Bhutan, In the pursuit of Happiness…

There are a very few beautiful places in the world which should be enjoyed and cherished with out the distraction of a camera. Bhutan has topped this list. Prior to the commencement of the trip, I saw a lot of videos and read lots of articles about Bhutan so as to prepare my self on what kinds of images I could expect. Each article and each video mentioned about Bhutan being a ‘Happy’ place. This got me curious and I couldn’t wait to find out why.

Sandwiched between two giant countries, India and China, Bhutan is a scenic and serene country. Due to constant thunder rains, ‘Bhutan’ translates to ‘Druk yul’ which means ‘The land of the Thunder Dragon’ in Bhutanese (‘Druk’ means Thunder Dragon). The place was naturally blessed with such beautiful lush greenery and landscape. It is indeed a law in the country for its citizens to preserve the nature and the cultural heritage. And hats off to these people, they have been doing it for decades.

The Bhutanese are very calm and composed. They always have a smiling friendly face and are kind enough to pose for pictures as well. They really knew how to be happy always. When I asked one of the local folks there about the reason why the Bhutanese are always considered ‘Happy’, he told me; ‘We believe in simple joys of the mundane being content with whatever nature has to offer and lead a stress free lives. We don’t compete with each other, we complete each other…’ Simple yet powerful, I thought.

In this blog I don’t want to elaborate on Bhutan as a place, because you can get that on any travel websites, but I want to show you what I saw and felt…
Here’s to the Land of Happiness…

 

 

 

Luv n Peace,
Vinayak
 

Breaking into a new day @ Jebal Jais

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Standing tall at a high of 1900mts approx., Jebel Jais is the highest mountain of the UAE. Bordering Oman and UAE, this mountain is located in the far end of Ras Al Khaima emirate. The mountain is well known for its winter tantrums which includes chilly and windy weather often accompanied by hail and snow. We went on a road trip to experience the Sunrise from the top of this mountain as the view would be rather spectacular. After a 2 hour drive and half an hour of waiting, here is the proof that Jebel Jais didn’t disappoint.

~Love n Peace;

  Vinayak

Fossil Dunes of Al Wathba

Al Wathba, a place is the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, which is scarcely inhabitant due to its distance from the city and industrial nature. The first impression of this place while we drove was that it was a barren land with hardly anything but vast dessert and industrial buildings. In the middle of this place is an interesting natural formation called the fossil dunes. Fossil dunes are sand formation resulting from the continuous wind in a particular direction. Basically the wind sculptures the sand and it hardens over time due to minute water content. The result is a miniature version of the Grand Canyon seen in US. It is an interesting natural formation to see, but its best to visit this place clubbed other spots around as well.

 Ideal time to visit this place is during the golden hours in the evening so that you get the sun in the right direction and avoid the electric lines in your frames.

-Luv n Peace;
Vinayak

Al Ain Oasis – Serenity in the City

It was a long weekend due to the National Day in UAE, and we didn’t want to waste time lazing around the house. So we hit the roads towards the AL Ain Oasis. We have been randomly and faintly hearing about this place from people, so wanted to check it out our selves.

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Al Ain the Arabic word for ‘The Spring’ and is named the same due to its cooler climate resulting from the presence of lush greenery and agricultural innovations. The Oasis, located at the heart of the city, is a farm land built around tarred walk ways with walls. Recently this place has been opened as the UAE’s first curated UNESCO World Heritage site visitor experience. Different varieties of date palms and pines grew on the either sides of the walkway.
The whole farm was followed a three tier architecture, starting with different types of grains and rice in the middle, followed by fruits and vegetables and the Pine trees and date palms. Trees and palms mainly guard the central region from the heavy dessert winds and sand storms. They also provided a shady canopy for the walk ways too.
One of the key features and an interesting concept is the irrigation methodology used here. The underground irrigation system known as “falaj” brings water from boreholes to water farms and palm trees. The falaj irrigation is an ancient system dating back thousands of years and is used widely in Oman, UAE, China, Iran and other countries.
Besides all these, there are recreational facilities like mosques, coffee shops, relaxing sheds which can be used by the tourist and the staffs.
Al Ain Oasis center is a tranquil haven whether you are a tourist or a resident of UAE and you enjoy peace and quietness away from the noisy city. Besides it very much clean and very well maintained. Kudos to the care takers!

-Luv n Peace;
Vinayak

Hemis Festival-The Kumbh of the Himalayas, Ladakh

The Hemis Festival is dedicated to the birthday of Lord Padmasambhav (Rinpoche) who is said to have brought Vajrayana Buddhism to Bhutan and Tibet. The festival happens only once in 12 years according to the Buddhist calendar. Venue of the Hemis festival is the Hemis Monastery which is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Drukpa Lineage, located in Hemis, Ladakh. Lots of tourists had gathered from many different places around India and abroad to attend this special occasion. As usual there was a hustle for seats but luckily I had got a nice spot among the audience with a clean view of the whole courtyard. The local Ladakhi folks, dressed in their traditional authentic colorful attire, were also present to witness the festival.

The essential part of the Hemis Festival is the mystic mask dances on the monastery’s courtyard collectively called as the ‘Chams performance’. The mystic mask dancers, in vibrant colorful costumes, danced in a particular rhythm and fashion. The orchestra was seated on the top and played an intriguing music with the beat of drums, the resounding clash of cymbals and the spiritual wail of pipes. It was peculiar form of dance were the dancers lifted their legs and took huge steps on each sound of the gong. It was fascinating to watch them perform and I was able to get some unique pictures for my collection as well.

I went further and explored the whole monastery in and out. There were lots of interesting rituals going on inside as well. But the crowd was chaotic and more over the lighting was very dull and using flash was not allowed. So I wasn’t able to shoot much inside the monastery.

 

The whole feel of the Hemis was mesmerizing and as a photographer it was a feast for my eyes to see such plenty of textured portraits roaming around in different variety attire. After the major event of the day, I started packing up my gear and headed towards the car. Miles away from the Hemis and even hours after spectating this beautiful event, I could still hear the sounds of the gongs played by the monks resonate in my head…

-Luv n Peace;
Vinayak

Ladakh- One of the places where Heaven meets the Earth..

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This is a long pending blog which was long overdue from my side as the trip was done in early June. But I can still feel the awe I went through and the thumping music my heart played as I gazed down upon the lovely mountain scape of Leh-Ladakh from the airplane’s window. Naturally beautiful and decked up in different shades of green, white and brown; Ladakh is the dream destination for hikers, bikers, adventures and photographers. As I belonged to the fourth category, I started getting my gear ready as soon as I saw the view.Ladakh shelters different variety of people ranging from the local Ladakhi community, tourists from different parts of the world to the brave soldiers of the Indian Army. I don’t think I can really describe this trip in just a blog or even two because Ladakh is a place were not only you get to see amazing landscapes and beautiful scenic spots, it’s a place where you experience and feel nature up close and personal. It’s a place which is not pampered by technology or industrialization, a place where people entertain, show you the best routes to reach destination and share their stories and news over camp fires…

Among some of the few amazing things about Ladakh are the people, the Ladakhis have a strong heart and an even more stronger minds. They are really helpful, they have immense courage in them, yet humble. It’s next to impossible to break a ladakhi’s sprits and they are capable of speaking to you and lifting your spirits and make you take that one extra mile which you never thought you could. It’s in their blood and in their culture which you get to see in the eyes of every child and every elder you come across there. Another set of people I like to highlight are the soldiers of the Indian Army. Seeing each one of them standing tall and respectful in that fierce climatic situation gives one a great sense of envy and patriotism. I had recently read a quote on facebook about the soldiers posted in the high range of Ladakh – “An adventure of a lifetime for you is just another daily routine for us.” I understood how much that statement made sense after this trip.

On my flight back to Dubai, I was sitting back, sipping my drink, relaxing and watching the movie ‘The Secret life of Walter Mitty’. In the movie I read an amazing quote which I could very well relate with this trip:

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“..To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other and to feel..
That is the purpose of LIFE…”

Word of caution: One must be really healthy to travel to Ladakh. The high altitude is a killer combination of low oxygen and chilled wind. The low levels of oxygen can leave you breathless when you take a few steps while the cold winds will literally make chills run down your spine. One must make sure to stay hydrated throughout the trip and also breathe deeply and steadily in order to balance out the oxygen scarcity in the body. Always take baby steps and don’t let any kind of adrenaline rush hit you, because in no time you will feel your BP go up and leave you breathless.

Luv n Peace;
Vinayak

Serene Sarnath

Visiting Sarnath was a part of the Varanasi Tour Package organized by Indian Photo tours. Folks of the tour wanted to show us a contrasting picture after seeing Varanasi. In case you missed reading about my amazing experience at Varanasi, click right here. Located 13kms from Varanasi, Sarnath is the birth place of Buddhism. A few weeks after his enlightenment, Buddha went to Sarnath. The kings and the merchants of Varanasi are the main reasons for Buddhism to flourished in Sarnath.
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 The whole scene at Sarnath was totally different from that of Varanasi. The place was peaceful and clean as compared to Varanasi which was full of chaos and dirt. The monks were very shy and refused to pose for photographs, unlike the babas of the Varanasi  who were totally enthusiastic for clicking pictures and were even versatile once you strike a conversation with them. I did respect their privacy, nevertheless I managed to frame a couple of candid and environmental portraits. Most of the monks are brought up in the shrine itself, and they were whole heartedly dedicated to the service of the shrine. We couldn’t get a close look in and around the place as there were lots of restrictions, however we could make out that it had lots of facilities like dorms, hostels, recreational area and also a school. The place was rich and vibrant with colorful decorations and sculptures using cloth, paint, metal and even glass. One of the most observant feature of any Buddhist monastery is the dominant color RED. Being considered as the auspicious and scared color in Tibetan culture, the color RED is believed to have protective qualities and reflects passion, transmuted to discrimination wisdom.
 The silent breeze, clean shrines and peaceful monks of Sarnath reverberated a feel of serenity and made one feel ‘lighter’ compared to the chaos of the cities…
Love n Peace;
Vinayak

Ghost Village; Jazirat al Hamra

Jazirat al Hamra which translates to ‘Red Island’ in Arabic, is located in the costal strip of Ras al Khaima. The town is mainly known for its collection of abandoned houses which are believed to be haunted. During the early 14th century, this town was occupied by a tribe who made a living out of pearl diving and fishing. The tribe left the village after a dispute and started housing in Abu Dhabi. Corals and sea shells were incorporated with stone and mud to create the walls of the oldest buildings; most of the houses were built from coral rag, the roofs were constructed from palm trunks. The younger building were built from bricks of crushed coral.

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As we entered the village, we first came across a elderly local person who was riding across in the car in slow pace. As he saw us with camera, he spoke to us in Arabic saying “Mafi Photo, Mafi Photo” which means “No Photos”. We waited near the car for him to pass by, but he was stationary in the car giving us a persistent stare. Then after quiet some time of staring, he muttered some thing in Arabic with hand signs and drove away slowly. We waited for the car to go out of our sight and then, we got ready to start exploring the village…
The whole village spread over 1-2km in radius, was un-usually quiet except for the waves crashing over the sea shore and the whooshing of the wind through the narrow alley ways of the village. We did a lot of exploration through the village going from one house to another. Most of the houses were naturally demolished, including a mosque. There were some restorations going on the hold up a tall structure. After an hour and a half of roaming around the village, we came across a sign board which said “Photography is not allowed”! By that time, the Sun was mid way up the sky and the light was getting too harsh, hence we packed up our gear and left the place. From my personal experience I found this place to be a interesting spot for photography, I was able to make some unique frames, and it was also fun exploring around. Enjoy the pictures down below …

 

Luv n Peace,
Vinayak

Varanasi; Life at the Ghats of Ganges…

Varanasi, referred as a place where old people go during their last years of life, as it as the ultimate place for Hindu pilgrimage and secondly, taking one’s last breath at Varanasi was considered as attainment of moksha (liberation from the vicious cycle of life and death). Later on when I picked up my interest in photography, Varanasi became one among the list of the dream place to shoot as it was an ancient city were you get to see lots of variety people from various parts of India and beyond…

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This small dream was buried as I got busy with my routine work and life in Bangalore. Later on, when I shifted to Dubai, I got into a conversation with my cousin, who also happens to share the same interest in photography. He mentioned that he had met someone in the airport from a photo tour company called ‘Indian photo tours’ and their next tour was to Varanasi in March. I was all charged up to hear this as it was in par with my annual vacation to India.
Varanasi greeted us with a beautiful rainy day! The view Ganges River during the rain from the balcony of our hotel was totally breathtaking. The mentor of the tour gave us a brief insight of the kind of pictures we could take during our shoots. I was amazed with all the pictures in his presentation, really awe struck by how he spotted details in a chaotic situation and made a story.
The next days of the tours were adventurous for my cousin and me. We took a stroll along the Ghats and the inner streets, tried street food, took a boat ride and interacted with Sadhus as well. Among the few things that interested me the most in the trip was the burning ghats and the Ganga aarti. Burning ghat or the Manikarnika ghat was one of the many ghat along the Ganges where the cremation is done. The ghat had lots of shops which sold different types of wood for fueling the cremation fire, a huge weigh-balance was used to quantify the amount of wood needed.
The second interesting was the Ganga aarti, which is performed twice, once when the sun rises and just after the sunset. This aarti is a way of paying respect to the holy Ganges. Seven boys execute a set of actions in a synchronous manner with a huge Aarti diya in their hands. You get to see lots of people gathered to take part in this aarti.
Apart from these two, I was totally taken aback by the way people live in Varanasi; you see different genres of people around you while you walk along the Ganges and in the streets. I have picked up a few of my best frames to give you a sneak peak of the life at the Ghats of Ganges….
Usually they say when one visits Varanasi, one need to leave something behind, but in my case, Varanasi has given me a decent amount of experiences and a whole bunch of amazing pictures! I doubt how much my pictures can reflect my experience of Varanasi, because this place is full of surprises and one really needs to experience this place in person to get a hang of it. Apart for these things, my cousin and I found some really cool friends with the team of ‘Indian Photo Tours’, without them this trip would not have been this much interesting and smooth. On the photography side, I got to learn a lot of things on how to spot and frame your subjects to create a story. Like my cousin quoted, ‘We stopped clicking pictures, we started framing stories…’
Love and Peace;
Vinayak

Seven Days…

A ‘Nature photography challenge’ has been a rampage on the Facebook. It is a challenge chain to create an awareness of the beauty and importance of Nature. A person posts a photograph show casing the scenic beauty of Nature each day for seven days. On each day he/she challenges seven different talented people to come up with similar pictures and these seven people repeat this and the chain goes on…I was introduced to this challenge by some of my friends and a dear Cousin.
Firstly I thought it was a very silly thing to do, then when checked out other people’s Facebook profile, I felt it would be very interesting to participate. So I started gathering some of my very recent favourites and some of my favourites quotes to go with the pictures…
 Day 7: Al Kudra Lake, Dubai
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Remember…

Every dawn is a new beginning …
Stand Tall; Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.
Be prepared; When the dust comes in, there will be darkness…
Have faith; Beyond darkness, there will be light which is stronger in contrast…
Don’t wait; There will be no perfect condition to begin. BEGIN! and the conditions will become perfect!
Live life like a dance; One day, life will flash before your eyes, make sure it’s worth watching.

Luv n Peace,
Vinayak
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