Thursday, February 4, 2016

Tibet | February 2016



There were  two news items recently in the Tibet Post which merit attention.

The first published on 31st January 2016 mentioned that Tibet will be closed to foreign tourists from February 25th and possibly reopen on March 30th. Though the report does not specifically mention this it seems that China is not wanting any tourists in Tibet around March 8th which is the anniversary of the 2008 protests which left 150 people killed. There is also likely to be a huge security build up in Tibet by Chinese troops during this time.
The link to the article is below:
http://www.thetibetpost.com/en/news/tibet/4888-tibet-to-be-closed-to-foreign-visitors-at-the-end-of-february

The second news item reported that the Chinese have ordered the Tibetans to stop displaying the photos of the Dalai Lama.  The notice put up by the Chinese is below:




The report mentions that:

"Tibetan shopkeepers in Drakgo County, eastern Tibet (Ch: Luhuo County, Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture) have been ordered by Chinese authorities to hand over all photos of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. "Anyone violating these directives will be severely punished according to the law," Ngawang Chenrab told the Tibet Post International, citing local sources".

The link to the report is below:
http://www.thetibetpost.com/en/news/tibet/4887-china-orders-tibetans-in-tibet-to-stop-displaying-qdalai-lama-photosq

Sadly the situation is Tibet is not looking good and one hopes that it does not spiral out of control.

For more news on Tibet please do visit:

http://www.phayul.com

http://freetibet.org/news

http://www.voatibetanenglish.com/

Friday, January 29, 2016

Everest Trek: Peakfinder Screenshots 2 Dingboche and Imja Valley

This is the second post on the Peakfinder screen shots from the Everest region covering Dingboche, Chukung and the Imja Valley.

Dingboche looking south east

Dingboche looking north east

Dingboche looking south west

Dingboche looking west

Above Chukung looking south east

Above Chukung looking south west

Above Chukung looking south

Above Chukung looking north east

Friday, January 22, 2016

Everest Trek: Peakfinder Screenshots 1 Kala Pattar and Khumbu valley

As mentioned in some of my earlier posts, I have started using the Peakfinder app extensively on my treks to identify the peaks and have been saving the screenshots on my Ipad. Here are the screen shots from that iconic view point Kala Pattar and lower down the Khumbu valley.

Kala Pattar looking north 

Kala Pattar looking south west

Kala Pattar looking south




Approaching Lobuche 

From Dugla looking south

From Dugla looking south west

From the memorials above Dugla looking south

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Ghandrung, Ghorepani, Poon Hill Trek


The short five or six day Pokhara to Pokhara Ghandrung to Ghorepani trek via Australian Camp and Landrung is an ideal introduction to trekking in the Nepal Himalaya.

This is a perfect first time trek for those who want a taste of trekking but do not have the time or inclination to do a long trek. It has some great plus points :
a) it is short
b) it does not go higher than 3000 metres so no altitude issues
c) it has fabulous views every day of some of the greatest peaks in the Himalayas
d) it has good lodges to stay every night with excellent meals
e) it is an ideal family trek

South Col does this route every year in December as that is one of the ideal seasons for this route. For some photographs and route description please read on!

Poon Hill sunset- Annapurna I and South

Descending from Landrung to the river at Bee Hive before climbing to Ghandrung

Gurung Cottage Ghandrung

Breakfast at Tadapani

Evening Poon Hill

Looking west Poon Hill

Night sky Ghorepani

Dhaulagiri and Tukuche sunrise from Ghorepani with the Kali Gandaki valley in cloud

Resources

For details of the route and description of this trek do visit http://www.southcol.com/treks-nepal/trekking-annapurna/

For alternative approaches to the Annapurna region from Pokhara please do visit  http://sujoyrdas.blogspot.in/2014/06/approach-to-annapurna-base-camp-abc-trek.html


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Nikon D500 Announced

Photo of D500


Nikon sprung a major surprise by announcing the launch of the New Nikon D500 DX format top of the line DSLR. For years photographers have debated whether the D300 would be upgraded or this was the end of the so called Pro DX line. The new D500 fulfills most of the expectations of DX shooters with top of the line features some of the more important ones are covered below:

  • 20.9MP DX format CMOS sensor and EXPEED 5 image processor - This is a new sensor for the D500 and promises to be very good
  • Multi-CAM 20K Autofocus sensor with 153/99 AF points - 153 AF points gives it a superb autofocus system
  • ISO range of 100-51,200 expandable to Lo 1 and Hi 5 (50 – 1,640,000 equivalent) - Possibility of pushing higher ISOs with reduced noise
  • Share images instanly with built-in SnapBridge (Wi-Fi® + Bluetooth) capabilities
  • Shoot cinematic 4K UHD video
  • Dual card slots - XQD and SD media
The feature list is impressive and I am quite sure sports and wildlife photographers who are looking to upgrade from D200/D300/D300s will look no further. 

The list price of the body is US $ 1999/- the street price should be lower. 

For a comparison between the D500 and D300s take a look at this link


Press Release

Here is the official press release from Nikon:


LAS VEGAS, NV (January 5, 2016) – Today, Nikon Inc. announced the D500, a DX-format DSLR with pro-level features that gives photographers nimble handling, speed and extreme processing power in a compact and lightweight body. With amazing imaging capability, robust build quality and lightning fast performance, the D500 is sure to satisfy as the highly sought-after successor to the venerable D300S. Like its sibling the D5, the D500 benefits from Nikon’s latest technological innovations such as the totally new, blazing-fast Multi-CAM 20K 153-point AF system and 4K UHD video capture, yet adds a fun new way to share photos with Nikon SnapBridge built-in.

“Nikon has answered the call from photographers to once again re-invent this camera category and offer an unmatched combination of performance and value that is hard for any photographer to resist,” said Masahiro Horie, Director of Marketing and Planning, Nikon Inc. “When paired with the amazing imaging capabilities of legendary NIKKOR optics, photographers can capture intimate portraits, mind-blowing macros or action from extreme distances– the possibilities are endless.”

Pro-Level Image Quality, DX-Format Versatility

The D500 imagines the best of both worlds, offering advanced enthusiasts and pro photographers all the benefits of DX-format, such as smaller form-factor and lens crop, combined with many of the same advanced pro features found in the new Nikon D5. The new Nikon D500 features an all-new 20.9-megapixel DX-format CMOS sensor that renders images with outstanding colors and gorgeous tonality. This new sensor is coupled with Nikon’s new EXPEED 5 image processing engine, affording low noise and maximum processing power with a surprisingly small footprint and superbly balanced body.

The benefits of the DX-format are evident for long-distance applications like wildlife and sports photography, where telephoto ability is at a premium and weight reduction is welcome. With Nikon’s legendary FX or smaller-sized DX-format NIKKOR lenses, the sleek D500 is the ideal companion for wanderlust. When mated with the new AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens, the D500 offers a remarkable 350-750mm equivalent focal range for a lightweight, yet super-telephoto duo.

Because amazing images can happen even when the sun goes down, the D500 is capable of excellent low-light performance, with an ISO range of 100-51,200, expandable to 50-1,640,000 equivalent. From low-light cityscapes to action sports under the lights, the D500 is ready to tackle any imaging challenge.

Performance Meets Portability

Within the streamlined body of the D500 is a formidable processing powerhouse. Whether photographing sideline sports for the home team or animals in exotic destinations, a super-fast 10 frames-per-second (fps) burst speed with full AF and AE will help nail nearly any shot. This extreme speed lets users capture every fleeting moment in exceptional clarity, while a generous buffer allows for up to 79 shots (14-bit, uncompressed RAW/NEF) to be captured, so the moment won’t be missed.

To keep pace with the action, the D500 is fitted with the same AF system as the Nikon D5, the Multi-CAM 20K AF sensor module, with a separate dedicated processor for AF function. On the D500’s DX format sensor, the 153-point AF array fills the frame from side to side, letting users flawlessly track and lock-onto subjects from the edges of the viewfinder. Like the D5, the D500 utilizes the new 180K RGB Metering system and Advanced Scene Recognition System to help ensure balanced exposures and fantastic color rendition in nearly any shooting situation.

Controls and Rugged Construction Worthy of a Flagship

The D500 features an enhanced level of robust build quality, offering the same amount of rugged weather sealing as the Nikon D810. The durable body is a monocoque structure composed of magnesium alloy for the top and rear, while the front is reinforced with lightweight carbon fiber. The shutter mechanism has been tested for 200K actuations, helping to ensure maximum endurance. For further durability, the D500 excludes a pop-up flash, yet is compatible with Nikon’s newest radio frequency capable flash, the SB-5000 Speedlight (with optional WR-R10 & WR-A10)1.

It’s easy to compose and view images on the D500’s bright 3.2-inch, high resolution (2359K-dot) touchscreen LCD, which lets users interact with photos in playback, control the camera and operate menus. When mounted on a tripod or shooting from creative angles, landscape and event shooters will appreciate the reinforced tilting LCD screen, similar to that of the Nikon D750. Additionally, images are rapidly written to either a fast XQD card slot or to the additional SD card slot for maximum workflow efficiency.

Constant Connectivity with the New Nikon SnapBridge

The D500 marshals in a new way to share photos wirelessly with the new Nikon SnapBridge, making the camera’s built-in connectivity easier to use than ever before. SnapBridge allows for Bluetooth2 supported connection between your camera and compatible smart device, thus making automatic upload of your images possible. Once enabled, the camera stays connected to the smart device and transfers photos, eliminating the need to re-connect devices. Those looking to share images from their travels or from the field can also tag images for transfer in camera and can password protect their connection for added security. As an added benefit, the D500’s built-in Near Field Communication (NFC)3 capability easily connects the camera to a compatible smart device with just a tap, while built-in Wi-Fi3 capability allows for faster wireless image transfer.

For those looking for an even faster transfer solution, the D500 is also compatible with the new optional WT-7A Wireless Transmitter, enabling wired or wireless transmission of files to an FTP server or computer at faster speeds.

Advanced Video Features

Just like the D5, the D500 has the ability to capture striking 4K UHD video at up to 30p (3840×2160), as well as Full HD (1080p) video at a variety of frame rates. Ready for any production, the camera sports a host of pro video features derived from the D810, including uncompressed HDMI output and Picture Controls, but adds even more great features. These pro-level creative video features include the ability to create 4K time-lapse movies in-camera, Auto ISO smoothing to provide fluid transitions in exposure during recording, and the capability to record 4K UHD video to the card and output to HDMI simultaneously. When capturing 1080p Full HD content, the camera also has a new 3-axis electronic VR feature that can be activated regardless of the lens being used. Challenging video exposures are no problem for the D500, as it also adds in Active D-Lighting to Full HD video to balance exposure values within a scene to help prevent blown-out highlights

Price and Availability

The new Nikon D500 DSLR will be available in March 2016 for a suggested retail price (SRP) of $1,999.95* for the body-only configuration. A kit will also be available, bundled with the versatile AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-80mm f/2.8-4E ED VR lens, for the SRP of $3,069.95*. The MB-D17-battery pack will also be available in March 2016 for the SRP of $449.95* and will add extended battery life and facilitate vertical shooting. The WT-7A Wireless Transmitter will be available in March 2016, for the SRP of $934.95*. For more information on these new Nikon products, please visit www.nikonusa.com. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Everest Trek: The crossing of Cho La Pass (5420m)



Cho La Pass
Many years ago I was sitting in a lodge in Upper Pisang on the Annapurna circuit trek. I started a conversation with an elderly Jewish gentleman who was quite amazed to see Indian trekkers in Nepal. In the course of our discussion I happened to mention that I had trekked in the Khumbu.
"But have you crossed the Cho La" he demanded.
I replied that I had not.
"If you haven't crossed the Cho La you haven't done the Khumbu" he replied triumphantly.
This remark rankled me and for the next few years whenever I went to the Khumbu, the Cho La was on my radar. However invariably due to bad weather, snowfall, etc the pass could not be crossed. This happened on a number of occasions.

Finally on November 18th 2015 in near perfect conditions we crossed the pass from Dzongla on the Lobuche side to Thagnak on the Gokyo side. It had been more than 15 years since that discussion in Upper Pisang.

A detailed account of the crossing along with photographs is below.

November 17th 2015
Indraneel, Sanjukta and myself accompanied by our sirdar Shyam and two porters left Lobuche around 9.40 am for Dzongla, which comprises of a number of lodges at the foot of the pass. The trail initially followed the main trail down to Pheriche but after around 25 min, the main trail crosses the stream over to the other side. Do not cross but remain on the same side of the valley. The trail then crosses a broad maidan which is used as the Base Camp of Lobuche East.


It then starts climbing and skirting the hill directly opposite to the Pheriche trail. After a few minutes you can see the lodges of Dugla far below, the Dudh Kosi river and in the distance Pheriche. The view is extremely impressive covering Pumori, Lingtren, Kumbutse, Nuptse, Ama Dablam, Kangtega, Thamserku, Taboche, Cholatse and Lobuche East. A feat for the eyes!

In around an hour and a half the trail turns a corner and you can see a beautiful emerald green lake below Cholatse. The trail then travels high above the shores of the lake until it reaches a high point from where the lodges of Dzongla can be seen across the valley.

The lodges of Dzongla and the first part of the route marked in red
The last thirty minutes crosses a frozen stream and then climbs up gently to the lodges of Dzongla. We stayed at the Mountain Home lodge which was pretty full with trekkers both going to Gokyo and coming down from Cho La. 

Around three in the afternoon, we got the news of an accident. A trekker coming down had been injured in a rock fall and she could not move. She was carried down in a make shift stretcher in a Gamow bag. By then the weather had broken and a thick cloud cover had reduced visibility to fifty metres. No helicopter could come in today to pick her up. The thick cloud cover, the chilling temperatures and the aftermath of the accident depressed us sitting in our lodge dining room. While I wrote this note Shyam and the other sirdar's were engaged in a game of cards. We all hoped that the weather would improve tomorrow.
Lobuche (4940m) to Dzongla (4850m) 3 to 4 hours easy walking

November 18th 2015
We had decided to have breakfast at 4.30am and leave at 5 am for the pass provided the weather was good. I woke up at around 3. 30 am after a bitterly cold night- somehow Dzongla was the coldest place we had stayed in so far on this trek. I looked out of the window from my sleeping bag and found the stars shining brightly in the sky - our climb was on!

Ultimately we got away at around 5.40am. As I stepped outside the night sky was fading and Ama Dablam was in silhouette bedecked by the stars.


Ama Dablam before dawn on th start of the walk to Cho La
To the east was Cholatse it's menacing wall dominating Dzongla. We used our headlamps to navigate the trail. It was cold around 8c below zero and despite my gloves my hands became numb and started to pain.

The trail was more or less level for the first fifty minutes remaining below Cholatse and crossing some small streams which were frozen in the early morning. It then started to limb up to a ridge which we reached around 7 am and around the same time the rays of the morning sun hit us, chilled as we were to the bone. In front of us was a formidable rock face. The trail now vanished and we had to scramble over rocks and boulders staying close to the rock face.




Cho la has a history of falling boulders and we moved carefully keeping a look out for any rock falls and sounds.

Scrambling over boulders
The climb through the boulders took around 45 minutes and we reached the top of a ridge which was also a small pass with cairns on top which would be useful when the area was under snow. The trail then took a sharp left turn and we were soon on a vast snowfield just below the Cho La which could not be seen from this point. Luckily for us the snow was hard and we followed the footprints of the trekkers in front of us.

Crossing the snow field below Cho La
We had brought micro spikes for the snow but they were not needed. The peaks had also started to open up and we saw Baruntse, a peak not seen very often in the Khumbu. The tip of Makalu was also visible.

We climbed gently up the snowfield avoiding the crevasses to the right some of which were large. Finally we could see the pass above us and fairly close. The trail to the top had been almost obliterated and another scramble over snow and rocks followed. Luckily a rope had been fixed for a few metres which we could hold on to before reaching the top.
The last scramble over rocks to the top of Cho La
The view was indeed impressive. A long chain of peaks were visible towards the Gokyo side and looking back towards the way we had come were Lobuche , the tip of Lhotse and Lhotse Shar, Makalu , Baruntse, and Pokhalde, a trekking peak.
Looking back from the top of Cho La towards the Dzongla side and the snow field which we had crossed. The trekkers are heading towards Dzongla
It had taken us almost four hours to reach the top from Dzongla, though the usual time was around three to three and a half hours. We stayed on top for about half an hour and then started down. It was just after 10 am. As it is with most high passes in Nepal, the descent was harder than the ascent! The trail dropped away steeply and the scree and rubble made the descent even more precipitous.

The difficult descent from the top of the pass through scree and boulders

From the top of Cho La looking towards the Gokyo side. The red line indicates the route which we would have to follow to the pass with the prayer flag (see photo below). 
Even with trekking poles it was hard to maintain balance. In some places the trail had vanished and scrambling over rocks was the only way of descent.

The rocks finally ended and we dropped down to a level patch in about 75 minutes from the top where we stopped for a break. In front the trail climbed up to a small pass which could be seen from a distance - it had a prayer flag on top.


The pass with the prayer flag. Its is still 75 minutes to Thangnak from here.
From this pass also there were good views of the trail going back up to Cho la as well as some of the peaks like Cholatse. From this pass the trail dropped down again to the valley and finally followed the river all the way to Thangnak. It would take around an hour to 75 minutes to reach Thangnak from here.

Thangkak
Dzongla (4850m) to Cho La(5420m) 3 to 4 hours; Cho La to Thangnak (4700m) 3 to 4 hours

November 19 2015

We left Thangnak around 9. 15am in the morning. The trail followed a path for around 30 minutes and then reached a small pass with a white prayer flag. From the pass we could see across the whole Ngozumpa glacier and our route across the glacier to Gokyo.


The present route actoss the Ngozumpa glacier to Gokyo from Thangnak
All through this walk in front of us was Cho Oyu and behind were Cholatse, Taboche, Kangtega and Thamserku. The path then dropped steeply from the pass onto a rough trail which skirted the edge of the glacier for around 30 minutes. It then started to cross the glacier through the tangle of rubble and scree. It was a tenuous route with parts requiring scrambling over rock and rubble. The trail came onto a broad plain right in the middle of the glacier and then descended again.

Cho Oyu and the Ngozumpa glacier
We could see the trail on the other side across the rubble leading up to a high point above the third lake of Gokyo.

Finally about two hours after leaving Thangnak we reached the grassy trail which climbed up to a ridge from where we had a splendid view of the third lake of Gokyo, the trail to Gokyo Ri and the peaks around Gokyo.
The lodges and the third lake of Gokyo
It was quite apparent that the path across the glacier changes from time to time and possibly a new route needs to be developed every season depending on the movement of the glacier.

Thangnak (4700m) to Gokyo(4750m) 2 hrs 30 min to 3 hours

Note: It is easier to cross the pass from the Dzongla side than from the Gokyo side as there is a very long uphill climb from Thangnak to the top of Cho La which is easier to desscend despite the scree and boulders. We found trekkers as late as noon below the Cho La who had started from Thangnak in the morning and they were still a good hour and a half away from the top. Also rockfall increases as the day progresses so it is best to be over the top by 9 am-10 am.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Peakfinder: The Nar Phu Trek in Nepal

View of the Annapurnas descending from the Kang La pass
I had written earlier in my blog about the Peakfinder app which downloaded onto a phone allows you to identify the mountains from a database which you need to download. You dont need to be connected to the internet to use this app.

This year in October I used the Peakfinder app quite extensively on a South Col Trek to the Nar Phu valleys of Nepal and across the Kang la pass. The screenshots below give the names of the peaks as well as the location and altitude. I plan to do this from now on for all the treks we do so that a good database is available for future trekkers.

For my blog posts on Nar Phu do visit
http://www.sujoyrdas.blogspot.in/2015/12/the-nar-phu-valleys-of-nepal-i.html
and
http://www.sujoyrdas.blogspot.in/2015/12/the-nar-phu-valleys-of-nepal-ii.html


On the descent from Kangla pass - more peaks come into view

From near an emerald lake 30 min below Kangla pass

Approaching Nar village

Kangla Pass

From Kangla Phedi below the pass

From Koto Qupar - the start of the trek

From Kyang 

From Meta on the second day

From Nar Village

Near Besisahar

From Ngawal on the Annapurna circuit

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