Tag Archives: india

Adventures in Assam

Those of you who follow my work will know I am always way behind with my processing so it should come as no surprise that this collection of images and associated ramblings come from over 18 months ago back in late 2015.  If you also follow my work you’ll probably recall my mentioning a number of childhood years spent in India and so this collection have a special resonance for me although the region of Assam, in the extreme north-east of the country was not one I had ever visited before but wanted to check out as part of a trip I was planing on running for Natures Images and which is now scheduled for January next year, full details of which can be found here.

Assam is a corner of India that has a very different feel, in part climatically, definitely culturally and also geographically as well. It was the home and indeed origin of english breakfast tea back in the day, but is now renowned for a more premium and select leaf and the plantations are prominent and very photogenic especially first thing in the morning.

The presence of a leaf picker helps on that front too.

The region runs along the banks and essentially parallel to the mighty Brahmaputra river and is bisected by a typically crazy road to travel along from the regional capital of Guwahati.  This bisects its way through fields, tea plantations and woodland and the latter, even close to the road itself, is home to many species unique to this corner of the country with primates such as Hoolock Gibbon and Golden Langur.

I have vowed during the course of my work overseas these days to try to give a greater sense of where I have been rather than simply the wildlife to be found there and fortunately the main attractions of Assam, in the form of the magnificent marshland reserve that is Kaziranga National park, offers plenty of opportunity to do this, with both verdant woodland/jungle, simply stunning light to work with at either end of the day, and the sheer vastness of the Brahmaputra river itself when I was able to get close to it provided plenty of opportunity to do this.

But as impressive as the place itself is, Kaziranga is all about wildlife and a couple of species in particular the main one of these being the one-horned rhino. For reasons that are all to familiar in this part of the world (and elsewhere too to be fair) these magnificent pachyderms have fallen dramatically in numbers and current estimates are only just in excess of 3000 in total now.  The fact that around 70% of these live here in Kaziranga not only underlines the importance of the place but also the huge risk this additionally places on them. The park itself is simply vast and predominantly covered by a large covering of tall wetland grasses which offer a perfect hiding place for rhinos as well as food for them to graze on.

Once they step out into a more open environment though, the one horn aside, their very different characteristics become immediately obvious – long folds of skin and almost wart-like bumps all over really do give a truly dinosaur-like impression, reminding me of they toy Triceratops I used to play with as a kid!

Rhino’s are a surprisingly difficult animal to photograph as they often don’t do that much other than stand and feed and as a result they tend to rely heavily on the environment and lighting to create the sort of opportunity you look for as a photographer.  Fortunately the environment at Kaziranga offers both close up encounters as well as distant ones, and the lighting can be sublime as I’ve said already: lob in some judicious use of monochrome processing too and the chance to do more comes if you’re patient enough.

The sheer number of rhinos to be seen on a typical game drive almost always ran into double figures and there was always a chance of becoming a bit blasé about seeing them so it was to remind myself what a treat it was and just how special this place really is.  Mind you it offered much more besides too: it is supposed to be the national park with the greatest density of tiger anywhere in India but the habitat is such that spotting one is sheer luck and although we were aware of people who had had such glimpses during our time there it didn’t happen for us.  We did though have a number of encounters with the rhinos fellow thick-skinned mammal in the form of asian elephant.

All too often elephant seen in this country are working elephant with all that entails but here in Kaziranga a healthy population of wild living animals exists: I distinctly remember watching a BBC documentary showing them crossing the main road that runs through the park when the river was in full flood and they needed to move to the higher ground.  At the time of year I was there though this was far from necessary for them and so we regularly came across them either enjoying the water of a wetland area or feeding on the lush vegetation in the forest.

They are significantly smaller that their African relatives but when one comes wandering unannounced out of the vegetation towards your vehicle sporting a mynah bird for headgear they seem big enough though!

Ultimately Kaziranga is all about rhino conservation though and for me the magical light that Assam can offer.  Coming across a mother and calf one evening was somewhat apt and as for the sunsets, well I’ll let my closing pictures tell their own tale.

 

A Jungle Book

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It might seem a touch odd writing about a trip to India I took earlier this year just before Christmas, but there are actually a couple of reasons.

Firstly I am increasingly finding that a period of reflection on images gleaned, particularly when there are a lot of them and which a big trip generally results in, tends to actually make the editing process quicker, easier and less wrapped up in the emotion of the experience too.  A personal thing this (doesn’t suit everyone, I know) but it does mean that there’s a lot of material from this year yet to emerge from hard drives and still to look forward to!

Secondly this time of year is about family and I know my parents have been waiting for this blog in particular so there’s an aptness there as well.  Why are they so interested – well when I was young we lived in India for a number of years so for them it has a special place in thier lives and memories; for me most of said memories are based on their photos and slides of the time, but whenever I’ve been back to the sub-continent since the smells have always triggered what recollections of early childhood I have off again, and this trip, my first to Bandhavgarh was no different.

Of course the majestic tiger was an obvious target photographically, but this is the area that Rudyard Kipling loosely based his tale around and so it was always going to be more than just a one species experience.  In fact the word jungle itself is derived from the old sanskrit word jangala which literally means uncultivated land and not the dense rainforest that it is often considered to be.  It’s a description that perfectly describes the national park here especially at it’s early morning best.

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It’s this combination of light and shade along with distant calls accompanied by nearby unseen but overhead movements in the combination of Sal trees and bamboo, that makes the experience of time spent here so exciting: that and the fact that you never quite know what will happen on any game drive.

Much of the noise is made by troops of Grey (or Hanuman) Langurs. They are inquisitive and quite numerous around the park as well as the surrounding villages but they make for a great subject to work with photographically in any setting: I particularly like working with them in a backlit setting too as their fur worked perfectly with the sun behind them.

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This last picture of the group sitting on a rock reveals another important feature at Bandhavgarh – and that is the huge rock escarpment that rises in the middle of it, site of its historic fort.

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The combination of steep slopes covered in vegetation and interspesed with these open grassy meadows (this one is the Rajbhera meadow) are what makes up the key elements of the habitat here – perfect for an array of indigenous species to co-exist.

These meadows in particular are key to the Chittal or Spotted Deer – good grazing areas but they need to keep their wits about them at all times as they are in the open there too.

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You can also see how well they are able to hide but the way they blend into the scenery here is nothing compared to the ability of the apex predator of the park – the tiger: Kipling’s own Shere Khan.

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It’s very easy for a tiger to simply disappear: and this is in the open areas of the meadows never mind the thicker undergrowth.  The result is that finding opportunities to photograph them requires a lot of patience and a great deal of local skill and knowledge which our guides Satyendra and Kay Tiwari and their team most definitely have.  Even working within the tight constraints of the permit system here we were able to enjoy a couple of excellent encounters and one morning in particular with the heavily pregnant Wakeeta who as trying to shake off her now almost sub-adult offspring, is one that will live long in my memory banks as she walked elegantly through trees, clearings and then eventually across the path beside us in the early morning.

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There aren’t any wild elephants in the park but they are to be seen as they make up part of the parks own patrols for it’s general management: they make a good photographic opportunity too either for close-ups or when left on their own to enjoy a dust bath in the way only elephants can.

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Those who know me well will know that I can’t resist a few bird images wherever I go, and these Oriental Turtle Doves, Red-vented Bulbul and Little Green Bee-eater were among the common sights around the village where we stayed so simply had to be photographed!

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Hopefully some images that give a good feel of the wildlife of this part of central India, the origin of the Jungle Book itself.  It was my first trip to this part of the country but not my last – I have plans to return in 2015 with dates now set so if you are at all interested in joining me then just drop me a line.  It’s not a place where you can strictly guarantee anything but there will always be encounters and they are all special: when things do fall into place with the queen of the jungle (in this case) then it’s the icing on the proverbial cake.

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