Thursday, July 3, 2014

Bandhavgarh…more than Tigers.

This was my second visit to this park and in lots of ways, different than the last time.  The crows were not there; particularly the absence of foreign tourists was noticed, the local nationals dominated this time.  More tigers were seen than last year during the same time period.
While there last year BBC was making a documentary of the “one-eyed tiger” called Kantaki.  She had 3 cubs then but all were killed; this year two.  She was very protective of them and we did not see them.  The story that I heard is that she lost the eye in a territorial fight with another female and was defeated.  But after healing she returned and killed the previous victor.  My friends were intensively focused in the opportunity to photograph the famous “one eyed tigress” called Kankati. I was lucky to photograph her walking in a creek after cooling herself; the temperature at the time was 112 degrees F.

The monkeys are always there staring at you wondering why you are such a big monkey and they so small.  I would say that the most abundant are the langurs.  One Langur threatened to break my camera with a stone but I was not intimidated; his terrorizing face did not stop me. They spent most of the time moving thru the forest looking for food and the young ones playing in what look like serious fights.  These monkeys are smart…they take a siesta in the middle of the day.  And the Rhesus monkeys stare back at you trying to figure out what you are.

And there are spotted deer, probably the most abundant ungulate in the park , as well as the wild boards and the jackals…this was the first time I had seen one in the park.  The Sambar is the largest deer in the park.  They wade in streams and feed on  the grass growing at the bottom of the streams.  In the image below the male was guarding the female from other males that were trying to mate with her.

The peacock is very abundant and most often,  displaying their feathers to atract the peahens.  I was lucky to catch one flying; not easy since they just unexpectedly fly up or down from a favorite perching branch.  Next is the Crested Serpent Eagle; this is an old acquiantance from last year. I recognized it since it is blind in one eye, I was pleased to know that it has survived one more year with such a handicap. The thicknee is also another special bird for me since I had seen them or their close cousins within the genus  Burhinus (but diferent species) in Africa, South America and Australia.  It is a very peculiar plover with large eyes and as the name implies “thick knees”.  

 This time I had the opportunity to travel at sunset along the small farming communities in the viscinity  of park.  What an exhuberance of colors and friendly people. There were lots of activities as collecting the wheat crop, making bricks,  finishing walls and looking for firewood and pumping water from the community wells.  Rather than providing more details, I rather post a few images.

I cannot catchup updating the blog since I have recently been in the “unfriendly skies” going  places  and catching strange diseases.  So I will part with a photo of a resort in Yala that saw better days.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Castle Bera, India

What took me to Castle Bera was the search for leopards but the people of the area stole the adventure.  But the castle itself was impressive and different from those I am familiar; mostly in Europe.  The castle also known as the “Rawala” gets its name from the village where it is located at the highest point.  It has been recently opened as a hotel and the ambiance is that of the 1920-1940s.  The guest areas are spacious and the bathrooms huge equipped with porcelain fixture of the time period.  The one I stayed have a central living room and separate sleeping quarters, all furnished in a quasi-art deco style.
The photographs of several generations of the family dressed in royal dresses with jewels, feathers and swords denote the wealth and royal pedigree of the family.  One of the family members was a famous hokey player, the castle has horse stables but they are no horses…gone with the wind.  One final note, the dining room is British in style and the Indian food was the best I had, freshly made to order.  The owner was very polite and makes you feel as you are a friend and not a customer.  A “must stay” place.

As previously mentioned, I went there for the leopards; photographing them was another issue since they are mostly seen at nighttime.  Several were seen, more that I can say about East Africa, were you are lucky to see one.  These animals were in rocky hills but came down at dusk to hunt.  I understand that they feed mostly in the sacred cows, and that since nobody owns them there is no much of a problem.  I did see the feathers leftover from a peacock that who was eaten by leopard.  The images of the leopards were taken using ISO above 4000 so the colors may be off a bit.

There was other wildlife such as the Eurasian Eagle Owl, the Peach Headed Parrot, the House Crow and the Sarus Crane.  These birds were very suspicious of approaching people.
The Saurus crane was photographed in nearby Jawai Dam; the largest in western Rajastan, but due to the current drought is basically dry. Just as the rest of the world, India is undergoing extreme weather changes.  Near the dam I passed and interested abandoned home built among the large boulders in the side of the mountain.

The people made the trip, their colorful turbans and clothing made the camera’s pixels jump with joy.  Since no many westerners are seen in this area, you become a curiosity to them.  All willing to be photographed; I was invited inside homes where the hosts gathered the family for introductions.  I was always offered water to wash and to drink using pantomime language, since I could not speak their dialects.   In most parts of India, the people speak English that is the alternate official language, but not here. It is hot in Bera with 116 degree F the day I was walking down the streets.  Above are the images of a couple whose home I visited.

There was a Kodak moment down every street.  I noticed that in this village, both the men and women were wearing their traditional costumes.  Unlike the people in other countries where the women still dress in the traditional outfits but the men as adopted western style clothing, the old dress norm has been maintained both.

While driving down the roads, plenty of photo opportunities were available.  Since I was traveling to get to the sites where the wildlife was, the photos above were taken on the go from an open Jeep.  Most of the people walk and carry their loads in their heads, the more prosperous ones may have bicycles or motorcycles but cars were rare except for commercial trucks.  Red turbans were predominant in the countryside.

To go in search of the leopards, I was on the road by 5 AM and routinely stopped at a tea house.   This was the most delicious tea, a mix of tea with milk and sweetener.  I do not like tea but this was different, I was told that the tea they used was the secret since it had such a pleasant flavor.  It was served in a small clay cup…an Indian version of hour disposable drinking paper cups.  I was surprised when the people finished their tea; they smashed the cups against the ground.  The story is that these cups are very cheap to make and since they made out of clay, they are environmentally friendly and will return to the soil as they break down.  By using these cups, there is not a need to wash them and also creates jobs in Bera for those who make them.  Above is an image of a woman walking by a roadside dump (very common), notice a clay cup at the bottom left corner.  An image of a cup is above…I collected 6 but only one made it back home intact.  I wonder how much it is worth at the Antique Show?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Argentina's Ruta 40.

One of my dreams is to drive the whole Ruta 40 (Route 40) in Argentina.  The Ruta 40 is more challenging because of its length and the extreme conditions that it traverses.  It extends 5.200 kilometers from Cabo Virgenes at the entrance of the Straits of Magellan’s in the Province of Santa Cruz, to La Quiaca in the border with Bolivia in the province of Jujuy.  My trip was confined to the northern end of the route in the province of Jujuy, starting in San Antonio de los Cobres and heading north.  The accommodations are scarce and spartan, and having a guide made photographic trip more productive. 

The Ruta 40 traversed a multitude of geological formations that in my opinion, encompasses landscapes similar to those in the southwestern United States and perhaps surpasses them in majesty and magnitude.  Just to give you an idea, in descending order above are some of the formations I encountered during the trip.  The Valley of the Moon was the most impressive; it should be noted that there is another valley in Argentina but farther south as well as one in Bolivia.  The green mountain was the most impressive to me; not too common to see green mountains unless they are covered by vegetation.  The third formation is called “The Hand” for obvious reasons followed by an eroded calcareous formation. The B&W image is of a ridge called the “Spine of the Dragon” and is located in the Horrolcal.  And finally, the Vulcan Tuzgle. It brought back memories of the geology course I took more than 50 years ago; it allowed me to recognize the dark obsidian flows as well as the mounds in the foreground where the lava flow terminated. I changed the colors to make the lava flow easier to see and found a video in Vimeo that will give a better appreciation as to the size of this volcano at

 La Ruta 40 parallels in some sectors the track of the “Tren de las Nubes” and several train stops and viaducts are encountered along the route.  La Polvorilla viaduct is a curved viaduct about 14,000 feet above sea level and approximately 740 feet long and 230 in heights.  I spent some time admiring this engineering feast, designed by an American engineer Richard Maury.  The train currently used is diesel powered; hat you see above is watering station from the olden days of steam engines.  The train is mostly used now for tourism and only runs during the summer; that is December to March in South America. I encounter a single British couple during my travels in the Ruta 40.  They were doing Chile and Argentina in a rented van (even Elvis is King here).

  I saw a mural of Padre Chifri painted in one of the piers supporting the viaduct along the route and wondered who is this person?  Padre Chifri whose real name was Sigfrido Moroder came to the Quebrada del Toro zone as a missionary and started backpacking to visit the various villages in his parochial territory.  Due to the difficulty of the terrain, Padre Chifri decided to use a paraglyder allowing him to visit several villages in one day.  He will climb a hill near a village and then fly to another.  During one of those flies he crashed, was severely injured and was limited to a wheelchair for several years.  He overcame the injuries, wrote a book titled “Despues del Abismo” (After the Abyss), and continued to work with his parishioners by establishing artisanal fairs to promote the local trades.  He died in 2011.  His work still continues today as represented by the mural in this school as well as the Alfarcito Center dedicated to the promotion of the artisanal work of the region. The center generates its electricity using solar power as well as the use of solar grills for the parrilladas.

The variety of fauna and flora is limited due to the altitude and dryness of the highlands.  The predominant animal was the llama, which has traditionally being the source of wool and meat for the Indians in the area.  These are domesticated and even when you don’t see them, always accompanied by a by a herdsman; these are shy and tend to hide since they do not want their photo taken.  Llamas were friendly and easy to photograph but the guanacos were a different matter.  At the time I was there, the llamas were decorated due to the religious festivals.  I was lucky to arrive at a small river when the llamas were taken to drink water; what a great photo opportunities; it all the question of being at the right place at the right time.  There were burros all along the route and I learned that during colonial times, these animals were the main mean of transportation and were in great demand particularly in the silver mining operations in Potosi, Bolivia. As a result, this area of Argentina became the main breeding grounds for these beasts of burden. 

There were a few towns in the route but I found the door of the chapel in the cemetery in the town of Suesques the most attractive. I got there first thing in the morning and the colors were fantastic. The door is made of the wood of the large cacti that grow in the region.  The holes are part of the structure of the cacti; notice that it was put together with rope made out of animal hide.  Another point of interest was Salinas Grandes where salt is extracted for industrial purpose and very large and busy with truck traffic. When approaching the end of the trip near La Quiaca, people became more abundant and as always not pleased of being photographed.   I got caught and mooned…well deserved!!!  But I will return to the Ruta 40.