Tim Bird Photo Tours
Discover Assam in north-east India
This is a fantastic itinerary, taking in the photographic highlights of little-visited Assam. Intrepid photographers will be rewarded with opportunities to capture images of the changing colours of the world’s largest river island, tribes and local villagers, and Assam’s famous green-terraced tea plantations. You’ll search for Asian water buffaloes, the Indian one-horned rhinoceros and elephants amid the rich biodiversity of Kaziranga National Park.
Festivals are a big part of Indian life, and no visit is really complete without experiencing some cultural or religious celebration. That's why we’ve timed this trip to coincide with Assam’s Bihu Festival. This colourful event celebrates the coming of the Assamese New Year and is a great opportunity to experience, and photograph, the rituals and traditions of beautiful Assam.
India is my photographic passion - full of surprises and visual stimulation, a kind of photo parallel universe. This shot was taken at the Kumbh Mela Hindu festival in Allahabad, held every twelve years and believed to be the biggest single gathering of humanity on the planet. On my Assam tour, the crowds won't be anything like as big, although the local Bihu festival celebrations should be lively enough!
Tour highlights include:
- the colourful Bihu festival celebrations
- the hidden side of Dibrugarh’s temples
- meeting the residents of the world’s largest river island, Majuli
- capturing images of colourful local tribes
- seeking the one-horned rhinoceros in Kaziranga National Park
- sunrise from river boats in Nameri National Park
Light for photography in India is extraordinary, not least in the Golden Hours before and after sunrise and sunset. This village scene is from Bihar in north-eastern India. Assam, the target for our tour, is even further to the east - remote, exotic and brilliantly photogenic!
The tour is planned from April 12 to 24, 2016, starting from Delhi. The package price of GBP 2750 (click here to convert to your currency) includes:
- Nine nights’ hotel accommodation on a twin-share basis, and three nights in eco-camps
- Internal flights – Delhi/Dibrugarh and Guwahati/Delhi
- All ground transportation in air-conditioned vehicles (four passengers per six-seat van in Assam, and four to five passengers in seven-seaters/six to twelve passengers in eighteen-seaters in Delhi)
- Local tour leaders in Delhi and Assam
- 12 breakfasts, 11 lunches and 12 dinners (buffet basis Assam hotels, and dinner in restaurants in Delhi)
- One-litre of water each day, per person
- Sightseeing as detailed in the itinerary
- International flights
- Arrival and departure transfers
- Tips for your guides
- Indian visa (obtain before you go)
- Drinks (apart from water, as above)
- Travel insurance – a quote for travel insurance can be provided by Intrepid
- Video camera tickets (if applicable)
What else do you need to bring? An independent but sociable sense of adventure - and a camera! I recommend a DSLR with lenses at least covering 24mm wide angle to 300mm telephoto (full frame values), or a good quality mirrorless interchangeable system. Try to keep it light but versatile! I will provide more details and advice about what gear to bring directly to signed-up participants. Meanwhile, my eBook - Motion Pictures - a travel photographer's companion - is available on iTunes, on Amazon and Kobo and provides lots of richly illustrated advice and discussion.
This is a unique and unprecedented itinerary, devised especially for its photographic opportunities and the kind of visual stimulation that photo enthusiasts yearn for. We're aiming for a group comprising 8 enthusiasts ready to relish the cultural jolts and surprises of travelling in India and seeking the photography adventure of a lifetime.
I'll be offering advice and encouragement along the way, and we'll have the chance to compare notes with informal evening workshops - if we can tear ourselves away from shooting, that is!
Day 1 Arrive in Delhi (12th April)
Depending on your arrival time, there maybe the opportunity to look around India's busy and chaotic capital with historical sites from different eras, museums and galleries, shops and endless bazaars!
Overnight: Royal Plaza http://www.hoteltheroyalplaza.com/ (1 night) - D
Days 2-3 Dibrugarh (13th & 14th April)
Fly to Dibrugarh. Over the next two days, we’ll explore the area, providing opportunities to photograph the temples of Dibrugarh, tribes and traditional houses of local villages and river wildlife.
Upon arrival, we’ll take a trip to Maguri Beel (about 60kms/90 minutes from Dibrugarh), exploring by non-motorised boats. Maguri Beel is a wetland located just outside Dibru Saikhowa National Park. ‘Beel’ is the local name for a lake with marshy areas at the edges – it’s connected to the Dibru River by different channels and is rich in aquatic life, including plants, insects, fish and snails.
Birdlife is also abundant, including ducks, different types of wagtail, jacanas, pied harrier and Asian openbill stork. You’ll hopefully be able to take fantastic photos of the wildlife because the use of a non-motorised boat will allow you to get closer. The area is also used for fishing, which provides a good opportunity to take pictures of the locals going about their daily routine.
We’ll also take you to photograph the vibrant green terraces of Assam’s famous plantations, where you can take some interesting pictures of local workers tending the tea.
On your second day, we visit Namphake Village (about 70kms/two hours from Dibrugarh). Namphake village dates from 1850 AD and is home to the Phakiyal (Tai Phake) tribe. While exceptionally small in number (there are only about 600 members), they have maintained their values, identity and century-old traditions, and are characterised by distinctive and colourful dress. Assam is renowned for its diverse cultures and this tribe is just one of the many reasons why.
The Tai Phake community worships Lord Buddha and there’s a sprawling Buddhist monastery at the heart of the village. This awe-inspiring Tai-Buddhist religious citadel includes several stupendous monuments, including a Buddhist Pagoda with a pyramidal tower, symbolic Ashoka pillar, stilt house and water tank, which depicts the belief that king serpent Mucalinda came from underground to protect Lord Buddha from a prodigious rain. You’ll be shown how to get some unique photographs of the monuments from many different angles. Finally, you’ll see the famous Bell Temple of Duliajan and learn all about its strange myths.
- Namphake village & Duliajan bell temple
- Maguri Beel boat tour
- Tea plantation visit
Days 4-5 Sivasagar (15th & 16th April)
Drive to Sivasagar (80 kms/two hours).
Sivasagar was once the capital of the Ahom Kings. The Siva Temple, built by the Ahoms, is believed to be the tallest of all existing Hindu temples, and the ruins of the Ahom palaces and monuments dot the historic centre. The Rang Ghar amphitheatre is one of the best-preserved. During our time in Sivasagar, we will have time to photograph the rich colour and activity of the Bihu festival. The Bihu festival is celebrated throughout Assam, and will provide ample opportunity to take fantastic photographs of the local people celebrating in true Assamese style!
- Sivasagar city tour
Days 6-7 Majuli Island (17th & 18th April)
On day six, you’ll make the journey to the beautiful island of Majuli, first by road (about two hours) and then a 90-minute ferry journey.
Located in the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra River, the island is the world’s largest river island with a population of 160,000 (mostly tribal) people. The island is a bio-diversity hotspot and has a rich ecology with rare flora and fauna. Over the years, the island people have learnt to work with the forces of nature which work against them to preserve a living culture; each monsoon much of the island disappears under water.
A highlight of our visit will be exploring Majuli’s satras (monasteries and art centres). There are 22 and we will visit four. Here, monks preserve their spiritual and cultural heritage under the neo-Vaishnavite philosophy. Majuli is the cradle of the Mishing and Deori tribes, and you’ll have the opportunity to mix with, and photograph, the local people as they go about their activities, such as weaving. In the evening, you can relax by a bonfire and enjoy a cultural performance from the villagers which, with expert tuition on-hand, will provide interesting opportunities for unique images.
- Satra and village visits
- Cultural show
Days 8-9 Kaziranga National Park (19th & 20th April)
It takes around four hours to travel to Kaziranga NP.
In the heart of Assam on the south bank of the Brahmaputra River and covering an area of 430 sq kms, lies Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a dazzling mosaic of dense rainforest, tall elephant grass and swathes of reeds interspersed with vast tracts of marshes and shallow pools. A number of impressive wildlife species inhabit the area, including the world’s largest population of one-horned rhinoceroses. It’s also home to tigers, elephants, deer and one of the last populations of wild Asian water buffaloes. The park is also a haven for the greater adjutant stork, and many, many different bird species.
To gain the best opportunity for wildlife photography, we’ve included jeep safaris in different areas of the park accompanied so you can make the most of your time here. The pace of the safaris will be in tune with the group’s needs to take good wildlife images. There’ll also be the chance to learn about capturing different perspectives of your natural surroundings on camera.
- Jeep safaris x 2
Day 10 Nameri National Park (21st April)
After breakfast, drive to Nameri (140kms/three hours). Cross the mighty Brahmaputra River, stopping to look for the Ganges River Dolphin, ‘Susu’. It’s a scenic drive to Nameri, and you’ll be treated to distant views of the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh as you approach the park.
Nameri is a picturesque park, crossed by the Jia-Bhoroli River, and home to many different wildlife species, including tigers, leopards, Himalayan black bear, elephants, dhole (Asiatic wild dog), sambar, barking and hog deer, slow loris and sloth. It’s also a bird-watchers’ paradise.
After lunch, we’ll take a guided walk of the park, with an armed guard, to gain a different view of photographing a wild landscape.
- Walking safari
Day 11 Guwahati (22nd April)
After an early morning cup of tea, travel to the boat embankment point for your gentle river journey. We’ll be travelling in rubber dinghies, oared by expert tribal boatmen, at a leisurely pace. The idea is to give ample opportunity to get fantastic shots of a scenic sunrise, as you bump gently down the crystal-clear waters of the river with the snow-clad peaks of the mountains looming over the Nameri jungle. After your river journey, travel to Guwahati (240kms/five hours).
- River trip
Day 12 Delhi (23rd April)
Visit the Kamakhya Temple, a Hindu temple with a unique shape; a hemispherical dome on a cruciform base, before transferring to the airport for your flight to Delhi. Today also presents the opportunity to photograph colourful Sadhus (Indian saints) dressed in orange robes, and with long, grey beards.
- Kamakhya Temple
Day 13 Tour ends (24th April)
Your tour ends in Delhi today. (B)