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Onto to Northern India Part 2

Onto Northern India Part 3

Onto Northern India Part 4

India: A nation with one hand down its trousers and the other stuffed up a nostril- and that's just the bloke who made your chapattis. It all begins in the bedlam of Delhi, visits the bedlam of Agra, takes in the bedlam of Haridwar. Then, at last, a little peace and quiet catching some Mahseer in the lovely Ramganga River followed by a shameful fishing debacle down on the Kosi...

I'd forgotten how much I used to love airports. That feeling of relief and excitement tingling my very skin as the mundane stresses and worries of everyday life are left behind, swirling in the wake of a seven quid sandwich, a poke round duty free and a couple of pints in Weatherspoons. Watching the world around come and go, relaxing with a nice glass of beer, savouring the knowledge that the next time my feet touched tarmac it'd be in some exotic, far-flung, distant land... But for obvious reasons, these days that little interval of bliss is all but gone, lost in the interminable queues, checks and x-rays of Heathrow. Arriving four hours before take off leaves just enough time for a quick sprint to the gate (if your trainers make it through the x-ray), with fat chance of a spare hour to lounge about in front of a plasma telly. Still, looking on the bright side, you save a small fortune in sandwiches, and I suppose the odds are cut of being hijacked by some dippy radical waving his nail clippers about- or even coming a cropper due to a stray bottle of incendiary Evian - both of which are clearly lethal in the wrong hands. 

Hmm. But I'd also forgotten about 5 hour transfer delays at airports (hello Milan). I'd forgotten how 'long' long-haul can seem when you're tired. I'd also forgotten how bad airline food can be (truly lethal in the wrong hands)...

 I'd forgotten the "oooh, I must be a wounded gazelle" feeling arrival at an Asian airport can instigate. I'd forgotten the madness of Indian taxi rides (when they have a blow-out in the middle of the highway). I'd forgotten about being air-lifted by squadrons of mosquitoes. I'd forgotten the smell. I'd forgotten the heat. And as I lay in our Paharganj Palace staring at the four walls and ceiling with their delicate patina of flaking pink paint, handprints, footprints, cracks, mould and other unidentifiable stains in the vein of a dirty protest, I realised I'd also forgotten just how 'crap' crap rooms can be. 

It was already clear that during the previous few months, as I'd sat at my desk scrimping up the pennies and dreaming wistfully about leaving Blighty's draughty shores for warmer climes again, my selective travel memory had skipped a few issues with regard to independent budget travel.

But we had a bed, in a room, in a hotel, in Delhi, and were staying in India for as long as it takes. However long that may be.

7 o'clock in the morning. A terrified pounding rattled the door on its hinges:
"I am frome ze next roooom... I am frome ze next roooom!!!"
Again the door shook in its frame. "I am frome ze next rooooooooom!!!"

I bolted upright from a jet-lagged slumber. Grabbing a pair of grubby boxers from off the grubby floor I lurched across the room, pushing a foot through the fly-hole and fretting on how we'd escape a burning semi-derelict hotel in the crumbling rat's maze that is Delhi's Paharganj. 

The door banged and banged and banged: 
"I am frome ze next roooom!!!  I am frome ze next rooooooooom!!!" the concrete corridor echoed again.
"Alright, alright! I'm coming, I'm coming!"

Opening the still rattling door, I glimpsed through the crack expecting to see a soot smudged, panic stricken face topped with a smouldering tuft of hair. But instead, all I could see was a small, wet, middle aged, fur-ball of a Frenchman, standing naked but for a dirty towel wrapped around his waist. He held out a scrawny hand:
"I ave run out of ze showere gel and ze shop is now closed. Can you elp me please and give me some for ze showere?"

Eh?!! Tired, stroppy and confused, I gazed down at his trembling paw. "Wait there" I snapped. Arriving back at the door a few seconds later, I dripped a stingy dollop of 

"Holy Cow, Fatman... It's India!!!"

Paharganj, Delhi, having a quiet moment as a Holy Cow casually exercises it's right of way.

The Taj Mahal; the gleaming jewel in the steaming turd that is Agra.

But with India being, well, India, you'll find no 100% Holy Cow patty in a McDeepaks quarterpounder with paneer.

Melon & Mango Tropical Zest about the size of a baked bean in his palm. He glanced at the tiny squirt of shower gel and then looked up at me with a pathetic, pleading
expression: "Pleeeaassse, give me ze ole bottle- I will return eet after I ave ad ze showere" he whined. 


Pushing the door shut squarely into his forlorn looking little face, I turned back into the hovel.
"What was all that about?" groaned Lynne as she slipped back under the sheet.
"Don't worry duck, we're not on fire. We'd just forgotten about the nutters".



The Main Bazaar of Paharganj is really more Main Bizarre- the narrow alleys and randomly kerbed streets a heaving, baking amalgam of chaos 
and cowshit. Stepping fresh off 
the plane from England is like being
dropped into an industrial tumble 
drier. I'm sure we've all read people 
whimsically waxing lyrical about India's
"sensory overload" and other similar 
threadbare clichés, but until you've 
attempted to battle your way through 
the heat, stench, livestock, tourists, 
touts and rickshaws of Paharganj it 
really means nothing. I remember 
thinking; "I've been a few 
places. It can't be too bad can it?" But in 
reality, I have to say it really does raise the 
bar somewhat. Or lower it, depending on your standpoint. 

Of course there are the crowds, the sights and the smells to deal with (I remember one particularly stomach-churning interlude being a sewer repair underway down one of the tiny alleys, half a dozen

Indian Hippy = Saddhu.
Western Hippy = Saddo.
Whatever. But please- always 
remember: "Never Trust A Hippy"


Oh look! Indian 
Gingerbread Man!

almost naked blokes in a pit wrestling with the pipes whilst thigh and elbow deep in black human shit) but it's impossible to wander down the cramped, rickety lanes as a foreigner without being accosted every few metres by a tout of some description. 

Whether it's flogging tours, tickets or hotels, each and every one of them somehow miraculously claims to be your "friend", and each and every one of them is as persistent as the last; English apparently perfect, yet strangely without the slightest grasp of the word "NO!". Amusingly, one even advised us as he followed us down the street chattering endlessly, "you can't trust anyone here... in fact, you can't even trust me". This was precisely 5 minutes before depositing us at the door of his mate's back street tour office instead of the tourist railway ticket office we were heading for. Luckily, we quickly discovered a useful survival technique- called Spanglish. A bewildered "que?" in the style of Manuel on Fawlty Towers, the odd shrug of the shoulders and a "lo siento senor, no entiendo, no hablo ingles" usually saw a pan-faced vulture slinking off back to his ambush spot to await some more easily understood prey. Honestly, it worked virtually every time- worth remembering if you ever find yourself feeling like the Pied Piper of Paharganj. 

A couple of days in Delhi, and it has to be said that it already felt like time to get out. I'm sure that somewhere there must be some nicer districts, but we obviously weren't in one of them. So before heading up to the rivers further north, the decision was made to go and visit Agra and the Taj Mahal while in this neck of the woods, on the basis that it's plain rude not to.

To this end a railway ticket was required, something which in the western world is a straightforward, simple thing to obtain, but which in Delhi turned into a day-long trail of lies, half-truths, misinformation and combat-queuing with the great unwashed. After fleeing the aforementioned back-street tour office without even pulling up a seat, we were directed to what turned out to be another bloke's friend's granddad's uncle's brother-in-law's back street tour office. We very quickly bolted from this one after being informed quite sincerely that no trains were running the next day and that we'd need to hire a car and driver for the equivalent of a couple of hundred dollars a day... blah, blah, blah de blah. 

The search continued. After a couple of unnecessary detours, next stop, what should have been the "tourist" railway ticket office. Here another dumbbell locked us in on his radar and swooped to inform us that we couldn't buy tickets there, and that we should follow him to another "official" tourist railway ticket office. Of course... of course... I cocked an ear, feeling sure I'd heard another tooth fairy chucking herself out of a Christmas tree. 

Hacked off by now, his pleading and whining was steadfastly ignored and we entered the melee of the ticket hall. A mind-boggling vision greeted us: dozens of 

Will Smith and Sanjeev's Kumar Grandma dish out the offerings down at the Har-Ki-Pairi ghat.

"Here you are madam. Now please be giving me 100 Rupees to be helping with my spiritual development".

mesh-fronted service desks, each one with a scrum of people practicing various levels of free-form queuing in front of it. 

The stinking air was circulated only by a few languidly rotating ceiling fans- along with a few hundred frantically waving arms.

Fanning out a couple of elbows, I took a deep breath and joined what I thought might be some kind of random queue. But elbows alone are not enough, especially when you're a foreigner in these parts. As I stood politely awaiting my turn, at least three people forced their way directly in front as I was edged further and further back, thereby inadvertently fulfilling the designated role of "polite Johnny foreigner". 

Angry disputes broke out in front of me and at the mesh hatches to either side: people behind screeched jabbered exchanges over my shoulder with those at the front, the toiling chaos not unlike a punch-up at a turkey farm. Beads of sweat on my forehead became streams, and my shirt stuck to my back. The pungent hot air started to feel almost too thick to breathe as it barely moved around the hall. Another diminutive Indian tried to force his way in front of me. Thoroughly pissed off, and figuring that it was going to take 14 hours to buy a ticket at this rate, I stood firm and elbowed him back out- his face forming a momentary expression of surprise before he slinked off and pushed in somewhere further back. Meanwhile, more people were forcing their way into the scrum from the sides, some waving hands clutching wads of grubby Rupee notes, others with arms  clasped to their chest to make themselves more streamlined for the wedging in process, while I kept myself pushed up as tight as possible to the sweating figure in front to prevent anyone else from crow-barring themselves into the human grid lock. Oh for an online check-in...

The ordeal was brought to an end when Lynne appeared through the swarm with a pair of rail tickets clutched in her mitts. It seems the lady's queue along the hall was an orderly line of about a dozen duckies in multi-coloured saris discussing the price of chapattis. I knew I'd brought her along for something. Aside from the pleasure of her company, of course.

The junction of the Main Bazaar and Chelmsford Road (which I can assure you will not bring you out in


After just a few days in India, we'd already began to get an idea of just how many people constitutes 1.2 billion as the great unwashed gathered for an evening paddle in the Ganges at Haridwar. This isn't even the Kumbh Mela festival, where it turns out things start to get busy.

suburban Essex) was also grid locked even as the train left the station at 6.15am the following morning, just as it had been at 10pm the previous  evening, and as we slid along the rails we got to gaze upon Delhi awaking. As I said earlier, there must be nice districts somewhere, but all I can remember seeing on the way out of the city were incredible slums - acre after acre of smoky smouldering blackplastic sheeting, corrugated tin and cardboard, nearly naked kids playing in the dust and the smoking heaps of rubbish, with goats and cattle wandering among the heaps, huts and kids. Ramshackle clusters of homes consisting of stacked bricks (without the mortar filling) teetered as if the slightest breeze would bring the whole lot crashing in on the sleeping inhabitants. There were stagnant black ponds and stagnant black ditches full of refuse, while lines of squatting men discussed the state of the nation over a morning dump on the railway tracks. 

As the urban sprawl thinned a little to allow the occasional patch of scrubby green field to poke through, I remember looking at the scene aside the train and thinking: "How quaint. All the people working the fields together at this early hour. So charming... And look... they're all squatting... at the... same... time... oh... dear..." Each of the patches of scrubby green must have been like some kind of poo minefield, and clearly not somewhere you'd want to be skipping across after dark in your flip flops. Eventually the scrubby green patches metamorphosed into a flat panorama of baked ochre, interspersed only by oily black rivers and small dusty villages. I picked the Hindustan Times off a seat nearby. An article inside celebrated India's phenomenal economic growth, at the time of tapping

Arriving at Agra, we ended up getting hustled into taking an auto rickshaw to our lavish lodgings(!) down near the Taj Mahal itself, a place called Shanti Lodge. Our rickshaw driver, we'll call him Gadoop, cos that was what it sounded like, seemed like a nice enough old fella. Chatty and smiling, somehow we even found ourselves flicking through his "comments book" (yup, that old chestnut) and obviously they all gave a glowing commendation of his services. We really should have checked for torn out pages. Anyway, we signed up his services as "tour and guide" for the day- once I'd made it crystal clear that we would not be doing any "shopping". He was either very good, very thick skinned, or both.

The Taj itself is a work of architectural genius, a glowing mausoleum of intricately inlaid marble which looks as remarkable from one metre as it does from a hundred, situated right on the banks of the Yamuna River. Ok, so the river is an oily black slug bejewelled with a fleet plastic bags, and Agra itself is a hectic, smelly, stressful kind of place to visit, but the setting and the building are truly a sight to behold- especially bathed in the evening sunshine. The Taj is one of the world's iconic images, so we all know what it looks like, but it really is worth a visit to see for yourself anyway. The box is ticked. 

Oh, but one other thing I just remembered... the visit here was our first induction in the Indian governments 'split pricing' structure. We all know, accept and understand why it happens right across the world in terms of 'local price' and 'tourist price', but India has no qualms about sticking it's tongue out and flicking the Vs as it does it. The tariff on the wall proudly states on entry "Taj Mahal, Admission: Indian 20 Rupees. Foreigner 750 Rupees". A restrained increase in margin, I'd say. Though it's entertaining to see a lot of the foreigners arriving on foot or by rickshaw and handing over a fat wedge of notes, while several dozen Indian businessmen and their families arriving by brand new air conditioned 4x4 then dribble out a handful of 5 Rupee notes onto the desk. Hmmm. I guess the bloke doing the mogul means-testing was having a day off. I wondered if it might be a worth a try back in the UK... I can see it now: "Tower of London, Admission: Briton £16.00. Foreigner £400.00". Naaa, it's not gonna work is it? 

this out, standing 2nd fastest in the world (behind China) at around 9%. All very good I'm sure, but from what I'd seen thus far I'd suggest that 90% of the population don't see a single Rupee of it. 

"Put your haaands on... put your haaands on..."

Aside from the Taj tariff, Mr Gadoop had several clever little segues and scams up his sleeve which kept us ducking and diving all day, some of which we kind  of dodged, and some of which we didn't, and by evening I felt like a sheep with udders, having been simultaneously fleeced and milked all day long. As I sat on the loo that evening trying to avoid the drips percolating through the mouldy ceiling from the bathroom above, and speculating why our room had a random mural of New York's Twin Towers covering the wall at the head of the bed (?!), the executive decision was made that one night in Agra would be enough. After all, it was time to hit the north and try to find a few Mahseer.

So, another day, another railway station, but Agra was Squabble-lite in comparison to Delhi. The ticket seemed very cheap- suspiciously cheap- just 108 Rupees for a 10 hour journey, but we figured maybe that was just the way it was. Our suspicions were aroused a little further when the lovely old handle-bar moustachioed superintendent on the platform politely suggested that maybe we should "be getting upgrade from conductor when aboard sir".

Marchula Bridge over the Ramganga. Clear water, clean air, green countryside and peace and quiet. At last.

Aww. Aren't they lovely?

"Ok, thanks" I replied. 
"Yes - please be finding the conductor with moustache sir. He will help you sir". He wobbled his head and smiled politely.

And so we stood on the platform and waited under a burning sun. An hour or so later, the train creaked into view and then clunked into the station. As we loaded our packs onto our backs, I saw our carriage number creep past. It resembled a sooty metal salami, crammed to bursting with a writhing stuffing of human offal.

The barred windows were filled with a montage of sweating, pinched, pained and squashed faces; arms popped out between the bars as if there were small splits in the salami's skin. As the train halted in a hot pall of black diesel smoke, lumps of phlegm and food remnants catapulted between the barred windows onto the tracks. Several dhal-yellow go-faster stripes of vomit were visible down the side of the carriage in varying stages of solidification. Lynne and I exchanged glances:

"Bollocks! We're not that poor...!"

A few minutes later, after a chat with the nice man with the clipboard and moustache (and the handing over of another sheave of Rupees) we spent the next 10 hours in our own seats in an air-conditioned carriage, albeit feeling a little guilty that at least we had an option to bail out- unlike those poor souls rammed into cattle class. Although cattle class is probably a bit of a misnomer, because you'd never shoehorn that many ruminants into one cart without contravening some kind of live animal export regulations. It was, frankly, appalling. Hmm. Rattling northwards my mind finally began to focus on fishing. 

Himalayan Mahseer, the slim-line northern  cousins of the hump-backed ones I'd encountered a few years previous down in the south. And I'd been looking forward to catching one for so long. The further north the train made tracks, the harder I looked at each little patch of water. But it was all becoming a little disturbing. Every puddle, pond, stream or river we had crossed by this point had looked, well, at best "not very fishy", to a flowing slug of open sewage at worst.

We have Mahseer! 
Ok, so it's only small - but it's perfectly formed.

In fact, by the time we were less than 100km from Haridwar I'd still seen very little water looking capable of supporting anything higher than a single cell life form. I truly, truly hoped this wouldn't be the case once we got up into them there hills.

After a late night arrival and an overnight in Haridwar, we found there is an Uttaranchal State Tourist Office in town. It is a chocolate teapot of the highest order. I enquired therein about the requirements for fishing permits in the state. 

There was clearly something getting lost in translation (not for the first or for the last time).
"Hello. Do you have any information on getting fishing permits in Uttaranchal please?" 
The bloke working behind the desk wobbled his head; "Yes sir" he replied, as he handed over a pamphlet on trekking up Nanda Devi.
"Sorry, no. Erm... fishing... Mahseer. Ramganga. River. In Uttaranchal?"
"Ah yes sir!" The head wobbled again and he slid over a leaflet highlighting various white water rafting options on the Ganges.

"Erm. No. Mahseer? You know? Fishing permit? Ramganga? Kosi River? Here? Please?".
"Ahhh yes sir!" his furrowed brow widened again and his head wobbled like a toy dog on a parcel shelf as he handed over a nicely printed flyer for a resort supplying safaris into the Corbett Park.
"Erm. Rrrrright... I'd like to go fishing for Mahseer... you know Mahseer? (Head wobble) Right... erm, in Uttaranchal. Can I buy a Mahseer fishing permit here?"
Head wobble, large size: "Ahhh. Not here sir. At Foreign Immigration Office".
"So where is the Foreign Immigration Office?"
"At the post office of course sir", he concluded with a satisfied smile and yet another head wobble.

Searching up and down Haridwar High Street, eventually we found the post office. Approaching the counter, I smiled and nodded to the man behind it:
"Hello. Is the Foreign Immigration Office here?"


Wobble wobble. "No. This post office sir"."Well is there a Foreign Immigration Office near to here? I'd like to buy a fishing permit."
Wobble wobble wobble: "No sir. 2 kilometre this way" he replied pointing up the road. "Taking cycle rickshaw. Pass Shiva monument. Asking for Urdi Burdiwallam**," (**ok, I made that up, but you get the picture). We walked out into the masses again. A cycle rickshaw pulled up; "Can you take us to Urdi Burdiwallam please?"
Another head wobble, and we were in and off. Ten minutes later our man stopped pedalling.
"Urdi Burdiwallam", he said. We got out and paid him his Rupees. "Over there?" I asked, and his head wobbled. I decided to take this as positive, but who can really tell?

After walking up and down the street  a couple of times, we picked the largest, most  ornate building and walked into the courtyard. A young lad slumbering in the shade woke as we walked through:
"Is this Urdi Burdiwallam?" I asked, "Can I buy a fishing permit here?". He wobbled his head and gestured towards the office door nearest. Entering, the lad followed us and shouted something through behind us. An old man awoke behind the desk, yawning and stretching out in the style of Bagpus.
"Hello. Can I buy a fishing permit here please?" And he wobbled his his head. My heart froze. Extreme tension. Was this a yes wobble or a no wobble... or just a wobble wobble....?
"No sir. This way. Going 3 kilometre" he replied, pointing back past the post office in exactly the same direction from which we had arrived. "Oh arse to this...!" 
At this point I gave up and decided to sort it out another day, before my karma shot off down the Ganges on an inner tube. We went down to the Har-Ki-Pairi Ghat for a look around for now. At least down there there were only a few thousand priests, pilgrims, lepers, hawkers, beggars, saddhus, hippies and cheeky kids to drive me nuts.

Slipping one back into the crystal clear waters. Happy days. Very, very happy.

Down at the ghat, it was all kicking off. It seemed that way, anyway. As the afternoon progressed, more and more people gathered on the banks of the Ganges. Priests collected donations for the various shrines and temples along the embankments. People pretending to be priests tried to collect more donations for their own imaginary shrines and temples along the embankments. Kids ran among the crowds begging money, sweets, pens, chewing gum, fags(?), paper and anything else they could get for nothing, while lepers sat waving their stumps at anyone who could bear to look. 

Hawkers at their stalls were doing a roaring trade in puja baskets containing flowers and candles, plastic canisters for Holy Ganges Water® take-aways, and in atta paste offerings to chuck in the river. Aligning with our particular lanes of interest, I bought a bowl of marble sized atta balls from a lovely old lady who was sat on the steps with glasses like fish-eye lenses, while Lynne purchased a puja so she could launch a burnt offering at sundown. Finding a spot off a bridge where I could see some fish below, I ceremoniously dripped my balls into the river. The fish were mainly carp and catfish which eagerly devoured the stuff as 

soon as it hit the surface. I guessed it wasn't all going to be quite so easy once we reached a stretch of river where fishing was permitted! 

By evening there were absolutely thousands of people- women in hitched-up brightly coloured saris paddling in the edges, their children hanging onto the railings and chains anchored to the banks to stop them being swept away in the roaring current, and a few thousand spectacular Parantha Paunches which hung over an eclectic mix of Y-fronts and Spandex as the male contingent cavorted in the holy waters.

As the light began to fail, still further the crowds swelled. Torches, lamps and streetlights began to illuminate the masses; bells and whistles fought to clamour above the crescendo of rushing water and babbling voices. Officials started to try and arrange the masses into some kind of order, indicating when groups should raise their hands in some kind of sanctified Mexican Wave. More and more scam-artists and children tried their luck, more bells rang out their message, the edge of the river became rammed solid with a writhing string of bodies, so when it was Lynne's time to release her puja we were stuck in a squabbling gaggle of saris. Luckily, a bloke offered to help her out- guiding her to the water's edge and lighting her candle so her burnt offering 

could be launched. The second the puja hit the water he held out his hand and demanded a hundred rupees. He settled for fifty. But after chucking Lynne's puja and my atta balls into the holy river, at the very least we figured we were now blessed to the max! Reversing back into the madness, a little leave of combat was required and we retired to one of the nearby bridges, only to find that this too was rammed solid with people. Soon there was only one place left to go: the hotel - where we collapsed with  relief, relishing peace and quiet under the cool of a fan a short while later.

It was an interesting afternoon, and its a spectacle I don't think it's possible to have any realistic concept of until you're stuck in the middle of it all. And even though we were, we still had absolutely no idea of what the hell was going on. We did find out that there wasn't a festival on- this was just an average day at the Har-Ki-Pairi. A few days into the journey, and I was beginning to understand one thing: just how many people it takes to make up 1.2 billion. And so finally to
the hills... please!!

The bus to Ramnagar consisted of several bits of other vehicles patched together with a bit of weld sputter, a few screws and a couple of rolls of Duck tape, and as usual it was jammed to the wheel arches with all manner of baggage- human or otherwise. 

Wilko irritating the chilwa in Marchula bridge pool.

Lovely fish...But my most shameful fishing exploit ever? It was certainly up there, I'm afraid.

But... as dirty, uncomfortable, crowded, stifling (and unlikely to pass an M.O.T.) as it was, it was      cheap as chips and it was going to where we wanted to go. Well, where I wanted to go, anyway. Along the way it stopped at a couple of similar looking
dusty towns, before finally rumbling to a halt in the lively little bus station off bustling Ranikhet Road in the centre of Ramnagar.

We got a room at a budget hotel along the main drag, the Hotel Anand (at this point I had  no idea how many times the name Anand would be cropping up to haunt me in the days to come), and then I went up to the park ticket office to find out what I could find out. I found out it was shut.

At least they'd opened up the next morning. But we had a problem. The scoop of pakoras we'd eaten at one of the stopping points during the bus journey was clearly still disagreeing with poor Lynne. In fact, it was more than disagreeing; it was having a nasty little scuffle that was escalating by the hour. Though the temperatures ranged from 30 degrees at night to 40 degrees by day, she remained in bed, wrapped in my fleece, a sweatshirt, tracksuit bottoms, two pairs of socks and all the blankets we could muster, with the fan switched firmly off. 

Although freezing cold, the poor girl was sweating


and fevered, and permanently curled up on the marble filled mattress just waiting for the next foray into Trap 1 - while I laid on the bed in my boxers, sweating and hyperventilating in the heat. Luckily, a happy and helpful young lad called Purwal who worked at the hotel had for some reason taken it upon  himself to look after us during our stay. While Lynne insisted that I go and see what I could sort out, Purwal insisted that he'd wait on her every need. I reluctantly left her in his capable hands for a while... albeit pleased to be able to breathe some fresh air for an hour or two. Although I use the word 'fresh' pretty loosely. 

I'd figured I'd need a driver and/or a guide to get down to the river, and once I'd asked around at the ticket office, it all fell into place remarkably easily, just for once. A couple of the blokes hanging around with mobile phones said they knew a couple of guides, and before I knew it I'd arranged to meet one of them later that afternoon. After meeting Assaram, it was clear he was knowledgeable about things Ramganga and Mahseer, and the trip was lined up for a 6am start the next morning. I could hardly wait!

At last... After checking that Our Lynneth was suitably warm(?!!), wrapped up and watered, and after Purwal had promised that he'd keep regular tabs on her progress throughout the day, I crept out of the room into the relative cool of morning. Before sunrise the jeep wound it's way through the beautiful valley on the road that forms the eastern boundary of the reserve, and I have to admit that I was tingling with excitement. For the first time since arriving in India I could smell the countryside instead of decay and diesel. Monkeys swung through the trees, while peacocks and wild chickens scurried around in the crisp brown leaves of the brush verges. We passed through just stirring villages with the smoke of the fires drifting between the rustic huts. There were deer crossing the boulder strewn beds of dried out tributaries, and a multitude of birds flitting between the branches of the leafy canopy over head. At last, at last, at last...! 

After calling at a tiny village store along the way for some atta flour and a couple of bags of bread, we finally stopped on the iron bridge which traverses the river gorge at Marchula. Gazing down at the river, it was running gin clear and it looked stunning. The river babbled over some boulders directly beneath the bridge, before hitting a near vertical cliff projecting on the left hand side and disappearing into a deep, dark pool. 100 metres down stream, and the pool shallowed up to another sparkling riffle before sweeping down the bottom of another near vertical cliff face on the right hand side, a flat, wide gravel beach forming the left hand bank. Further down, I could make out a big, sweeping S-bend, again with more cliffs and rocks on the opposite bank... One thing was for sure, the Ramganga was not short of character. I couldn't wait to get fishing.

Ringing the changes with the atta paste. Additions that proved successful: turmeric, Hing asafoetida, molasses and shrimp paste. At the end of the day, nothing beat a wriggling chilwa though!


It's scorching sunshine and 40 degrees plus out on my rock, but for some reason this cheeky fella decided to come and brighten my day.

Of course, with India being India there was some paperwork to be completed first. Assaram knocked up the clerk at the permit office in the village (I'd been barking completely up the wrong tree back in Haridwar, which probably explains the wild goose chase...). He shuffled through with only a lunghi around his waist, yawning and wiping sleep from his eyes before sitting at his desk, and then nipping out a small but crisp fart as he leaned forward to pick up his pen:
"What is your good name sir?"
"Andy Pearson"
"Andy Piss, sir?"
"Erm... Sometimes", I smiled, and the permit was duly filled out.  I've been called worse I suppose.

The first spot Assaram took me down to was about 2 kilometres downstream from the bridge- a sweeping, boulder strewn bend in the river. As we approached the edge, I first noticed how clear the water was, and then secondly, I noticed just how full of fish the water was! Clouds of chilwa hung in a slack to my left, and with the polaroids on it was easy to see small Mahseer chasing around in gaps between the boulders. I had been thinking it might be tricky to catch one of these fellas, but early evidence suggested that it wouldn't be too difficult to get off the mark. Assaram looked through the tackle box I had in my dry bag. I'd brought some of my smaller lures with me, and it disturbed me when he dismissed all of them

"I want... errrrrm... that one!"

(bar one) as too big - after all we'd used big Rapala Super Shads down in the south, and none of what I had brought was over 3 and a half inches long! Anyway we were to use bait to begin with, and settling on 11lb test line and the lighter spinning rod I'd brought with me, he set about tying a double hook rig on the end, with what I thought looked like the dodgiest looking knot in the world: "You sure this is this ok? " I asked, holding it up to him. "Good sir", he replied. "Ok", I thought, "when in Rome and all that". A further surprise was the bait. He removed a bread roll from one of the bags, broke it in two, impaled half on each of the size 2/0 hooks, and then gestured towards the water. I really never expected to be trotting bread crust for Chub. 

My first cast into the Ramganga. The bread hit the water, a mob of greedy fish attacked it on impact, and 30 seconds later I had my first Himalayan Mahseer in my hands. Quite how it got a 2/0 hook and half a bun in it's mouth I'll never know. Still, small it may have been, but it was perfectly formed... and I was off the mark. Every run down produced a frenzy of small Mahseer round the crust, until it was either devoured from the hook or a fish impaled itself, and after 3 or 4 of them, biggest perhaps about 3lbs, I was already looking around for something more, well, challenging to do. It really was like Chub fishing on the Welland- even the fish were a similar size! When I struck at a  bite and foul hooked a cute little fish of about 2lbs under it's pectoral fin on the 'stinger' hook, this was enough, and I asked Assaram if we could do something different. He nodded, and we set off with the gear to another spot a bit further downstream.

This  swim looked really fishy. Looking at the amount of rocks in this area, I decided to rig up my other slightly more powerful rod with 15lb line threaded through the rings. Assaram wobbled his head as I did so (yes wobble or no wobble... who knows?), and then showed me how they rig up for legering in these parts. He tied a swivel on the mainline, then a 2 foot long hook length of 15lb line, and then the ubiquitous double hook rig. Again, I really didn't like the look of the top knot, resting right on the gap in the eye of the hook. He saw me pulling a face: 
"Very good sir, many Mahseer"... I guess you've realised what's coming by now. 

A small stone was bound and tied to the swivel with cotton, and we were ready to go. Atta paste was moulded to cover each hook, and as we slipped behind a huge boulder on the river side, I flicked the rig out into a crease of water slipping from the tip of a barely visible mid-river rock. The rod barely laid still. Small fish set the rod tip bouncing from the second the stone hit bottom, and I laid the rod across the top of the boulder and wedged the butt under another rock behind me- a. to stop me striking at every half decent pull on the rod tip, and b. to stop the rod being pulled 

"You Monkey Bastard".

into the drink should I get a more than decent pull on the rod tip. A few minutes of tip-bouncing later, and I suddenly realised that 9 feet of carbon fibre was lurching in mid-air. I grabbed the cork, and as I did so the clutch began to buzz, my heart began to flutter in anticipation of what might just be on the other end... and then the line fluttered back slack. "Bollocks!" I squealed. I was right about the knot. Assaram looked a little sheepish, and I decided to tie just one hook on the end, myself, with a proper  knot, from here on in then if anything went wrong there'd only be me to blame.

Pesky chilwa proved to be a problem for much of the rest of the day, and to try and alleviate some of the hassle, I stepped up a hook size, tying a size 3/0 O'Shaugnessy to the hooklength and then making the atta balls a little larger in the hope that by the time a larger fish found it there was at least a little bit left. I'd also brought a small tub of Hing asafoetida powder with me and getting Assaram's approval I added some to half of the atta paste we had mixed up- just for a taste of something different. After another couple of smaller Mahseer, things quietened down a little. I was slipping towards one of those mesmerised, hypnotic states you can drift into a short while later, when

The sun was reaching it's zenith, and by early afternoon, the temperature was hitting 40 degrees. The rock I sat on was burning my arse cheeks through my shorts, so we slipped into the shade of a cliff face for a while to have a spot of lunch. All very convivial. After snacking on some dhal (for a change), chapattis and some spicy spuds, we headed upstream to try a bit of different water. Again, another couple of small Mahseer succumbed to the Hing Balls, and after another quiet spell of crisping up nicely in the baking 

from nowhere I was snapped out of the trance by the sound of rod rings scraping along rock! 


I saved the rod just before it disappeared over the boulder, and for perhaps 2 seconds found myself attached to something very lively, before it gained it's freedom.  As I wound in the rig, I prayed that the bloody hook knot hadn't given way!! To my partial relief the hook was still there so I managed to keep what little kudos I have, but somehow, in the short amount of time it had been on the end the fish had utterly destroyed a nasty, heavy, forged, size 3/0 hook. Quite how I'll never know, cos later on I hooked one into a tree trunk on the same rod, reel and line and pulled until my head turned purple and nothing moved a millimetre!

heat, the rod unexpectedly launched skyward from it's boulder-holder and I was pleased to finally wind one into the net. The best fish of the day at perhaps 6 or 7 pounds- not one of the big girls that had figured so prominently in my dreams, but it was a start. I figured all it was going to take was for one of the big ones to make a mistake and then stay connected, and it'd be happy days all round.

The drive back that evening was lovely. After a nice day's fishing, the heat had finally slipped a little from the day, the forest and idyllic looking hamlets were bathed in an amber glow, and I realised that for the first time since I'd arrived in India I was feeling at some kind of peace with it all. Assaram mentioned that he could show me a place where there were dozens of Mahseer, all shoaled up and ready for viewing. I assumed it would be a temple somewhere, but turned out to be a quick glance at the back if the Infinity Resort, a five star hotel and spa with it's gardens backing onto the Kosi River. There must have been a couple of hundred Mahseer shoaled up in the pool covering the full spectrum of size- including one or two really big ones of perhaps 30 pounds in weight. I stood and drooled... then arranged for Assaram and driver to pick me up, same time, same place the next morning.
"Those big Mahseer at the Infinity, Assaram? Is there somewhere on the Ramganga or the Kosi where we can try to catch some big ones like them?" 
His head wobbled: "Yes sir. Tomorrow we try". This sounded promising.

Main Drag Ramnagar was it's usual havoc as the jeep tried to pick its way through the mess. As we waited behind a tangle of carts and cucumbers, something was clearly kicking off. About 20 yards in front of us an unstable looking bare-footed bezerker in national costume (torn trousers, knackered flip-flops, bogie splattered vest) was screaming right in the face of a younger lad who was standing with his friends at the roadside. Losing the plot completely, he grabbed the lad and smacked him squarely in the mouth with a punch Marvellous Marvin would have been proud of. This knocked the lad straight on the floor in front of a passing motorbike, which promptly ran straight over one of his legs. 

As the wheels straddled the damaged limb the lad then found another loony (on the motorbike) screaming in his face, before the bike was rolled back over the leg, kick started and then screamed off down the high street in a puff of dust and smoke. The young lad urgently dragged his damaged leg to the side of the road before he became the Ramnagar speed-bump, and strangely he seemed to be gurning some kind of ironic grin as the blood dripped from his mouth, while his buddies on the kerb were folded over in a fit of hysterics. Meanwhile the mentalist who'd started it all was now strutting down the street ranting at the top of his voice and beating his chest as he berated anyone else who was in earshot. No one in the street raise so much as an eyebrow. Madness, I'd wager.

Assaram and the driver pulled up at dawn the next morning. Lynneth had decided to venture down to the river rather than spend another day imprisoned in the 






Above- Waiting for a rod to launch in a small pool on the Ramganga.


concrete sweat-box at the Hotel Anand.

I jumped aboard the jeep looking forward to trying to outwit one of the large Mahseer we now knew were living in the vicinity. Half an hour later, after a brief bait-stop, we were pulling up in the car park of the Infinity Resort. This worried me a little. But I hoped this was just a convenient place to leave the vehicle as we wandered and fished. As we walked down the path through the neatly tended gardens Assaram finally placed my bag down on the rock viewing platform at the edge of the river. A knot started to form in my stomach. Oh dear. 
"Fishing here sir" he swept his arm towards the river, "setting up rod now sir". 
Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

Assaram ripped up a couple of bread buns and threw them in the river, then watched a frenzy of slurping rubber-lips hoover up the offerings in seconds. "I'm really not sure I want to do this..." I muttered. Handing me a chunk of bread, Assaram gestured that I should, well, fill my boots as it were. Reluctantly I threaded the bait on the hook. Trying to swallow my guilt and taking a deep sigh I flicked it out into the middle of the huge shoal of Mahseer. They rushed forward as one... and then stopped. A couple half-heartedly nudged the bait with their noses, but there were surprisingly no takers as they warily circled. Eventually a small one of a pound or so took a little too much interest, and I pulled the bait out of it's way, breaking the sodden bread from the hook... at which point it was demolished again in a couple of loud slurps. I heard Assaram and one of the resort gardeners sniggering behind me.

Next cast, the same scenario, and the same sniggers from behind. I was getting the impression that perhaps Assaram and his mate knew the rules and were enjoying watching the 'tame' Mahseer 'take the piss', as it were. Deciding to try an old carp fishing dodge, I threaded a chunk of crust a couple of feet up the line and then squeezed a big lump of the soft bread flake onto the hook. Dropping it into the school, the crust slapped on the surface, the Mahseer lunged forward as one, the flake sank, and within a couple of seconds I found myself attached to a good sized fish. It careered around the pool and gave a really spirited account of itself, while the remainder of the shoal drifted around trying to keep out of it's way. A few minutes later, a beautiful, golden fish of perhaps 12 pounds lay in the bottom of my landing net, and after a quick couple of snaps for posterity, it was slipped back into the river.
"Right, that'll do", I remember saying to Lynne.


Looking round Assaram stood with bread bun and rod in hand, all ready to go again. After another couple of fish in the next ten minutes, I'd had enough. This had nothing to do with 'sporting', had nothing in common with the picture of Mahseer fishing my imagination had painted before I left England, and quite frankly, I wanted to be out of there before the first of the resort guests were up and about for breakfast - partly cos I didn't want to face the usual "caught anything mate?" inquisition every five seconds... but most of all because I would have been mortally ashamed to be seen fishing there.

"Assaram. This not good. We go fishing properly now please?" I asked. He looked confused.
"Good place here. Many many fish".
"I know there's many fish. But they're pets. No fun. Not sport. Not fair. Please can we go another place on Kosi River and try Mahseer?"

He shrugged his shoulders: "Many fish here. Best place. Kosi very shallow sir. No many fish. This good". He obviously found it bizarre that I didn't actually want to fish the most heavily fish-populated spot on the whole river. I pleaded with him again but it fell on deaf ears.


Again he shrug-wobbled; "Best place here. Staying sir. Catching many Mahseer". It seemed he had no other places to fish- or more to the point that he didn't even have an inclination go and try anywhere else. I caught another Mahseer there and then, and then began to pack up my gear. "Please, where can we go and fish Mahseer?" I asked again. Assaram stuffed his hands in his pockets and head-wobbled. "This best place on Kosi sir".

So it came to pass that by 9.30am I'd paid Assaram and Mr Driver half their fee for the day, and we were back at the hotel. All you can do is just shrug your shoulders (and wobble your head). In retrospect it perhaps wasn't such a bad thing, as Lynne was still far from 100% anyway. We sat drinking coffee and eating Parantha for breakfast as I revised the plan to catch some Mahseer and try to find a Goonch. I'd only really wanted a guide as some kind of an induction, having the idea that any successes or failures I had should be down to my own shortcomings as far as possible- for better or worse. And after this first little taster, I was doubly determined that this would be the case. Plan B began to form - one which didn't involve fishing any more stock ponds, with any luck.

Onto to Northern India Part 2

Onto Northern India Part 3

Onto Northern India Part 4



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