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How do I Take Great Wildlife Photos?

Noted photographer Archna Singh gave Travel Secrets writer Nirav Shah a quick tutorial in wildlife photography.

 

 

Be extremely patient. I have had to wait for 4-5 hours while a leopard slept on the tree just to catch different expressions on its face.

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Maintain distance. This is important to catch the animal in their natural behaviour, to respect them and their privacy and most importantly, for your own safety.

Early morning and late evenings before dusk are the best times to shoot. Most of the animals are out at this time, when the heat is low. The light is also softer.

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Never use your camera flash. It scares the animal away and is disrespectful.

Always keep the camera ready, even a 1-minute break can make you lose a wonderful shot. The animals always catch you off guard!

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Do not just take pretty pictures: try and bring out the emotions that the animals express

A tip for tourists: Guides/drivers at national parks in India will often park their cars in one place and claim that the animal will come here (based on sightings or pug marks). Do not listen to them, but make them take rounds since more often than not, this is a tactic to only save fuel, and you will never end up spotting any animal.

About Archna Singh

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Trained at: NIFT, and under acclaimed photographer Akhil Bakshi

In love with: Africa! She’s also a regular at Ranthambhore and Ladakh.

Showcases her work at: http://www.orahwildlife.com.

Her Kit (in 2012, when we published the story):

1. Canon camera – 1Ds Mark III (serial no. DS 126161/617957)

2. Canon camera – 1D MARK IV (serial no. DS 126221/1431300181)

3. Canon camera – G11 Power Shot (serial no. 0245200409)

4. Canon Zoom Lens – (EF 800MM 1:5.6) – Serial No. 14634

5. Canon Zoom Lens (100-400MM) – ET-83C (serial no. 462100)

6. Canon lens – (EF 200MM 1:2L) – Serial No. 11216

7. Canon Wide Angle Lens 16-35MM – EW-88 – Serial No. 1063057

8. Canon Lens (24-70MM) – EW-83F – Serial No. 1907442

9. Canon Fisheye lens -15mm – Serial No. 54259

10. Canon Extender 2xIII – Serial No. 8420002650

11. Canon Extender 2xII – Serial No. 132951

All images are with courtesy  Archana Singh

Input: Travel Secrets Correspondent Nirav Shah

Tell Me More About China’s Panda Park

China’s 600-acre Panda Base is located just about 20 km from the north suburb of Chengdu city. ‘Cute’ and ‘cuddly’ Pandas frolic here, in their lovingly simulated natural habitat. Our correspondents Rakhi Agarwal and Supriya Kantak take you there:

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Here, they swim, climb trees, munch on bamboo and roll in the dirt; just like they would in deep wilderness. Bamboo trees form a welcoming canopy overhead. Birds tweet in the bushes: your chance to spot some endangered species, and some well-loved ones. Think black-necked cranes, thrushes, cuckoos, Kingfisher. Stop by to share a snack with friendly peacocks and pheasants strutting freely about.

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Pandas are peace-loving, happy with their bamboo diet. But if provoked, their powerful jaw muscles and 150-kg weight can give you the shudders.

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Pandas get their name from the Chinese words ‘Pan and Da’ meaning ‘fat and big.’ In anticipation of a big bear hug, Supriya and Rakhi entered the protected area; a maze of winding paths with bamboo shoots forming an arch overhead. There are other trees, of course- mostly tall and big. Willows, Gingkos, Chinars, Yulans…the names aren’t all familiar, but the fresh air cools your face and warms your heart.

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The 60 acre Panda Base also houses a charming lake, teeming with cranes and Mallard ducks and well swans. But more than that it showcases nature’s genius at thinking up shapes and sizes and colour schemes! So while gazing at the Aquarians swimming together in happy harmony how can you miss the beautifully mismatched yellow, red and orange set against the blue water? Once you have had your fill of the lake’s beauty, enjoy a scoop of ice-cream. On your way out, you must stop at the souvenir shop; take a sneak, though you should know that the shops inside offer lower prices.

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This article first appeared in our July-August, 2012 edition.

Ever done a Snowmobile Ride with Dog Sleds?

For most of us, riding through the snow on a dog sled would be a new kind of thrill. For residents of Grey County, Canada, it is a routine mode of transport.

Grey County is bordered in the north by the impressive Georgian Bay, 220km by 100km, making it almost as large as Lake Ontario, one of Canada’s five Great Lakes. It is just 150 km away from Toronto, west of the Blue Mountains area of Collingwood, where skiers take on snowy slopes.

Mike Keenan took a thrilling ride across Grey County. The idea of Corporate Honchos going to work in Snowmobile excited him.

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Driving on a snowmobile is a lot like cross-country skiing: an opportunity to observe nature’s pristine fields bordered by naked deciduous trees shrouded in hoar frost, providing a mystical dimension. The trees glow along the carpet of snow; their crystals beam in jewel like fashion, a sparkling dance in strong sunlight, glistening and forcing to stop to revel in magnificence of it all.

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Snowmobiles are machines that transport you deep into the woods, offering vistas of partly-frozen creeks and snow-clad pine and spruce, uneven land, large rocks and limbs providing a unique gestalt. They are responsive and easy to drive, right hand controlling gas and left hand, the brake. As promised, the machine virtually stops on its own with the release of gas.

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There are 3,000km of groomed trails in the Grey-Bruce area, with no dangerous lake or water crossings. Trails are signposted and easy to follow. Mike witnessed myriad tracks, a large hare, perhaps a wolf but no actual wildlife, and although the trails he travelled were graded ‘Limited,’ they are fine with deer, white owls and the sheer beauty of nature in Grey County’s winter wonderland. Gloves, pants, helmet and boots kept them warm. There are two kinds of snowmobile enthusiasts: hard core, racking up as many kilometers as possible and the recreational, out of pure enjoyment. Many people even show up in business suits, the office goers.

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Next it was ‘Hike!’ that they repetitively shouted as teams of dogsled raced along a circular route at Doug Nixon’s Rob Roy Dog Sledding Adventures. The Alaskan and Siberian huskies, harnessed in two teams of two dogs per sled make you wonder how four dogs are able to carry each sled and the large musher. Mushers stand on two thin runners with a brake pedal in the middle. After a few sprints you get the feel of it, leaning into the turns, the sled easily maneuvers on the terrain.
It was minus 2 C, but the owner, Doug, said that these snow dogs liked it colder at minus 10-15 C. They are born outside and live outside.

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This experience was shared in the November-December 2012 issue of Travel Secrets magazine.

Varkala: Kerala’s stunning coastal town. Have you discovered it yet?

With its clean, quiet beaches, Varkala is a secret that Kerala has hugged to itself. Our Correspondent Sarita Santoshini stumbled upon it.

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This coastal town is a five hour bus drive from Cochin and sits 75 easy kilometres from Kovalam, Kerala’s more celebrated beach beauty.

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The lagoons by the long stretches of beach in Varkala are draped in serenity. A century old ashram lets you heal your inner-self, and a temple island draws you towards its quiet beauty.

The town itself is slow and unspoiled; but plenty of adventure awaits you on its fringes. Take lessons in surfing or paragliding in ideal weather between October and May; wander around and stumble upon thriving fish communities that add soul to the place and you will come back with enough stories and pictures to keep you happy till you decide to head back again.

Following a receptionist’s advice,  our correspondent Sarita walked towards “a narrow lane” and to her surprise stumbled on a stunning sidewalk along the edges of a cliff, the North Cliff Beach. Restaurants, cafes and resorts line the road for almost a kilometre, with the vast Arabian Sea glimmering on the other side.

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Here, coconut groves hide another surprise: Black Beach; so named after the colour of its sand. Varkala beach is locally called Papanasam Beach, whose northern part lies below the cliff. At the southern end are the mineral water springs whose medicinal properties attract people from all over the world.
Another gem in the heart of Varkala is the Shiva- Parvathi temple. It is on the uninhabited Ponnumthuruthu Island, midst the lush forest and a chirpy bird life. Here you can reach by boat from Nenduganda Village.

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The historical Anjengo Fort dates back to the East India Company. There’s a lovely view from the lighthouse.

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Driving through this hamlet in the evening you’ll pass through vibrant houses of all sizes, men and women chatting away as they dry their catch of the day, group of church-goers saying their daily prayers and glimpses of beautiful stretches of the sea that the Latin Christian Makuva community lives beside. It’s good to see that the community has held its identity, in spite of tourism slowly commercialising everything.


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This story was published in our Nov-Dec 2013 issue. To subscribe, visit magzter.com

Help me find a good getaway resort near Kanyakumari.

Your question got here just in time! Leading Bollywood cinematographer Sachin Krishn spent a weekend at  ANANTYA RESORTS in Tamil Nadu. Reading his review, we said to ourselves, “It doesn’t get more filmy, fun and fab than this!” By the time this story ends, I bet you would be reaching for the phone to make a reservation at Anantaya.

Five kilometres off the Trivandrum-Kanyakumari highway, and we are beginning to get restless. Forget the smooth, lush road to El Dorado that would lead us to the southernmost tip of the subcontinent and then on to the resort where waters from three oceans join…this potholed nightmare is getting more and more akin to the surface of the moon.

“Anantya Resort, Anantya resort…!” I ask a wizened, geriatric local who stares vacantly at me with his fading eyes. No response. Nada. Zilch.Three more kilometres down, and the heart begins to sink. The terrain is getting more and more desolate, bumpy, cut off. The last rays of the fast sinking winter sun are a metaphor for my heart at that precise point.

“Anantya Resort, uncle…ANANTYA RESORT….! CHITTAR LAKE…!,’ I plead one last time before I decide to throw in the towel and turn back. This time, after processing my desperate plea in his head for a pregnant half minute…this angel of mercy raises his hand..and points his gnarled finger slowly in a particular direction; like Steve Bucknor playing third umpire. “You mean…there…?!,” I ask, choking with emotion. This is how Dharmender must have felt during his Yaadon ki Baraat reunion moments. Faarsht righttaa…then ooorr kilomettraa”’ the grainy voice professes. The lungi clad figure recedes, the car moves on, I turn back and am sure I see a halo behind his head.

Kanyakumari hotels

I crane my neck out of the window to witness the emergence of the almost mythical destination, first hand. And sure enough… within minutes, the weary eyes are treated to a blink-and-miss board by the narrow, tree-lined road that reads…”Anantya Resorts…Infinite Experiences.” The mood in the chilled Innova is suddenly upbeat. The driver sits up, the wife straightens up, I close my eyes with relief.

One step down the car and on to the gravel path before the Thai-villa style reception, and we are suddenly barraged by a bevy of Hawaiian-shirt-clad staff…front office manager, bell boys, et al. I’m still trying to get over the fact that I have managed to find this tucked away resort.

Know before you Go: The resort is in Kanyakumari district, not in the city proper. The city is around 55 kilometres away. It’s a comfortable day trip, loaded with sights to see and savour en route.

The beaming staff does not let us take even our water bottles ourselves. As the friendly front office manager leads us to our villa, the reality of where I am begins to slowly sink in. The resort is a sprawling vista of countless rubber trees, tall, firm, dark…that whisper to each other conspiratorially as the soft wind caresses their branches.  Somewhere amidst these rubber trees are clusters of rooms, villas, and restaurants that make up the resort. It is a full moon night, and the aesthetically subdued, soft, warm lights all around the endless acres do little to destroy the intensity and magic of that pale yellow light from the sky above.

Anantaya Resort Kanyakumari hotel

The staff leads us to one of the 21 villas on the property. Ours is going to be a Veda Villa, complete with its private garden, a little lily pool by a gazebo that overlooks an endless sheet of glass reflecting the scattered clouds of this magical full moon night. The glass, I realise, is the still waters of the sprawling Chittar Lake. Majestic. Silent. Deep. Just like me, I say to myself, tongue firmly in cheek. But the connect has already happened. So much so that I stand frozen at the villa door, gaping at the lake before me. Upon being goaded softly by the bell boy to enter the room, I come to, and take a step inside the ‘room’ which could well ingest the whole of my Mumbai apartment, as well as half that of my neighbour.

This room in the middle of nowhere is replete with luxuries…two split air cons, coffee maker, mini bar… heck…even a private jacuzzi outside the loo that overlooks the lake. What next..! There I was, just about 15 minutes back, preparing to head to the fields with a Bisleri bottle in hand if I did not find my destination in the next half hour, and here I am…deciding whether to jump into the jacuzzi, or occupy the inviting, disinfected throne and begin the download.

Anantaya Resort Kanyakumari hotel

Size is one thing. This room has good vibes. And that matters to me the most. “Yes, I’ll take it,” I tell the staff. The wife sighs with relief. She knows how finicky I am when entering hotel rooms for the first time. The luggage is deposited promptly, and we are set for the next two days.

A quick round of ablutions, and I am set for my evening walk. I put on my keds, and head out to survey the resort. Five minutes later. I am a changed man. What I stare at now is a sight only a blessed few will savour in their entire lifetimes. Crystal clear, softly lit, gurgling blue waters of the infinity pool, merging into the pale yellow, silent waters of the stunningly fabulous lake. Like a nubile, ebullient girl, falling into the lap of her strong, silent lover.

Know before you go: Do NOT miss the sunrise at the Veda villa side of the resort. You will witness not one but two balls of fire. One rising up the sky from behind the hills, and the other, sinking deeper into the still waters of the lake. And yes, for posterity (read Facebook) do carry that full frame camera in your kit.

Behind the lakes is an island of rubber trees. Behind the island, the silhouettes of the last vestiges of the Western Ghats. And somewhere beyond them, the full moon, staring at my stunned visage. “Ghar, ghar ke aage garden, garden ke aage…,” Sridevi’s cult dialogue reverberates in my filmy brain. This cannot be happening. This is probably green screen, where these images have been computer generated to make it all seem perfect.

Anantaya Resort Kanyakumari hotel

Know before you go: The resort is a part of the sprawling Vaikundam rubber plantations where you can enjoy, understand and witness the process of tapping latex from trees first hand. What’s more, the efficient and enthusiastic resort staff is more than willing to arrange private dos at the helipad situated at a vantage point right in the middle of the plantation. It does NOT get more exotic than this. Period.

My reverie is broken as I hear human voices in the vicinity. ‘Unnnnbeliavable….. this is just so…..’. I realise the voice belongs to a familiar person. Me. I gape at the sight until I realise I have two cameras with me in the room. Forget permanence. Just savour this moment. Forget trying to capture this, just let it be, and find your own release. I nod my head in amazement at God’s capacity to create and man’s genius to tap his creations. Yes. It is in tandem with nature that all life thrives. It takes me a good bit of eternity to take it all in, after which, I head back to the villa to find the wife struggling with TV channels. Now, why would one come all the way here to watch TV…I ask myself, butI know better than to ask her. To each his own.

Know before you go: Serious tipplers must carry their own bottle of malt. The only available nectars right now at the resort are wine and beer. And yes, the nearest booze shop is around eighty thousand rubber trees away.

Soon, we are sitting at the restaurant by the pool. Or is the pool by the restaurant..? I’m sure inanimate objects and addresses do not have an ego. The aesthetically done up restaurant does not interfere with the pristine surroundings at all. In fact, like the resort itself, it is seamlessly integrated into nature. The first bite of piping hot starters, and I realise that even the underbelly of the beast is well oiled. The food is delectable.The service, with a smile. The view before us, unparalleled.

It is the kind of place where you will be excused for inadvertently holding the hand of a pretty lady sitting next to you. In my case, though, the hand belongs to the lovely wife. No excuses required. “Pch…,” she frets, fiddling with her cell, “No signal…!” Now, why would someone come all the way…well, I remind myself…to each his own.

Know before you go:Make the brochure kept in the villa your bible for any day trip around the resort.

The next day, we head out to Kanyakumari city. I have not had to Google anything to find out how I must plan a day trip from the resort. The extremely well written and informative brochure laid out in a well designed folio in all the villas tells you all that you need to know about the resort, the plantations of which it is a part, and its surroundings. The brochure is so good that I decide to keep it with me for the duration of my trip to the fabled Land’s End.

By the time we are back, it is night, and time to savour the resort again. Yes, it is a place that you want to come back to, after a hard day’s fun.

What is “shoulder season” and why is it good for travel?

Shoulder Season falls between peak season and off season. So, you get many advantages. The weather is neither too hot nor too cold. The crowds have thinned out but are not absent. Airfares and hotel tariffs tend to dip slightly, so you have more money for shopping! The local tourist industry is now free from the pressure of catering to throngs, and you can expect better service.

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According to Rick Steves, “Shoulder season varies by destination. Because fall and spring bring cooler temperatures in Mediterranean Europe, shoulder season in much of Italy, southern France, Spain, Croatia, and Greece can actually come with near peak-season crowds and prices. For example, except for beach resorts, Italy’s peak season is May, June, September, and October, rather than July and August. Paris is surprisingly quiet in July and August.”

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We at Travel Secrets try and stay away from even the best destinations during peak season, because the crowds can be simply too overwhelming. Last year in Florence and Venice, we found ourselves jostling and gasping for the most part. Taking photos ended up being a Click-and-Move affair in places, with the next person breathing down your neck.

A shoulder season trip to Switzerland, on the other hand, was pure relaxation. Under the mild September sun, it was blissful to walk down the quiet streets of Basel, taking in the crisp cool air and lazing by the Rhine. We could feel our lungs turn pink again:)

Basel by the Rhine River (1)Posted by Travel Secrets Editor Shubhra Krishan

Pix: TS Photo Editor Nitin Gopal Srivastava

 

The DUBLIN PARK(ING) DAY sounds like a cool green idea. Tell me more!

Once a year in the month of September, Dublin’s car parking spaces turn into public parks, games or art installations. Park(ing) Day is “intended to promote creativity, civic engagement, critical thinking, unscripted social interactions, generosity and play.”

Team TS happened to be there last September, and we couldn’t stop marvelling at some of the creative ideas on show at the parking lots.

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(Image source: weburbanist.com)

Get all the details on this fun concept here.

I would like to know more about Mizoram’s famous heart-shaped Lake.

Travel Secrets learned this charming secret from a blog dedicated to India’s beautiful North-East. 

A heart shaped lake located midst breathtaking greenery, Rih Dil is the largest lake in the state of Mizoram in India, but awkwardly, it is situated in the kingdom of Myanmar.

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Believed to be the passage which spirits of the dead inevitably crossed on their way to the next abode of Mitthi Khua, (some even take it to be the final home of all spirits), the lake has since long influenced writers and composers of Mizoram, enriching their literary output.

Read more here.

Ever been to Liechtenstein?

Image Sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria, Liechtenstein is one of the world’s top 5 micro-nations.  At just 160 sq km, this tiny nation is only 1/57th the size of Yellow Stone National Park in the US.

Liechtenstein  has just 35,000 people, no airport and no military.  So why would you want to go there? Because it has the magnificent snow capped Alps, ski-fields across the lovely Upper Rhine valley, flower laden biking trails, and fine wine cellars.

It’s easy to reach- only a one hour drive or train ride from Zurich.

TS recommends the exquisite and affordable Hotel Meierhof.

Charmed by Liechtenstein? Explore more here: http://www.tourismus.li/en/

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