CIPS (China International Pet Show) is one the leading Pet Fairs of the World. Pet lovers, aquascapers, and business organisations from around the world visit CIPS. Dr. Rahul Mukherjee from India participated in 2019 China International Aquascaping Contest (CIAC). This interview is based on my recent interaction with Dr. Rahul Mukherjee.

Rajiv Sharma: How did you come to know about this event?

Dr. Rahul Mukherjee: As a hardcore planted tank hobbyist for 7 years; but into proper aquascaping only for last 3 years; I, along with my very small circle of aquascaping friends, believed that the contests on international mainstream were mainly the IAPLC conducted by ADA Japan at Niigata; the IIAC conducted by ISTA Taiwan; and the AGA conducted by Aquatic Gardeners Association based in USA. However, from the last 3 years, a next generation event with a unique form came up in Asia, backed by the well-known Chinese Aquascape Association and China International Pet Show (CIPS); and with each year it grew exponentially drawing a lot of participants and talent worldwide.

In July 2019, I came across a Facebook post by the renowned aquascaper Mr. Felipe Oliveira aka The Tree Man, who happens to be a judge of the contest, indicating that CIPS is accepting entries for 2019. I immediately went through the rules and was fortunate to find that I had three scapes.

As a newbie, I had no idea about the outcome. When I participate in any competition, I always give my best, don’t expect much and never complain even when I feel disappointed and dissatisfied from my heart, just like I did throughout my school & college exams. I have a firm belief that participation is the key and it’s always important to stay connected.

Rajiv Sharma: What was the first indication of something big coming along? Tell us more about the results.

Dr. Rahul Mukherjee: On October 13, 2019, news came flying around through Facebook, Instagram and friends that somehow I had ranked 16th worldwide in CIAC Merit List of Top 100 Aquascapes in the Big Tank Category out of a staggering 1000+ contestants. To be honest, I had not been expecting that as I thought I was a microscopic creature in the world of aquascaping. It is also notable that the top-scoring CIAC 2019 aquascape has been the most laborious one in my three years as an aquascaper. It was an emotional moment for me. I had little knowledge of what was coming next.

This was just the beginning of a dream. I was informed via email that I was invited to the Live Aquascaping Contest in the CIPS arena in Shanghai on November 20th, being the winner among the Top 100 contestants from my country. And more importantly, the CIPS authorities would be arranging the trip (Travel, Accommodation and Stay plus Food). It was something that I had never dreamt before.

For the next few days, I researched past CIPS events and realised that it was a Mecca – a widely respected global platform with legends and pros in the field. It is extensively unofficially known as THE OLYMPICS OF AQUASCAPING.

It took a week for me to arrange my trip including Visa and on 19th November I set off for my maiden international aquascaping trip as a representative of my motherland India to the live contest at CIPS.

Rajiv Sharma: How were you feeling when you started on your journey to China?

Dr. Rahul Mukherjee: I was a bit nervous, tired (maybe because of my profession as a medical practitioner, managing just 2 hours of sleep in the last 48 hrs); and at the same time I was super excited to meet people whom I worshipped as Gods (excuse my culture) when I initially got into aquascaping. But most importantly, my heart was in my hobby – to represent my country at the international platform and do something decent in the contest, and not experiment like I generally do when I create an aquascape.

When I landed it was cold, windy and unlike the weather of our homeland, I somehow acclimated quickly. I loved the weather that I experienced in China. I was picked up from the airport and dropped to the hotel. My first exposure in the real aquascaping world was when I met people in the hotel lobby, whom I had only seen on social media, blogs and internet over the past 7 years. Till then, I had never been to anything like that.

In the evening that day we, as contestants, were allowed to inspect the area where we were to create our layouts. I have never felt more honoured than I did when I looked at the slot I had been assigned. And from that moment onwards, I began to regard myself as a contender no matter how little I knew about the art as compared to pros.

Rajiv Sharma: What inspired you to create this scape?

Dr. Rahul Mukherjee: Usually my inspiration for photo contests comes from drawings of artists, photographs of nature or the kind of hardscape that is available for live contests. I looked at what was provided and then proceeded accordingly. Of course there was enough material for everyone out there and maybe 5 times more than what you might require. But you must be judicious to use only what you need. Too much and the tank gets cluttered with no visual impact. Too little may be considered a negative. Nevertheless I wanted something different from what I had created back at home for people – something which the audiences can easily understand and such that I don’t make a mess. Inspiration comes from everywhere not just from nature. Grasp the opportunity if you get it.

Rajiv Sharma: How did you create the illusion of depth in the aquarium?

Dr. Rahul Mukherjee: After setting up the primary hardscape, all I want in every tank of mine is to create depth and detailing. But unfortunately at CIPS, in spite of depth I failed to create much slope. I was well satisfied with what it looked like from front. However, it could have been better.

For creation of depth, all that matters is how, as a viewer, we look at the tank from front and feel as if we are going deep into it. You need practice to do that. To create this kind of impact at home, I personally need maybe a full day, sometimes days. There, I can’t recall, maybe I got 15 minutes maximum. But if you have practice like pros, you will need lesser time with each progress.

Rajiv Sharma: Which challenges did you face while setting up this aquascape?

Dr. Rahul Mukherjee: To be honest, I wanted to create a more detailed and complicated layout. But live contests are different. You do too much to it; and viewers may be distracted and confused. Moreover, there were too many hardscape options. That makes a first timer like me feel confused. In spite of that, I stuck to conventional rocks and iron woods with little spider woods so that it does not get cluttered. I wanted to create something spacious.

The first challenge was hundreds of people watching on spot, and via live stream and media, maybe millions worldwide. There were cameras all around. There was a marked contrast from home environment, you are all alone and you are the only one enjoying. Second challenge was that the judges were looking into it from the first hour. You take one wrong step, and maybe it would have an impact. Third, of course, was the feeling and pressure of representing your country and competing with the best in the artistry.

Rajiv Sharma: What did you learn from Live Scaping?

Dr. Rahul Mukherjee: Live Scaping competitions and photo contests differ a lot. It can be compared to two forms of Cricket sport – T20 and Test Cricket Series. Photo contests are similar to test cricket series. We have to set up the tank keeping in mind what and how it will look like after plants grow out in the long term. Live scaping contests are like T20. You have to quickly imagine how you want to make it look, and do it now including coarse and fine adjustments.

I learnt a great deal from Live Scaping:

  • You may not have a lot of choices or little time to think. So, practice will only make you perfect.
  • It is a bonus when you have all sides of your tank perfect as audiences passing by will experience the same.
  • You may be a loser in photo  contests but you may become a champion in live scaping competitions and vice versa.
  • Being fast will give you an advantage in live scaping competitions.

Rajiv Sharma: Provide some tips for newbies in the hobby who want to emulate such aquascapes.

Dr. Rahul Mukherjee: Aquascaping is an art. What may be attractive to you, may not appear identical to others and vice versa. It is just like any other art. But as an art, I have decided long ago that it is not just for pleasure (I mean make one tank and sit back tight with only Facebook, Instagram, social media activity and attract following). If you want you can stretch your reaches further by participating in contests. Once you participate you are already on the list. That could be the biggest feeling of all. But be dedicated to it. Maybe it is not a necessity to always gain something, but it is essential to learn from those who stood above all rest. You can improve in this way. In my opinion it is essential to keep business separate and independent once you indulge in this hardcore art. Sometimes you have to go beyond everything to fulfill your aim in creating the aquascape. You may not copy, follow others, you can have your own style and succeed with it too. But one thing will always take you forward – you have to dream big. Don’t be disappointed on getting any poor ranking. Keep on slogging and give your best until luck hits out. God will only help those who help themselves. There is no end to learning and even winners learn something new every day.

Rajiv Sharma: How can CIPS help aquascapers?

Dr. Rahul Mukherjee: CIPS is an ideal platform to develop a global image of your own. You perform well, and yes you gain a lot. CIPS will let you know how much ahead or behind we are in this field. It will bring you closer to the global aquascaping fraternity.

The interviewer Rajiv Sharma is the Founder of online aquarium forum He is also an aquarium hobbyist and planted aquarium designer. He can be reached at and 9958075234