Friday, August 31, 2007

VOF Trip : Running into rough weather

My trip to VOF had run into rough weather. It is hopelessly hot and humid in Delhi and at the same time monsoon has refused to go away in Uttaranchal (now Uttarakhand) . Heavy to very heavy rains are reported in Garhwal region at least once everyday in the last month. With just 3 days to go, I know that we will not have a smooth trip up. The road is very landslide prone and there is every possibility of delays due to landslides on the entire route. However, the good news I had received from my colleague Ashish, who hails from Srinagar, almost halfway between Rishikesh and Joshimath, is that vehicle are plying. I am ringing up my friends at Dehradun everyday to find whether it had rained that day.

My other set back was that I had a disc prolapse about 15 days back. This is the second time in the last 14 months that I had to be bed ridden due to slip disc problem. The situation was so worse that I could not even sit, forget about standing. But that was 15 days back, and I have recovered well. Though I do not feel 100% fit yet, my soul says that I can go, even though it will be 50 km walk / trek over 4 days. All now depends on the wish of rain god. Just pray that rains go away soon.

The rain and inclement weather had made me alter my plans. Now I will be travelling to Dehradun by Shatabdi Express tomorrow morning. We had discarded the idea of hiring a car from Delhi. It will always be safer to get a driver / car from Dehradun or Rishikesh. They will be more informed about the road conditions , alternate routes and landslides.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Shootout at Delhi

A shootout without guns, but with cameras. This was the name of today's photography workshop by Atul Kasbekar, organised by Canon India at The Park hotel. For many of us it was an opportunity to listen to the man who is one of the two brand ambassadors for Canon in India. The other one being Sachin Tendulkar.

Atul Kasbekar is a big name in Indian photography scene. He is the man who shoots the Kingfisher Calender for Vijay Mallaya. The tag Huer campaign with Sahrukh, Airtel campaign with Sachin, Citizen campaign with Kareena, Titan campaign with Aamir Khan, and the list goes on and on. Almost every cover of Cosmopolitan is shot by him.

He enthralled the small audience with insight into some of his editorial and cover works. He also explained some of the shots from the celebrated Kingfisher calender, specially where Photoshop have been used to enhance the images. Commercial photography can not live without photoshop, but according to him one has to be ethical and careful. If someone can point out that you have used photoshop, then you have failed. H also throw insight onto one his favorite technique -- use of fill flash. In one of the shots for Kingfisher calender, he made 11 am in the day looked like night by use of strong fill flash. That was amazing.

He opined that equipment should liberate the photographer. Photographer should not be too worried about the equipment. Well, for someone who shoots with an EOS 1D Mark-II with L lenses can certainly feel liberated. After a sumptuous lunch, a demo shooting session was arranged with a model. It was really amazing to see that almost every shot he took was good. Someone asked him about the lens he is using. The reply was : 85 mm f/1.2L II USM, which to him is one of the finest lenses Canon have ever produced. Sigh!! we can not afford a L lens, forget about a f/1.2

I understood that Canon keep organising such workshops from time to time in Delhi and Mumbai. An invitation was probably not mandatory. One could have hung a Canon DSLR on his neck and can walk into it. But Canon certainly spends a lot of money on such workshops which are normally arranged at 5 star hotels. Obviously, the hole that gets dug in your pocket when you buy Canon from its dealers sponsors such events.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Photo workshop by Canon India

Canon India is organising a photo workshop cum seminar to be conducted by renowned photgrapher Atul Kasbekar at The Park, New Delhi on 18th Aug, 2007. I was thrilled to receive an invitaion and phone call from Canon India regarding my participation at the event . It appears to be an inviation only event.

The apparent reason for my invitaion is because I had registered my EOS for the Canon Edge program at the Canon India site. Thus this is a direct result of registering which we often overlook. Anyway, I am looking forward to utilising this opportunity.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Details on Valley of Flowers (VOF) in Uttaranchal

What is Valley of Flowers (VOF) :

A Google search produced nearly 40 lakh results. Although all of them may not be referring to the VOF I am looking for, yet it gives an indication that the location is well documented. So I am not harping on them. Some well documented site are as under --
Flowers of India
Garhwal Tourism
UNESCO World Heritage Official Site

In few words, it is a gently inclined basin of some 1,000 hectares of alpine meadows located at an average altitude of 11500 in the Zanskar range of Himalayas in the state of Uttaranchal. With more than 600 species of flora, some of which are unique to it, the palce is a nature lover’s paradise. It was discovered in 1931 by British mountaineer, explorer and botanist Frank S. Smith. Miss Margarate Legge, a botanist deputed by the botanical gardens of Edinburgh in 1939 lost her life while doing research work in the valley and was laid to rest in the gardens of the valley.

It was declared as a National Park in 1982 and an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

Can you go there :

It is 19 km climb / trek one way with an overnight break at Ghangaria. You will have to climb 5500 feet over these 19 km. So you need to ask : Am I fit enough ? Same is applicable to people accompanying you. I thought of going there 2 years back. But age of my daughter put paid to all such plans. She is 5 years now and can walk 2 kms or so easily. Thus I am going this year. But as part of my preparation I had started regular mild exercises like jogging to loosen up my body. I do not recall walking 14 km on a single day in my life. Now I am daring to do that going uphill!!!

The trek starts at Govindghat at 5996 feet. On day 1 you will trek to Ghangaria at 9997 feet, i.e., 4000 feet over 14 km. Day 2 will involve trekking to about 11500 feet over 5 km and then come back that 5 km.

If your body permits and God wills, then you can think of going the Sikh holy shrine of Hemkund Sahib which is located at about 14000 feet. This is 6 km stiff trek from Ghangaria. I am keeping my fingers crossed. But somewhere in the back of my mind an attempt to go to Hemkund is tinkering. But importatnly, I have started regular jogging / running for about half an hour to loosen up the stiffness.

How to reach :

Nearest motor head is Govindghat and the nearest town is Joshimath, located some 255 km from Rishikesh. Govindghat lies some 22 km on the Joshimath to Badrinath road. This is almost the end of the NH58. Badrinath is further 23 km from Govindghat. The road between Rishikesh and Joshimath is reasonably good. But between Joshimath and Govindghat (and also Badrinath), it is terrible.

One has following options for a trip to VOF :
a) Take a GMVN tour. Trip by buses starts from Rishikesh. Travelling by bus will be tiring. You can also opt to travel by car offered by GMVN by paying a good amount.

b) If you are 3 people, then you can hire a small car like Indica. I did a cost comparison and found that hiring a cab from Dehradun or Rishikesh will be cheaper by about 1000 rupees than hiring it from Delhi. So hiring from Delhi is not a bad option as you need to think about traveling to Dehradun or Rishikesh. Only difference is that if you hire from Rishikesh or Dehradun, you are assured of a driver who knows the hills.

c) If you are more than 3 people, then take a bigger vehicle like Qualis or Tavera from Delhi. Cost wise it is much cheaper than hiring it from Dehradun or Rishikesh. All you need to ensure is to get a driver from the hills. Many agencies offer such drivers.

d) The last option is to engage a travel agency. They will book hotels for you, take you there by car, will arrange porters and for meals. But the charges are very high. The quote I got for 4 persons is @8000/- per person ex-Dehradun, which is almost 40% higher than the cost I had worked out. Not recomended.

Accommodation :

If you are traveling from Delhi, you will need accommodation at following places –

1) Rishikesh / Dehradun / Haridwar : Depending on where you prefer to stay. Rishikesh is 34 km from both Dehradun and Haridwar. Accommodation is easily available at these places. No prior booking required.

2) Joshimath / Badrinath : These are overnight halts on this route. So hotels tend to egts filled in the afternoon and gets vacated early next morning. So if you reach Joshimath around 5 pm, you will easily get accommodation at bargain price. As time passes, you losses bargaining power and will have to pay more the same accommodation. Do not waste time on Rishikesh - Joshimath part of the trip. You can also book GMVN guest house online.

3) Ghangaria : The situation is same as that of Joshimath. People who catches the first gate at Joshimath in the morning reaches Govindghat at around 7 am. After breakfast etc. they set out for Govindghat. If you take too much time to climb, then you may not good decent accommodation for first night. Next morning you have lot options. If you do not want this headache, then try to book GMVN guest house accommodation. But they are very few and this should not deter you from traveling. (I will update the availaibility of accomodation and type of accomodation on my return).