Post Trip Write up - ECR Photography trip Part II

Tuesday, March 18, 2014
ECR Photography trip Part II - Collection of wonderful write ups.

 Write Up by Mr.Rangarathnam.
A pair of straight lines, an ellipse, a parabola or even a hyperbola? For those of us who have grappled with such objects while getting introduced to the elements of analytical geometry, Dhanushkodi offered a tantalizing variety of shapes and forms for the horizon leaving us completely bewitched. On the bumpy ride to the very land's end it looked like a pair of straight lines running alongside on to our left as well as to our right apparently converging at an as yet invisible point beyond the cluster of small bushes and shrubbery on the landscape ahead of us. Once we reached the point from whence further excursion could be only on foot, the thin strip of land played hide and seek with the sea, and every few steps we took the horizon changed its shape magically and even mystically, presenting optical puzzles and visual feast. Under a steel-gray vault of a sky, with only a few whitish wisps of clouds floating high above, some of us touched the very tip of the land's end, some stopped just short of doing so, some of us shuttled in between the two shorelines avidly drinking in the geo-topological spectacle. The sea was a beautiful bluish green in color, the waves gentle and caressing and the clouds setting up myriads of light and shade patterns on the surface of the sea. For once, I should say that our attention was wrenched away from a search of exotic wild life and held riveted on to the manifestations of the more universal forms underlying nature.
Photograph by Ms.Rajalakshmi.
It was in search of exotic biological wild life that we planned this trip, covering Vedaranyam, Kodiakkarai, Dhanushkodi and Rameshwaram. Seventeen of us gathered at the Thiruvanmiur boarding point for the onward bus journey well before the appointed time, 10PM. The journey started slightly past 11PM and reached Vedaranyam early next morning. The bus itself was extra comfortable, but the ride was not smooth and too many curves were negotiated at high speed. A decent lodge near the Vedaranyam bus terminus offered shelter for about an hour for us to brush, bathe and band up for breakfast. While we were getting ready, I spotted two birds in the backyard, one was identified by Johny as the Asian fly catcher. A stall opposite offered us breakfast, much above average fare. After munching pooris with the least trace of oil and tasty dosa, we moved on to the bus stand and boarded the bus to Kodiakkarai.
The sanctuary guest house was a short hop from where the bus dropped us and we repaired thereby to wait for the vehicle to take us on a tour inside the sanctuary. We browsed through the display panels put by the information center and also took some pictures of the birds and butterflies that flitted across the grounds around the place. The chartered vehicle with its driver ready, we got into it and started the tour of the sanctuary.
Photograph by Mr.Rangarathnam
Once inside the sanctuary we drove along the beaten track and we saw some blackbucks which were pretty shy and kept a very safe distance. Soon we started spotting small birds and that meant we got down from the vehicle to get closer. It was a delicate and demanding exercise to the chase the birds without chasing them away to get some redeeming snaps. Butterflies also provided some excitement and thus traveling partly on foot and partly by the vehicle, we reached the Point Calimere Beach. The coastal line takes a smooth ninety degrees turn here and the exactly circular horizon spanning almost 240 degrees was a sight to behold. We spent our time wandering on the beach to the mellifluous tones of the sea waves, gently lapping up to the shore. The sea itself looked like a basin and a lone kite and a few crabs were the targets of photographic exercise. Some of the more enterprising team members set out scouting for seagulls at a distance. Satiated we sauntered back to our vehicle to retrace the path inside the sanctuary. We spotted some different birds on our return path and needless to say, we put the vehicle on the hold, till we got some good pictures.
Photograph by Mr.Rangarathnam.
Lunch was taken at a stall near the guest house and once again it was a much above average offering. We split into two batches to take the lunch as space was a constraint and then we kept our cameras busy shooting at the birds and butterflies that were to be seen around. A couple of bee catchers doing their acrobatic meal making was exciting and fun. The question, 'Which came first – chicken or egg' seemed passe. It should have been, 'Which came first – flowers, bees or bee-catchers'? Quite well rested and refreshed our next destination was the bird sanctuary.

We covered the short distance to the bird sanctuary by our chartered vehicle, which we parked at the entrance, to traverse the sanctuary itself on foot. The backwaters provide good hunting ground for the water birds. We walked through the sanctuary and soon spotted some flamingos and inched closer to them. Eventually they drifted away and we walked back to our vehicle, snapping up all the opportunities provided.

Our vehicle then dropped us off at Ramar Patham and we bid good bye to our competent driver and guide thus far. Ramar Patham is a raised dais on which you have the markings of a pair of human feet. Reputedly this place was fossilized and immortalized by Sri Rama who searching for his lost wife used this spot to survey and plan an onslaught of Sri Lanka, but finally executed it from Dhanushkodi. The place is an easy climb of about forty/fifty steps, standing all by itself. A host of monkeys dotting all over the place don't give much leeway to the visitors to indulge in monkey business themselves and obliged to clutch one's possessions firmly, one makes a short tour of the place. Climbing down back to the main road, we walked the short distance to where the salt pans are worked. Most of the members got down into the pans and got an understanding of the process from the people working there. Then it was time to get into the bus back to Vedaranyam.

The tea-stall vendor at Vedaranyam was pleasantly surprised to see us offering repeat custom and did not bother to ascertain the total number upfront this time and decided to keep the coffee/tea 'coming'. Some members went for a quick visit to the nearby temple and all of us boarded the 6.30PM shuttle to Pattukkottai. It was full rush hour and the bus was filled schoolchildren returning from Vedaranyam to their hometowns after some kind of an one-off exercise. The person sitting next to me was a headmaster and he showed considerable interest and curiosity at the composition of our team and was of the firm opinion we were on a study tour. We reached Pattukkottai around 9PM and walked the main streets looking for dinner. We spotted two restaurants, one completely crowded and other totally empty. We plumped for the latter and though we had to wipe off the dust from chairs and tables, the food itself was pretty good and service excellent. After dinner, we moved on to the bus stand to wait for the direct bus to Rameshwaram, politely declining suggestions from onlookers that we complete the journey in two hops. This was the time slot that should be used for the customary introduction round, or so decided Navaneeth and so it happened that everybody was talking about him/herself. Usually the first person sets the tenor and a perfunctory performance by him ensures that others project only a precis. But this time, the first person was high on volume and volubility and others were obliged to be more expansive in their output. Finally it was Navaneeth's turn and he started off by highlighting the Trek Polama event, but the bus rolled in just then. So Navaneeth couldn't complete his bit and we all boarded the bus to Rameshwaram.

A wonderful ribbon top road, a golden goblet of a just-risen moon cantering alongside, excellent driving were the hallmarks of our journey to Rameshwaram which we reached pretty fast, well before 4AM. The streets were busy with devotees even at this early hour. We got a place to refresh ourselves, though it had no bedsteads it had fixtures to help us freshen up. Thus it was that well before 5.30AM, we were on the shores of Rameshwaram sea, just a few paces away from where the devotees congregate to welcome the sunrise. With the moon and the Venus now fairly high in the sky, we roughly surmised where the sun would pop its head up and unpacked our gear and waited. Not completely sure of the local time of sunrise, a bit of despair was creeping in on us, but before 6.30AM we were treated to the glory of sunrise. Heavy smog on the horizon meant that there was no cent percent visibility at the line of the horizon, but still it was a glorious sunrise with the sun's disc slowly emerging from the sea. We then had a trip on the boat on the sea, which lasted about an hour and moved back to the main street for breakfast.
 Photograph by Mr.Ram
Breakfast items were pretty enjoyable, with vada being one of the crispiest ever tasted. Everybody had a second helping of vada and we were ready to board the bus to Dhanushkodi. After completing the bus journey a final 5km or so run has to done either on foot or by a van. We hired a van exclusively for us and proceeded to reach the tip at Dhanushkodi. The van ride was very bumpy across the marshland and the waterbirds found there gave us opportunities to stop and shoot. Alighting from the van when it could proceed no further, we walked around sinking our feet in soft sands, enjoying the play of the horizon's forms as outlined in the beginning of this write-up. Some people got to look at a strange swordfish, though dead and managed to take pictures of it. On the return journey by the van, some of us spent some time visiting the old Dhanushkodi town devastated by cyclone some years back, while others busied themselves shooting a couple of kites that were perched almost at ground level.
Photograph by Mr.Rangarathnam
Time for lunch, as soon as we got back from Dhanushkodi and once again the food was pretty decent. We then took shelter in a nearby choultry to pass the afternoon. It was a nice experience to slip into a siesta on the mat spread on the floor in the forecourt, looking at the tiled ceiling high above and wondering at the extent of ventilation provided. Engaging the services of share autos, we went to Pamban Bridge. Sun falling away rapidly in the west, provided a resplendent lighting to the scenic panorama that we were witness to from the vantage point offered by the road bridge that connects the mainland and the Rameshwaram island. It was a beautiful sight that assailed us from all directions, a heady mixture of heritage buildings, fishing wharfs, shorelines and blue sea. A train entering and crossing the railway bridge completed our cup of joy to the brim. We waited for the last few minutes of the sunset happening over landscape jutting into the sea and then it was back to the railway station. We had a quick dinner just near railway station and boarded the train that would safely deposit us back in Chennai, early next morning.

Photograph by Mr.Dinesh
Yet another wonderful trip, well operationalized by the organizers who had to handle lot of issues on the fly and with a team that gelled well with an amazing sense of camaraderie. Thank you one and all, for this trip with many memories and pictures to savor.

 Another write up by Ram
It has been 4 years since I have done any outing with CTC for various reasons. So when I saw the mail about a Photography Trip to Kodiyakarai and Dhanushkodai, I thought it was too good to miss. So I registered for it and was all set for the day.

If all goes well, then it is certainly not interesting! A week before the trip, I went for a photoshoot on my own near Chennai. A couple of days later charger of my camera stopped working! What good is a photography trip without a camera?

I checked for any availability of the charger, but I won’t be getting anything before the trip. Checked with a couple of friends if they can lend me their camera. My friend Saravanan helped me with him camera a 3 lenses. Cannot be more thankful to anyone, I guess.

On the day of the trip, I reached the bus stand quite early just to make sure I don’t get stuck in the traffic, and excitement of making a trip to a place which I have been thinking of for a long time. Navaneethan and Dinesh were already there and got introduced to them. So the other participants also gathered and the team was ready to go.

The bus started from Chennai around 11:30pm on Friday. Thanks to Dinesh and Navanee for booking a very comfortable bus. We reached Vedaranyam at 7:00 AM in the morning. We had enough time to freshen up and start for the day. Had breakfast at a local shop across the lodge and started out to Kodiyakarai. After visiting the photo exhibition in the forest office we headed over to the sanctuary.

We spent the entire morning in the Black Buck sanctuary, but the bucks and birds weren’t much. The weather was also not helping much. It was really hot and dry we spotted a few black bucks, a rabbit, a horse and a few birds.

Photograph by Mr.Arnab chakraborty

We returned back to the forest office in the afternoon, had our lunch and clicked a few pictures in the backyard of the office while we waited for the vehicle to take us to the bird sanctuary.

We reached the sanctuary around 3:30pm and ventured along the shore hoping to get some good clicks of the flamingos. Unfortunately there were only a handful of them and that too drifted far off from where we were. So no good close-up photos of the great pink beauties. When everybody returned back, I fell back for a few more minutes and was rewarded with about a hundred flamingos flying towards me. I am really not sure how many had the opportunity to view this beauty in this trip. I clicked a couple fo photographs and stood fixed at the sheer beauty of the pink Greater Flamingos against the blue sky!

We took few photographs of some of the birds there and then headed back to the vehicle around 4:30. We got on the bus back to Vedaranyam, but on the way we stopped to visit the Rama’s pada. It is believed that from this place Lord Rama was viewing the route to Lanka before they proceeded to Dhanushkodi to build the bridge.

Photograph by Madhavi Natarajan

We spent a few minutes there and proceeded to Vedaranyam. We boarded the public transport from Vedaranyam around 6:30 and proceeded to our next stop at Pattukottai. We had a good dinner, freshened up and took another public transport to Rameshawaram.

We reached Rameshwaram very early the next morning, around 3:30pm. Dinesh and Navaneethan managed to find a lodge where we can freshen up. We were really quick to finish off and I and a few others started ahead of the others to the sea shore to catch the sunrise with our lens.
But the sun waited for everyone to arrive and then showed up its beautiful emergence from the horizon. It was definitely a delight to watch. We clicked some photographs of the rising sun and then on-boarded the boat to take a ride in the sea. I personally did not feel this was a very useful ride, except that we got a good view of the temple from the sea. Other than that there wasn’t anything interesting about the boat ride.

After returning back, we finished our breakfast quickly and proceeded over to Dhanushkodi in public transport. After reaching the town, we had to take a van operated by the local group to reach to the tip of the land. We can also walk the entire stretch. But given the weather and time constraint we decided to take the van.

Photograph by Mr.Selwyn

One should be there to know the beauty of the place. White sands and emerald waters with lots of waders and pelagic birds along with some raptors, was a beauty to watch. We again got busy clicking some photographs even though the lighting was not very apt for photography! On the way back to the town we also saw the ruined remains of the place which was hit by a hurricane / tsunami sometime during the 1960s. We spent time till midday and proceeded back to Rameshwaram.

Photograph by Mr.Johny

After lunch some of us wanted to visit the temple. So we rested in a local rest house “chatram”. Once the temple was open around 3:30pm we visited the temple and were back around 4:30pm. We then headed over to the Pamban Bridge and took another round of photographs of the old engineering marvel – the railway bridge across the sea. We also took a glimpse of the setting sun.

We headed over to the railway station, had a light dinner before boarding the train. We reached back Chennai around8:30am the next morning with wonderful memories of the trip and few very good friends.

Following are some of the highlights of the trip.

1.       Public transports to almost all the places
2.       The Great Flamingoes flying towards to in Kodiyakarai
3.       A visit to the historical place from where Lord Rama was reviewing his route with his army
4.       The beautiful sunrise at Rameshwaram
5.       Dhanushkodi
6.       Pamban Bridge and most importantly the time spent with new friends.
I am really looking forward to visit Kodiyakarai sometime during December. Hoping that will happen.

 Another write up by Ms.Sandhya
  As the trip members gathered on Feb 21 at the Rathimeena bus stand in Thiruvanmiyur around 10 PM as communicated by our organizers, we realized that everyone had gathered except 3 people – our two organizers and one more team member – somehow our enthusiastic organizers get a sponsor for their dinner each time :). And once they arrived, they rushed us up to cross the road and get ready to board the bus, which we later realized was to start from Koyambedu at 10:30 PM and not Thiruvanmiyur :(. And finally after some waiting, our bus arrived at 11:30 PM  and we all got settled and it was a comfortable journey to Vedaranyam. 
    We reached Vedaranyam at about 7 and after breakfast, we headed towards Kodiyakkarai for wildlife/Bird sanctuary. We were asked to wait in the guest house for sometime as we reached Kodiyakkari, so we checked out the museum, which proved to be very useful for getting to know about the birds/wildlife/butterflies in that area. After our van arrived, we started off to the wildlife sanctuary. In the wildlife sanctuary, we were able to catch the glimpse of several blackbucks and spotted deers running at their top speed. As we stopped on the way at a few points for wildlife watch/bird watch, our van driver showed us the Kodiyakkarai light house and the British light house. As the van stopped each time, the shutterbugs got into action right away clicking snaps of birds, deers and of course – not to miss the beetle :).

    After some snaps, the van moved towards the shore and as we walked from the van till the shore, we could see multiple small crabs moving in and out of their holes,few Brahminy kites and black kites, the ruins of Chola lighthouse and few other birds which made sure that the shutterbugs were all engrossed through the morning. Then, we headed back to the guest house and had a great lunch in a nearby mess. After lunch, some of them settled for a nap while few people in the group went for a second round of photography and their discussion on cameras/lighting/photography in the guest house, and some of us started for a small walk in the town up to the shore. And as the sun mellowed down a bit by 4, we all met and started to the Bird sanctuary. As we reached near the shallow waters, we were greeted by atleast a hundred gulls, though it was hard to make out if they were any terns too in flight. And we walked further right, there were more and more birds. We were told that the number of birds were less in number this time as compared to the usual number the same time last year wherein each year at least a thousand migratory birds would arrive in Kodikarai during the season. It was indeed a treat to watch birds from the binoculars with the herons/egrets slowly lifting their legs and walking over the waters, numerous sand plovers and stints pecking their food, the bigger one trying to snatch the fish from the smaller one, the birds slowly extending their wings for flight, the sounds of birds calling to each other and of course the flamingoes/gulls flocking together. 

Birds spotted in Kodiyakkari Wildlife and Bird sanctuary include - Little green bee eater, Black headed Ibis, Brahminy Kites, Crested Lark, Paddyfield Pipit, Black Drongo, Slender billed gull, Black/Brown headed gulls, Little and Intermediate egret, White heron, Little stint, Indian Pond Heron, Common sand piper and many more small birds.

    After our bird watching/photography session, we made a quick visit to a heritage site - Ramar Padam with a shrine having the footprints of Lord Rama before he headed towards Lanka. As we climbed steps, we could see that the monkeys were more in the number in that area than the number of people :), and as we climbed the steps, there were all ready and curios to grab the plastic covers of the passer by. After Ramar Padam,we walked up to the nearby salt pans and the locals there explained the salt extraction process to us. We carefully walked through the salt pans so as not to step in the pathways with water and after a few more clicks there, we moved to the bus stop and boarded a bus back to Vedaranyam. After tea and snacks, we managed to squeeze in Vedaranyam temple too for that day and about 6-7 of us made a quick visit to the temple with Bala guiding us and explaining some facts about the age old temple. After darshan, we boarded the bus to Pattukottai and after a nice dinner there, we took the bus to Rameshwaram islands. 

We woke up on Sunday morning to the calls of the bus conductor, who asked us all that to get down as we had reached Rameshwaram. As we got down, we could see the tall gopuram of the Ramanathasamy temple, adorned with colourful lights. The lights of the temple shone in the early morning as we waited for things to get settled and watched people arriving to temple as early as 3:45 AM. After sometime, we moved off to the rooms taken on rent and after getting freshed up, started with a morning walk to the shore for the sunrise at 5:30 AM. The sun did take some time to show itself off as our group patiently waited for the sunrise. Until sunrise, we took off the binocular and observed the serene sea and the boats in water and the bustling crowd outside the temple as people took a dip in the sea (the agni theertham) before darshan while the photographers in the group set their tripods ready for capturing the sun. As the sky turned deep orange, there was no sign of the sun yet and some of us did play a prank the sun was hidden beneath the clouds giving the sky the orange colour and no use waiting for the sun anymore. The undeterred photographers ignored our pranks and their patience did pay off with a magnificently golden sun rising finally at 7 AM and all of us were glued to the cameras. The sun did look like a massive golden ball slowly rising up when we checked it with the binocular. After sunrise, we went for boating in Bay of Bengal for half an hour where we got a chance to check the landscape of Rameshwaram with coconut trees surrounding the two huge temple towers and well past them, the TV tower. Then after another round of photography from the boat and some group snaps, we all had our breakfast in the nearby hotel and took the bus to Dhanushkodi. As we were travelling to Dhanuskodi, we could see a flamboyance of flamingoes resting in the shallow waters. It was really nice to see a huge flock at regular intervals on both sides of the road as we had not seen such number of flamingoes even in Kodikarai. As we reached the Dhanuskodi town, we got into one van and headed further to see the local places there. We stopped at a few spots for watching/capturing the birds on the way. As the van zoomed through the shore, we could get a closer view of the egrets (Little egrets, Western reef egrets) wherein we could see their plumes even with our naked eye. After our round 2 of bird photography/bird watching, the van moved on till we reached our first stop, the tip of the island. 

Photograph by Mr.Arnab

    The tip of Rameshwaram island is a must visit place for anyone visiting Dhanushkodi/Rameshwaram. Few of us walked on the shore braving the sun in our eagerness to see if Sri Lanka is visible from the tip. And as we moved closer to the shoal, we could spot a patch of land possibly Sri Lanka even with our naked eye, and when we tried to get a better view of it with the binocular, the birds lined up in the sea coast could be visible in smaller images. It was indeed an wonderful experience to stand at the southernmost tip of the island where one could feel the waves of Indian ocean at one side , and waves from Bay of Bengal at the other. It was a breath taking view with two great water bodies from different directions getting mixed at one point and a patch of small land visible in the frame. Due to the time limit set by our organizers, we had to take a quick glimpse of it and head back to the van with a heavy heart though Naveen and Bala did go into the waters and enjoyed to the fullest while I had to be content capturing their snaps. Then our next stop was the ruins of the Dhanuskodi railway station that got collapsed in the cyclones. Just a few meters from it, there was a temple, and inside it, the floating stone was kept on display -  one among the historic set of stones believed to be a part of the Ram sethu. The mention of floating stone does rake up a number of questions for which science is still exploring the answers. The old lady in the temple informed us the floating stone weighed about 15-16 kgs and as we pushed it into the water, it zoomed up and floated to our amazement. And after capturing a few snaps of the place, we headed back to Dhanushkodi and from there took a bus back to Rameshwaram. 

    We had a great lunch in the hotel near the Ramanathsamy temple and after lunch we waited for the clock to tick 3’o clock and for the temple to open up for visitors as the next place in our agenda was the Ramanathasamy temple - one out of the 12 Jyothirlinga temples. This is historical place with a corridor of over a thousand pillars (the longest multi-paralled corridor in Asia). This temple also happens to be one of the bustling pilgrimage/heritage site with devotees starting with a dip in Bay of Bengal and proceeding towards the 22 temple tanks before the darshan. We were awestruck by the impeccable carvings on the pillars and the walls. One more unique observation in the temple was a special shriune for Lord Nataraja decorated with rudraksha, which has never been seen in other temples across South India. This is one of the must visit places for people interested in visiting the Heritage sites and the carvings all over the temple are definitely a visual treat. After the darshan, we joined Dinesh who had been patiently waiting for us and then headed to our last stop in the journey, the Pamban bridge – one of the longest bridges in India which is 100 years old and still going strong :). This link connects the Rameshwaram islands to the Mainland India and is said to open up when large ships pass through the path. The aerial view from the road link was amazing with each one of us capturing the view to our heart's content. We waited for some more time there and we also got a chance to capture the rail link as the train passed through it. Then with the rail link in our frame, the tripod was set for a group pic and after the group pics, we dispersed to the railways station. 

Photograph by Mr.Arnab

    We had our dinner in a shop/stall near the railway station and after some chit chats/discussions/snacks/tea, we moved to our platform and got into the train. We settled down in our berths as the train started moving after changing the places to have our group together. Few minutes into the journey, the train passed through the Pamban bridge, an engineering marvel indeed to be standing strong for the past 100 years in the rough sea. We were observing the springs in the sea as we passed through the second longest link in India and after some more chit chats, it was sleep time and the area was all snoring sounds after a few hours. In the morning, as the train had just crossed Chengalpattu, Dinesh came to our cabin from the other compartment and woke us all up. A special mention to our morning alarm - Dinesh who took special care in waking up all of us in these 3 days as early as he could of course, once he successfully wakes up everyone, he would start his second round of sleeping. Then all 17 of us gathered in a cabin and started our conversation. As the tradition goes in CTC, the introduction usually happens at the end of the trip/day :) and our introduction session which had started at the Pattukottai bus stand resumed and we all did manage to complete our introductions well on time and continue our discussions on trip experiences. With Monday blues dawning on us, we departed off from Tambaram bidding good bye to the rest in train to get down at Mambalam and Egmore. 

    And the way it goes in every CTC trip, you never know when you meet the trip mates as strangers as the weekend starts and get to know each one of them after a wonderful trip. It was indeed a great weekend with a lot of bird watching/ heritage walk, and a very special thanks to Navaneeth, Dinesh and all other trip mates for their great company and for this trip a memorable one.



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