Bengalureans travel to icy destinations during summer: Deccan Herald, 16 May 2019

Iceland

With increasing disposable incomes and social media-fuelled peer pressure, travel has become an indispensable part of most middle and upper middle-class Indian families.

As common tourist destinations like Europe, Bali and our very own Ladakh become overpopulated, affluent Bengalureans are looking towards other less-explored places.

Prominent among these are icy destinations like Iceland, Greenland and even Antarctica.

“There are touristy icy places and there are really offbeat icy places. For examples, Iceland is now like a Singapore in the 90s. It has become a cliched international travel destination; there are tons of people from India, especially Bengaluru, going to Iceland. One of the major attractions there is the Northern Lights (aurora borealis),” says Jayanth Sharma, a wildlife photographer and writer and CEO and founder of Toehold, a travel and photography company in the city.

Northern lights, Iceland

Why is there an interest in such places?

One of the more recent fads among wealthy and adventurous millenials is wildlife photography in difficult terrains. So what better than clicking pictures of the famed polar bears or photogenic penguins of Antarctica? So there is a rise in demand for guided tours and expeditions led by experts and photographers. Young executives and retired professionals make up a major chunk of these enthusiastic travellers from Bengaluru, according to several surveys.

And Bollywood too plays a role. “After movies like Dilwale hit the screens, which showed Kajol and Shahrukh romancing on icy stretches, the North Indian market showed a steep increase in interest in such places. They want to go to such places, pose in a similar manner like the actors and take a picture. This is exactly what happened to Ladakh around ten years back when ‘3 Idiots’ hit the screen,” he explains, adding that there is also a regular influx of techies and the IT crowd to such places.

Who goes to these places?

Usually nature-loving tourists. A large number of affluent Indians travel to Bengaluru since it costs only about $2,000-$4,000 per person.

“On the other hand, Antarctica doesn’t see a huge number as the cheapest Antarctica trip would be anywhere upwards of Rs 5 lakhs. People with a very different economic background opt for these places but I still feel around 3,000-4,000 Indians travel to Antarctica in a year. There are many agents throughout the country who have regular tours to that place,” says Jayanth.

He adds, “Arctic tours are not that popular as people are still not aware of it. Toehold specialises in tours to a place called Svalbard; tourists don’t go here, only serious wildlife photographers and nature lovers undertake the journey to this place. Less than 50 people in a year go there. It costs around $10,000 for a ten-night expedition; it happens just once a year. The number of people who know this place, can afford the money and can take the time off are relatively lesser.”

This article appeared in Deccan Herald on 16 May 2019.

Fine-art Nature & Wildlife Photography Talk by Jayanth Sharma

Fine-art Nature and Wildlife Photography – Talk

HP and Better Photography Magazine organised the EscapadeZ event in Bengaluru on the 15 February 2019. The main focus of the event was Toehold’s CEO Jayanth Sharma sharing a power packed one hour presentation about the Art, Science and Business of Fine-art Nature and Wildlife Photography.

Speaking about philosophies like capturing photographs which can be printed versus printing photographs that were shot, Jayanth enlightened the spectators with stunning photographs and thought-provoking ideas.

Brand ambassador for the HP Z9 Design Jet printer, Jayanth answered questions of various members of the audience about photography, printing, business and many aspects of being a wildlife photographer.

We bet the audience loved the show and in the months to come, we hope to host more such gatherings of photography enthusiasts.

Animal of the Week: Bornean orangutan, Borneo

Bornean Orangutan

Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)

Great place to see the Bornean Orangutan: Borneo, Malaysia

One of the genetically closest cousins of human beings, the orangutan can never fail to stir your soul when you see it. When your gaze meets that of the Bornean orangutan’s in the rainforests of Borneo, your rekindled love for nature will not only reach a whole new stratosphere but is bound to become boundless.

The Bornean orangutan has long arms and a distinctive body shape. Its grey skin is covered by a hairy reddish coat. It does not have hair on its face unlike most mammals except for the beard and moustache. It is more solitary than its Sumatran counterpart. The males and females come together only to mate. It feeds on more than 400 types of food including figs, leaves, seeds, flowers, honey, bird eggs, durians and insects.

The Bornean orangutan is the third heaviest primate and the largest arboreal animal alive today. It is critically endangered according to the IUCN Red List. A range of serious threats to its existence includes deforestation (habitat destruction), bushmeat trade, hunting and palm oil plantations.

This primate, along with the Sumatran orangutan and Tapanuli orangutan, belongs to the only genus of great apes native to our continent, Asia. The Bornean orangutan, like other great apes, is highly intelligent, and is known to display cultural patterns in the wild along with tool use. It shares approximately 97% of its DNA with humans, and for these wonderful reasons, the Bornean orangutan is our Animal of the Week!

See this astonishing ape on our ‘Rainforest Revelation‘ Wildlife Photography Tour to Borneo!

Animal of the Week: Kittiwake, Svalbard

Kittiwake Svalbard

Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)

Great place to see the kittiwake: Svalbard, Norway

With its angelic white body and adorable form, the kittiwake is a bird cute as a button. In the grey-white spectacular landscape of Svalbard in Norway, see it perched on a chunk of ice or flying like a dream against a sleepy sky.

The name of this bird is derived from its call – ‘kittee-wa-aaake’. Colloquially, it is also called tickleass or tickleace. Its body and head are white, its back grey, its bill yellow, and it has grey wings tipped dark black. The sexes are known to be visually indistinguishable.

This coastal breeding bird dwells in regions ranging from North Pacific and North Atlantic to Arctic oceans. In contrast to the young ones of other gull species, this gull’s chicks are white and are covered with fine soft fur, and they take three years to reach maturity.

Kittiwake is the only gull species that is exclusively cliff-nesting, which lessens the threat of predation. And for this reason, it is our Animal of the Week!

See this beautiful bird on our ‘Pole Trance’ Wildlife Expedition to Svalbard!

Animal of the Week: Leopard

Leopard Kabini

Leopard (Panthera pardus)

Great place to see the leopard: Kabini, India

Our reverence for this spotted feline being defies reason. If spotting big cats in the wild is an addiction you never want to recover from, we resonate with your steadfast love for them. And seeing the leopard in particular in the serene green environs of Kabini – or Bandipur or Gir among other places in India – is an experience we cherish with unabashed admiration. After all, it’s the kind of love that doesn’t await acknowledgement, much less reciprocation.

 
The leopard inhabits tropical rainforests, temperate forests and dry deciduous forests. Its skin is a gorgeous yellowish brown or gold or pale yellow. The spotted and rosetted coat makes it one of the most easily recognised animals. Its honey-gaze can pierce you like unmistakable clarity through the green daze when you spot one while snaking through the sinuous paths of the forest.
 
Not only is this stately cat elusive but also solitary and nocturnal, adding to its mystical charm. It is known to produce various vocalisations like roars, grunts, snarls, purrs, growls and meows. The leopard is also known to be a powerful swimmer even as it is not disposed to swimming. An opportunistic, multi-skilled hunter, its diet is broad, including deer, wild boars, langurs, Indian hares, nilgais and peafowls.
 
Its ability to climb trees is a spectacle to watch if you’re fortunate while in the wild. And its elegance while resting on a tree branch on on ground elicits only awe.
 
This surreal being is sprightly and graceful in each of its agile movement. It can run at more than 58 kilometres per hour. With its single leap, it can cover six metres of the ground horizontally, and it is known to jump up to three metres vertically! For all these astonishing reasons, for its phantom-like existence that makes it one of the most-loved mesmerising animal, the leopard is our Animal of the Week!
 
See this splendid big cat on our ‘The Leopard’s Lair’ Wildlife Photography Tour to Kabini!

Animal of the Week: Atlantic Puffin, Svalbard

Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica)

Great place to see the Atlantic puffin: Svalbard, Norway

A dash of orange-red and black beak brightens up the Atlantic puffin’s presence. It is a visual delight like nothing else. This seabird is native to the Atlantic Ocean, and is also known as the common puffin. It can be seen and photographed on our Photography Expedition to Svalbard, Norway.

Its crown and back are black. Its cheek is a pale grey and its underparts are white. It swims on the surface and feeds on fish while at sea. Its bite is powerful, which allows it to hold several small fish at a time. It nests in clifftop colonies by digging burrows.

 

Atlantic puffin

 

The Atlantic puffin is a sociable bird and usually breeds in large colonies. Seals and some large fish are known to kill puffins while in water, and foxes, weasels, dogs, stoats, rats and cats are known to be its predators on land. It is also hunted by aerial predators like great skuas and great black-backed gulls. It is rated as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN.

This avian beauty is popular in human culture. In 1939, Penguin Books published a range of children’s books under the brand, Puffin Books. It is the official bird symbol of Canada’s Newfoundland and Labrador. The Norwegian municipality has the Atlantic puffin as its civic emblem. All the human love this bird evokes has given it adorable names like ‘pufflings’, ‘sea parrots’ and ‘clowns of the sea’. For all these reasons, the Atlantic puffin is our Animal of the Week!

See this lovely bird on our ‘Pole Trance’ Wildlife Expedition to Svalbard!

Just ‘Giraffing’ – A Photo Story on a Highness Called Giraffe!

Giraffe

Long and slender legs need not remind you only of Gisele Bündchen or Rajiv Shyamsundar anymore. They can also mean the giraffe, and here’s a photographic tribute to show you why.

 

Giraffe
© Jayanth Sharma

Magnificence couldn’t get any more overwhelming. The tallest mammal walks nonchalantly as the rainbow bends down and kisses the earth softly. Such (sur)reality is beauty and truth that can be seen.

Giraffe
© Santosh Saligram

The giraffe is so much of a lady without ever trying hard. No corsets, no crowns, no high heels. Just the natural yellow-orange-brown mosaic pattern of its skin. And the natural svelte and sophistication.

Giraffe
© Sachin Rai

We wonder if the calves can ever play hide and seek! Even the baby giraffe is a giant in its own right when compared to other mammals. A giraffe can kill a lion with one blow from its foot, and as tall a tale as it seems, this adorable little one will grow up to be that animal that can even scare the king of the jungle!

Giraffe
© Sachin Rai

When a scene like this unfolds, when the world and its beings become silhouetted against an intense saffron sky, we stop being cheeky. We simply bow in respect as the giraffe itself has, as though to the earth on which it walks with graceful grandeur.

Giraffe Kenya
© Sachin Rai

The gentle beings stand tall against a sleeping sky. Their forms are dark but they are light in the way they move an onlooker to new joys. And the last streaks of the sunlight only add that much more poignancy to this slice of time.

Giraffe
© Jayanth Sharma

Even after perching on a tree branch, the leopard is only almost meeting the giraffe’s tallness. So much for the meeting of the eyes at the eye level. Nature’s drama in Kenya, Africa can never cease to amaze and amuse us.

Giraffe
© Jayanth Sharma

And the whole world comes down to this — an avian ornament on the mammalian patterned-skin. And this is how this beautifully reduced detail of the world continues to bring endless joy.

Giraffe
© Sachin Rai

What sentient being can’t be moved by this gentle being‘s presence? Its placid disposition is always heartening. And all it does is simply what it’s best at – just giraffing!

See this tallest animal on the planet in all its stateliness on our Harvest in the Savannah Wildlife Photography Tour, the Big Cat Week Tour or The Great Migration Tour to Kenya!

Animal of the Week: Toco Toucan, Pantanal

Toucan

Toco toucan (Ramphastos toco)

Great place to see the toco toucan: Pantanal, Brazil

In the soothing greens of the wetlands in the Pantanal, if your calm is unsettled by a dazzling yellow-orange beak attached to a bird wearing black and white, you are looking at the toco toucan! It is also known as giant toucan, common toucan or just ‘toucan’.

Being the largest toucan, this avian beauty only looks heavy. But it is relatively light because it’s largely hollow inside. Its tongue is almost as long as the bill itself. Charles Darwin had suggested that its beak is a sexual ornament, but it is known to help the bird in peeling fruit, defending territory, visual warning, shoo away other birds from robbing its nest. But a significant function of the beak does is regulate heat distribution of the bird as it has the ability to modify blood flow.

This bird feeds mainly on fruit. It also consumes insects, small reptiles and birds and their nestlings and eggs, and frogs. The eggs are known to be incubated by both sexes.

The natives of Aztec civilization believed this winged beauty to be the messenger of God. Its long, colourful beak was supposedly created from the rainbow. It inspired the Aztec tribes to perform dances wearing its head to invite rains to their lands. In other cultures of central and southern America, it was said to be used to fly to the world of spirits. And for all these amazing reasons that makes it so closely related to us humans, the toco toucan is our Animal of the Week!

See this amazing bird on our ‘The Phantom and the Wetlands’ Wildlife Photography Expedition to the Pantanal!

Animal of the Week: Arctic Fox, Svalbard

Arctic fox

Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus)

Great place to see the Arctic fox: Svalbard, Norway

In the surreal icescapes of Svalbard in Norway, if you see a dreamier movement of a creature moving with its thick white fur, you are seeing an Arctic fox. Also called the white fox, snow fox and polar fox, the Arctic fox is found in the Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere.

The snow fox feeds on ringed seal pups, lemmings, voles, hares, seabirds, waterfowls and fish. Sometimes, it also consumes berries, carrion, small vertebrates, insects and seaweed. The predators of this fox are golden eagles, red fox, grizzly bears, wolves and wolverines.

The Arctic fox builds and selects dens that face southward towards the sun for warmer temperature. It is mainly monogamous and both parents are known to care for the offspring. An interesting trivia is that in Iceland, this is the only native land mammal.

This adorable mammal has advantageous genes to overcome severe cold and starvation periods. The difference between the external environment and its internal core temperature is as much as 90-100 degree Celsius. Even as it is active year-round, it can preserve fat by reducing its locomotory activities. And in the autumn, it builds up the fat reserves and increases its body weight by more than 50% for greater insulation in winter. For all these amazing reasons, the Arctic fox is our Animal of the Week!

See this amazing animal on our ‘Pole Trance’ Wildlife Expedition to Svalbard!

Animal of the Week: Rothschild’s Giraffe, Kenya

Rothschild's giraffe

Rothschild’s giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi)

Great place to see this giraffe: Lake Nakuru, Kenya, Africa

In Lake Nakuru National Park of Kenya, if you crane your neck trying to fathom how a four-legged mammal can be that tall, remember that we share the same wonder. Because Rothschild’s giraffe deserves every bit of that admiration.

The Rothschild’s giraffe inhabits savannahs, grasslands and open woodlands. It’s easy to recognise this subspecies because of the colour of its coat. Its orange-brown patches are sharp and less jagged. The males are larger than the females. This suave mammal is endangered, with only 1671 individuals in the wild as estimated in 2016.

Another distinguishing feature of this giraffe is that there are no markings on its lower leg. This makes it look like it’s always wearing white stockings. Nature’s sense of fashion has probably manifested in the simple yet sophisticated being that the Rothschild’s giraffe is!

Unlike the Masai giraffe and the reticulated giraffe, this one is born with five ossicones on the head. Two are the obvious ones at the top – common to all giraffes. The third is in the centre of its forehead. The other two are behind each ear. For all these amazing reasons, the Rothschild’s giraffe is our Animal of the Week!

See this gorgeous giraffe on our next ‘Harvest in the Savannah‘ Wildlife Photography Tour to Kenya!