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Two Astrophotographers Reveal Their Favourite Spots For Stargazing in India

Sky full of stars.

14/09/2016 4:14 PM IST | Updated 16/09/2016 3:13 PM IST
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Ajay Talwar
Nearly a complete night (about 8 hours) of Indian Himalayas is captured in this polar star trail image looking toward the north celestial pole. In the foreground the High Altitude Gamma Ray Telescope Array, located at an altitude of 4270 metres near Hanle in Ladakh.

There's something quite magical about a star-studded night sky. While dust, light and air pollution make it difficult to find a clear night sky in most Indian cities, there are some spots around the country with offer stellar views of the universe surrounding us.

We asked two well-known astrophotographers to reveal the best places in India for stargazing and share some of their most memorable photographs with us. Ajay Talwar and Navaneeth Unnikrishnan have been travelling across India to take photographs of the universe from different parts of the country.

"It all depends on the proximity of the regions to towns, cities and industries which emit a lot of light," says Unnikrishnan, whose love affair with astrophotography started in 2013 when he saw and shot the Milky Way from his backyard in Kerala. This inspired him to hone his skills through e-books, video tutorials and experiments.

Ajay Talwar, who has been pursuing deep space photography for the last 30 years, says that his night photographs can take anywhere from 15 seconds to the entire night. "Astrophotography requires clear blue skies free of dust and ambient light. Although you can shoot bright planets and the moon from cities, but stars are difficult." While Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand remain his favourites for stargazing, Talwar also says that Jaisalmer, the Great Rann of Kutch, Alwar, Sariska and the Western Ghats have good views.

Ladakh

Situated at an altitude of 4,500 metres, Hanle is home to the Indian Astronomical Observatory, which has the second-highest optical telescope in the world.

Navneeth Unnikrishnan
A view of the Milky Way from the Indian Astronomical Observatory at Hanle.

"Out of all the places that I have been to for astrophotography, I like Hanle and Pangong the best. When you photograph the night skies from Hanle, practically half the atmosphere is below you," Talwar said. "The air is so dry and clear that the brightness of the Milky Way is spectacular."

Ajay Talwar
The near mountains on the left of Pangong Lake are in India and the far mountains in the middle of the image are in China.

Ranikhet

Situated near Ranikhet, the hamlet of Majhkhali has unparalleled views of the Nanda Devi mountain on the horizon. It is also the location for Talwar's bi-annual astrophotography workshop called Sky Photo Trip, where participants are provided equipment to shoot night landscapes, star trails, time lapse movies and planetary photographs.

Ajay Talwar
Star trails over the Nanda Devi mountain.

Nainital, Uttarakhand

"To get a reasonably dark sky, you need to trek up the Naini Peak," Talwar said. "Sitting on the cliff, you can see the entire town, the lake, the surrounding hills and plains. After the monsoon, you can also see the bright Milky Way core of Sagittarius in all its glory."

Ajay Talwar
The classic view of the Naini Lake as seen from the vantage point of Naina Peak, with star trails of the south arch seen over the town.

Narkanda, Himachal Pradhesh

A small town on the Hindustan-Tibet highway, Narkanda is located 65 kilometres north-east of Shimla. Talwar reveals that the nearby ski slope is hidden from the town light and ideal "for photographers who do not want earth lights to spoil the light coming from the sky."

Ajay Talwar

Hatu Peak, Himachal Pradesh

Situated at an altitude of 3,400 metres, Hatu Peak is the highest summit in the Shimla-Narkanda region and has a unobstructed 360 degree view of the surrounding hills and dense woods. "The lofty heights of the Himalayas are my favourite location for deep sky photography," Talwar said. "Devasthal Peak in Uttarakhand and Hatu Peak in Himachal Pradesh provide good views of the heavens."

Ajay Talwar
Stars in the Milky Way galaxy arc over the Himalayan night in a panorama. The bright light at the bottom of the image is from a tent perched on Hatu Peak, Himachal Pradesh.

Great Rann of Kutch, Gujarat

The Rann of Kutch is one of the largest salt deserts in the world and has clear views of prominent winter stars such as Sirius, Orion, Taurus and Gemini.

Ajay Talwar
A starry winter night over the Great Rann of Kutch, Gujarat.

Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh

"Most Himalayan regions have crystal clear skies with very less light pollution and dust, which makes it ideal for stargazing," Unnikrishnan said. His favourite spots in the valley include the town of Kaza and the historic Key Monastery.

Navaneeth Unnikrishnan
A view of the Milky Way over the Key monastery in Spiti.

Navaneeth Unnikrishnan
A view from Kaza.

Mahe, Kerala

Navaneeth Unnikrishnan

Charmadi Ghat, Karnataka

Navaneeth Unnikrishnan

Hampi, Karnataka

Navaneeth Unnikrishnan
Milky Way over Hampi ruins.

Kasargod, Kerala

"If you want to begin astrophotography, you will have to learn the basics of photography and astronomy," Unnikrishnan said. "Start off with taking simple images of constellations and the moon, and then progress into planets, nebulae and galaxies. Remember, it takes a lot of trial and error."

Navaneeth Unnikrishnan

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