ARC

A little bit of everything


Month: October, 2008

Spotted Deer

Spotted Deer

October 2008, Hyderabad.

Also known as Cheetal (Axis axis).

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Blackbuck

Blackbuck

October 2008, Hyderabad.

The Blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) also known as Krishna Jinka in Telugu is the state animal of Andhra Pradesh.

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Main Rahi Masoom

Main Rahi Masoom

October 2008, Hyderabad.

Yesterday, I attended a play or rather a solo performance on the life of the great Hindi and Urdu writer, the Late Dr. Rahi Masoom Reza. To know more about him go here. The performance was very well written, acted and moving. It was especially relevant for contemporary Indian society where Hindus and Muslims increasingly view each other with suspicion and distrust.

I wish I could have avoided the lamp that seems to be coming out of the actor’s head but since I was limited to shooting from my seat I had to make do with this angle.

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From The Earth To The Moon

With the successful launch of Chandrayaan-1 ISRO has joined a select league of nations that have launched missions to the moon. While the spacecraft will take a few more days to attain lunar orbit the successful launch is in itself a great first step for ISRO in space exploration.

Inevitably, amidst the euphoria, there have been voices of dissent. There are some who argue that India cannot afford to waste precious money on what they see as a grandiloquent gesture to catch up with China’s far more advanced space program. They also argue that enough is known about the moon and this mission will not advance our scientific knowledge about our nearest neighbor enough to justify the mission.

Let us look at the ‘price tag’ first. Before the USA embarked on their Apollo missions they launched a series of lunar probes to do lunar imaging and impact studies. Total expense: a neat $1 billion. Japan’s Kayuga moon mission cost a whopping $480m! Even China’s lunar probe cost them a cool $180m. Compare these sums to what the cost is for India’s moon mission: $76m! An unmanned moon mission at that price can easily be termed dirt cheap. In terms of expenditure, the Indian mission is obviously the cheapest of all known global moon missions 1 2.

Coming to the scientific ‘worth’, Chandrayaan-1 is no slouch in this regard as well. The main mission objectives are to create a 3-D atlas of the Moon, study its chemical and mineral composition, look for Helium-3 (a potential future energy source) and search for the presence of water-ice. Towards fulfilling these objectives the moon craft carries a total of 11 scientific instruments of which 5 are Indian, 2 American (NASA), 3 European (ESA) and one Bulgarian (BAS).

Using these instruments ISRO will undertake a high resolution remote sensing of the moon in visible, near infrared, low-energy and high-energy X-ray spectra. This will help create a high resolution 3-dimensional map of the near and far side regions of the moon. In addition, questions about the origins of the moon (whether it was created by a collision with earth of another heavenly body or was an alien body captured by earth’s gravity) might be answered through this mission. On top of this a chemical and mineralogical mapping of the moon’s surface will reveal the distribution of various elements (such as Titanium, Magnesium, Aluminum for example) on the lunar surface and help in determining the nature of the lunar crust. These data will lead to greater understanding of the moon’s evolutionary origin, mineral composition (for potential energy sources) as well as potential sites for a human moon base if water-ice is found on the moon 3 4.

After reading all this you might wonder how does this benefit the common man? How will these questions help anyone apart from satisfying the curiosity of a few scientists? These are valid questions especially from an Indian point of view where $76m might be used for schemes that benefit the common man more directly. But as I’ve argued in a post before when ISRO began taking tentative steps in starting a modest space program in the early 80s many termed it as a waste of valuable money. Now, the many satellites developed and launched by ISRO over the years have helped an average Indian in many ways, from early cyclone warning to something as mundane as satellite TV. With ISRO also becoming a small but important player in the lucrative global satellite launch business and high quality remote sensing it is earning valuable foreign exchange for the country.

When you look at the history of science it can be observed that the potential benefits from basic science research were not always immediately apparent. Bacteria were initially considered curious but useless creatures, flying a heavier than air object was considered a fool’s fancy while DNA was thought to be scaffold for the more important proteins. It is only when the fundamentals of basic science were properly understood and tested out did they result in applications that later helped humanity.

ISRO’s moon mission while not having immediate benefits for the common man might lead to many such ancillary benefits. Even now, the building of the Deep Space Network (necessary for monitoring the moon missions) is generating local employment. There will be an increased demand for science graduates to work for future missions. ISRO plans to launch another mission to the moon in the near future, Chandrayaan-2, which intends to land a rover on the moon to collect and test lunar samples. And ultimately, experience from these missions will benefit future planned missions such the project to put an Indian in space in the next decade as well as send a probe to Mars.

It is a pity that the enthusiasm there was for space exploration in the 60s has diminished over time. From looking out towards the universe and wanting to explore different worlds we have turned insular and limited ourselves to this planet. I hope the recent revival in interest for space exploration, in which Chandrayaan is playing its part, will spark a new space era with humans finally establishing a bridge head on the moon to serve as a base for an eventual manned mission to Mars.

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Untitled-35

Untitled-35

September 2008, Hyderabad.

About a month back, along with a few other amateur photographers, I had visited two camps for girls in and around Hyderabad managed by the MV Foundation (read more about them here) as part of the first step in a project we intended to do with them. The foundation works with children who come from a child labor as well as other troubled backgrounds. They take care of them in these residential camps where they are made part of a bridge course and after about a year in that are then put in the normal school stream. Many such children have done incredibly well, with some now studying medicine and some others finding good jobs in the IT sector. 

It was great fun to interact with and photograph the children. They were very enthusiastic about getting photographed. Even though at times their insistence to be photographed multiple times could be a little overwhelming their infectious happiness upon seeing their photos on the LCD screen of the camera made you forget all that. The children were a mix of age groups and came from diverse backgrounds. While most of them came from a child labor background some of them had gone through child marriages, suffered domestic abuse, lived all their lives until brought to the camps literally in jungles and even escaped murderous fathers. But the common thread that ran through all of them was their unwavering commitment to educating themselves. They did not want to go back to their old life and in fact some of them wanted to bring into the camps as many children as they could who were still caught in child labor. And that sincere belief they had in education I found very inspiring.

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Gram Blue (Euchrysops cnejus)

Gram Blue (Euchrysops cnejus)

September 2008, Hyderabad.

For the first time since I got into photography I was part of a two day Nature Photography exhibition that was on for the past couple of days. The location was the Hyderabad office of global consulting firm Accenture. About 12 of my prints were on display along with another 50 of five other photographers. All six of us are informally or formally part of the Butterfly Conservation Society of Andhra Pradesh but the exhibition was not limited to butterflies. The photos on display ranged from landscapes, macros to photos of rarely seen birds. It was not a professional exhibition as we did not have the financial resources to mount one but more an attempt to show some of the variety and delights nature has on offer to people who mostly do not venture out of the concrete jungle of a city. The response was quite gratifying especially to me as I’ve only recently started seriously venturing into nature photography.

The above photo was one of the prints on display at the exhibition and is from my first outing with members of the Butterfly Conservation Society about a month back. I’ve to say that these outings (have been to two other such outings with them) have opened up a completely new world to me. The sheer variety of butterflies, some of which are so colorful to look at, one can find over a limited area never fails to surprise me. It takes a lot of patience and practice to get decent photos of these lovely little creatures but the results are often quite rewarding. So from now on you will see them more often on this blog.

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The Kanchanjunga Trail

India has tourist destinations that are picturesque and off tourist itineraries. Sikkim is one such. Apart from the regular Gangtok-Rumtek-Nathula circuit, one of the most challenging treks in India lies in West Sikkim. Called the Yuksom-Dzongri-Goechala Trek, this 100 km, 7 day trek through rhododendron forests in the Kanchanjunga National Park (KNP) offers stunning views of the Kanchanjunga range.

The base for the trek is the village of Yuksom, which is the entrance to KNP. The park covers the area from Yuksom (1780 m) to Mt Kanchanjunga (8586 m), the third tallest peak in the world. The KNP covers an area of 2192 sq km and was notified by the Sikkim government in 1977.

Arriving in Yuksom is like taking a train ride back in time. Yuksom means ‘meeting place of three monks’ in the local Lepcha language and it is here that the history of modern Sikkim began. In 1642 AD the first king of Sikkim, Chogyal Phuntsok Namgyal, was consecrated by three Tibetan monks. The stone throne where the consecration took place still exists in Norbugang, near Yuksom. Soon after, the first Buddhist monastary in Sikkim was built in Dubdi to establish the Nyingmapa sect prevelant in Sikkim. Yuksom is also the hometown of Bollywood baddie, Danny Denzongpa.

It is with this sense of history that I began the trek on a warm May morning last year after having shopped for groceries for the trek. A word of caution here: it is risky to attempt the trek without guides or porters because there are no villages on the way to buy food. In my case, the guide doubled as cook.

The first day consists of a 16 km trek through dense temperate forests from Yuksom to the small village of Bakhim (2750 m). There is a spacious trekkers hut for the night’s stay. Day two is easy, just 2 km to a small Buddhist settlement called Tsokha (3050 m). The families here are refugees from Tibet and when offered a choice of places to settle down, they opted for a high altitude village. The trail goes through rhododendron forests. These plants reach 10-15 feet in height and bloom in April-May. The landscape is a riotous display of red, yellow, pink and purple rhododendrons. There are stunning views of Mt. Pandhim, Tenzingkhang, Lama Lamini, Narsing and Jophnu. I spent the rest of the day at Tsokha acclimatizing.

In the eighth century AD, guru Padmasambhava, the patron saint of Sikkim, flew over Sikkim on his way to Tibet. He was invited by the first king of Tibet, Trisong Detsen, to rid his kingdom of the many evil spirits who terrorized his people. On the way he hid many treasures in the Kanchanjunga region. According to legend the treasures are still here, safe from prying eyes. As a result, the entire area around Kanchanjunga is considered sacred. In fact, Kanchanjunga means the five sacred treasures of snow in Lepcha, the local language. The mountain has five peaks which contain the Guru’s treasures: sacred books, gold, silver, gems and grain. As I begin trekking on the third day I cannot help feeling that one of the Guru’s treasures must have been the beautiful landscape. The early morning mist parts to reveal snow-capped peaks reflecting the golden sunlight.

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Talking To a Ghost

Talking To a Ghost

August 2008, Delhi.

Towards the end of our stay in Delhi we went to stay with a friend on the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University. The above photo was taken while exploring the campus one night. With this photo my mini-travelogue comes to an end. I hope you enjoyed reading it.

(To read this mini-travelogue in sequence from the beginning please go here.)

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Raj Ghat

Raj Ghat

August 2008, Delhi.

After visiting the Jantar Mantar I made my way to Raj Ghat. Raj Ghat is a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi and also the place where he was cremated. Nowadays, it has a mostly ceremonial function, used by politicians from India and around the world for photo opportunities. It is a pity that Gandhi and his philosophy of non-violence have largely become irrelevant in contemporary India. Even more shocking is the contempt with which most Indians of my generation view him. He is blamed for everything from the partition of India, appeasement of Muslims to not doing anything concrete for the Untouchables. In a world being torn apart by religious extremism and unnecessary wars I feel that his teachings still hold great relevance.

In an interesting side note, I met a lady from Aachen (which is about 30 minutes away from Cologne) at Raj Ghat. She had come there with her husband to pay her respects and we got to talking a little bit about India and Germany.

(To read this mini-travelogue in sequence from the beginning please go here.)

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Jantar Mantar

Jantar Mantar

August 2008, Delhi.

I made my way to the Jantar Mantar on a hot Monday morning. The Jantar Mantar is an observatory consisting of a series of scientific instruments built in the form of buildings and used to make astronomical measurements (the huge block you see in the middle of the above photo is actually part of a giant sun dial). It was built by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur from 1724 onwards. A total of five such observatories were built in various cities in North India of which the ones in Jaipur and Delhi are most popular. Incidentally, the area to the right of Jantar Mantar is the officially designated area in which protests/demonstrations can be organized in Delhi by anyone with a grievance. The day I was visiting the observatory there were a group of Hindu holy men protesting and criticizing what they called ‘the appeasement of Christians and missionaries (while being hard on Hindus)’ by the current Indian government.

(To read this mini-travelogue in sequence from the beginning please go here.) 

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