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Uncharted Lands

Updated: Mar 6, 2023

Landscape photography, generally speaking, is not easy.

I could go on and on about a hundred different techniques and compositional elements for hours, and still, I would not be done. In its purest form, it is very technical, very precise, and to some extent, extremely poetic. Truly great landscape photography sometimes requires extreme patience, long and arduous treks across difficult terrain in bad weather.

Staying true to the poetic origins, some landscape photographer once said : the toughest hike, always provide the most mesmerizing view.

This line itself explains the reason why images taken by tourists generally look unremarkable and snapshot like, while those taken by a seasoned landscape photographer graces magazine covers all over the world. An explanation would bring up several interesting points.

Tourists, on a vacation to a far off land, generally do not have photography as their sole agenda.

They roam and enjoy, and once they see a beautiful mountain or a flower, they snap away. Generally, there really isn't much thinking going on in here, which is why the images look very unremarkable when brought back home, and they make a place in a hard drive, never to be opened again.

This tourist, one day comes across an image taken by a professional landscape photographer, which evokes emotion, awe and grandeur. Crestfallen, the tourist reminds himself of his own images, 'I can never be as good as this'.

Or maybe, he argues 'It is only the location which is this beautiful, if I go there I can make images equally as good!'.

Both are wrong.

For the first point, I would say we can be just as good as a professional landscape photographer, if we have the same determination and patience: both of which we generally lack.

The 'skill' part can be practised and honed slowly, and this can result in perfection.

For the second point, while beautiful locations do indeed provide incredible images, it is very possible to take breathtaking shots at unremarkable locations if we have the correct eye to see it.

The professional goes on long treks at the dead of night just to reach a 'beautiful location' at sunrise.

Bad weather, in most cases, provide the most astonishing images, and the professional get soaked in rain, peltered with snow just to get that one image. Even then, sometime something goes wrong, and the window of opportunity to photograph that location in that weather gets pushed back years at a time. Back home, the professional studies weather charts, tracks sun movement, elevation and shadows just to visualise when the first rays of the sun will bathe the peaks of a snow covered mountain in red light at just the correct angle, so that the clump of flowers in the foreground also gets a little sidelight.

Like I said, it is not easy.

I am always inspired by the stories behind great landscape images and how much effort went behind making them. Such dedication and whatever-it-takes attitude in photography, and in life itself, really is admirable.

It is also a general rule of thumb that the more remote a location, the more are the chances of nature being at its absolute flawless in there.

In my venture of photographing and studying the Eastern coastline of the country, I happened to find a rather remote sea beach some thirty kilometers from Puri, called Baliharachandi. There wasn't any proper documented travel log to this place, but it seemed to be an incredible place to see. Due to the difficulty in reaching this beach, it was supposedly devoid of any kind of tourism also.

I decided to chance it.

On a saturday morning, when I saw clouds gathering on the western sky (which indicated a great sunset), I left Bhubaneswar for Puri, as that was the closest place to Balihara where I could get a place to stay the night.

My plan was to reach Balihara by 4PM so that I can find a proper composition and shoot the sunset. Arrival at Puri was a little late than I had preferred, but I arranged for transport to Balihara immediately. The location was apparently so obscure, that locals also scratched their heads when they heard its name. I conveyed the information that I can show them which way to go (Yay Google Maps!), and they need only carry me there. An autorickshaw was arranged for me, with the driver very unsure of his passenger's motives, and at 3.30PM we left Puri.

I reached Baliharachandi after an hour of the autorickshaw flying through the countryside, but I was met with an unexpected scenery: it was a forest!

'How could this be?' I thought. Whatever record was there of this place online indicated this to be a sea beach.

There was a single shop by the edge of the forest, and after a little conversation I came to know there is a beach indeed, but it was a little bit further than I initially anticipated.

I was given the phone number of a local boatman, who told me I needed to cross the forest on foot, and then a river on boat, after which I would reach another Casuarina forest. A fifteen minute walk through here would take me to the beach.

No wonder no tourists came here.

Be that as it may, time was running out. It was an hour to sunset.

I crossed the forest and reached the riverbank, where I waited for half an hour. The boatman arrived on foot from his home, and transported me to the opposite bank. The walk through the Casuarina forest was nearly twenty minutes, which suddenly opened up to a huge and empty sea beach.

I had been to many sea beaches since I came to Odisha, but this was something else. It went on for miles and miles, not a single soul in sight. Strong and fierce winds were blowing accross the empty beach and causing mini sandstorms.

For a few minutes I walked around the beach, trying to shield my eyes from the blowing sand, and I saw the inevitable: the beach was featureless.

There really was nothing on the beach to photograph, just endless sand and the treeline running parallel to the beach.

I was disappointed. This long and tough venture, had been pointless.

But as I had previously stated in one of my blogs, nature hides its best bits very well.

I was walking by the sea beach watching the setting sun, more contemplating how I would get back to Puri, than what I would photograph, when I noticed a tiny sand dune at one end of the beach.

Cleaning my glasses of the sand and taking out my tripod, I came closer and took in the scene.

The dune had been pelted by the strong winds all throughout its life, and magnificient patterns had formed on it. It was so delicate and polished, it looked wonderful. To top it all off, there was a leading line of tiny grassroots which circled around the dune, and the precise placement of this looked like it was handplanted.

I framed it carefully, and waited while the sun slowly came down from underneath the clouds. Stopping down to f14 or so to create sun bursts, I took the image.

It took half an hour for me to reach the Causarina forest, and an hour more to cross the river and reach the edge of the forest, by which time it was long after dark. Accompanied by the cursings of my autoricksaw driver for being so late, I went home a happy man.

All of this journey, had been worth it.

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