Toehold Blog | Experiences Relived. Expertise Revealed.
Toehold Travel & Photography Private Limited, a company founded by a young team of professionals who have widely travelled and have achieved acclaimed fame in the field of photography. With an aim to provide the best in class experience, a cut above the rest, to its customers in travel and photography by combining fun and education on the go.
You aree looking at the killer whale in the blue oceanic waters in Kamchatka, if you see an adorable creature wearing black and white skin. It is a toothed whale also known as orca. It is found is several marine environments, including the Arctic, Antarctic and tropical seas.
This marine mammal is known to be extremely social. The matrilineal groups called ‘pods’ are discovered to have been the most stable in all of animal species. Its diet is as diverse as it can get – anything from fish to other marine mammals like dolphins and seals. It’s an apex predator that is prey to no other animal.
To avoid inbreeding, the male mates with females from different pods. This gorgeous sea creature has a rather startling reputation in mythologies of some indigenous cultures – it’s believed to be the soul of humans as well as merciless killers!
The killer whale belongs to the family of oceanic dolphins, and is the largest member of it. And for this record it has to its name, it is our Animal of the Week!
There is no intended complexity to Jaisimha’s ideas of travel and photography. His meditations on the same revel in their simplicity — always a delight to see such candour in conversations. We share his thoughts on our Client Corner this week.
Jaisimha was born in a family of photographers. He was handling cameras ever since he can remember and carried one on all his travels. He was that person with the camera whenever he set out to see a new place with family or friends, and the art of making images was something he got introduced to even before he contemplated at all about it.
His love for wildlife, however, began rather unexpectedly. All it took was a family holiday to Kabini about three years ago. “On my very first wildlife trip, I was fortunate to see a tiger, a leopard, dholes, gaurs and other various wildlife. This is how my tryst with the big cats started from my very first wildlife safari, and how it piqued my interest in wildlife. So far, I haven’t returned from any my wildlife tours without seeing big cats!” says Jaisimha.
Jaisimha wanted to explore and photograph various animals more frequently and started to look out for groups with which he could travel to different wildlife destinations. He visited Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary with a few friends and acquaintances with similar interests and saw a leopard on the land safari and several birds on the boat safari.
His new interest did not take long to journey into becoming a passion and recalling a friend’s suggestion on one of his personal travel expeditions, he learned more about Toehold and what it had to offer to propel his passion for wildlife photography further. “I have visited Kabini multiple times with Toehold and it’s my favourite place. And I consider myself extremely fortunate to have seen big cats on all of my Tours. And I love watching various wild creatures equally. The fact that Kabini is close to Bengaluru, the city I live in, makes it that much more accessible for me,” he asserts.
For Jaisimha, being in the wild is not only about getting way from the din of the city. He explains, “It’s about the pure exhilaration of seeing various forms of life we otherwise don’t get to see where we live. It’s about the sheer joy of seeing wildlife not in a forced but their natural environment. And Toehold has become a big part of my journey because I have learned a lot from the Skippers. They have taught me how even bad photos aren’t mistakes but are only a part of learning better.”
A software architect by profession who manages his own company, Jaisimha is equally passionate about everything he does. When asked about photography, he elucidates, “In the beginning, it was a lot about the joy of sharing and the appreciation coming my way. I joined several Facebook groups and other online forums to share my work. But now, it is about relishing the intimate fulfillment that comes my way while the process of making images itself is happening. And the delight continues to be rekindled every time I revisit the images.”
Jaisimha’s works have received many accolades, including a contest held by Karnataka Wildlife Tourism. His chosen work was displayed in six cities across Karnataka. His work has also been displayed at the Rangoli Metro Art Centre.
Kenya in Africa is the next destination that Jaisimha is excited about exploring. He tells us how big a dream it has always been for him and that it is finally coming true. We wish him the very best for his most-awaited journey and all the other journeys he plans to make in the future.
There is a reason why Masai Mara in Kenya is called the ‘Mecca of Wildlife’. Toehold Skipper Sachin Rai, in conversation with Sourabha Rao, breaks this magic down to discernible details, explaining in particular why and how our Big Cat Week Wildlife Photography Tour is a one-of-a-kind experience.
Sourabha: The name of this Tour itself is a curious one, why is it called ‘Big Cat Week’?
Sachin: The main intention of this Tour is to spend most of our time to see and photograph the big cats, specifically lions and leopards, as well as cheetahs and servals and if we’re very fortunate, the most elusive caracal, too. The emphasis is more on cats as compared to other mammals and hence the name.
Sourabha: What are the most exciting details about this Tour that make it unique?
Sachin: On this Tour, more than the count of the animals we see, what matters is the amount of time we spend in watching the big cats in their natural habitat. Sometimes we spend hours together watching one particular individual or a family of cats. In the vastness of the Mara, watching them is a delight, especially in the golden or amber light in the mornings and evenings.
Because the weather is great in May, even mid-days are conducive for photography, offering us more opportunity for making evocative images. We might witness a chase, a kill, and such breathtaking action in their natural habitat, all amounting to remarkable wildlife experiences. And because the Tour is timed such that the weather is favourable for photography, we may have great photo opportunities in beautiful light.
Sourabha: Which cats are relatively more elusive and which are easier to see?
Sachin: Usually the lions and cheetahs are spotted more easily than leopards as they’re too shy. Serval cats are difficult to be seen and caracals are perhaps the most rare and elusive of all. Observing and photographing individuals for long hours, and prides of lions and an entire family of cheetahs are unparalleled experiences in these savannahs.
Sourabha: How do the logistics of the Tour help the exploration of African wildlife in the Mara?
Sachin: Because we have the luxury of staying in the park itself, we choose the properties based on the possible sightings of either lion prides or the cheetah families and so on. This also means that there is not much travel by road except for the safaris themselves, so there is no physical exhaustion one has to be concerned about.
Sourabha: Why should one do this Tour if they have done The Great Migration and Harvest in the Savannah Tours? And why should one do this Tour even if this is the first time they are going to Kenya?
Sachin: If you are someone who loves watching one particular cat or a family of cats for hours together in their natural habitat, if you don’t really give more significance to the number of animals you see but to the amount of time you spend watching their behaviour with all your curiosity, this is the Tour you will enjoy joining us on. And I have already spoken about the photo opportunities. So if you are a wildlife lover and love making images of them in this ancient land of Africa, whether or not it is your first time, you are welcome on our Tour!
And because this bird so blue, the world is that much more beautiful! Also known as the black-naped blue flycatcher, the black-naped monarch is simply one of the most adorable birds a birder can see and photograph on our Photo Tour to Thattekad.
This little nimble passerine bird belongs to the monarch flycatchers family, and is found in the thick forests and wooded habitats of south-eastern and southern Asia, including India, Sri Lanka, Philippines and Indonesia.
The black-naped blue flycatcher hunts by flycatching. It is insectivorous. The nape feathers of this little avian wonder are lifted into a pointed crest when it is alert or is alarmed. Its call is known to be similar to that of the Asian paradise flycatcher call.
The black-naped blue flycatcher gets is name because of the distinctive black patch on the back of the male’s head, and for this adorable feature, it is our Animal of the Week!
In a world so replete with options, why bother visiting Kamchatka in far-east Russia? Here are five solid reasons by Jayanth Sharma, co founder and CEO, Toehold, for your visit:
Kamchatka is an isolated geographical spectacle. In today’s world, where almost every corner of Earth is explored by the groping human hand, finding an uncivilised land is rather a miracle. Kamchatka is one such peninsula that’s not been tamed: so much so that it isn’t even connected by man-made roads! The only way you can reach it is by helicopter. All of which means it’s about as remote as it gets.
The fact that there are no roads nor permanent civilization, presents a fair idea about how adventurous your visit to Kamchatka could be. The treks and volcano climbs are worth the effort, for they grant you a glimpse into the mindboggling geographical wonders and many majestic wild creatures. The marine expedition too is a highly exotic experience, and offers the opportunity to see orcas and humpback whales! In the rugged terrains of this peninsula that are hardly accessible, adventure is as unique as it can get.
Kamchatka is a geologically active domain. The snow-capped peaks, the otherworldly fuming as well as dormant volcanoes, the gorgeous glaciers and geysers, the stupefying hills and meadows, and the beautiful lakes and rivers and creeks punctuate the peninsula and make Kamchatka a ferociously elegant place. And on one side is the sea where you get to see the marine apex predator, the magnificent killer whale! The lavish natural beauty is unparalleled and there’s no other place you would rather be if you were to treat yourself to magnificence that’s one of its kind.
Versatility of experiences
Not many places offer you an extravagant range of experiences and Kamchatka is one that does. The volley of experiences that will be thrown at you by this peninsula in rapid succession can be quite literally breathtaking! The experience of walking in the wilderness that’s hardly affected by human activity is a rare one today. And the marine expedition – sailing on the blue waters under the blue sky – is an experience you will cherish, which could be ethereal if you get to see the mighty whales!
Kamchatka is simply a fabulous place to photograph brown bears, particularly, Kamchatka also offers its rib-bitingly beautiful and varying landscape for stunning photography. The diverse geographical features lend themselves to be captured into strikingly beautiful images. And of course Kamchatka kindles your imagination and lets its beauty render you speechless and then on to making some art imitating its grandeur. Your receptiveness might be put to test in a place where there’s too much to take in, where beauty comes to you with all its ominous as well as fragile nuances. (ANI)
(Jayanth is a traveller, photographer and co-founder and CEO at Toehold)
Nalini Rao Giridhar holds your attention with that rare clarity of thought as she shares her experiences as a traveller and photographer. Here’s a glimpse into the grandeur of her vast, intimate understanding of the world.
Having parents who nurse a curiosity for the world and a passion for art means both can easily rub off on the kids. And that’s what happened to Nalini, whose father was, as she recalls, “crazy about photography”.
The gentleman served in the Territorial Army in Malaysia during the Second World War, reveals Nalini, and had an eye for people-photography, which always suggested new ways of looking at humans in those frozen moments of time – little eternities in their own right.
The old Kodak camera which the father had once used is now Nalini’s prized possession. However, her own journey as a photographer began with a Canon camera years ago.
“I travelled a lot with my parents. And when I eventually started making pictures on my journeys, it was only in auto mode like most people do. And my hobby of photography continued even after I married, as my husband is an avid traveller, too,” says Nalini.
She recalls her travel experiences in different continents and talks fondly of Europe. Norway has all her heart because of sheer natural beauty that that part of the Earth is blessed with. She talks of journeying on the thin coastline from where the mountains look prayerfully quiet and sombre even in their immensity. She paints a picture when she talks of the quaint little houses in the mountain lap with their colourful tops, or hilltop castles, adding that beautiful human element to the country’s beauty.
However, there was another kind of love for the world that was slowly stirring in her – the love for wildlife. And it was a visit to Ranthambhore and Gir in the nineties that awakened her apparently dormant interest in wildlife.
Sometime in 2013, Nalini decided that she wanted to sharpen her photography skills, and so chose to do a Toehold Workshop the same year. Soon, she was also a part of the Photography Tour to Kenya that very year, and has been a part of several photography expeditions with the company ever since.
“My husband’s love for photography proved to be infectious and we had travelled to many a national park in India on our own but weren’t able to come back with memorable sightings,” recalls Nalini. “But it was when we began journeying into the wild with the experts of Toehold that we were able to not only see diverse wildlife but also make lovely images of them for keepsake.”
When asked about what photography means to her, Nalini elucidates, “In my initial days of photography, it was more about making memories. But over the years, my art has been a little more informed and has acquired the element of joy in the very process of making images.”
She declares that learning the intricacies of the art to make memories even aesthetically beautiful is a process she thoroughly enjoys.
Nalini wishes to visit and continue to make images in Iceland and Svalbard in the near future. Her diverse taste in wildlife, landscape and history has made her art that much more interesting for herself and for those with whom she shares her work. We wish her the very best!
In the beautiful forests of Kabini, if you see an adorable little furry creature with brown and black hairs scattered all over its body, you are looking at the black-naped hare.
Found throughout India except for the high altitudes of the Himalayas and the mangrove wilderness of the Sundarbans, the black-naped hare, is also found in Java. It is also known to have been distributed in southern Nepal, eastern Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
The peak breeding season is the monsoons although it occurs throughout the year. It feeds mainly on forbs and grasses. Due to expanding agricultural fields and sometimes illegal hunting, the population of this hare is critically fragmented.
Due to the patch of black fur that runs along the nape of the neck, this hare gets its name — black-naped hare, and for this unmistakable, attractive feature, it is our Animal of the Week!
Wanderer and entrepreneur Jayanth Sharma on how he quit his mundane IT job to follow his passion and co-found Toehold, a travel company that focuses on capturing moments and making vivid memories
There is no lack of success stories in the career space especially with individuals quitting mundane jobs to avidly follow their passion. Jayanth Sharma’s story is no different. Around eight years ago, he quit his IT job to start Toehold, a company that helps young professionals and photography enthusiasts with the skills, guidance, and equipment needed to hone their innate talent. Speaking about what gave him the ammunition to start Toehold, Sharma said, “I think when you’re truly passionate about a dream, and the desire to fulfill it reaches a certain intensity, courage and other practical considerations fade into the background, because the wave of passion carries you out to sea all by itself! Having said that, I could clearly see the problems prevalent in the industry and therefore the opportunities present to solve them, and just jumped right in, determined to make a difference.” Adding on how the company was named, Sharma added, “The name was suggested by a friend and it perfectly captured what we intended to do, which was to be a definitive support for people, so we loved it and chose it!”
The company’s vision is to serve as a critical support to help one ascend towards one’s dreams of creative and artistic expressions to enrich their souls – a toehold. It does so by making photography and exotic travel accessible to its customers and has provided guided photography tours with its experienced mentors and guides to over a thousand individuals over the past seven years.
“What makes us stand out from others in the market is that apart from our outstanding quality and depth of subject-matter expertise, thanks to the decades of experience our leadership and mentoring teams have, our most remarkable distinction lies in the way we combine the entire range of services a travel or photography enthusiast may need, under a common roof, something which no other company has been able to achieve.”
“We often underestimate the importance of photographs,” he quipped. “They have the power of transporting you to a time and place instantly, and help you observe and appreciate things that you may have missed in the moment. Photographs also help us share with others what we experienced, and perhaps in some way inspire and motivate them to explore the world as well and come to experience the magic inherent in it.”
The company offers unique ways in which their customers can capture or learn to capture moments during their holiday. “Our patrons bring their own equipment but those who can do with a better or more suitable camera, lens or accessory than what they own, simply hire it from us for the duration of a Tour,” said Sharma. “That way, they can use exactly what they need for how long they need, without spending big. During the Tour, our entire effort is to assist them in using whatever equipment they’re carrying to the absolute fullest and take back fantastic pictures,” he added.
Toehold has spread its wings to various destinations in India an abroad. “We have a truly comprehensive catalogue of destinations (more than 60) we offer Tours to,” said Shrama. “Geographically, we operate Tours in six of the planet’s seven continents. In India we’re very strong with our offerings, as our calendar includes Tours to all the most spectacular wildlife parks in the country, along with several landscape- and culture-oriented Tours to places like Ladakh and Varanasi. Overseas, East Africa is our most popular destination, with several Tours every year to Kenya and Tanzania,” he added. “We also run some very exotic Tours to the Arctic and Antarctica. Prices start from around Rs. 25,000 for a two-night Tour to Kabini in Karnataka.”
Besides handling tours, the company also offers workshops for beginners and budding photographers to hone their skills. “Our ‘Art and Science of Photography’ Workshop, which happens every month in several Indian metros, is aimed precisely at the complete beginner as well as someone who’s owned a camera for a while but is unclear about both the basic and advanced concepts,” said Sharma. “No prior knowledge is required at all to be a part of this Workshop. The course content and delivery are designed to enable quick and effective mastery of all the essential concepts, and is an ideal door through which to step into the world of photography,” he added.
Social media, today is a powerful tool for promotion and Sharma is thankful to the various platforms that help him share what his company does. “It’s possible to get your message across to a wider and better targeted audience thanks to social media. However, we don’t believe in simply bombarding people with adverts. Our constant attempt is to share valuable content that audiences will enjoy, and which will help them come to appreciate both the subject matter as well as the art of photography through it, and perhaps come to be infected with the same passion by which we’re stricken,” he said.
The company plans to keep expanding and touching as many lives as possible in the future. “Our dream is to make everyone fall in love with travel and photography, and to realize that, we frequently add destinations, products and services that may help people realize the pleasures of discovery and self expression,” said Sharma. “True to this ethos, we recently opened a showcase gallery and experience zone in Mumbai to reach out to enthusiasts there. We have also been offering equipment on rent in Mumbai as the third city in which we offer this valuable service,” he added.
About the company:
Headquartered in Bangalore, Toehold was co-founded in April 2010 by Jayanth Sharma. Toehold offers curated and customized travel and photography solutions that span six continents across the globe, with tours that take customers to the most incredible nature and wildlife destinations in biodiversity hotspots like India’s natural reserves, Costa Rica’s exotic coastline, Iceland’s incredible landscapes, Africa’s endless plains, and even the awe-inspiring frozen spaces of the Arctic and Russia’s Kamchatka plateau. Led by Toehold’s impressive team of full-time and partner photographers serving as tour leaders and mentors, these tours promise their customers an unforgettable journey in experiencing the splendour of nature and the power of photography.
Toehold’s impressive array of products and services has helped it script an exceptional growth and success story, having provided more than 10,000 customers with photography instruction (including photographers trained in classroom workshops) and skill development over the last seven years.
The digitally-enabled, smartphone-equipped, and experience-hungry millennial has already begun to create ripples in various industries, as companies scramble to evolve with the changing expectations and preferences of this vital consumer-demographic.
Their presence in the market has been changing how consumers, increasingly from different demographics, interact and engage with service providers. Consumers today are more tech-savvy and want more personalised and customised offerings.
A Goldman Sachs report indicates that millennialls are more keen to have access to assets and luxury goods such as cars rather than owning them, preferring a sharing economy. A survey of internet users indicates that any delay in service – of even a few seconds such as when opening a website – can cause consumers to turn away.
Most pressingly perhaps, consumers today are seeking engaging experiences. In a consumer-focused and experience-providing industry like travel, service providers are pushing the envelope of innovation each day to evolve and cater to this new set of prefences for today’s discerning customer.
Companies and service providers within the travel industry are adapting to these changes in consumer behaviour with great alacrity, and every link of the travel industry’s value chain has changed through the use of technology.
Whether it is in the discovery of and research into various travel opportunities, the booking and payment for itineraries, or during the course of travel itself, technology has changed the travel experience indelibly.
Discovering travel experience of your dreams:
Finding new travel options to experience is no longer reliant on distant word of mouth recommendations. There has been an explosive proliferation of virtual platforms providing detailed information about different travel experiences through text, pictures, and videos.
With information more freely available, consumers are spending more time trying to find a unique kind of holiday, catering to their desires, instead of going to more conventional holiday destinations and making cliched travel plans.
Hobbyists and aficianados can use this information to both travel to the best spots and to engage in their favorite pastimes. Art lovers can take tours of Europe’s beautiful musuems like the Louvre or the Rijksmuseum; those insterested in scuba diving can go to Andaman for its beaches and pristine coral reefs and diving spots; and wildlife lovers can go to biodiversity hotspots the world over to spot exotic fauna and capture their images and memories forever.
With data on travel options such as flights, trains, and cruises as well as interesting accommodation options such as hotels and homestays, consumers can find their favorite travel options easily.
Ironing out the itinerary – technology-driven bookings and payments:
Conventionally, once you had a clear idea of what your trip was going to be like, you’d head to the nearest travel agent and have them book all your travel tickets and make your hotel bookings.
Today, consumers can book their entire holiday – from the tickets, accommodation to various tours and group activities they wish to participate in – virtually and instantly. The bundling of different experiences and being able to pay for them on one platform adds a level of convenience, transparency, and payment security that aids both the customers and the service providers.
These platforms also enable customers to create complex itineraries, adding more variety and adventure to their travel – from getting the right guides for their tours to finding boutique hotels or immaculate homestays for their lodging needs.
Different service providers can also create lucrative collaborations and partnerships, creating customised and attractive offerings that cater to a wider set of travelers and providing them with the kind of experiences that they specifically desire.
Making the journey memorable:
Travelers today want to not merely visit a location, but also immerse themselves in their surroundings and completely experience the journey, arrival, and their stay. Travel service providers use technology to make various options available to customers not only at the point of booking, but also throughout their journey.
Using the digital medium to communicate with their customers, travel companies can send offers on-the-go to travelers, enabling them to curate new experiences in an instant and be more dynamic and adventurous during their travels. Hiring equipment – such as cameras or vehicles – becomes much easier through the adoption of technology.
Tourists at a particular location can use their smartphones to find out more about activities in that place, and book and pay for them digitally, ensuring there are fewer missed opportunities to regret during their journey. Customers can choose to book and pay for an elephant safari at the last minute, or hire a vehicle for driving themselves around in an instant. This enables them to be in greater control of their journey, providing instant gratification and empowerment.
In many ways, service providers in the travel space are using technology to act not as tour guides, but as tour enablers. Technology and its applications are being used to empower a new generation of travelers into curating and finding the experiences they want, and living through them in the most convenient fashion plausible.
(Jayanth is a traveller, photographer and co-founder and CEO at Toehold)