Valparai- The Quintessential Rainforest

VALPARAI- The Quintessential Rainforest

A photo essay of the beautiful landscapes, forest, birds and animals of Valparai.

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Rainforest canopy of Valparai

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Aliyar Dam view from the Ghats

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Parambikulam Reservoir view from one of the Tea Estates

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Tea Plantation with fragmented forests

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Stream at Neerar

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Neerar River

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A typical early morning scene at Valparai

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View of Grasshills

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Morning mist

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Mist covering the plantations

  Wildlife

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Probably the most common bird calls that anyone can recognize is that of the Malabar Whistling Thrush’s (Myophonus horsfieldii). Colloquially called the Whistling School Boy, these are found through out Valparai.

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Great Pied Hornbill (Buceros bicornis) a large bird with a fascinating character.

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Malabar Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros griseus) a Western Ghat endemic is also found in good numbers in Valparai. With it’s distinctive chuckling calls its easy to identify them.

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Great Pied Hornbill (Buceros bicornis) Male

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Nilgiri Langur (Trachypithecus johnii) is a Western Ghat endemic and shares the rainforest canopies with the Lion Tailed Macaques. Unlike the LTMs, these monkeys purely survive on Leaves.

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Lion Tailed Macaque (Macaca silenus), another primate endemic to the Western Ghats. The last 3500-400 individuals roam in Valparai and in fragmented rainforest in Karnataka. A few are also found in the South Eastern part of Western Ghats in Meghamalai Wildlife Sanctuary.

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Lion Tailed Macaque (Macaca silenus)

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Nilgiri Tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius). The State animal of Tamilnadu and Endemic to the Southern Western Ghats.

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Elephants in the Tea Plantations

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Lion Tailed Macaque on the forest floor

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Elephants in the Tea Plantation

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Nilgiri Tahr on the rocky walls of Valparai

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Nilgiri Tahr with its young resting in the shade.

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Sambar Deer (Rusa Unicolor) watching a pack of Dholes (Cuon Alpinus)

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Dhole (Cuon Alpinus)

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Dholes or Asiatic Wild Dogs are top notch predators. Using their small size to their advantage they navigate between the tea plantation in search of prey.

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Elliot’s Shieldtail a non-venomous snake.

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Mission Wide Angle

Some time in 2013, October if I remember well, I had taken my Uncle on a wildlife trip to Mudumalai. He was visiting India for only 6 days and was on a tight schedule. While he got back from Kodaikanal to Coimbatore with my cousin, I was getting back to Coimbatore from a holiday in Kovalam. After an 8 hour drive from Kerala, I met my Uncle at my cousin’s house and we started our drive to Mudumalai.

We woke up late the next morning and went for a drive towards Thepakkadu and Bandipur. We managed to see the usual wildlife on the main road with no luck with big cats or Sloth Bear, got back to the resort for lunch and a siesta. Later that evening, we went for a drive towards Singara Road and Moyar Road. This one time, probably the first time, I decided not to take my tele-photo lens with me and carried only my Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4 ED VR Wide Angle lens with the D3s. I made up my mind that if I spotted any animal, be it a Tiger or a Leopard, far or near, I am not going to regret the fact that I left my tele-photo lens behind and make best use of the ultra wide angle lens I voluntarily decided to take along. As luck would have it, we did not spot any tiger or leopard. But we came across a Bull Elephant, standing on a game track about 8 to 10 meters off the road. Being used to looking at wildlife through the view finder, especially with a tele-photo lens, the experience viewing with an ultra wide angle lens was very different. I was liking it, in fact loving it.

At 16mm on a full frame camera, I saw a bit of tarmac, the game track, the lantana and cacti in front of the elephant, the elephant itself and the cloud filled Nilgiris behind the pachyderm. Suddenly there was so much going on in the frame with the clouds moving and the elephant dusting itself off with mud. From the body language of the elephant I could tell he was not in a good mood, so before making him lose his temper I wanted to make a few images and leave.

I was mighty happy with the results. That’s when I decided I am going to carry the wide angle lens with me and look for interesting perspectives every time I step into the jungle. Ever since, I have had the opportunity to get up close to some animals a few times and shoot with my Wide Angle lens to get alternative perspective of the animal.

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Elephant on Moyar Road, shot at 35mm

The second opportunity came up about 4 months after my visit to Mudumalai with my Uncle. This time, it was a known elephant. I have seen this elephant for years now and spent a good amount of time watching him and photographing him in the past. The sighting was close to Sigur bridge on a friend’s farmland. Since this elephant was used to my presence, I took the liberty to walk up to him very slowly, of course after reading his body language and took cover behind a tree about 15-20 feet from him. He stopped feeding for a minute and was noticing what I was up to. After realizing that I was up to nothing but making noises with my camera, he went back to gracing. I seized the moment with this capture and was fortunate enough to get another personal favorite image.

Elephant at Sigur, shot at 35mm

Elephant at Sigur, shot at 35mm

As a professional photographer I frequently drive up to Valparai on work. The best part about working in Valparai is that I get to shoot wildlife while I am at work. On one such trip I had the opportunity to photograph a Nilgiri Tahr up close. Rather than me going to the animal, I was waiting for the goat to walk towards my car so that he knew I was not intruding his space. It took about 5-10 minutes but that’s beauty of it. I have learned, the more you wait, the better photographs you will be able to make in the process. Unfortunately everything revolves around the clock these days and everyone is in a hurry to get things done. But ultimately, shooting wildlife is not about rushing up. Of course, the waiting has to be backed with a fair amount of knowledge of the subject, otherwise one would end up waiting for nothing.

Nilgiri Tahr, shot at 16mm

Nilgiri Tahr, shot at 16mm

An Indian Gaur we encountered on the way to Thengumarada shot at 35mm on the Nikon D810.

Gaur at Thengumarada, shot at 35mm

Gaur at Thengumarada, shot at 35mm

Finally, one of my favorite images of an elephant that I photographed last week. Even though it was not a wild elephant, we did not change anything from the scene. We did not position the animal there, we did not ask people to move away, we did not do anything other than treat it as a wild subject and photographed it like how we would photograph a wild elephant. The lighting was utterly brilliant that day and it couldn’t have gotten any better.

Elephant at Thepakkadu, shot at 35mm

Elephant at Thepakkadu, shot at 35mm

Conclusion: Wide Angle lens for photographing mammals is Epic! A lot of budding photographers today are under the misconception that wildlife photography is all about shooting with a telephoto lens. A telephoto lens is just an aid to shoot animals up close when you don’t have the opportunity get close to the animals. It is certainly not a mandatory equipment to have to pursue wildlife photography. Bird photography, though, is a different ball game all together.

I have thoroughly enjoyed shooting mammals with an Ultra Wide Angle lens and I think a few of us should experiment with an alternative perspective when it comes to shooting wild animals.

Souvenir from a Nosy Traveller

Hello everyone, I am back after a really long break. This time with a very different travelogue. Here I was, traveling to the ever beautiful Meghamalai yet again. But this time around, I had a different idea of a travelogue, a rather insignificant one at that!

For someone with an acute sense of smell, I decided to put my sensory receptors to good use this time around and register every smell I encounter all the way long with the car windows down (hence a Nosy Traveller). Somewhere in between, we couldn’t take the heat of the day so we put up the windows briefly to turn the air conditioner ON. The route we took from Coimbatore to Meghamalai this time was through Munnar, as we had a shoot to be done at Briar Tea Bungalows’, Talayar Valley Bungalow. From Munnar we took the Kumily route to get to Chinnamanur and off we were to Meghamalai.

From the perennial smell of diesel smoke to the inviting scent of Rainfall, here goes…

  1. Charcoal Smoke
  2. Diesel Smoke from Truck
  3. Singnallur Lake (Organic-Rich Water)
  4. Vegetable Market
  5. Brinjal Bajji
  6. Garbage Truck
  7. Whiff of Fresh Banana
  8. Garbage Bin
  9. Diesel Smoke from Bus
  10. Bakery (Kings Bakes)
  11. Fresh Smell of Flower Garlands
  12. Diesel Smoke from a School Bus
  13. Cooking Smoke from a Road side tent
  14. Diesel Smoke from Truck
  15. Bajji/ Bonda Mix
  16. Smoke from a pile of leaves burning
  17. Smoke from burning garbage
  18. Diesel smoke from a Truck
  19. Burning Rubber
  20. Smoke from garbage burning
  21. Petrol fumes from a Hyundai Santro
  22. Smoke from a road side bakery
  23. Smoke from burning waste
  24. Jasmine Flower
  25. Versace Eros
  26. Smoke from burning wood
  27. Highly revolting smell of garbage
  28. Masal Vadai
  29. Stink from a Garbage Truck
  30. Diesel smoke from a Truck
  31. Vibhudhi (Temple Ashes)
  32. Whiff of dust from road
  33. Garbage bin
  34. Diesel smoke from bus
  35. Bakery (Sona Bakes)
  36. Deep frying (Bajji??)
  37. Smoke from brewing tea
  38. Kerosene Smoke
  39. Smoke from bakery
  40. Smoke from water heating
  41. Bakery smell of Ghee Biscuit
  42. Smoke from a bakery
  43. Stink from garbage dump
  44. Fish fry
  45. Bajji
  46. Smoke from brewing tea
  47. Temple-Ponneri
  48. Diesel smoke from a truck
  49. Sewage stench
  50. Flower garland
  51. Dust from road at Udumalpet
  52. Diesel smoke from Bus
  53. Air Conditioner turned ON
  54. Fresh tea plantation
  55. Diesel smoke from the Bus
  56. Lantana plants
  57. Tea factory
  58. Mountain mist
  59. Diesel smoke from Bus
  60. Tea factory
  61. Gas Station
  62. Cement dust from road side
  63. Diesel smoke from vehicle
  64. Cow dung
  65. Brake busted on a Truck
  66. Eucalyptus Tree
  67. Cow Dung
  68. Smoke from the kitchen
  69. Petrichor (The smell of Rain)
  70. Diesel smoke from Truck
  71. Beedi (Indian cigarette made out of leaves)
  72. Smoke from Jeep exhaust
  73. Petrol fumes from Bajaj M80 (Been a while since I saw these scooters)
  74. Cooking smoke
  75. Diesel smoke from Car
  76. Diesel smoke from Truck
  77. Garbage dump
  78. Detergent soap
  79. Unidentified Organic smell
  80. Plenty petrichor
  81. Flower market
  82. Onion Bajji
  83. Vegetable Kurma
  84. Heavy smell of Coriander
  85. Road side bajji shop
  86. Temple Ashes (Viboodhi)
  87. Cow shed
  88. Smoke from water heating
  89. Petrol smoke from TVS Champ
  90. Garbage dump
  91. Fumes from a welding machine
  92. Bonda/ Bajji
  93. Tea shop
  94. Petrol smoke from a bike
  95. Camphor
  96. Smoke from water heating
  97. Smoking Benzoin Resin
  98. Diesel smoke from Truck
  99. Cow shed
  100. Unknown Grains left of the road
  101. Smoke/ Fire
  102. Diesel smoke from Jeep
  103. Camphor smell from Temple

It’s only after I reached the destination and took a look at the list I made did I realized how much fuel smoke and pollution we inhale everyday. The only realization that came out of this random sensory experiment is that, it’s a much better option traveling with your car windows up and air conditioner on.