Bad Start of the Day at Bad Water Basin? Nah Not Really.
"Where ever you go... just there, you are. Going day by day. So let's see where it takes me! Namaste. _/|\_"

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Friday, January 16, 2015

The Road to Mecca : California Nevada Dec'14 Series #2

Anza Borrego Desert State Park | California

Read Previous Post Here.

The Beauty of the Road, You never know what you'd encounter next. The uncertainty that keeps the adrenalin pumping, mind on alert, eyes on a constant look-out. No matter how many images you see, motion pictures you watch, stories you read, there is always something unseen there, no matter if you've been there before, there'd always be something new waiting for you next time you visit, and as for the plans, well, how about keeping all the planning aside and just being there at the moment, because, well, ultimately they're all gonna fail anyway.

If I could pick one memorable sight of all, then this has to be it. The hue of this wild grass, that left me awestruck. I kept looking at for minutes. What are those little things? wild flowers, seasonal vegetation, does it changes color during seasons? how it'll look in the bright sunlight? I kept asking me. Then took some images in iPhone, then in the Samsung or HTC phone my friend carried, in my DSLR later, the color was different everywhere. I thought of running in to valley and probably just sit there and write poetry on it. But I held my horses, It was already late, may be an hour or left of day light, and there was no point going to Salton Sea in the dark, unless I wanted to say hello to the ghosts.

Pine Valley

I remember the road ahead in blur, must have been one more valley, the one after this, a little less green, but orangish rather, tall shrubs, or tiny trees, the kind you see in orchards only with less leaves, and two passes, each gaining about 1-2000ft elevation from the plains. At one time the highway was cut right in the middle of the hill almost at its peak, driving down a slope, and we were in desert. The mountains reminded me a bit of ladakh, only low elevation and little less colorful, Could have been the background music, the Tibetan chants I have stored in my iPhone earlier this year. All this while we were in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Technically, the area began from the pine valley in the image above, and not sure how many miles we had driven until this point, the landscape was anything unlike the above. We skipped Borrego Springs, and headed further towards route CA-86. I am not sure if there is another road out there, While flying out of San diego after this trip, I looked down at this area I drove 4 days back in, made me notice the sheer vastness of the desert. while driving I was too busy looking at the sun, and praying for it to not go down, I was in a hurry.

Salton Sea | Aerial View

Anza Borrego is another must visit in the spring season. its when the cactus bloom, and valley is filled with white, yellow and purple wildflowers. I have to say, after this trip, spring has, perhaps become my favorite time of the year to be on the road anywhere in united states. Moreover, I cant wait to go back to this place next spring when the sleeping valley is up and smiling again. But for now, White sand, pale yellow grass, and dark green bushes is all I can see.

The Road to Mecca

After crossing the last of the mountain, It's just one straight road ahead and  nothing but the pink-peach sand all around. even road has a hue of red. Occasional campsites, a few of them looked like abandoned RV grounds, the others had little movement, saw some vehicles going towards one of them, then the dunes far off were visible. I could see some ATVs there yes. but no place to stop over and have a coffee / water so far, let alone eating. until almost the end of the road, and a 2 structures combined 1 floor house with a garage,  on our right. Couple of Harleys that cross passed us when we stopped over to take few shots near Pacific crest trail, were parked here. I got down to shoot few images, climbed back on the seat,  and drove off. It was about time I would be hit by the dilemma.

Salton Sea Desert

Route CA-86 and its history is something I am yet to discover, the word historic is even associated with it, I figured on the road, the road from Anza Borrego i.e. SH 78 meets Route 86 right at the south eastern end of the Salton Sea. The city is towards West, i.e. the other corner of where I was at this point, and Not something on my agenda. What I was here for, was the beach with dead fish floating in the water, and the skeletons in the sand. Ok dont look at me like that now. thats was made me curious at the first place and of course there were whole entire abandoned city that I heard is frequented by none but flickr photographers. I really wanted to shoot some eerie images there, the chances however were dim now that, the sun was already set, and I was no way getting in to the place in the dark, but I thought lets just make a round of it to atleast know the surroundings and if we should come back again by sunrise. So we took a right towards East CA-86 and then left on W Bannister Road and another left on one of the road that looks like I was back in countryside of Arizona, somewhere near Coolidge, only extra scary because it was getting dark and these weren't really road but just tracks going toward field.

Interesting are such times on the road because, not only you but GPS as well doesn't know what to do with you and your plans. No signals, add to the frustration dripping down on your face like you were sweating for hours. I clearly remembered searching and marking the spot on google long ahead of the trip and it was definitely on the east side, along with the Salvation Mountain, may be little ahead of this but this area looking nothing like what I saw in images, instead we hit a canal and then a board, a watch tower and a dead-end. And if I forgot to mention, I am actually driving in the mud here.

Salton Sea Area | Near Wildlife Refuge

As much as I love the road in the day time, I hate to spend nights on the highways. Its not that I am scared or worried, partially true, little less after every trip, but honestly there is absolutely nothing to see, its dark all around, and if not the extra caution while driving, the high beam of the vehicles on opposite direction makes it pretty much impossible to drive. Right now, I  can totally see that coming, and that is kind of making me mad. This is no place to stop, and Joshua National Parkour next destination, is still miles away. So Yes, I am getting restless, rolling my eyes in exasperation, totally looking forward to hitting the vehicle in that muddy pathway that looks no where drive friendly, if not a sight of another human being out there, should have done that already. Ah, there is another vehicle out there, may be someone who works in the fields here, local we thought. Nanditha engages in a quick chat, The elderly gentleman is a traveler, of course, thats an RV out there, what were we thinking really? He says there is no road ahead, he was biking in the area in the daytime and now returning, I couldn't wait to turn back the vehicle either, I even forget to climb the watch tower and get the view. adrenalin, I told you. Only thing I stop for is to take few images of the fields, mostly to remember How wrong I was about this place, doesn't look like abandoned to us at all, nope.

Salton Sea Area | Near Wildlife Refuge

One of the reasons, I elaborated on this part, and posted as many as three images from here, was because what I previously read, and expected in this trip. may be the place I was looking for was on the opposite end of the lake, the west side, the recreational area, as tagged on the map, or it was just few miles ahead on northern tip, doesn't matter. On reading many articles and photogs trip logs, it feels like the entire area is just plain desert and uninhibited, thats the impression, but none of it is true, I could see the road sketched out towards north, a few lights, sure some people may be living there, or who's irrigating this land and cultivating these crops here? then of course there is other side, where I'll reach in few minutes, which is a proper city. so if what reports say is true, are these people waiting for the lake to dry before they too leave this place?

Salton Sea Area | Near Wildlife Refuge

We are back on CA-86 and South now, slithering in between many many trucks, there was a road block or it was our stupidity, the diversion was just for the big vehicles leading them to the check point right where SH78 meets 86, the road that we came from. the officer saw us from far, clearly no sign or expression, I was ready with my sad smile - oh i was so stupid face already. he din't say a word, we got back on the road and drove off as fast as we could. Besides there was hardly any traffic out there, we left all the trucks behind, and no idiot like us was on the road driving to Joshua at 6 PM.

Salton City, did you say? Cant recall when we drove past that. Nothing close to highway, not even a gas station. about 3 weeks back I was watching "In to the wild" again. it was aftermath of the recently released "wild movie" which IMHO was the wild of another kind, and not what I thought. I had to erase its memories somehow. While on the road I didn't remember Salton city was featured in the movie "in to the wild" in fact, the area ahead in Mojave, Now I can recall, can perhaps even identify the locations it must have been shot in. but having said that, there is nothing interesting in the night, unless you are camping there and a galaxy of stars is twinkling up in the sky. For now we are just hungry,  so is our Chevy, and thanks to our stars, the next and only gas station before we took right, has the best pizza ever. how much, you must ask, $5.99 I say. yeah. go bite your tongue or seriously go to ampm and ask the very lovely Jessica to make a pizza for you.

[ Update 1/20/2015 - the ampm is supposedly with in Salton City the address says - AMPM, 2084 Marina Drive, Thermal, CA 92274 the city is on the right, on the shores of the Salton Sea, and we passed from outside of it. Perhaps the reason couldn't figure out the place. such is driving in the night, I tell you. ]

Joshua Tree National Park
Two sandwiches to go for the late night or early morning may be, and we headed to wilderness again or atleast thats what we thought, with some civilization tucked in here and there in still miles long road. Super hilarious that just now, while writing, and I have the map open in another window, that I found out the distant city lights that I was seeing, and I chose not to chase and rather take right to a shortcut, towards Joshua Tree National Park, were coming from Indio. Coachella Valley Yeah you read it right, the very famous venue of annual music festival that hollywood is crazy about. Oh why on earth did I not drive right across it then? I am asking myself right now. we could have stayed there for the night, could've explored a bit in the morning and then drive to the National Park? instead we took a road to Mecca. the road named Boxed Canyon, or if it was another desert, or the beginning of it. Mecca, the riverside county, that may have been just like what we saw in the eastern shore of the Salton Sea, if seeing in the daylight, and Boxed Canyon, well, I wonder how many people really travel on that road, we crossed two vehicles, no one crossed us. Ah moon was with us through out, and the headlights of vehicles sliding on the Hwy 10 in last 2-3 miles stretch. A Sloowwww ride it was, in the dark, carefully avoiding the chances of hitting any wildlife, just gazing the moon, assessing the headlights of Chevrolet Equinox ( figured the headlights are really good, only here) and waiting for a board to show up.

to be continued...

More images from the trip :
also on instagram @indigypsi and Twitter /Facebook.

Next up : JOshua Tree National Park & Mojave National Preserve

Saturday, January 10, 2015

How To Photograph The Northern Lights & For The First Time

I still have few images to post-process before I could publish the half-cooked 2nd installment from the Nevada-California trip, and If I begin now, It'll sure eat away my weekend. But I can not just allow that, Sun is shining bright and I really want to head out, besides I have something brand new waiting for me downstairs at the concierge, that I have not picked up yet, only because I am not ready, and Yes its a new gear. :) yay. So I thought I'll write a short one today, that's been in my mind for about a year now.

There are zillions of tutorials from every subject-matter expert, floating around on the internet currently then why would I really waste my time in writing this? The answer is, I am not writing it for who has already photographed the aurora and I am also not giving you an equipment lists and website details to find out if the sky is dark enough or there are clouds, or how do you prepare and later process the images. I am only giving you a short and simple list of things that I did not do and I think you should. This in a way is a checklist for me as well,  since I may be heading north, where Aurora has been seen before, and who knows I might get lucky and I definitely do not want to make the same mistakes that I did when I saw them for the first time. So you see it can be used the second time as well.

Alaska | Aurora | Northern Lights -

In past 5-6 years of my photography life, and choosing between 'using and letting the dslr sit home' and only use iPhone etc, there is one thing  I can tell, I haven't done yet and that is carrying a list of instruction, a checklist of settings or what  & where to do etc.  The other thing is I have GND , Haze and Polarizer filters etc and I haven't even used them once. The initiation of this write-up kinda got me thinking why I didn't ever and I think the answer was pretty simple, Its all too cumbersome, I managed few good images without them, and 3rd the foremost actually I was simply tired and I never had enough time at a place to set it all up and shoot. So technically I have not been photographing at all for all these years, in other words adventure took over, and when you are driving 2000 miles nonstop, braving the weather,  and processing all the new information your brain receives while on the road, photography does take a back seat. i.e. you are not prepared.

Having said all that, You do not need a 4 Page instruction list to carry with you when you are out photographing, and specifically when you go see northern lights. This is all you need and not need to know and do.

The Kp-Index Forecast

Seeing Aurora is not in your hands. "Let see if I may get lucky" is said for the right reasons. But having known the probability helps. looking up at the sky is also an exercise, and a thing you need to remember you have to do. besides who knows you may be sleeping in the backseat of your car, and your friends may be busy driving while Aurora may come, dance, have fun and go.. and You are still dozed off, because hey its post midnight, who can blame you.

If you know the kp-index you can stay alert of the aurora activities, in the region you are. You may take some rest in the day, That way you'd be more active at night and not yawn.
anything above 4, you should keep your hopes and eyes up, hands folded in a prayer. who knows it may rain, the clouds may disappear and auroras may flickr.

27 Days Aurora Forecast 
3 Days Aurora Forecast

When dim, Auroras are colorless

Now, did anyone tell you that, ever?  They may be unmoving and barely visible, the ripple, the sway and pulsation, may be missing, and you may think these are just clouds. If you're seeing 'em for the first time, great is such possibility. so unless you shoot, and see your DSLR screen green, you can not really be sure. bottomline, you think its aurora? take a shot immediately and confirm.

Stop Shooting. Just Watch.

Sorry, but someone had to say it. right!
I have written about Northern lights in details in this blogpost and also covered a bit in my Alaska feature. So I wouldn't repeat the superlatives and technical stuff. But everyone knows. Its one thing thats part of every bucket list ever made. A traveler's dream, and for s/he travelers thousand of miles north just to witness the spectacle, and when mother nature being super kind puts up a magic show in front of you, would you get busy setting your tripod and look for camera settings? really? seriously?

At one time I was driving and couldn't stop, the second time I was on the back-seat, and pretty much dozed off due to nyquil and couldn't really see, Third time I tried to set up the tripod but we were in the middle of the road and there were monster trucks behind,  at last we stop on a narrow road, took few test shots, and 2 fine and then just enjoyed the show for about 80 minutes, until they almost fade. and when I say enjoyed, meaning standing tall looking up, in all directions, sitting quietly in the corner of the road, and lying on the ground in  shavasana ( yoga pose).

My point, when something you see in dream comes right in front of you, see it, embrace it, and not worry about recording it for other to see and you to announce the world, that hey look my dream came alive.perhaps one image is more than enough.

I can not possibly describe my feelings, even after 15 months, but I can assure you, The moments like these are those most intimate experience, the time when you are one with yourself and all the facade of the world disappear. nature does that, and its in our best interest not to interfere.

convinced? no? Okay. Alright.

Widest Aperture, High ISO, Manual Mode - Focus on Infinity ∞ 

Do one of these things - Keep your camera settings ready in advance ( best practice) or keep a little sticky note, with these settings written somewhere easy to find. As I mentioned somewhere above, I don't do it. Perhaps few folks do, and I think its a good practice, specially after all these trips I realized, I am so high on adrenalin when I am the road, I pretty much forget everything, like if I have the remote in some pocket, or why I dint use Grad ND filters when I had the light issue. There is so much information inflow in the brain, overload actually, everything except "living fully in that moment" goes on the back seat. to tell you the truth, I forgot I had a manual mode in my DSLR when I saw the northern lights. Silly me. yeah of course.

It can be fun sometimes, like for example, my friend called me in the dawn hours. he was in alaska, I was in new york. He was lip-shivering, he's seeing the lights but he can't get anything on camera, and I was yelling out loud - push that bloody ISO to whatsoever max limit it has- now do you see anything?

That was good. fun. hmm.

On serious photography note :
  • Put that camera in Manual Mode,
  • Lens in Manual focus.
  • Slide the focus to infinity.
  • Set the aperture to f/2.8 or max you have on your camera. and
  • Shutter speed to 30sec.
  • ISO to 1600/3200 whichever max you have.
  • Beginning with these settings, when you start shooting, check how exposed is your image.
  • Too bright - stop down ISO to lower values 1600, 800, then 400..
  • and in that sequence go about aperture and then shutter speed.
  • Too less of light, you can use the bulb mode and remote to keep the shutter open for as long as you can.
  • A lot of folks suggest the bottom up approach, but I think it waste less time, and its less erroneous, if you start w/ a max out.  Those who regularly use SLR may understand this. its easy to read & understand light from top up. simple tip but useful in such circumstance.
  • Shoot in RAW. you know it already. read a zillion times, that tip. 
  • Don't care about white balance, you can change it later. if you shoot in RAW that is.
I assume you know you need good full batteries? these are those times when your camera gets a crazy appetite. you wouldn't want to keep it hungry and cold. the many other preparation tips you can see in most of the websites. Just google away.

No DSLR ? Shooting with the Digital Camera or iPhone

I never tried digital camera, however I remember my friend telling me he tried iPhone and din't get anything. from what I know, you are in Hard luck if you try anything but DSLR, BUT, it also depends on How bright the Auroras are. a very high KPindex and you can see and also get entire spectrum in your image.

Thats one, and for 2nd, Try some slow shutter or long exposure apps on your iPhone. Yup. The other day I tried a few free ones on the dark night and they can get you a decent night shot, now what you do need to see is, how many shutter seconds it give you. Most of the free apps have 10 second limits, anything that give you about 25-30 seconds, thats the one for you. try that and let me know.

You can thank me later.

P.S. I'll try one of these free apps in my next trip and let you know which one is for keeps. Someone, do remind me of that..

Scouting Location & Compositions

If you're at a certain location already and just waiting for Auroras to show up, You can use your day/evening time to look for nice compositions to go with the sky images easily. seen the place already, go there and set up the tripod and wait. But if your encounter is as wild as mine, use the minima rule and shoot. check your surroundings if you can find something interesting to have as your foreground.

Its pretty tricky, for as I recall, unless you shoot in the dark and look at your screen, you ain't really seeing or realizing how it is 10-20 ft ahead on the ground, because the dark nights. Road looks pretty good in the foreground with leading lines on the sky, but make sure you're on the road that has no traffic, or its a goodbye. I had nothing interesting so I used my car for couple of shots, kinda unusual, I know, but gave me a totally unique image.

Not to repeat, you are mostly away from the citylights, and also the signals, so pretty hard to just google/gps out a nice water body or some perfect location at the last minute.

Well, That is about all I can remember as of now, I' shall update if something comes to my mind that I missed. Its January, and still plenty of days to go Aurora Hunting this season. All the best.
to you and me both. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

To make an end is to make a beginning

...For last year's words belong to last year's language And next year's words await another voice. - T S Eliot

Bookmaking, an art, and Self-publishing also an art, I discovered around this time 3 years back. I began my bookmaking journey with a short coffee table book dedicated to jewels of the Cold deserts, in this case, from Nubra Valley of one of my favorite place on earth, Ladakh. I did not know how to even write a forward then, and so I very smartly skipped it all and let the images do the talking. My  unwillingness to take part in over the top publicity and flooding the social media, may have not given me much monetary benefits but that wasn't the result I was wanting to achieve in this tedious ( i figured) process. But it taught me a lot about how I should look at art, a creation. I realized why mother nature, didn't just leave us looking like manikins, still as statue and with no skills to express.

A travel is not complete until you tell its story. all those emotions that you feel are to be expressed if not those weren't deep enough, or important really. Photography, sketching, painting, pottery or any art for that matter, is also telling a story, and that story should be complete. it should have an end, a thread that breathe us in to a new beginning. that's how affectionate bookmaking has been to me since, It is that fondness with which I am fastened to each and every article, every image of mine. A million thoughts and an indefinite amount of time, that I spent in its conception, and not seeing the end is like never seeing a baby after carrying it in your womb for nine long months.

One of the most viewed article on this blog is Dhanushkodi, a small island block in southern india, more than just another place, actually, and from what I experienced, standing in the shallow waters at the merging point of Indian ocean and Bay of Bengal, the time stood still. When I wrote the article, I don't think I felt so deeply connected to it. Something seemed to be missing there, that disconnection, mixed with my disappointment over seeing such living conditions made me vary from whatever i captured in imagse and words, I looked through images many a times, sit for hours try to feel what story they're telling me but all I found in my head was a zero.

Like most of my work is, out in an impulse, i.e these thoughts that would run away in seconds if I don't sketch 'em, 2 nights back, I decided I did need to end few things, and one of 'em looked like this.

Dhanuskodi : 

preview only shows first 15 pages of the book.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Letter to Santa : My 2015 Travel Wishlist

Anza-Borrego & Salton Sea i.e. the second post from California-Nevada trip has to wait. 1 day to X-mas, I need to finish my Letter to Santa. I have already written one on "macy's : a million reasons to believe" ( check the link for more details macy's make-a-wish donation campaign) though, 3 very basic, little things ;), I missed the travel part there, so tradition you know. Its a wishlist of course, but there is nothing much unrealistic about it, like for example,  I want to go there, but I don't think I can, still I wish to, kind, so here you go Santa, and Don't you worry, it'll be pretty short & sweet and totally easy for you to fulfill, my patron Saint.

1. India : 
First thing, I can't believe in less than a month, its gonna be been two years for me to not go out of United States, in other words, being away from India. Never before I stayed away that long, Not that I am complaining, I actually wonder, how I used to, widen and roll my eyes, when I hear my friends telling me, they've not been to India for 3 years etc. I think Its high time, I make a visit. I even have a road-map planned specially in the hope to attend Kumbh Mela in Nasik. So come July -Sep 2015, and if not April 2016 for Ujjain Kumbh, for one of these I just gotta go and get a dip in holy ganges.

image :

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Finding Cuyamaca : California Nevada Dec'14 Series #1

view near the Cuyamaca lake, Canon 450D, Tokina 11-16

About 40 miles away from South San Diego, when I took a left turn from National Hwy 8, I never had the slightest of the idea, that I'd be in for a 'surprise of the trip' here. The Charming winding roads, cattles grazing, rustic old victorian architecture, beautiful ranches in midst of the oak forests, red and orange hues of fall colors ( still there in december) and the grass in color pallete I can not possibly describe. From the sea level I was suddenly standing on a lake shore, at an elevation of about 5000 ft, trying to get a glimpse of a vast valley and the mountains, hidden in the mist.

Out in the wilderness here in USA multiple times now, I do not carry any plan any more. We just land at a certain city, hire a car and get on the road. Though the limited time, doesn't allow a satisfactory level of discovering the landscape, I feel its a good recce for the future trips. Because once the terrain is somewhat familiar, its easy to venture out for a deeper exploration, i.e. a couple of days of hiking, or even photography trips for that matter, because, while on the road, I hardly do justice to the place, just stopping the car in the corner and taking a quick shot, that my friend, is no way photography.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What I learned from my 5 Back-road Trips to America's National Parks in Last 1 Year...

I am out in 2 days and I thought It'd be a good idea to summarize the experience and leave you with little read, so here you go...

Since 2006 when I first came to United States ( for a -3 months business trip ) on my maiden international trip, I have traveled to many popular as well as remote places in this country. Most of these trips were group road trips to nearby cities and wilderness-state parks, and I was mostly on the back seat, i.e. all I am doing is going where others would take me, see what others wanted to me to see, seek what others were seeking, and even sometime eat what others were craving for. I still do that though, don't really prefer to interfere in hungry people's palatal desires. These trips in all except a few weren't as fulfilling as I feel now these could've been, But they paved the path for me to discover what sort of experience I was looking for, and thats apart from taking in to account the kind of travel I was doing.

"On the way to Lower Antelope Canyon"

When I moved base to united states again, earlier last year, I had this desire to explore national parks on my own. So I began my adventure with the 49th State, Alaska, and then explored the South west, Pacific west, Southern and bits of Mid-atlantic and North-east and in different seasons.  12 months later, I feel I am wiser, more confident and actually do understand this country and its landscape, much better than I ever did. And this I say about both, one, planning the adventure part and two, cultural part. In this article, I would jot down a few points focussing mainly on the planning part because as easy as it may sound, that all you need is a credit card to travel in this country, there is way lot more to it and knowing those tit-bits can save you a lot of time and make your experience in back country area much better. ( City travel plan I may cover somewhere else and later )

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Coney Island Presents...

I hope you'll are having a great thanksgiving weekend, enjoying family time and of course shopping deals atleast here in US, but weekend still in rest of the world. I did my fair bit of online shopping earlier this morning, clearing out carts that were pending for couple of days, and avoided going out totally. Although I am totally regretting my decision now, I should have just gone for a walk. Just thought I'd be a little productive on an otherwise lazy day and write a bit, while I wait for some ombre magic  to set in my hair.

I know I have been talking about image archives almost nonstop since earlier this year, and that I really want to bring all the images out, in one way or the other, because honestly, thousands of images sitting in the archives, unpublished, unseen, really don't do good to no-body. So I suggest if you photoshoot often, and have good inflow of images, you better release them in whatsoever way you' feel comfortable.

Having said that, I should also take my own advice, right? so here I begin with sharing few images from April this year, when I visited this interesting, historical and a very unique place in New York called Coney Island.


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