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We take the Kia Seltos on a roadtrip to the Rann of Kutch for India’s only live wildlife photography contest
A cloud of dust. Spinning the car around in circles, I had lost track of which direction I was pointing in. A moment later pieces of dry, uprooted earth had settled on the windshield. I drove the car a little further to escape the cloud and in the process cleared the windshield of the debris. Still no clue as to where the rest of our crew was. Call it hooliganism, but we were in our very own playground and in that moment, it mattered very little that I was lost.
The Rann of Kutch is like a blank canvas. In fact it’s the closest you can get to one in nature. It is thoroughly featureless and yet undeniably beautiful. It’s ironical like that. In every direction all you can see is this vast expanse of nothingness. But in it hides a canvas that imbues images with colours that are hard to find elsewhere. To anyone who has never been to the Rann before, it comes across as a shock. Think surreal with a capital S. The dusty, dry plains lead all the way to the horizon and the starkness of the brown earth against the blue sky is something you don’t see anywhere else. The fact that a number of our signature cover stories have been shot and executed there speaks volumes about how much our photographers love the striking colours and stark landscapes of the Rann.
Egged on by our ace photographer Rohit, we decided to make the trip west once more. The reason – several of the country’s premier wildlife photographers and filmmakers were set to assemble in the Rann of Kutch for India’s only live wildlife photography contest and we, at evo India, were to shadow them and gain valuable insight into the ‘art of photography’.
It seemed a little surprising. Why would you choose the dry, arid Rann of Kutch as the location for something like a wildlife photography competition? The place is devoid of much vegetation and consequently doesn’t have wildlife in large numbers either. The answer was deceptively simple. The blank canvas that the Rann is makes subjects stand out – a fact that the photography team had drilled into my head. Also, it adds the challenge of finding a subject and composing a truly special shot, something that is often down to chance and being at the right place at the right time in a forest. In the Rann, it is all down to skill and creativity.
We expected scores of wild ass, desert fox and numerous species of migratory birds in the Rann. But we also needed a subject that our crafty photo and video team could capture in classic evo India style. The team insisted on a car that was rather beautiful, something that would be an interesting subject to shoot against the backdrop of the Rann. The Seltos with its handsome proportions, stunning details and overall good looks made for a perfect fit and was the unanimous choice.
A roadtrip was chalked out and we set sail from our home base in Pune. Over the course of all the time that we have spent with the Seltos, it has been firmly established that the Seltos is a fine highway cruiser. Over 700km or so, the high-speed stability and remarkable poise stood out, especially so on highway sections that were rather bumpy. The 1.5-litre diesel on the HTX+ variant we were driving proved to be rather punchy and aided by the 6-speed manual each one of those 700km was polished off in a hurry and we camped ourselves at the Rann Riders, Dasada – our base for the next week.
Now, the Rann isn’t just a featureless barren desert as most photographs of the place would lead you to believe. Vegetation is indeed sparse but a variety of animals have found ways to survive. Resultantly, the kind of animals found here are seldom seen anywhere else in the world. In such a landscape, knowing what’s what is a challenge. Thankfully, we were accompanied by experts who guided us through the difficult-to-navigate desert. But even then, we often found ourselves coming up on damp patches and stretches with loose sand. The Seltos proved impressive here and we could tackle those sections without breaking into a sweat.
Much before anyone else made their way to the Rann, we decided to ‘explore’ it ourselves. Far away from the aesthetic considerations that prompt us to go to the Rann at the drop of the hat, there is something else always nudging us in that direction. The Rann is, simply put, a playground for us enthusiasts. Devoid of any traffic, bad roads or anything of that sort, the Rann is just perfect to really have some fun that we simply can’t have anywhere else in the country. The fact that we had something that was like the Seltos, which simply didn’t lose composure while going full tilt over the dangerous undulations spread across cracked earth, helped immensely. Sure enough, we found ourselves enjoying every minute of the drive through the desert.
After an hour of going around in circles, dislodging pieces of earth and having a large dose of the ‘Thrill Of Driving,’ we came to the sudden, frightening realisation that we were lost. The sun was setting and the Rann gets difficult to navigate through in the dark. Lucky for us, I caught the faint glow of the headlamps of the SUV that escorted us through the maze that the Rann is. Disaster was averted.
Sunsets and sunrises are beautiful anywhere; however, in the Rann, everything is amplified a thousand times. The golden hours around those two occurrences are stunning and if you haven’t seen it happen, it is something worth making the trip to the desert for. The rich details that make the Seltos stand out from any other SUV in the country, look rather special then.
With the desert all around us, the photographers armed with gigantic lenses set about exploring the place in search of some wildlife. Judging the participants was a team of world renowned photographers and filmmakers that included Jagdeep Rajput, Gautam Pandey, Kalyan Verma and Anish Andheria. Mentoring them were Shivang Mehta, Rahul Sachdev, Prakash Ramakrishnan and Pritesh Rao. We began (as should you) with a quick Google search of the names and, understandably, were in complete awe of the judges and mentors.
With such a motley crew of acclaimed experts, our photo and video team dived headfirst into learning about the nuances of the art and craft of photography. Mornings and evenings were spent in the desert, and over the course of four days, thousands of photographs and video clips were shot. At times, we often found ourselves deep in the desert on the lookout for some elusive animals. In one particular instance, Aditya, our filmmaker, found himself surrounded by a number of wild ass. Engrossed in his frame, he was unaware of the looming danger. Fortuitously, the wild ass just walked by him and gave him some fine shots of a herd grazing together.
We weren’t too far away either, and Rohit, could click some stunning photographs of the encounter from the sunroof of the Seltos. Admittedly, even in the midst of all this action, we did at times get distracted by the Seltos’ alluring beauty. The headlamps and taillights in particular received a ton of attention from the photographers. In fact, shots of the sun with the lighting elements are aplenty, eventually putting the designers in a quandary about which beautiful image to use in the magazine.
All through the six sessions, certain aspects of photography in the Rann stood out and were stressed on by the judges as well as the mentors. The use of the horizon and the distinct colours of the Rann featured prominently in most of the photographs that were in contention for the top prize at the event. Team evo India too made use of those elements of the Rann and visuals of the silhouette of the Seltos was something Rohit and Aditya couldn’t get enough of. The wetlands, the thorny shrubs, the flats and the salt-crusted sections all had a wide spectrum of wildlife that were quickly lapped up as subjects by the dozens of photographers. Over four days at the Rann, we patiently set about creating some truly outstanding imagery of the rare wild animals that the Rann is home to. We even got the extremely reclusive desert fox on camera.
Our team learnt valuable lessons about the ‘art of photography’ over the better part of a week in the desert. Our photo and video crew patiently waited for hours on end for the perfect shot with some hard-to-sight animals. They say half the battle in wildlife photography is finding the subject. Us automotive journalists have it easy though. It is especially so when you have something as beautiful as the Kia Seltos for company.
With the sun setting on our adventure in the Rann, we couldn’t resist one final spirited drive in the desert. And as we made our way towards the jury members, the cameras were all pointed at the Seltos going ‘Click, Click, Click’ with the gorgeous orange sun over the horizon framing the shot just right. It is after all hard to ignore a sight as beautiful even for the best photographers around.