We use the phrase ‘photo walks’ to denote the walks we do for the purpose of taking photographs. These days everyone can claim to be a photographer with high resolution, high definition cameras available in smartphones and aided by scores of apps that can tweak photographs. That makes us, who straddle backpacks with a DSLR and different lenses for different purposes, seem like an oddity. Having said that, there is no bias against anyone who exclusively shoots with their smartphones.
My friend Tom and I decided to drive over to Vellayani on the outskirts of Trivandrum city over the previous weekend. An early morning walk at Vellayani has a calming effect. Just outside the city limits, we have an area that comprises a lake, some irrigation canals, paddy fields and few vegetable farms. A typical Kerala countryside village so near to the hustle and bustle of the city. A walk along either side of the canal towards the lake is a welcome break from the hectic schedule of the week. It is not photography alone; there is an unspoken conversation with nature that makes this early morning photo walks at Vellayani a refreshing experience. An experience devoid of sophistication – not entirely though, we are carrying a load of sophisticated technology in our backpacks. A couple of hours away from smartphones, iPods, laptops, tablets, home theatres, instant messengers and the like that are now a permanent fixture in our lives.
When we set out for a photo walk, the obvious rule is to reach the destination before the sun is up. And many of my friends end up asking me ‘Why so early’? And I end up giving them a wry smile and saying ‘That’s the best part of it’, leaving a few of them still puzzled. We observe how the world comes to life. The day wakes up with the sun climbing out of bed in the east. To be witness to this cosmic spectacle is indeed the best part of it. And before we see the sun, we see the colours. If we are lucky enough, that is. Not every sunrise splashes colours over the place. We were lucky this day. And we were just in time to see the sun rise. The time just before sunrise, and the time just after sunset – bookmark them!
We usually commence our walk at Vellayani from Punchakkari. The place is reachable by bus also, as KSRTC plies on this route from East Fort to Punchakkari. That is where we embark on our morning walk alongside the canal and towards the periphery of the Vellayani Lake. As we parked our car near the small bridge, we could see a school bus and school kids wearing colourful shirts assemble along with a couple of teachers. The kids were carrying small notepads and pencils; a few had water bottles too. We noted that the teachers were having a camera and a pair of binoculars in hand. It seemed really heartening that the teachers decided to show the beauty of nature to kids rather than confine them to classrooms. It was a really happy feeling to start the walk with. We smile at them, the cameras inviting curious looks, and walk past onto the unpaved road along the canal. The left side of the canal is mostly paddy fields, and with small narrow brooks running across the fields at few places. The right side is mostly used for cultivation of vegetables and plantain.
The green fields on one side, the canal on the other, and the colours just before sunrise – it felt really good to breathe in the cool air along with the colours and sights. And sounds too! The chirping of birds, dogs, buffalos, ducks, kingfishers, bee-eaters, drongos, bumble bees, cranes, storks, herons, swamp hens – the list is long. As we progressed with our walk, we could see a congregation of sorts – of cows and calves. They were lined up for being milked. The calves stayed close to their mothers, though ambling about restlessly. A few dogs were also lying beside these cows, curled up, comfortably enjoying a relaxed morning. We pause innumerable times in search of something that could be framed for posterity. The golden rays sparkling over dewdrops, butterflies shaking off their inertia, ducks having a dip in the canal, villagers with innocent faces walking past, the white-throated kingfisher sitting among the branches of a tree and crooning its distinctive call – sights and sounds that amaze and instill wonder.
Even if I came back without any photographs, the walk along this canal is definitely worth the travel and the time. That is, for someone like me who loves the simple pleasures and sights nature has to offer. If we start judging our photo walks with the number of photographs we have as keepers, we lose the whole point of the walks. Remember, the journey is the experience, not the destination!