will have time. To view it from the backyard of my stay was truly special.

Cook inlet is another great location for Halibut fishing. The beach at Ninilchik is the starting point. I saw numerous fishing boats early in the morning set out. I, on the other hand, was there for a different reason. Bald Eagles. Though I had good views of the eagles fishing at Katmai, I had not got a closer portrait photograph that I wished for. This was the place. The beach also serves as a dumping yard for halibut remains after cleaning the fish. This attracts the eagles, terns and many other birds. I saw at least 50-60 Bald Eagles on the mile long beach shore in the morning. The cliffs on the edge of the beach provides a good roosting spot for the eagles – higher and out of reach from the beach and inaccessible from the road on the other side. I spent the entire morning without much success as they would fly away despite my cautious approach. The open beach meant no cover for me to sneak up close. Until, I found a few rocks on the shore.

Juvenile-Bald-Eagle-Alaska-8347A perspective to show how I photographed the bird – Using rock as cover, crawl as close as possible

Bald Eagle Juvenile at AlaskaThe result – A juvenile Bald Eagle

Bald-Eagle-PortraitPortrait of the Bald Eagle that eluded me at Katmai was challenging but a success at Ninilchik

On my last evening in Alaska, I went looking for another popular mammal and bird to Kenai – Caribou and Sandhill crane. I was driving around in the areas I had researched before without much luck. I pulled over to a viewing area. Time was running out. I was 3 hours away from Anchorage airport. Then, I saw a Crane. I was excited. Though I couldn’t get close for lack of time and restrictions placed for the birds’ comfort. Soon, I saw a herd of Caribou far across the horizon. It was such a awesome feeling as I were to wrap up my trip and head to Anchorage for my flight back to LA. I photographed as late as I could. However, Caribou still remains on my list for a better photograph. Here are few more images.

Mount-Redoubt-Iliamna-Cook-Inlet-view-Ninilchik-beachView of the volcano across Cook Inlet from Ninilchik beach as a boat gets underway for Halibut fishing

Chamerion angustifolium or Fireweed, AlaskaChamerion angustifolium or Fireweed is one of the most common wildflower in Alaska

Arctic Tern FlightArctic Tern nesting at Potter Marsh on Seward Highway. Artic Tern migrates longest in the world, an astonishing 44,000 miles from pole to pole

Halibut Fishing, Seward Harbor, AlaskaCleaning Halibuts at Seward Harbor. July is a very popular time for fishing in Alaska.

Swan-Tundra-Trumpter-Alaska-HomerA Swan at Homer. Views of mountains never go away in Alaska.

Mallard-Female-Wing-flapA pretty Mallard female – lands right in front of me as I was photographing the Swan above.

Greater Yellowlegs Greater Yellowlegs – very shy birds and proved quite a challenge to photograph

Harbor Seals, AlaskaHarbor Seals resting on glacial ice to conserve energy – Don’t they get cold?

That’s all folks! Please drop me a note if you wish to visit any of the places and get some tips on photographing the species in the Alaskan peninsula. Although not an expert of the location, I have spent considerable hours researching on times to visit, roads to take and locations to wait at to photograph the many of the species in the region.

Bald Eagle Scape Sunset AlaskaThe magnificent Bald Eagle perched atop the Alaskan Cedar on a late summer day at Katmai National Park

The Arctic region and the brown bears were a fascination for a long time. In September of 2012, I was very close to the Russian part of Alaska, in Vladivostok, and really wanted to visit Kamchatka. I was told it was not worth going, if not for August. Going to Alaska to watch the Sockeye Salmon run and Brown Bears fishing was on my mind but not in the scheme of things for the summer of 2013. I had spent enough hours researching on backpacking in Central and Eastern Europe. Thanks to unfortunate realities, I was stranded in US. For some reason, I had thought the sockeye salmon run was in September (It’s a time to see Bears catching Red). Those who know little bit about my travel planning would know I have to plan it right – right place, right time of the year, right species, right gear, right guides. In a week’s time, I researched and was all set to visit and camp in Alaska, alone.

Brooks Camp is one of the most popular wildlife viewing, or more specifically Brown Bear viewing places in the world. It would not be an exaggeration to say it is as popular as Masai Mara for Wildeebeast migration or Bandhavgarh for Bengal Tigers. The lifeline of this place is the Sockeye Salmon, which make an arduous journey from the pacific ocean to the fresh waters of Alaska for spawning. The upstream migration provides opportunity for many predators feasting on the protein rich Salmon.

The arrival of Sockeye Salmon at Brooks Falls is not easily predictable. However, the best times are between 3rd and 28th of July on most years. In May 2013, I was told they are taking reservations for July 2015. No surprise that the Brooks camp lodge with capacity of 60 guests needs reservations 2 years in advance. Fortunately, I was able to get a camp site for 3 nights. Perhaps because I was going alone. Larger groups definitely need advanced planning. The reservation for camp site opens on January 5th every year and get booked in a few hours.

Route:

Los Angeles -> Anchorage -> King Salmon -> Brooks Camp

You can reach King Salmon on Alaskan, Penn Air or other commercial airlines. However, transfer from King Salmon to Brooks camp is through float planes operated by few private players. Katmailand is one of the popular ones and was my preferred operator. I booked my return trip with them from Anchorage and was a smooth process. For good or bad, it is a fixed price flight at $685 ex-Anchorage.

Alaska-Landscape-from-planeMany rivulets and water bodies connect the fresh water breeding grounds of salmon to the Pacific Ocean

The flight from King Salmon to Brooks camp is a fascinating one. As a fan of Disney’s TaleSpin, it was almost like a dream to fly on a float plane. Taking off from a small lake in King Salmon, the 40-minute flight takes you through the amazing scape of Alaskan peninsula. The views of the expansive Alaska and the numerous rivulets, ponds and lakes amidst many mountains was a treat to watch. The small float plan lands on the beautiful Naknek lake that drains into the Naknek river and eventually to the Bristol Bay and Pacific Ocean – the  upstream route salmons take for the freshwater spawning grounds. Bristol Bay is one of the largest Salmon fishing areas in the world. The regulations ensure no overfishing and enough Salmons reach fresh waters to spawn and continue the life cycle.

Float Plane landing at Brooks Falls alaska

Brown Bear Scape and Naknek Lake AlaskaThe beautiful green-blue hues of Naknek lake on a blissfully day with clear sky, a rarity in Alaskan summer

Everyone that visits Brooks Camp must undergo a mandatory Bear Safety instruction conducted by the rangers. This is to ensure there visitors know how to behave. As at any other popular national park in the world, it doesn’t come as a surprise how some tourists conduct themselves. After the mandatory orientation, I walked almost a mile with my 50lbs backpack and camera gear to the campsite. Later realized there’s a push cart! Setup my tent and went for a lunch at the lodge restaurant. Though the prices are a little steep, food is totally worth it considering the remote location of the camp. There is at least one good vegetarian option for every meal and also few delicious desserts.

Campground from the lodge is about 0.8 miles, and the falls platform from the lodge 1.8miles. The walk between these would give you numerous encounters with bears. You are expected to make noise and warn the bear of your presence – contrast to other wildlife viewing experiences where you keep quiet to ensure you don’t disturb the animals. My first day at Katmai was gloomy and it started raining by the time I reached the falls platform. My relatively inadequate rain gear would come under test for the next few days. I felt if I have survived the monsoon in Agumbe, I can handle any rain. The exciting part of the afternoon was that there were few salmons jumping (~ 3-5 per minute), and there were few hungry bears. Although Brooks fall is the best place to see a Bear catch a jumping salmon, you may not get to witness it if you are not lucky. Salmon and Bear timing need to match as I figured out the next few days.

Bear-waiting-waterfalls-Brooks-Falls-6279Bear-catching-Salmon-6260Bear killing a salmon alaskaCatching a jumping Salmon is an acquired skill, passed from mother to cubs, and needs patience. Capturing the action shot needs patience too.

One can stay at the falls platform for a maximum of one hour if it is crowded. Many visit the place on a day trip, fly in the morning and fly out in the afternoon. Hence it gets busy during the day. However, those who stay overnight get the advantage of 22 hour sunlight days of Alaskan summer. The falls platform closes at 10pm. I stayed till 9:45pm on one of the days and while walking back alone, encountered a big brown bear right in my path hardly 30 feet from me. Two thoughts: stay put and get a wide angle shot or walk back. Instinct said wait and see what the bear does and then decide. Obviously the bear doesn’t give a shit about me and wants to show who’s the boss. He walks straight towards me. I start walking back and soon jogging backwards making some noise. His stride is much bigger and gains ground sooner. Fortunately there were few more who were walking back from the platform and join me. Someone suggests we get off the track and into the woods. We all get out of his path and a few hundred feet away in mix of tall grass, shrubs and trees. We keep yelling and making noise, as instructed by the rangers. After a few minutes, he walks away. Phew!

On the first night, when it wasn’t raining, a few of the campers lit a fire at the campground. On the other nights, the lodge restaurant with a fireplace provided a much needed oasis of warmth. Not only did I get to meet lot of awesome people from around the world, but also managed to dry my gear and the fogged up lens on most afternoons and late evenings.

Brooks-Camp-Lodge-Restaurant-Alaska-6487Meeting awesome people and drying my gear at the fireplace of Brooks camp lodge restaurant

The best and also the worst part about Alaskan summer is the terribly long days and sunlight. Almost 22 hours of daylight means, you as a photographer are out all the time. Though it was cloudy on most days, it created a fantastic soft lighting situation. With a good camera that can produce images without much noise at ISO-800 or 1000, you can shoot almost for 17-18 hours a day, if you can stay up that long. My day would typically start by 7:30 and end past midnight, with intermittent breaks. Between the campground, lodge, falls platform and other small trails, I’d have easily averaged 8 miles a day.

First day afternoon provided good opportunity for Bears fishing of Salmon on the falls. Soon after, Bears were full. The following days, there were plenty of Salmons jumping (~70-75 per minute at times), but hardly any bears at the falls. If you are visiting to see a bear catch a salmon jumping in air, make sure you have at least 3 to 4 days at Brooks camp. However, the lower platform is an excellent place to spend time and observe wildlife. Common Mergansers with chicks, Mallards, Arctic terns, Arctic Skua, Ospreys, Bald Eagles and many other birds can be spotted right from the platform. The beautiful Naknek lake and bears around it provide excellent opportunity for some landscape shots.

On the 3rd day, I signed up to visit the Valley of 10,000 smokes. Katmai National Park was established because of a volcanic eruption at the beginning of 20th century, and not because of the Bears. The valley is an expansive space of volcanic ash that is inhospitable for all life forms. A modified-to-the-terrain bus takes you on an hour long journey to the valley from Books Camp. It was incredible to see the dead valley in the middle of picturesque green mountains and tall trees. It is like a canyon in the middle of evergreen forest. No picture makes justice to the valley of 10,000 smokes.

Valley-of-Ten-Thousand-Smokes-Katmai-National-Park-Alaska-0490Volcanic ash and lava flowing over the valley has not let any life form to exist. Only recovering recently and slowly.

Cannot end the post without a mention to the amazing park rangers at Katmai National Park. Without these rangers, Brooks camp wouldn’t be a place that it is. The platforms and the bridge are setup only for the summer, in May of each year and taken down in October. They ensure people get to have the best viewing and fishing experience, and at the same time bears stay wild and with minimal or no human interference.  Here are few more images from my stay at the Brooks camp:

Rangers at Katmai National Park, Brooks Camp Bear blocked the trail to the falls platform for nearly an hour and rangers kept an eye.

Campground-and-tent-Brooks-Camp-AlaskaMy tent pitched at the campground – image here as I searched a lot to find out how the campground was since I was camping alone

Bald-Eagle-and-Photographers-Alaska-6909Where is the Eagle? Lower platform is the best place to spend time and watch eagles, ospreys, terns, bears and other birds.

Bald-Eagle-Brooks-Camp-6924Bald Eagle makes an aerial maneuver – a treat to watch standing at the lower platform

Arctic Skua, AlaskaArctic Skua makes an unusual appearance

Brown Bears Courtship alaskaA courting pair enjoying the summer

One last image. The day I visited valley of ten thousand smokes, it had been raining heavier. I had been out in the rain from 7am till about 9:30pm, with very little break. I had hiked over 12 miles. We (Max, Dario and I) had missed out on the sighting of a sow with cubs earlier in the day. We waited at the lower platform on that cold, rainy evening hoping for some action. By 9pm, the rain had stopped but the light was still bright. By 9:45pm, tired and cold, we decide to head back to the camp. As we walked half way across the bridge, we saw the mother bear walk her cubs out – cautiously looking for any other bears. We just stopped at the middle of the bridge and she walked up to the edge of the water and at the perfect angle for us. The elation was unbound. You need to get lucky in wildlife photography to capture good images. However, you increase your odds by spending more time in the field.

Alaskan-Brown-Bear-Sow-with-CubsMy favorite image of the trip. Got very lucky after waiting for hours in the cold and rain

Gear: I rented my gear for the trip since I had sold most of my gear before embarking on the 2 years at business school. I researched quite a bit on the gear that I need. I took my favorite lens, Canon 100-400mm. It provides a great flexibility. You will find bears at close ranges. Even at the falls falls, you will not need longer than 300mm for a good image of the bears. For Eagles, Terns, and other birds, have a 500/600mm. Body I used was 7D and Rebel XSi. A high ISO tolerance and faster fps camera is very useful.

Having rain covers is useful, don’t have to dry lens when it gets fogged up otherwise. Mosquito and bugs are common in Alaskan wilderness. Though it was less than what I had read about, I had a bug repellant spray and a head cover.

Some useful blogs I researched and read before my trip: Gordon Liang

Booking campground: http://www.recreation.gov/camping/Brooks_Camp_Campground/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=NRSO&parkId=70949

Booking lodge and flights: http://www.katmailand.com

It was a fantastic trip to the Brooks falls. I stayed at the lower platform until 45min to my flight on the last day at 6pm. Also, It was great to meet some awesome photographers Massimiliano and Dario from Italy, Laura from Fairbanks, Tim and Shekar from the Bay area. There were many others I shared dinners and lunch with. I didn’t feel anytime that I was traveling alone. I continued my journey in the Alaskan Peninsula, to Anchorage and then to Seward, Ninilchik and Homer. More on that in the following post.

P.S.: I need donations for buying new gear. All my photographs are under creative commons license and can be used for non-commercial work only by providing credits to the photographer.

Elephant Stable at HampiElephant Stables at Hampi, Karnataka

One of the richest empires that ruled the Southern India, the Vijayanagara Empire, had its capital around present day Hampi. What remains today of the once glorious state is the UNESCO world heritage sites, ruins of the empire. Virupaksha temple, Elephant Stables, Lotus Mahal, Vittala Temple, Stone Chariot, the musical pillars and few other monuments amidst the Thungabadra river and the rocky arid terrain give fantastic opportunity for photography.

Neelima, one of India’s best travel and landscape photographer, accompanied me and Dilip for a weekend escapade to Hampi. The best option to reach Hampi from Bangalore is through train to Hospet, and taking a cab from Hospet to Hampi. Given Hampi’s popularity and unavailability of train tickets left us with no choice but taking an overnight bus from Bangalore. The bumpy roads for latter part of the journey left me with little sleep and we arrived at 5am. There are many options for accommodation available, on either side of the river Tungabadra. We decided to stay at a shack on ‘the other side’ of the river. This meant taking a boat across the river every time we set out. Each of the historical sites are anywhere between 2 to 10 miles (or ~3 to 15km). It is possible to visit most of the prominent monuments in 2 days. Hiring a cab, renting a bike or a moped are the different options. We rented a moped.

Stone Chariot at Hampi, KarnatakaStone Chariot at Vittala Temple, Hampi

The temple complexes and the rocky landscape provide one the picturesque places for photography. Despite our outing in June, at the end of summer and onset of Monsoon, we were lucky to have splendidly beautiful blue skies. Started out with breakfast at the popular Mango Tree restaurant – cuisine is predominantly western. Our first day stops included Virupaksha temple and few unrecognized ruins at first. Returning to the Mango Tree for lunch.

In the evening, we visited the Vittala Temple. This is one of the most interesting monuments at Hampi. I still had the memories of visiting this place decades ago. The stone pillars carved on the mantapa of the temple produces 7 notes of music. It is simply fascinating to see and hear music from gently tapping the stone pillar. However, we were not let to tap the pillars on the main complex. The deterioration caused by millions of tourists visiting had already waned down the thickness of the pillars from what I had seen a decade earlier. There is only one pillar that is allowed for demo. Our guide showed us that and it was equally impressive.

Vittala Temple Mantapa at HampiStone pillars at the Vittala temple complex produce musical notes on tapping it gently

Second day plan was to visit the Lotus Mahal and the Elephant stables at the Zenana Enclosure. The image you see at the top is the elephant stable. To get the size reference, see the man walking at the center. After lunch, I insisted on visiting Daroji for watching Sloth Bears. We had to ride ~30km. Through the hilly terrain, we reached the Daroji Bear Sanctuary. Birding in the late afternoon was average at best. Sloth bears visit for the jaggery lick on the rocks. We settled at a watch tower at 4pm. However, the bears were not expected until dusk depending on our luck. After waiting for close to an hour and half, we decided to return since we needed to catch the last boat across the river at 6:30pm. I was not fortunate to photograph sloth bears at Daroji and gives me reason to return.

Lakshmi Narasimha statue HampiLakshmi Narshima Statue close to Virupaksha Temple

Krishnadevaraya was one of the prominent rulers of Vijayanagara empire. There are legends of gold and diamond ornaments being sold on streets by hawkers during his reign, signifying the wealth during the period. After the Sultans of Bijapur defeated the last emperor of the dynasty, they looted the wealth in the capital and destroyed the hindu temples, monuments and structures. Today, this stands in ruins and as popular destination for travelers.

Ruins of Vijayanagara empireRuins of Vijayanagara empireRuins are reconstructed, restored and preserved by ASI (Archaeological Society of India)

Check out the landscape images from Hampi here.

Wonder

The zeal to write about a new place I visit and publish the photograph has tempered down, if not dead, since I started at the business school. However, the list of fantastic places I visited during this calendar year has been nothing short of incredible and unexpected. Though some of the places I visited was on my mind for quite sometime, few others were not. Visiting a place that you have not even heard of doesn’t happen that often, especially to someone like me that had made a list of places to travel around the world in a year.

In January 2012, I was in Bangalore. Starting from there, I have covered over 56,000 miles in 8 months and set foot on 4 continents in one year. Though most of my travel happened over the summer and mostly for work, it exposed me to a variety of cultures, economic diversity, languages, architectures, lifestyles and much more.

Travel on work also provided some opportunity to visit some spectacular places. While in Peru, I took time off to visit Machu Picchu and while in China, I visited the Great Wall. During my visit to Delhi on work in 2010, I visited Taj Mahal. That completes 3 of 7 wonders of the world as per New7Wonders list. These unexpected visits has spurred motivation for me to visit all the 7 wonders of the world. Wonder when that would happen!

Google+, Google voice, Chrome Webstore, Chrome OS, Google Music, Google TV, Google Shopping, Android, Google Fiber network; And most recently, Google Play.

Where do all these products culminate?

The answer is a tablet!

What Apple and Amazon understand and few other tablet makers such as Sony and RIM don’t is that tablet is not a device in itself. You need to give consumers an ecosystem to nurture the usage of the tablet and other devices.  Tablets are no longer a device that has a space between smartphone and computer as Steve Jobs introduced. It is inching closer to replace computers. There is a keyboard dock for iPad!

Google understands this as well as Apple or Amazon do. They also understands how people communicate and hence is striving to build a good social network, despite the early struggle.

There is need for a completely integrated ecosystem where a user can listen/buy music or movies, communicate with friends/family and share thoughts/news.

High speed Internet connectivity is also a big hindrance to ubiquitous usage of content accessible through these devices. Google has been setting up fiber optics and hopes to provide broadband 10 times faster than existing US average. The gamble by Google to create a complete end-to-end ecosystem from Apps and OS to hardware and internet infrastructure is as ambitious as it could possibly be. Pulling it off could be as revolutionary as Google search was for internet.

There are two important hurdles:

First, monetization could be a challenge: would Google try to put Ads on their devices and sell them at affordable prices (and hence go Amazon way?) or Make fully controlled premium devices (and go Apple way?). Hybrid option may seem the best alternative, but the trade off is not clear. Monetizing access to Google Play answers some part of this.

Second, Creating a seamless experience for user across multiple Android devices could be a challenge. Can Google make access to content purchased from ‘Play’ (and everything else) on Samsung SmartTV/GoogleTV, HTC Android Phone and Sony tablet seamlessly? It is a tough task, and an area where closed-system approach of Apple and its array of devices are scoring over Android. It becomes even more important in future.

Google seems to have or building (and integrating) all components of making a seamless entertainment experience on multiple devices. It would be interesting to see how Amazon and Apple play out. I think the first casualty could be Amazon if Google does well, before threatening Apple.

P.S.: Started writing ‘why Google tablet is important’ more than a month back, but only completing now. There is so much more I want to write about this, but got to run.

Kabini summer

This is the pattern in mind when I think of Kabini. Undoubtedly the elusive Leopard. The best place in the world to photograph this beautiful cat is around the backwaters of Kabini reservoir at Nagarhole National Park. I have never returned from Kabini without sighting this spotted cat (including my last month’s visit).

Having visited Kabini many a times, I had missed visiting this magical place in summer for long time. Arun, Selva and Sudhir agreed to join me, and I made a booking more than a month in advance for 2 night stay at the Kabini river lodge. Ooty was an obvious and easy choice for the weekend prior to Kabini visit from April 11 to 13th. Check out the Ooty trip report and few images here.

Started from Ooty after photographing few birds, briefs stops for sightings of Black Eagle, Chestnut headed bee eaters and Elephants near Bandipur, we were sightly late to reach Kabini.

Route: Ooty->Masinagudi->Bandipur->Gundlupet->Begur->Sargur->HD Kote handpost->Kabini

The expectation was high and Kabini didn’t disappoint. Soon into the evening safari, we saw this huge leopard. It paused for a moment to check us and all our cameras hit non-stop for 3-4 seconds. Combined, we must have captured about 40 frames in 3-4 seconds.

Leopard – watching left before crossing the track

The search for the bigger striped cat was on on almost all safaris. We missed an opportunity on 2nd day morning safari when a tiger arrived at the backwaters to quench thirst. But we did get to sight the big bird, Spot-bellied Eagle owl.

Back at the camp, each of us spent time to shoot macros of spiders and other insects. Fearing a nasty sting, I got close to this wasp for only one shot.

Moves like a butterfly, stings like a bee

Evening safari again yielded many elephants. A herd of spotted deer gave fantastic opportunity to capture some silhouette images on the backwaters in the golden light of fading sun.

Now, what’s Kabini without elephants. The best part about Kabini in Summer is the congregation of Asiatic elephants. You will find them pretty much everywhere – in the forest, on the backwaters, in the water. There were tons of them. It was a beautiful sight to watch mother with calf, huge tuskers young bulls, on the back waters – bathing, feeding, wrestling.

Eye of a Matriarch

Congregation of Asiatic Elephants at Kabini Backwaters


The final morning safari started with a beautiful sight of two peacocks trying to woo a mate. The spectacle was full on right on the jeep track. If not disturbed by the jeep ahead on trying to reach the sunset point from where a tiger was sighted, we would have seen more display of romance of peafowls.

Peacocks wooing Peahen

Even our jeep was rushed to the sunset point only to hear from the few jeeps that were already there that tiger went back into the thickets. Few jeeps decided to stay back, and our jeep driver decided to get to other part in hope of tracking the big cat. Soon, they get a call saying tiger is seen again near the sun set point. What followed that was something that I had only heard happens  (and subtly experienced) in Central Indian forests.

All the jeeps that got the info on tiger rushed at inexplicable speed to the spot. It was utter madness as I just sat disappointed, covering my eyes from the huge dust storm the convoy of jeeps had created.

Again as we reached, we were told the tiger just left the banks. Within a minute or two wait, our driver wanted to get back to track the big cat else where. I was furious. I told him I want to wait at a place long enough if we were to have any chance. There was no point in driving around. He suggested me we wait at another place and not here

Just as we were getting out, a couple of Dholes were sighted. Again, all the jeeps rushed as the were moving slightly ahead. The thunderous noise of the jeeps scared the Dholes and they got inside the bushes. If only we had turned off jeeps and waited, instead of rushing towards them they would have got comfortable and taken the jeep track as they were to do. It was disappointing to see people who know jungle better than us and drive everyday not understand the Dholes’ behavior.

We waited for nearly an hour at another spot facing the back waters. Few alarm calls heard, but no sighting of any big predator. We were to wind up the safari and just then got a call from another jeep about the tiger sighting, again at Sun set point. By the time we got there, the tiger again had gone inside the bamboo thickets. But we could see it through binoculars and record some strips of a sleeping cat on our cameras.

We waited for few minutes in the false hope that this tiger would get up and provide better views. I was capturing some images of an elephant and calf grazing on the backwaters. Just then one guy in a jeep started yelling ‘Tiger, tiger!’ All thought he was kidding. But he was proved right as all of us pointed our cameras and binocs towards a distant patch of backwaters.

Tiger on prowl

A tiger was walking down the path, from the bamboo thickets towards the water. Two tigers in ten minutes! The lighting was perfect and the tiger majestically walked towards water albeit a little wary of more dangerous animals, humans. She was really far for any portrait-esq image. However, the sighting was heartening and marked a good end to a wonderful summer trip.

P.S.: Have more frames that I wanted to publish but unfortunately haven’t found time to process. This was from April 2011 visit. Had luck to visit again in December 2011. Images from that trip will have to wait for a few years. :)

End of an year – 2011

Though I have lost the consistency of blogging this year, it’s been one hell of an year. This year has been more agonizing in many ways albeit new and exciting experiences. The year mostly was in two chunks. Continuing the ‘trend’ of the last four years, a cryptic recap.

Ended the last year’s post with hint on turbulence. The beginning continued that way. It was, though subtly expected, very painful. The blurr of Jan has somewhat caused me to even forget the passage of following few months. Missed the race, but hit the usual haunts a few times.

More distress and anxiety amidst good news (?).

The glorious  birthday trip to the montagnes of the west. Eventful few days and then the time for decisions. Monthly unwillingness in rituals, but it worked.

The running around. Going crazy, almost. May it end. The dreaded place with quarter hour drive was indeed awesome. Thirty 30. Really? Sure? Yes and No. No and Yes. Yes. More running around. The stamp, the frolic or the lack of it.

The shift. Displacement. A few initial good days leading up to the carnage. The super awesome exponential upward curve. New, not necessarily needed. Fear, numbness, glitter and hope – all at the same time. The time whirred past. It seems like a chunk of time rather than separate months, weeks or days.

return temp; //lol

The inconsistent gearing up. But the war is eventual. Hope is the only constant and is perpetual.

P.S.: The BA flight, how many would believe!

.

Almost forgot about future me!!

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