Published: 05th January 2021
This 24-year-old research biologist is photographing the beauty of Himachal Pradesh's most beautiful Ramsar Site
Rishabh Jaggi hails from Delhi and currently, he is in Himachal Pradesh documenting the wonder that is Pong Dam Lake Wetland with the help of his trusty camera and a big grant. This is his story
Imagine a place located at the foothills of the majestic mountain range, the Himalayas, frequented by 65 exotic species of feathered wonders every year; a place replete with charming muddy shores, shallow waters, plains and what not. Sounds like a piece of heaven, doesn't it? But what if we tell you that this piece of heaven exists on Earth and is called Pong Dam Lake Wetland or Maharana Pratap Sagar. This highest earthfill dam is located on the Beas river, more specifically in the wetland zone of the serene Siwalik Hills in Himachal Pradesh. It is this site that has captivated the heart of research biologist and nature photographer Rishabh Jaggi. And, with a lot of help from California Academy of Sciences’ BigPicture, this is how the 24-year-old wants to capture the pristine beauty of this wetland through his camera. The applications for the Emerging Photographer Grant, which Rishabh won, had applications open till May 31, 2020. It is open for photographers between the ages 18-25 and a grant of USD 2,500 is given to two people.
When Rishabh took up Biology in his class XI, he knew that this was the field where he belonged, so much so that he even pursued his Master's in Biodiversity and Conservation from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi. "I also knew that if I took it up as a scientific subject and took the route of research, I might not be able to reach as many people as I intend to. Thus, I chose the path of photography and filmmaking as a way to reach people," says the youngster. Since then, Rishabh has collaborated with friends to work on projects like Reality Check, a documentary on air pollution in Delhi which was nominated for the CMS Vatavaran Award, and The Veins of the Himalayas, which received a special mention at the Nature inFocus Film Awards 2020. And it was while working with the Government of Himachal Pradesh on a six-month project as a Research Biologist that he encountered and gave his heart away to Pong Dam Lake Wetland.
Over the river | (Pic: Rishabh Jaggi)
After tremendous research, Rishabh learnt about the BigPicture Natural World Photography competition. And after an even more rigorous selection process, he became one of the two chosen ones to receive a grant this year and has been working at the site for about one and a half months now. Not just this, his mentor is Israeli photographer Roie Galitz, a multi-hyphenate who is also a Greenpeace Ambassador, environmental activist and entrepreneur. How amazing is that? Rishabh's project, which will be a photo journal on the faunal species of the wetland, is due in April or mid-May 2021.
Let's go back to the facts that make Pong Dam Lake Wetland, a Ramsar Wetland Site, the heaven on Earth that it is. The first must-know fact is that it falls within the Central Asian Flyway, making it a convenient stop for many migratory birds in the winters. Over 100 species have been recorded that make their pit stops here, out of which Rishabh himself has spotted 65. "The site is also a mosaic of habitats, muddy shores, shallow waters, fertile land, wetlands — there are at least six to seven habitats here," he shares excitedly.
Rishabh | (Pic: Rishabh Jaggi)
About 40 per cent of the world's bar-headed goose stop by here. Then there is the population of striking white-rumped vulture, the otherwise critically-endangered birds that can be found in healthy numbers here. The various terns and Indian skimmers are another story. The nocturnal and elusive golden jackal is particularly tough to photograph and this is the challenge the ambitious photographer is working hard to overcome.
The grant and the mentorship programme it comes with has helped Rishabh rent high-end equipment from Delhi, like flashes, triggers and gadgets, that will aid him in photographing the beauty of the wetlands in a way that it deserves to be captured. "One has to be able to tell a story through photography. So in this particular project, all my pictures should narrate a story of their own and together too, they should narrate the story of the bigger picture. That's my focus," he shares.
The beauty | (Pic: Rishabh Jaggi)
It's an uphill battle for all those passionate about photography, warns Rishabh, and he feels fortunate that a grant like this has come his way. "But we need to keep working, find work with filmmakers, find internships or jobs — the point is to keep going," he concludes.
For more on him, check out instagram.com/manoeuve_rish