The tourism industry probably takes the cake when it comes to holidaying and enjoying destinations far away from home.
It’s true that one can enjoy even without travelling to exotic locations, but no one can deny the rush of adrenalin when travelling is mixed with photog-raphy. With that in mind, we joined forces with our own Car India and Bike India team for a tryst to the beautiful Kashmir Valley and Ladakh.
With ILCCs (Interchangeable Lens Compact Cameras) trying to forge their way into the D-SLR domain, we decided to see how these mirror-less compacts would fare in adverse conditions, in equally difficult terrain. We decided to cover our forage to the North with an Olympus Pen E-P3 with 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R and 40-150mm f/4-5.6 R lenses from Olympus Imaging India Pvt. Ltd.
We decided on the following route: New Delhi – Ludhiana – Amritsar – Pathankot – Jammu – Srinagar –Sonmarg – Leh – Keylong – Rohtang Pass – Manali – Chandigarh – New Delhi. Realising that the roads may be bad for a major part of the journey, we hopped into a beautiful black Honda CR-V (Courtesy Honda) that became akin to a travel companion for the rest of our journey.
Ludhiana was our first ‘pit-stop’ and we arrived here by late evening. Early next morning we set off for Pathankot en route to Amritsar. The road was smooth for about 145 kms and the SUV covered it easily in just 2 hours. We had a quick breakfast and went to see the much-talked-about Wagah border (the boundary between India and Pakistan). Our next destination was the glorious Golden Temple. This place is definitely worthy of all the praises it has received. Since we chose a Sunday to visit, it was overcrowded. After spending some time at this location we darted off to Pathankot, where we halted for the night.
At the break of dawn we left for Jammu, where we landed at around 9.15am. Around noon we started off for Srinagar. Via an askew route through the hilly region, we reached Srinagar by nightfall. The next day, we visited the famous Shankaracharya Temple, Salimar Garden, Chasm-e-shahi, Hazrat Bal, Khanka-e-Maula, Patthar Masjid, and of course, the beautiful Dal Lake.
We left Srinagar at 6.30am the next day, and passing through the lush-green Sonmarg valley, we arrived at the landslide-prone area of Zoji La. Tension and excitement was rife as landslides in this region were arbitrary. This area stays snow-covered for most part of the year. Moving parallel to the Line of Control, we finally reached Drass – the second coldest inhabited place in the world! Further along the way, by sunset time, we passed through the Harka Bahadur Bridge, which marks the closest point to the LoC, just seven kilometers away on this stretch. We camped at Kargil for the night.
The next morning we drove towards the Ladakh territory and reached Mulbekh, known for the carved statue of Lord Buddha. Proceeding further, we crossed Fotu La (13,478 feet), the highest point on the Srinagar-Leh route. Day 7 brought us to Leh (3,524 m/11,562 feet) and after collecting our permits to visit Nubra Valley, we visited the Leh Palace and the Shey Monastery. The palace, being at a height, offers a good view of the entire city.
We hit the road early next day towards Khardung-la Pass, the world’s highest motorable road (18,380 feet), where we had tea/coffee at Rinchen Cafeteria, touted as the world’s highest cafe. After taking in the scenery, we passed through Tanglang-la Pass, the second-highest motorable road in the world. We then continued up to More Plains, a 39 km long flat, dry, and sandy tract (with water bodies at some places), and eventually reached Pang where we stopped for tea (you must try the local green tea in the Ladakh region!). The onward journey brought us to Lachung-la (16,600 feet), Naki-la (15,547 feet), and then to Sarchu, where we grabbed a bite and relished some green tea. The light was fading fast and we had quite a few torturous bends and bad roads to maneuver to reach Baralacha La (16,043 feet). All we had with us were silent prayers, hoping that Sanjay (our photographer-cum-driver) would not doze off at the wheel! We finally reached Keylong at 10pm, safe and sound.
The second-last day of our journey, which must have been probably the toughest, brought us to Rohtang Pass. The road was being broadened and for about 25 kms, it was a mess. Heavy traffic and soft water-logged mud trapped many vehicles. Many motor-cyclists (and some cyclists) were deep in muck. Some vehicles had to be towed by the vehicle in front and traffic seemed to move (whenever it moved that is) at a snail’s space. It was total chaos. If you got down from your SUV, your legs would sink into the mud that was about 1 foot high! Skidding and sliding, it took us 10 hours to cover this stretch. Manali was still quite far away! We reached our destination late at night.
On the 11th day of the trip, we comfortably returned to New Delhi, some 580 kms away!
So, how did the Olympus Pen E-P3 perform? Were the two lenses that we carried [14-42mm (28-84mm equivalent) and 40-150mm (80-300mm equivalent)] suitable for this kind of journey?
The E-P3 is a 12.3 megapixel, mirror-less, Micro Four Thirds System camera. The body is really compact and tough, and we had no issues with it throughout the trip. The TruePic VI image processor, along with its CMOS image sensor and accurate metering, provided us with sharp, crisp images. Under the most demanding light conditions, the smaller sensor (as compared to APS-C size) introduced a fair amount of digital noise in low light and some overexposure of highlights in very sunny conditions. In all fairness, its sensor-shift image stabilizer gave us sharp images in low light, that would not have been possible otherwise. The E-P3’s pop-up flash also proved helpful. The 40-150mm lens was more than adequate for this kind of photography. With the other lens, however, we felt that if the lens were to start at 12 mm (equivalent to 24mm in the 35mm format) instead of the 14mm (28 mm equivalent), it would have been much better for landscapes. All in all, we were satisfied with the image quality, as well as the performance.