The Adventures of Gerry Ellis - Part 1

Monday May 29, 2006: Across the Mountains of Bhutan

Just on sundown last night we arrived in the Bhutan capitol of Thimphu,the physical end point of our journey. Because of our purpose, establishing the new project area and meeting with teachers and candidate schools, most of the journey thus far has been very different than my first visit here in 1998.

A Primer to Photographing Bhutan

  • I suppose if I were to create a primer for a visitor to Bhutan, on the equipment and approach to photography, it would be begin with two camera bodies.

  • Mount each with a wide angle zoom and medium telephoto zoom. Every time you turn around you want to be wide (12-24) and telephoto (80-200) at the same time. Forget super telephotos unless you are planning to be here to photograph something specific such as plant species. And while wildlife is there, birds are wonderful and abundant, the wildlife is not photographable on a basic visit. Concentrate on people, architecture and landscapes.

  • Carry one meg cards and plenty of them - or download every night. I am carrying a 120 gig laptop for other purposes so storage isn't a great concern, but you will create more images than you imagine. So, be prepared.

  • Learn how to photograph with fill-flash!!! Interiors have limited lighting and people are often just inside doorways, inside weaving or cooking, be prepared to create in low light and have confident control of flash lighting. (I photograph in Aperture Priority, with the flash on rear-curtain, and drop the output to -2.0)

  • The people of Bhutan are very open to being photographed, and even on occasion invite it. In two villages yesterday I was asked if I wanted to take pictures, "It's okay," they would say with a smile and an inviting sweep of the hand. That's as rare in this world as the tigers in these forests!

  • A polarizing filter is very useful. Weather in most of Bhutan is similar to the Pacific NW of the USA, but everything is at altitude much above 5,000 feet, so glare and brightness can be moderated with the use of a polarizer.

  • Every hotel has consistent power, so recharging batteries and laptops is not an issue. You will need a round two-prong adapter, but buy it at one of the may shops in Thimphu on arrival. (By the way: most shops are open until about 7 PM and open up around 8:30-9 AM)

Yesterday for the first time on this journey I missed being here purely as a photographer; forests are one of my photographic soft-spots and the past two days climbing up and over mountain range after mountain range the lush broad-leaf forest, and mist and rain were extraordinarily beautiful. For such an incredibly small country with less than 800 thousand people both the landscape and the people share enormous diversity.

Thursday May 25, 2006: Morning in Guwahati

Sweat Sweat SWEAT! Only 7 AM and already the temp is over 90 and humidity feels twice that... incredible. I have traveled in a lot of tropical locales and this is starting to take the cake, a melting one!

Heading for Manas National Park this morning, one of the three key sites for the initial Save the Tiger campaign started in the 1970s when the world thought the tiger was nearly gone. They roam the park on both the Assam and Bhutan sides of the border, but we will probably not get deep enough into the park this trip to see them. Monkeys, elephants and hornbills, among other, are a good chance. We'll see?

Wednesday May 24, 2006 : Guwahati

I have always had a passion for off-the-beaten-track places, and Guwahati does not disappoint in that regard. Less than an hour flight from Calcutta it is a world away... lush, green, hilly, the activity center of Assam in northeast India. As someone said at dinner last night, "We are really the neighbors of Thai and those southeast Asia people more than our own India."

This afternoon after the spending the morning working with local teachers we passed through a riverside market along the Brahmaputra River. The heat of the day is not the best time for a market photo trip. But on the other hand, what was revealed was a hot, humid, sleepy, world of venders and spices.

Tuesday May 23, 2006 Morning in Calcutta (Kolkota)

The moon rode like a soft papaya colored sliver in the east, just over head of where the sun has now risen. That was only an hour ago and though it wasn’t, it seemed cooler. Its just on 5 AM and its already in the low 80s and rising humidity. Now the sun has replaced it in the same hue and already the heat can be felt filling the thick definition-less air. Black crows and Indian mynas swim through this humid air above the sounds of trucks and honking taxis... Calcutta is awake.

About The Adventure

This is the occasional blog by former wildlife and environmental photographer Gerry Ellis. He is traveling in the eastern India and Bhutan over the next two weeks to explore opportunities for developing new educational program in the area of Manas transborder national park. He will be sending us thoughts and photos as he has internet access along the journey. Starting in Calcutta he and the GLOBIO team will be flying northeast to the capitol of Assam state Guwahati, then by road north to Manas National Park in Assam, over the border in Bhutan to Royal Manas National Park, then continuing by road north to the Bhutanese capitol of Thimphu. The group has received rare permission to enter by vehicle and travel overland and should provide us with a wonderful glimpse of this lost mountain Shangri-la.