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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Journey To India


OP columnist William Neill’s recent trek on the subcontinent is the story of modern adventure travel

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Shoemaker’s wife, Rajasthan. Canon EF 24-105mm ƒ/4L IS
Traveling to foreign locations is cause for great excitement for most photographers, as it is for me each time I visit the colorful country of India. Even though I’ve been there several times over the past 20 years, I was eager to return knowing the many possibilities for great photographs. On this particular trip, I traveled to several new locations in southern India, as well as Rajasthan, which is my favorite place to photograph in India.

My trip was laid out by Destination Himalaya, a company that specializes in adventure travel (destinationhimalaya.net). I was traveling with my wife and two kids, so Destination Himalaya’s help in planning was invaluable. My itinerary was planned so that I would have extra time to photograph at each location.

I was traveling for five weeks, but most photo tours run two to three weeks in length. As with any good travel company, we were provided with local guides who took us to the best photo sites, introduced us to local people and provided language translation so that we could communicate back and forth with those we met.

My first adventure was in the state of Kerala, which is located toward the southern tip of India on the Arabian Sea. We spent three days on the MV Sauvernigam, a deluxe houseboat, floating our way through the backwaters of Kerala, which is made up of lakes, riverways and canals. While traveling the waterways, we saw scenic villages, lush rice fields and fishermen making their livelihood from backwaters. Not only was the houseboat our mode of transportation, but it also was our hotel. Our boat captain, Ragu, was a magnificent chef, cooking meals that often featured fresh seafood. We also spent a few nights at a beach resort, where I was able to photograph the vibrant fishing community there.

Farm huts in the desert at sunrise, Rajasthan. Canon EF 100-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6L IS
Sunrise on the backwaters of Kerala. Canon EF 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L II

Asian elephant grazing on bamboo, Nagarhole National Park, Karnataka. Canon EF 100-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6L IS


Tiger, Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan. Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, Canon EF 300mm ƒ/4L
Also in the south of India, we visited Nagarhole and Bandipur National Parks, which are located in the state of Karnataka and are two of the many wildlife reserves throughout India. Every dawn and evening, the lodge’s excellent naturalists led tours into the parks and along the shoreline, mostly by boat, searching out the wildlife. This was important to help us be in the right places in the best light and when the animals are most active. I was able to see elephants, dozens of bird species, mongoose, bison, spotted deer and sambar, plus a rare sighting of a sloth bear and crocodile. The water birds were plentiful, easily viewed at close distances, and it was an exciting challenge to photograph their graceful beauty.

Of course, there’s always luck involved when photographing. We stayed at our resort for three days. This way, I had five sunrise or sunset trips into the park, which naturally increased my odds of good photographs. If you’re serious about your wildlife photography, schedule yourself to stay at least two to three days. The Nagarhole/Bandipur area is well known for its leopards, but we didn’t see any. However, winter isn’t the ideal season to see them. The best season for leopards and tigers is in the spring and summer months before the monsoon. The tiger image shown here was made in April, and it was about 100 degrees!

I’ve photographed in several great wildlife locations in India over the years, including Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan and Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh, as well as Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal. I’ve had great luck seeing exciting and rare animals while in India, including many tigers, a snow leopard (not long enough to photograph, sadly!), an Indian rhinoceros and a leopard in Nepal.

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