Monday, March 6, 2017

Aero India 2017 - Aero Show

A few years back or a few editions back, when I first visited the Aero show held in Bengaluru, I was enthralled no end and those mean machines launching up and their acrobatic displays left me pleasantly impressed. The impact of a MIG or the Sukhoi or the F16 whizzing above you with deafening sound would leave many a lot covering their ears or just allow you to gasp at them in awe.

This event that unfolds in Bengaluru at the Air Force Station, Yelahanka once in two years draws huge crowds and the traffic management is a chaos every time with no solution in sight however best the authorities plan in advance and execute. This is one kind of an event where you can get up and close with those wonder machines that you always see up above in the horizon vanishing even before you have a proper look at it. Also to say, you get a peek sneak into the capabilities of various countries and the aerospace technologies that is on offer inviting potential customers to their stands.

I'm yet to get a chance to visit the stalls but the crowds, traffic and chaos has kept me away and I rather chose to sneak in early to watch the displays and sneak out before the traffic goes haywire.

Few tips (for future planners) from me before I share some pictures from there...
If you intend to visit the stalls as well as watch the airshow:-
i. Leave early and reach the venue early. This year you could collect your tickets beforehand that I realized made it more easier avoiding the queues at the counter to collect tickets
ii. Carry a hat, sunshades, plenty of water, camera with sufficient batteries/cards and a sunscreen lotion if you prefer to use them to avoid getting sunburnt and water to keep you hydrated during the hot day. If with family, carry a picnic mat, huge umbrella to help yourself sit under its shade while enjoying the air display
iii. Adequate food counters were set up this dishing out variety of food. Be responsible and dispose the trash in the designated places. Unwanted thrash can attract birds that can affect the air show
iv. the air show display area where the general visiting crowd stands is an open area and people tend to dispose leftover wrappers, plastic bottles, etc etc everywhere that is not a good sign. This inspite of having plenty of bins and designated places to dump the trash. We never learn, do we!
v. Leave the venue just before the event ends to escape the traffic and the subsequent pile up of vehicles
vi. Look up the timings for the bus services that would be put up for this event and use them if you can. I failed to figure out their timings and ended up commuting in my car
vi. All people can watch the air show from kids to elders. Just have some preparation and enjoy the event

I personally, reached early and left just a bit early and escaped getting caught in the traffic snarls.

Next time around if it happens in Bengaluru, I plant to visit the stalls and also watch the air displays. Hoping!


The Yakolevs Aerobatic display team from UK enthralled the crowds

The US Lockheed Martin F 16 enthralling the crowds with a maneuver

The Swedish Air Force Saab Grippen 262 in full throttle





Our very own 'Suryakirans' displaying some formations

The Indian and the US para-jumpers had a live display for the crowd jumping of their aircrafts and landing amidst heavy cheers

The stealthy US Air force's C-17 Globemaster had a short take-off and landing displaying its capabilities

The agile warhorse - Sukhoi - Su30MkI of the IAF


more displays from the Yakovlevs enthralled the crowds

Our pride - LCA 'Tejas' showcased its flying capabilities amidst the loudest cheers

 The French Dasault Rafale 4-FF firing up the skies


The best of the lot was from the Skycat Wingwalkers -Scandinavian airshow aerobatics team that had the crowd hooting for more

Until the next event...Ciao! #Aeroindia #Aeroindia2017

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Lava, North Bengal birding

view of K2 mountain range


I have traveled to the Kutch in the West, Ladakh in the North and most of the South region but never got an opportunity to explore the East beyond Kolkata. With a couple of spare days in March, I zoomed in on the place Lava located in North Bengal, a birder’s hot spot, for my next journey hoping this trip would be a gateway for more exploration of the East. Nishcay and Prabhu teamed up with me for the first time on this journey in search of some birds and wildlife.

I was pretty excited for the fact that many of the species I would be seeing would be lifers (i.e., never seen before) and while browsing through the internet, I stumbled upon Joseph Lepcha from Lava who agreed to be our host, guide and also plan our entire trip schedule.


We took the Indigo flight from Bengaluru to Bagdogra via Kolkata. Our car was ready at the airport to ferry us to the small village of Lava, about 120 kms away. Lava can be reached either via Gorubathan or Kalimpong from Bagdogra. We traveled via Gorubathan as the route via Kalimpong is unpredictable and caters to heavy traffic towards Sikkim. It took us about 4 hours to travel the distance with some good roads and also missing roads in between but our drive was comfortable owing the modified shocks of the WagonR that took on the rough stretches with ease.


We reached after nightfall and soon realized that we were in for a very cold surprise, it was cold owing to the higher altitude. Lava is also the entry point to the Neora Valley National Park. We then met Joseph Lepcha who showed us our place of stay and then we ended the long day with a hot supper and met few other birders who were there. Joseph also briefed us about our plan for the next 3 days.





Next day, we hit out early with Guru, our guide and driver for the day to cover the Rachet trails. We parked the vehicle at the start of the trail and started hiking on the Upper Rachet trail in quest of seeing as many species of birds as we could. Golden-naped Finch, Rufous-breasted Bush Robin, Whiskered Yuhina, a whole lot of Babblers and Warblers kept us entertained. As we progressed we realized that we had traversed a long distance and decided to descend down to Lower Rachet trail skipping going back to Lava for the brunch. It turned out to be a wise suggestion by Guru as we got to see a lone brilliant red colored Scarlet Finch as well as the Fire-tailed Sunbirds, Himalayan Blue Tail and many more of those colorful species.

After some steep downhill descent and navigating rocky stretches, we hit a trail from where we continued birding while Guru went on to fetch the vehicle. Evening time and the sun quickly fades out and hence we decided to end our session and travel back to Lava. Happy with our day’s bounty, we gulped down an early dinner and sat around Joseph to identify the birds we had seen.



Next day, we were out by 6:30 on our way towards Neora Valley National Park. We were to visit the Chaudapheri camp and Zero point inside the park and Joseph had procured the necessary permits beforehand. We just did not hit the camp but did a fair bit of walking on the trail to the camp birding while the vehicle followed. The weather in Neora valley was all cloudy and foggy, being located at a much higher altitude and as a result the bird activity were also low, they were around and audible but just not visible. Yet, we managed to sight the Green-tailed Sunbird, Scarlet Finch again, Brown Bullfinch, Mrs Gould’s Sunbird, Mountain Bulbul, Rufous-vented Yuhina and many more.



We halted at a place for the much needed breakfast and a breather while a Streaked Spiderhunter whizzed above us not wanting to perch anywhere. Neora valley also hosts the engendered Red Panda as well as the highly elusive but brilliantly colored Satyr Tragopan, but as with our luck we couldn’t sight either of them. Next time!
Chaudapheri camp located inside the park is the place where most of the tourists end their journey, have a cup of chai or some food and return back. It’s also the place where you can easily sight the Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush, Black-faced Laughingthrush and Eurasian Wren that come on to feed on the food waste put out for them. So, while the food is getting ready at the camp, you just sit out and watch them move around.






After the sumptuous simple lunch, we headed towards the Zero Point beyond which the core area falls and you are not allowed without additional permits. The weather here was foggier and visibility very low at many stretches and so was the bird activity. We came back to the camp to sight a flock of Yellow-billed Blue Magpie’s and were also treated to the calls of the Hill Partridges that were very vocal but not visible. We reached back Lava after dusk for some piping hot tea and snacks and went on a stroll around the village. Next day would be our final day at Lava.


Next morning, we waited for the sun to come out before heading out as it was a little foggy and ventured around the village for some birding. Grey Bushchat, Golden Bush Robin, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Green-backed Tit and many others were added to our list of birds sighted. After a productive session and some breakfast, we headed out towards the Pipeline trail. It’s a walk track next to the pipeline amidst thick vegetation that hosts a whole lot of birds. Having said that, hearing them is easier but not sighting them owing to the vast area and the dense foliage. The calls of the Great Barbet resonated through the valley while the Streaked Spiderhunter teased us flying high above while a Black Eagle soared just above our heads.






Next, we headed back to Lava for the much needed lunch and set out towards Alagarh road thereafter. The stretch until a couple of years ago was a birders dream stretch that housed many varieties and bounty sightings all along the single lane road stretch. But, currently as the road is being widened as it is a strategically important highway leading to Nathu La and the China border, the bird activity has reduced drastically owing to the work in progress. Rusty-fronted Barwing, Great Barbet, Golden-throated Barbet, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Whiskered Yuhina were the highlights from the stretch.



Next, as a final attempt on sighting the Red-billed Leoithrix, we headed towards Rishop, a village on the hills hoping to catch the common species that we had missed all along but alas we were not lucky enough to sight them. Next time, hopefully! We also missed the view of Kanchendzonga peak owing to cloud cover. Rishop has a whole lot of hotels, homestays that offer window views of K2 peak and it looked like a popular tourist getaway place.
Back at Lava, we went to the Monastery only to find it closed. Dinner time and conversations with Joseph Lepcha over various topics and recapping the hits and misses of our short stay at Lava. Next morning, we left Lava early in the same WagonR towards Bagdogra picking up some Darjeeling tea on the way at Siliguri.

Closing notes:
It was a short but productive trip and I enjoyed great company with Nischay and Prabhu. Joseph Lepcha was a very good host and good at birding. He guides people and groups on birding trails while not at his contractual duty with the forest department. Happy to have known him and hope more such local talent grow and prosper. He can be reached at +91 99320 95242 and the best time to contact him would be in the evenings when he would be back home.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dachigam National Park

J&K complete logs here

Early next morning from Manasbahl, we drove straight to Dachigam National Park that is located about 20kms from Srinagar and home to the critically endangered Hangul (Kashmir stag), Himalayan bears and many others. We met Mr. Nazir Malik, one of the finest naturalists I’ve come across who knows Dachigam in and out and has got tremendous knowledge about everything in Dachigam and we were rewarded with some fine knowledge sharing and tips from him.



The park has got a couple of enclosures where bears and a leopard are housed in huge cages that were either rescued or nurtured in captivity since long. Visitors do come in during weekends for picnicking in the park and are taken on a short nature walk inside the park. The terrain in the national park varies from sloping grasslands to rocky outcrops and cliffs owing to the varied altitude variation (5500 to 14000 ft) of the park.

Hangul or Kashmir stag is the state animal of J&K and is found in the national park but habitat destruction and hunting has reduced it to a state of 'critically endangered' on the IUCN list and might be wiped out completely if suitable measures are not undertaken to protect its habitat. I personally feel tourism is pretty low to the park owing to the lackadaisical management of the park, conflicts in the state, and vulnerability owing to the hilly terrains of the park. Himalayan bears are also found in good numbers and there are many incidents of people getting killed/injured being attacked by them. The main thing to be noted here is neither bears or any other wild animals do not attack unless they are provoked or feel threatened or in a act of defense if their young ones are around.




Nazir bhai guided us on a small hike into the immensely vast national park and in that short period of time, we got to see many bird species in about a couple of hours. Chestnut-eared Bunting, Long-tailed Minivet, Tawny Owl, Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, a host of flaura and many species of butterflies kept us enthralled. The afternoon session was a bit downer with a flat tyre and pouring rain but the Tawny Owl seen in fading light brought an end to our wonderful J&K birding trip.

We closed the day, the last of our long trip filled with many moments, experiences, lifers etc watching the football world cup match in Srinagar at Hotel Malik Palace situated overlooking the Dal lake. Next morning I, Kannan and PK were home bound in different flights while Amith had to drive back to drop the car and then catch his flight home a day later.


Closing notes:
First, to thank Amit for detailed planning, shepherding all of us and driving too. Kannan and PK for the awesome company and for many of those moments.
Tips & Notes:
> Have spare days, you never know how the weather can behave especially in the high altitude regions

> Do not rush and exert too much in the high ranges, take it slow and easy
> Manage your bookings only through known contacts or reliable portals, else you may be turned away at the doorstep
> Maggi was the staple diet for us but do try the local food. Keep instant noodles/bread/fruits while traveling to remote places
> Fuel is another precious commodity. Have spare cans on long journey outside of Leh
> Do not under estimate or ignore high altitude sickness. If it strikes, your trip is a complete messy affair. Be aware and take precautions, carry the necessary medications
> Carry sufficient warm wear but do not over stuff; nobody cares if you are wearing the same set daily
> Littering still happens and by all of us. Be sensible and dispose your trash in designated places. Avoid buying unwanted materials
> Help generate local economy – prefer a home stay, hire local guides and cabs, buy local products and help generate revenue


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