Driven by IMAGE DRIVERS (India)

Photography

Mahindra Xylo Mad Dash!

Mahindra Xylo Mad Dash!

Road trips, to us, are the best way to break the ice between a vehicle and the people who use it. Much like it is for strangers travelling together. Here at Nirvana, we like to believe that vehicles, regardless of the number of wheels, have personalities too. With the Mahindra Xylo, we were on the verge of finding out what motoring could mean if one let go of stereotypes and just put pedal to the metal.

The day before our trip, as the Mahindra Xylo arrived, we were a tad surprised with the space inside. The initial drive made us feel like everything was where it needed to be in the vehicle. Power, space, air conditioning, stability and that all important 3rd row of seats. We would be putting the Xylo to the ‘Nirvana Travel Test’ so obviously we had no back up vehicle to lug our stuff separately.

Let’s go that way!

Five boys, seven days and loads of camera things, we set out to conquer the Indian countryside in our Xylo. We must be honest, an ‘MUV’ is probably not the first choice of vehicle for a bunch of young boys who’d want to have a bit of fun on a road trip. Through our photography, that was the very mindset we were out to change!

There were two major aims of our week long trip. We were to photograph the vehicle and also experience life with the Mahindra Xylo H9. H9 being the most well equipped ‘top end’ version.

Our first destination was the beach town of Murud Janjira. A 170 kilometer drive saw us there well in time for the sunset and a quick bite. On the short drive here, the Xylo behaved like a silent companion, nonchalantly going about its business of turning wheels and getting us to the town.

Shooting big vehicles such as the Xylo can be a tricky proposition. We had to think and shoot, constantly reworking frames to get shots worthy of the Nirvana name. We wrapped up our first sunset shoot. Taking some time to relax and absorb the beauty that was Murud Janjira, with the Xylo by our side. The vehicle had performed well on her first day. We were now excited to see the rest of the trip unfold!

Spontaneity equals fun, always!

The whole premise of this road trip was spontaneity. Everything would be decided on the go. Be it the next destination, the next photographic angle or even what/where the team would eat, we were flying freestyle all the way!

Early next morning, we forgot to wake up.

It happens, too much prep and no relaxation before hitting the road can lead to this. Good sleep is most important on any road trip. Good sleep leads to good fun, we think.

Finally, around 10 AM and with everyone on the breakfast table, we bounced ideas off each other. It was important we did that, 5 heads and no calibration can lead to a lot of chaos with the lens. Having decided we would let our quest for exploration guide our shoot, we hit the road destination unknown! Driving through interiors of the Konkan Coast, it was inevitable that we hit the famous National Highway 17. The smooth and bendy roads of this highway were a good test run for the Xylo. Not to forget the five boys inside!

We drove about 200 kilometers on this day, finally finding ourselves in a quaint and almost completely secluded beach village, Hedvi.

Hedvi!

If you haven’t guessed it yet, the Nirvana team loves beaches. We believe some of the greatest driving roads in the world run along the coasts and it’s no different in India. Another reason maybe that we love shooting images in those dreamy golden hours :). We had timed our arrival perfectly. Hedvi welcomed us with the perfect sunset vistas, not to forget the perfect beach driving opportunity. Until now we had driven the Xylo on good roads, bad roads, straight roads and bendy roads but now it was time to have some fun on the beach!

The New Mahindra Xylo: Practically Brilliant!

The stereotype of boring MUVs does not apply to this vehicle. The New Xylo is a very amusing car. Right from the voice enabled commands to the mind bending amount of space inside, the Xylo surpasses all expectations. To delve deeper, lugging all our camera equipment along with the team that makes it all work is no easy task but the Xylo was toe for toe with every challenge we could throw at it. We’re not shy of acknowledging the elephant in the room either, a car this big has to have monumental body roll right? Wrong!

The new Xylo with its comfort spec suspension once again had us snoozing in our seats as we munched those curvy coastal miles. Trust us when we say this, a hard working team loves a vehicle that takes care of its passengers over long distances regardless of the road conditions. Rumbling under the hood was the Mahindra’s flagship M-Hawk engine. We really enjoyed putting the 120 horses to work on the Indian highways, taking turns to drive the vehicle all throughout the Mahindra Xylo Mad Dash. We were impressed.

Splash!

Boys will be boys and who doesn’t like making a splash in water?! As the Sun set over the Arabian Sea, we pulled up our socks and washed the behemoth off of the salt water from all that driving and splashing in the sea (basics!).

It is imperative that we mention more about the Hedvi village. Hedvi is something else, it is solace, freedom and fun all rolled into one exquisite ballad of beauty. We’ve always been in love with the simple and rustic charm of this place. The beach here is absolutely untouched by civilization and the village brings the same ‘middle of nowhere’ feeling into any stay at this place. Especially since there is no cellphone network here, time spent here is exclusively private. Which is something that helped us get in touch with the vehicle we were shooting even more.

Evening under the stars!

At Hedvi, the Nirvana Team had spent all its time interacting one-on-one with the Xylo. The climate here was so humid that we spent an entire afternoon napping inside the Xylo, you know, taking advantage of that exceptional air conditioning system. Night fell and we were out again, we realized that it’s the perfect vehicle to go camping with buddies. Oodles of space for camping gear and everything else one might need!

Bonfire brothers!

We hit the road early next morning. Initially deciding to stick to the coast as long as we could, in the Xylo, we explored a little bit of the Konkan (coast) one usually misses out on. We even took a short ferry ride (with the Xylo!) to get ourselves across a river. As the day progressed, we took turns suggesting our next possible destination. In the end, we needed the map to figure out where it is we could actually go in the time we had. As soon as the road map of India unfolded, Lead Photographer Nipun Srivastava exclaimed – Hampi!

decisions decisions

The moment Hampi was mentioned, we took off! Hitting the National Highway Number 4 a little after lunch and then soon getting off it to head towards the prehistoric temple town that is Hampi, we were on a roll with our Xylo! We reached Hampi late in the night, a drive that was not just beautiful but also equally intense. We had spent an entire day travelling in the Xylo. To be honest, none of us were too tired so we treated ourselves to some well deserved pints of beer :D.

Hampi

Hampi is a village about 850 kilometers from Mumbai, close to the town of Hospet in the South Indian state of Karnataka. This place is a true wonder of nature. Views of the landscape here are full of boulder hills in various sizes and shapes. Hampi is a site located within the ruins of the Vijayanagar Empire. It is older than the medieval city of Vijayanagara and is still of much religious importance. Hampi is home to the Virupaksha Temple – the main center of pilgrimage here and dedicated to Lord Shiva. On the banks of The Tungabhadra river which flows through Karnataka into Andhra Pradesh, Hampi is not just a religious stop for the Indian traveler but is also a place of wonder and amazement to the foreign tourist. Hampi to us was the perfect opportunity to photograph the Xylo in truly unique surroundings.

The Mad Dash team at Hampi!

Amidst the ruins our team of photographers had a ball shooting the new Xylo! We drove from one ruin to another and explored the unique architecture and rock–cut structures and boy did we have the ‘time of our lives’! On one hand, temples of the Vijayanagar Empire poke ones spiritual inner self and on the other the awesome expanse of ruins spread as far as the eyes can see make one wonder, how on earth did they manage to build this wonderland!

Explore everything!

The Nirvana Team spent two days amidst the striking structures of Hampi. Six amazing days of travel, motoring and unparalleled fun were to be followed by one last Mad Dash across the states of Karnataka and Maharashtra to get us back home to Pune. Pack up – load up – rev up – kind of a theme now for us and the kind of work we do around here.

The Xylo MUV is regarded by most as just a people carrier and nothing more. Understandable, as it feels like one’s private cave on the road – it’s that huge. When Mahindra & Mahindra called us though, we were forced to look at the whole idea of the Xylo differently. As is the case with every vehicle we shoot/test, the can of worms opens first. Once that’s been dealt with, we head out with the vehicle to see if we were right.

Take a trip with the brand new Xylo!

The mood inside the Xylo on our drive back was surreal. Each doubt we had about the super-MUV had been quashed by the intense trip we’d taken in this car. So much so, we were even talking about getting one for the Nirvana Garage. Yes, the Xylo is that good! Turns out that our preconceived notions about the Xylo were exactly that, preconceived. Talking about personalities again, we think the Xylo knows where it stands in the ‘looks’ department. Like most underdogs though, it outperforms expectations and delivers on platter a lot more than one might imagine!

The Mahindra Xylo Mad Dash was conceptualized and executed by Nirvana exclusively for Mahindra & Mahindra.

We Thank:

Mumbai: (Client) Mahindra & Mahindra (Brand Xylo), for flying with us and for providing the vehicle.

Hedvi: Abhay Bhatkar, for the extremely personalized service to Team Nirvana.

Hampi: KSTDC Mayura Bhuwaneswari, for the best hotel deal in town!

Team Nirvana: Yogesh Shinde, Henry Fernandes, Vishal Kankonkar and Jitendra Singh for their support on shoot.

Videos from the Mahindra Xylo Mad Dash!


India in an AMG!

India in an AMG

 Mercedes Benz and www.theroadtonirvana.com share a motoring relationship of sorts.

‘The Best or Nothing’ says it all. The statement resonates so fiercely with our passion for creating experiential motoring images, that we push ourselves to the absolute limit every time. The moment we got the message from Germany, our planning began.

We were to deliver images that were clearly rooted in India. Routine as that may sound, fitting a car/vehicle into that bracket was always going to be a challenge. The list of possible destinations was endless. Right from the backwaters of Kerala to the mountain passes of Ladakh and even the seven sisters of the North east, we considered everything. After all, this was a unique opportunity. Through our photography, the world would lay its eyes on India.

Something still eluded us. It was the peak of the Indian Monsoon. Everywhere, the skies were grey and the earth a wet green. Then it struck us, we would have to outrun the Indian monsoon! We would head to Rajasthan!

Sun, Sand and Wind.

Rajasthan!

The Desert State of India is home to the Thar Desert. A place we are very familiar with and if you know our work, it is a place we love to shoot at. The sound of the wind in the Desert carries with it stories of times past and as the sun beats down relentlessly each day, the sheer tenacity of the desert people comes to the fore. The odds were stacked against us though. The Desert was 1200 kilometers away, the rain was heavy and we had just enough time to make it all happen. Along the way, we were also to shoot at Vadodara for a separate brief.

Then came the question of the car itself. We were to shoot the new CLS and also the GL 63 AMG both and we had just about a week to make it all happen. Even though the weather was an obvious risk, The Nirvana Team was ready and we slotted ourselves into gear. We flew out to Vadodara where we were to collaborate with a local artist for 2 days. For Mercedes Benz, of course. This shoot was part of the ‘Homestory’ and artist profile for the St Moritz Art Masters, Switzerland.

Grunt Central!Making a presence in Vadodara!

The Laxmi Vilas Palace at Baroda is an eternal icon of the city. In every mention of the City, the Palace features at the top. The question was – How do we get in?

We exercised all our contacts and then some more to at least get a word through to the palace authorities. The people at the palace were superbly kind to us and let us shoot on the grounds solely on our merit. The palace gates opened and we drove the mighty GL 63 AMG onto its August grounds! Rani ji, the reigning Queen of Vadodara also graced our shoot and met with us. We were truly honoured! On this day, even the Sun came out for a short while and we got a few shots worthy of the Mercedes Benz Badge.

Laxmi Vilas Palace, Vadodara.Laxmi Vilas Palace, Vadodara.

As soon as the adrenaline of shooting at the Palace wore off, the realization of the start of the road trip set in. Experiential road trips are our forte but even then, each road trip shoot brings with it unique challenges. The Indian monsoon was still unrelenting. We were very low on sleep too, an average of just three hours a day. Then again, if the car you’re driving is more luxurious than a 5 Star hotel, who needs sleep? This is where the GL 63 AMG really came on song.

“Enough power to move the earth, while keeping one cocooned in luxury.” were lead photographer Nipun Srivastava’s actual words just after they hit the highways leading into Rajasthan.

GL 63 AMG – Grunt Central!

Hell for leather, always. - Team Nirvana

Whoa!! That’s the first thought one’s brain will have when you ram the pedal into the GL. You will be punched into your seat and then your world will change. As you hurtle forward, your ears will tingle to sounds of the V8 sitting under the hood. As the needle hits red, one pull of the paddle will usher in another delivery of power as if it was something the gods arranged for you to have. Crisp steering response and a not so heavy steering wheel make controlling the GL 63 AMG a pleasure.

By now, you’re in a trance. Eyes on the road, pedal to the metal and going hell for leather – that is the AMG experience. The handcrafted engine will follow your every command, in the GL 63 AMG, you are the Maharaja of the Indian road. When you’re coming, they will hear you and when you’re going they WILL look. That’s the reaction one gets on the roads.

The Indian Road:

Indian highways are notorious. Bad roads were the least of our concerns.

The Blue Hulk, as we had begun to call the mighty GL, was powered by a V8 Petrol Bi-Turbo engine. A high performance engine like that needs to be fed appropriately. Only a high octane diet would adequately satiate The Hulk’s appetite. Sadly though, out near the Desert, just finding a fuel station which sold petrol was a luxury. The fuel economy of just over 4 kilometers to a litre of fuel (when Nipun aka lead foot was at the wheel) was not helping things. On the secluded desert roads, we fueled up every opportunity we got!

www.theroadtonirvana.comLeaving the weather behind!

We covered the distance of 650 Kilometers from Baroda to Jaisalmer in record time. Stopping over at Barmer and at a few other places along the road as well. Driving across the landscape was such a rush that we forgot lunch! Improvisation was the answer – Bananas! We reached Jaisalmer as the moon rose over a now clear sky. Team Nirvana had finally outrun the Indian Monsoon. We love it when a plan comes together!

The Desert, The City: Jaisalmer.

This city and Nirvana go back a long way. One of our pet projects; Rooh – e – Rajasthan meaning ‘Spirit of the Desert’ has featured this superlative city. To us, Jaisalmer is like home.

www.theroadtonirvana.comGolden City

To twist things a little, this time, we were not staying at the city per say. Team Nirvana and the mighty GL 63 AMG would be put up at a special place a little outside Jaisalmer. Super car – super hotel, you know. The luxurious surrounds of Hotel Suryagarh out in the Desert was to be our new playground and also our home base for the remainder of the shoot. As soon as we were in the city, we tanked up the Hulk and then our tummies as well. Shooting photographs on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster ;).

With full stomachs, we marched onto the Desert, knowing exactly where and how we were to shoot. This shoot started at 11pm and we shot in the dunes for a couple of hours. Not a soul around for miles, the only lighting we had for this mini shoot was the Moon and the GL 63 AMG itself.

www.theroadtonirvana.comShooting in the moonlight!

After our initial fill of playing around in the sand under moonlight, we drove back to our (not so) humble abode.

A word about the hotel we stayed at: Suryagarh is a hotel which has little in common with the other places we’ve stayed at. In the middle of the arid desert life is difficult to say the least but if you’re at this hotel, everything is literally taken care of. We had spoken to them about our “plans” beforehand and they were most happy to oblige. Even before we reached, they knew what we needed and had it ready for us, customized to our liking. Amazing. It helps to have things sorted when on a photo shoot such as this. Kudos to Suryagarh!

SuryagarhThe Suryagarh Courtyard

Nothing ever goes to plan. We were up early for the sunrise but the eastern skies over Jaisalmer were overcast with mist and remnants of the monsoon. It felt as if the skies themselves were telling us to take a break. For the first time in 6 days, the Nirvana team sat down for a proper breakfast. Breakfast is a luxury few can afford in the bets we make to shoot in the golden hours. One look at our work and the sun and its shades will tell you how much we love using just natural sunlight.

As the Sun rose, the skies cleared. We began our final recce and chalked out a rough plan of action. Over the next two days, we shot in the desert, at our hotel and of course the city of Jaisalmer itself.

For us, the two most important things are motoring and travel. These words continue to define our style of photography. Jaisalmer and its surroundings gives photographers like us the perfect play ground to make our mistakes, learn and then deliver – every time.

www.theroadtonirvana.comBig toys!

Not to forget, another word which defines our work is adventure. We love taking a risk or two with everything we do. Whether it is shooting without camera straps altogether or dangling out of an open top jeep to get that perfect rolling shot, we’re always pushing limits.

We wanted to explore the roads that turn off of the main highways here in the extreme western parts of India. These small and almost inconsequential roads are sometimes gateways into photo opportunities which one would never imagine out on the highways. Going ‘off the beaten track’ as they harp every time ;).

As we drove further into the desert on one of these inner roads we saw the real temperament of the elements here. The landscape in this part of Rajasthan is unpredictable, from hills to sand dunes to sand dunes the size of hills – one never knows what will pop out of the horizon. In the Thar Desert, sand has the unquestionable right of way.

www.theroadtonirvana.comHell for leather – always!

Another side to Rajasthan’s beauty is the music here. This desert region is known for its folk and regional music and musicians. No evening is complete without a song or two from the repertoire of these tenured musicians. The tunes are mesmerizing and take one into bygone times when kings and queens reigned over this part of the world. It was a simple shot that popped up into our heads. Musicians + car + local architecture, simple.

www.theroadtonirvana.comMusic & Motoring

As it happened, on that particular evening, the Super Moon had come out in all its glory. The moonlight and the clouds added just the right amount of drama into the frame, we think. This was also the last night of our week long shoot. Before the Sun rose again, we would be on our way back to Pune.

The Beginning

www.theroadtonirvana.comThe journey is eternal.

The shoot had ended but the journey was a long way from being over. Not only did we have to drive our way back but like most journeys this was an experience which would continue in our minds for quite a while. The GL 63 AMG was the first super car we had ever shot, here in India and the way we do things, that was a big deal. We can hardly take credit for this shoot though. Yes, we shot the images but without the special support of our friends, acquaintances and team members none of this was possible. It was the people that we met who made it possible, we just made it happen :).

We thank:

Germany: (Client) Mercedes Benz for their awesomeness.

Pune: Mercedes Benz India for the vehicle.

Vadodara: Benchmark Cars – local Mercedes Benz Dealer. Miss Vishwamohini Priyalak Bhatt, Miss Malvika Singh and her highness The Queen of Vadodara.

Jaisalmer: The Suryagarh Boys: Siddharth, Sunny, Rajesh, Asif and Kunal for taking every effort to make sure our shoot and stay goes smoothly!

Team Nirvana: Niranjan Tarphe for his support on shoot.


Why I ride

Why I ride

Once they asked me why I ride.

I told them, I take everything into my stride,
leaving a trail while through life I power slide.

So that others may have a guiding line.
So they too can break free from the grapevine.

This is how I live my life,
unencumbered and free from strife.

Challenges accepted are challenges won,
failure makes things even more fun.

They looked at me all wide eyed,
as I told them why I ride.

~ Nipun Srivastava

Photographs sometimes have a way of touching the innermost chords with their maker and the subject. These are personal pieces of art. They embody much more than just the subject and thought process. These photographs represent the philosophy behind whole existences. Entire life stories in a picture, meanings of entire lifetimes visualized through action and depiction.

Here’s one such image. The rider and I spent close to an hour composing and recomposing this particular photograph. Fading light and a slippery riding surface were two major constraints, this shot could have been better. But like somethings usually are, this image is beautifully imperfect. Enjoy.

The Motorcycle: Royal Enfield Classic 500.

The Camera: Nikon D 800.

Motorcycle rider: Vishal Kankonkar.

Photographer: Nipun Srivastava.



Big Toys Small Joys

Driving in India and off-roading are synonymous. Seriously! How we manage to drive our little hatchbacks and sedans is a mystery. Which makes the case for brute, no nonsense off-road vehicles.

Big toys, small joys.

We’re at the peak of the monsoon here, the roads are more interesting these days and so are the weekends. On one such interesting weekend, we drove ourselves to a tourist spot near Pune. Read on and find out what happened. No, not Lonavala.

There is something to be said for not caring about potholes while driving. Take it from us, that luxury is priceless. Not worrying about the underbelly of ones vehicle is a whole new level of nirvana, especially when one enjoys adventurous road trips.

Our choice of vehicle, the Mahindra Thar CRDe, is a 4×4 jeep made for the young and tough or rough or whatever defines men and women who don’t mind a little fun in the mud.

Big toys, small joys.

Some ask, is it comfortable? No, kind people, it’s a jeep.

Our particular version had a thick cloth roof which didn’t leak, too much. AND we had an air con which worked! The epic simplicity of a jeep is what is beautiful to us. It takes use, abuse, reuse and still keeps going like nothing else on the road.

We figure, as long as a person can deal with less than average driving comfort and above average maintenance interactions, this jeep is perfect. The Thar has a good engine for over-taking on the highways and doing your average off the road antic. Give the CRDe a smooth road and it will touch 140 km/h. Yes!

It’s planted too, more so than other jeeps which lack front independent suspension. Pardon the jargon. What we’re saying is, the ride is bumpy but you won’t hit your head on the roof. The Thar is a pleasure to drive on smooth and curvy hill roads as long as you keep it under 70 and have some rpm in your pocket.

It rolls just enough for you to get a cozy moment with you know who. 😉

Mahabaleshwar, surprisingly, turned out to be the perfect test run for this little doer. We drove through pouring rain in the day and as soon as the sun set, we found ourselves doing 10km/h in completely fogged out driving conditions.

For those who don’t know, jeep headlamps are some of the worst that were ever invented. Somethings that are well invented are roadside reflectors and footpaths! Literally tracing our path with the help of these aids, we reached our destination. Beer, food, sleep and back in the jeep.

We, being awesome, chanced upon an open table top mountain on our way back and stopped for a quick photo-session. Remember the joy of jumping in rain water puddles as a kid? We did that and a little more.

Big toys, small joys.

Lets splash that!

Tourist spot shmoorist spot. Thanks to the constant rain there was hardly anyone here, making our pictures look like they were taken in the middle of nowhere. That’s the thing about jeeps, rain/slush/snow only excites the driver. There were no damp spirits here!

Big toys, small joys.

Okay, I’ll play alone.

Hard core off-roaders would probably not like this turbo version of the jeep too much. The ECU controlled engine dynamics can sometimes make a tricky situation trickier. But, that’s not to say that the CRDe Thar is bad at off-roading. It can handle pretty much anything that the average enthusiast can throw at it.

Big toys, small joys.

I can go anywhere!

So, we think this jeep is a perfect all rounder. All this when it’s completely stock with no modifications. We know, what’s a jeep without modifications right? There you have it, even when stock, the Thar is a damn fine vehicle. We’ve had our eye on it for a while now, who knows, you might see the nirvana brand jeep rolling alongside soon!

Also, in our bid to encourage motoring conversations further, we’d like you to comment below and tell us what you think. We’d love to know how our readers satisfy their cravings for the road! Cheers!

Special mention:

Vishal Kankonkar: His jeep!


Shooting Stars

Exceptional photography – team that up with top of the line motoring and one gets an epic combination of style, class and charisma. Here’s a quick run up of a shoot we did early in January 2013 which has got us on the world map.

Ever visited a quarry? We did, epic thanks to our friend and fellow motoring enthusiast Vikram Dhoot. Dust, grime and amazing chicken curry led to the shots you will see below. We decided to go four wheeled this time!

We spent the day (and night) at this mammoth mortar making quarry. Not only were we breathing through our T-shirts all the time but this shoot was a proper dust test for our equipment as well. We had quite a few cars lined up as part of this shoot but today we talk only about one very special machine.

The vehicle is a 1980’s Mercedes Benz W123-200. Enjoy.

As the Sun set, we finished our tour of the premises and settled down for a spot of tea (we love our tea!). Our team now consisted of one photographer and more than ten accompanying enthusiasts. We slotted the Mercedes sedan for the night.

It was essential to take the surroundings into our photographs. The amount of dust on the vehicles was also something we tried working into the shots.

So here we go.
Quarry kid

Alive!

The image is alive. So is the processing plant at the quarry. We shot this image at about 12am and boy, was it an experience!

The sky was at its acme of clarity and so the following picture was inevitable. This was a welcome change from our usual motorcycling infused travel photography. We tested a bunch of new camera equipment too, the pictures you see here are all shot with a brand new Nikon D800! Check out the view!

80's motoring

The epitome of 80’s motoring in India!

If you haven’t already noticed, the car is a Left Hand Drive W123-200. This particular car is a 2 litre, four cylinder petrol. From North America and across the world to Japan, this car has seen almost every terrain the world can offer. The W123 was the most popular Mercedes sedan of its time, selling more than 6 million units! Which brings us to our next photograph.

Shooting the star

The star.

In one day, this photograph championed more than 40000 likes and favourites on Facebook and Instagram. This one image registered more than two million views. Mercedes Benz, Stuttgart, themselves pinged us and asked for the picture. This, friends, is the next step.

June 2013 Update:

These pictures have now gone on to become the face of Mercedes Benz Museum’s Classic car photo competition!

Like the Mercedes Benz Museum facebook page HERE.

View and participate here: http://mb4.me/ShootingStars

They even named the Photography competition after our article! Enjoy!

We thank:

The motorcycle men and women of the Firelords – for their ever awesome, ever annoying and forever dear to us assistance.

Vikram Dhoot – for the hot food, his car and his quarry.

Mercedes Benz – for their fantastic motoring.

If you have an awesome car and want awesome photography, get in touch!


Accidentally awesome photos!

CHANDRESH KUDWA

Photography & luck, the eternal duo.

We’ve all been lucky. We’ve all landed up with pictures that we love out of sheer luck haven’t we? One just has to admire the presence of luck in photography. It carries us through some of our most challenging photographic moments.

There are a few per-requisites to getting these sometimes surprising images.

First and foremost:

Well, there’s your camera. You don’t need a so called ‘high-end’ camera, really. What you will need however is a camera which is ready for a shot at all times. Fully charged and ready to roll.

All DSLRs these days have a stand-by mode. Like in my Nikon, the stand-by mode keeps the camera sleeping. The moment I need to take a picture, one press of any button will get it out of its slumber and ready to fire.

What’s even more important is that your camera be configured in such a way that it’s ready for all scenarios. You don’t want to be fidgeting with the settings to get the ISO down and the aperture up in case you need to point the lens at the Sun.

The solution to that problem is to keep the camera set to ‘auto’ or ‘P/Program’, when you’re not shooting something in particular, obviously. Let the camera do the work, it’s faster than your fingers in situations where you may have all but one second to point, compose and shoot.

As this black and white image demonstrates, being unprepared is not always a bad thing. (not that I condone it)

Two faced tide.

Two faced tide, Zanzibar, Africa.

This photograph, taken from the Forhodani Park in Stone Town, Zanzibar, showcases the simple life of the fishing community here. Every morning they head out with their sails open while the sun is still yawning into its rise. They return with the days catch in the evening, fresh and ready to go onto any of the stalls which line the lanes of the Forhodani park.

This is a much adored photograph from my portfolio but the harsh truth about this photograph is that this was a highly over-exposed frame. Shot in RAW, when this image came up in the scroll, there was little my mind could think about doing. The highlights were too bright, the blacks looked as if they came straight out of a can of oil paint.

The first thing that I did was to instantly rid it of all saturation (you know, cut my losses and use what I have). The next step came as a surprise even to me, I bumped up the exposure even more till the ocean looked almost like a sketch. You can even spot the horizon if you’ve got a good pair of eyes. As a result came out this picture postcard image of a Dhow.

Having the camera set to manual and not prepared for this type of photograph actually helped me capture this rather representative image. I was lucky. The unorthodox processing of this image saved the day.

Timing is everything, true.

There’s no getting away from it. Your shutter release has got to be absolutely on the money at that second when it’s all supposed to happen. Miss it and all you’ll have is a photograph which could.

Get it right though and you’ll be jumping with joy after you finish processing the picture. There again is that element which we all love to hate – luck.

The spirit of the desert.

Spirit of the desert. Rajasthan, India.

Easily one of the top 5 favourites from my recent trip to Rajasthan, India. I pride myself on the exquisite timing of this photograph.

I’m feeling lucky:

There have been a few times that I have ended up depending on luck. Some frown upon that but who gives a damn? They say that the photographers who rely on luck are not true photographers, they’re just trigger happy shooters. I think whoever says this is right, only to an extent though.

You see, I started shooting with a manual camera and its bathed in wasted film (and money!) disappointments. Back then it was only those ‘lucky’ shots that kept egging me on to shoot more.

Even the urge to try and better understand the nuances of making a well thought out and calibrated photograph was fueled by those few perfect photos. All thanks to luck.

Kumbhalgarh

A bad photograph gone good. Kumbhalgarh Fort, Rajasthan, India.

I didn’t even know I had taken this shot. I was busy watching the sound and light show at the fort (hence the lighting). The camera was set up on a tripod right next to my seat. With a wired remote-release in my hand I kept clicking, only occasionally changing the tilt to adjust my frame. The reason I love this photograph is that everything in the frame is perfectly out of focus. Yes! Look closely and you’ll see. Yet somehow, this image works. You can even see the milky way!

Light and Luck:

When shooting outdoors, these two factors can mean the world to a photographer. Also, no one has complete control over either. That’s what’s amazing if you actually do end up with a good photograph. Sometimes even the worst hours of light can yield a good photograph. Don’t be apprehensive about shooting at noon or under thick cloud cover. Go for it, regardless.

Oh! Zanzibar.

Living on an island. Zanzibar, Africa.

Shot at the top of noon, this photograph came as a surprise. Background: It was hot, I was sweating it with all my camera gear on my back and I was on a beach with no shade. On a motorcycle ride across the island, I had little control over the time I reached a particular destination. Look at this picture, see the shadows and you’ll know it was shot at 12PM on the dot. This photograph was a stepping stone for me towards realising the possibilities of shooting with harsh light.

Wing it!

Sometimes though, one just has to forget everything and swing for the fence. Like in this photo here, shot at Hampi in Karnataka, India.

The Virupaksha Temple, at Sunset.

Jewel in the crown. Virupaksha Temple, Hampi, India.

Almost 2 kilometers away from my subject and on top of a hill. The place where I was standing had absolutely no space to move around and get the Sun perfectly resting in the Temple’s crown. To get this particular shot, I had to literally hang off the hill and try to shoot with one hand stretched out as far as possible. The Sun too would stay in the correct position for a very short while only, I had very little time to execute. Adding to my problems was the 300mm lens that I was using! It took about 10 shots till I got this photograph. Which could have been taken in a better way, if I had a helicopter or something. (wink!). After I got the photograph and a few other shots, I spent the night ogling at my camera screen!

So there you have it. Go ahead and be lucky!

Go beyond.The Enfield in us. Hedvi.Somewhere I can find peace.


Flashback Zanzibar.

A much delayed article. A year late, to be precise. There are some things in life that happen out of the blue. Like this brilliant (professional) life starting trip. I got to work with two of the most accomplished and inspiring editors I know. Read on to find out about Zanzibar and my 30 day trip to the island in early 2011.

Flashback Zanzibar!

As a photographer, I had decided that Africa was a place I’d visit only when I felt completely prepared. It’s an overwhelming continent, something I’m sure everybody knows already. More so for a photographer I can report. Thing is, with its grave prospects for downright dumbfounding photography (for the viewer and photographer alike), the continent of Africa had intimidated me for quite some time. I had hence decided within my head that I would venture into that part of the world only when I, as a photographer, was better ready.

All that changed in an instant when I received my confirmation email from Mambo Magazine. Mambo was a travel/culture online magazine based in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Yet again, my life had managed to trump my game plan but I wasn’t complaining! I was to spend a month on the Island of Zanzibar, interning as a photographer and writer. I took off.

When you first reach the Island of Zanzibar, you may feel like this is not the quintessential African destination but rest assured. Zanzibar is as African as Africa gets. There is wildlife, there is culture and there is the experience of a lifetime.

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Getting there

Zanzibar lies about 35 miles off the coast of Dar-es-Salaam, a part of Tanzania in east central Africa. I took a 20 minute flight to Zanzibar from Dar-es-Salaam. One can also opt for the ferry which takes about 2 hours to get you there. Both options invite you into this grove of uniqueness with absolutely stunning vistas. Whether you look at it from the air or while racing across the Indian ocean, this archipelago is a treat for the senses.

Once on land I found that life here is laid back. Nobody here is in a hurry, ‘Pole pole’ as they say, slowly slowly. People here are friendly and are completely at ease with tourists. Tourism being the main industry in Zanzibar, the main town known as Stone Town revolves around the traveller.

In Stone Town one notices how life here is like any other tourist town but with a slight twist. Zanzibar is home to many different ethnicities, right from Indians to people from the Middle East and of course the African Swahili. The various cultures and people here coexist in a beautiful mixture that is bound to catch your attention and keep you enthralled. As you walk through the maze of narrow streets and lanes that is Stone Town, you will see small shops on both sides of your path selling local art and souvenirs. One can find scintillating paintings of the forests and the Masai and even abstract which are capable of capturing the attention of the most discerning connoisseur.

Road side shoppe

Street side!

For the food loving kind, the by-lanes of Stone Town offer authentic Swahili street food in addition to the retro barbeque and grilled preparations of sea food and meats. Make your way to Forhodani park and you will be treated to tens of vendors selling grilled sea food such as fish, shrimp and octopus right off the grill!

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Forhodani Bbq!

A dish called ‘Urojo’ is a local delicacy, it is a savoury soup and is very healthy and filling – perfect for the weight-watchers. Kassava chips are a popular local munch. If you’re a little fussy, almost every cuisine in the world can be found here, right from the best pizza and pasta from Italy to lassi and tava biryani from India. If you’re feeling lavish, head to the Serena Inn, a Stone Town five star, for a pint of Kilimanjaro. Overlooking the ocean, this little escapade will refresh you at any time of the day.

Title Shot for the bar.

A pint of Kili

Stone town is also home to a lot of beach cafes, such as the Livingstone. It sits right next to the ferry terminal and hence is always surrounded by interesting happenings, the staff of the Livingstone will also make sure that your time at the resto-bar is worthwhile and that you leave with a stomach full of grub and a spring in your step.

The Livingstone Beach Cafe.

The Livingstone Cafe

The Swahili culture is a very unique one indeed. The women here wear colourful attires and although shy at first, they won’t mind if you ask before taking a picture. Even the clothes worn by the locals have interesting angles to them. The ‘Kanga’, a type of head gear worn by the local women has interesting quotes printed on them which have a hidden meaning. Women communicate amongst themselves and with their husbands and friends using these Kangas, without speaking a single word!

Let's buy some furniture in Zanzibar!

Vibrance in cloth

Zanzibar is the birth place of Swahili. The language is not too tough to grasp for the average traveller, basic Swahili is easy to pick up. ‘Jambo’ a word which means hello, ‘asante’ which means thank you and for Indians, ‘Pilli Pilli’ which stands for chilli is enough to get you through your vacation in paradise here. Even if you’re not a language person, the cheerful spirit and energetic charm of the locals will coax you into learning a few words. Don’t be surprised if you hear people using some Hindi words, for instance the word ‘bas’ stands for enough, just like in Hindi.

Jambo!

Jambo!

You get the full tourist experience in Stone Town but if you want to see the real thing, head out. I recommend renting an SUV and taking a drive across the island. That way one gets a chance to really gain a feel for Zanzibar. But, even that is a tad touristy if you ask me.

For the hard-core traveller who really wants to discover this place inside out, I suggest you hop onto a ‘Dalla-Dalla’ or a local bus and hang on! These are small Toyota trucks modified to carry a monumental number of passengers. It’ is the perfect way to break the ice between you and the experience. These trucks/busses are the lifeline of the island. Make sure you loose your inhibitions before hopping on though!

Do the Dala Dala!

Do the Dala Dala!

Being the biker I am I took a six day motorcycle ride across the island and its various beaches/villages. A motorcycle ride according to me is the best way to experience the openness and beauty of Zanzibar. The exhilaration of riding along the smooth roads which mostly run parallel to the coast and feeling the cool ocean breeze is incomparable to any other pleasure. Every spot on the island has a completely different feel. I spent a month here and still can’t wait to get back. Read more about my motorbike ride here: The Magical Motorcycle Tour.

Biking it in Africa!

Bikin’ it in Africa!

The villages are a complete contrast to the town. Hardly any shops, empty roads and the sounds of the Ocean. Stay on the east coast for a couple of days and experience the beautiful sunrises over the calm waters of the Indian Ocean.

Go beyond.

Sunrises here leave one speechless.

Party? Make your way to Kendwa – it’s the party king of Zanzibar. A great place to chill out and meet fellow travellers. On the west coast, you will be treated to amazing sunsets every evening. Rest assured, you’ll have a story to tell from here!

The penultimate eve.

Postcard sunsets

Distances are short here, if you’re in a car. In a couple of hours one can cross the entire island from North to South. The roads are good too but once you’re in a village, be prepared to ride through some sandy patches. It is all great fun though.

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Road to nirvana! Wink!

Zanzibar also has great wildlife. The Jozani national park in the centre of the island is home to the African Red and Black Colobus monkeys. If you are lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the native Blue Monkey. The guides of the park will take you through the forest foliage and past huge centuries old Baobab trees. They will help you track down the whereabouts of these playful tree dwellers.

The African Red Colobus Monkey.Who are you?

The Red Colobus and Blue Monkeys.

If you have the guts, head to the Zala Park. Zala is a reptile sanctuary managed by two inspiring locals who have dedicated their lives to conserving wildlife on the island. The park is home to some of the most dangerous snakes in the world like the Green Mamba and the Cobra. Who knows, you might even get to hold one.

The snake man.Untitled

Zala Reptile Park!

Dolphin tours are also very popular with the tourists here but there is a catch. The excessive tours operated here, some say, are leading to the detriment of the dolphin population. I steered clear of this option to be honest. If you’re lucky, sitting on one of the pristine beaches of this wonder island, you might just get to see the dolphins playing out in the ocean.

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The southern shore

Take the sea safari on the east coast though. That will give you a guided insight into the daily life of the people living in the coastal regions and will take you close to the culture of the real Swahili Zanzibaris. See how the local women make a living by farming seaweed and making rope from coconut fiber. It’s quite the learning curve!

Sea Safari.

Sea Safari!

When you want more, take some Swahili cooking lessons. Learn what they eat, how they cook and help do it. Enjoy a cosy meal with one of the local families, right in their home. Take in the cheerful hospitality while you drink coconut water and talk to the family. On this island, even a month is less time!

Be it for the honeymooners, backpackers or even adventure freaks, with its myriad avenues when it comes to that extra ordinary travel experience, Zanzibar will see you bowled over. Whether you are looking for a week away in a foreign land or even planning to take your family along for a different kind of trip, my suggestion is, head to Zanzibar and let the Swahili vibe take over.

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Perfect mornings

For me, Zanzibar was an eye opener. Mambo and I did a photography workshop on the last day of my trip. It was the first time I was going to be teaching! The workshop was a roaring success! House full!

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Cameras love Zanzibar!

In more ways than one this trip managed to force open my mind and instill in me the confidence needed for the coming year and it’s travel. Africa does that to you. Do visit, it’ll do you a world of good.

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Karibu Zanzibar!

To see more pictures from Zanzibar – Click here.

Links:

Top ten photographs from my trip to Zanzibar – The Zanzibar Post.

An in-depth Island experience: The Magical Motorcycle Tour.

Swahili cooking: Click here to read.

The Sea Safari: What lies beneath.

Travel article in the Pune Mirror on Zanzibar by Nipun Srivastava: Click here to read.

For any further information regarding travel/cuisine/entertainment/safety in Zanzibar, contact: www.Mambomagazine.com


Rooh – E – Rajasthan: My Journey Home!

Part 8 of Rooh – E – Rajasthan.

To read part 7 – Click here.

To read part 6 – Click here.

To read part 5 – Click here.

To read part 4 – Click here.

To read part 3 – Click here.

To read part 2 – Click here.

To read part 1 – Click here.

Lets go home.

ROOH - E - RAJASTHAN

Twenty eight wonderful days had been spent on the roads and in the cities of Rajasthan. On this special motorcycle journey I had led a much disciplined and regulated life. You know, going to sleep early to get up in time for the sunrise more often than not. Also to leave early to reach the next destination on time.

My last morning here was different. I didn’t wake up on time. Three lines of alarms failed to get me out of my snooze on this day. I woke up with a jolt at nine AM when my mum called to check whether I’d left Udaipur.

I mean wow, I felt like even Rajasthan didn’t want me to leave. Letting me be as I revelled in deep slumber.

After I was awake however, it was a mad rush to get on the road. It took me an hour to get to the bike and load up. Hurriedly, I said my thank you to the hotel staff, tipped my favorite waiter and rolled on towards the highway.

Sooner than you’d think, with my bikes’ engine warmed up and us riding smoothly on the highway into Gujarat, I was again thinking back to the time I’d had in Udaipur and Rajasthan as a whole.

What can one say? When a place known for its harsh climate and shifting sands embraces you with a large heart, one can only feel humbled.

My motorcycle ride around Rajasthan had grounded me like no other escapade of mine. Only a long string of adjectives could probably describe what I felt or maybe even that would fall short of truly expressing how liberated I felt.

Homeward bound!

Homeward bound!

RAJASTHAN

The Land:

A complete and absolute assault on the senses. A place tailor-made for the wanderer and ponderer alike.

Rooh - e - Rajasthan 2011.

The sands of Sam

The people:

Positively one of the best behaved and most polite in India. Most cultures boast of being hospitable and caring but the folk of Rajasthan truly personify hospitality. They embrace their roots. One has to admire the people who respect and hold in such high regard their own culture, music and place of belonging.

Nakki lake.

The music of Abu

The food:

To be brutally honest, across the length of my trip, the food I had was mediocre. There were some stars though. Like the LAAL MAANS atop Nahargarh Fort in Jaipur or the super spicy Aloo ka parantha at Dudu! Even the Chaat at the Gol Piyau in Ajmer is worth a special mention.

The mehrangarh fort.

Food and thought

The experience:

It was just a thought two years ago, today Rooh – E – Rajasthan is one of my favorite pieces of work!

The rider and I.

A ride to remember!

Rajasthan was a challenge at first. A personal feat I have to say. Like one gets used to the temperature of water after diving in, I got used to Rajasthan’s ever-changing vibe. From the serene desert sands of Jaisalmer and Sam to the chaotic city life of Jodhpur and the commercial holiness of Pushkar, the feeling of finding myself in a different situation was ever present.

I rode on smooth straight roads, through suffocating sands over vanishing roads, atop camels, walked barefoot on warm evening sand, became a part of the music, made friends from different cultures and countries even, spent a month amongst strangers who I now call my own.

I felt more Indian than I’d ever felt before. I felt more human and alive than I’d ever felt before.

Favorite incident:

Chancing upon two musicians in Jaisalmer who became friends and delighted me with their art. Etienne ‘Suryaneel’ Lauth and Hariram Bhopa. They were as absorbed in their art as a glass of cold water would be in hot sand, they taught me to forget about the world and do what the heart asks. Let me not comment on the brilliance of their music as it was just beyond word.

Music in motion.

Etienne (Suryaneel) and Hariram

Most remembered photographic moment:

Shooting atop desert dunes.

As the sun went down over the horizon made up of curvy dues stretching out till the eyes could see, shooting here was a refreshing experience. I walked atop the dunes barefoot, letting the coarse grains of sand caress my sole. It ended up touching my soul. I felt peace.

The camel and its jockey.

The camel and its jockey

Shot of the trip:

Camels around my motorcycle on the highway. On my way from Ajmer to Jaipur. The image sums up my journey in a nutshell. The ride, the road and Rajasthan.

The final shot!

A different trip.

Three most loved Photographs of the trip:

My top three most adored photographs from Rajasthan, each of these photos represent a facet of my journey. Not just when it comes to storytelling but also technically. Each of these photographs have hours of effort behind them and also more technique has been used compared to any average image.

AamerROOH - E - RAJASTHANKumbhalgarh.

Aamer.                                                  Sam and sand.                                          Kumbhalgarh.

Best biker moment:

Looking at the road end and sand begin.

Where the road ends and the sand begins.

Sand locked

Final Haul home!

After about seven hours of riding through the morning and afternoon I had crossed into Gujarat and was soon closing on my night halt for the day – Ankleshwar. The town of Ankleshwar is built around industry and also happened to be my rest stop at the beginning of this ride. As I approached the town on my motorcycle I got stuck in a traffic jam! On the six lane highway, it was a situation I’d never been in. After about half an hour and probably moving only about ten meters forward, I decided to turn around on the same road and get off the highway. Yes it was dangerous but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. I rode on the wrong side of the road for a kilometer or so and reached an exit. Then I managed to find my way through another town which lay adjacent to Ankleshwar.

They say that everything happens for a reason and it’s true. As I rode through this unknown town towards Ankleshwar, I found myself at the start of a long and narrow bridge which stood over a wide river which I had to cross. The evening traffic was so much that I was literally wiggling my way through. As I rolled on to the bridge, a perfect and round golden yellow almost orange Sun greeted me to my right. Its reflection off the river was relaxing to say the least. I wanted to stop right there and click some pictures but there was absolutely no space and the traffic behind me was menacing. I had no choice but to store the memory in my head and move on. Just that bit of beauty was enough to take away the pain of my now eight hour long motorcycle ride out of Udaipur.

I was on my way home now. I stayed the night in a hotel and then pushed my bikes’ performance to the limit for the home run. She was close to seizing up, my motorcycle, I could feel it. An 8AM cold start is the last thing I wanted for her straining engine but we now had to crank it up and get home. On the highway again and racing towards the outskirts of Mumbai and Thane, we hardly took any stops. My mind was alight with questions about whether we’ll reach home on our own steam. I kept the throttle jammed open, the motorcycle responded like she knew what were trying to do, get home.

My motorcycle knew the fact that the trip was over and this was the most important part. Getting home often is. She probably knew that the only place she’d get the attention she deserved would be at the workshop in Pune and so we cracked on through the mid day sun. Soon we crossed into Maharashtra and then by noon reached the turnoff to Pune.

I stopped for lunch and also to give my motorcycle one final cooling rest before we hauled it to Pune. After lunch, getting back on the bike, I told her not to give up on me on this absolute last leg of 200 kilometers. It’d be a pity if we couldn’t get home now. These roads were known to the both of us, the team of man and motorcycle soldiered on till we reached the outskirts of Pune. One final water stop marked the end of my ride to Rajasthan. I was home.

At that overwhelming moment, what it felt like cannot be put in words. It was my longest ever solo motorcycle ride. An overall distance of about 5000 kilometers of motorcycling, tourism, photography and an experience of a lifetime had been achieved.

Just like Rana Pratap’s horse, Chetak, my motorcycle got me home and then proceeded to get herself to the workshop. Only then did she let her condition take the better of her. She’d gone through a lot, the desert heat, the grains of sand and my constant whims. It had been an epic challenge for her too. What a machine! What a personality and how amazing that she understood her rider just the way he was. The Marauder!

The places I missed:

Yes, believe it or not, there are a lot of places I didn’t visit on this trip. Rajasthan is huge and trust me when I say it is worth spending a sizable part of one’s life here. Each corner has it’s own story, it’s own people and it’s own shade of sand. When you go, keep in mind these places that I didn’t get a chance to go to.

Why didn’t I go?

Time was a major reason for skipping places like Bikaner and Alwar. Sometimes it so happened that I found out about a place only after I’d passed it, like Bundi and Gagaria. Rajasthan is like a big bundle of surprises, each place you go to can hide amazing sights which someone in a hurry may never uncover. The step wells in Jodhpur make up one such site. I only found out about them just before leaving. Thanks to my friend Oindrila Mukherjee – an avid traveller, I can share a few pictures which will demonstrate what a beautiful place I missed not to mention a fantastic photo-opportunity.

Step wells at Jodhpur

Step wells at JodhpurStep wells at Jodhpur

Photographs by Oindrila Mukherjee.

The thing is, it’s sometimes okay not to have seen a place in its entirety. For me personally I try to explore for myself as much as I can but then again – I’m the imperfect traveller. These places I’ve missed just make sure that one day I will head back. Because I’ve fallen in love with the land.

Seema Samaapt.

Rajasthan limit ends.

For more pictures: Click here.

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In this article:

Number of nights: Ankleshwar = 1.

Distance travelled: Udaipur – Akleshwar – Pune = 860 kms.

Motorcycle condition: She survived! We did it. Crank assembly changed, block-piston kit changed, complete engine and mechanical overhaul done.

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People I thank:

The Firelords, Pune – A motorcycle owners’ club of sorts.

Mount Abu:

Nathu ji – Musician.

Barmer:

Mr Madhav Singh Rajpurohit, Staff at Hotel Madhav Paradise.

Jaisalmer:

Mr Hariram Bhopa, Mr Kadam Singh – RTDC, Mr Etienne ‘Suryaneel’ Lauth, Mr Bismillah Khan and troupe, Sultan Bhai – Camel herder, staff at RTDC Moomal.

Jodhpur:

Mr Pankaj Srivastava – Punjab National Bank, Mr Kishor Kumar – RTDC, staff at RTDC Ghoomar, Bansiraam – folk musician, Mrs Laali Mukherjee.

Ajmer/Pushkar:

Mrs Geetam Saxena. Staff at RTDC Sarover – Pushkar.

Jaipur:

Mr Ajay Saxena – RTDC. Staff at RTDC Teej.

Chittaurgarh:

Manager – RTDC Panna, RTDC staff at the Chittaurgarh fort.

Udaipur

Mr Narayan. Staff at RTDC Kajri.

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Some travel for pleasure, some for adventure. Some go for others, I go for me.

The End.


Southern Rajasthan.

Part 7 of Rooh – E – Rajasthan.

To read part 6 – Click here.

To read part 5 – Click here.

To read part 4 – Click here.

To read part 3 – Click here.

To read part 2 – Click here.

To read part 1 – Click here.

Udaipur

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Water. Wealth. Wonderful.

An easy and fulfilling ride along the smooth National Highway 76 brought me to the lake City of Rajasthan. Udaipur is a city with an open heart and welcomes everyone inbound with arms wide open. As you roll in, everything is where it needs to be. Even the people are helpful. Udaipur was to be my last stop. On this personal milestone of a trip, Rooh – E – Rajasthan, Udaipur was the last bastion of tourism I was to experience before turning that wheel towards home. It was symbolic of many things, this city of Udaipur.

As far as my motorcycle was concerned, she had gone into what seemed like a trance. She had made peace with her flailing condition and was bashing on regardless. She was surviving the length of the trip after all!

Getting back to the ride, the highway led me straight into the city and almost suddenly I found myself in local city traffic. You know, the kind where the breeze of the highway leaves your side and is replaced by the warmer city air, with that slight tinge of diesel. People on two wheelers are riding to and from work and the three-wheeled tempos are out to take over the world.

This time, my RTDC (Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation) home was a really good one. Well, compared to the rest I’d stayed at. In Udaipur, nothing is cheap. Thanks to RTDC I had awesome accommodation at a manageable price. Otherwise, the good hotels of Udaipur are known to be monumentally expensive.

I settled in, sorted myself for a four night stay and sat down for lunch. This was a busy place, the restaurant was abuzz with travellers, much a contrast from my previous destination Chittaurgarh. Food was laid out on one side with almost every table in the room full to its capacity. This told me something about Udaipur. Either the city is really something, that makes everyone want to be here or it has a pseudo charm like Mount Abu. I was counting on the former, bear in mind, I had seen nothing of Udaipur yet.

After lunch I put in some time and reorganized all my luggage and data. I recharged and cleaned my camera gear for the upcoming five day exposure to Udaipur’s charms.

Come evening, I was hungry to have a look around Udaipur. Kick starting the bike I dove deep into the city. Within 10 minutes, I found myself bang in the middle of the city markets. I took a lot of wrong turns and it took me a while to break into the city’s narrow streets and crowded ethos. I rode towards the famous Lake Pichola, home of the Taj Lake Palace Hotel. The hotel is a white palatial building in the middle of the Lake. Known for its overly luxurious stays and cuisine, any luxury travel mag doing a feature on Rajasthan will have the Taj’s lavish rooms in it.

The Jag Mandir. Udaipur.

The Jag Mandir palace.

As I made my way, the city was revealed to me. Udaipur sits amidst the hills and is blessed with lakes between its pockets of population. At the banks of the Lake Pichola, a guide told me some facts about the lake and the hotel. Also, the Jag Mandir palace stood in the middle of the lake. It is essentially a pleasure palace. The kings would treat it as their summer resort or use it for throwing parties. Sadly, on this day, the lake was closed to common folk. Because madam Shakira was to perform for a businessman’s birthday bash which was being held on the Jag Mandir island complex. Preparations were on full swing with rigging crews all over the lake putting up fireworks.

This was my first clue about the reality of Udaipur.

Not being able to get onto the water and photograph the evening Sun was a huge turn off for my excitement. No matter, my guide took me to a place from where he thought I would get a good shot of the lake. It was a garden up on a small hill but the problem was it’s foliage. The trees restricted me from getting a clear shot. Here’s where my second clue about Udaipur came to light. When you’re here, don’t take a guide. The information you are given is sketchy to say the least. Although they mean well, the guides seldom realize themselves that they are wasting a tourist’s time and money actually. I made my way back to my hotel through the various city streets yet again. I wasn’t all that happy to be honest. Hope was that Udaipur would be the cherry on the icing for my trip.

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Edge of understanding.

Though there was still a lot to see around Udaipur. Slowly I was realizing that Udaipur was a city of money, for money and probably even run because of money. The class difference was apparent in the tourism of the town itself. Up until now Rajasthan and its destinations had offered to me a lot of substance. Not just history but a lot more to take home in my head. Udaipur, though it has the history if you’re interested, will first give you the golden handshake. This place does not embrace its past, it uses its past.

I managed to reach my hotel just before dusk, called for my tea and started talking to the people at the hotel about the avenues for exploration around here. As I spoke to the hotel staff about the city, everyone from the waiter to the manager agreed with me when I mentioned my first impression. Realizing that I wasn’t all too interested in staring at the city’s facade, everyone gave me suggestions as to what I may like. My waiter gave me the best advice, he told me to head out of Udaipur itself. Soon, I had a plan, an ambiguous one but a direction to head into nonetheless.

The plan went into action that very evening. I head out into the city again, reached one of its star restaurants and found myself a table. This restaurant was touted as one of the best owing to its panoramic view of the Lake Pichola. Just for fun, I won’t tell you the name of the restaurant. Rest assured, some digging on your part when you’re in Udaipur will land you at this waters edge bistro. The prices here are high and the food is ordinary. It’s the view they charge you for.

Udaipur City Palace and The Taj Lake Palace Hotel.

The Udaipur City Palace and The Taj Lake Palace.

The view was good indeed, one could see the Taj Lake Palace Hotel and the Udaipur City Palace in all their glory and on this night, the lighting for the upcoming concert was being tested – that added major drama to some of my photographs. What an evening it turned out to be! So many people came up to me in this outdoor setting and asked me about most things under the sun. Right from my photography to my travels, even the motorcycle caught their attention. After about an hour of shooting and talking with strangers, I sat down at my table for dinner. Here too, the waiter serving me had his own questions about my journey. He kept me company and made sure there was never a dull moment during dinner. Those of you who actually do manage to find this restaurant, you’ll like the vibe it offers.

I got lost in the city a couple of times while on my way back to the RTDC hotel. It was late and I too took my own sweet time finding my way. There was something about Udaipur which I hadn’t felt in any other city. Being in Udaipur felt like walking on a heavily trodden grassy path which gives way to mud because of the sheer use of its presence. That’s what Udaipur truly felt like to me – an overused city. What caused it to be overused and how, that was still a vague question and I had some time to figure it out.

Night was peaceful and the next morning came with me waking up early and chalking out the days tourism. Udaipur woke me up with a calm caress. Chirping birds and whistling winds made my morning real pleasant. I walked out into my balcony and tried shooting some birds and squirrels, all while sipping on tea.

Good morning Udaipur!

Good morning Udaipur!

Udaipur ki Chai

Chai lo.

Tea, was now one of the most important things in my life. For that matter, almost every biker/traveller will tell you that tea is what makes the journey that much more awesome. Each cup tastes different, the aroma of the hot golden potion is different in every land. And that my friends is the only second reason a biker stops on the side of the road to take a break. Tea is also sometimes the sole reason for a trip, it’s that important to us motorcycle boys.

Day one: Saas – Bahu Temples.

This day, I booked myself a cab. I wanted to give my motorcycle a little r and r before we made our way back home, a journey of over 800 kilometers. A car arrived and for the first time on this entire trip, I had the luxury of keeping my camera gear off my shoulders. I was paying through my nose for the exclusive cab but I knew, in the long run, it’d be worth it. My first destination were some temples a little distance away from the city of Udaipur. A small village called Nagda was our first stop. The temples, known as Saas – Bahu (or mother-in-law – daughter-in-law) temples, were a rather inspiring place to start off my photography.

Saas Bahu Temples

Interior of one of the temples.

This temple complex, although small, has the power to get your creative juices flowing. Dedicated to the Lord Vishnu, these medieval buildings inspire intrigue with their mind numbing architecture. The carvings and sculptures here are so very detailed that it’s easy to get lost standing in one spot. Everywhere you look, inside or outside, the place and its intricacies are mesmerizing. It is a peaceful place to spend some time, if you have it.

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The temples and the lawns.

The light here is another brilliant companion to any photo maker. Take my word for it, the illumination on the heavily carved stone is almost intoxicating.  This was the first place I’d visited and already I wished I’d brought my motorcycle. What pictures I could have made!

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You could get lost standing in one spot.

The town of Nagda is also home to a much revered Temple of Eklingji. A place where they don’t let even cellphone cameras inside. A place like that has no room for someone like me I think, so I did not go in. Those with a religious bent might not want to do the same. If you don’t mind heading in without your camera, do go and check it out. To some, this temple complex is an architectural marvel. To me unfortunately, like the Dilwara Temple at Mount Abu, this too had to become a missed destination.

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The Eklingji Temple entrance.

From Nagda, my driver and I made our way to the famous Haldighati, a historical battleground. Haldighati is named so because the color of the mud here resembles the color of turmeric, for which the Hindi word is Haldi. This mountain pass was made famous by the battle of Haldighati between Rana Pratap and the Mughal Army of Emperor Akbar. Many a story hail from that very battle but one of the most compelling is the story of Chetak – the king’s horse.

HaldighatiHaldighat ki mitti

The road to Haldighati.

Chetak was the beloved horse of Rana Pratap. It is this horse which carried an injured Pratap out of the battlefield despite it’s own injured leg. It is said that Chetak displayed unparalleled loyalty to his master and carried him a great distance on his three legs, only after he found that the Maharana was safe did he breath his last. Today, there stands a tomb dedicated to the royal horse, still lending glory to its supreme sacrifice. Known as the Chetak Chabutra or the Chetak Smark, it stands close to a local museum, which is dedicated to the story of Maharana Pratap of Mewar.

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The Chetak Chabutra.

This museum, though highly informative, is a very crude rendition of the story of Pratap. If you know the story, I’d suggest you skip the trip here. Go only if you have kids, they might enjoy it.

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The Rana Pratap museum.

That was day one. I came back to Udaipur quite tired from all the sight seeing and story studying. In the night I head out into the city to see if there was a place from where I could capture some sort of nightscape. I spent about an hour on the road inside the city but couldn’t find any good spot to set up. To be honest I did get some mediocre shots of the promenade but the city failed to please my senses on this night.

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Dinner.

I found myself a posh looking restaurant and settled for dinner. Payed a bomb for some mediocre food and left. Sleept like a log.

Day two: Out of the city again.

This day was to see me heading out of Udaipur again. This is true about Udaipur, there is more to see outside and around the city that inside its limits. Sure you have the Udaipur City Palace and the sound and light show there. There is also a temple up high on a hill near Lake Pichola but that’s about it. You have to head out to really enjoy what Udaipur has to offer. Since I also could not afford the luxuries of a five star and a ‘royal experience’ at one of the poshest hotels in the country, I head out. Again, I had booked myself a cab.

On this day, Mr Narayan – the owner of the cab company volunteered to drive me. He told me that he heard my story from his driver the previous day and wanted to meet me. He said ‘mai har uss aadmi se minla chahata hoon jisse mai kuch seekh sakta hoon’ or ‘I want to meet all the people from whom I can learn something’. I was flattered by this statement of his. Believe you me, our drive towards Kumbhalgarh fort was anything but mundane. Thanks to both our talkative personas, we kept jabbering our way through the afternoon drive.

The drive from Udaipur to Kumbhalgarh Fort revealed to me the green Rajasthan. 70 odd kilometers of country roads show you the agricultural side of Rajasthan. Lined with fields all through the roads to this old fort are a treat, not all that smooth but when you’re in India a road with potholes is just fine. This particular stretch of road is known to wind through some tribal dominated territory. They say one shouldn’t venture out alone all the way to Kumbhalgarh. It is a common practice that groups of vehicles travel in a cavalcade along this route.

Agricultural RajasthanGREEN RAJASTHAN

Rajasthan and agriculture.

One crosses some hills and forests on the way and the tribals have been known to pelt stones on passing vehicles, amongst other things. Well, Mr Narayan and I were so busy talking that we didn’t even realize that time had flown by and we we staring at the Kumbhalgarh fort in the distance.

It’s stunning. From a distance of about 5 kilometers, you can see the length of the fort wall across the frame of your vision. Amidst green hills and atop one of its own, stands Kumbhalgarh – The sentinel of Mewar.

We reached the fort a little before sunset. This light was perfect for taking pictures. We were also in time for the sound and light show which was held here everyday after sundown. I bought our tickets and we proceeded inside the fort walls.

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Evening light.

Slowly our climb began. Mr Narayan and I hired a guide who told us about the fort while we climbed up. I knew nothing about Kumbhalgarh before this day. The only reason I found myself here was that I was advised by my hotel staff to check this place out. Like most forts in Rajasthan, the Kumbhalgarh too was perched atop a hill. They say the walls of this fort stretch for a whole 36 kilometers around the structure! Huge! At vantage points, one can see the Aravalli hills stretch for miles and miles around this fort. Catching your breath is a pleasurable affair atop Kumbhalgarh.

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Climbing to the top.

Kumbhalgarh is important. It was built by Rana Kumbha of Mewar, hence the name. Also, this fort was the birthplace of Maharana Pratap, the warrior king of Haldighati fame. Another fact about the Kumbhalgarh fort is that it sits on this hill dividing the kingdoms or Marwar (Jodhpur) and Mewar (Chittaurgarh). The Fort also plays an important role in the formative history of Rajasthan. Kumbhalgarh provided refuge to prince Udai who was smuggled here by Panna Dhai when Chittaurgarh was under siege. Later, Udai took the throne post which he founded the city of Udaipur.

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Marwar and Mewar.

Thanks to the long drive from Udaipur, by the time we reached the top of the fort, the sun was just setting. We stayed put for a while and watched the sun go down. It is here that the fort of Kumbhalgarh played an interesting part in my personal journey.

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Sunset at Kumbhalgarh.

As I stood atop the highest pavilion and shot the sunset with my camera, a happy group of Israeli tourists joined me. We got talking about my camera and travel, made friends and the rest is history. The sun set and all of us made our way down to the foot of the fort. It was during our little downward trek that my friends and I really connected. It was time now for the sound and light show, I told my new found friends about the show and some of them joined us as we watched.

Ready for the sound and light show.

Sound and light magic.

The sound and light show here starts right after sunset and takes one through Rana Kumbha’s life and trials. As you sit facing the fifteen feet thick fort wall, the fort lights up all the way to the top and keeps one gripped as a voice narrates its history. The stories connects across the sands right from Udaipur to Chittaurgarh and Jaisalmer.

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The Kumbhalgarh Fort and the Milky Way galaxy.

After the show, my friends and I decided to meet for dinner back at Udaipur. That sounded like a plan! Though something still needed doing before I left Kumbhalgarh.

Before we left Kumbhalgarh, I still had a couple of shots to get. Mr Narayan knew a spot a little distance from the fort from where he thought I would get my perfect shots. I was taken there and yes! I set up and 30 minutes later, I had my shots. Check them out below.

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Kumbhalgarh and its unique stance.

A unique photograph I have to say. The area around the fort is completely unpopulated, hence, there is no stray light here. The dark you see around the fort has not been processed into it. It actually was that dark! The Kumbhalgarh Fort stands out at night like a golden crown atop the Aravalli hills. Beautiful.

The second shot is what I call a mini star trail. Owing to the lack of time, I could not go all out and shoot a longer exposure. Thanks to the threat of leopards and foxes in the dark, we had to get a move on.

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The mini star trail, Milky Way lighting up the sky.

Yet again, the drive back saw Mr Narayan and I conversing about the day’s experiences. Everything from my photographic aims to our newly made friends were part of our banter. A pleasant drive reached us back to Udaipur at around 10 pm. I was in the groove this evening, it had been a stellar day. I backed up the shots I had taken and got my gear ready for the next day’s shooting. Soon, I got a call from Amit, my Israeli friend. Our dinner plan was a go. At about 10:30pm I roared out into the Udaipur night.

Finally, all of us had the time to sit back and talk. They were a big group of about 6 to 8 travellers, we got talking. I, for one, was fascinated by Israel and its people – I always had been. I kept throwing question after question at them and they kindly tried replying to each one. I even learnt a little Hebrew! (swear words!) Next morning too, we met up for breakfast and the banter continued. I tried out an Israeli breakfast dish too. Called ‘shakshuka’, it’s made of tomato and a host of other veggies. Thanks to my new friends, I was now considering Israel as my next big travel destination. They have good motorcycles there, a brilliant coastline and I’ll bring my camera. Sounded like the perfect winter destination. Here’s hoping!

Here & now though, plans were being made for the day’s travel at Udaipur. There is so much you can do when you’re in a group I tell you!

Day three: Lake Jaisamand.

We decided we would all head to Jaisamand Lake, a suggestion made by Mr Narayan the previous day. An hour’s drive away from Udaipur city, Jaisamand is by far the most beautiful lake around. It is a huge water body, apparently unpolluted too. It is also Asia’s largest artificial lake, built by Rana Jai Singh of Udaipur.

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Lake Jaisamand.

Our drive to the lake was fun as all of us, including our chauffeur Mr Narayan (again!), were cracking jokes and talking about our travels all along. All the bumps along the road were levelled out by our spirited banter. We reached the banks of the lake a little before sunset, perfect timing if you ask me. Also, all of us were game for a nice, long boat ride across the lake. I too was eager to shoot some portraits of my friends. We negotiated the price for a boat ride with the boatmen and then set off. On the boat, we had along with us a few school children, interestingly, they lived on an island village in the middle of the lake! We wanted to check out the village too and the boatmen obliged us.

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Afloat on an artificial lake.

A thirty minute boat ride saw us chug across the pristine waters of the Jaisamand Lake. Everywhere I looked, it was a picture perfect scene. The sun was going down behind the hills as we reached the village.

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Chugging along.

This was an interesting village, water locked but apparently self sufficient. They had agriculture, dairy, accommodation and satellite TV! What was more interesting though was the fascination with village life visible amongst my fellow travellers. They were loving it.

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Island village.

The light was now slightly lesser and so I started bumping up the ISO in all of my photographs. Grains came and made a nest in my camera’s sensor. The pleasure of being here was so intense though, that I didn’t mind. I was also mindful that we were nearing the end, my Tour-de-Sand was about to finish.

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Jaisamand lake is a good place to take pictures all through the day. Even after the sun goes down!

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This day was my last day in Udaipur. It was also my last day in Rajasthan because come morning, I would don my helmet and ride out. Ride out of Rajasthan.

Lake Jaisamand

Calm waters of the Jaisamand Lake.

We set off again in our red boat, heading back to the shore. It was time for some portraits! The girls were obviously my first choice but the guys were awesome too!

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In this photo: Marsim Cassar.

The drive back to Udaipur was calm. The wind was cool, night was dark and our spirits were high. Somewhere inside though, I felt sad. I had already begun saying my goodbyes to this beautiful land in my mind. Every second that I was here, in my head, I was reliving the moments I’d spent in Rajasthan. The dark drive served me well and in the haze of oncoming headlights I was able to zone out and recap the events of the past months escapades. I felt sad about leaving but I felt wonderful about being here. It was only natural, I had spent a month away from home and on the roads of Rajasthan.

Friends

In this photo: Friends (L to R) – Amit Maoz, Tsion Abu, Amit Feldman, Lia Hibner, Marsim Cassar.

Back at Udaipur, we dropped everyone and then I was dropped too. I bid goodbye to our trusty Mr Narayan and then head upstairs to pack. The evening wasn’t over though, my friends and I still had to take that one photograph of all of us together and dinner of course! My last night in Udaipur, I head out again. All of us met up and shared dinner and then it was time to leave.

At this point I must mention, Udaipur had been the most unique destination of all the places I’d been to in Rajasthan. The first couple of days were a real turn off for me personally. It felt like it was all about the money in Udaipur and it was. With the countless luxury hotels and everything here revolving around them, I was quite grumpy till I set out for Kumbhalgarh.

Friends from different lands!

Travellers of a feather.

Much like history itself, the Fort of Kumbhalgarh played a vital part in my endeavor too. It was in Kumbhalgarh that I met my new friends, it was there that the turn around took place. Udaipur had gone from being a budget travellers’ disappointment to a motorcycle traveller’s delight. All because of people like Mr Narayan and others who made me feel at home. Once again I realized, not every place is made by its sights. A place is good because of the good people you meet there. I considered myself monumentally lucky as in this lake city, time and money, both have to be on your side. I had some time and not much money but thanks to the people I met, coming here was well worth it.

Near the end here, Udaipur finally did make its way to the top as the perfect end to my time in Rajasthan. I left with a smile.

It’s not over yet!

Read on! – My journey home!

For more pictures from Udaipur: Click here.

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In this article:

Number of nights: Udaipur – 4.

Distance travelled: Chittaurgarh – Udaipur – Kumbhalgarh – Udaipur – Jaisamand Lake – Udaipur.  = 375 kms.

Motorcycle condition: The real question is, can she survive the ride home?

Next destination: My journey home! (Click here to read)