What is Focal length, Sensor size in photography and why is it matters?

The intention of this article is to dig out the relationships between focal length of the lens and the camera’s sensor sizes and how does the both affects the framing independently.

I have made a simple illustration diagram below, which depicts how does the light enters from the scene to the sensor/film.

Focal Length-Photography-Sensor-Light entryImage a. – Light travelling path inside a lens and camera body from the scene. x is the height of the sensor(part of the camera), b is the focal plane(principal)- this always happens inside the lens, z is height of the frame (photograph’s vertical measurement in landscape mode), y is the focal length which is usually mentioned on the lens.

Focal length(y) is the distance between the sensor (a) and the focal plane (b) where the light rays converge to form a sharp image of an object to the digital sensor.

Now, the frame you see via the viewfinder will change, if you adjust the Focal length which is possible in zoom lenses. The same is not possible in prime lenses since the focal length has been set in the factory itself while manufacturing, in such a way that it cannot be changed. The prime lenses are made purposely for high quality at a lesser price comparatively with a zoom lens in that focal length.

Conversely, it is also possible to change the frame by changing the size of the sensor. But the sensor has been fit inside the camera while manufacturing in the factory itself and it cannot be changed by wish on the field. But you can use two different cameras having different sensor sizes as one may wish.

Now we have understood that, if we change the size of the sensor (x) or the focal length (y), in both the ways the frame will get changed.

The ranges of available lenses in the market with different focal lengths are beyond listing thus I am not getting into that.

Sensor sizesImage b – Scale of the other smaller sensors with respect to the Full frame sensor. The FF sensor size is 36mm × 24 mm. For the sake of understanding, we here discuss about the vertical  measurement(x).

The smaller the sensor sizes, the field of view gets narrower. That is, if “x” gets smaller, “z” also becomes smaller Assuming that the “y” is same in both the cases. Conversely, if “x” gets bigger the field of view (z) also gets wider.

The advantages and disadvantages of choosing which sensors (cameras) have been briefly explained here in my earlier article.

The crop ratio has been established in the industry with reference to the 35mm film sensors. 35mm width sensors are the reference one and the crop factor for those sensors is 1.00. Other sensors are classified by the crop factor with respect to 35mm sensors (1.00).

Crop factor is the ratio of the dimensions of a given sensor’s imaging area compared to the 35mm sensor’s imaging area (full frame sensors in common). If a sensor’s crop factor is more than 1(APS-C sensors), the image area will be less by that ratio. Conversely, if the crop factor of the camera is less than 1(medium format cameras), the image area will be more by that ratio.

For instance, if a camera’s crop ratio is 1.60 and you have mounted 85mm prime lens, what the camera sees is the view of 136mm (85mm × 1.60) not what is written on the lens. If the same 85mm lens been mounted on a medium format camera with 0.50 crop factor, what you will be seeing is 42.5 mm (85mm × 0.50) focal length view.

Sensor sizesImage c – Dimensions of the different sensors fixed in different cameras and the respective crop ratios.

The focal length written on the lens is true, only if it is mounted on 1.00 X crop factor sensors (full frame cameras). If you are mounting it on non-full frame cameras, you should multiply the crop factor of that camera to get the actual focal length.

I hope, I have covered all the necessary topics which are required to understand the focal length, sensor sizes and how does both affects what you see in the viewfinder. Have I missed something? or the article been helpful to you, do drop a comment and let me know.

Cheers & Happy Photographing.

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Fooggy Chennai

It’s really a cool Annual report by WordPress – Year 2014 review.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,800 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Hello Dear Readers,

Have you clicked the above link for the full report? If not please do that and proceed further.

If you are reading this, than I think I have served something helpful to you in my earlier posts -Thanks for hanging around with me. If you havenot been earlier here and you are reading this Welcome aboard. This year will meet you with more posts.

Last year happened to be 20 posts, and 2 blank months – bad isn’t it? Not well planned though. This year will maintain 4 posts per month (minimum one per month and maximum nos. to maintain 54 posts in the year).

My very first post had got the most no. of hits last year. “The busiest day of the year was March 4th with 376 views” It is really awesome, you know.! Your very first post holds the most views. I am glad and the meaning of this blog is started appearing.

Stop – Have I told you what is my next post? “The most powerful toolbar in Lightroom”

Cheers and great Going Navanee – It’s to me this time. 😉

Colour spaces

Colour spaces in photography – An Introduction

In a simpler definition – A very defined space where exactly this many colours can be displayed/shown, by the device. In other words it is to determine one device’s ability to display the no. of the unique colours (sometimes a part of the device). Be it a computer screen, a mobile phone’s screen, or a tablet’s screen, most of the times it is hardware but in few cases, it is software (for instance – a browser).

sRGB – a colour space jointly created by HP and Microsoft. This profile is the most widely used one for browsers and most of the screens including tablet screens and mobile phone screens. As the below diagram depicts, the largest colour profile next to visually perceivable is ProPhoto RGB, the next smaller one is Adobe RGB and the smallest one is sRGB.

Since sRGB is the most used colour space in the browsers and alike in displays, you are expected to export your images in this colour space, so that the colour you have seen while editing are better displayed by the same file in the other mediums or displays.

Note: Not all the monitors available in the market possess the ability to display all the colours in sRGB. They usually measure it in percentage, for example – 75% of sRGB, 90% of sRGB. If you are a professional you might consider buying a monitor which covers a higher percentage of sRGB, mostly 90% + or even 90% + of Adobe RGB colour space. Dell ultra sharp series monitors have a positive feedback  in general.

A monk at Bylakuppe

Adobe RGB – as the name suggests created by Adobe systems and is smaller than ProPhoto RGB but larger than sRGB. Widely printers are using this profile, but it is advisable to check with the printing service provider before sending the files, in which colour space they need. Adobe RGB includes 50% of the colours specified by Lab Colour space.

Many printers and almost all commercial places most likely need the files in this colour space.

ProPhoto RGB – made by Apple, the largest colour profile available, but no devices support this profile yet. Hence if you export your file in this profile, the display medium will convert the file’s colour space into the device’s colour space in a best possible way! and it may show drastic colour differences. ProPhoto RGB includes 90% of all perceivable colours specified by Lab colour space. Currently there are no devices which support this profile. In future, there may.

Note: When you photograph, if you are shooting in RAW mode, you don’t have to worry about which color space to be selected in your camera, because RAW files are only interpreted by the softwares, basically the RAW files contains the data – it is not even a image format. But if you are shooting in jpeg, your color space selection does play an important role. Set Adobe RGB, if the purpose is to send photographs for print. If it is only for web services and display purposes, sRGB is sufficient.

Colorspaces explained

Colour spaces visually explained.  Image source – Wikipedia.

All the colour spaces are displayed over the visible colour space to have a better understanding.

If you are using Lightroom to edit your photographs, you do not have to worry about color space as Lightroom is working on the largest colour space ProPhoto RGB. The only place where you have to decide is when you are exporting your file from Lightroom.

Note: When exporting you can apply any of the above colour spaces to your photograph, the thing matters is the purpose of the photograph.

 

Hope I have made the basic understandings of the colour spaces currently being used. If you have got to say something about colours, comment it. Will be looking forward to it.

 

Cheers & Happy Photographing.

 

photo blog blog
photo blog blog

Contests

Photography Contests – What a participant is expecting?

As a participant – a photography contest is expected to be a fairly judged place where the very same act must enable all the participants (including the winners) to excel further in their chosen hobby/passion/profession.

But in the recent contest I have participated, I have been selected for portfolio review (supposed to be the pre-final level) where they were supposed to look at the best images from all the participants. The judging panel consists of two local photographers who happened to be photographing for long time (decades!). The reason is that they are holding some senior positions in a local photography community or they are senior photographers! The chief judge is the highlight of the judging panel, he is a technical consultant for that optics company. He is a technically loaded person, he can talk about anything from white balance, sensors, pixels, RGB values, Colours, Colour theory, CMYK, Printing nuances, anything inside the camera and anything on the photograph technically. The other side of this gentleman is he take/took no decent photograph.

Even if he (or for that matter the whole judging panel) would have shot excellent photographs, it was not anywhere in the public medium, not in social media, not in any websites, nowhere.  It is better if the judges were known proven photographers so that the meaning for the contest is intact. If a contest has been conducted as ritual formalities, there is no point in it.

The whole day review was a nightmare, where every photograph from all the participants were analysed/checked for technical qualities, tonal values, checked with the crop tool (I do agree with the crop tool that it is a second opportunity to recompose your decent photograph, check this article I have wrote a year back!) and checked for horizon tilt (If there was a blunder, it should not have been selected in the earlier round itself). They also talked about Histogram, ETTR, colour spaces etc., all technicals. Portfolio reviews are not supposed to discuss about crop, horizon tool. These tools were supposed to be discussed at an amateur level and less than that. It is a place where a good photograph should be selected which could easily be agreed by almost all of the participants. No participant comes with a mindset that his/her’s is the best work. But all the participants needs to be convinced that the selected photograph is better than his/her’s.

I have following questions pertain to the contest.

  1. Why the contests have been highly aligned towards technical stuffs? This photographical world is already been dodged with lots of technical stuffs. Why a contest needs to be aligned in that way?
  2. Why the judging panel is not having a decent/known photographer? Or the contest is not been intended to bring out the talented people out there? The objective is not clear or it is just a formality.
  3. If a contest been conducted in a fair manner, why the judges profile have not been revealed? – if he/she is not much known to the outer world.


In an other earlier event organised by Behance, few photographs of mine were chosen by the judging panel, taken printout and the hardcopies were about to be reviewed by “Yannick cormier”. Yannick did reviewed, but unfortunately for that particular event, I was not able to participate. I had made some earlier commitments on those dates and I was unable to dodge those commitments or postpone them. I literally missed an opportunity to meet the great photographer.

Honestly speaking, this article is not meant to hurt anyone or to offend anyone. The only intention is to make better competitions, healthy discussions, cultivate better talents and teach people. Make the competition healthier, hygienic – a more better planet to live altogether.

Finally a fair and nice article about participating in photographic competitions.

A quick update here

There was one gentle man in the judging panel, during my portfolio review he said – This photograph is an excellent composition. I don’t know whether this words have been heard by the chief judge! but just wanted to put it in this post that he did talked about composition and photography. Atleast one man was there to talk about photography.

Digital Exposure – Redefined

If you are a person like me who expose based on in-camera exposure meter reading and in-camera histogram than this article is for you. Time to rethink the way we were interpreting in-camera tools. Thanks to Bob DiNatale for his insightful article in The Luminous Landscape. The Exposure To The Right(ETTR) concept was first brought to us by Michael Reichmann in 2003. Even earlier, the correct exposure was meant to be a bell curve on the Histogram.!

The reason to expose towards right is, the in-camera light meter designed to expose for the mid tones, whereas maximum datas are lying on the rightmost area of the histogram. Have a look at the below diagrams for a better understanding. In general, we might think that camera records the light as it looks in the top portion of the image a. But in reality, the camera records as depicted in the bottom portion of the image a.

ETTRImage – a. The top portion of the image is equally divided stop levels as one may think and bottom portion is how the actual data lies on the histogram.(the image depicts the tonal distribution for a 12 bit RAW image)

Tonal distribution

Image – b. The gray colour highlighted cells are total tonal levels, the respective file can hold. Look at the percentage columns to see the amount of data been hold by the respective stops (the 1st stop is starts from the right most side on the histogram). With relevant to the post, this table is supposed to be the final output from the computer not from the camera. Everything else in the table means the last stops, possibly the 6th & 7th stops together.

Here is the link for the above google spreadsheet with commenting privilege, where one can check the calculations behind the tonal levels and if you wish to share some, do comment there. In few model of Nikon cameras, the user can select whether they want their data to be recorded in 12 bits or 14 bits. Many prosumer and even some professional cameras claim that they record data in 14 bits but they actually deliver 12 bit files only. I wonder if any full frame camera is recording data in 16 bits, but needless to say many medium format cameras do deliver 16 bit images.

Coming back to the objective of the article, Bob meant to say the metering should be done for the brightest area in the scene plus one stop, since the camera meter’s perfect exposure is one stop underexposed than the raw processing softwares.

“An important thing to understand about highlight warnings is that they occur in two places: 1) on the back of your camera – the “Blinkies” and 2) in your software – highlight “Clipping”.

These 2 warnings ARE NOT the same. Although the camera’s High-Alert “blinkies” provide some information, you can only use them as an indication of optimum exposure. The “Blinkies” on the back of your camera occur about 1 stop before the highlight warning in your software – highlight “Clipping”!”

“If the brightest part of your scene has a 90% brightness in your software… Your scene is underexposed by two stops!  Yes, 90% software brightness equals 2-stops under the “Optimum” exposure. If your brightest software value is around 97%, then you have still underexposed your scene by one stop and therefore lost 50% of the available scene data!”

My latest understandings about the digital exposure are below

  1. If you underexpose knowingly or unknowingly even by one stop, you simply lose a staggering amount of 50% of the scene data. You may able to work on it later but you will be bringing in noise and loss of detail as if you have increased ISO while shooting. If you underexpose one stop according to the camera meter than you lose more than 2 stops which is 75% of the scene data.!
  2. Your camera’s light meter is one stop less than your raw processing software. Which means what is perfect exposure for the camera is -1 EV for the raw process software.
  3. If some portion of your photograph is not blinked on the camera’s LCD, you have already lost one stop at least, that is 50% of the data.!
  4. The optimum exposure is not the one which camera delivers, it is your final output from the computer.
  5. As earlier you can use any metering while shooting, but you have to understand how the respective metering gives the output and apply necessary compensations while shooting to get the most data out of the scene.
  6. The blinkie portions shown by the camera has details needs to be recovered by the raw converting softwares.

If you feel there are too much of maths involved here, yes there are, but I thought of learning it. I did had problem with maths when I was studying. It was a nightmare for me when it comes to Maths, I scored as college first in the subject called technical drawing but when it comes to Maths, I was the person who got marks in single digit out of 100!(Laughs…) But here in histogram and exposure, I could easily learn the maths behind it. So you too can learn it easily.

After reading all the refereed articles and if you find something unnatural or doubtful do let me know in comments. Will be happy to dig in further. 🙂

Cheers and Happy Photographing.

Navansphotography

My never ending affair with food.

Image courtesy – thrillophilia.com

Last week I had an opportunity of travelling 600 Kms North of Chennai to Tuticorin and 600 Kms south of Chennai to Vijayawada. While returning from Tuticorin I was at home (Chennai) for some 8 hours, mostly sleeping.

In Tuticorin, we stayed at GRT and had breakfast there once. It was decent and rest of the times, we had food in the wedding resort itself.

The reason for this post is about a street food shop in Guntur. Yes, the Wedding was at Guntur and the reception was at Vijayawada. We stayed in a guest house in Guntur provided by the client. This time my friends with whom I was travelling, surprisingly had least interest towards food!

The shoot starts at afternoon, we reached Guntur previous day late night. Both of my friends were sleeping like a log when I woke up around 7 am. I brushed and freshen up, went out on the streets of Guntur, had tea and came back. Nothing changed, they remain logs.! Took my smartphone and spend some time in the whatsapp, Telegram, Mails.

After an hour, I went out for breakfast. The area we stayed is called Brindavan nagar and there was a HP fuel pump nearby. I walked past the fuel pump and saw a small street food vendor serving food. It was inviting. The size of the shop was not more than 6′ *6′!  But there were many dishes – Idli, Dosa items, Big poori, Tea etc.

I went in to have a look inside, felt good. I ordered a plate of Idli. They served 3 idlis on a dry leaf with a piece of newspaper beneath it. The idlis were so soft, tender, served hot with a semi solid peanut chutney. It was really yummy, tasty and I thought of getting more idlis, but I went in to the shop because of the big pooris. Now thought of asking poori, but the dosa they serving was much inviting. So I asked a masala dosa.

He spread the batter so nicely to get a perfect round shape, spreaded oil, waited for sometime, put some potato masala on it, spreaded some chutney over the masala, spreaded some red chilli powder on it and mixed all the three. It became kind of jelly like thing, now he rolled the dosa and placed it on my leaf. It was bit hot but bearable. The dosa colour was golden brown and was mouth watering. I started tasting it like, as if I was the king for that region. It was so nice but my intention is to try poori.

My stomach send me the warning signal, and I have no intention to override. I did not ordered poori but asked a cup of tea instead. Enjoyed the tea, paid the bill 45 rupees, went to the room and they were sleeping still.!

Affairs will be continued…;-)

Handicap is just a word.

Don’t do what you do not like – Period

Why one need to do what they cannot hold upon? In my case, it is photography. The answer is really simple. You don’t know what you are really capable of unless you try doing it. But your instincts or inner gut have somehow already know it.

Life Quote

Last week, I have attended one of my friend’s wedding. She is friendly, well matured and a good communicator. When I was working, we both were working together in a project where she would be able to make friends wherever she just walks in. But to me, it was her the only one friend. During that time, I was losing interest in the project and the work itself  for many reasons –  one reason was my immediate superior being a highly incompetent person. It was a sin to work under an incompetent person. Despite having many personal reasons to continue my work there, I started thinking about pursuing photography which I am doing it often then and now. And it was a call from my heart  – I should mention it here, some gut feeling, often my mind stays in photography.

 

I placed my resignation letter, the formalities were completed and I started pursuing photography as I wished. Similar to any startups or any creative person’s initial days, I have also faced turbulence in running it for living. Now have extended my photography to all commercial avenues, including candid Weddings, Industrial shoots, Facilities, Fashion, Fine art and I have also started conducting Photography workshops, Lightroom workshops etc. Now planning to open my own studio soon, waiting for the funds to flow in. More importantly, I can fix a routine to my work.

 

Now coming back to the friend’s wedding, I met another friend who was working on the other project then. She was interested in music & singing and had performed on stages at small level. Her mind was always in music, not in the excel sheets. In the wedding she came to me and said – “I also quit my job, got a scholarship in music course, going to full time music class to upgrade myself and you are the inspiration for me to quit my job”. I felt like I had no words to say anything to her. As it was a wedding hall, I kept myself quite with all my energies, and just said “All the very best for your future”. Though I had not achieved much except few wonderful photographs and really worth friends,  I am not doing what I do not like. I think not doing what you do not like is more important than doing what you like to do. Because you might not have come across the thing which might blow your head yet, so stop doing what you don’t like. Start exploring. After all, it’s your life. 🙂

When I was driving back home, I told my wife “I have inspired one and I am proud of it”.

B & W in Lightroom.

Many of my friends did not believe the below Black & white photograph is worked and out from Lightroom. So thought of sharing the entire workflow pertains to this photograph and how I made this final photograph. My friends thought I had used Silver Efex, as I use to do it for some of my Black & White photographs. But in this case, I have entirely worked and exported the file from Lightroom alone.

Black & White in Lr

This is the final processed version of the photograph.

Let’s look at the “As shot” version of this very photograph.

SOOC

The Original RAW file, as it appears, less contrast and colours are not so favourable. If we convert it into Black & White, we can straight away add value to the image as the colours are not adding any value to the image.

I remember reading as Scott kelby said “Black & white Photograph is desaturating all the colours and boosting the contrast” and exactly that is what I have did here. How simple is the explanation which speaks at the best level of communication as far as B&W photograph is concerned.

B & W As shot

Histogram – As shot Image.

The histogram of the original image is self-explaining, less contrast (bell curve), bit underexposed too as the histogram is aligned towards the left hand side.

The first step to convert an image to Black & White in Lightroom is; From the Basic panel next to treatment, click Black & white as this converts the image into Black & White. Alternatively you can press “V” from Develop module which results the same. Now let’s fix the Exposure; for this image I have boosted it to 9/10th of 1 EV, in other words 0.90 EV. I seriously do not like to confuse people by using the exposure jargons, but here excuse me. Next boost the contrast to 100%. To boost the contrast, I have brought back the Highlights and shadows towards the negative side. I have also brought down the clarity to give the mood.

B & W Basic panel

The screenshot of the Lightroom Basic panel.

I have not made any manual corrections in the tone curve panel, except pushing the highlights and shadows towards its maximum range and selected strong contrast.

Tone curve panel

Screenshot of Tone curve panel.

Next in the B&W adjustment panel, to further boost the contrast, I have brought down the Green and red colour towards negative side by having a look at the Histogram. Just press “J” to enable the highlight and shadow clipping notification, so that the clipped portions (if) will be coloured in Blue and Red respectively. Kindly note that I did not clicked the Auto from the Black & White panel, it is fully manual process.

B & W

Screenshot of Black & White adjustment panel.

The next in Detail panel, I have made some little sharpening just to bring out the edges of the trees and noise correction been applied heavily to bring the mood as we did it in clarity slider. Detail slider purposely brought to the lowest as this photograph does not call for any details.

Balck & White in Lightroom.

Screenshot of Detail panel.

In the Lens correction panel, usual Lens profile corrections and chromatic aberration corrections are applied. Let’s look at the “After” Histogram.

Black & White in Lightroom

Screenshot of the Histogram “after” the conversion process.

As the Histogram shows, the tones are spread all over the range and a bit underexposed, the contrast is less too. It’s been kept particularly because “Expose to the Right” is not necessary for this photograph, as this nature of the photograph calls for a bit of underexpose and less contrast.

Trust this article helps you to make more beautiful Black & White photographs.

Ansel Adams

The most favourite quotes of mine about Photography.

“…how you build a picture, what a picture consists of,

how shapes are related to each other, how spaces are

filled, how the whole thing must have a kind of unity.” – Paul strand.

“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs”. – Ansel Adams

“The pictures are there, and you just take them.” – Robert capa

Universal language

“It takes a lot of imagination to be a good photographer. You need less imagination to be a painter because you can invent things. But in photography everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the extraordinary.” – David Bailey

“Always seeing something, never seeing nothing, being photographer.” – Walter de mulder

“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” – George Eastman.

 

“Every viewer is going to get a different thing. That’s the thing about painting, photography, cinema.” – David Lynch.

 

“Once photography enters your bloodstream, it is like a disease.” – Anonymous

When I photograph, what I’m really doing is seeking answers to things.” – Wynn Bullock

photoquote

“I went into photography because it seemed like the perfect vehicle for commenting on the madness of today’s existence.” – Robert Mapplethorpe

 

“Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.” – Peter Adams

 

“My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport.” – Steve McCurry

“When I say I want to photograph someone, what it really means is that I’d like to know them. Anyone I know I photograph.” – Annie Leibovitz

 

“I never have taken a picture I’ve intended. They’re always better or worse.” – Diane Arbus

 

“The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.” – Elliott Erwitt

 

“Essentially what photography is is life lit up.”- Sam Abell

Quotes about Photography

“In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.” – Alfred Stieglitz

 

“Photography is the story I fail to put into words.”- Destin Sparks

 

“To consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk.” – Edward Weston

 

“The painter constructs, the photographer discloses.” – Susan Sontag

 

“In the context of photography , there was a luck.But the luck will come, when the photographer is ready.” – Adithya Zen

 

“Would you hang it on your wall? Then it’s a good photograph.” ― Leslie Dean Brown

 

What’s your favourite quote? Post it as comments.

A ride through the Himalayan Clouds

This trip is dedicated to Priya.

It was all started on the earlier SUV trip to Meghamalai during mid of May, when we all walked some 16 Kms from Highwavis (in Tamilnadu) to the last accessible point in Meghamalai. We were all sitting and chatting like anything and about anything. There a girl named Priya asked me, “Navanee, shall we go to North East like Uttarakhand?” My mad intention to travel is less known to anyone or more precisely I less share.! The moment she asked, my inner traveller was on and my mind incessantly started thinking of travelling to North East. I started talking with potential like-minded people and posted a status in FB in order to make a team to go to North East of India. In the meantime, Priya also sent me some vague plans to Uttarakhand and nearby states, but nothing close to execution level.

After Meghamalai, there was an another SUV trip to Western Ghats during mid of August, where we friends in 5 cars drove 2500 Kms and we enjoyed some virgin waterfalls in deep forest. There I met Mr.Ram, became good friend of mine. When we were chatting about the upcoming trips, he asked “Shall we go to Bhutan next month?” I must say it was a perfect time. The immediate question I asked was “when to when?” He immediately sent me the itinerary mail and rest of the plans made. The plan was to start from Chennai on 20th of September and to reach back Chennai on 7th of October. Since the plan is to explore Sikkim & Bhutan by Motorbikes, the motorbikes were parcelled from Chennai to New Jalpaguri by train, before couple of days from the event date.

Window seat.

Window seat. 😉

On Day 0, not all the participants have met at Chennai Domestic airport; few were to take another flight after couple of hours from our departure. We all, including Mr. & Mrs. Ram, Mr. & Mrs. Chandru, Mr. Balu, met at airport with all our bike gears, winter gears and other luggage. As usual, in any flights, the talks end up with baggage. While few of us standing in the boarding queue for screening, as expected we were informed that helmets were not allowed to carry either in hand luggage or in usual baggage. After all the explanations to the ground staff about our travel plan, finally they agreed to put all the helmets together into one single baggage. Suddenly, someone gave me a big plastic bag to put all the helmets. We put all the helmets inside that plastic bag, which got screened for safety and successfully sent off in the belt. Thanks to the ground personnel.

After successfully located our seats and further took off, it’s breakfast time – I have ordered veg sandwich & Aam ras by Paperboat. The sandwich was brilliantly packed in a triangle shape with two different types of bread sandwiched with boiled corn, tomato, cucumber, and pudina paste. I enjoyed both the sandwich and mango juice and we end up fighting with Chandru for the last drop of the Mango juice from the packet. Still the taste of that Aamras is in the tongue. Nowadays, scouting in the supermarkets for the paperboat aamras, if anyone has idea do let me know.

We reached Bagdogra around noon, we took a car to reach New Jalpaiguri Railway station, so that we can take our Motorbikes. We all collected our bikes from the station and fixed few accessories and other minor fixes, those were purposely removed while sending it off from Chennai. The moment bikes were ready, it started raining. We reached Siliguri and found an accommodation for the night stay.

Rumtek Monastery

Knowledge transfer!

The roads were all wet, slippery, mud filled, landslides all the way till Gangtok from Siliguri. Enroute we visited Rumtek Monastery and stayed that night in Gangtok. Next day morning, it’s Monday, all the government offices were open and we went to the Home ministry office to get the permits to visit North & East Sikkim. The whole day spent in the office to do the formalities, the formalities are to submit our identities, bike documents, personal photographs and to fill the form. After the signatures from the officials the letter needs to be sent out to all the border officials. We received the permission letter by 3:00 PM, after that the letter needs to be submitted to the police department, where they will issue the actual permit document. Coincidentally they closed the counter exactly at 3:00 PM and now, we all were forced to stay again at Gangtok.

Oblivious

Oblivious

Day – 3 September 23

Early Morning it was very cold outside, me and Suresh went to police department and successfully got the permit without much hassle. But they have given permit only to North Sikkim and told us to come back to get the permit for East Sikkim. The police personnel have full right to deny or issue the permits even if the home department has issued the recommendation. After having the basics fixed, we were ready to hit the road.

Gangtok stadium.

It was a good shot – Gangtok stadium

Our plan is to reach Lachung for night stay, so the next day morning, we shall be able to reach zero point from Lachung. As planned, we were able to reach Lachung by late evening, despite the landslides and bad roads! Fine roads are not there at all, some formations were there though. We found a small lodging on the en route to zero point and fortunately the managing people were able to provide food to all of us. The temperature was around 4℃, in the room needless to say all of us folded ourselves inside the mattresses, blankets, and bed sheets, literally whatever available there appearing as bed material. Some went to look at the village at that time, unable to roam and they came back immediately. We took small break and went for dinner, filled our stomach and hit the bed, because early morning we have to head to zero point. Only if we start in the early morning, we will be able to reach the zero point and come back safely.

The next day morning we woke up, had tea, snacks and started our bikes. I must say, the roads are interesting one, curvy; laid alongside the Teesta river, often streams were crossing most of the times. The forest was appearing like Avatar forests, clouds are coming out like smoke between the pine trees and I really have no idea how to capture that magnanimous forest and the beauty of that place into a frame (May be only video, if you have an opinion do let me know). We reached Yumthang, had tea & snacks and further proceeded. We reached Zero point around 11:30 AM. Due to the altitude it was difficult to stay even for some time. I had to lay down for some time to bring back my body to normal. There was not much to see at the destination zero point but the journey was stunningly wonderful. I must say worth going again. All the way Indian army’s bunkers helped couple of team-mates to regain normalcy. We took the same route (no other route anyway) on return, stopped at Yumthang, refuelled ourselves with hot noodles, woi-woi, tea and reached back to our stay at Lachung around 4:00 PM. Our plan is to reach Lachen from Lachung and stay over there for the night.

Landscape aka Portrait.

Landscape? Portrait? well who bothers.?

But once we reach the stay at Lachung from Zero point, we all were exhausted and unknowingly everyone was on the bed. Then what, we ordered snacks and ordered dinner as well. Next day early morning, we started from Lachung and headed towards Lachen. Since the distance needs to be covered for the day was less (due to the bunk previous day), we thought of reaching Thangu for the stay, a small village before one heads to Gurudongmar lake, in the idea that there will be some lodging.

On the way, the only vehicles crossing us were army’s. All the jaw dropping bridges have constructed by Border Roads Organization. All the roadways are fully covered by mist and the visibility dropped to 2-3 meters. On the way one army officer’s vehicle had overtook us and stopped few meters ahead of us. An officer got down from the gypsy and asked us the details of the trip and all. We introduced ourselves and had explained all the trip details. He stated that he is also heading to Thangu. After he started, all the way there were heavy downpour and we reached Thangu around 5:00 PM. There were very few people around, including an Indian army’s transit camp. We scouted for a stay and found only one room. We were informed that all the available hotels (only two were there anyway) were occupied by the road contractor’s staff, who were laying road from Thangu to Gurudongmar it seems. We were left to occupy in that one room. It was fun and difficult together, few of us stayed in a classified place.! 🙂

Bhutan bike trip

That’s Mohan & Suresh.

Thangu was badly cold around 1℃. We had tough time staying there. Next day morning we started to Gurudongmar lake, few stayed back at Thangu itself. The whole way towards Gurudongmar is cold desert and we have seen only some Military camps and vehicles there. We felt the pinch of cold even after we wore Inners, Thermals, Jeans & Multiple Tees, Jerkins, Rain coats, Gloves and woollen socks. Both sides of the road were full of snow topped mountains. We were informed by the militants that due to altitude, we all should be careful about our physical activities. A clear “no” for any physical activity as our body may have not acclimatized properly. After showing our permits at the army control points we were allowed to proceed further.  We reached the lake at an altitude of 17,100 feet, one of the highest lakes in the world. The lake was stunningly beautiful, worth all the pain we faced throughout the way. We took some photographs and we left the lake as soon as possible as we were warned that after 12 noon there will be sudden climatic changes.

The team who reached

The team who reached Gurudongmar.

We reached back Thangu afternoon and started heading towards Lachen and the idea is to reach Mangan for stay. Once we reach Lachen, North Sikkim got completed. But there was some surprise to us when we reach Lachen, yes two bikes were down. Another two bikes were ahead of us and it reached Mangan – the planned destination!. All the way it was raining and it was difficult to find a mechanic to fix the punctured tyres at the time of 8:00 PM. Suresh went to find a mechanic in a nearby construction site where he told to wait for some time. The other punctured vehicle was 5kms away from us and one bike went with air pump to bring the handicapped bike for the night stay. The plan has to be modified as we 5 bikes have stayed at Lachen in an under construction Gurudwara. All the shops in that small village were closed by 8:00 PM and I was sitting at a shop at Lachen with one broke down bike till 10:00 PM. I was given a small space to sit by a Tibetan grandmother in that shop cum house (She came to Sikkim when she was a kid with her parents and settled with the shop. Her sons are working as engineers in that nearby construction site). So kind of her, served me a hot tea as well. While I was sitting alone on the street; one man came to me, introduced himself as Upadhyay (working as a teacher in the school in Lachen) and asked me about our whereabouts, tour plan and all.

Upadhyay asked me about the stay for tonight. I said I really have less idea about that. And he continued, “Here is a Gurudwara where you can find a place to stay, there are no other hotel options as this is a small village”. He took me to the Gurudwara, introduced me to a Sikh man as “Ye lokh poora Chennai se aaya uva he bike pe, gumnekiliye. Inlogh ka dho kaadi karaab huah hei, abi raath ke liye reheneka thoda mushkil padra he. Aap kuch kar sakthe he tho acha hei”. The Sikh man’s face was calm, peaceful, with a mild smile one can easily understand that something he will do for us. He said back to Upadhyay “teeke”, and Upadhyay left. I asked him any possibility for something to eat for 9 of us, the time was 10:30 PM. He did not utter a word. He took me to the verandah where we were supposed to stay, the kitchen and explained me about the food. Enough rotis, vegetable sabji were there, he gave me the kitchen key and shown me where the plates, glasses, drinking water everything a stranger might be looking for. He told I need the key at morning 4:00 AM, coincidentally myself and Suresh need to leave early to Gangtok to avail the east Sikkim permission. All of our friends came after a very tiring day; we had all the rotis there, filled our stomach and hit the floor. Next day is Saturday, if by any chance we miss to take the permission, than we would be forced to stay at Gangtok and a day would be waste.

Bhutan bike trip-157-4

Day 7 – September 27th – Saturday

Me and Suresh woke up at 3:45 AM, despite the body asking rest, gave the kitchen key to the Paaji and offered a big thanks to him. That time also his face was calm, mild smile in between the beard and mustache, strong. We met our remaining friends at Mangan, informed them that we will be availing permits and asked to fix the bikes and come soon. We had shown ourselves at the police department office in Gangtok at 8:00 AM. I must say here, Suresh is an excellent rider – One needs to sit calmly and enjoy the curvy roads, ascent, descent, rain, mist the beautiful views, whatever mother nature offered us and I did it well. 😉 Without much hassle we got the East Sikkim permit, since we met that very police officer earlier for our North Sikkim permit. In Gangtok, we freshen up at the very same hotel and had our breakfast, reached the entry point where the road needs to be taken for Nathula pass, Zaluk and out of Sikkim by Silk route!

The police officer at the entry point informed us that we won’t be allowed since the time is up, as the tourists are allowed to Nathula pass only till 2:00 PM. We explained them that we are not going till Nathula, we are passing by Nathula, proceed further and won’t be coming back on this route. Upon hearing this, they let us allow, once again all our 7 bikes were together at this juncture. After riding the ascent, rains and landslides, we all met at a small village before Gnathang valley and the plan is to reach Zaluk. At Nathula, we were blocked again for the same reason which got cleared after explanations. It is around 5 Kms ride inside the sensitive area. All the way there was military vehicles movement, their camps everywhere. Since we informed everyone to reach Zaluk, three bikes were ahead and we four bikes are behind. It was after 5:00 PM, suddenly mist surrounded everywhere, the visibility was less than 2 mts, the temperature is fastly decreasing, another 50+ kilometres and some 96 hairpin bends to reach Zaluk seems highly not advisable. When we had tea, one man from Gnathang valley told us that he having some stay arrangements in Gnathang valley where we may stay.  At this juncture we are forced to stay at Gnathang valley and there was nothing more to do. The three vehicles went ahead of us around 10 kms and they did the same, they found a small stay, where they spent that night.

Milky way

Milky way

We seven people have stayed; they made chapati and vegetable curry for our dinner. The sky was brilliantly clear where one can see our galaxy with naked eye with some effort. Thanks to Chandru for waking me up to look at the sky. The above is the photograph I manage to take without even tripod in the numbing cold. Next day morning, our plan is to reach phuentsholing, the Bhutanese town which separating Bhutan and India. Myself, Suresh & Mohan in two bikes started backwards to Nathula. (We three are the only bachelors in the team, so we were able to start quickly. Not that we are unmarried, we are married but we were permitted to roam around alone ;-)) Since we came this long we thought we are not afford to go without visiting Nathula. Nathula pass is a very sensitive and highly restricted place, no cameras, mobile phones and electronic gadgets allowed to be in possession. After the formalities and permit verification, we were allowed to visit the border place. We have seen the chinese military there on the other side watching on us and vice versa. It was a really long ride from Nathula/Gnathang, given the road conditions and the weather. But nevertheless all the brave souls started, catches up the other 3 bikes which were ahead of us the previous day, beautiful hair pin bends, waterfalls mist infested roads, negotiating every bends and the descent from some 15000 feet to somewhere close to 650 feet in one day is an awesomeness. The whole ride was decent with jaw dropping views all the way down to Rishi. We had Lunch at Rishi in a small Grocery shop, Chips, Noodles, woi-woi, egg omelets etc, etc.

The ride started again from Rishi – Lava – Nagarkatte. Once we reached Nagarkatte around 8:00 PM, it was plains thereafter, but we have to go through some elephant infested forests now. After we filled our stomachs and fuelled the bikes, the mad ride started again. All of us were cruising like anything, since for the past 8 days we rarely shifted to the top gear and this time we seen a wonderful highway, it was really wonderful, everyone was trying to close the throttle. We reached Jaigaon at 10:30 PM, the border town of India, where we found a hotel and hit the bed.

The Team and me-6th from left in blue and red. ;-)

The Team and me-6th from left in blue and red. 😉

Day – 9, September 29th, Monday.

Everyone was badly tired. Since I have the habit of waking up at around 6:00AM, regardless of what time I hit the bed the previous night or how exhausted I was on the earlier day, I took the bike and went to the tourist enquiry centre in Phuentsholing. (Jaigaon and Phuentsholing is only separated by a gate, an Indian national no need of any permits to visit Phuentsholing) Had the information collected I came back and freshen up, our friends all woke up and few of the bikes needs to be fixed for minor things. Myself and Suresh went to the Immigration centre of Bhutan to avail the permits, after availing the permits we had to get permits separately for our vehicles in a nearby transport office. All the process have completed and we were ready to hit the road by 4:00 PM. Our original plan is to reach Paro, but again as the time passed by, we were unable to ride due to the quick drop in temperature and we were forced to find a stay at Tsimasham, a medium sized village on the way to Paro city.

Unable to find a big accommodation for entire group, to get accommodated in one place, we took rooms in different hotels but they are nearby only. We spend some time with the hotel owner’s son talking about their lifestyle, their culture bla, bla, with the help of beer(s) obviously.! Next day morning we had good breakfast and headed to Paro. We reached Paro around noon itself, few started a photo walk and few started for looking a nice restaurant. Since our plan is to visit Taktsang monastery aka Tiger’s nest the next day, we had enough time to roam around Paro town. Suresh and Mohan went to look at the routes to reach the monastery in advance. After lunch, we came to know that they have lodging also; we spoke with them and decided to stay there. The hotel was right on the main street itself. The next day morning we have started to the Monastery after having breakfast. We kept our helmets, Jerkins at the small shops at the foothills.

Tiger's Nest

Taktsang Monastery

There are horses which can take us to the monastery which we felt inappropriate, what is the point in not trekking and visiting a place by sophisticated means? We started our trek, it is a good hike and the trek lasts for 5-6 hours to reach the monastery. By the time you start hiking and up, you might start to sweat (It may not happen in Jan – April, Bhutan would be covered by snow by that time). We would have reached early if we planned in advance for breakfast or at least if we made our mind that there is no breakfast. But since we had all our time to have breakfast and started, we reached the monastery around 1:15 PM and we had to wait till 2:00 PM. Once the lunch break is over we visited the place, it is one of the must visit place in Bhutan, brilliantly constructed at that height and interesting wall paintings. On the way there is a restaurant, somewhere halfway between the land and monastery, where we had coffee and snacks. It was a wonderful spent day. We head back to the hotel and started to Thimphu for the night.

We reached Thimphu around 9:00 PM, despite everyone informed us that finding a room for stay would be difficult, since some festival is under-way-we were able to find a hotel for our stay. The next day we saw a South Indian restaurant and we all were mad about our food and rushed in, filled our stomach with our native land foods, after all who won’t love their native land foods? We have to extend our permits for east Bhutan, which have been done at the Immigration office there. We roamed on the Thimphu streets, especially on the temporary streets made with shops due to the celebrations. Ram bought a painting. I tried buying some handicrafts, but my wallet doesn’t allow me to do. 😉

Monastery

Monastery

We started from Thimphu and headed to Bumthang, thinking of reaching it for stay. The ride was good on the curvy roads, ascent as well. But by the evening closes we had to give up due to the temperature drastically comes down and makes us to halt. At around 8:00 PM we were standing at a village(Wangdue) with very few houses and a shop. We forced to stop there, because in another 15-20 Kms there is a pass named Korila pass, which we were sure we won’t make it. We asked tea from the shop, which they served. They were also strangely looking at us, where are these mad people going by bikes at this time and where they are going to stay? With all these questions in their mind they asked one by one. We told them in Black and White, we need some place to stay tonight. They also tried calling the school principal thinking that we can be accommodated there in the school. The school principal pitched in to the shop and explained that there is nothing to cover us as it is a plain hall. The situation there is like; none of us could go outside of the shop. We were thinking what to do? In the meantime, the guy living dead opposite to the shop asked us “I have two small rooms as my family went to their parent’s house – will you be able to make it in that room?”. Without even a second thought we went and had a look, stayed there for that night. He gave us enough blankets, his kitchen to cook and helped making food for us. I was not in a position to had food as I was badly affected by the chillness. I just laid down in one of the room with the one of the blanket he gave to us.

Religious signs

Day – 13, October 3rd – Friday

Next day morning we started heading to Bumthang, and we reached there around noon, after scouting for long time we found a decent and economical hotel for our stay. The town was neat and surrounded by monasteries. Since we have to leave and cover a long distance, we left from there. From the shop, I have bought two handmade wwoollencaps for two kids at home. Before we start from Bumthang, we have fixed our bikes, which need some maintenance for obvious reasons. Our plan is to reach Trashigang via Mongkar for stay. As planned we reached Mongkar around 7:00 PM, must say it was a mad ride between the pine forests, rain, sunshine, numbing cold. But we can’t stay there in Mongkar, as our plan is to reach Trashigang around 90 Kms from Mongkar. We already rode around 200 Kms for the day. We did not give up; started riding and reached Trashigang. Enroute we met a Bhutanese Forest ranger who offered help to find a place to stay at Trashigang. It was worth noting here, because we reached Trashigang around 10:30 PM, the whole town was sleeping by that time. But one man was waiting to receive us, supply food and to show our stay. Aren’t we the lucky people? Thanks to that Gentleman.

Layers

The never ending ranges.

We had our breakfast at Trashigang and started immediately towards Samdrup Jongkhar. I remember it was around 150 Kms. The road were not good for half way, after that it was really nice and well laid roads and that too in descent, where we enjoyed the ride. Actually the road starting from Trashigang was being laid and the second half till Samdrup had been laid well. When we 3 bikes reached Samdrup around 6:00 PM, we had informed that one bike is down with puncture. From the Samdrup check post we sent the air pump by a ongoing truck, thinking that the bike can be brought down on its wheels. We were warned not to go from Samdrup to Guwahati (We have booked air ticket from Guwahati on 7th October) we found a stay at Samdrup. The broke down bike came by another transport, since it was getting dark and in that region there were no civilization at all. Surprisingly our friends have collected the air pump from that truck driver while coming. Finally we all reached Samdrup had food and rest.

The next day morning we started to Guwahati. On the way, one of my friend, Mohan bought an Assamese Knife, I have no idea why he bought that Knife!. When I asked he simply said as souvenir! We reached Guwahati a day in advance, now time to parcel our bikes back to home. We went to GATI and parcelled the bikes, will be home delivered they said and they did. We reached back hotel around 8:00 PM, now no bikes. We called a taxi and that gentleman took all 7 of us in his Wagon R and dropped us at the hotel.

Buddhism

Religious signs!

Day 17 – Oct 7th – Tuesday

With all our machines been packed, it was an ordinary day. We woke up in relax and the only job left for us is to reach the airport and catch the flight. We had breakfast and went to ATM to withdraw money for the hotel settlements and all. We were staying 2 kms from the airport, so we asked manual rickshaws to pick us from the hotel. When we reached airport by manual rickshaws with all dirty clothes, dirty shoes, Gumboots tied to our luggage, everyone was looking at us strangely. It was quite a sight, I should say.  😛 In flight I have ordered two paperboat this time. 😀

We covered some 2500 Kms in 15 days. All over the trip, there were few fall, few injuries, few tiffs, few managements, few plan changes, few wonderful relationships, few beers, few tough times, few U turns, few stretches, few shrinks, few speed breakers, few pains, few breakages from the bikes, but aren’t this trip worth all this?