Forests are not the traditional 'manosphere' they were thought to be. Nor is wildlife photography a male bastion. Meet Nisha Purushothaman from Paravoor, Kollam who wields the camera in the wild.
Photography always topped my list of hobbies. I believe it was a natural spin off from my childhood spent in an idyllic setting with lush paddy fields, ‘kaavu’, lakes and the ocean. A short walk from my home would take me to a world that was literally a feast for the eyes and the soul; a world that forged my wanderlust and the connection with the wilderness.
But the passion took wings only after I attended a photography workshop by Shutterbugs in Dubai. I had finished my BFA from Fine Arts College, Trivandrum and was working at that time. The workshop helped me hone my skills and inspired me to take photography seriously. I started out with bird photography. But soon, I was off on wildlife photography tours in India and Africa.
The forests let you connect with nature in a very deep way. I have felt that the more time I spend in the forests, the more joy and peace it brings. And I have come to cherish these rendezvous with nature so much. Nothing about the daily grind of work will have a grip on you once inside the forest. When I realized that I find happiness in this more than anywhere else, I quit my project manager job and took up wildlife photography. Conducting photography tours and workshops soon became a full-time job.
Tigers at Parambikulam
Last year gifted me a fantastic six-month-tour of Kerala’s forests. It was part of a government sponsored project and I was in the team. We spent two months in deep jungle and had to walk between 7-22 kilometers every day. Each day was about a new adventure – narrow escape from poisonous snakes, running for dear life from wild elephants and so on. By the time we called it a day, we would be bruised and sore from running and crawling on the ground and other antics. Nonetheless, it all brought us closer to nature; Silent Valley, Parambikulam, Periyar and Iravikulam felt more and more like home with each passing day.
When we set out, my fellow travellers – some of them seasoned trekkers – had told me that spotting a tiger while on a safari in North Indian jungles was easier compared to spotting one on a forest trek in Kerala. I soon realized this was true. All we could spot were pug marks and tiger faeces. We pinned our hope on Parambikulam, the last destination on out itinerary where we would have nine days to look for the big cat.
We spent the first three days at Parambikulam searching for a glimpse of its tiger population; barefoot so as to make the least noise possible. But none came by and by the third day we were cursing our luck. We turned our attention to photographing other animals while secretly hoping that the tigers would surface.
On the last day, we headed to Anakkal Vayal after lunch. Ten minutes into the trek, we spotted fresh tiger faeces and pug marks. Vasanthan, our guide, scanned the area through his binoculars and informed us that we had struck gold – four tigers were lazing around at a waterhole just 500 mts away.
We tried to contain the excitement as we lay down on the forest floor and inched our way forward. We hid behind a tree and drank in the sight of the striped glory. Clicking away in excitement, we were getting ready for a second round when the tigers suddenly turned to look at us. We tried to be as still as possible. It seemed like they didn’t see us as a threat. As soon as their attention went back to the waterhole, we crawled about 100 mts closer. Now we had an unhindered vision of the tigers.
In one swift movement, the tigers were out of the water and positioned themselves on the rocks – one to the right of where we were, one to the left and two in front of us. Confused about which one to focus on, I decided to click pictures of the pair in front. A few clicks over and the one of the tigers stopped to look at us and then proceeded to walk in our direction in a slow, languid pace. I felt a shiver run down my spine. It stopped on reaching the tree that separated us from where the tigers were. It leaped onto the tree and then back and soon was engrossed in the game. We clicked away to our heart’s fill. I got 16 shots of the breath taking scene. Perhaps that was the best wow moment till date for me in the jungle.
A new story each time
In December last year, I had been to the African grasslands where I could see the king of the forest in all glory. A dream come true, I could shoot some exquisite pictures on that trip. Our enclosed vehicle stopped for the tourists to enjoy the sight of the lion that had walked straight into our path. Taking measured steps around our vehicle, it decided to lie down for some rest near the front wheel. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears, watching this drama upclose. When I started out on that trip, I had a dream shot in my mind – of a lion shaking rainwater off its mane. That didn’t happen, but what eventually did was a million dollar date with the king.
At home in the jungle
Ask me anytime if I am happier homebound or junglebound, it’s the latter; it doesn’t matter in what part of the world. That said, I find the forests of Kerala the most alluring; it is where my soul is. The unique feeling that forests can fill your heart with, the priceless shots on my camera – I find my best inspiration in these. My pictures have thrice made it to the second round of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition held annually by Natural History Museum in London. But what gives me true joy is attracting people to forests and wildlife, when I act as a catalyst between them and the magic of the wild.