2017 01 - Wildlife & Culture of India

21st January 2017
Retford & District Photographic Society - Press Release - Joy Allison
11th January 2017
Images by Peter Jones and Sue Wilson

Wildlife & Culture of India

Members returned from the festive break keen to return to their weekly photographic treats and to start the 2017 half of our programme by welcoming Peter Jones and Sue Wilson from Bilsthorpe. Both are photographers and judges and through Wildwatch Tours they lead photographic expeditions to fascinating places across the globe. On this visit they had come to tell us about the culture and wildlife of India.

Before starting her photo presentation, Sue presented Des Lloyd with the Selector's Award given for his Barn Owl image submitted to the North & East Midlands Photographic Federation's annual exhibition. Several images from members can be seen in the exhibition at Patching's Art Centre near Nottingham.

Sue turned the spotlight on India, assisted by Peter at the projector. She began by describing her impressions of a country which she feels is like no other; a complete culture shock crowded with happy people who, outside the wealthy areas, have so little by our standards.

We absorbed some of the flavour of urban Delhi with images of the crowded streets strung with wiring which would horrify a European Health & Safety inspector. In the city Sue and Peter had taken shots of the buildings, and some magnificent ones they were. We marvelled at intricate pierced marble screens, carving and relief work adorning civic structures. Parking is forbidden in the area housing the government buildings, so they were relatively easy to photograph without unwanted foreground distractions. The row of ten or so white government cars, based on the Morris Oxford, complete with white curtains for shade raised a smile.

We all know the reputation the Indian cricket team has and it was clear that the enthusiasm for the game extends across society. A shot very much like one we might see of a large park full of Sunday football matches was replicated, but with numerous simultaneous cricket matches, all being played in spotless whites.

The Pink, or Whistling, Palace was a magnificent sight, but standing as it does right beside a teeming road, it was harder to photograph. The shots of traffic showed a wide variety of vehicles including a camel cart, cycle rickshaw, a bus with passengers on the roof, huge decorated lorries, a family bicycle carrying both parents and two children and a variety of cars all of which would give way to the poor looking sacred cows which roam at will in the streets. Sue, assisted by the guide, braved this obstacle to cross for a photograph of some beautiful parasols and was rewarded with a gift of one from the guide.

Getting away from the city Sue, Peter and their groups stay in heritage hotels and lodges. These appear to be run by enterprising young couples. One such lady has also diversified into teaching visitors to cook local dishes. The White Palace Hotel, set in its lake where the boat from 'Octopussy' can hired was apparently over budget needing a Lottery win to consider making a booking.

We saw expected sights such as street artists with their cobras and painted elephants as well as others less expected including scary looking bamboo scaffolding.
It was noticeable that people were very clean, which was surprising after seeing them washing their laundry in a river which looked more likely to dirty their clothes. Sue pointed out groups of schoolchildren in spotless uniform who all looked a credit to their parents.

As the group moved away from the urban area we began to see the wildlife. We learned that langur monkeys are hard to photograph with their pale fur and very dark faces. Here the oft-mentioned catch light in the eye made a tremendous difference to the result, bringing out the animal's character. We saw a wide range of birds including beautiful bee eaters, herons, eagles, owls and egrets as well as the less beautiful open billed storks. It was surprising to see a nightjar sitting on a rocky nest in the full heat of the sun.

There was a wide range of mammals, some of which are seldom seen, but the object of every photographic visit to India is to see and photograph tigers. It is possible to take an elephant ride into the thicket if none are near the roadways but although riders may get a view it is a downward shot which is much less effective than one from a vehicle closer to eye level. We were told that for the type of shots available on such a tour a flash is not permitted and a lens of around 400mm is sufficient for all but more distant birds.

Sue and Peter seem to be lucky, having never failed to see tigers on their trips. They travel in small groups in some of the 45 open vehicles allowed in the park they visit and we were able to feast on a wide selection of images of the tigers in their habitat along the road side. Some were bolder and approached very close to the vehicles.

The undoubted highlight of the presentation came after we saw a tiger crossing a bridge which was too narrow for vehicles to pass on. Sue and Peter's vehicle moved onto the bridge, nose to nose with another coming the opposite way and they provided their occupants with a grandstand view of a 20 minute fight for supremacy between this tiger and another in the shallow water and vegetation below. This accident of perfect timing provided the opportunity for a whole series of wonderful action shots of these magnificent animals engaging in totally natural behaviour oblivious to the gathering crowd of tourists and their cameras.

No trip to India would be complete without a visit to the Taj Mahal, but less well known and much less visited, is the Little Taj, where it is possible to get excellent close up shots of identical workmanship and artistry to the more familiar building but without the restrictions, security and hordes of tourists.

We saw both buildings and learned of the benefits of a very early morning to be at the gates of the Taj Mahal at 6am when it opens and of running through it to get the best shots before the crowds arrive. Apparently a guide eager for a generous tip knew all the tricks to get the best shots.