I booked a car for the day and at 7am set off for Mysore with the intention of taking in the bird sanctuary at Ranganathittu, the Sultan’s palace at Mysore and the Chamundi Hills from which the view of the plains is utterly breathtaking.
Needless to say, virtually nothing went according to plan. The drive, 90 miles or so to Mysore was tortuous, however once we got to the bird sanctuary, things took a sharp turn for the better. As ever in India, there was a fee to pay at the gate, followed by a further negotiation with the owner of a small rowing boat, which seemed like a better way to go than the tourist boats that chug remorselessly around the reserve, frightening the wildlife.
Once in the boat, we seemed perilously close to the water and when the owner produced a pair of oars that might have been designed by Heath Robinson, I wondered just how much of the lake we would see. I needn’t have worried. Applying himself manfully to the oars, we shot across the water, virtually silently and I was able to get close enough to the wildlife to take decent photographs. Now I’ve never been a wildlife photographer, but I’d anticipated that exposure was going to be a problem with so much water and such a clear day. I set up the camera to warn of any overexposed areas in playback, so I was quick to realise that even using Aperture Priority, the camera was getting it wrong to the tune of 2 stops. Once I’d added exposure composition to the mix (-2), I got some excellent shots, at least for a beginner!
Taking pictures of Pelicans and so on was fascinating, but when I glanced across at the guide, I was startled to see the look of a man who had just seen a ghost. I followed his gaze and to my surprise, found myself staring at a very large and very bad tempered crocodile, making straight for the boat. At speed. The animal must have been at least ten foot long, possibly more and it was clear that our best interests were not uppermost in its mind! All hands to the oars and thankfully, we began to pull away from the animal. Eventually it gave up the chase and turned disdainfully away, gradually sinking under the water. We saw at least a dozen crocodiles that morning, but none of them as big and none at quite such close quarters.
Once the excitement of the bird sanctuary had subsided we took off for Mysore. The home of the Tippu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore and implacable opponent of the East India Company. I visited the summer palace which was spectacularly decorated and featured period prints by British military artists depicting the four Anglo-Mysore wars. He died in battle, during the fourth war, defending the fort of Srirangapatna.
The next stop was the Maharajah’s Palace at Mysore. Still occupied, this was beyond spectacular. Every religious festival, the palace is illuminated at 7pm. I got there around 6pm and took photographs from various vantage points and then realised I was simply recreating the popular postcard views. Searching for a better, or at least less overexposed angle, I slipped through the crowd barriers and gained access to the side, just before the lights were switched on. Basically, as you can see form the photograph, this place can probably be seen from space!
Back to Bangalore, after 15 hours and 350 photographs, the next morning I decided to try and catch some of the life of the city and arranged with my driver to be dropped off at the City Market.
The City Market is home to a Mosque and is a tumultuous melting pot of humanity, beggars, travellers, merchants, it is a real bustling street market and I was glad that I went. Cattle roamed nonchalantly through the crowds as ignored as the beggars, of which there were many.
I’m pretty sure I was the only anglo in the market that day and felt quite conspicuous with my camera. I’d set it on aperture priority – the hustle was so intense, there was no way I’d have time to fiddle with settings and it turned out to be a good decision, but perhaps not as good as if I’d set it on fully automatic. I’m used to setting up my shots very deliberately but that was never going to work here.
I realised I was going to attract a lot of attention if I lingered for long in the same spot, so I had to simply walk through the market, firing off shots and hoping for the best. Mixed results it’s fair to say. I used a wide aperture as there was a lot of shadow, but my depth of field was too narrow and as a result I ‘lost’ a good many potentially usable shots. A narrower aperture to mitigate against loss of focus might have done the trick. As it was, several shots were soft in crtitical areas which was disappointing but I guess that’s the attraction of street photography. It’s not a perfect art and the frustration at realising a good scene has been ineffectively recorded is part of the learning.
My visit to India coincided with the Ugadi Festival, so not for the first time I felt very privileged to be able to take photographs. Ugadi Festival is basically New Years Day, I anticipated huge crowds, but actually that wasn’t the case at all. People were very friendly and mostly just ignored me and my camera. The one place I did attract attention was at the Maharajah’s Palace, but that was from other photographers who wanted to understand what I was doing using LiveView to get focus.
Using LiveView is something I’ve grown accustomed to in landscape photography and especially at the Palace it was the only way to go – selective magnification allowed me set focus exactly where I needed it to be i.e., where it makes sense in the final image. It was invaluable in helping to get the crispest possible focus here, as the lights were so intense and I needed pick out some fine details in the Palace exterior.
The photographs will appear in due course in the India section of the Landscape & Travel section of the site. In the meantime, I’m packing for New York. It never rains…