Double Decker

I find planning for a road trip a thrilling experience by itself! Should I tick a place in my bucket list or consider new suggestions from friends or go by that picture…so many ideas! and then one day in 2011 while flipping through a magazine, I read about ‘the living root bridges’ of Meghalaya. A quick round of discussion with family and friends and our summer holiday plans were finalized. We were going to Meghalaya!

Our group had a thrilling time in Meghalaya. However, when we were advised that a visit to Double Decker is a rough trek not advisable with family, we were a bit heart-broken. Whoever said….where there is a will there is a way… was right because we didn’t want to miss this opportunity. I and my friend Ravi decided to visit the Double Decker on our last day in Cherrapunji…thanks to our families who allowed us to go alone and themselves stayed back at the resort to enjoy their time.

Along with our guide Bhadang, we started early in the morning at 6:30 am and after 45 minutes of a cool drive reached the starting point of the trek in Umsohphie village.  At 7:30 am we started our journey with the first part over a 3 Km concrete footpath constructed in 2007 up to Nongthymmai village. About half an hour later, we reached Nongthymmai village which greeted us with its simple yet charming environment. There were traditional Khasi (this area is part of East Khasi hills of Meghalaya) houses and very sweet and happy villagers. One couple with their new born baby was all smiles which made us wait and share their happy moments….kisi ki muskurahthon par ho nissar!

As we moved forward, we came across beautiful flora and fauna of the lush green jungle and encouraging sign boards indicating that we were on the right track. It is easy to lose your way in these unknown jungles and we were happy Bhadang was there to guide us. At 8:45 am, after about 75 minutes of trek, we reached a river which had to be crossed through a very narrow footbridge made of many iron rods tied with each other. It was important to put every step carefully…the bridge was unexpected but this was perhaps the most entertaining part of the trek. The view of the river from the top of the bridge was splendid. The sound of crystal-clear water forcing its way through the amazing rock patterns was music to our ears!  Bhadang then pointed to the top of a hill far behind us and informed that it was our starting point. Wow! We felt happy that we have covered a lot of distance but still a long way to go. After some time, we were on a small root bridge and could admire its beauty and the tranquility of the jungle around there. Moreover, our curiosity to see the Double Decker was now on a high. After about 2 hours of trekking through a beautiful jungle, this was the motivational push to go for that last mile! Soon we were at Nongriat village, the last village before our final destination. A couple of minutes more and we were at the doorsteps of the Double Decker Living Root Bridge!

After 2.5 hours of a wonderful and tiring trek the sight of the Double Decker was indeed no less than the peak of Mt. Everest for us. We had seen small root bridges on the way but this was absolutely amazing! It was as if the entire place had been kept neat, clean and perfect to receive us with all its charm. Actually, we decided to take a closer look at the Double Decker later because a waterfall nearby was too tempting to resist. The water was pure, cold and very forceful which refreshed our tired bodies in nature’s spa. At this point, frankly nothing else mattered except for the bridge that still had to be explored!

The Double Decker is a combination of two root bridges one above the other. It has been created by weaving and entangling the roots of a banyan tree. The Double Decker forms a strong path across a river whose water flows down from Cherrapunji’s Noh-kalikai fall, the fourth highest waterfall in the world. Local villagers utilize this bridge to cross the river for their daily activities and therefore it is a lifeline for them. As there was no one else at that place, we could explore with complete freedom and to our satisfaction…we had earned it. For those moments, we owned the Double Decker. However, these enthralling moments were running out as we had to return. After about 1 hour at the Double Decker, we bid farewell and were on our way back at 11am.

Cherrapunji is world famous for its rains but there was none on that day. The sun was now blazing making the weather hot and humid. We had great memories of the Double Decker to keep us in good spirits but surely we wished the rain gods to bless us! After about 2.5 hours of return trek, we were back at the base. The only thought was…”Oh Yes! We did it, buddy”. Our Meghalaya tour would have been incomplete without this double cherry…a perfect finish. The Double Decker was magnificent but the experience of the journey was equally exciting. We were proud of our achievement but felt humbled by the hard-working labourers and school children who travel the same path several times daily. We could feel the pleasure of a peaceful jungle, the happiness of simple, heart-warming but strong-willed people, purity of unpolluted rivers and air so fresh that can make us want the same in our own city. A beautiful location in India like the Double Decker living root bridge in Meghalaya should not remain in oblivion and hidden from the world….unless it is best left untouched in nature’s care!

Siblings of Tadoba

Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve about 150 kms from Nagpur, Maharashtra is one of the best jungles in India. Spread over 1700 sq kms it is home to exotic wildlife that includes Birds, Sloth bears, Wild dogs, Leopards, Crocodiles, Nilgai, Indian Gaur and more. Oh yes! it has a high density of tigers too. With so much to offer Tadoba is always buzzing with activity but it was in a different mood that morning…

On Feb 21, we entered Tadoba’s buffer zone through Devada gate at 6:30 am. The sky was still dark but the early morning mist added its dreamy charm. Soothing aroma of the plants and cool breeze was refreshing. We had our usual hosts like Spotted deer, Sambhar, Indian Gaur keeping us company but there was no bird chirping…jungle was remarkably silent! For the next 1.5 hours our gypsy covered various corners of the Devada zone but there was not much activity.

At 8 am our safari gypsy parked at a water body where animals often visit to quench their thirst. We were kept busy by a few birds like Kingfisher, Egret and Indian Paradise Flycatcher trying to get their share of fish. Our guides Amir and Amit decided to stay put at this spot. Every single sound was being monitored by them for a hint on tiger movement. Any whisper of returning was rejected by them. “Wait karo!” was the expert opinion and we agreed. Time too travels slowly in these situations!

Suddenly, after about one hour of wait there was a rush of other gypsies towards our spot. They had seen a tiger moving towards the water body. There was no movement but the expectations were back with new mind games. Amit said it could be behind the bushes across the water straight in front of our position. I picked up the binoculars and after some search saw those elusive black stripes hiding there. Amir whispered, “shaant raho! woh paani ke liye aayega, ready raho! (Silence! he will come to drink water, be ready!)”. And truly so, there it was…a majestic walk towards the water body.

Engrossed in watching him, I forgot binoculars can’t click pictures! Amit almost admonished me,“Sir! photo khincho. Agar aap se nahin hota hai toh mujhe camera de doh! (Sir! take pictures. If you can’t do it then give the camera to me!)”. The authority in his voice was effective to release me from the magic spell of the King of Tadoba! At least for that moment…

It was a tiger cub which soon got busy with the water. Amir announced, “ek aur aa raha hai (one more is coming)”. Both the cubs were cautious while drinking water. Eyes carefully keeping a watch on the spectators of their royal arrival. I thought this is good enough sighting but then Amit exclaimed, “arey teesra bhi aa raha hai! (Third one is coming)”. We couldn’t believe our luck as it was indeed a bonanza. These were three male cubs, about 2 years old of Sharmilee – the shy tigress which ruled this territory.  Cubs were indifferent to our presence and moved around in the water to their satisfaction. As long as humans don’t trouble animals they don’t care. We were humble subjects in the court of these siblings. The look in their eyes pointed straight at us had a message…Don’t mess with me! 

Siblings seated in triangular formation was the defining moment for me. Did one of the brothers made his intentions clear by occupying the throne seat? Time will tell! For some time, I stopped taking pictures. I wanted to enjoy with nothing between me and them…no binoculars, no camera, no lens…nothing! After about half an hour of showtime, they went back to their hideout leaving us spellbound. My heart was full of gratitude towards Mother Nature’s blessing for this life time memory.

I salute the forest staff, guides, gypsy drivers, villagers who risk their own safety to ensure that jungle survives. They have witnessed wildlife action a million times before but for every tourist they express great enthusiasm, sincerity and commitment to provide best possible wildlife experience. It was our pleasure to learn from Tadoba where every element is in harmony. Mankind can’t survive without the magnificent flora and fauna of our jungles.

Save the Jungle, Save the Tiger!

Modhera

The Sun Temple of Modhera was built in 11th century AD during the reign of Solanki ruler Bhimadeva-1. This temple is located in Bechraji taluka of Mehsana district of Gujarat, India. The main entrance of the temple faces East and is approached through a water tank which has a series of steps on all four sides. This step well has 108 small temples of various Hindu deities. The inner and outer walls of the temple structure is decorated with intricate stone sculptures of deities, dancing Apsaras, musicians, stories from Ramayan and Mahabharat. Nothing is better than a visit during sunrise when the Sun God blesses the temple with his first golden rays!

Rani Ki Vav was built in 11th century AD by Rani Udaymati, the Queen of Bhimadeva-1. It is located about 40 kms north of Modhera in Patan, Gujarat. This magnificent link to our history was buried for centuries and was excavated only in 1960. This is a treasure of beautiful carvings and step wells spread over a huge structure which is 64 mts long, 20 mts wide and 27 mts deep. In 2014, UNESCO declared it as a World Heritage Monument. It is indeed the Queen of step wells in India!

Gandikota

Gandikota is a village in Andhra Pradesh, India. It is situated on the banks of the Penna river that flows through the rocky terrain resulting in the formation of Gorge (‘Gandi’ in Telugu language), which gives a pleasant touch to the place specially during sunrise and sunset. Gandikota also has ruins of a fort with two ancient temples – Madhavaraya Swamy Temple and Raghunatha Swamy Temple and a mosque – Juma Masjid. 

Belum caves and Lepakshi complement Gandikota with their own charm. Belum caves is a labyrinth with limestone and stalagmite structures formed due to water flowing underground over thousands of years. From the main entrance, it is about 50m deep and 3.3 Kms long, making it the second longest underground cave in the Indian subcontinent. Lepakshi is another village famous for Veerabhadra temple, an architectural marvel.

Ring of Fire

December 26, 2019 was marked on my calendar for a long time. Sun, Moon and Earth were scheduled to bring an end to 2019 with the majestic Annular Solar Eclipse. At the peak of the eclipse, the moon covers about 98% of the Sun disk with the outer Sun rim visible from Earth. This phenomenon appears like a ring and is known as the ‘Ring of Fire’.

I was in Kannur, Kerala in Southern India to witness this rare celestial event. A composite picture with key phases of the eclipse is presented here.

Key phases of Annular Solar Eclipse

As the eclipse created its magic, my heart whispered to the Sun…

ए आफताब! हम तो कायल थे तेरे जोश-ए-नूर के लेकिन,
हमने तुझे भी मोहब्बत-ए-महताब के आगोश में देखा है

Translation:
Oh Sun! I was in awe of your power but,
I can see even you in love with the Moon


Image Gallery

Flamingos in my backyard

Every year from January to May, some very special guests visit Mumbai….Flamingos! These are remarkable birds that flock around the bay area of the city. Mumbai is always-on-the-run busy city but it takes time-off to be charmed by their flamboyance. I had the pleasure to be with them at the Seawoods creek in Nerul. Click on any picture and enjoy the photo gallery !

Where’s the Celestial Equator?

Celestial Equator

I started shooting star trails last year and observed that their pattern varies depending on the direction in which the camera is focused. The curiosity to understand the star trails led me to an interesting phenomenon – the Celestial Equator. Hence, during the trek to Singalila Ridge (near Darjeeling, India) in Oct’18, my key objective was to record the Celestial Equator in my pictures.

Firstly, let me answer the most common question asked, “Can we see the star trails?”

Answer is No! Human eye is very powerful but cannot record a scene while a camera can do so on a photo film or digital sensor. As per my settings, a star trail picture is a composite image of minimum 60 frames where each frame has a time exposure of 30 secs. All such frames are shot continuously without disturbing the camera position and settings. Each frame captures the apparent movement of a star due to Earth’s rotation in 30 secs. Individual frames are then stitched together in a photo processing software in ascending order of time sequence to build a single star trail image.

Let’s now take a magnetic compass and explore the night sky….

A) Focus on the North direction as shown by the compass

Earthlings in the Northern Hemisphere are lucky to have a clearly visible star Polaris or North Star about 323 light-years away from Earth. The position of North Star in the sky is aligned with Northern end of Earth’s axis of rotation. It means if the observer is standing at the North Pole, North Star will be seen in the sky vertically above the observer’s head i.e. at the ‘Zenith’.

Now, imagine our observer standing at the North Pole (Latitude = 90 degrees North) starts walking downwards towards the Equator (Latitude = 0 degree). As he moves away from the North Pole, he will see that the North Star is now not visible at Zenith above his head. It actually has shifted down the Zenith towards the horizon.

How much will be the displacement of North Star’s position in sky?

For every 1 degree of latitude walk from North Pole to Equator, North Star will be visually displaced by 1 degree away from the Zenith of the observer’s location and towards the Northern horizon. From the observer’s location, North Star’s position in the sky will be as follows:

  • From the Zenith = Number of Latitude degrees observer is away from the North Pole or From the Zenith = 90 – Latitude of the observer’s location
  • From the Horizon = 90 – number of Latitude degrees observer is away from the North Pole or From the Horizon = Latitude of the observer’s location

When the observer reaches Kalapokhri (my location at Latitude = 27 degrees North of Equator) on India-Nepal border then North Star will appear:

  • From the Zenith = 90 – Latitude of the observer’s location  = 90 – 27 = 63 degrees (angle between Zenith→Observer→North Star)
  • From the horizon = Latitude of the observer’s location = 27 degrees (angle between Horizon→Observer→North Star)

Ok! So, we have identified the angle of view for North Star. Now, let’s check the star trails in the North sky.Fig1

Earth rotates from West to East around its axis which is aligned from North Pole to South Pole. Also, North Star is visible at the Zenith of the North Pole. Thus, due to Earth’s rotation, stars in Northern Hemisphere appear to wheel around the North Star in anti-clockwise motion. This makes the North Star as the centre of circular star trails. North Star appears to be stationary because it is aligned along the rotational axis (North-South) of Earth. It implies that irrespective of the observer’s location on Earth, if the North Star is visible then its position indicates the North direction. This is the reason why North Star is so important for navigation.

At the Equator (Latitude = 0 degree), the angle between Horizon→Observer→North Star = 0 degree. Thus, North Star will not be visible. The star trails will appear like semi-circles centred around the position at the horizon below which lies the North Star.

At the North Pole (Latitude = 90 degrees North), the angle between Horizon→Observer→North Star = 90 degrees. Thus, North Star will be visible overhead at the Zenith. The star trails will appear overhead as circles centred around the North Star and parallel to the horizon. Anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere, North Star will not be visible as it will be below the horizon.

B) Focus on the South direction as shown by the compass

As explained for Northern Hemisphere, all stars in Southern Hemisphere also appear to move around South Pole but in clockwise motion. There is an equivalent to North Star known as Polaris Australis but it is barely visible.

Fig2

In the above picture, you can see that centre of concentric circular star trails is not visible and appears to be at the far-left bottom of the frame. That’s because Sandakphu is in the Northern Hemisphere and South Pole is below the horizon. Now, if we focus towards East or West there should be vertical star trails. Yes, but the magnitude and the angle of vertical trails again will depend on the location of the observer. This brings us to the Celestial Equator!

C) Focus on the West direction as shown by the compass. It should be real geographical West and not the point on West horizon where the Sun sets!

Assume that the observer is standing on the Equator with his arms stretched sideways from left to right and parallel to the ground. If he moves his hand to meet at the top of his head, it results in a semi-circular trajectory. Let’s extend this trajectory up in the sky. This imaginary circular trajectory with an infinite radius in the sky, parallel to the Equator from East horizon to Zenith to West horizon is the Celestial Equator.

The Celestial Equator divides the visible sky anywhere on Earth into Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Thus, at the Equator, one half of the sky towards North of Equator is Northern Hemisphere and the other half of the sky towards South of Equator is Southern Hemisphere. This division of the sky in two equal parts will occur only at the Equator.

What about the other locations on Earth?

To find the answer, let’s ask our observer to face South and walk backwards towards the North Pole. For every 1 degree of latitude walk from Equator to North Pole, the imaginary line dividing the sky called as the Celestial Equator will fall by 1 degree from Zenith towards Southern horizon. This fall is because of the spherical shape of Earth. The portion of the sky North of Celestial Equator will be in Northern Hemisphere and that to the South of Celestial Equator will be in Southern Hemisphere.

Star trails in the Northern Hemisphere will be concentric with the North Star aligned with North Pole and the stars in the Southern Hemisphere will be concentric with the Polaris Australis aligned with South Pole. All stars at or near the Celestial Equator will appear to be moving in almost straight trajectories parallel to the Celestial Equator.

The Celestial Equator will intersect the horizon exactly at the geographical East and West points for the given location. Let’s take the West intersection point and draw an imaginary line from this point to the Zenith. Now, from the observer’s location,

  • the angle between Zenith→Intersection point on Horizon→Celestial Equator = Latitude of the observer’s location or (90 – number of Latitude degrees observer is away from the North Pole)
  • the angle between Horizon→Intersection point on Horizon→Celestial Equator = Number of Latitude degrees observer is away from the North Pole or (90 – Latitude of the observer’s location)

Let’s check the results when the observer reaches Kalapokhri (my location at Latitude = 27 degrees North of Equator) on India-Nepal border.

Fig3

In the Figure 3, it is observed that,

  • angle between Zenith→Intersection point on Horizon→Celestial Equator = 27 degrees
  • angle between Horizon→Intersection point on Horizon→Celestial Equator = 90 – 27 = 63 degrees

Wow! This observation for the intersection angle of Celestial Equator at Kalapokhri is as per the theoretical explanation given above.

When he reaches the North Pole, the Celestial Equator will be located along the horizon (90 – 90 = 0 degree). Thus, the entire sky will be in Northern Hemisphere.

This phenomenon is also applicable when we move towards South Pole from Equator. The Celestial Equator will move towards North by 1 degree from Zenith for every 1 degree latitude walk towards South Pole from Equator.

To summarize, for any location on Earth:

  1. The Celestial Equator divides the visible sky anywhere on Earth into Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
  2. The Celestial Equator will intersect the horizon at geographical West and East points. Its angle of intersection relative to Horizon and Zenith will be same for all observers located at the same latitude anywhere on Earth.
  3. All star trails will be parallel to the Celestial Equator.
  4. All stars in the Northern Hemisphere sky (North of Celestial Equator) will form anti-clockwise star trails with the North Star at North Pole as the centre.
  5. All stars in the Southern Hemisphere sky (South of Celestial Equator) will form clockwise star trails with the Polaris Australis at South Pole as the centre.
  6. At the Equator,
    • star trails in Northern Hemisphere will appear like semi-circles centred around the position at the horizon below which lies the North Star aligned with North Pole.
    • star trails in Southern Hemisphere will appear like semi-circles centred around the position at the horizon below which lies the Polaris Australis aligned with South Pole.
    • star trails in the East and West directions will appear perpendicular to the horizon.
  7. At the North Pole, all star trails will appear parallel to the horizon with centre as North Star visible at Zenith of North Pole.
  8. At the South Pole, all star trails will appear parallel to the horizon with centre as Polaris Australis located at Zenith of South Pole.

Today, we have sophisticated technology to understand various cosmic phenomena. However, modern science is built on the work of our ancestors who identified these concepts by meticulous observations and calculations. I bow to them!

Please visit Image Gallery : With Stars at Singalila

Click Celestial Equator for a time lapse video that clearly shows the Celestial Equator with the star trails i.e. Clockwise (in Southern hemisphere – left side of the video directed towards South), Straight (along Celestial Equator) and Anti-clockwise (in Northern hemisphere – right side of the video directed towards North).

With Stars at Singalila

Milky Way rises!

Singalila Ridge is located along India-Nepal border near Darjeeling, India. During my trek in Oct’18, I saw different moods of the night sky with Milky Way Galaxy and Stars taking the centre stage…

Click to see our journey in a minute!