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Beauty and the Best

Updated: Mar 6, 2023

There are times in life, where things start to become dreary and repetitive.

Days unfold as ordinary as they can be, no surprises are thrown, and your days go by just as sure as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West.

But then, at times out of nowhere, the extraordinary rears its head and things go awry. The monotonous and tiresome life comes to a thundering stop, and you find purpose once again.

It has been five months or so since the last time I sat down to document one of my travel stories. Five months is a considerably long time, and I believe I owe an explanation to you, dear reader, of my prolonged absence.

Photography is a journey of experiences. Like in life, photographic experiences also can be horrid as well as intensely rewarding. To be perfectly honest, experiences that leave a permanent mark are few and far between. I, always on the hunt for the next ravishing sunset, have travelled to a ton of places over these five months: my Instagram account will be a testimony to this. But none of these ventures struck out to me as something which I should be sharing with you, dear reader, who's time to peruse the musings of an unromantic fellow like myself is indeed, precious.

The story I am about to tell unfolded in a small village called Rambha, some 130 kilometres from Bhubaneswar.

Post Durga puja, I was running on a dry spell, I had not shot anything worthwhile for a month or so. I did try, but rainy season here in Odisha is much akin to Achilles storming into Troy: it leaves the state in pieces. Skies are always dark and grey, and colourful sunsets hide behind hefty chunks of black clouds.

I came to know about Rambha from a very obscure list of 'Places to Visit in Odisha', which was probably a decade or so old. The village lies in the southern most point of Chilika lake, 50 kilometers from Berhampur. The place gave a very remote outlook from whatever images I managed to scour from the internet, which made me very hopeful. If I had learned one lesson, it is that us, humans, annihilate every hamlet of nature that we put our hands on. The lesser the people, the better.

I and two of my colleagues(yes, I really did drag two people with me to the ends of the Earth) left Bhubaneswar really early on a Saturday morning, as the only train which could ferry us to Rambha would leave at 7.30AM.

A three hour train ride left us standing on a tiny railway station in the middle of nowhere. There were no shops, no vendors. The station master's office looked as lonely as teenager in a family get together.

There was only one place to stay in Rambha, a government Panthanivas. The huge Panthanivas campus gave way to a tiny gate at the rear, which led to a jetty.

The first time I walked into the jetty, I knew I had hit jackpot.

It was one of the most beautiful locations I had laid my eyes upon in the past few months. The glistening lake looked endless, a swarm of unknown birds flew across, and the distant mountains guarded over the lake like ancient protectors. The lake was surrounded by mountains on the East and South Eastern shores, which made it more of a sunrise location than sunset. Nonetheless, for the first time in months, my heart beat faster.

Early evening when we arrived at the jetty, we immediately ventured off course to look for a more suitable location to shoot the setting sun bathing the lake in golden light. We went off the jetty and started walking along the lake shores.

I spotted these two fishermen cleaning their boat, and composed an image where the chunk of clouds in the Eastern sky also takes a prominent part.

As we walked, we were perfectly aware that this part of the lake was not a place where tourists come, and thus, it was nature at its finest. A plethora of unknown birds were picking off insects from the mud, Brahminy kites flew over head, and the stunning silence presented us with pure, unadulterated countryside.

As blue hour approached, I was seeing images everywhere.

As the sun slowly went down behind the mountains, we were presented with the Milky Way shining in the Western sky.

We went back to our rooms that evening, still not quite believing our luck. We had incredible light and great conditions, but nothing prepared us for what was about to happen the following morning.

As I wrote before, Rambha looked like a sunrise location to me, as so I was up really early at 3AM to shoot the sunrise. As my colleagues slept, I went to the dark balcony just to measure up the conditions. To my dismay, the night was silent but for flashes of thunder. Rainclouds were building up.

It took an hour for us to get ready and walk out into the dead of night. Waking up the hotel security guard at 4.30AM (who was sound asleep on a sofa) to open up the back door was probably one of my most painful experiences. The poor lad looked at me with red eyes and cursed underneath his breath as he staggered outside to open the gate. To the Rambha Panthanivas security, if you are reading this, my honest and sincere apologies!

Just as we walked through the back door, I noticed something incredible. The sky above and everywhere else was laden with dark rainclouds, but the eastern horizon was glowing orange. It was still twenty minutes to sunrise, but the light from the sun (which had not yet risen) was reflecting off the clouds overhead and lit up the Eastern sky with magnificent orange light. Rain was pelting down in the distance, clearly visible as the downpour was backlit from the rising sun.

The black clouds signalled rain within ten minutes or so, and so we ran for it. This was a sunrise I had to shoot at any cost.

We ran off the jetty once again and quickly settled on a composition. A sole boat was resting on the shore, while the colorfest in the East peeled off its layers one after the other. This image is an attempt to capture one of the most breathtaking sunrises I had ever witnessed, to the best of my abilities.

It was just five minutes after shooting this image that we had to run for cover, as the moving clouds broke overhead into torrential rain. We stood on the jetty and watched as the rain washed away all the atmosphere and drama, giving way to beautiful, but not amazing, sunrise. It was those ten minutes just before the sunrise which was the cherry on top of the cake, never to be found again.

A few photographers arrived post sunrise and started shooting the scene, blissfully unaware of what we had witnessed half an hour ago.

In my experience, time and time again, bad weather has proven to be the catalyst for incredible light.

We just have to be out and about at the right time and at the right place, to see what nature has to exhibit in her most magnificent of forms. As Thomas Heaton once said, 'You gotta be in it, to win it'!

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