Tuesday, July 3, 2012

An enriching experience with Jet Airways

I looked out of the window. It’s still dark outside. Got to get ready. I could not sleep the whole night in excitement. Thought I would manage a quick nap during flight.

The phone rang.. its 4 am and the cab has reached the main gate. In few minutes I found myself whizzing towards the airport.

A surprise was waiting for me. When I reached the check-in counter, I found that my seat has been upgraded to Première class. I moved into the Jet Airways Première lounge, grabbed a cup of tea and a toast while waiting for the boarding call.

It’s not too long back that I had received a call from Jet Airways about my selection to "My Most Enriching Experience with Jet Airways" contest (as part of their social media engagement) and won a chance to “Explore the World Of Aircraft Maintenance!” including a visit to the cockpit of a Boeing 737 aircraft, witnessing actual take offs and landings and understanding the science that makes such heavy carriers fly in air!

After a while, an attendant at the lounge informed me that my flight is ready for boarding and I proceeded towards the aircraft. It was indeed a great experience flying with Jet Airways, as always. The flight attendants gave all the passengers individual attention and not to forget the delectable cuisine served on board.

As I reached Mumbai, officials from Jet Airways were waiting to welcome us. I met with other winners who had flown down to Mumbai for the event. We were all escorted to the Jet Airways Hangar located about 6kms from the domestic terminal. Soon after registration, we were taken inside the hanger. The first glimpse of the facility made butterflies run inside me. I saw a Jet Airways Boeing 737-800 undergoing maintenance. 

We all assembled at the seminar hall for a brief infotainment session. Jet Airways engineering experts guided us with rich insights and information on the history of aviation followed by aircraft maintenance and operations through audio visual presentations. We also witnessed how an aircraft engine works as well as different types of landing and take offs by aircrafts. I never knew that some aircrafts can even move backwards!

After the session we were taken to the hanger to have an exclusive view of the fascinating world of aircraft maintenance with a tour of the engine, structure, wheel & brake and seat shop.We were also given a chance to explore the aircraft interiors, engines, cargo hold and landing gear as well as a glimpse of the Black Box. Large commercial aircraft are required to carry two separate black boxes or flight recorders – a Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and a Flight Data Recorder (FDR). The black boxes are typically located towards the tail of an aircraft. Flight recorders are also fitted with a battery-powered sonar transducer to aid in underwater recovery (look for the shiny cylinder attached to the front of the recorder).

And finally, each of us was given an opportunity to visit the cockpit of a stationary Boeing 737 aircraft and learn first-hand by its technology, instruments and various features. Our session was coming to an end while we walked towards the Cafeteria for lunch.

The lunch had more exciting things than just the food. Apart from the appetizing foodstuffs, we had something more to tickle our brains. There were on-spot quiz and anagrams to solve. The lucky winners made their way to envying gifts. However, no one left the place unhappy. There were lots of goodies and mementos for each one of us to carry back home.

We were escorted back to the airport and we flew back to our respective home cities with another premiere class treatment. While I closed my eyes to get a small nap, I got a flashback of the eventful day that I just spent.. a day filled with an enriching experience to the fascinating world of aircrafts.. Something that I will cherish long after this tour ends.

~ Bhaskar Dutta

Friday, April 13, 2012

From a diary of a Biker

The other day, I came across the Motorcycle diary of Avinash Thadani. Avinash is an avid Indian biker rider who recently drove 15, 000 km across South America, consumed 650 litres of petrol and travelled through six countries...

He wanted a real adventure in life. He got his bike, a beautiful KTM 640 Adventure, out of the bonded warehouse in Bogota, Colombia and headed out. Simple plan, head south - Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Brazil - and experience the best of South America.

He says he did not knew the local language or where he was heading to but planned to figure it out on the road.

The very next day, while he was crossing the Andes, he had the worst fall of his trip. the big Bike was on top of him for half an hour, blood oozing through his legs, lowering his confidence limit. That's when he made a deal with his bike.... He says, I promised I would take her home with me as long as she got me through this adventure.

The police warned Avinash. Told him how dangerous it is to go deep into the Colombian forests. But like a typical boarding school brat who hates being dictated, he didn't listen. No.. its wasnt the animals...Two days through dirt tracks, he finally saw them. The FARC (Revolutionary Army of Colombia) were toting AK-47 s and did not look happy.

He prayed and rode away as fast as he could. The rest of Colombia was amazing; a lonely desert, dancing cities (Cali Colombia is the salsa capital of the world) cities and beautiful churches built along solid rock canyons.

Next was Ecuador. He rode along the Pacific Ocean, on a lonely, twisty road called the "Routa Del Sol". It literally means "The Route of the Sun" but for Avinash, it was the route of his soul. The blue of the Pacific Ocean, the wind in my face scented with the freshness of salt and adventure.

For him, Peru was nothing short of pure magic. He ended up spending a month there. He rode through a mountain pass at 5, 000 metres. It rained, hailed and snowed upon him. He still loved every bit of it.

He saw lots of llamas, who had probably never seen a tourist before, and then two days of no human contact at all. He kept telling himself "this was not a holiday for me to check out the sights;but an adventure for the sights to check me out, and to see if I was worthy to cross them!".

Cuzco and then Machu Picchu. It's been 100 years since the first Westerner discovered it but he, unlike millions of other tourists, did not hit the Inca trail. Instead, he just soaked up the atmosphere.

Then at Bolivia Avinash met the Salt Flats. The ride was the toughest of the trip since the road was quite terrible. It looked like just flat and white. No roads, no signs, nothing, just flat salt as far as the eye could see.
It took him five hours from there to get into Argentina. Once in, Avinash headed for the Dakar rally. Seeing the bikes and cars flying through the desert made him resolve to take part one day.

Next stop: Buenos Aires. Bit tired and depressed by this point, he did not feel like battling the winds of Patagonia but still loved the sight of penguins, elephant seals and sea lions.

At the end of the road in Tierra Del Fuego - the tip of the continent - he saw a bench. He sat down and started thinking about his next adventure - when he would go around the world on my motorcycle....

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Window in the Sky : Making a creative use of it

My Assignment

To take photographs while on window seat at aircraft


Different flights in the last one year


One of the best things about getting a window seat in an aeroplane is that you get a unique opportunity to photograph things from a high vantage point. It is often challenging to take good photos from an aeroplane window seat, but with the right camera, the right settings and some practice, amateurs and professionals alike can capture beautiful images from this unique viewpoint.

I often travel to different destinations, generally carrying the camera in cabin baggage while flying. Since the camera is with me, I just felt like taking few pictures from my window seat. I got really excited seeing the outcome later when i downloaded them in my laptop. This inspired me to do a series of photo shoots from my window seat.

I would always insist to have a window seat booked for me and request for a window that is not over or behind the wing of the aircraft. The wing may sometimes provide interesting angles photos, but it also blocks much of the view. I prefer to book a seat on the side of the aircraft that is not towards the sun. This is to avoid glare through the window. Photos taken from seats behind the wings can get blurred by Engine’s exhaust. I have found that front end window seats usually provide the best photo opportunities for me.

I always keep my camera handy in cabin baggage. Basic kit lens (18-55mm, in my case) is a better choice than a zoom lens. However, when using a wide angle to get a wide coverage, I have ended up capturing a part of the round cornered window. Often the excitement of the view takes away my attention from the corners of the frame! Sometimes, however, the shape of the window just cannot be avoided. I generally don’t discard immediately an otherwise wonderful shot just because part of the window is visible. Many of my photos taken from airplane window seats have been cropped later.

The first thing I do, once I get to my seat, is clean the window glass with a tissue paper to remove any debris that may blur my photographs. Occasionally, when luck doesn’t favour me, I get windows that are badly scratched or condensed and there's nothing I can do about this. They cause the picture to be slightly fuzzy and lacking in contrast.

The next important thing is to adjust camera settings. Switching to manual focusing mode and locking the focus on the main focal point can help a lot. Often auto focus mode in cameras get confused when shooting through glass. I shoot at faster shutter speeds, especially at lower altitudes for day or night photos. The flash is a strict no-no; it doesn’t help in addition, cause reflection. If using compact, I would advice to use the infinity or landscape setting on the camera. Polarizer doesn’t help, as the window glass is already polarized and we tend to get cross-polarization, a purple rainbow effect.

It is difficult to take shots of the ground from an aircraft due to small size of window and the angles that are possible through them, but opportunities do present themselves for such shots on the few occasions that the plan banks, generally before landing and after take off. These are the times I eagerly wait for and get ready to shoot fast as these moments don’t last too long.

Sometimes the scenes out of the window look quite spectacular to the eye but later when I review my photos they look a little blank and un-inspirational. Hence, I try to find out a point of interest to bring life to my shots. It can be the engine of the plane, the wing or can be a nice cloud formation, a meandering river, a coastline, an island, a city with sky scrappers, fields of different colours or a setting sun at the horizon. It may even be something inside the plane.

Since the plane moves very fast, I need to act quickly. If I see something that is interesting, it may be out of view by the time I set my camera.

Another important aspect here is to keep the camera as steady as possible while shooting. Take the camera away from the window and you'll see reflections of the inside of the cabin. Hence, it is wise is to hold the camera lens close to the window glass, without letting the lens touch the window surface. It will increase camera shake due to the vibrations of the aeroplane, which in turn, can blur any images I shoot.

A better strategy, while using a DSLR with a fitted lens, is to attach a lens hood to the lens and get in as close as I can to the window without actually touching it. Alternatively, I also use my free hand to cup around the lens to block any reflections.

I might be very happy with my shots taken during flight. However, the real trouble starts when I transfer them to computer and often find photos taken from the aeroplane look washed out and lack richness of colour. Luckily post processing may brighten up and recover a lot of details, provided the photographs are in focus. Also selective cropping may help to discard distracting elements.

When flying at night and the night lights during landing look amazing. However, it is too difficult to capture as the movement of the aeroplane and the necessary long exposure causes a photograph to appear as streaks instead of the lights.

The best approach I use in such situation, is turning on the movie mode in my digital camera and later selecting a still frame from that on the computer. High ISO and faster shutter speed may sometime help. However, getting a decent picture has been almost unworkable for me. Hence, at those times, I like to sit back and enjoy the view.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hogenakkal Falls

Hogenakkal Falls

Also known as the Niagara of India, the Hogenakkal Falls are not a single waterfalls but a series of falls. The whole spectacle is spread over a kilometre or so. A trip to Hogenakkal is usually a combination of boating, bathing/swimming, and massage.

I had read about Hogenakkal waterfalls long back as the Smoky Rocks. Ever since, it has been on my must-see list. And finally I could make up my trip to this wonderland with my friend, Rohit who is equally excited about the same.

We decided to take Karnataka tourism's conducted tour and woke up quite early in the morning to reach Badami House near Corporation. However, to our despair, we found out that Tourism Dept doesn’t conduct that tour as they can't make profit out of it!! Wonder why they have still kept it in their brochure!

However, Tourism Dept still couldn't dump our enthusiasm. We went to Majestic Bus Stand to find out local commute and finally got into a Tamil Nadu State Transport bus heading towards Dharmapuri, nearest town to the falls.

We didn't get time to have our breakfast, so on the way we kept munching on the snacks that we had packed for the journey. The road was indeed nice and we had a bump less ride. Also managed a small nap. It took about 2.5 hrs to reach Dharmapuri.

From there we boarded into a crowded bus that took us to Hogenakkal. It was around an hour’s journey. The bad thing was we didn’t manage to get seat, so had to stand all throughout the journey. But the road was nice and we didn’t had any trouble, thinking of the waterfalls that we were going to reach soon.

When we reached Hogenakkal, it was lunch time and we were hungry. We spotted a clean restaurant and ordered for meals (Rs 25/- per head for unlimited food on banana leaf)

When we came out of the restaurant, it was raining outside. But in no time we were spotted by a boatman (Coracle driver) who started nagging and finally we gave up to his demands (Rs. 400 for the full boat for two hours). To reach the waterfalls one needs to take a boat-ride (there is no land access).

We finally boarded the boat. Its called coracle ('Parisal' in local language). Perfectly circular in shape, coracle is made (woven together) of bamboo shoots/sticks. The base is some kind of cloth or hide, topped by ...actually bottomed by :) Tar (I think!). I am told Parisal is a totally-Indian, indigenous product, whose shape and features have not changed over hundreds of years! Wish I could have filed for a geographical indication before any western guy copies the same and patents it. (Intellectual Property of India after all!)

Enough about the coracle. Back to the trip discussion. Once in boat, we had to pay 10/- Rs. per person to the government guy sitting at the base of the big tree (banyan, I think) as the tax/fee to cross the river.

Anyhow, we crossed the river's width and got off the boat. There are small pathways to walk and river Cauvery seems to be all around you. And finally, we could hear the roar of the waterfalls and see the first one's head.

The whole spectacle is spread over a kilometre or so, with two sections, half-a-kilometre each, making maybe 110 degree angle to one another. The majority of waterfalls are on the first section and the second section is a gorge which forms the downstream of all the waterfalls. Apart from being one of the loveliest waterfalls of the country, it is also known for therapeutic properties of its waters. However, we decided not to get wet/take bath in the water as we were scared to get wet and fall ill.

The waterfalls were so much filled with mist. Standing near it, you get little droplets of water atomized by the falls on your hair and clothes. There is a Viewpoint Tower from where you can see the whole topography.

After some photo sessions, we moved to the stairs leading to the next phase of boating. At the bottom of the stairs, it was a corner cut out of the main flow. We got onto our coracle, and then began our ride into the heavy flow of the falls downstream. Once out of the corner from where be boarded the boat, and in the main river, the view was something which I can not describe really. On one side was the gushing, roaring waterfalls, and on the other side, there was relatively calm water flow.

We were not so keen to get wet at first.. but once the boat guy took us into the falls.. we couldn’t resist.. and shouted “once more.. once more...” By the time we realised that we are getting wet, we were fully drenched in water.. including our shoes, bags, money bags.. and ALAS! my camera!!!! it was all in water.. With all our wet cloths on, we headed towards the downstream.

We were actually in a gorge with famed Karnataka-granite rising high (15-20 meters) on both the sides. It reminded me of Bedaghat (marble rock formations) in Madhya Pradesh. The only difference being that at Bedaghat, its marble stones and not granite. And also, in Bedaghat, moonlight boating is pretty famous, but at Hogenakkal, I don’t think it would be fun in the night.

The different granite rocks had different looks to them. Some were white, others rather blackish ...and the depth of water maybe 50-60 deep, and we in between the water and rock, admiring them. My literary skill (or rather the abysmal lack of it!) miserably fails me to properly describe the beauty of the place.

After sometime, the river got much wider. Little ahead was an island dividing the river into two. On the right side of the river was a mud staircase leading to a small shop, sitting pretty on the way to the top. This is essentially the Karnataka side of Hogenakkal. The river Cauvery at Hogenakkal is the borderline between Karnataka and TamilNadu.

We went up to the island which is the last point after which the boat would return back. We stopped there to take bath. We were already wet anyway.. so didn’t mind to take bath...

We munched on a few of the snacks we had and we headed back upstream. The rest of the snacks were finished by our boatman who seemed to like them a lot.

On one of the high-rising rocks, we saw a small figure at the top waving to us. It turned out to be a guy in his half pants waiting to dive into the water. It was indeed a spectacle to see the dive.

Reaching the start point we paid off the boatman, but he kept asking for more. Rohit being very generous gave him 100 rupees more to bring back smile in his face...

We had to change out wet cloths, so we headed towards one of the small stores to buy few cloths. It was 4:30pm already; we rushed towards the bus-stand. Once here, the bus was almost ready to leave. Got onto it, managed seats too and reached Dharmapuri by 6pm. Soon we got a bus back to Bangalore. Heading towards our homes, we promised to comeback to the place again (this time with adequate preparations.. like, extra cloths and floaters). Finally for those who have not yet dared to venture here, trust me, you would be enchanted and enthralled.

The tour pics can be seen at this link: http://picasaweb.google.co.in/genius.gene/HogenakkalFalls

Account Book:

Route: Bangalore - (Hosur) - Dharmapuri - Hogenakkal (190 kms from Tamilnadu route)

Bus: Bangalore - Dharmapuri (150 kms, 90.00/- Rs.)

Bus: Dharmapuri - Hogenakkal (47 Kms, 15/- Rs.)

Government fee to cross river Cauvery: Rs 10.00/-

Asking price for full Boat ride (includes time for bathing): 500 Rs. Negotiable.

Massage: 50/- Rs. for semi-massage, full massage costs more

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Weekend Gateway

Ramohalli Banyan Tree

There are plentiful places to visit in and around Bangalore. However, for professionals like us, there’s so less of time. I always wish for an extended weekend. "Less work and more play makes Jack an active sac". Regretfully, there is so little time and so much to see.

I was googling for a weekend getaway not far from the City… and then I spotted the famous big banyan tree at Ramohalli. It is a stone’s throw away from Bangalore, which could be the ideal spot to unwind, away from the City’s hustle and bustle.

Another lazy Sunday was around the corner and no scheduled shoots to follow… Hence, we clicked the idea to head towards the big banyan tree...

We, four friends, Rohit, Royan, Jagan and myself started off from Bangalore at around 9 am. A mere 28 kms South-East of Bangalore, we reached the spot from Kumbalgod on Mysore Road. As we came near the place, the wide canopy of the tree comes into view.

This serene picnic spot has a sprawling 400-year-old Banyan Tree (Ficus Benghalensis), which spreads over a large area! It is called 'Dodda Alada Mara' in Kannada meaning Big Banyan Tree. The tree with its vertical root system is said to be the biggest tree in Karnataka.

A little of the statistics…after the world’s biggest banyan tree at Thimmamma Marimanu near Gooty in Andhra Pradesh, the banyan tree at Botanical Gardens of Kolkata and Adyar tree at Chennai, this is the fourth largest banyan tree in India. As is typical to this species, the main tree has over the years spread out widely with several aerial roots or prop roots.

The main trunk has given life to several roots and branches with lots of leaves. Branches jutting on all sides have slanted towards the ground. The rustic settings and an enchanting view of the nearby Savandurga hills makes this an ideal picnic spot. The Banyan Tree restaurant run by the Tourism department caters to the needs of visitors.

The entire tree is fenced and one can walk alongside the labyrinth of roots, which create a cool, shady environment. It is believed that the tree is symbolic of the trinity with the roots representing Brahma, the stems and the bark representing Vishnu and the branches symbolising Maheshwara. There is also a Shiva temple in the enclosure.

It also happens to be a familiar setting for many a romantic movie sequence. Also, you would remember the famous song sequence of "Sholey".. yeh dosti hum nahin chhorenge.. yes it is the same tree.

Nearby to the tree is the largest Snake temple of Karnataka, called the Naga temple. It is about 3 kms from the Big Banyan tree while returning towards Mysore Road. The temple hosts a large statue of Nag.

There are times when you follow instincts and come upon places that simply take the breath away.

However, it’s always a good idea to pre plan the trip to the place you wish to visit to make it an unforgettable outing. Here are few travel tips that might help you the next time you visit the place:

How to reach: Drive on Mysore Road beyond Kengeri, take a deviation to the right at Kumbalagod junction and proceed for seven kms. If approaching from Magadi Road, turn left at a spot with a clear indication between Tavarekere and Chennenahalli, and continue for about six kms. Many buses reach the place from Bangalore City.

You may choose to visit the Naga Temple 3 Kms from the Big banyan tree towards Mysore Road. (you have to take a left diversion well marked by arrow on a yellow board)

Nearby is the picturesque Manchanabele reservoir surrounded by hills which can also be visited on the way to Magadi Road. Around 30 kms from Bangalore, just before the Tippagondanahalli reservoir, on the Bangalore-Magadi main road, if you are sharp-eyed, take the left turn at the signpost (painted in pale yellow) towards Manchinbele dam and subsequently Mysore road.

Refreshments: Available; There are a few shops, hotels including Hotel Mayura belonging to the KSTDC that come to view as one drives into the place.

Suggestion: Watch out for monkeys and take care to leave the place clean

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Personally, I have nothing against insects as long as they eat their partners after mating or do whatever that insects are supposed to do among themselves. However, when they decide to invade my privacy, I don’t hesitate to put my foot over them despite the "scrunch" sound it makes when I do that.

It often amazes me seeing people doing PhD studies on the sex life of cicadas. It baffles me even more that Cicadas actually have a sex life especially looking at how ugly they appear and whose idea of attracting a female is rubbing their antennae together to make weird noises that, in dark houses are almost certain to make the human occupants wet their pants. In spite of it, of course, people spend years studying insects. It must be like one of those compulsive disorders where people laugh loud at all jokes, which are narrated by their superiors even though the jokes themselves are so stale that they attract flies.

If this is the case with men, can you imagine what must be it with ladies? Most ladies whom I know are gentle creatures till the point they see anything that is on six feet (this includes mating dogs too). At this point they grab hold of any strong object nearby like their husband’s or boyfriend’s hand and display the same composure what Dalai Lama displays whenever he sits atop a 20000 volts chair.

I don't think it's expected to be anytime soon that we are going to see the end of insects. In fact, Scientists say that cockroaches can survive even a nuclear explosion. We just have to learn to live with them.

Monday, June 30, 2008


We have just celebrated the World Environment Day on the 5th of June. Lots of seminars and functions were held on this occasion. Large environment-friendly messages were printed in leading newspapers. Well, there are lot many reasons for saving environment. I know my readers would not be interested in learning them once again. What I am going to say now is a different aspect of this environment awareness.
There is no doubt that humans are, at this time, the most dominant species on this earth. There was a time when massive creatures, the dinosaurs, roamed around the earth surface. But now, though not massive, humans do the same. And as the nature goes, he does exploit his environment to get the best out of it.
To my belief, up to a certain extent, he does have the right to do it. Just as a tiger in the jungle does have the right to kill any animal for his comfort (which for him is filling his stomach). Even if his pray is an endangered one, he cares not.
As, for humans, we too search for comforts. Now, our comforts are not just filling our stomach. We want to get a little more out of life and thus, exploit our environment to get best from it.
And thus, for the simple reason of this, we cut down trees for gaining more agricultural fields and living space, we dig up coals and oils to use them as fuels, we manipulate genes to produce better breeds and so on. Now, every such activity does have a cause behind it. We aren't doing all these for the clean sake of fun, but it's much needed to support the huge human population. We need to exist, and exist in a comfortable way.
Of course, some people (e.g. the environmentalists) do have to think of the future (as historians think of the past). They just try to find out what are we up to and jot out solutions that nobody cares to follow.
Today, humans have got the powerful tool of technology and no doubt it can clear out any difficulty coming its way. Like if the petroleum exhausts, we can still depend on solar energy and electricity. We can, very soon, hope to conceal the UV hole and lower the effect of global warming too. A whole new branch of science, called the environmental science, has been developed which aims in protecting environment. It has already being included in the curriculum list of many courses of study.
Probably the most disturbing aspect of environmental pollution is the increasing presence of toxic chemicals in natural environment. But the modern development in environmental biotechnology (also called, the Eco-Tech) has found out many processes aiming towards degradation of these chemicals. Various environmental friendly and biodegradable substances have replaced their counterparts aiming to decrease the load of pollution.
We have developed systems for waste water and sewage treatment. The introduction of these practices has shown spectacular improvement in health and well being in the developed countries. Oil spillage on large areas of earth surface and oceans were a prime concern for environment till the last few decades. But now the new technologies have come up with genetically engineered microorganisms (GEMs) that literally eat up the oil and thus save us from pollution. Many microbes have been found which help by solubilization of toxic metals (Bioleaching).
It is much clear that a great amount of existing and forthcoming Eco-tech operations should be capable of achieving maximum environmental safety. There are newer avenues opening each day. So, as long as we have science to the rescue, I feel, we have nothing to fear about.
It is the hard truth of nature that, like the dinosaur, humans would also vanish. It is positively going to happen someday, may be some thousand years later. The nature is going to play its ultimate rule! What we could do is just delay the process.
Prevention is always better than cure. So, if we try from now onwards, we could certainly lower the effort later. And this is where we need the awareness for environment protection. The World Environment Day thus serves this noble purpose.