Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

Archive for September 2013

Palani Hills: Then and Now

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Looking east to Mount Perumal and Shembaganur from Eagle Cliffs. A DR image composed of five single images exposed at different exposures. September 2013.

On the Palani Hills southern escarpment, looking east to Mount Perumal and Shembaganur from Eagle Cliffs. An HDR image composed of five single images taken at different exposures. September 2013.

Douglas Hamilton's sketch of the same area. Done in the mid 19th Century and published in his posthumous 1892 book A Record of Sport in Southern India.

Douglas Hamilton’s sketch of the same area, made in the mid 19th Century and published in his posthumous 1892 book A Record of Sport in Southern India. His view emphasizes the Pambar Valley (to the left) and the ridge leading to Coaker’s Walk (center). I was likely standing on the upper spur (seen in the far left) to get the above image. Hamilton has included himself in the image, seemingly stalking a Nilgiri tahr on the cliffs.

One of the developments in digital photography that has helped photographers create amazing images from otherwise ordinary scenes is High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography. Thanks to developments in digital photo editing it is now a process that takes little effort other than some careful planning, the use of a tripod and some editing on Adobe Photoshop. My interest in the process is based on an ongoing fascination with light, the photographic process and working the visual present what the eye sees. Ansel Adams’ writing on the Zone System served as key background reading to understanding light, tonal range and exposure. Thus, before I started these digital experiments I had made efforts to capture and present a broad tonal range with photographic film and paper. In recent months I have been experimenting with multi-spectral satellite data that often extends beyond what the human eye can perceive. Issues of tonal quality and range are just as relevant here as in with a analog or digital photograph. I’ve taken a while to come around to HDR but recently had a chance to experiment with it in the Palani Hills.

The pictures in this post were taken on a recent sojourn in Kodai where I was participating in KIS council meetings. It is a privilege and an enormous responsibility to be a part of the governance of a school deeply involved with innovative international education. Nevertheless, I am always more effective in meetings if have had a chance to get outside and commune with the landscape! On both mornings that I was there I had a chance to take short walks before our sessions started up. It’s my habitat to walk up through Bombay Shola to Coaker’s Walk and check the air clarity. In the morning the birds are active and there are always White-bellied Shortwings  (Brachypteryx major major) and Grey-breasted Laughing Thrushes (Garrulax jerdoni farbanki) to listen to and glimpse. This time there was a Malabar Whistling Thrush (Myophonus horsfieldii) lurking and calling near one of the streams that has sprung up from the recent rains. Unlike last year, I did not see any gaur or hear their rutting. The views at Coaker’s were good and I extended my walk up by St. Mary’s and then down through Pambar Shola to the cliffs that overlook the southern plains. After a prolonged drought the hills and plains have had rain and the views were excellent. There is no better way to start a day in Kodai…

Some of these areas are the same places that Douglas Hamilton had visited, hunted in and sketched in the late 19th Century. Marcus Sherman has led a quiet but determined effort to put information and links about Hamilton on Wikipedia, which I have linked here. I even had a chance to squeeze in a quick motorcycle visit to Pillar Rocks before the tourists came out. Hamilton made some of the earliest sketches of this  natural granite edifice that all good tourists in Kodai visit. It still has some of the finest views of a classic Western Ghats escarpment.

Looking south over the edge of Eagle Cliffs to the Vaigai Dam.

Looking south over the edge of Eagle Cliffs to the Vaigai Dam and Periyakulam. The Highwavy Mountains are on the far side with monsoon clouds blowing over from Kerala. This was once a favorite haunt of Nilgiri tahr and other large mammals.

Pillar Rocks, Palani HIlls (September 2013)

Pillar Rocks, Palani Hills (September 2013)

Pillar Rocks by Douglas Hamilton (mid 19th Century). The angle to get this view is now wooded with non native plantation trees. Sambar deer, meanwhile, are making a comdback int he Palanis after years of poaching decimated their populations.

Pillar Rocks by Douglas Hamilton (mid 19th Century). The angle to get this view is now wooded with non-native plantation trees. Sambar deer, meanwhile, are making a comeback in the Palanis -after years of poaching decimated their populations.

View of the lake and Perumal (September 2013). Hamilton also sketched this in the mid-19th Century (before the lake was made by Henry Levign) but a good digital copy is not yet available as far as know.

View of Mount Perumal and the lake (September 2013). Hamilton also sketched this in the mid-19th Century (before the lake was made by Sir Vere Henry Levinge) but a good digital copy is not yet available, as far as know.

Lower Palani HIlls, after recent rains, looking south. September 2013

Lower Palani Hills, after recent rains, looking south. Taken on the way down the Ghat as I journeyed back to Colombo,September 2013.

For more information on HDR look up Cambridge in Colours’s site, Adobe’s page and the Luminous Landscape (2012). There are also several Photoshop Plugins that help you with your HDR work flow. I have used Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro for most of the images here.

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2013-09-25 at 5:05 pm

Taking The Plunge in the IB Diploma

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OSC's Class of 2015 IB Orientation...a collage of activities

OSC’s Class of 2015 IB Orientation…a collage of activities

“I have always thirsted for knowledge, I have always been full of questions.”

― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Every August in the midst of the South West Monsoon new batches of students enter OSC’s IB Diploma Program. We are a relatively small school and usually have cohorts around 30-35 students from a dozen or more countries. For the next 18 months these young women and men will undertake a series of academic, extra-curricular and personal challenges. There are significant peaks and troughs and the exercise culminates in rigorous exams that are assessed alongside thousands of other students worldwide. In addition to six subjects divided between three higher level and three standard levels subjects, they write an extended essay, participate in the Theory of Knowledge class and take part in the Creativity Action and Service (CAS) program. For many the goal is university entrance but there are basic skills in being a human being in an increasingly interconnected, sometimes perplexing world that are just as important. It is a daunting challenge for even the most organized, brightest and/or hardest working individuals and yet our students do amazingly well. In order to prepare them for this exceptional learning experience, we conduct an orientation program that emphasizes team building, leadership and experiential education using the outdoors. The program is facilitated by Borderlands Sri Lanka at their Kitulgala base camp. The idea is to give OSC’s students a sense of the DP, highlight a few keys components and help them to take the plunge both metaphorically and in the flesh!

Much of the program involves physical challenges set in the wet, densely forested Kelani River valley. The river, originating on the slopes of Sri Pada, runs through the small town of Kitulgala located about 100 km due east of Colombo. Water and the river play a key role as students and teachers raft and canyon their way into the camp on the first day. The team at Borderlands has an impeccable safety record and time is taken to emphasize safety in the different spheres of the challenge. Some of the students have been here on past school trips or with their parents but a few came with limited swimming skills and were nervous about the challenge. We rafted through a series of rapids, took time to play in the river and then made our way through a gorge (“the Canyon”). By the end of the first day the team was exhausted, but exhilarated from the river and canyon. We took time to reflect on the day both as a group and individually. This is where CAS came in and the four step learning cycle (plan, act, observe, reflect) was emphasized.

OSC's Class of 2015 Rafting the Kelani River.

OSC’s Class of 2015 Rafting the Kelani River.

Abseiling in heavy afternoon rain. Borderlands instructors Mahesh and Nirmal guiding OSC students over the edge.

Abseiling in heavy afternoon rain. Borderlands instructors Mahesh and Nirmal guiding OSC students over the edge.

Learning to think  about knowledge in Belilena Cave.

Learning to think about knowledge in Belilena Cave.

The Theory of Knowledge component of the orientation program is set in the historical Belilena Cave located amongst rubber plantations above Kitulgala. This is a significant Sri Lankan archeological site and is thought to be one of the oldest locations showing evidence of early Homo sapiens in all of South Asia (estimates range from 12,000 to 30,000 years before present)! The setting is sublime to say the least and the echoes of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave ring loud in this setting (a link pointed out by OSC’s mathematics HOD and philosophy junkie last year). The students were invited to think about knowledge and test their senses as they grappled with a series of cognitive challenges. In the second part of the afternoon the tasks were much more physical and the class hiked up to a 100 meter waterfall to be tested in a slippery abseil in an intense downpour.  The sense of accomplishment and elation at the end of this was palatable.

Waterfall on Belilena Cave with OSC students exploring the meaning of knowledge on a monsoon soaked day (taken on IB Orientation 2012).

Waterfall on Belilena Cave with OSC students exploring the meaning of knowledge on a monsoon soaked day (taken on IB Orientation 2012).

Top of "the Canyon"...taking the plunge.

Top of “the Canyon”…taking the plunge.

Making our way through "the Canyon"...falling the stream over a series of falls, pools and gorges.

Making our way through “the Canyon”…following the stream over a series of falls and through pools and gorges (note the Impatiens sp. on the wall!).

Lower canyon

Lower canyon…almost finished.

On our final day we explored ideas of community in the changing landscape. Students broke into small teams to meet a cross section of local inhabitants and talk to them about their memories, experiences and dreams of the river. This is a new initiative and will hopefully lay the ground work for follow up work when subsequent OSC classes return here. We returned to Colombo exhausted, slightly bloodied by leeches but exhilarated by the experiences of taking the plunge into the IB Diploma Program.

OSC's Class of 2015 and a few of their teachers at a brea while rafting down the Kelani River on Day 1

OSC’s Class of 2015 and a few of their teachers at a break while rafting down the Kelani River on Day 1

Written by ianlockwood

2013-09-10 at 5:48 pm