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Nepal Nirvana

Nepal Nirvana
Every motorcycle ride is a collection of small stories. Experiences, bundled up into fond memories for a lifetime.

Nepal is an enigma. When thinking about this country, what comes to mind are the mighty Himalayas and heroic feats of men and women who have set foot on some of the tallest mountains in the world. There’s more to Nepal than just mountaineering though.

Adventure in Nepal is a way of life. Once here, the ideal ingredients for adrenaline gushing, heart rate increasing and mind altering travel are found in every corner. It was time we took the Nirvana tread to Nepal!

Nepal is a neighbour to India and a mystery to everyone who hasn’t been to this country of concoctions. One of the smallest countries in the world is a window into some of the the biggest mountain ranges in the world. Not to mention the downright dumbfounding natural beauty that is routine here.

Dumbfounding Beauty, Nepal.

 Breathtaking landscapes at every turn.

For this rumble through the mountains Team Nirvana would like to thank the Firelords Royal Enfield Owners’ Club and its members who we rode with. Motorcycling is a different ballgame when it comes to international travel. There’s a lot of boring stuff involved before one can actually get to the ‘two wheels moving the soul’ part. Paperwork, permits, hotel bookings and (when you’re riding Royal Enfield bikes) mechanic finding are just some of the things we had to put in place before we left home.

Making plans for such trips is very exciting, mostly because in the heart every biker knows, nothing ever goes to plan. It’s when things do go wrong, that the motorcycling life lessons begin their hallowed teachings.

Distances are small in the mountains but it’s the intensity of roads and conditions that pose the real challenge here. Nepal just about manages to have a road network. It also has some of the worst roads (paths/tracks) we’ve ever ridden on. On our 17 day journey through this country, we rode on everything that this terrain could throw at us.

Nepal Nirvana
Ridin’ through a landslide!

On what we thought would be a short sprint from one destination to another, we came across a five kilometer stretch where one entire face of a mountain had slipped into the valley below. A landslide. Five kilometers of track took two hours to cover on our aging Enfields. Because of the toll that two hour stretch took on our bikes (and us!), our entire schedule went out of whack. This is when our motorcycle ride truly started with all its intensity. This is the charm of Nepal and its terrain, nothing is ever what you expect yet, everything is beautiful.

In Nepal, expect the unexpected!
Water crossings!

We learned pretty quickly that a ‘good road’ in Nepal is merely a dirt track all the way to one’s destination. If to our surprise we found good tarmac, we worshiped it with both our wheels! The value of smooth roads is understood only when constant off-roading becomes an everyday routine. Sheer tenacity and the ability to take it slow come in handy on endless rocky sections of the roads here. Beyond every challenging road section though, lay the best prize of them all, unhindered beauty.

Reverberating to the sounds of our thumping engines were the stunning Himalayan valleys through which we rode all across this country.

Nepal Nirvana

KATHMANDU

Kathmandu!

The Capital of Nepal, Kathmandu is hard core. The traffic here is MAD! The pollution is literally sky high and the dust, oh god the dust is everywhere!

Nothing could have prepared us for the onslaught that was Kathmandu. KTM is a concoction of sorts with its touristy yet formal ethos. Formal mainly because of the host of embassies present here, security is tight. Roaming the streets of Kathmandu, one can find adventurers and tourists of many nationalities. A melting pot, not of cultures but of people – in pursuit of their next big experience.

Kathmandu is a gateway into Nepal. A crash course in how to get around in the rest of the country. Hotels here are generally soft on the pocket, memorabilia on the other hand is not, we got ripped off a lot here! Evenings are lively in KTM and the cuisine too is varied and up to the mark. No matter where you’re from, you will find your food here.

The people of Kathmandu are slightly different from the rest of Nepal (we say this largely because of our hotel manager & shop keepers who we encountered). Although they treat everyone the same, when it comes to money, one needs to be careful. The streets are safe and most importantly, fuel is available 24/7.

Nepal Nirvana
Boudhnath Stupa – Kathmandu

We, as usual, made the mistake of trying to do too much in time that was better suited to explore rather than endure. Here, we discovered another trait of the mountains.

No matter how much one tries to hurry, the mountains will slow you down. Someone somewhere has rightly said, “you never cross the Himalayas, these mountains merely let you through”. We had a motorcycle issue on the day we rode out of Kathmandu. Although we did reach our destination for the day, it wasn’t before we’d crossed an entire landslide. This stretch took a lot from us mentally, our machines were fine though.

Never underestimate the rigours of mountain motorcycling, ever. We realised here, that even trying to anticipate what the road ahead would bring was futile. Instead, it was best that we slept well, ate well and rode hard.

Nepal Nirvana

Photography on this motorcycle road trip was kept to an absolute minimum. We only shot when we had the energy and will to do it. Many a times, we let million dollar scenes pass by just because motorcycling was our first priority. It had to be, for us to keep to our schedule, we couldn’t spare a moot minute. Lesson learnt.

We were now making our way across mainland Nepal. Riding through the lush countryside, we were met with beauty beyond comprehension. The toil we had been through was worth every minute. The views were overwhelming!

Nepal Nirvana

 POKHRA

Nepal Nirvana

 Goa of Nepal! Pokhra!

The beach town vibe of Pokhra is inescapable. Chilled out people, good music and great food made Pokhra our favourite place to ditch the motorbikes (for once!) and plonk ourselves for some R&R.

Nestled within the Annapurna valley, Pokhra is where everyone comes to start their journey into the Annapurna mountain range. These are treks which, according to your taste, can stretch from one day to about 20 days. Safe to say, we were not up for THAT much walking, we love our bikes too much! 😛

Instead we chose to sit back, relax and wake up freakishly early to watch the first light fall on the Annapurna Mountain Range.

Nepal Nirvana

First Light

Watching the first rays of Sunlight fall on these mountains was such a gripping experience for all of us that we hardly even spoke to each other while watching the Sun rise.

It was a very cold morning and we were all very sleepy but as soon as the light-show began, it was like mountain magic. We just sat there in the cold wind, sipping one chai after another, looking.

Nepal Nirvana

Himalayan Sunrise

And that was that. Fifteen days had gone by without us even thinking about going back home. Yet, we had to turn the handle, twist the throttle and push back into India. Nepal as an experience was over. Or was it?

On our way back from Pokhra to Lumbini, we rode our bikes on the most spectacular mountain roads of the entire trip! More than a hundred kilometers of silk-smooth roads, twisting through the Himalayan foothills, it was like Nepal had saved the best for last. This was the cherry on the icing for our motoring heartbeats. We were a happy bunch by the end of this ride.

Nepal Nirvana

Divine Motoring!

Secretly, we were all in love with Nepal and its antics. Here, some met their limits, others pushed theirs and for some it was just another day on the road to Nirvana :).

We are yet to have our fill of this wonderful country. It is our promise, we will go back.

Nepal Nirvana

“The kiss of the mountain air is everlasting.”

Motorcycles & Mountains!

Check out our video from this motorcycle trip!



Chasing the Sun..

..could have been the perfect title to this article if it wasn’t for its rampant (mis)use and further transformation into a cliché. Anyway, this article is about the sun and how one goes about capturing it in various different situations.

Let’s start with the situations. Sunsets are relatively easy, since they are in the middle of the day and you don’t necessarily have to wake up before dawn to catch them. It’s the sunrises that can be tough, even before you think about your camera.

Talking about Sunrises, getting up in time is always an issue but that’s your problem. If by chance you happen to be in Africa and on the Eastern side of the continent, make sure you get in early every night and wake up in time for the rise every single morning. Each morning is different and so are the ways the sun chooses to rise every different day. This is true for most places in the world though. The morning mist has a profound effect on the colours you will see. Plus the darks in the foreground will force you to work harder to get that perfect shot.

The Pangong Tso By day.

Rising early in the mountains.

I was there, I didn’t wake up every day and I suffered. I had the chance to shoot around twenty five sunrises but ended up shooting just about ten. Sometimes I wonder what beautiful shots I could have got. So try not to make the same mistake I did, if photography is your aim with travel.

Also, since I assume you are now going to get up early tomorrow morning, make sure you have had your trip to the loo before you head out. Yes, I know, it may sound funny when you read this but there are only a few things worse than knowing that the perfect sunrise is about to happen and then realising that you’ve got to head to the crapper. It has happened to me, more than once, it makes you feel like what you’re ‘doing’.

The day I missed it.

The day I missed it.

Okay, Sunsets as I said are easier but only by way of not having for you to wake up at an unearthly hour. Everything else, while shooting the sun in the evening is more or less similar to when you take a shot at the early morning sun. Here though, unlike early mornings where the light consistently increases you will face the opposite situation. The light will vanish quicker than you can change lenses, so be prepared.

To judge the amount of time I have before the sun sets at the horizon, I use the FFF or the four fingers forecast. It’s simple, hold out your arm with your palm folded in an L shape and line it up between (just below) the sun and your eye. Each fingers gap between the sun and the horizon will give you about 10 to 15 minutes, so you have a rough idea about when it’s going to get over. If you are reading this at the North or South Pole by any chance, do not bother, you probably have other things to worry about. (Carry a Neutral Density filter if you ACTUALLY do happen to head to the poles).

I'm not alone.

When you still have a while.

Many ask me, do you walk around when shooting a sunset or sunrise or do you stay in one place and shoot from there and around?

Well, it depends on the drama. Yes, the amount of drama present in the frame when I’m shooting decides whether I move about or not. Take for instance, if I’m shooting a sunset where the sun is actively playing with the clouds or rain and every second picture has the light of a different shade, then, I would choose to sit tight mostly. On the other hand if the sun isn’t in a mood for dance, I move around and look for subjects which will make the sun a more interesting part of the frame. It’s a personal choice, really. Here is what can happen when you walk around with a plain and clear sunset.

Somewhere I can find peace.

When it’s plain, saunter.

This photograph is being curated by National Geographic Stock.

Shooting on a beach can be rather pleasant as you may encounter everything from crabs to couples and have a good time while at it. Scan the horizon through your camera for any interesting subjects that your naked eye may not deem photogenic. Reflections have an uncanny ability to give great shots, especially on the wet sands, right after a wave retreats. Even flowing water can make for a great photograph.

I see myself.

Inducing reflections.

When in the mountains, hurry! The sun will come up slightly late (for your eyes) and set before you know it. Tall mountains can be a tricky place to take a picture if you know what I mean. Not always will you be able to get a good exposure on the mammoth rock faces. Hang in there and keep an eye on the changing light, as the sun sets, the hues of the sky will change and the mountain faces will gleam with shades of orange and yellow, which is a highly ideal situation.

Himalayan Hues.

Gleaming grandeur.

As anyone who knows their job will tell you, timing is everything. Anticipate shots, try and make good photographs great by using what is around or by changing your position if you can. Go lower, go higher or try something unusual. Making mistakes is an integral learning chapter of photography. Who knows? It may just pay off.

Walk with me.

Walk with me.

Better Photography Magazine, February 2011.

The power of will is a major factor in any endeavour and taking photographs is no different. Persevere and persevere.

Now what?

Its evening and the sun has just slipped under the horizon. Don’t pack up that camera just yet, instead, take out the tripod and get ready for some long exposures. You will be surprised at the low light long exposure images you may capture. Forget the flash. There is a lot of fun to be had, after the sun goes down! If you know what I mean.

Jump!

Jump!

A lot many people who tot cameras will tell you that you should have used this or that filter and other blah blah, the common denominator will turn out to be the CPL or the circular polarizer. Yes it will help you a lot when you do get the hang of using it but let me tell you one thing, it is expensive and can be quite a headache if you decide to shoot the sun or its light with a different lens and end up wanting a CPL for that lens too. So I say, sit tight and use what you have. All the pictures you see on this particular post are shot without the all-important CPL.

Clean that lens before you shoot, okay?


– Nipun Srivastava

Want to see more photographs of the Sun? Click here.


Personifying travel. [Photograph]

Travel is therapeutic, we all know that. For those of us who value its presence in our lives, seldom do we find a way to express it. As far as I can imagine, this picture personifies travel like no other. Enjoy.

Go beyond.

Travel was my dream,
travel is my life.
I travel even if there is nothing to take me there,
and even if there was no other way,
I would just keep walking.

Shot in Africa, on the island of Zanzibar. Sunrise on the east coast here is like nowhere else. Dramatic and fulfilling.

Want to see more pictures from Zanzibar? Click here.


Murud Janjira – fortress on water

 

Murud Janjira

Ever thought of a place, not too far away from civilization but still a gateway to peace?

THE JANJIRA FORT

The Janjira Fort

I, for one, am always on the lookout for such places. Sometimes, between the rigorous audits and the worrisome tax calculations, it is all but natural to get that feeling – the feeling to get away from it all. Even if it’s just for that one night two night sojourn.

Murud is a small coastal village. The thing about Murud is that one doesn’t even realize how close it is from the highly commercialized and run down beach towns of Kashid, Alibaug and the likes. A meager 12 kilometers down the road from Kashid, lies Murud and the adjacent hilltop village of Janjira.

The main reason for travelers coming here is the day visit to the Janjira fort. Standing tall in the middle of the Arabian Sea, it is visible from the Janjira village (also from the road which leads to the village). The fort is a brilliant sight during the evenings of January and February as the sun sets just beside the exterior walls.

Sail boat to the fort

One can take a 20 minute sail-boat ride across the waters, which will reach you to the entrance of the Janjira fort, which is when one notices the innovative construction techniques used while building this medieval building.

Sailing for tourism.

On the way to the fort, in the boat (while you are hanging on for dear life), your boatmen will give you a very brief historical overview of Janjira fort. In the most flamboyant of ways, one of the boatmen will narrate to you the story behind the mammoth water locked structure. This narration is free of cost of-course but the boat ride will cost you 20 INR to go to the fort and come back. The monologue lasts around 10 minutes and the second boatman then doubles as your guide at the fort – a further setback of 20 INR to your pocket i.e. if you choose to go with the guide.

You can of course head out onto the fort by yourself. Negotiating the fort interiors isn’t too much of a hassle. Just remember, the last boat to the mainland leaves around 6pm.

Our group of bikers chose to head into the fort ‘with’ the guide. After the precarious boat ride across the waters, you can’t help but think to yourself ‘this better be good’. Good, it is for sure.

The mammoth arched entrance greets you out of the blue (quite literally, read: innovative architecture). The entrance to Janjira fort is built at such an angle that at first glance from afar, one can’t notice it. A feature incorporated to make it difficult for marauding powers to get on to the fort floor.

Arrivals.

‘Jump!’ said one of my friends as I tried to gain balance on the boat while trying to change lenses on my camera, as the boat load of passengers hopped onto the jetty. All of us managed to get off the boat without slipping on the wet staircase under the tall stone entrance. A reasonable feat, if you ask me.

As you walk into the fort, a sharp right marks your entrance. The journey begins from the fort floor and takes you around the various verandahs and gun posts present in the fort. It is not very well preserved, this fort. Of the many things you will see inside the fort walls, by far the most intriguing are the two fresh water ponds, which are quite noticeable.

The Janjira fort interiors.

The queens palace lies in ruins, though is still a sight. Midway, during the tour, the guides will tell you that you have 15 minutes to climb to the top of a bunch of flights of stairs to the top of a flag tower and come back in time for the rest of the tour.

The tower like monument.

We climbed up; the view from the top is nothing short of breath-taking. Quite literally, huffing and puffing we reached the top of the tower, totting our cameras every step of the way.  From the top, one can see all four corners of the fort and standing there gives you a semblance of the sheer size of the Janjira fort.

Depending upon the time of day when you visit the Janjira fort, the light will play out. I suggest that one spend the day getting to know the town of Murud, probably take a stroll through the market and then head to the fort around early evening. 3pm would be the perfect time to queue up for the ferry ride to the fort and then you can catch the sunset. In this case you will probably reach Murud town by nightfall.

Our Boatman.

There is another small beach right next to the jetty from where boats leave for the fort. It’s not a particularly clean beach and neither is it very beautiful but like most things in life, it’s beautifully imperfect. When I came to this place the first time, I chanced upon this stretch of sand and walked onto it with my camera. Within a minute, I was surrounded by children from the village nearby and I got some of my best silhouette shots ever.

Laughter.

I don’t think this beach even has a name!

For the photographs from this beach: Click here.

The food situation here is decent. Murud is not particularly known for its cuisine but rest assured, you WILL find some tasty, taste bud tingling and semi-hygienic grub here. It’s a fishing village after all!

Head to the fish market after sunset and buy yourself some fresh catch. Give it to a local and let ‘em cook up your dinner.

The evening fish market.

Suggestion:

Golden Swan beach resort is an up-market and beautifully put together hotel/resort/restaurant situated on the beach, near the start of the town when you are coming from Kashid (or Mumbai). The food here is very good and hygienic as well, decent vegetarian options are available too. If you plan to stay here, it will cost you anywhere between INR 3500 to INR 10,000, according to your choice of rooms and the number of people staying put. You will love the people here and the free roaming ducks too!

(Personal favourite: The Chinese food here is great and the Solkadi (A refreshing non-alcoholic drink, a speciality of Maharashtrian cuisine) is pretty darn good!)

Mandatory Sunset

For the budget traveller, there are quite a few small lodges and homes where home owners will let you share a room or two for a price. The costing for this type of accommodation can range from INR 300 to INR 700 depending upon the class of the place.

There are some run of the mill hotels and lodges too but they are situated off the Murud beach and are honestly a bit of a turn off. So that is a choice you are going to have to make.

The beach at Murud would give you ample opportunities to lounge around doing nothing or well, whatever you may please! I loved the photo opportunities here. The nights are equally majestic with the stars lighting up the sea. Do take a mid-night stroll, it’s totally worth it.

Solitary by Nipun Srivastava (Nipun) on 500px.com

Solitary by Nipun Srivastava

A weekend trip is enough time to take in most of what Murud and Janjira have to offer. For me though, it’s not so easy. I have been to the place thrice, once with friends, once solo and once with my lady but thrice is never enough!

Getting to Murud-Janjira:

Crank up that engine!

The rider and I by Nipun Srivastava (Nipun) on 500px.com
The rider and I by Nipun Srivastava


Take a bike ride. 170 kilometres from Pune and less from Mumbai, the ride to Murud will take about 4 hours.

Driving down is also a popular option. BUT. There is nothing worse than closed doors and rolled up windows of a car on serene roads.

You could also take the bus. ST or State Transport buses will get you to Kashid where a change of buses will see you walking the streets of Murud in no time. Be warned, these buses are seldom in good condition and almost always leave a painful mark on your back. Though travel in ST buses has a different thrill and it is also the cheapest way to get around.

The Sunset Sea

However you do, do head out!

Want to see more photos? Click here.