Thursday, November 28, 2013

Walk along rail tracks from Castle-Rock to Dudhsaagar waterfalls - Part 1

Three of my company staff including me had booked trek to Dudhsaagar falls organized by Bangalore Mountaineering Club. The trek was scheduled on 19th of October while the journey had to happen the previous day. We had packed all necessary stuffs required for the trek (as prescribed by club) and ready to cruise :-). Even though we were aware that the waterfalls will not be at full energy as July monsoon, the main interest was to walk for 15kms from Castle Rock to Dudhsaagar falls. This walk is on railway tracks and cannot be called as trek technically since most part is straighter without any grades. Nevertheless it is unique experience altogether. I have split the blog two 3 sections to depict the three day activity. The volume of sections will vary as per the activity during corresponding day. Get ready to start the walk along beautiful briganza ghats towards the ocean of milk. Hope you will enjoy the virtual stroll ;-)

18 Oct 2013

My friend who booked the trek, had received a mail with list of items to be carried for the walk. Accordingly we 3 distributed ourselves some of the items since 2 of us had heavy camera luggage. Main items were food and water to sustain the long walk under the Sun. We reached Domlur bus stop around 5:30PM and had snacks nearby restaurant to satisfy our hunger. There were many people who planned to alight here. We also had nice chat with canadian friend who also had booked the same. It seems he had trekked in four continents :D including the ice trekking. We were having good times with our co-passengers and introduced ourselves.  The trip was scheduled to start at 6:15PM at Domlur bus stop. Rajesh did proper prediction that it would start exactly start with minimum 30 minutes delay as per Indian standards and it happened too :-). The bus arrived around 6:45PM and we were ready to start :-). Some more pickups along the way and we had one more friend from Australia with heavy backpack who joined us for trek. That was mighty backpack weighing more than 20KG I believe. He had carried his own tents and food and also seemed to be more experienced trekker. 9PM sharp, we were in Jalahalli cross toll gate and bus stopped at one of the hotel along NH-4 near Dabaspet. After having good dinner, it was time to sleep and get ready for next day. Altogether we were batch of 32 people + 2 co-ordinators + 1 driver.

19 Oct 2013

We reached Ramangar around 5:30AM. The club people had booked small lodging nearby the place to refresh ourselves before we could start the trek. Castle Rock railway station is about 30kms from here. We refreshed ourselves here for 90minutes and had decent breakfast. We also bought few water bottles required for the long walk. The bus started heading towards CastleRock railway station. It seemed like the rains have receded completely in this region. The water streams with no intensity were examples for the same. However, the extended monsoon is keeping water streams of Shiraadi ghats and Kuduremukh ghats still alive! The road is National Highway 4A which runs between Panaji and Belgaum. The condition of highway was really bad mainly because of torrential monsoon season but not as worse as shiraadi ghat road. Few kms later, we reached Castle rock cross. From here, 5-6kms interior along narrow ghat road is CastleRock railway station. The road is very narrow that it is difficult even for 2 LMVs to negotiate. We were stuck in between when our bus encountered brick loaded truck. He was adamant to avoid slipping down the road due to heavy load and we were facing a tree. Somehow after reverse and forward, both could negotiate. At some places there are steep hairpins and one has to honk gently to get rid of surprises. 9:30AM, we were in Castle Rock. The sky was crystal clear and Sun was striking the place with full energy. The weather was similar to coastal weather during summer with high humidity. We had small gathering and introduced one another. Later it was time to start :-). Exactly at 10AM, we started walking towards Dudhsaagar. Our baggage seemed to be very heavy (may be exceeding 8KGs) which included camera pack, necessary stuffs, sleeping bags and lunch food. The other stuffs like dinner and camping materials were carried in Chennai-Vasco express from CastleRock which briefly halts at Dudhsaagar station.

Sunrise at Ramanagar
There are two options altogether to walk. One from Kulem which is around 11kms and other from Castle Rock which is 15kms. Most people prefer the latter since transport is good enough. Few people from Goa, take Kulem route. Our walk began with normal pace and we kept moving on. It is pretty much uncomfortable to walk on tracks due to presence of ballast. At some place, trails are present as a brief comfort. As our walk progressed, we encountered our first train which is Chennai-Vasco express :-). After the train passed, we had energy bar before we could proceed. Now comes the first tunnel :-). Had this been monsoon season, there would have been water flowing from top of tunnel. That would have been great experience :-). Nevertheless, watching those tunnels cannot deter excitement! Few photographs here, we moved on. At middle of tunnel, it was complete darkness. We had torches to walk along the darkness. Few people were screaming with joy as they walked along the tunnel. Even inside tunnel, there is small area besides railway track to have safe stay in case one encounters train. Not sure what how will be the condition during monsoon season since water falls from everywhere from nook and corner of tunnel :D. It was really unique experience under darkness without any ghosts ;-). Watch out for human waste along the tracks. They can be surprsing while you walk along the tunnels. In monsoon season, they would be automatically cleaned up by heavy rains and streams ;-). There were many groups who had planned the walk along with us. There were considerable crowd all along the track. I was even surprised see the enthusiam of people with varying age. There were people from kids as young as 10yrs to elders as old as 50yrs :-).

Castle Rock Railway Station

The tracks

One more view!

Few kms later, there we see the glorious vistas of western ghats. We enjoyed the distant view of beautiful rain forests and grabbed pictures too! Western ghats are never boring place to visit and they are paradise on earth during monsoon season. Be it trekking, driving or train journeys whatever you think of, the western ghats are the best place to rejoice. Wherever we had to enjoy the beautiful hillocks, we stopped by and grabbed some snaps. You may stumble if you need to enjoy the hillocks while walking ;-) basically due to uneven surface and scattered ballast. Few more kms, we came across the first alive water spot which had considerable flow. It was flowing behind a small arch. With this we were relieved that we could see considerable amount of water in Dudhsaagar. Till here, all along we could only spot dead water spots. Meanwhile, due to humid weather we had exhausted 2ltrs of water already and there was still around 9kms to walk. Myself and Rajesh drank water here and filled our bottle. That was so great in taste and pure which was straight out of western ghats :-). Rajesh said that this was far better than mineral water! All along the journey we could spot beautiful/colorful butterflies but did not take any pictures :-(. They were pretty much larger in size than which we see in town limits. May be these are kind which could be spotted only in jungles.



exit(first_tunnel) ;-)

One more!

Out again!

Finally some water! Phew...

Amazing rain forests
After first tunnel, here comes the first viaduct :-). There are trails along these viaducts to cross them safely in case we encounter a train. Small platforms are also constructed to have safer distance too! We encountered a cascaded 3 engine loco honking loudly and I grabbed a video too ;-). We encountered few more tunnels and viaducts during our walk. I guess there were about 10 tunnels in number and may be 4-5 viaducts. In one of the major viaduct with tunnel, there was full flowing water spring. It was nearly small waterfalls plummeting through the rocks. Some people were having cool afternoon bath here. After crossing the tunnel cum viaduct we encountered our second train Amaravati express which runs from Howrah to Vasco. I shot video of even that and people were screaming on board to have their presence in video :D. We later resumed our journey and I was photographing both railway tracks and western ghats. Whenever I got opportunity, I shot water springs as well tunnels. In middle of walk, we reached station called Caranzol. I had friendly chat with one of the gangmen of station and he suggested us to plan during 1st or 2nd week of August. Dudhsaagar was around 6.84kms from here as per label painted on station walls. From Dudhsaagar station, the waterfall is around 0.5 to 1km. Few kms back from here starts the Goa state jurisdiction. There was also a welcome board erected by Goa administration. So it is clear that Dudhsaagar lies in Goa state.
Welcome to GOA state!

The Hillock again!

The side view with tracks

Still so much :-( from caranzol

How do you describe :-)

And this one ;-)

The Viaduct
The major water spot

There is always light at end of dark tunnel if it not monsoon season :-)

5kms before Dudhsaagar, hunger started haunting us and we were only 2. We had lost the other person behind. We thought of having food and sync up with him before we could get started. Just before we were having apples. By the time I could eat 25%, a monkey snatched my apple :-). There is no point in fighting with them :D. Even Rajesh lost it but after healthy 60% consumption! My deep photography session had eaten up time more than eating and consequently monkey ate majority of apple :(. Moral of story is finish off eating before you do any activity or else monkeys will finish for you ;-). One can spot myriad of monkeys all along the tracks. I guess they are well aware of trekkers and people who throw food items from train. May be they want different taste of food than what is available in jungles :-). Back to lunch break, the packed food provided by club members was hell spicy with water spots originating from our eyes :-(. Unfortunately we could not finish the lunch due to terrible spiciness :-(. Fortunately for us, monkey nearby started eating them and we were relieved that food was not wasted. We tried to eat as much we can but eventually gave up since it may lead to adverse health problems. There was no possibility to have any emergency health facility nearby here in middle of jungle too! In middle of lunch, we encountered mighty goods train with clanky engine sound. Of-course there were more engines fit to the train (front and back) to power it up the ghats. Usually in ghat areas, trains are fit with engines front and back. They are basically to power the train up the ghats and act as automatic breakers while down-hilling to limit the speed.

You enjoy watching me snatch other's food and now enjoy for yourself :D

Amaravati express along briganza ghats!

The remnants of dead bogie
Once third member arrived and after he had short break, we resumed our walk towards dudhsaagar falls. Hereafter we could see actual signs of water with water dripping from top of tunnel! Their intensity will be very high during monsoon season. The intensity was reduced to droplets now mainly due to feeble moisture content in hills and lack of rain. The spicy food had increased our thirst and we filled our bottles with water dripping from hills. Infact they were really good and tasty. We had plenty of water and kept on constantly re-filling ;-).

Where is Dudhsaagar waterfalls? Its here!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Enchanting train journey along Sakaleshpura-Subramanya tracks with heavy monsoon rains through tunnels and streams!

19 July 2013,

Let me write in reverse way and dispose off the feelings I felt in western ghats first and then get back to preparation.

Yes I made it :-). As planned, finally I sailed into the ghats along beautiful western ghats with monsoon rains and through tunnels. OMG, what an experience which I can never forget in my lifetime. You get to see dripping water along every curves. The streams, tunnels, water falling from tunnels, the water falls, the landscape is simply mesmerizing. I forgot my lunch too in middle of this beautiful experience. It was raining heavily at some places while drizzling at some. At times we and train had natural wash from the water dropping atop the tunnels.My camera as well as me got drenched but still both of them were not down ;-). Especially my camera withstood heavy monsoon rains. Of-course, I used to wipe lens frequently to grab proper video! People were screaming with joy everytime the train cruised through tunnels and streams. My 32GB SD card was full as train neared Subramanya Railway station.

As said in my previous write-up, commuting to Bangalore is not good option. Hence I decided to commute from Bangalore. This time many people in train were excited about the ghat journey. I could predict it far early [sixth sense ;-)] and hence grabbed foot-board at Hassan itself :D. The journey from Hassan to Sakaleshpur was also wonderful with lush green paddy fields. The scenes of birds trying to hunt fishes from fields with farmer ploughing farm land was ecstatic. The delight increased as we entered Ballupet where actual Malnad region starts. It was raining a bit while the ghats and coffee estates were heaven to watch.

The train reached Sakaleshpur around 1:30PM on time. The Hemavathy river was flowing with full vigor. What a sight to watch 8-). It started raining heavily when train departed from Sakaleshpur station. All along the journey we were enjoying beautiful western ghats, streams and tunnel. It is eye-catching to see the beautiful rain forests during monsoon season. At many places we could even see clouds kissing the hillocks and deep valleys. The  curving of train all along bridges was simply breath taking with streams beneath. I was capturing every moment and as said earlier my camera was fully co-operative with no glitches in between ;-). I am really thankful to it which withstood continuous rains, fog and wind. At times, train stops in middle to check for any landslip. The sections where frequent landslip occur had inspectors who provide green signal once the things are clear by whistling. This time battery drained in between ghat section, however I did not make mistake of not having additional battery. I had charged both battery fully and started using camera only after Hassan :).

It was around 4PM when train reached Subramanya Road station. Again we were greeted by heavy monsoon rain. The scene thereafter was also truly amazing especially the majestic Netravati river basin at Bantwal. We were again greeted by heavy rain at Mangalore!

I reached around 8PM to Udupi where my father was waiting to pick me up. I drove till my village with so many memories. As I reached village, the heavy monsoon showers greeted me again :-). I convinced my parents to at-least travel till Sakaleshpur during July monsoon season to enjoy the scenic western ghats.

The day, I started around 3:30AM in morning and reached my village around 8:30PM at night. Some people questioned the necessity of wasting entire day. However I believe there are somethings in your life you do without expecting any returns and that is your happiness. This was also for pure happiness. Moreover, the journey from Hassan to Mangalore is worth the day long journey. The ghat journey relieved lot of anxiety and stress from me. We were completely lost in this wilderness and gorgeous rain forests. I wish to travel again and every year along this route during July monsoon season :-). Anyone wants to join for next year's journey, self sponsored though ;-). We can also have journey from Mangalore to Goa alongside ;-).

Finally the train journey video is here :-). Took a bit time to sort and edit :D. It has been 4 months since I traveled but delayed composition mainly due to slackness of hardware [including me ;-)]. Later I had to self-motivate and everything was ready in 2 weeks ;-). Enjoy the magnificent train journey through rain forests, viaducts, tunnels, streams and get drenched in heavy monsoon rains ;-). Enjoy the wilderness with blanket of thick monsoon clouds.

Altogether it was around 90 minutes of footage but trimmed it to 24mins. 90 minutes would have been short movie ;-) and now it is short film :-). The video editor is same as usual. Had easy going editing videos. Since all parts of the video contained lush green western ghats, it was easy to edit bumping up the green color balance. Also kit lenses exhibit too much chromatic aberration and I thought it would be difficult to get rid of all of them totally. After few evaluation, most of the frames had no blue appearance. Tearing down blue color balance had vanished all chromatic aberration :-). Had to increase saturation in some clips and decrease brightness in some. Also increased contrast for some clips. If you know much better video editing tips, please leave a comment below! Eventually, it took whopping 8hours to render 1080p, 30fps clips with all edits and 2 pass encoding to satisfy YouTube video upload criteria. If you do not follow rules of YT, the YT butchers the video heavily to spoil your creativity! The final size turned out to be 1.3GB. 

Some tips from my side:

Whatever I mentioned in my old blog still holds good except for the following ones ;-)

Monsoon season, it is difficult to decide which foot-board to grab. While moving towards Subramanya from Sakaleshpur, left side has myriad of waterfalls diving on you while right side has many water springs originated out of the waterfalls and hillocks. If you have two people and two camera, shoot from either side ;-). Also beware of water entering inside camera. Have protective cover before hand since heavy rains are definite. I did not possess any protective cover and camera under rain was imminent. The water source easily shorts circuit board inside while camera is powered on.

Having sufficient food is must if you do not wish to enjoy the scenery of gorgeous western ghats under heavy rains ;-)

What mistake did I make this time :D

Everytime I execute something, some or other mistakes pop-up :D. This time it was no different ;-). I unknowingly inserted ear-phone into microphone jack of DSLR. Alas! audio fully down :D. Thats the dumbest thing I did ;-). At the time I was writing this blog, I could not stop LOL :D and bit disappointed too! I lately realized the stupid thing I executed :-(. But audacity to rescue :-). After increasing gain of audio in audacity and removing noise, my video is back :-). There is still some problems but manageable ;-). A lesson learnt for one more time to read user's manual properly when you buy something big ;-) 

Altogether this journey was fun while traveling and editing too :D

Apart from this, there are some more great train journeys to cherish during Monsoon season. I am not sure when will it materialize but I have plans.

1) Mangalore-Roha along konkan belt. I have traveled in this route but not recently
2) Train journey along Briganza ghats (where we can catch up Dudhsaagar falls)

Here are two more clips shot along train itinerary. First one is the clip from Netravati River basin of Bantwal and other is of heavy rain at Mangalore.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Lessons learnt from recent star trail experiment

There were lot things lacking in my first experiment of star trails. I am not kind of guy who achieves success at first attempt. Most of the time it is long hard journey. Initially, even though it creates disappointment, the joy of struggling is more exciting once we reach appreciable level. There were many faults in my recent experiment as mentioned. Time to correct those and build on top of that. The mistakes were spotted while reading write-ups from professionals. Following are the mistakes ;-).
  1. Long exposure noise reduction should be turned OFF (my settings were ON)
  2. Do not get illusioned by camera light metering. My image was shown as over exposed by light meter :-(. Ultimately they looked darker. So I should have exposed shutter for bit more longer time (around 25s).
  3. ISO should have been around 1600
  4. Should have focused upfront. I was struggling getting focus right at night. Many people suggest to focus to infinity around twilight and prepare to shoot at night.
There may be many more. Need to experiment lot more to get it right. However the experiment can be carried out only in my village and there is less scope in Bangalore. Hope will improve in my next trial :-).

Here are two start trail images created using StarStaX free software. There are gaps in between the trail which I need to rectify. The software is available for linux also but has some bugs. So I ran windows version on top of wine emulator and worked perfectly :-).



Monday, November 4, 2013

Away from Sun - The Star trails

The extended monsoon season seems to be finally over :-). It has been raining almost everyday since the onset of monsoon in June. It did rain till 3rd week of October and now  almost clear sky to enjoy. However the hot and humid still remains which indicates  winter is still not here. Nevertheless, clear sky provided me to shoot some night sky.  Consequently I tried some star trail timelapse at night.

Star shoot requires utter darkness :D. It means no external light noise at all. Otherwise  your photo would be full of light pollution ;-). In my case, the village environment  provided perfect studio for star shoot. Initially the light at pump house and  front light of house infused severe light pollution in photo. I had to switch off  both the lights. My father was astonished to see me switching off lights :D.  He was making fun of me as what would I capture at night and I may require Kaup beach  light house to have sufficient flash to expose sky :-). I asked him to wait till experiment ends ;-).

The initial setup created out of focus pictures with stars looking stretched out. After few more experiments, I realized that my focusing distance was not enough. Next  I found a place at distance and shot again. Aha yes! there are those stars in the  frame ;-). It was irritating to focus at night with so many failed attempts but fun eventually when focus was right ;-).

What was the lens used. The cheap nifty-fifty (50mm f/1.8) lens. This was the only  fast lens I had. The effective 80mm focal length made it tough to focus under darkness. Also the lens does not have much sweep angle on focus ring to focus properly. The initial settings were f/1.8, 10s and ISO 800 with tungsten WB. Actually sensor  evaluated this as over exposed image but it was bit dark. This made me to  increase shutter to 15s which increased the brightness in image. The stars in  sky looked like stickers :D but could see some more stars which could not be seen by  eye ;-). I just scrolled the images and excited after seeing the rotating earth ;-). Even my father was  excited too ;-). It was already 10PM and thought of carrying out some trials next day too with bit more  long exposure! As of now enjoy this small trial of star trail timelapse carried out for first time.

After brief pause, I have uploaded a timelapse video. But there are lot pending too. Since this was of different  kind, I uploaded to YT to receive some feedback. The editing was done in KDENLIVE as always. Did some white balance, contrast, saturation and RGB corrections! The brightness is not so much since more longer shutter was required (may be around 25s). Overall I am happy with first trial ;-). They say before you can make someone happy, you should be happy first :-). Hope you also enjoy this first experiment.

Excerpt from Med and Phil Metcalfe "January". Amazing winter music. Hear the full song here:

Speaking of "Away From Sun" do hear beautiful preview of Andy Blueman's Away From Sun  which was composed 2 years back but unfinished:

Hope he finishes this work soon!

Also don’t miss the sensational preview of new work "Beyond the stars" by Kelly Andrew. On similar lines as Soundlift and Andy blueman enjoy his brilliance in orchestral and synthesizer blend!:

Last Note:

The next two days were flop shows :-(. The crystal clear day was overridden by clouds with heavy thunderous rain  in subsequent days :-(. Despite fogged morning weather, it rained at night. It is difficult to predict nature. Deepavali fireworks was replaced by fireworks in sky :D. Consequently no more star trial was possible.  But there are still few more days for winter to pass by ;-). Hence I may carry out trials in coming days :-).  Also may be an elevated place is required to capture our milky way. I wanted to grab some lightening shots but was chased inside by mother :-(.


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