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.
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.
"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."
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.
"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."
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."
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."
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.
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.
Charmadi Ghat, Karnataka
"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."