Post trek write up – Star trail photography trek on March 1st 2014

Stargazing and fun trip to Nagala

A write up by Mr.Santhosh
The pleasure of sleeping under the stars was never better. I occasionally star gaze but most of the time I’ll be like, “look how bright that one is, look that looks reddish in colour, look there are three stars in a straight line…”. Now I realize how unaware I was with respect to our night sky.
Photograph by Mr.Sreedharan
                I am a photographer by interest and a student by compulsion. So I get off with my camera whenever I want to get away from my routine life. Trust me that am more often than you might think but, this was just my second photo-trip with CTC. I have wanted to try and shoot star trails from the moment I came to know about them. I wanted to shoot one in Hampi photo-trip (Which was my first with CTC) but couldn’t do due to certain reasons, mainly I was warned that bears roam the ruins during the nights. After that I was so eager to make a trip and was making a few failed-plans. Then Navanee was talking about taking a trip just to shoot the stars and I got excited. I even suggested a few places like Alamparai fort, Pulicat etc. and he was doing a much intense search for an apt place. Every option that came into consideration was either not socially safe or had the probability of having too much light pollution in the night.  Finally, he took a decision of going to Nagala owing to its social safety and for the sky clear from light pollution. I signed up and was waiting for the day.
Photograph by Mr.Sahasranaman.
                I was so excited that I wanted to do some research about star trail photography and I had about 20 tabs of info on different aspects of photography. But I kept procrastinating till last minute and eventually didn’t even finish 4 tabs. So I started my journey with more excitement and very less knowledge of the star trail photography techniques. It was initially planned as we would go by car to Nagala but since 2 car owners dropped out Navanee booked a Van for us. It picked up everyone en route to koyambedu and we finished the initial procedures there. Then we left for Nagala around6:30PM delayed by about an hour and a half than what was planned. So it was decided that we set Camp at a clear spot on the bunds of the reservoir and not near the pool as it was planned originally. I was a bit bummed that there were not so much interesting foreground which owes to the depth and dynamism in star trail photography.
Photograph by Mr.Sahasranaman and In the picture the author of this write up Mr.Santhosh
                After instructing everyone to setup camp and distribute the fruits which were our food for the day after, 5 of us went to gather firewood for the cooking and camp fire. After about half an hour we returned, by then the camp was set-up and people were getting comfortable and some have already started stargazing. A few people were photographing the activities that were going on. A girl-kid who accompanied us narrated excitingly as to how she spotted a snake near our camp. Well hearing that, I was a little bummed that I didn’t get to see it.
                Then we all gathered around the camp-fire and had the introduction session. It was as fun as always. Each one had an interesting personality. Particularly Shalaka and family.  Then after the introduction session, started the cooking session. It’s more of trying to heat than a cooking. We were heating the pre-cooked chapatti that we brought for dinner in the camp fire by suspending them in a V shaped twig. Sometimes the chapatti got burned and sometimes it even caught on fire. It was so much fun and challenging to do it. Around 5 of us were trying to do that when others already started stargazing and sharing their knowledge about the stars. Thanks a lot to Thribhuvan and Ranga Sir for shedding some light on the subject. After that we gathered to have dinner. – Chapatti, Jam and Pickle. It was as fulfilling as a 5 star buffet. Finishing the dinner, we all set up our cameras to shoot the stars. All of us were hunting for a good location and I ended up getting one. With a stream flowing from a valley with stars above the valley between the mountains, I was standing right above the stream on the shutter bund. I got one good shot as I intended. It was too cloudy above the mountains so I just had a tiny window to shoot it. Each of us had set-up our studio in different places, mostly trying to get a good frame and less interference of flashlights and people. After getting the shot I wanted, I set my camera for a really long exposure with my wired shutter-release intending to get a long trail in a single shot and went off to see what others were upto. I spent some time talking to Mr.Sahas who seemed to be a very interesting person and he is. We almost spoke for about 20 minutes and then I got back to check on my shot. It got overexposed. Then giving up on it I decided to do a multi-shot trail and changed my location. After taking about 30 shots I decided to go to sleep mainly because it was getting cloudier by every moment and the stars were moving beyond the mountains and above all also it was already 2:00 am. By that time most of them were asleep.
                I was woken up in the morning by Navanee. I was the last person to wake up. This was the best sleep I had in weeks. Damn refreshing it was. Then we spotted a beautiful white tailed bird which I was told the ‘Asian Flycatcher’, and it is a rare bird to spot. I felt lucky. After unloading some of our stuff to the van and finishing our tea, we started the trek as planned to take a dip in the Magic Pool. It was a pretty hard trek for me since I am overweight, wore Jean and heavy shoes and haven’t really trekked for the past three years. On our way to magic pool, mid-way in a stream some people decided to stay-back. The rest of us proceeded and eventually there it was, the magic Pool. Truly magical. I just changed as fast as possible and plunged into the water from a 25-feet cliff. I was drinking the water like a madman. I have never tasted such sweet refreshing water in my life and never have dived in a natural pool so clear. Several times I swam to the bottom of the 20-feet pool just to experience the clarity and picked stones and even a pair of goggles which Thribuvan dropped by mistake. And the best of all, the fish pedicure. What an amazing experience! This made my day. After spending more than 3 hours in the pool, we started our trek back to base camp. It was a hard goodbye for me. Then we gathered in the reservoir for a group photo and then started back to our van. Just then we spotted a snake that was lying in the stream. It has just shed its skin. I was really excited to see a snake in wild this close. Then we started back to our Van and then to Chennai.
Photograph by Mr.Dinesh, co-organiser and In the picture Navaneethan, Organiser playing with the cute little girl Shalakka.
                On the way we stopped at a Dhaba to have Dinner around 6:00 PM. All most of us had from morning were a couple of apples, a couple of orange and a couple of bar chocolates. Apparently we had lost a baked food to a dog which was supposed to be the only solid food for the day, but the dhaba food made us forget all about the outside world for a moment. It was extremely good and fulfilling. Such an amazing end to an awesome trip. Then we made our way back to Chennai and parted way with each one in the group. An exciting and fun filled trip it was with some really awesome people. Waiting for the next-trip …….!!!
 A Write up by Mr.Rangarathnam
        ‘All I ask, the heaven above; And the road below me’ so wrote R.L.Stevenson. To spend the night gazing at a star-studded sky and complete the experience with an early morning trek we decide to go to Nagala hills. A small group of us traveling by a van and a car started on March 1st at 01.45PM from Tidel Park, picking up other members en route and the final bunch at Koyambedu bus station. Everybody had tea at Koyambedu, while some who had not yet taken their lunch did so, before starting.
Photograph by Mr.Sahasranaman
          We had a stop at Oothukottai to have tea and pick up some supplies and a break just before that to get the requisite transport permit, and we reached the hills as the sun was just setting. We parked our vehicles at the base of a reservoir there and clambered up the thirty feet or so ascent on to the bund, to set up for the night. By that time it was already getting dark and Jupiter almost at the zenith was the first heavenly object to become visible. Soon other stars followed lighting up the nocturnal sky. A thin haze prevented the milky way itself from being properly visible, which was a bit of disappointment. A few jets passing high in the sky added some color to the sky.
          Soon we built a campfire and sat around that to perform the customary round of self-introductions. It may be noted that the youngest participant was just 2yrs and 3months old and she had accompanied her parents and school-going elder sister. With introductions over, everybody unpacked their gear and set it up to capture pictures of the sky, as caught their fancy. I had about a dozen printouts of the night sky charts and distributed some to those who were interested. Only stars nearer to the zenith were visible and a haze/light pollution combination prevented us from seeing the stars nearer to the horizon. I managed to get a picture of Jupiter’s moons using my 50x zoom bridge camera. It was a hand held shot though at a shutter speed of 1/3s. Orion at a more comfortable elevation captured everybody’s imagination and a decent picture of the constellation could be obtained with a wide-angle lens. Soon people set their cameras to capture star trails, light painting and other stuff that interested them. Ursa Major rising after some time, gave us an opportunity to get a picture of it in full glory. In the meantime some members of the group were mastering the art of preparing chappathis in direct flame without the use of a tawa. All of us were treated to a sumptuous meal of chappathis with jam and pickles and we went back to more shooting. Eventually, by midnight all the activities thinned out and everybody was ensconced in their sleeping bags for a sound slumber.
 Photograph by Mr.Girish
          Dawn on the next day, a glorious Venus dazzling the eastern sky, we woke up and watched a beautiful sunrise. Teapot was set boiling and soon tasty tea hit our tongues. Leaving the inessential things behind in the van and packing only the food rations/cameras/change clothes, we readied for the trek upwards. Sumeeta spotted an Asian fly catcher at a distance and it kept us totally absorbed for some time with its undulating tail movements as it went about collecting its meal items.
Photograph by Mr. Sahasranaman
          Starting around 8AM, we trekked for about 2 hours non-stop to reach the first pool. It was plain surface till we crossed the mango pool and from then on it was a winding maze of twists, turns, ups and downs through thickets, shrubbery and rock faces. With Rakesh, a seasoned trekker leading the way, we made it to the pool. The place was absolutely enchanting with clear, limpid water and a cool breeze was blowing all the time. Just before reaching the pool, I had a transient sensation of nausea and decided to stay put at the pool, rather than push on and go to the second pool. The father and the kid pair also decided to stay back and so it was time for others to move on to trek for another 45mins and rejoin us after about 3hours. This time gap was well spent at the first pool, as there were quite a few specimen of butterflies, dragonflies, moths, damselflies, spiders and other insects all of which were a wonder to watch.
          Our sojourn over, we retraced the path back to the base, where we had a group picture of ourselves taken and then moved on to the van to begin our return journey. All of us being ravenously hungry, we stopped at a wayside dhaba. It was still early hours for the restaurant, the cook was overwhelmed by the numbers also and could not restrain himself when adding salt/pepper to the dishes. But finish we did our meal, even though the service was slow and completed the journey back to Chennai, well before 10PM. I got dropped off near Adyar bus terminus and a most friendly auto driver who insisted on going strictly by meter reached me to the gates of my abode.
Photograph by Mr.Sreedharan
          It was a wonderful two days well spent. Thanks a lot to the organizers Navaneeth, Dinesh and Rakesh who led the way. Thanks to all others who helped me and each other in so many innumerable ways to ensure that there was no dearth of mirth.

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