Friday, 30 January 2009

And I'm back

Back from a 10 day trip with FP to Bangalore (now Bengaluru of course), Mangalore and Cochin (now Kochi). This was a reunion of sorts, with FP and I meeting old Muscat friends KD and EN during our 3 days each in Bangalore and Mangalore respectively, along with their families, before finally travelling to Cochin for 4 days.


Left home at 5.00 A.M on Saturday the 17th of January after a quick breakfast. Took a rick to the airport where I met up with FP for the 7.30 A.M SpiceJet flight to Bangalore. This was only the second time I was meeting FP since he arrived from Toronto in Nov. The first time was in early Jan. And our only previous visit since he left Muscat in 1996 was in 2005. He seemed quite impressed with the departure lounge of the Mumbai domestic terminal.

Didn't mind there being no breakfast on the flight. Landed at the swanky new Bangalore airport and made our way to the BMTC bus stand.

It was nice and cool outside - 16 degrees the pilot had said. KD had given us good instructions on how to reach his place - details of the Volvo bus service from the airport with routes, numbers, timings and fares; and a map of how to get to his house from the bus station, which didn't completely work. Everything went like clockwork until we got off the bus and couldn't figure out where we were. We ended up asking around, making a call, and taking a rick to a landmark nearby from where we walked it out.

KD has a lovely spacious home in a quiet part of Bangalore, which we reached at around 11.00 A.M. We were greeted at home by his mom, who fed us a second breakfast, and later on by his dad returning from work, and then his sis back home from college, whom we all had lunch with (delicious pork), and finally KD himself in the evening, back home from work, after we had taken a nap. In the whole process, FP had to tell his whole Canada experience story around 3 times.

We went out in the evening. KD's dad was kind enough to drive us around in his van and show us Bangalore by night. It was a bit chilly and KD lent me a jacket before we left, saying my sweater made me look sick. We drove about for a while before going to Ulsoor lake. Really beautiful.

Also saw a few weird houses around Ulsoor lake, constructed in such a way as to accommodate trees growing in and out of them. I would never have seen them if KD hadn't pointed them out to me.

Went back to KD's place and had a great dinner - tandoori butter chicken - before turning in for the night with a lot of late night joke cracking.

Day two in Bangalore started with us all going for Mass in the morning, it being Sunday, the 18th of January. We then had breakfast at a good south Indian fast food joint nearby. They make the best masala dosas I've had in a while, and excellent large mehdu wadas as well.

We then went back to KD's home for a quick break before going for a long drive with him and his family. The first place we visited was KD's dad's work location and the interesting tree in its compound.

We then saw Mallya Hospital and Complex, Vijay Mallya's and Rahul Dravid's houses, Trinity Circle, M.G Road, Brigade Road, and St. Mark's Road.

Then on to Cubbon Park, created in 1884 by a British engineer, which seemed really peaceful and well planned. We had a look at the large red Seshadri Iyer Memorial Hall situated in it and its surrounding gardens.

Disaster then struck as the van wouldn't move. Apparently, it had a weak battery and we had to give it a push to make it move, which it finally did. We then saw the other buildings nearby - the legislative house of Karnatika, Vidhana Soudha, and Vikasa Soudha next door.

We drove on to Lal Bagh, Bangalore's large central park, where we spent a good amount of time taking in the interesting botanical sights. It was a photographer's paradise. We also visited the flower exhibition in the garden, which only runs once a year on the Republic Day week.

Next we drove to St. Mary's Basilica, the oldest church in Bangalore and a truly spectacular sight. This has got to be the most beautiful church exterior I've ever seen.

Pushed the van to get it going again and then went to KD's home to have a late lunch at around 4.00 P.M. The evening was spent in a jam session, with KD and FP playing guitars and the rest of us singing along - it was a mini MIPC session.

Day 3 in Bangalore - Monday, the 19th of January. KD showed us around Electronic City. It's size was mind boggling. It's a city within itself.

Unlike Mindspace in Malad, companies here don't own floors, but entire buildings or building complexes, and golf carts to ferry employees between buildings, and gyms, restaurants, lounges, etc. I wondered aloud at the lack of food and drink joints around the place, and KD told me that each building had its own CCD, KFC, Pizza Hut, etc. Security was tight around the area and rightly so.

We then made our way to Forum mall. KD and FP had a small lunch at a fast food joint opposite. Like the one we visited on Sunday, this one also had no seating arrangements, and only tall round tables at which we had to stand around while eating.

Forum mall was huge, larger than any of the malls I've been to in Mumbai, though I haven't been to Nirmal or Oberoi yet so I can't really compare. It was definitely larger than Inorbit and Infiniti though. We had a chicken kadai pizza at Pizza Hut there and visited Baskin Robbins later, where I tried the Chocolate Ribbons flavour. Not as good as my favourite flavours - World Class Chocolate, Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Fudge and Bavarian Chocolate.

Rested in the evening when we got back, and looked through old Muscat photos. Surfed the net for a while before turning in early for an early morning the next day.


We woke at 4.30 A.M on Tuesday, the 20th of January, and left KD's home at 5.30 A.M, saying our goodbye's. KD's and his dad came with us to the BMTC bus stop, KD's dad driving us there in the now infamous van which thankfully started easily. We ended up taking a cab when the bus didn't arrive and we could wait no longer. The drive was lovely and cold. I noticed I could see my breath when I spoke - a novelty for me.

Bangalore airport I noticed again was incredibly modern looking. Our 8.55 A.M Jet Airways flight to Mangalore took off more or less on time and was characterised by a delicious breakfast which we passengers unfortunately couldn't really enjoy and had to wolf down when we were told, a minute after we started eating, that we would be beginning our descent in three minutes.

We reached Mangalore airport at 10.00 A.M, the smallest airport I have ever seen, and met EN outside, who, like KD, looked more or less the same after all these years. He seems to have got quite far in his career, so far that FP and I began riddling him about the amount of power and clout he seemed to hold in Mangalore.

We drove for about a half hour to Mangalore city and EN helped us check into the Prestige hotel that he had booked earlier, where we promptly took a long nap while he returned to work. We woke at around 3.00 very hungry. EN was supposed to meet us for lunch but couldn't make it and we found a text message from him telling us about a Chinese place across our hotel where we might lunch.

This turned out to be a place with authentic Chinese food, unlike the mostly Indian Chinese hybrids we get in Mumbai. There, we stuffed ourselves with noodles, fried squid and pork in oyster sauce, all at a reasonable rate, before going for a long walk along what seemed like a main street, where we passed two lounge bars - Liquid Lounge and Amnesia - the latter being the one that would become the center of attention in a few days, and soon found ourselves beholding Milagres Church in front of us, resplendent in the late afternoon light.

We walked back to the hotel to rest, and met EN in the evening for dinner. He took us to Froth on Top where we snacked and drank a bit and then to a pretty posh but deserted restaurant at the Goldfinch hotel where we had a hearty meal.

Mangalore as a whole really didn't seem crowded at all. It had a more laidback feel to it, more akin to that of a small town than a city's. I guess Mangalore is to Bangalore what Pune is to Mumbai. EN told us that like Bangalore and all other places in Karnatika, all pubs had to close by 11.30 P.M. and the city in general was more or less dead, with nothing much happening after 10.00.

Day 2 in Mangalore, Wednesday, the 21st of Jan. EN hired a car and driver and took leave from work for the full day to show us around and visit his home. We started the day with breakfast at the hotel cafe - sheera, mehdu wada and coffee for me.

After breakfast we drove outside the city to where EN took us to a famous 1000 pillared Jain temple at Moodabidri.

We then went to see a 40 foot statue
of Bahubali (Gomateshwara) atop a hill, with a breathtaking view of surrounding countryside.

We got to EN's home by lunchtime, where we greeted EN's parents, who treated us to a feast. His dad humbled us by opening a rare brand of scotch for us, Swing, which was followed by a huge Manglorean meal - beef rice, vegetables, pork, mango chutney, and koriroti.

We rested for a while at his place, surfing the net and then EN gave us a guided drive through tour of the university town of Manipal, before visiting Malpe beach in time to watch the sunset.

FP and I then dropped EN off at his home and had the car take us on a long drive back to the hotel. I was feeling a bit dizzy with all the driving, and with us still feeling stuffed after the huge lunch, we decided to skip dinner on our return and just sleep.

Day 3 in Mangalore, Thursday, the 22nd of January. We had booked an evening flight to Cochin to save costs so we had the whole morning and afternoon to ourselves. EN was at work and couldn't join us, but promised to meet and drop us to the airport in the evening. After the same breakfast we had the previous day, I hit the ATM with FP in tow for my first withdrawal since we started our trip. We had already decided to see St. Aloysius church that morning which was more or less opposite Milagres church but on our way there from the ATM came upon St. Sebastian, with its bell tower.

Went to a local barber next, for FP wanted to experience a shave and massage. Little did he know what pain, torture and agony would befall him. As I filmed, he got a shave, followed by a facial, and a massage which to him seemed no different than being beaten up.

Walked to St. Aloysius next, which took a good deal out of us, it being noon and hot. FP's face had turned red by now with the combined effect of the facial on his sensitive skin and the heat. While Milagres is at the bottom of a slope, Aloysius is at the top of a hill. There is now was I can describe its beauty. From the outside, it looks like the most unassuming church building or school extension, but once you step in, it's a different story, with carved pillars and every inch of blank space on the walls and ceiling painted with words and pictures of well known bible themes and stories.

We took a rick to Sultan Battery next, which I thought was a major fort. We were disappointed on finding just a small watchtower when we got there, though it wasn't that far away from the city. The watchtower overlooked the Gurupura river, which was clean and blue.

We took the same rick back to town, and FP tried out his Manglorean Konkani with the driver, asking him to suggest a good local place where we could lunch. The driver suggested Pereira's and drove us there. We were not disappointed. It was a Mangalorean fast meal place, sort of like one of Mumbai's Irani joints, with no menu's and just a handful of items on offer. We had the chicken and mutton curry with parothas, which are unique to the South. Good tasty cheap food. We were happy to taste the local fare for two days in a row.

And as all the travel guides I read told me, no visit to Mangalore would be complete without a visit to Ideal's, the ice-cream parlour, which was just about next door, and their famous Gadbad ice-cream.

So we settled down at Ideal's for dessert. FP had a Kulfi stick and I had the famous Gadbad. It was very filling, but not exactly the best ice cream I've had, though it wasn't bad at all. I'm not sure what I can call it. It was topped off with a scope of strawberry ice cream, with pieces of jelly below, chopped fruit beneath that, and a scoop of vanilla at the bottom. Now I love fruit salad, and I love trifle, but this was different, and vanilla and strawberry aren't my favourite flavours. Still, it was filling. We sat there killing time and cooling off in the air conditioning, and then did a bit of shopping at the bazaar nearby.

Around 4.30 P.M, we walked back to the hotel where we had left our bags in the morning while checking out, and decided to go to Liquid Lounge to kill time again until EN arrived with the car. The place was almost deserted, it being a weekday afternoon. We talked and lazed around and then went back to the hotel and read a couple of magazines until EN picked us up at 6.00 P.M for our 7.50 P.M Kingfisher flight.

We said our goodbyes and entered the airport, I again noticing how small it was.


Unfortunately, our flight was delayed, and we only reached Cochin airport, which was pretty, with its roofs covered in tiles, after 9.00 P.M, taking another hour to reach our homestay which we had booked in advance with Errol's help. We were exhausted by the time we got into the room that FP and I were sharing, and I went straight to bed; both of us skipped dinner for the second night in a row. I only got a glimpse of the area we were staying in - Fort Kochi - on the drive there.

Woke late the next morning, our first day in Cochin, on Friday the 23rd of January. FP had already awoke, gone for a walk and, starving, had woken me so we could go out and get some breakfast. I could have slept the whole day.

So we walked to a nearby cafe that's managed by the same family managing our homestay and had breakfast there. It was there that I first noticed that Fort Kochi was the tourist district of Cochin, dotted with numerous restaurants and with a predominantly white crowd, like Goa, but with absolutely no Indian tourists. I also noticed that it was a heritage district, like Colaba, and that all the buildings were quaint old European style houses, most now converted into hotels or homestays with shops and restaurants but retaining their original designs and many of them painted in pastel shades of cream. Other things I was to observe during our four days there would be the prevalence of continental food on the local menu's, catering to the foreign tourists, and that their prices would rarely be exorbitant, but expensive by South Indian food standards. The prices would in fact be quite comparable with restaurants in Bandra.

So we planned out our four days with one of the owners. Tourist activity in Cochin is very easily organised, with every homestay or hotel in Fort Kochi being able to help their guests register for an event like a houseboat stay or performance by selling them tickets or arranging travel. Rates are more or less fixed across the board and there are absolutely no touts or shady agents lurking about.

We walked to the beach nearby after finishing breakfast and the first thing we saw were the famous Chinese fishing nets. We couldn't miss them. After taking a video and photos of them, FP actually had me film him helping out at one of the nets.

We then walked the entire length of the eastern part of the region to Jew Town, where the ancient Cochin Jewish community lived and where their last dwindling descendants still do, through Bazaar Road, taking in all the sights and antique stores on our way to the synagogue, which was closed.

We walked back to our part of town at around 3.00 P.M, it being extremely hot, and we had lunch at an open air restaurant next to Vasco Square, Salt and Pepper, where the food was good but also took a good 45 minutes to arrive. FP had the Chicken Mushaka and fries; I had the Fish Malabari with some bread, my dish turning out to be non-spicy, more continental than Indian, and reminding me of Chicken Stroganoff.

We went back to the homestay to freshen up and bought tickets for a Kathakali performance in the evening. It started at 5.00 P.M, with the audience able to see the elaborate hour long make up session, followed by an hour long demonstration and performance.

For dinner, we went to a little restaurant called Taj Mahal, which was cheaper than the one we went to in the afternoon. I had the Aviyal while FP had the Prawn Curry, both if us eating them with chapattis. Our bill came to 175.

Day 2 in Cochin, Saturday, the 24th of January. We had arranged to take a backwaters houseboat ride that day. Had breakfast at the homestay and the minibus picked us up at 8.00 A.M. Drove for about an hour to where our group got into 2 canoes that took us on a picture perfect tour of a narrow Kerala river.

We then transferred to a houseboat that took us for lunch on an island.

The same houseboat then took us on a 2-3 hour ride along a wide river with islands passing us by.

We finished the trip at 4.30 P.M, at which point we were dropped off at our homestay. Went for Malayalam Mass at 5.00, at the Santa Cruz Basilica, the Mass being peculiar as it had communion before the sermon. We then made plans for the following day.

FP decided to skip dinner again and just have some chips, while I went to Chariot Beach Restaurant, another open air affair.

Day 3 in Cochin, Sunday, the 25th of January. We had planned to visit the elephant sanctuary at Kodanad for which we woke at 5.00 A.M in time for our car which was supposed to arrive at 6.00 but only arrived at 7.00.

Drove for about an hour to the sanctuary in the early morning coolness. We reached the banks of a river and waited there awhile, and soon we saw them. A bunch of elephants being led to the river to be bathed. It was a sight to behold.

Came back a few hours later, stopped for breakfast in in Cochin city at an India Coffee House. Being really sleepy, we skipped lunch and slept through the afternoon. We did go a Kalaripayattu performance in the evening from 4.00-5.00 P.M.

Surfed the net for a half hour and then had dinner at Elite rooftop restaurant, where we waited for ur food for 45 minutes. We didn't really mind waiting, as we had time to kill.

Day 4 in Cochin, Monday, the 26th of January. We had an evening flight again so that gave us the whole morning and afternoon free. We packed, breakfasted at Kashi Art Cafe, and then went to St Francis church nearby, the oldest European church in India, built in 1503, and where Vasco Da Gama was once buried.

While FP went for a walk elsewhere, I visited the Dutch cemetery nearby and then doubled back to our homestay, where we relaxed till lunchtime. FP wanted to visit a typical south Indian joint nearby that our car driver had told us about yesterday. We walked there at about 2.00 P.M, noticing hordes of Indian tourists on the streets, it being a public holiday. We found the lunch place more or less closed to lunchers till 3.00 and so sat and chatted nearby and checked out another restaurant before going back to the original place for dosas at 3.00 P.M.

We then took a rick to the Jewish Synagogue, built in 1568, which was open but crowded and didn't allow photography. Also, FP had to rent out long pants at the shop next door as they don't allow people with shorts into the synagogue.

Took a rick back to the homestay, passing the Jewish graveyard on the way, and checked out. It was 4.00P.M by then and our car was waiting outside to take us to the airport for our 7.15 flight back home to Mumbai.


Friday, 16 January 2009

I'm Off

Off on a 10 day trip to Bangalore, Mangalore and Cochin from Saturday. These are places I've wanted to see for a long time, and I'm finally getting to chance to do just that.

I have been to Bangalore before, but well over 10 years ago when I was too young to enjoy travelling. It was a family trip to 3 places - Bangalore, Mysore and Ooty - that we did during the summer just before heading to Bombay and Goa for our usual once-in-every-two years holiday there from Muscat.

The whole trip seems to be a blur now. I remember us signing up with a tour group in Bangalore. They took us around the city in a bus, showing us the sights, and I remember visiting a museum first, and then the Nehru Science Center, where we spent an especially long time. That was only the second science museum I'd been to (the first one being in Muscat which we frequented often), and I remember being overwhelmed by it's size and buzzing crowds. It was a lot larger and busier than the one in Muscat, stretching across multiple floors, with each floor dedicated to one theme like space, biology, etc.

I then remember going by bus to Mysore and seeing a huge palace there, with paintings of the royal family and the thrones that they sat on. All very luxurious. I also remember going to a park with dancing fountains and a huge cathedral with underground graves, and visiting a wildlife sanctuary at some point, though it might have been in Bangalore. I also remember eating south Indian food like Sada Dosa everywhere we went.

We travelled by bus a lot, and I hated it. I was continuously falling sick and feeling like throwing up all the time, and actually throwing up occasionally. I remember the journey to Ooty as being exceptionally long and tiresome along this continuous, winding, never ending road going up and around a mountain, and when we arrived there it was cold, very cold, and dark and depressing.

I had never felt this cold in my life, for I had spent my entire life until that point (I was around twelve at the time I think) in Muscat with visits to Bombay and Goa every alternate summer, so I had never experienced cold in my life, just heat. And as a child, you don't notice the heat. You don't care about how hot it is outside and whether it's morning or afternoon and how high the temperature is and how high it's going to get. All you want to do is play.

But the cold was an entirely new experience for me. It forced me to halt in my tracks, numbed me, demanded that I take notice of it, show it some respect. I don't even remember how long we were in Ooty, but the fact that I have such few memories of the place indicates that it couldn't have been longer than a day.

The story today is quite opposite. I hate the heat and love the cold. I guess as you grow up your priorities change. You tend to look for cool and comfortable settings in which you can spend your lifetime, instead of sweaty, humid surroundings.


Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Indian Tourism

I've been looking at a report on Indian tourism on the Incredible India site and noticed a few interesting trends.

The basic conclusion I can derive from the report is that while tourism to India is on the upswing, it still accounts for only a minuscule percent of international tourism.

Here's a table of Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) between 1996-2008.

I can tell from the table above that foreign tourism decreased steadily from 1996 to 1998. We actually recorded a negative growth in '98 (-0.7%). While I'm unsure about the reason behind the '97 figures, the '98 ones could be due to the Indo-Pak nuclear tests and resulting tension. This does not, however, explain the gradual rise in tourism in 1999, when the Kargil conflict was in full swing.

Assuming, however, that war is the main reason for a drop in tourism, this would comfortably explain the negative growths in 2001 and 2002. '01 of course brought 9/11 along with it, and a corresponding drop in American tourism worldwide (Americans constitute a majority of the visitors to India). Dec '01 saw an attack on the Indian Parliament, leading to troop mobilisations on both sides of the Indo-Pak border, the resulting fear of a war leading to a negative growth in 2002. In fact, at -6%, '02 was our worst year ever in terms of growth, with -4.2% in 2001 close behind.

2003 saw a massive jump in tourism (14.3%) which was followed by the highest growth rate so far (26.8%) in 2004. The reasons for this could be mostly international feel good factors. A thaw in Indo-Pak relations...a booming stock market...a tourism centered media blitz...etc. The growth rate since then has been double digit constant at around 13-14%. It remains to be see what effect the recession and 26/11 has had on FTAs to India in 2008, but with the growth rate at 11% till June, it certainly can't have decreased much. A negative growth this year does not seem very likely, though a growth rate below 10% certainly seems possible.

Here's the monthly FTA table.

Nothing surprising here. Most FTAs happen in the winter months.

On the other hand, the revenue tables below show us that returns from tourism have been steadily increasing, but not in proportion to the increase in visitors. What this means is, foreign tourists are spending more in India than they did before.

We can observe from the tables above that the growth rates of foreign exchange earnings is far greater than the growth rates of foreign visits. Correspondingly, while the number of foreign visitors doubled from '96 (2.6 million) to '07 (5.08 million), the amount of foreign revenue earned has increased by a factor of 5, from 2.8 billion US dollars in '96 to 10.7 billion U.S dollars in 2007. This could mean that the tourism sector in India is getting more organised, and therefore attracting more serious spenders rather than budget travellers.

Looking at the table for source countries of FTAs, we can see that the U.S and U.K together make up over 30% of all arrivals in 2007, which is the most recent year for which we have full data.

Looking now at Indian outbound visits below, it's clear that these have also been increasing steadily between '04 and '07, with a jump in '04.

Though we seem to have more outgoing than incoming visits, it's unclear how many of our visits abroad are for business and how many for pleasure, though they seem to have almost tripled since '96.

And the growth rate figures for domestic tourism below look equally steady, though a lot more in number. We had almost 4 times as many domestic tourists in 2007 as we did in 1996. Again, I 'm not sure how they differentiated these from business visits.

The states preferred by foreign tourists makes for interesting reading.

Nothing surprising about the top 5. It's obvious that Delhi would be up there first. Most tourists do see the Taj Mahal. Mumbai, which is also a must see, is the main reason Maharashtra is up there. Tamil Nadu has done a lot of advertising aimed at tourists in the recent past. U.P is up there almost solely because of the Himalayas. Rajasthan is part of the tourist triangle.

I suspect West Bengal, AP and Karnataka are up there more because of their capital cities than anything else. But the surprises for me are Goa and Kerala, which I thought attracted more foreign tourists. I guess with Goa being so small, visitors there get the perception that there are more tourists there than there really are.

Now comes the bad news, the saddest part of the report. In 2007, India accounted for only 0.56 of world tourism, and only 2.76 of tourism in the Asia Pacific region, inspite of being the 7th largest country in the world.

The top 10 countries in terms of tourism in 2007 are listed in the table below.


Monday, 12 January 2009

Movies: My Life to Live, Joyeux Noel

My Life to Live (Vivre sa Vie: Film en Douze Tableaux)

Quite boring, but not without merit. My finding this movie boring has more to do with what I find interesting personally rather than the movie's quality itself. The movie is replete with monologues about life, love, etc. that would fascinate an intellectual.

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard in 1962, the movie includes many references to popular literature. We eventually see the main character's life mirror the literary ones that are spoken of in the movie.

Joyeux Noel

A 2005 film written and directed by Christian Carion. The film is about soldiers on opposing sides of World War 1 calling an unofficial truce on Christmas Eve and Christmas day, and the consequences that follow.

The film is based on real accounts of a truce and fraternisation between French, Scottish, and German soldiers in World War 1 during Christmas, though the specific characters portrayed in the movie are fictional.


Sunday, 11 January 2009

Photography Lessons: Natural Lighting

Noticed the difference between using flash and natural lighting on my recent trip to Arnala.

On my trip, I took pairs of photos of various objects, one photo utilising the automatic flash on my camera and the other with flash disabled. From the results below, it's clear that natural light works better in many cases.

In the two photos of the same object below, only the first one utilises flash. The second one accentuates the shadows at various corners, lending more feeling to the image.

Similarly, in the two photos below, the first one (that utilises flash) seems to me to be flat and uninspiring, while the second one contains warmer tones.

I'm not sure about this last pair. Both look good in their own way.


Saturday, 10 January 2009

Relaxing at last

The week was exhausting. Some friends of mine had been planning to make a short film for their college project for some time now and had asked me a couple of weeks ago if I'd like to play one of the characters in it. I readily agreed. They showed up on Monday to hand me the screenplay, describe the characters, and walk me through the story. We rehearsed a few lines on Tuesday. And shooting my scenes took place in my living room on Thursday and Friday. All this after coming home from work, leaving me extremely tired. Adding to this stress was my trying to plan something for this weekend and trying to get my 10 day trip next week organised. The result being, I was so tired when I woke up this morning, I decided to just stay at home and rest (as opposed to going on one of my usual jaunts).

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Photography Lessons: Basics

I've decided to note down everything I've learned about photography so far so that I don't ever forget any of it.

1. Get a good camera.

The camera should be reliable. For example, if it's been advertised to have red eye reduction, it should have effective and not negligible red eye reduction.

It should have some manual functions like white balance, exposure, shutter speed, etc. I'm using the Canon Powershot A570 IS. It's good. It has enough manual functions for a novice to learn all the basics of photography.

The only drawbacks are the short battery life and poor screen. I need to keep recharging the batteries that go dead after every hundred shots. And the screen at the back of the camera doesn't do the photos justice. It's also hard to see the screen in bright sunlight. The photos come out great on a computer screen though. Which brings me to the next important thing I've learnt.

2. Don't depend completely on the screen

The camera screen is not be the best indicator of how the final picture may turn out, so I need to take as many pictures of the subject as I can on different settings.

3. Get a camera with image stabilisation or vibration reduction

Without a tripod, the camera shakes, the effects of which are noticeable in corresponding photos. IS/VR reduces this effect greatly.

4. Learn photography in a phased manner.

The best way to learn something is in a phased structured manner as opposed to all at once. With respect to photography, composition needs to be learned first, followed by other basics like exposure, shutter speed, etc.

It was exciting when I got my hands on a new camera. I first shot completely in automatic mode, then used different exposure settings on Program mode, and then learned about composure. Looking back, I should have focused on composure before exposure. It's no use trying to get perfect lighting for your subject when it's not even placed properly in your screen.

5. Composition.

I've learned about the rule of thirds recently, and have tried to adhere to it in every way I can.

I've also learned about general symmetry in photos, all from Morgue File, like focusing on shapes like triangles, circles, leading lines or frames within frames formed by objects in the picture.

Composition also includes looking for angles and placement of objects in the picture. Other things to keep in mind are to get close to the object being photographed and to not have any other distracting objects in the picture.

I continue to expand on my knowledge with each trip I take, and from sites like Morgue File, Short Courses, Slideshare, and Nat Geo.


Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Books Read - Measuring the World, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann, 2005

Someone called this Germany's first Latin American novel (those who read Gabriel Garcia Marquez books will know what this means). I've read the English translation by Carol Brown Janeway published in 2006.

The story starts off with Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander von Humbolt, two great German scientists, meeting for the first time. The year is 1828. The book then goes on to trace their lives and the great feats they accomplished, starting from their individual childhoods, focussing on each one's adventures in alternating chapters until we come again to their present meeting and the story concludes soon after. It may sound biographical but it's not. The historical content that the book deals with has been fictionalised to entertain us. For example, a visit by Humbolt to the Orinoco really happened, but the conversations he had with his colleague and friend while he travelled there is a fabrication, invented to tell us more about the man rather than just the plain facts.

As the author said:

"It has the tone of a non-fiction book. But it keeps slipping into fiction and mock-historical monography".

"It's very sincere, but not sincere at all."

I enjoyed the book tremendously, my only grouse is that it's too short, at a little over 300 pages. Other reviews are here, here, and here.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1967

The book details the lives of seven generations of the Buendia family in the fictional village of Macondo. Along with the events in the lives of the family members, we also get to see the changing social and political structures in a Latin American setting. The book though, is not completely realistic, making use of Magical Realism for the most part, such that most events appear quite surreal. Time itself is unsure of it's role in this book, and the absence of any dates makes you use your imagination to put the events and their durations in context with each other.

Apparently Daniel Kehlmann was influenced by this book to a large degree and tried to write a German version of it, which is why his own book, Measuring the World, has moments that can also be described as surreal and irrelevant, though within the context of history and real life characters.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is nothing short of a literary epic.


Monday, 5 January 2009

Arnala Fort Trip

Went to Arnala Fort on Sunday with BD. First heard about the fort at this photo blog.

Took the 7.14 train to Virar and then an S.T bus to Arnala from Virar West that took 20 mins. Visited the town church first before heading out to the beach, which was filthy. Local villagers use it as an open toilet. We walked the entire length of the beach to get to where a boat takes people to the island that the fort is situated on. The boat ride is only a few minutes long.

Did take some pics though, before getting on the boat to the island.

Once on the island, we walked through a little village to reach the fort, which we explored quite thoroughly. The fort walls are intact and the square shaped area enclosed by those walls is used by the villagers for cultivation. It also houses a temple and a mosque.

I learned an important lesson while taking photos of the fort's interiors. Use natural lighting as much as possible instead of flash, particularly when indoors.

Stairs placed at intervals along the inner rim of the fort wall led us to the top of the wall, which is walkable all the way round.

Also saw a lot of gun turrets.

And the view from the fort's highest point.

The history of the fort mirrors the history of most of Mumbai's suburbs. It was originally under the control of the Mughals, who lost it to the Portuguese, who lost it to the Marathas, who lost it to the British, who lost it to the Republic.

We made our way back to the island's beach after exploring the fort, from where we returned to Arnala beach by boat. This time, instead of walking the length of the beach, we cut through the town on our way back to the bus stop, saving us time and preserving our sense of aestheticism.


Sunday, 4 January 2009


Watched a couple of movies on Saturday.

Blue Velvet - a 1986 David Lynch dark mystery thriller. The movie is filled with moments of silence mixed with various shots of small town life, lending a feeling of surrealism to the movie at times. Added to this is the dark violent graphic aspect of the movie that hits you periodically. The movie is more about the director's personal vision taking precedence over the story. Each scene is extremely powerful; though not all leads are tied up or all events explained at the end, you get caught up in the story anyway, despite it getting weirder.

Papillon - a 1973 Franklin Schaffner movie about escaping from prison. Excellent. Close to an epic.

Saturday night was fun. Met up with friends who I haven't seen in years. Ate shormas and visited CCD at Carter road, before heading to Elco's. Laughed and joked around a lot. Haven't done so in a while. Forgot how good it feels. Should do this more often.