Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Annapurna Foothills Trek: December 2012


The Annapurna foothills provide tremendous trekking with delightful trails connecting villages and ridge tops. This picturesque trek winds through enchanting villages with ochre thatched houses, terraced rice fields and rhododendron forests, which are spectacular in the spring when whole hillsides are cloaked in colorful flowers. The ridge top village of Ghandrung provides one of the finest viewpoints of the Annapurna Mountains with magnificent views of the four Annapurnas, and Machapuchare with its fishtail summit.
It is an easy walk as the altitude never crosses 1950 metres and its ideal for first time trekkers. This is one of the most popular treks of South Col and has been done by children as well!  

Day 01   Kathmandu to Pokhara (885 metres) – 6 hours by vehicle
Drive to Pokhara in our own private micro bus and check into the Gurkha Haven Hotel  in Damside which is a quiet area of Pokhara. Spend the evening in Pokhara taking in the sights near the lake and relaxing prior to the start of the trek.

Day 02 Trek to Dhampus and Pothana (1650 metres) 4-5 hours walking
Leave Pokhara around 7.30 am after a good breakfast at the German Bakery and travel in our own micro bus to Phedi the start of the trek.  From here we begin our trek with a walk to the scenic ridge village of Dhampus. (3 hours walking).  Have lunch in Dhampus with spectacular view of the mountains.  From Dhampus walk for about two hours after lunch through scenic forests and Annapurna views along the ridge to Pothana. Overnight at a lodge in Pothana which has possibly one of the best views of Macchapuchare.

Machhapuchare, Annapurna II and IV from Pothana 

Day 03 Trek to Landrung (1550 metres) 5 hours walking
From Pothana the trail climbs gently through forest to Bichok Deorali (2100m). From this pass there are views through the rhododendrons in several directions with Dhaulagiri being visible from here. A steepish descent through trees takes us to the old suspension bridge at Bheri Kharka. From here we follow a level trail to the large Gurung village of Landrung. This village is directly across the valley from Ghandrung and stretches 500 metres up the hillside. There are good views up the Modi Khola to the Annapurna Mountains from here.  Overnight at a lodge in Landrung.

Landrung village
Day 04 Ghandrung (1939m) 4-5 hours walking
The large village of Ghandrung can be seen directly across the valley from Landrung. This is a short walking day allowing time to explore Landrung and Ghandrung. From Landrung we descend to the Modi Khola River and cross on a large suspension bridge. The ascent through terraced fields to the picturesque town takes around 2 hours. Ghandrung is largely a Gurung town and is the headquarters of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP). Many of the lodges here have the more environmentally friendly features that ACAP encourages such as back boilers, solar panels, etc.  The views of the Annapurna Mountains and Machapuchare from here are stunning.

Walking down to the bridge from Landrung to Ghandrung 
Day 05 Rest Day at Ghandrung to explore the village and see the spectacular views and chill out!

Day 06 – Ghandrung to Birethanti to Pokhara (885 metres) 5-6 hours walking
The trail descends from Ghandrung to the village of Syuli  Bazaar next to the river (3 hours).  After an early lunch at Syuli Bazaar around 11 am,  we set out for the level walk to the village of Birethanti , a village situated on the banks of the Modi Khola, the valley leading to the Annapurna Sanctuary. We cross the Modi Khola on a suspension bridge then follow the river valley to the road-head at Nayapul. Here our trek ends and our private micro bus takes us the short way to Pokhara. Here we check-in at the Gurkha Haven Hotel again.  From the hotel roof, across the lake and above the terraced hillsides, we may catch a glimpse of the k sun setting on Annapurna and Machapuchare once again.

Day 07 Kathmandu (1526 metres)
We return to Kathmandu by the morning flight. In case anyone wants to stay on in Pokhara please let me know and arrangements can be made. In case bookings are required in Kathmandu for a hotel please let me know as well.

 The cost of the trek is Rs 27,500  per person for Kathmandu to Kathmandu (7 days)  for SAARC citizens and USD 700 for foreigners as per the itinerary above and excludes meals.  For more details please email me at

Friday, June 22, 2012

Zanskar: The Fort and I Outlook Traveller June 2012

A photo essay on the monasteries of Zanskar published in Outlook Traveller June 2012 issue. For the full essay visit my web site  or the Outlook Traveller page .

Friday, June 15, 2012

Nikon D600

With the photographs of the Nikon D600 leaked on a chinese web site the launch of this camera now seems imminent! 

Nikon D600 - Image 3

There are many photographers who shoot in the mountains and need to carry their equipment themselves. Most of them would be interested in a small full frame camera with good resolution and specifications. So would the D600 fit the bill?

The expected specifications of the camera as appearing on the Nikon Rumors site  is given below: 

  1. 24.7MP full frame sensor
  2. Weight: 760g (850g with battery and memory cards), the D800 weights 900g and the DX D7000 weighs 690 g without battery and cards
  3. 3.2″ LCD with 921K dot with ambient sensor control
  4. HDMI output
  5. Video compression: H264/MPEG-4
  6. Full HD with 30p, 25p, 24p, HD with 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p
  7. Viewfinder coverage: 100% for FX , 97% for DX
  8. Built-in AF motor
  9. Weather sealed body
  10. ISO range: 100-6400 (with Lo-1 ISO 50 and Hi-2 ISO 25,600)
  11. 39 AF points (with an option of 11 AF points), 9 cross-type AF points
  12. AF face detection
  13. Exposure compensation: ±5 EV (same as the D800)
  14. EN-EL15 rechargeable Li-ion battery
  15. 5 fps (same as the D700, the D800 has 4fps)
  16. 2 SD card slots with Eye-fi support
  17. Build-in retouching images functionality
  18. Built-in flash with sync speed of 1/250s
  19. Two user settings: U1 and U2
  20. Fn button
  21. Auto DX crop mode
  22. In-camera RAW editor
  23. Built in time-lapse functionality
  24. Possibly with build-in HDR
  25. New external battery grip

From the leaked photographs it seems that the size of the camera is very similar to the D7000 and it also shares the identical  left dial with U1 and U2 options. 

For photographers who own Nikon's  AIS manual focus lenses, there is good news: these will meter on the D600 as well. As far as weight is concerned it is only a bit heavier than the D7000. In fact it seems that Nikon may well have used the D7000 body shell and built in a FX sensor in the same body!

As a mountain photographer,  I am very attracted to the D600! It looks like a small compact body, the weight and size is less than the D700 or  D800, it meters the old manual focus lenses, it should have good clean ISO from 100-1600  at least and maybe even 3200- 6400 at a pinch, it has two SD card slots like the D7000, 100% viewfinder coverage and a 24.7  mp sensor!

The price of the camera ( body only) has been rumoured to be around $1500! At this price I feel the D600 would be a real winner for Nikon!  I am looking forward to get one as all my old battery of lenses would work perfectly!

Along with this body Nikon is releasing a 24-85 f3.5/4.5 VR normal zoom lens to complement the existing battery of VR zooms: the 24-120 and 28-300 both for full frame cameras.

And finally if all these lenses are too expensive we have the evergreen 28-105 f3.5/4.5 AF zoom which is around $175-200 used (check  and I am sure would do well with this camera!

So exciting times are ahead! 

All those trekkers, climbers and mountain  photographers who were reluctant to go for the D700 and the D800 due to weight, bulk and price can definitely look at the D600 for their needs!

Lets hope for a launch very soon!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Gokyo Photos in Black and White

These are some photographs from the South Col Trek to the Gokyo Lakes in April 2012. To see more of these photographs please do visit my web site
Evening view from Luza after a snow storm

Trekkers on the way to climb Gokyo Ri with Cho Oyu in the background

The wall between Cho Oyu and Gyachung Kang as seen from the fifth lake of Gokyo

Early morning view of Ama Dablam from the trail between Kumjung and Sanasa
The third Lake of Gokyo with Cho Oyu

Friday, June 1, 2012

Mountain Photography: Tips & Tricks III

In continuance of my two earlier articles Part I and Part II,  this is the third instalment of tips and tricks for mountain photography, though it also applies to photography in general as well.

Tip 1: Use the lowest ISO possible
A mistake which some of us often make is to set a higher ISO than what is needed for the light conditions. Rule of thumb would be:
Daylight with bright sunlight: ISO 100-200
Early mornings and evenings: ISO 400-640
Interiors where flash cannot be used: ISO 800-1600-3200
Sports motion/wildlife: ISO 400-1600

Tip 2: Take care of reflections with a polarizing filter
If you are shooting a mountain scape through the windows of a plane or through glass the circular polarizing filter is your answer. The filter usually adds two stops to the exposure, so if the exposure is f11 without the filter, it would be f5.6 with the filter. The camera meter would take care of this. Polarisers are also useful to increase color saturation and darken blue skies – as you rotate the polarizer you can see the sky getting darker or lighter. It’s a very useful tool to have in your camera bag. This is a photograph from a flight between Delhi and Leh using a polarizer:

Tip 3: Try to avoid shooting at the middle of the day
When the sun is high in the sky, the shadows are harsh and the light is also extremely flat and contrast. Unless there is no option, try to avoid mid day shooting and focus on the golden hours, a couple of hours before sunset and after sunrise.

Tip 4: Use both raw plus JPEG basic
There is always a debate regarding shooting only raw or to shoot JPEG but with most DSLRs you can shoot both. Memory cards are now big and cheap and so shooting Raw+Jpeg Basic would be the way to go. The raw files would remain for the more serious work and the Jpegs can be immediately sent out by e mail or used in blogs/web sites/facebook etc.

Tip 5: Sometimes a tele lens is better suited to landscapes than a wide angle!
When shooting mountain landscapes, we invariably reach for a wide angle lens as we want to get it all in. However, sometimes a telephoto lens is better suited for mountain landscapes. The dramatic perspective of say a 200 mm lens changes the whole scene and creates an image which is a lot different than what a wide angle or normal lens would deliver. The photograph below is taken on a trek to Gokyo in Nepal using a 70-300 zoom illustrates this:

Tip 6: Shoot the same image both horizontally and vertically
When shooting a mountain landscape, take both horizontal and vertical shots. You never know what would be required. For example, a magazine cover would need a vertical shot whereas a two page layout could use a horizontal frame. It helps to cover all possibilities in the camera so that while editing the most suitable frame can be used.

Tip 7: A beautiful view does not always translate into a great photograph
Sometimes when walking in the mountains we see a view which is just awesome! The valleys are green, the mountain tops glistening with white fresh snow, an azure blue sky,  you know what I mean! So we raise our cameras and shoot – plenty of shots- one after the other! However, when you are back in front of the computer, the view doesn’t look all that great any more! Why? The reason usually is that a view requires a point of interest and if you don’t have this, the photograph is not likely to be as awe inspiring as it was in real life. The camera and the eye don’t see the same thing, so look for a point of interest, change the angle, maybe zoom in with a longer lens or go down on the ground with a wide angle! There are so many possibilities which can work for you and create that awe inspiring image!

Tip 8: Expose correctly for the snow
Mountain landscapes sometimes have vast areas of snow and that dazzling white expanse is difficult expose correctly. The tendency of the meter would be to underexpose resulting in the snow looking grey and flat and not sparkling white. You need to meter from some area other than the snow, perhaps your hand or even the blue sky and adjust the exposure accordingly. Finally always bracket exposures so that you have a number of images to choose from! An example of this sort of photograph metered off the sky is here: 

 My outfit, South Col Expeditions, is running a five day trek cum photo workshop in the Annapurna hills of Nepal in December 2012. Those of you who may be interested please do visit or e-mail me at for more information.


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