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Photographer of the Week – Riddhi Mukherjee

Favourite location

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The Sunderban Tiger Reserve. This place is very close to my home town and is one of the most thrilling places on earth. The Sunderbans (beautiful forests in Bengali) mean different things to different people. It is one of the largest mangrove ecosystems in the world, one of the largest wetlands, a complicated riverine area encompassing one hundred and two islands with a maze of innumerable rivers, rivulets and creeks.

It is also a biosphere reserve, a World Heritage Site and the land of the largest surviving tiger concentration in the world. A huge tourist attraction, but the majority of tourists return with the perception that the royal Bengal tiger of the Sunderbans is actually a myth, since they hardly can see any.

It is home to a mesmeric variety of marine plants and vegetation, not to mention estuarine crocodiles, otters, dolphins, large monitor lizards, cheetals, rhesus macaques, wild boars and a wondrous variety of land and aquatic birds. It is the landing site of olive ridley turtles travelling all the way from the Pacific Ocean to lay their eggs on its beaches. From another perspective, the Sunderbans is the habitat of four million tolling human beings, whose daily living is very hard. Fishermen, wood collectors, honey collectors and farmers make up this population; people who live in constant danger from forces of nature.

Photography is tough here and extremely challenging which I enjoy most. The adrenaline rush I get even before entering this eerie world is simply amazing.

Latest wildlife picture

The latest is of a huge male tiger, which we lately named “Harcules". The sighting was filled with drama and thrill. We knew he was at Dobanki, an island situated in the heart of Sunderban. We saw fresh pug marks all around the island. He crossed the river during the daytime. Two boats saw him crossing. We missed that opportunity by just one minute.Then we thought he would come to the waterhole, where the forest provides sweet water. Cheetal calls were all around. He was on the move, but he did not come. 

We left the watchtower and were on the journey back to Jhorkhali, where we were to spend the night. Just after leaving the watchtower, we saw fresh pug marks on the mudflat. He had just crossed. We decided to put a round around Dobanki Island. Suddenly our boatman shouted in excitement “Sir, Baagh, Sir Baagh” (sir, tiger, sir, tiger). We saw him walking through the thick mangrove near the banks, it was just like a dream. And then suddenly he stopped, put his majestic face out of the forest and gazed directly at us. A very common belief is that the swamp tigers are relatively small,but this guy will ensure that the swamp tigers are no small business. The light was so poor that I had to push my ISO to 6400 to get a shutter speed of just 1/120sec. Luckily I managed to get a presentable shot.

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Who are your heroes?

Mr Soumyajit Nandy. He is one of the finest human beings I have met. His immense knowledge about wildlife, especially about the swamp tigers of Sunderbans is just so fascinating. Besides being such a knowledgeable guy, his passion for photography and understanding of situations makes it a lot easier for those who are with him during an outing.

Best piece of advice

The best piece of advice that influenced me is that of "don't shoot what it looks like, shoot what it feels like,” by David Alan Harvey. It pushed me to think. It made me realize and soak in the atmosphere and mood of a frame. This is what made a change in me.

Favourite subject?

Tigers! I just love these magnificent creatures. They are the very symbol of our forests. The emblem of power, elegance and gentleness. These big cats have stolen my heart.

Favourite lens?

I don't have one but would like to buy a 400mm f/2.8 someday.

Most memorable moment?

The most memorable moment of my life is when I first saw a tiger from Sunderbans. It was a dream. It was madness. The swamp tigers were my biggest fascination to date. After three misses over two days of rigorous tracking I met her, sitting and locking her eyes directly with me. I can barely define the moment - that eye-contact, the adrenaline rush, those trembling legs. It was something different.

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