Know Riddhi Mukharjee: A Native Sundarbans Photographer

If you are into wildlife photography or even have a little interest in it, you cannot stay away from Sundarbans. Here we come up with a great get-to-know session with a native Sundarbans Photographer, Riddhi Mukharjee.

An introduction of Riddhi Mukharjee (childhood, academics, etc.),  How did you start photography? 

I spent my childhood in a small suburb called Krishnagar, near Kolkata, India. My father and my uncle are avid hikers and nature lovers. Thanks to them, from an early stage of my life, I was exposed to outdoor life in all its glory. Along with that came photography. It started in the world of film and moved to the digital process with time. The process of making a picture and the whole journey from seeing an image and composing it, to pressing the shutter, to making the final image used to fascinate me. It still does, to a great degree.


I took up photography to share my stories and document my travels at first, along with writing but now, I use my craft for more serious and pressing issues, like conservation and preservation of our natural heritage. As an artist, my goal is to photograph the natural world and show people that what we still have is awesome and is rapidly vanishing. If we don’t take the necessary steps, if we choose to ignore our part, all of it will be destroyed soon.
Apart from photography,  I love literature & writing. I completed my college studies in English Literature. 

The Indian wolf is generally found in dry deciduous forests and grassland habitats. Sighting it in the mangrove habitat, was a phenomenal record and was covered by all prominent Indian publishing & media houses.


About being a photography tour mentor. Why did you get into photography coaching (if you do) 

Well, I do not conduct any “workshop “,  but if someone or a particular group needs one on one coaching,  I can certainly help. Photography,  as an art form,  is heavily dependent upon crafts. While no one can teach the aesthetics of an art form,  one certainly can preach the techniques of the craft.


I like to share my knowledge, of whatever I have learned, with my fellow photographers. For photography coaching, I always prefer small groups, 5 pax at max, so that I can give maximum attention to each individual and sort out their problems individually. Every artist is different,  some will need help in basic camera settings,  some artists will need help in post-processing and maybe some will need help with composition and other aspects of the art. So dealing with a very small group helps. I like the set of challenges it brings to the table, and the satisfaction when I see fellow photographers smiling because they nailed a great shot. 

What is your connection with Sundarbans? Why should people visit Sundarbans?

Deep green rivers, Tides that engulf forests.Wind that never stops.
Footprints of fishermen which often show tiger pug marks on top of them.
Some people never return from the delta, their freed soul takes shape in a bird’s body.
It has a lot of legends and myths and The tiger rules them all.

Sundarbans is and always will be my darling. This place has a certain eerie charm and I am no Kipling to be able to put that in words. Sometimes, I feel the forest seduces me. I’m in love with the forest, and if someone asks me why, I would like to say that the myths and the folklore, the animals and the people, the swamp tigers and the honey collectors make this place special to me. With Sundarbans, it was love at first sight. Wild skies, lush green mysterious mangroves, small creeks that reflect the sky, and wide rivers that bring the smell of the sea? I mean, come on! Is there anything on Earth that can beat this place?


Why tigers of Sundarbans are different from tigers of other places? Why is it challenging to photograph tigers in Sundarban? 

The swamp tigers are one of the least studied and most misunderstood big cats. To start with, these cats are super elusive. So, we had to study their movement pattern and behavior very minutely at first, to get a proper sense about the swamp tigers and thus, to establish a tracking/anticipating method that will allow us to get better sightings. A few people, including me, had to spend a lot of time and effort in the tidal forest only to understand their movement pattern. This is how elusive and rare these cats are. Also, understanding the terrain and the set of rules one has to follow in order to get even a glimpse of the swamp tiger played a crucial part.

A Tiger crossing a Canal, clearly these Big Cats are super Elusive in Sundarbans


Once those were established and brought into practice, we started getting success in the form of regular sightings. Armed with cameras, we started to photograph various aspects of their lives. It all ultimately comes down to showing respect to nature and understanding the species you want to photograph. It’s the same with the swamp tigers as well. I’ve been able to document many behavioral aspects of their secretive life. There is still a lot of work left, and we can only complete that with rigorous dedicated fieldwork.

Other flora and fauna of Sundarbans.

Red Tailed Bamboo Pit Viper from Sundarbans

Apart from the swamp tigers,  Sundarban hosts a plethora of flora and fauna. The mangrove plants,  Sundari,  Garan,  gewa,  bain provides shelter for various life forms to flourish. Among the mammals,  Jungle Cat,  Leopard Cat,  Fishing Cat,  Smooth Coated Otter,  Small Clawed Otter,  Chital,  Wild Boar,  Rhesus Macaque,  Jackal can be seen. Sundarbans is home to over 200 species of birds as well. The extremely rare Buffy Fish Owl, Ruddy Kingfisher,  Mangrove Pitta,  Mangrove Whistler,  White Browed Scimitar Babbler,  Changeable Hawk Eagle Dark Morph,  Goliath Heron, etc can be spotted here. Depending on the season,  Black-capped Kingfisher,  collared kingfisher,  brown winged kingfisher,  peregrine falcon,  common shelduck and various other noteworthy species can be spotted. Among the reptiles,  Saltwater crocodiles, Red-tailed bamboo pit viper,  king cobra,  spectacled cobra, the dog-faced water snake, etc can be seen. Various marine species,  like jellyfish,  horseshoe crab can also be spotted along with Irrawaddy dolphins. 

“The Rare Jewel ” ~ Often heard of, seldom seen denizen of the swampland – A Leopard Cat.


Activities that can be done to explore Sundarbans. ( Wildlife Safari) 

Because of the muddy terrain, the only way to explore the Sundarbans is by boat. The numerous rivers and creeks that criss-cross the habitat also keep gypsy safaris out of the equation and walking inside the forest is prohibited, except for the watchtowers. The engine of the boat can’t be stopped inside the park.

The degradation of Sundarbans mangrove over the years. Your take on it.

The mangrove ecosystem of the Sundarbans delta has certainly shown signs of deterioration over the years. Over exploitation of forests to meet the growing needs of the people is one of the main reasons along with planless shrimp farming, wood cutting, pollution and encroachment. We must work with the forest department and help them in stopping activities such as illegal fishing,  poaching etc.

Monitor Lizards – They have learnt to survive in mangrove forests. During high-tide, Water Monitor Lizards climb up trees and relax there.


What measures are been taken for the protection and conservation of Sundarbans?

The conservation works in Sundarbans works in a very elaborate way. For example,  the forest department built a net around the forest areas bordering the villages to stop animals from entering the villages. Fishing,  crab collection, and firewood collection are not permitted in the protected areas,  and once every year,  the forest department gives license for honey collection in selected areas so that the chances of human-animal conflict decreases. Many awareness campaigns are being conducted among the villages,  along with the empowerment of the local communities so that they can earn a living in various professions and help the department in the protection of the forest. There is a very capable team of forest guards who patrol the forest twenty-four hours. This is only the tip of the iceberg. If anyone is interested to know more about this topic,  they can visit www.sundarbanbiosphere.org


How does tourism help in conservation? How are you helping with Protection? 

Tourism,  in Sundarbans,  plays a big part in conservation.All the boatmen,  crew members, cooks,  people who work at local resorts, and forest guides come from local villages. The fishermen and farmers see a huge uptick in market price in the tourism seasons ( Monsoon to Winter end). So the local villagers are directly benefiting from the forest. We have seen a huge decline in the number of poaching incidents or animal brutality over the last 6-7 years,  so much so that we have seen almost zero poaching incidents over the last five years. People are more eager to be a part of the tourism industry these days and willing to protect the forest. Thanks to the efforts put forth by the forest department and NGOs,  the local communities are the guardians of the forest now as they have realized that if the wildlife stays protected,  people will come to visit the forest and they will benefit from it.
I try to work with the department in every way possible. Be it an awareness campaign, be it conservation work,  I try to be with the department whenever & in whichever way it’s possible to do so. A percentage of profit from the tours I operate goes directly into the conservation efforts,  so give an example. 

A percentage of profit from Riddhi’s tours goes directly into the conservation efforts.


Details about the tour (how many people in one tour? how many days? where do you stay? how do you travel? meeting point? how many safaris do you do? what do you focus on? etc.)

To start with,  I do not merge groups and do exclusive groups only,  which means the whole boat will be booked for your group only.I do this particularly to avoid conflict of interest. I will give you an example. Suppose,  one group comes and their primary interest is birding. And another group,  with a primary interest in tiger sighting, decides to join the group. During the safari,  conflict of interest will definitely happen and the group might have to sacrifice a few sightings. To ensure this doesn’t happen,  I have stopped doing merged group tours.


Coming to the group size,  I will suggest a minimum group size of four people and a maximum of ten people in one group. That helps in keeping the cost down to an affordable rate and ensures that there is plenty of place in the boat for everyone to move around freely and take photographs. 
Sundarbans offers a unique opportunity to do full-day safaris. I will suggest at least 3 full-day safaris. If you are coming for tigers,  a 6D/5N tour should be good enough,  consisting of 5 full days and 1 half-day safari.


We stay on either the boat or at a resort, depending upon the choice of the group. Depending on flight timings( I generally suggest taking the earliest flight to Kolkata),  I meet the guests at Kolkata airport. From the airport,  we do a surface transfer to Godkhali Jetty Ghat in Sundarbans. I use AC innovas for surface transfer. From Godkhali Jetty ghat,  we take our boat and go straight to the forest entry point. The focus of the tour,  as I do exclusive groups only,  depends on what the group wants to photograph.
 

“King Cobra” – The focus of the exclusive tours by Riddhi depends on what the group wants to photograph.

How to get the booking details?

You can mail me at riddhimukherjeephotography@gmail.com or call me on +91-8918239389 to book your safari.

Team Wild Alerts is really thankful for Riddhi’s time and for all the interesting insights about Sundarbans. We wish you all the good luck for your future and hope that many others will come with you on your special journey to protect wildlife.

Before we end, do read about the complete guide on how to be a Wildlife Photographer.

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