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ANCIENT SICILY SNOW LEOPARDS DIWALI PUSHKAR CAMEL FAIR KEYS TO GREAT TRAVEL

E-MAG NO.4


Contact Lucia today to plan your next adventure lc@nomadssecrets.com www.nomadssecrets.com 1300 670 000 (Australia) +61 (1) 400 741 930 (Worldwide) 1 888 408 2480 (USA and Canada) 2


contents

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I Witness Singular views from around the world

14 Cover: Palermo, Sicily – Interior of the baroque church of San Giuseppe dei Teatini

Sicily – there are many good reasons to plan a visit

Fellow Traveller is a periodic eMag published by Nomads Secrets and dedicated to the Art of Exploration

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Founder Editor Design Photography

E-MAG NO.4

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Keys to great travel experiences

Lucia O’Connell Tony Sernack John Harber Tony Sernack

E-MAG NO.4

The Unique Pushkar Camel Fair

Diwali, Festival of Lights

The Ghost of the Mountains – tracking the snow leopard

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Wildlife Photography Tips

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Local Delights Havana 3


Fellow Traveller

Travelling with Nomads Secrets

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We create highly customised trips and meticulously planned itineraries that reveal the world through the eyes of our local and trusted experts. You will experience the true essence and very best of the places you visit. Great trips require an adequate budget and time to plan so that your desires are fulfilled. We will do everything we can to ensure your journey becomes an enduring memory. This is Nomads Secrets’ pledge to you.


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n the last edition we ventured to the beautiful and exotic island of Sri Lanka. In this Fellow Traveller we travel to another island, equally rich in history and culture; Sicily. There are plenty of good reasons to plan your next holiday in Sicily, not the least being some of the best-preserved archeological sites anywhere. We recently organised a comprehensive trip to Sicily for a couple that travel regularly and particularly recommended they take time to see the floor mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale. They were blown away. People flock to Pompei but this site in southern Sicily is extraordinary and gives you a real understanding of how wealthy Romans lived. Amongst other delights Sicilian cuisine and wines make travelling around the island particularly enjoyable. Every year camel and livestock traders as well as pilgrims, mystics, magicians and musicians congregate in Pushkar, a desert town in Rajasthan, northern India. I found the experience mesmerizing. It is like being in a movie set in the Northern Frontier a century ago (although all the wiry traders nowadays have mobile phones!). It is one of those unique experiences that anyone travelling to India should try and incorporate into a trip. There is luxury accommodation, but it is essential to plan well ahead.

Still on the subcontinent, there is a story about Tashi, my wonderful guide in far-flung Ladakh in the Himalayas. He has long worked for the conservation of the snow leopard, an elusive and endangered cat that lives high in the mountains of Central Asia. Tashi has worked closely with NatGeo big cat photographer Steve Winter in tracking and documenting these beautiful animals whose very survival depends on the tolerance and education of local herdsmen. We are currently upgrading the Nomads Secrets website to better reflect how we work and what we do. Nomads Secrets isn’t an agency. We are not about selling pre-packaged tours or directing clients to hotels where we have some sort of commercial relationship. Nomads Secrets is entirely about you, our client. Understanding what interests you and using our knowledge, access to local experts and meticulous organisation and planning to ensure that you experience a trip of a lifetime. I have included a short piece about six vital ingredients for any great journey. If they resonate with you, we would love to talk to you about your next adventure. I hope you enjoy this edition of Fellow Traveller and discover new possibilities for future travel. Best wishes Lucia O’Connell

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6 keys to

a great travel experience

People “Our response to the world is moulded by the company we keep� Being guided and meeting knowledgeable people makes the difference between a mediocre and a wonderful experience.

Culture We believe the best way to understand a society is through experiencing the manifestations of its culture.

History We are passionate about discovering and exploring local history as we travel. It gives us a greater understanding of who we are and where we came from as citizens of the global village.

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Nature The natural world can be overwhelming and humbling. Nothing compares to actually being there and feeling the powerful emotions it arouses in us.

Food Good food (and wine) is paramount. We remember great meals, new cuisines, tastes and flavours long after the event. We know just where you should dine to make your adventure complete.

Relaxation Seasoned travellers know that rest and relaxation are essential to a wellbalanced trip. And the best form of relaxation is doing what you like best. We are always mindful of giving you ways to relax and help you unwind. Great accommodation is just the start. 7


i WITNESS ISTANBUL – Sultan Ahmed Mosque Better known as the Blue Mosque, this impressive building was constructed between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I. The interior is lined with more than 20,000 handmade tiles in fifty different tulip designs. The tiles at lower levels are traditional in design becoming more flamboyant higher up. The upper levels of the interior are dominated by blue paint. Stained glass windows admit natural light, augmented by massive chandeliers.

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The Mosque has five main domes, six minarets and eight secondary domes. According to folklore, the architect misheard the Sultan’s request for “altın minareler” (gold minarets) as “altı minare” (six minarets), at that time a unique feature of the mosque of the Ka’aba in Mecca. When criticised for his presumption, the Sultan ordered a seventh minaret to be built at Mecca.


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i WITNESS

LOUISIANA – Oak Alley On the west bank of the Mississippi River, Oak Alley Plantation is so named for obvious reasons. The trees planted in the early 18th century form a canopied path (or allée in French) from the river to the house. Originally called Bon Sejour, the property grew sugarcane and was owned by one of the wealthiest men of the South, Valcour Aime. The current mansion was built in the 1830s after Aime exchanged the property for one owned by his brother-in-law.

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Nearby there is another and older sugar plantation, Laura, with a large Creole style house built in 1804. The complex includes the original slave quarters and is listed on the US National Register of Historic Places. It is said this was where the Br’er Rabbit stories were first documented.


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i WITNESS

VENICE – Scuola Grande di San Rocco Waiting in the Sala Terra of the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice under Tintoretto’s Massacre of the Innocents. In 1564 the painter was commissioned to provide paintings for the building that had taken most of the earlier part of the century to complete. Tintoretto, with his son Domenico and assistants, finished the work 23 years later. The lower level (Sala Terra) is devoted to the life of the Virgin Mary, while the upper level (Sala Superiore) combines stories from the Old Testament on the ceiling and New Testament on the walls.

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Mirrors are supplied to best view the ceiling without straining your neck!


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Ancient

Sicily There are many good reasons to plan a holiday in Sicily. 14


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#1 The food is fantastic.

Wonderful seafood, fresh vegetables and delicious flavorsome fruit ripened under the Sicilian sun. Restaurants serve local delicacies with great local wines to match.

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#2 Sicily is, of course, an island.

There is around 1000km of coastline with crystal blue green water and some great places to swim. Overall it is relatively small and certainly very manageable to get around by car. You are never that far from anywhere.

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#3 The countryside.

Away from the coast there is a variety of topography. Rolling hills in the west covered by vineyards, plains in the centre (in Roman times, Italy’s granary) and mountainous regions in the northeast. And Etna, a 3323m high active volcano.

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#4 The Churches.

There are some unbelievably ornate baroque churches across the island. Palermo is full of them! And if you travel in September you will inevitably walk into a wedding ceremony in every one.

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On top of these attractions it is the ancient sites of Sicily that are really extraordinary.

Some of the best-preserved Greek temples anywhere (including Greece) can be found in Sicily.


Selinute

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UTSIDE Agrigento in the south there is the large site that once was the Greek city of Akragas, built in the 6th century BC. The area also includes Roman ruins from the 4th and 5th centuries AD. Here the Greek Temple of Concord stands much as it did two and a half thousand years ago. In the north west of the island is Segesta, with its Doric temple and ancient theatre from the 5th and 4th centuries BC set in the hills.

At Selinute, overlooking the sea in the southwest, are the ruins of a 7th century BC Greek settlement. While not is as good condition, these temples are enormous and one can easily imagine how grand this city must have been. On the east coast there is the large and impressive amphitheatre at Syracusa and the 3rd century Greek theatre at Taormina, used for summer performances today and looking out to the sea and Mt Etna.

Agrigento

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ND for a look at how wealthy Romans lived, the Villa Romana del Casale at Piazza

Armerina is a must! The mosaics are nothing short of sensational and probably the best-preserved and largest collection of ancient Roman floors anywhere. They include the famous and unusual ‘bikini girls’.

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Actually a rare depiction of women participating in athletic events and showing the winner receiving a crown. (Our guide did suggest that the ‘gymnasium’ was also a place for other pleasurable pursuits for the Lord of the Villa and that the famous mosaic may have another meaning). If you love the Italian lifestyle, Sicily has so much to offer in an easy-to-navigate space. Make sure you pick your time because it is very hot in the summer.


Piazza Armerina


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UNIQUE EXPERIENCE At the time of the Kartik Purnima full moon, camel and livestock traders, pilgrims and tourists descend on the small desert town of Pushkar in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Pushkar is located near Ajmer, on the edge of the Thar Desert. 25


The camel traders bring thousands of camels and other livestock to the fair, often travelling for many weeks.

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ELD over 7 days in late October early November, the Pushkar camel fair or Pushkar ka Mela is an extraordinary experience for the senses. Large numbers of camels are brought to the fair to be sold and traded. The cameleers, tough wiry desert men, set up camp in the dunes outside the town and tend their animals. Most of the trading occurs in the early part of the fair with camels and livestock arriving a few days before the official start.

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URING the second half, religious activities dominate. Pushkar is one of the five sacred dhams (pilgrimage sites) for devout Hindus. Pilgrims immerse themselves in the sacred waters of Pushkar’s central Sarovar lake which devotees believe can bestow salvation by washing away sins of a lifetime. Pushkar has one of the few temples of Brahma in the world. Legend has it that the Lord Brahma was in search of a suitable place to perform a fire sacrifice (a Yagna) and while in contemplation, a lotus fell from his hand and where it touched the earth, water spouted forth. Beyond the colourful tribesmen and their brightly adorned women, this huge event attracts dancers, musicians, snake charmers, magicians, gurus and purveyors of all sorts of goods. It even has Ferris wheels and a funfair.

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RAJESH When we were wandering around the fair grounds, we were approached by this little boy, Rajesh. He spoke excellent English and offered to guide us. Naturally my first thought was he wanted money but not so. He just wanted to improve his English and had real pride to tell us about the camels, the herdsmen and his home-town. He happily talked to the tribesmen and translated our questions. We even learnt a little of what makes a good camel! Rajesh told us he lived in poor conditions four kilometres outside Pushkar with his mother and brother, his father having died. Later we invited him to join us for lunch in town. He was initially reluctant and didn’t want to be seen to take any advantage. He ordered modestly telling us he wasn’t used to eating much so didn’t want to get sick. The head waiter clearly was wary of the boy and his intentions but later agreed Rajesh was what we saw, a really delightful 10-year old determined to try to get an education and do better in his world. Lucia O’Connell. I hope these photographs give some idea of the festival and perhaps provide the incentive to experience this unique and extraordinary event first hand. The best luxury accommodation is taken up well in advance. If you are interested in being at the Pushkar
Fair in 2017 as part of a bespoke visit to the very best of India, please contact us as soon as possible. 33


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Festival of Lights

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IWALI, the biggest festival on the Indian calendar is celebrated worldwide by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. However today all Indians enjoy the festival much as the western world embrace Christmas. Diwali or Deepavali falls on the thirteenth lunar day of Krishna Paksha of the Hindu calendar month of Ashwin each year, however the celebrations run the week leading up to the holiday and beyond. Known as the Festival of Lights, it marks the triumph of good over evil, recounting the story of Lord Rama and his wife Sita, who returned to the city of Ayodhya after 14 years in exile. Lord Rama defeats the evil 10-headed King Ravana of Lanka and rescues Sita, whom Ravana had kidnapped. According to legend, Lord Rama’s devotees filled the city with flowers and lit rows of clay lamps to welcome him and Sita back. The word Deepavali means ‘row of lights’ in Sandskrit. Today the festival is celebrated with fireworks, candles and houses freshly cleaned and painted. Doorways are adorned with rangoli, vibrant patterns of coloured rice and powder, families exchange gifts and give out sweets. Lamps and lights expel darkness in every room and ensure prosperity can find its way to the home and the lives of the inhabitants. On the night of Deepavali, a puja for Lord Ganesha and the Goddess Lakshmi is performed to invoke their blessings for health, wealth, prosperity and happiness.

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Deepawali also has a deeper significance to Jains as on this special day, Lord Mahavira, the last of the Jain Tirthankara (an omniscient Teaching God who preaches the dharma or righteous path) of this era, reached Nirvana at Pavapuri. In Newar Buddhism as well, Diwali has relevance as the Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism on this occasion. Diwali has just passed for 2016 however if you are planning a trip to India then being there during Diwali will greatly enrich your experience. It is also a good

time of the year to visit, after the monsoon and when the weather is generally excellent. In 2017 Diwali falls on October 19. Why not start your exploration of incredible India experiencing this joyous festival and take in the Pushkar Fair towards the end of your trip (October 28 through November 4). The best accommodation goes quickly so you need to start planning now.

Contact: Lucia at

lc@nomadsecrets.com

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Contact Lucia today to plan your next adventure lc@nomadssecrets.com www.nomadssecrets.com 1300 670 000 (Australia) +61 (1) 400 741 930 (Worldwide) 1 888 408 2480 (USA and Canada) 38


NURTURE YOUR SOUL Deepen your experience with the

benefit of a meticulously planned

and well-constructed journey allowing time to feel, absorb, and put life into perspective

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SEEKING

THE GHOST

OF THE

MOUNTAINS The story of a snow leopard tracker • By Lucia O’Connell

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I first met Tashi in October 2013. He had come with a high recommendation from National Geographic photographer Bob Madden, a friend of mine with whom I have worked with for Nomads Secrets trips to China and Tanzania. Bob told me Tashi had guided his colleague, wildlife photographer Steve Winter in 2007 on his quest to capture images of the elusive snow leopard. So as I was planning a trip to the remote Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh in far North India, I immediately got in touch with Tashi. I spent three weeks with him exploring this rugged and starkly beautiful world of tiny Buddhist monasteries, soaring peaks and cobalt-blue lakes, seeing incredible places very few people venture. My main interest was to learn and explore the world where snow leopards roam and find out how easy or difficult it is to see them in their natural habitat. I flew to Leh, Ladakh’s main town at the end of summer from New Delhi. The flight itself was a great experience. As we left the haze of the Indian plains, we flew due north over the precursors of the Himalayan range still covered in snow with some of their peaks poking out above the clouds. As we started our descent the captain’s voice drew our attention to the shimmering river below - the Indus. The last time I had seen it was while travelling through Pakistan. I was in my early 20s on an epic overland trip from Cairo to Kathmandu. We were crossing the Pakistani plains and were struck by the river’s vastness and power. Now here it was, far below and very different from what I remembered. Much closer to its source, the Indus is slender and unassuming, however for me hearing its name still held a sense of magic. Tashi’s smiling face met me in the airport’s arrival hall. He greeted with: “Welcome to Leh, ma’am, please take it easy as many people faint upon arrival due to the high altitude!” Leh lies at 3,520m/11,548ft above sea level and it is important to spend time acclimatising, exerting little and drinking copious cups of tea to give the body time to adjust. Tashi and I decided to get straight to work. I took out 42

the itinerary sketched out in the months before my arrival and we mapped out in detail where he was going to take me and what I was going to experience. First we would travel across the region to get a feel for the land, its people and their way of life. Ladakh shares its borders with China in the East and Pakistan in the North and West. It is a predominantly Tibetan Buddhist country, where Muslim and Hindu communities coexist in apparent harmony under the watchful eye of the Indian military constantly patrolling the boarder areas. Despite its elevation and difficult lunar-like terrain, the roads are well maintained to ensure quick transit for the army. The airport too is always operational even in the harshest months of the year to allow supplies to be despatched where needed. Unlike Kashmir there have been no political disturbances and the military acts as a deterrent to foreign incursion. Personally being in this frontier land added to the thrill of my adventure. For the first two weeks we criss-crossed the country visiting remote monasteries and nunneries, abandoned royal palaces and watching polo matches in unlikely places. We went rafting on the Indus and tasted some of the most delicious apricots in the world. We also visited the residences of the Dalai Lama. Ladakh holds a special place in His Holiness’s heart. It is the last stronghold of pure Tibetan Buddhism since the invasion of Tibet by China. Moreover the Dalia Lama’s younger brother was the most senior Rinpoche (Religious Teacher) living in Ladakh before he left his religious life in favour of marriage and a lay existence. My visit coincided with Eid al-Fitr, the celebrations that mark the end of Ramadan. This feast and religious festival also marks the return of livestock from the high pastures. At this time herdsmen repair their stables to protect their animals from wolves and snow leopards. The Ladakhi people are busy drying food and stocking up their larders to last them through the unforgiving winter months.


Snow leopards are the least studied of the big cats because of their shy and elusive behaviour

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In my last 10 days in Ladakh, I was ready to tackle the areas where snow leopards roam. By this time Tashi and I had become good friends and shared many stories. We started by staying with villagers, listening to their tales of encounters with the “Ghosts of the Mountains”, then we climbed further into Hemis National Park to set up our basecamp. Each day we set out on treks through the valleys and across ridges following known routes used by snow leopards. I was aware that on this trip we wouldn’t see them. as it was too early in the season. For my first trip I was just happy to be on reconnaissance.

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It is in winter when most of the local people live in a state of semi hibernation, spending time mainly indoors, weaving and knitting, nursing their children and making garments to sell at the markets later in the year, that Tashi and other trackers get out in search of snow leopards.

I wanted to know how Tashi became a tracker. He told me that snow leopards have always been in his life but he never expected to be so fortunate to work with leading scientists to help protect them and save them from extinction. Born in a small village in the Zanskar Valley in western Ladakh in 1978, Tashi’s family struggled to protect their sheep, goats and yaks from wolves and snow leopards attacks during the bleakest days of winter. For his parents predatory animals were a menace reducing their wealth and their hope to make a living to raise and educate their children. Despite their tough life Tashi’s family managed to rustle up enough money to send him to university to give him the opportunity of a life away from the difficulties of farming. He left his parents’ pastoral world, studied at the University of Jammu and Kashmir and later found work


in Leh for a local courier company. An office and computer screens became his new world until a chance encounter changed his life forever. Tashi noticed that a customer came to his office on a regular basis to ship parcels to a Dr. Rodney Jackson in the USA, the address label further read ‘Snow Leopard Conservancy USA’. The sender was Rinchen Wangchuk, the Founder-Director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust. Tashi and Rinchen got talking about the project and its aims. After a while Tashi gathered the courage to ask Rinchen whether he may have a job for him. Impressed by the young man’s enthusiasm and knowledge of the mountains, Rinchen invited Tashi for an interview with Dr. Jackson one of the world’s pre-eminent authorities in snow leopard research and a co-promoter of the centre. The successful encounter landed Tashi a job in 2003.

a rugged and starkly beautiful world of tiny Buddhist monasteries, soaring peaks and cobalt-blue lakes….

For the next eight years Tashi learned to partner with the local communities in the areas where snow leopards were sighted to learn about their movements. He developed his skills as a tracker and mountain guide as he recorded details of the cats’ behaviour. Under the leadership of Rinchen Wangchuk and the auspices of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tashi helped educate locals to see apex predators as part of the ecosystem and worthy of protection. Sadly Rinchen died in 2011 after a battle with ALS (commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease). He was just 42. Among the international wildlife conservation community and beyond, Rinchen was renowned for his incredible lifetime contribution in studying and saving snow leopards. Tashi’s skills became well recognised and he was recruited to assist National Geographic photographer Steve Winter in his quest to capture these magnificent cats using a combination of live shots and strategicallylocated camera traps. In 2008 Steve won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award organised by Natural History of London and BBC Wildlife Magazine with a shot of a snow leopard at night during a snowstorm. When asked what was the most exciting thing that happen to him on the snow leopard trip Steve replied: “I was most excited that I survived! The location was like being on the moon – as a jungle guy it was a real switch to sleep at -40 degrees! …. We also saw two snow leopards in the first 24 hours, and then only one more for the next 7 months! But with remote cameras, I do

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not care if I see the cat as long as my cameras do�. Tashi was part of the team that helped Steve set up his cameras and then to monitor their performance regularly and retrieve the images. Steve’s words give some idea of the task of tracking and monitoring these solitary animals. They roam an area of approximately 3 million square kms across twelve Central and South East Asian countries. Population estimates vary widely between 4,500 and 8,500 individuals with up to 600 living in India on the Hindu Kush. Endangered and on the Red List of threatened species (from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature), there may be only 2,500 individuals capable of reproduction left in the wild. Snow leopards are the least studied of the big cats because of their shy and elusive

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behaviour, their camouflage and particularly the hard-toreach terrain in which they live. They roam at altitudes of up to 5,500m in summer and 3,500 to 4,000m in winter when they descend in search of easier prey like domestic livestock as their favourite food; Ibex, Blue Sheep and Argali (a large horned sheep) become harder to catch. Tashi recently told me that he is worried because across their habitat, snow leopard numbers are declining at a fast rate through Illegal poaching for their thick furs, especially in Russia and China and continued retaliation by farmers for attacks on their livestock outside Ladakh. In the latest report (October 2016) by Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, it was estimated that between 200 and 450 animals continue to be killed every year across their entire range. While Tashi left the Conservancy 5 years ago, he continues to dedicate himself to educate and train other mountain guides and local communities in

the protection and preservation of the species. By continuing the work of his mentor Rinchen Wangchuk, Tashi aims to show his countrymen that wildlife protection can deliver monetary advantages. He also spends time with villagers helping them proof their corrals against attacks, encouraging them to provide homestay accommodation for foreign visitors eager to learn about Ladakhi life and so find other sustainable sources of income. Tashi has guided world-renowned photographers and researchers as well as willing adventurers prepared to brace the unforgiving temperatures of the Himalayas during the late winter months to have the very special opportunity to see the “Ghost of the Mountains�. For my part I have gained a good friend and a great expert who has helped deepen my awareness and knowledge about snow leopards and their predicament. It is vital for all of us to do what we can to preserve what is rare and beautiful in our world.

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Some Snow Leopard Facts • Smaller than the other big cats, they weigh up to 50kg and their stocky bodies are 90-125cm long and their tails almost as long (80-105cm) • They can leap up to 7 times their body length and bring down prey three times their own weight • Their wide fur-covered feet act as natural snowshoes • Cubs (usually 2 or 3) are born in early summer and are blind until they are 9 days old. Like other bigger cats they stay with their mother until they are 2 years old. • But unlike their cousin the tiger, they can’t roar!

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there may be only 2,500 individuals capable of reproduction left in the wild.

Photographs by Sylvain Brajeul Tim Dellmann Dritiman Mukerji Steve Winter

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Contact Lucia today to plan your next adventure lc@nomadssecrets.com www.nomadssecrets.com 1300 670 000 (Australia) +61 (1) 400 741 930 (Worldwide) 1 888 408 2480 (USA and Canada) 50


MEET NEW COMUNITIES At the core of every journey

are the people you meet.

Understanding their lives,

traditions and values gives us

a better appreation of our world. Travelling with

Nomads Secrets is more than seeing extraordinary places. It is about connecting

with our human diversity.

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Travel Photography Bring them back Alive...

A good guide will spot things you would otherwise miss although this owl’s nest was well known. A better image for its rule of thirds composition and selective focus.

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S

O you are going on safari to Africa or planning to visit the wild areas of Sri Lanka or India or want to capture the beauty of the birdlife in northern Australia. Ideally you want to come home with some trophy images.

We have all been exposed to great wildlife images, in books and magazines (like NatGeo), exhibitions (such as the annual World Wildlife Photography competition), on the net and in documentaries. While logically we recognise that these great images are almost always the result of months and years of patence, persistence and also a deal of luck, we hope that magically we will get something really special on our trip. A couple of years back we did 10 separate safari runs at three of the best tiger spotting national parks in India and the closest we came to a sighting (let along a photo) was some paw prints. I have taken all the right gear to no avail (although I did get some great shots of deer!). My disappointment was amplified when a few months later my daughter went to India and on her first day sent home a great shot from her iPhone of a tigress lying beside the road. Two subsequent trips and I got my tiger but not that magic shot in my minds eye. Whatever your ‘prey’ here are a few tips that might help improve your chances.

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tips to bring home better wildlife pictures... 1.

Have the right gear

If there is one photographic subject that begs the right gear it is wildlife. For most subjects the remark ‘you must have a good camera’ is mildly offensive. Afterall it is your eye, composition and timing that makes a compelling image. Wildlife however is more challenging. Generally you will be in a vehicle and on a track you cannot leave and while your driver will try and get close to the animals, often that is simply not possible. So a telephoto lens is essential. And a digital telephoto (ie one which simply takes the middle out of the frame) is likely to give you a poor result.

Early morning on safari. Look to set the scene.

So ideally you’ll have a digital SLR camera with an telephoto (fixed or zoom) of at least 300mm focal length. The major DSLR brands offer relatively inexpensive wide angle to telephoto zooms that allow you to potentially travel with one lens. And it is useful not to have to change lenses especially in dusty conditions. At the professional end telephotos lenses offer the advantage of bigger apertures and hence the ability to shoot in lower light or at faster speeds but they are large and heavy and travelling with this gear is for the dedicated! Shooting at long focal lengths and trying to capture sometimes fast moving subjects requires using as high a shutterspeed as possible. Generally speaking if you can use 1/1000 of a second or above you will increase your chances of sharp images. A camera body that has great sensor quality at reasonably high ISO settings (say 1000 ISO plus) therefore is a real asset. I find a good monopod invaluable. Not just to give some stability at lower shutterspeeds but also to bear the weight of the camera and lens especially when you may have a long wait ‘at the ready” to get the shot. Monopods are quick to adjust and easy to carry in your luggage. Lastly in many situations you will want to shoot in bursts, either to catch the action or, when light is low, to provide some insurance that at least one image will be sharp. Above all be familiar with your gear and have it set up ready for action. Don’t miss the shot because you are fiddling with the dials.

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Spotted deer are pretty common in India. A group shot is a little more interesting.


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2.

Know your quarry

Having some understanding of the habits of the animals and birds you are trying to photograph will help you anticipate the action and aim your camera accordingly. Birds are particularly challenging subjects. Simply they tend to be easily spooked and small birds in particular move quickly. It is unlikely that you will get close so that telephoto is essential.

Sometimes things happen unexpectedly. Be ready, camera settings done and finger on the shutter.

While shots of individual animals can be majestic, interaction between a animals is often much more interesting. Think of a lioness with her cubs, a warthog family, or a group of meerkats or a flock of flamingo.

3.

Shoot wide and shoot close

Some of the best wildlife shots give a feel for the terrain ie the silhouetted lone bull elephant on the side of the mountain against the red ball of the setting sun. Or perhaps less poetically the procession of wildebeest and zebra across the vastness of the plain. Conversely extreme close up (perhaps just showing part of the animal) can also be very powerful. Look at the details and design, the almost abstract close up of the stripes of the zebra, the eye and teeth of a crocodile or the face of a monkey. Most of the time the animals eyes need to be in the shot and sharp. Whenever you can try and get an animals eye view. Often difficult from a jeep but try low angles (crouch down) especially with a small depth of field.

4.

Seek good light

Early morning and in the later in the afternoon will provide the best light but the disadvantage is that it is not as strong and so you have to watch your shutterspeed/aperture/ISO combination. Portraits of animals in even shade are often the best (try and avoid dappled light) if the animals are cooperative! But also be prepared to break the rules, look for atmospheric shots. Shoot into the sun, use a slower shutter speed and pan a running animal to capture movement, selectively focus an individual animal with a wide open aperture. In short use your creativity.

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Freezing action requires a high shutter speed. Shooting in continuous mode will also help your chances.


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5.

Lastly soak it in and keep patient

There is no greater thrill when all of a sudden a leopard emerges from the undergrowth and moves past you. More often that not all the drivers will be start jockeying for position and sadly a degree of unseemly pandemonium ensues. Everybody is trying to get a photo. Keep cool, keep the animal in focus, squeeze off your shots, basically stick to your game plan. Grab shots with a telephoto lens rarely work. One sharp image beats any number of promising but just slightly blurred shots. While you want that great image remember you are also there to see the wildlife. Sometimes that is best done without trying to make a shot.

When you have the opportunity to take your time, use it to best frame and focus your subject.

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Tony Sernack is a freelance photographer based in Sydney. He work has appeared in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune. His most recent book ‘One Week Before’ documents the new year celebrations in Nepal just a week before the devastating earthquake of April 2015. All proceeds from the sale of the book are going to help the reconstruction of schools. It can be purchased through the Australian Himalayan Foundation.


Usually you won’t be alone with other drivers jockeying for position. Always try and make the best shot and composition of what you have in front of you.

I took this many years ago in the Serengeti on film. The patterns of the zebra’s stripes are stronger in black and white.

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This leopard was spotted in a tree, across a lake and at least 500 metres away. There was no way to get closer but composing using the shape of the tree makes a nice image.

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LOCAL

DELIGHTS Great eating (and drinking) from around the world

La Bodeguita del Medio, Calle Empedrado just west of the cathedral in Old Havana, Cuba Perhaps one of the world’s most famous bar restaurants now copied in cities across the globe. The original started life in 1942 when Angel Martínez bought out the small Bodega La Complaciente and renamed it Casa Martínez. While Martinez served dinners to regulars, people mainly came to drink a new rum concoction called a Mojito, made with mint, sugar, lemon and soda. Casa Martínez soon became the centre for Havana’s bohemian culture, attracting writers, artists, intellectuals and the avante-garde. Today its walls are adorned with memorabilia from its rich history and the signatures of famous and not so famous visitors. The name changed to La Bodeguita del Medio in 1950, taking on the descriptor of one of its first regulars, Felito Ayon a charismatic editor, whose printing shop was nearby. Ayon’s clients used the bar to make phone calls (and enjoy a rum) and he would direct them to “the little bar in the middle” of the block. Amongst the long list of local and international celebrities that have beat a path to this small bar, probably the best known was Ernest Hemingway, who in the 50’s lived in Cuba (battling writers block with a goodly administration of alcohol). Hemingway had lived in Havana before the war, writing For Whom The Bell Tolls in room 511 of the Hotel Ambos Mundos. The room is now kept as a museum. Famously he wrote that La Bodeguita supplied his mojitos and El Floridita, his daiquiris (where you should also visit but not try and replicate Papa’s record feat of 16 double rum daiquiris in a sitting). 62

There are true stories, semi true stories, legend and myth. At La Bodeguita nothing much has changed! It is a must visit place for a must drink Mojito or three. Small, cosy, with live music and rooms at the back serving traditional Cuban fare. Open midday to midnight.

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Fellow Traveller eMag Edition 4  

Specially designed for that enthusiastic band of travellers who like to venture off the beaten track to experience countries and cultures th...

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