Saturday, March 28, 2015

Langtang Trek: Kyanjin Ri Panorama Video

A team from South Col Expeditions trekked the amazing Langtang valley in December 2014. Some members of the team climbed from Kyanjin Gompa to the lower Kyanjin Ri viewpoint. Here is a video of the panorama from the viewpoint.

Descending from Kyanjin Ri in the late afternoon 

For some more  photographs on the Langtang valley trek please do  visit

Friday, March 20, 2015

Poon Hill Trek: Kande- Ghandrung-Ghorepani-Birethanti

A first time South Col trekker did this beautiful five day route in the Annapurna foothills in December 2014. Kumudini  narrates her  experiences - this is an invaluable account for first time trekkers to the Himalaya!

Annapurna South and Huinchuli

My First Trekking Experience 

by Kumudini Hajra

It’s always further than it looks, it’s always taller than it looks and
it’s always harder than it looks
may well be the three cardinal rules for trekking.

Other than very few one-day trekking experiences in the monsoons on the outskirts of Mumbai, I am fairly new to trekking. I am not quite sure how I took fancy to the idea of doing a real trek, that too in the Himalayas. It was partly a desire to be in a really cold place; partly a desire to do something involving physical exercise; partly to try my hand at photography; or may be, it was just a desire to be close to nature.  So, I decided to trek in the Himalayas!

The trek was organised by South Col Expeditions, a Kolkata based company which specializes in treks and photo workshops in the Himalayas. Sujoy Das, the owner of South Col Expeditions, is the joint author and photographer of Sikkim- A Travellers Guide and author of Lonely Planet Nepal - for the Indian Traveller and has been trekking for 30 years in the Himalayan region. I chose Annapurna Foothills Trek, which follows a loop with splendid views of Annapurna and Machhapuchhre or Fish Tail mountains in Nepal. The duration of the trek was ideal as I had to be away for only eight days (Sunday to Sunday) with 6 days of trekking.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Poon Hill Sunset Panorama Video

Recently  I was at Poon Hill in December  2014 on a South Col Expeditions trek and it was a brilliant evening. So we went up for the sunset and this short video shows the awesome view!

For the names of  some of the peaks from Poon Hill see this  diagram below:

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Nikon D7200

Nikon has introduced a new top of the line DX body, the D7200 which follows the D7100 and D7000. As compared to the earlier D7100, the improvements can be summarised as under:

  • Upgraded image processor engine
  • Bigger buffer size
  • Increased low ISO capabilities going down to ISO 100
  • Now also with Group Area AF and Auto Area AF
  • More Picture Control options
The camera is an upgrade for the users of the D7100 and also the D7000.  

Looking at pricing the D7200 is around $ 1199 body only, a refurbished D7100 is now available for $699  whereas a  used D7000 is EX+ condition is available at at $ 449! The refurbished D7100 looks quite a steal!

Though the camera comes with some improved features, primarily the larger buffer size, I doubt it will be enough for those already using the D7100. However, users of the D7000 and the lesser DX Nikon bodies like the D90, D5000 series and D3000 series may well be tempted to upgrade to the D7200.

I suspect too that the initial pricing will stablise after a few months and the body should be available sub $1000 street!

Those DX users dreaming of a D400 to replace the D300/300s would possibly have to keep waiting - there does not seem any plan at Nikon's end to produce the D400 but one never knows! Nikon is full of surprises!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Tenzing Norgay: Tiger of the Snows

On Sunday 15th March 2015 at 7 pm, I will be presenting a slide show on the life and times of Tenzing Norgay at India Habitat Centre, Gul Mohar Hall, New Delhi. All are welcome for this show. The invitation and other details are below.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Tips and Tricks for Better Photography

After my two posts on tips and tricks for mountain photography in this blog, I am giving below some general tips for everyday photography which I am sure would be useful. 

Tip 1: Add people to a landscape
Add a subject to the foreground of a landscape shot to give depth to the photograph.  An example of this is given below:

Tip 2: Use fill flash in daylight
When shooting people, in strong noon day sun use the pop up flash or even a speedlight to fill dark shadows especially under the eyes and bring out details. This ensures that the background is also exposed correctly and not washed out. An example of this is given below:

Tip 3: Kick the “I’ll fix it in Photoshop habit”!
You need to ensure that the photograph is taken in the camera not fixed in Photoshop – so white balance, exposure, lighting, focus etc all need to be bang-on! If you are not sure of the exposure bracket! Check the histogram on the LCD display to ensure that exposure is correct.

Tip 4: F8 and be there
Basically this famous photography axiom asks you to be ready to shoot. So rather than adjust white balance, aperture,  shutter speed , metering modes, focus modes etc  before taking a photo, you to need to set all this before hand. On a normal sunny day, I will usually set the following before I start out: WB auto, ISO auto set to maximum of 800, aperture priority around f8 or so, and matrix metering, AF-S for single focus. This allows me to shoot in most situations provide the light is reasonable. And, if I have time I would  bracket three to four exposure either by using auto bracketing  or manually -0.3, -0.7, -0.1, +0.3, + 0.7. This usually nails the photograph right in the camera.

Tip 5: To reduce noise at high ISO make sure your exposure is bang on target!  
Modern day cameras allow you to shoot at very high ISO’s like 1600, 3200 and even 6400 on top end models. However, the major drawback at high ISO is noise. So, one way of reducing or minimizing noise is to make sure your exposure in spot on. If you have underexposed even a little bit there will be ample noise in the shadow areas which is always difficult to get rid off. So try to ensure a correct exposure by shooting, maybe, a number of photos at different settings so that at least one is correctly exposed. This is an example of a photo shot an ISO 1600 but due to correct exposure there is hardly any noise:

Tip 6: On a tripod turn VR or IS off
This is a mistake which I have made a number of times. If you have a camera on a tripod you don’t need to switch on VR or IS as the camera is likely to be rock steady and does not need any vibration reduction.  Often in a hurry we forget this and shoot with VR or IS on.

Tip 7: For critical photos use RAW
When you need to use photographs for magazine stories, prints, exhibitions etc raw is the way to go. You can convert raw files using the correct version of Camera Raw with Photoshop and with proprietary converters like Capture NX2, View NX for Nikon.

 Tip 8: If you can, take along a small table top light weight tripod
Ideally most photographers would recommend a full heavy weight tripod but is difficult to carry around and also in some situations difficult to set up. So I have a small Slik table top which can also fit into a jacket pocket which I use when I need support. The Joby Gorilla pod is also an option and has the advantage of flexible legs!

Tip 9: Don’t put the camera away at dusk or at night
On the subject of tripods if you have one with you then photography at night and at dusk becomes a distinct possibility. Long exposures makes the world look a lot different and details in the dark night sky can often produce stunning effects.

Tip 10: Less is often more!
The proliferation of social media and the free photo web sites have made it possible for everyone to post their photos on the net even if they don’t have their own web sites or blogs. However, in their enthusiasm to post photographs of a holiday or journey I often find a facebook album of a hundred photos or more. Similarly, picasa web albums sent to me to review have similar number of photos. Usually with so many images the impact is lost and the good images get masked by the mediocre ones. So it often helps to edit tightly, remove duplicates and similars, weed out all photos that are not in focus, overexposed or underexposed, badly composed and leave the best ones for the viewers! Most of my albums rarely have more than twenty photographs and the majority have between ten and twelve!

Happy shooting!  

For more of my photographs do visit

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Green Lakes Trek in the Zemu Valley, North Sikkim

A team from South Col Expeditions, trekked to the north east base camp of Kanchenjunga in the Zemu Valley  in October-November 2014. Here is  the day wise  description of the route and the trek schedule:


Day 1: Gangtok to Lachen by road 
The drive from Gangtok to Lachen takes around six hours with a lunch stop at Mangan or Rang Rang Bridge.

 Day 2: Lachen (2700 m) to Zema by road and then trek to Tallem (3250 m) (5–6 hours)
The road continues along the North Sikkim Highway to Zema for half an hour. From Zema, take the trail west along the right bank of the Zemu Chu through landslide debris and boulders which can be quite difficult. After around three hours of walking, the boulders end and there is a clearing which serves as a lunch stop near the river. The trail then leaves the valley and climbs steeply through the forest to reach Tallem in about an hour.

Day 3:  Tallem to Jakthang (3430 m) (3 to 4 hours) 
This is a short day and Jakthang is reached by lunchtime. Soon after leaving Tallem, cross the Lhonak Chu on a temporary log bridge and then follow the path along the river for an hour. The path then climbs through the forest for an hour until a saddle is reached from where the trail drops for about half an hour and crosses two small streams. It then levels off and enters the clearing of Jakthang with a ruined hut which can be used for cooking and shelter.  

 Day 4: Jakthang (3430 m) to Yabuk (4040 m) (41/2 to -51/2 hours)
 Follow the trail out of Jakthang along the river for about twenty minutes. The path then climbs to a small saddle where there is an indistinct trail going to the right to Muguthang. Do not take this right fork but instead  go left and down to a stone bridge over the river which is visible  from the top. From the bridge follow the well defined trail through rhododendron forests climbing gently for about two hours with the Zemu Chu on your left. The path then leaves the river and makes a sharp ascent for about an hour and reaches a broad meadow at the edge of the tree line with a ruined double storied hut which is Yabuk.

Day 5: Acclimatization day at Yabuk (4040m)  
You can spend the rest day walking up the valley, bird watching or just lazing at camp.  

 Day 6: Yabuk (4040 m) to Rest Camp (4500 m) (4-5 hours)  
From Yabuk walk across the meadow and then start climbing to a small pass at the head of the valley which should take about seventy five minutes. From the pass the first view of the Zemu peaks are visible. Fifteen minutes later you reach a broad meadow which is Sona Camp. The trail then climbs for an hour and reaches a broad river bed covered with white stones. From here a climb across scrub and dwarf rhododendron forest for another hour reaches a clearing with some ruined stone shelters which is the Rest Camp across the valley from Siniolchu.

 Day 7: Rest Camp (4500 m) to Green Lakes (5050 m) (4 to 5 hours)  
The trail to Green Lakes is often indistinct and a guide who has trekked this route before is essential.  Leave the Rest Camp walking through scrub and moss with your feet often sinking into the brush. In 30 minutes you will reach a river bed with some streams flowing across. Cross the river bed and reach a grassy meadow in about ninety minutes. The path then climbs gently before reaching another river bed which you should follow for around 30 minutes. Another level meadow is reached and at the end of the meadow is the Zemu glacier just below,  a fascinating view point. Swing sharp right at this point and again navigate through brush/grass/scree on a faint trail for an hour walking to the end of the valley which is the Green Lakes camp.

Day 8: Rest Day at Green Lakes 
Spend the day lazing in the sunshine and watching the peaks. The more intrepid can climb the hill behind the camp for about an hour or so to come to a high point with magnificent views both towards Kangchenjunga as well as down the valley. The Zemu Gap that links the Zemu valley to the Talung valley is clearly seen from this high point.

 Day 9: Green Lakes (5050 m) to Yabuk (4040 m) (5-6 hours)
It is possible to make the march from Green Lakes to Yabuk in one day, as the trail is mostly downhill. More intrepid trekkers and porters could try to reach Jakthang on the same day.

 Day 10: Yabuk (4040 m) – Tallem
The march down to Tallem would take about five hours and drop in altitude is welcome.

Day 11: Tallem to – Lachen (2700 m) (3 hours) trek and then to Gangtok by road
From Tallem retrace your steps to Zema, which is the road head.  Have an early lunch in Lachen and then drive back to Gangtok the same day and reach in time for dinner.

It is possible to do the trek in 10 days Gangtok to Gangtok if you skip the rest day at Green Lakes.

For more photographs of the Green Lakes trek do visit

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Tips for High Altitude Treks in the Himalayas

Descending from Gorak Shep with Pumori in the background
This year South Col Expeditions has a number of long high altitude treks. There is fourteen days in Mustang, sixteen days around Manaslu and seventeen days in the Everest region crossing Cho La and Rhenjo La passes!

These long treks do make it very difficult as other than the walking there is also the discomfort of high altitude, cold,  basic toilets, repetitive food and lack of creature comforts. So how do you pace yourself for a trek like this so that you are not losing heart half way through?

Here are some tips:
  • Drink plenty of water and stay well hydrated right through the walk - two to three litres a day is mandatory especially at heights above 3000 metres.
  • Sleep at night with your window or tent flap open just a crack- you need fresh oxygen to breathe no matter how cold it is!
  • If you feel breathless, often sleeping in a semi reclining position helps to ease the breathing - prop yourself  up your pillow or rucksack!
  • If you have a past history of altitude sickness you may consider starting with diamox 125 mg twice daily - consult  a physician before starting diamox.
  • Never get cold - it takes a long time to warm up once you are frozen!
  • Carry a water bottle which can take hot water - for those really cold high altitude nights put the water bottle with hot water in the sleeping bag, your toes will warm up instantly!
  • Wear layers so that you can peel on layers and take off layers depending on the weather conditions!
  • You often reach camp or a lodge in the early afternoon - carry  a book to read or music on your phone so that the evenings are not too long and boring!
  • Before a climb eat something like a power bar or chocolates - the extra energy will help you get the to the top with less difficulty!
  • Carry the essentials in your daypack - some food, warm jacket, cap, gloves, water, sun glasses, sun block cream, some essential medicines so that you can be self sufficient during the day.
  • Do not stay wet and sweaty once you reach camp - change into dry clothes immediately!
  • Walk at a speed which you are comfortable with - don't worry too much about the speed hiker ahead of you who always reaches camp first!
  • Carry trekking poles - these are essential while crossing a stream or coming down a steep ridge!
  • If you expect snow at the passes or frozen sections of the trail, a pair of microspikes can prove useful!
  • Put your gloves, socks and cap inside your sleeping bag at night so that they are warm and toasty in the morning!
  • Stop before you are exhausted - it is best to walk for forty five minutes and take  a five minute breather!
For more details on trekking in the Himalaya do visit


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