Sunday, January 31, 2016

Exorbitant camera charges at Ranganathittu

During my recent visit to Ranganathittu, I was shocked at the camera charges. While the authorities in general allowed visitors to take camera for free, people with SLR cameras and lens greater than 500 mm had to pay Rs 500.

This led me to think about the rationale of charging cameras.

I haven’t seen separate charges for cameras in developed world. Once the entry charges are paid, tourists are free to take photographs at their will. There are restrictions on using flash and tripods at certain locations but that is mainly to preserve the place. Restrictions are also in place for many sensitive locations which is understandable. But the story in India is different. From long time there are separate fees for using cameras at tourist places. It may be because the authorities considered that only rich people use cameras and they wanted a share of it. Video cameras (Handycams) were considered even more luxury items and charged 10-20 times more than still cameras.

The recent technological advances in mobile phones made this concept redundant. As more and more people started having smart phones, the need for a separate still and video camera reduced and Government earned less money. But then a new breed of people started coming in. The SLR camera became digital resulting in affordable photography. The professional DLSR and lens are still out of reach for many people but the price of amateur DSLR and lens are reduced. This led to people taking out their possessions and flooding many places especially forest reserves.

And then the separate charges for SLR cameras were introduced.

I looked for information behind the motive of this system but could get only limited insight from the link here.

The Government people have a perception that people will big camera and money earn money by taking photos at “their” forests and wanted a share of it. Try an experiment. Just take a photo of a bird or a tiger and try to sell it. No one buys them. One can earn his living by wedding, portrait and fashion photography but not from wildlife. All people I know earn money by associated business. Majority of people take photographs for the sheer fun of it and the joy it brings during the process of photography. But even if we consider that people earns money by photography, why should forest department charge fees for it? People would also write about their trip experience in papers and earn money or conduct commercial trips based on their experience. Can one charge for all those things? It is absurd and there is no end to the madness. Also, people have paid taxes when they have purchased cameras and manufacturer also paid taxes to government during the process. And if one earns by photograph he pays income tax for it (considering it is done legally).

Coming to Ranganathittu charges, the logic of 500mm look hilarious. If they are looking to charge rich people they should understand that one can get an average performing 150-600 lens for Rs 70,000 but a professional 400mm F2.8 Nikon lens cost more than ten lakhs!! The former has to shell out 500 rupees to take his camera in while it is free for the later!!

But I agree that if one starts demanding extra resources like a separate Jeep or boat to suit his needs or to regulate people (Movie, serial shooting) then there is no harm in charging extra.

Let me know your opinion about the same.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Some facts about Kaziranga - the land of Rhino

Kaziranga is synonymous with one horned Asian Rhinoceros. It also has the highest density of tigers in the world!! And it is a world heritage site. Almost all travellers to Assam visit Kaziranga, and no doubt it is very beautiful. Here are some facts based on my experience at Kaziranga where I stayed for about four days.

Rhinos of Kaziranga
  • Kaziranga has five zones - Central (Kohara), Western (Baguri), Eastern (Agaratoli), Ghorakati and Northern zone. I went on safari in Central, Western and Eastern zones. Ghorakati is the buffer zone of the park and not many people visit. Central and Western are popular for Rhino and is the most visited area. The fact is that they are situated towards Guwahati also causes increase in the number of tourists. Eastern zone is famous for birds and is least visited. But it was my favourite area in Kaziranga and ended up in visiting multiple times during my stay. The best views of Rhino was seen at this zone!! (Including an attack attempt by Rhino on our Jeep).

Crested serpent eagle
  • There is no limit on the number of jeeps entering the park. Hence there is no need to book them in advance. It also means that the park can get very crowded during peak seasons.

Red Jungle fowl
  • Which safari is better? Morning or evening? Undoubtedly it is morning. Morning safari is from 7 - 9:30 AM and it is between 2 - 4:30PM in the evening. But time violations are common and the authorities do not bother much. But during winter, sun sets at 4:30 PM and you anyway have to get out of the park. But then you will have more time in the morning. Most of the days we came out at 11:30AM!!

Darter perching on a branch
  • Jeeps can be hired from the hotel or from park entrance. Make it clear to the driver what you are interested in. And better take a guide. Most of the visitors are picnickers who are interested in Rhino. And it is difficult for drivers to distinguish between a normal tourists and a wild life enthusiasts. Having a long lens does help!! Even though we visited with kids, I and my friend had telephoto lens which indicated that we are “serious” people and commanded some respect!!
  • Safari cost: 
    • Jeep cost - Rs 1600 to 2200 depending on the zone. 
    • Forest entry per person per day - Rs 100
    • Camera charges per day - Rs 100
    • Road toll - Rs 300 per vehicle
    • Staff welcome fund - Rs 100 per vehicle

Otter feeding on a fish
  • Where to stay? We stayed at Wild Grass resort. Value for money. They have a large area, big rooms and decent food. Being the first resort in the area, they do not even bothered to put a sign board anywhere!! And they do not have a website!! Reservations happen over phone and email. They did not even take advance money from us. And they do not take accept credit cards. But still I maintain that it is the place to stay in Kaziranga. They arrange safaris and are good at it.

Jungle owl?
  • Is guide require? Hiring a guide during safari is important. During our first safari in Eastern zone, we just relied on driver. We found about 30-40 species of birds. Later, we took a guide and he found nearly 150 species of birds on the same stretch!!!!

Bar headed geese
  • When to visit? Winter is good time for birds. The grasses in Kaziranga are burnt during February which increases the chances of seeing carnivorous. The park is closed from May to October due to rains. It normally gets flooded by overflowing Brahmaputra in monsoon.

  • How far? Kaziranga is about 200 km from Guwahati and it takes about 4-5 hours to reach. Half the journey is on four lane highway and remaining on single but good road.
Sunset at kaziranga

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Kamakhya temple in Guwahati

25 December 2015

Kamakhya temple is one of the main religious sites in Assam. Situated on top a hill in Guwahati, it is a complex of individual temples dedicated to mahavidyas (Ten aspects of Parvati). It is also one of the oldest Shakti peetas.

People standing in queue at Kamakhya temple
It was already dark when we reached the parking lot. A short walk on the narrow streets surrounded by shops selling puja stuff led us to the entrance of the temple.

Historically this temple dates back to 8th century. It was destroyed during Hussien Shah attack on Assam in 15th century but was rebuilt few years later.

While I do visit lot of religious places, I am usually there as a tourist and not as a devotee. I like historical significance and architectural marvels in those temples. But I detest standing in the queue for hours just to have a glimpse of the idol. The result is though I visit the temples, many times I do not go inside the main temple. The crowd in Kamakhya temple was not large but the queue was long and slow moving. We decided skip entering into the main temple.

We spent a long time at the statues of the god outside the temple. The temple also has small auditorium like structure where one can sit and get a good view of the surroundings.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Peacock/Umananda island in Brahmaputra river

25 December 2015

Umananda island in Brahmaputra river is known as the smallest inhabited river island in the world. The reason for human inhabitation is due to the presence of Umananda temple in the island. The island is also home to endangered Golden langurs. British also called it as peacock island due to its shape. But locals refer it as Umananda island.

Umananda island seen from Guwahati
Our trip to North East started from Guwahati. We had few hours at our disposal before heading to our next destination. Like many tourists we wanted to see Brahmaputra river and Umananda temple seemed to be the ideal place.

Picnicking at the sands of Brahmaputra 
At Umananda ghat, we were amazed at the mighty Brahmaputra river. So wide and vast!! Government boats have regular schedules to the island. It just costs Rs 20 for round trip and the journey lasts for about 5 minutes. The boat was old and life jackets were kept for decoration purpose. A private boat would cost hundred times more but you will have a boat for yourself. We took the Government boat.

Golden langurs
Almost all visitors come to visit Umananda temple. A bit of climbing takes to the entrance of the temple. During our visit there was a queue to the temple which moved very slowly. We decided to skip the temple and take a round of the island. It takes about 10 minutes to circle the island. Golden langurs can be easily spotted. I understood that unlike monkeys they do not trouble humans for food.

A lone langur

The sun was about to set when we started our return journey to main ghat.

Sunset at Umananda island