It's a dumbo dusk down in the park.
the first little Golden Mahseer induction, there was a visit to probably
the worst bar in the world, some more lovely fishing on the Ramganga, an
unsuccessful first punt for a Goonch, some cat and mouse with a
a trip upsetting the wildlife and the management down at the
Corbett Park... and finally winding up in a half-nelson on the banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh. Om.
was already clear it would be better to stay closer to the river. That
way I could explore at leisure with no driver or
guide in tow, and more importantly I could also fish earlier and later at the peak times of day.
After deliberation, I decided to stay in a
camp right on the banks further upstream at Marchula. I couldn't get the 'discount deal' at the camp for a few
days, so the time was passed with a few day's safari in the Corbett Reserve
in the hope of spotting an elusive tiger- or any other wildlife that might
head up above the undergrowth. Up at the park office, we had a couple of hours negotiating
the endless reams of paperwork, then found a driver called Mr Patwal,
and finally handed over wedge of Rupees (Indian; 50 each,
Foreigner; 450 each) for a ticket. We were all set to head into the park the
following day. Lynne still wasn't feeling great and retired back to
bed. It didn't take long for the room to reach gas mark 4,
and I didn't need asking twice when she suggested
that I should perhaps go and "see if I could find somewhere to
have a drink".
and below left- the lovely Ramganga River valley in the Corbett
Park. Full of fish; but no fishing allowed. That's a bit of an arse!
Outside of the
tourist resorts, a glass of beer can be a little thin on the ground up in
Northern India. A visit to the English Wine Shop (colonial liquor store)
can have you feeling like some kind of dodgy criminal as your bundle of Rupees are pushed through a tiny gap in
screen incarcerating the staff and stock, and then your bottle of beer
(carefully disguised in a wrap of newspaper) is furtively pushed back
out. Wandering through the stalls of
Ranikhet Road I asked at a shop
if there was a bar in town. I was directed down one of the side
streets, and on the left hand
side there was a small glass shop front. It was blacked
out completely, but had the letters B-A-R in white written on the
entrance. I took this as a fair clue and tentatively stepped in.
In the dimly lit room, the
congregation of The Slaughtered Lamb flicked silent as
I approached the bar to order a Kingfisher. I headed down
some steps to a tiny basement area to grab a stool where I
could sit for a while. The crypt
was illuminated by the pallid
yellow glow from a couple of 20 watt bulbs on the wall, and it felt that every pair of eyes was fixed on me. The exclusively
were without exception hocking up huge power-balls of phlegm and
spitting them around the room, and as the fat swathes of
cockroaches scurried up the walls
The race is on...
were busily swerving the bubbles of snot running down them.
Not a place for the ladies. I ordered
another beer off the lad who was charged with the job
of running after the drinkers, and the head wobbling and staring continued.
couple of punters came down the steps and looked round the room. I gestured that the two empty stools at my table were free, so they
smiled and took a seat. One of the blokes was a pretty short,
happy looking bloke with a thin moustache and neatly parted wiry hair, whose
name turned out to be Yam Yam. The other was taller, with thinning
hair, more spectacular facial topiary, and looked like he'd
borrowed his teeth off Eyore - like an Indian Freddy
Mercury. Hmm, actually, Freddy was from India anyway, wasn't he?
wobbled their heads and then clinked
bottles with mine. It turned
out that Yam Yam was a driver in the Corbett Reserve, and he had lots
of amusing stories about tiger related shenanigans in the park. Eyore
was his mate.
ordered another beer, but when the young lad sat it on the
table, Yam Yam and Eyore soon put me straight: my beer was a girl. If I was to share table space with them, I was going to
have to drink Kingfisher Strong. Fair enough. When in Ramnagar and all
Finishing my current slurp, I ordered a round of three more 'strongs'. Reading
the back of the bottles, it turns out Kingfisher Light has an
alcohol content of between 3.75% and 5.5% (if I remember rightly),
whereas Kingfisher Strong comes in at a lively 5.75% to 8.75%. This
seemed like a fairly wide bracket to me, but looking back it's only about
as random as India itself. That night I think the batch of 'strongs' must have been
edging past the tramp's-piss side of 8.75, because
after another three of them I was away with the fairies, and Yam Yam
and Eyore were rolling on their stools and laughing at anything. Yam Yam's tales of the Corbett Underworld were getting
more and more random, Eyore was producing some very impressive mucus and displaying it in his own
contemporary gallery for the cockroaches on the wall, and by the time they got up to leave the bar,
I had little idea of what was going on to be honest. Yam
Yam was soon blind, and so offered us a lift, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. In
we were crawling down
the dark back alleys of
The Goonch are paving the river bed like fat gravel.
The teasing little minxes.
Corbett eat your heart out: 20
yards inside the park and look- we're in the thick of it already! The one
below is real, by the way, but I confess the picture is shite!
about 15mph, and while Eyore was sniggering away on the floor in the back,
Yam Yam had his face pressed up the dashboard trying to look out under the
top of the steering wheel. I hinted he could probably
switch the headlights on: "Oooh. Better better" he said as he
hit the switch and relaxed back into his seat... No kidding. Outside the hotel there were a few
overenthusiastic handshakes as we said adios, and I thanked them
for my taxi home- and for not parking the jeep behind reception. Bouncing
up the stairwell and clattering into the room, I woke our Lynne with a
glazed grin across my face and lolloped out across the bed in the
style of a tranquillised walrus with a sinus problem. She's a lucky girl. A bizarre night,
and all good fun... But the worst bar in the world? Probably. And I've
been in some bad ones.
5am the next morning, the alarm dragged me out of a Kingfisher
slumber, and our driver Mr Patwal was waiting outside in the half light.
Laughing Purwal at the Hotel Anand had happily
agreed to look after our heavy bags for a couple of days until our
return and waved us off. Again, the boundary road at that side of the park was
beautiful at that time of the morning, with deer, pheasants and
monkeys and the added bonus
of spotting some tiger prints in the dust at the edge of the track.
Ok, so we didn't actually see the creature that made them, but at
least it was a bit of a boost to know there was one in the area.
At the park entrance, the jeep pulled over and we were
ushered into the office to fill out another
tedious sheave of paper work. Name, age, sex, passport number, visa number,
duration of stay in the park, port of arrival in India, address while
in India, next port of call in India, previous
port of call in India, duration of visit to India, reason for visit to
India, date of birth, profession, shoe size, favourite Spice Girl...
Mr Patwal at Ramganga
Reservoir. Full of fish. No fishing. Again. Arse.
But it's good really, cos at least this means The Family Gharial down there were unlikely to go hungry- or
get blown up.
Once this was out of the way though,
was only the lovely drive
through the park to negotiate on our way to the accommodation centre
at Dikhala. The jeep slowly rolled through the winding tracks amongst the
dense Sal trees, their leaves crunching under the tyres as the
of decomposing vegetation filled the air, we saw Elephants, more Deer
(Spotted, Barking and Sambar), different species of Monkey (Rhesus,
Langur and Bastard- of course), Wild Boar, and last but not least an
incredible diversity of birds- Kingfishers, Bee-Eaters, Parakeets,
Wagtails, Owls, Herons; tweet on! A proper twitcher's delight!
for me the highlight was a visit to a spot called High Cliff.
This was a place where there was a cliff, and it was quite high.
Gazing downwards through the trees clinging to its lip, a deep, wide pool opened out after a small rapid on the dazzling Ramganga
way below. I was instantly mesmerised by the fish life in the
river. There were several Mahseer milling around in the pool, and they
like they had been quite unruffled by anything for quite some time.
Some were small ones, some were medium ones, and some were big ones- a couple
of which would have perhaps been around the 40 pound
mark. As I drooled over the scene in front of me Wilko chirped up at
my left shoulder: "Wow! Look at that one!" and as I quickly scanned the pool again, there, sliding across the
current in the centre, was the mother of all the Mahseer in the river:
H. Christ on a bike...!!!" I whispered. As she gently
finned the tranquil turquoise waters, I was trying to get a handle on
it; just that bit larger and that bit darker
than all the others (why does the really big fish of a group often seem to be a slightly different colour to its brethren?). All I can
say is that it was possibly over 5 feet long, and it must have been 50 pounds in weight. Absolutely enormous, and it made my
stomach turn just to look at it. If only...
Mahseer weren't the only
inhabitants of this magical spot either. A fish-eating Gharial
crocodile laid sunning itself motionlessly on the gravel beach to the
far side of the river, and at the tail end of the pool, just before it
narrowed and shallowed up, a large school of pan-shaped Goonch
littered the river bed like a cluster of fat boulders. I sighed:
"Sorry love, but I'd sell the house and my left marble for a week fishing in
at the Dikhala accommodation area, the less than wonderful side of the
Corbett Reserve began to emerge. We found we had to go through the whole
rigmarole of filling out yet more of the interminable paperwork...
answering exactly the same questions as we had at the ticket office and
again at the entrance. At the bit where the triplicate sheet asked
"Purpose of visit to India?", my sarcastic streak got the
better of me and I scribbled down: "To fill out unnecessary paperwork". The next
line requested "Duration of stay in India?", I decided to put
"6 months- in order to fill out unnecessary paperwork". This
turned out to be a bit of a daft move which did nothing to endear me to the officious
Space-Hopper with a moustache behind the desk. After some more head
wobbling and scribbling, we were eventually told that we should make our
way to the log hut which houses the dorm accommodation for the park.
of the 24 beds arranged in 3 storey bunks across two rooms, 22 were
already occupied by a field trip of Indian school kids. A silent night
was looking unlikely. The dorms were filthy, and a visit to the
shower/toilet block became a safari in itself. Ok, so the fact that it
was full of cobwebs and insects couldn't be helped - it is sat right in
the jungle after all, but the shit up the walls and across the floors,
the filthy broken tiles in the shower room (the ones that hadn't dropped
off), the random plumbing, the absence of light bulbs in any of the
sockets, the grimy ceilings...?
it's India, and so you'd normally just wobble your head, roll your
eyes and go,
"ho hum, whatever"...
before you can buy a ticket to enter the reserve (from the usual split
tariff) you have to find a jeep driver and separately negotiate a rate
for taking you to, from and around the park. After this you find
yourself paying for the accommodation separately. Ok. That's all fair
enough. But, then there's a separate "camera fee", then
there's a "video camera fee" and if you want to use one of the
hessian litter bags from the park entrance office, there's a
"rubbish bag rental fee". Then add to this a further
"jeep entry fee" to allow the driver's jeep into the park...
followed by a "parking fee" for the driver's jeep while it's
in the park (I shit you not!). Tacked onto the end of all that, the
final added extra (for now) turns out to be another "housekeeping
fee" which is over and on top of the accommodation charge. Quite
what the housekeeping fee covers seems to be open to interpretation, but
it certainly doesn't encompass "cleaning".
Background picture- some of the big Mahseer just hanging around,
taunting me and flicking V's with their fins in High Cliff pool!
99, 100... Coming, ready or not!!"
the poor old deer still couldn't work out why they always got
It becomes quite clear after a
time that the reverence
thrown at the Holy Cow in these parts is nothing compared to the attention the powers-that-be chuck at milking the Caucasian
Cash Cow. It really drives you nuts. Still, after spending the
next four or five hours roasting in the incredible heat and hoping we didn't get slapped with a "sitting in shade fee",
at last Mr Patwal
came and told us it was time to head out back into the bush for
as fleeced as you feel and as crappy as Dikhala is, the reserve itself
is wonderful- a proper must-see. There's a myriad of bird and animal
life, there's the
reservoir and it's resident Gharial family (plus
schools of carp and small Mahseer by the dozens cruising up and down the
margins), and being chased backwards through the dust down the
track by a big, angry, protective mother elephant leaves one relieved
that Mr Patwal's
foot didn't slip off the pedal. The only thing missing at the end of our
stay was a Tiger, but as you'd guess this is pretty much the luck of the
draw anyway. I loved it. So
we decided to come back a day or two later to try our luck on the Tiger
Lotto again, once we'd filled up the udders and got fully psyched up for the paperwork of
and a couple of Spotted Deer cross the river. Why? To get to the other
friend Laughing Purwal was as happy as ever to see us when we picked up
our bags at the Hotel Anand,
and over the next day or two,
we took a rickety bus up into the mountains and paid a short visit to
the nearby hill station of Nanital, a small town on the polluted little
lake they call Naini. Legend has it that the lake is actually the
emerald coloured eye of Shiva's wife, Parvati. As Wilko succinctly put
it, "She must have got a bit of grit in it then". It's a far
from spectacular puddle of water, and Nanital itself is more like an
alpine Skegness, complete with donkeys, donuts and crappy amusement
arcades. The lake and town are surrounded by hills, and The Lonely
Planet says that Snow View Hotel at the top of the cable car is, and I
quote, "in a magical spot" and, again I quote, has "a
million dollar location". Hmmm. This might be the case if your idea
of a "magical spot" is a kiddies fairground on a hummock and
your "million dollar location" is directly in the shadow of a
150 foot mobile phone mast. Utter rubbish. I've cast my eyes across a few
Lonely Planets now, and I'll admit they aren't my favourite
publications for all kinds of reasons, but when I see stuff like this I
really wonder whether some of the correspondents have ever even set foot in
the places they are supposed to be experts in. Certainly in the
Uttaranchal section of the Indian tome anyway!
couldn't wait to get back to the Ramganga valley to be honest, and the
park revisit was booked. After all, you can't see a Tiger if you don't
look for them. This time we knew what to expect in terms of extras, we
were determined to keep our karma on a much more even keel, and this
time we knew the rules. Although with India being India, there are no
rules... but there are lots of rules... and the rules are always open to
implementation and/or interpretation at the rule maker's discretion. If
you know what I mean. Nuts nuts nuts.
the jaunt all the usual fauna suspects put in a cameo, and as an aside I marvelled at the fields of
marijuana plants growing in large patches of the park- you can smell the
stuff everywhere, and our guide informed us that the mahouts often have
to get a grip on their elephants cos they sometimes eat so much of it
that they end up with a wobble on. I suppose that's why it's called
Elephant Grass, and there was so much of it about I was surprised all the
animals weren't laid around eating Mars
bars and wondering where they'd put the TV remote.
the sun sank behind the trees that evening, our guide said that he wanted
to head back to a spot where we might have a good chance of a Tiger
sighting, but that we might have to wait quietly and patiently for a
while. Obviously this wasn't a problem to us. Our jeep pulled up at the
side of a heavily wooded track, the engine cut, and there we sat,
carefully scanning the undergrowth and the track up ahead. After a few
minutes, a Barking Deer barked, as they do. A good sign.
Then another a short while later. Oooh, a very good sign.
Then some engine noises behind us. Our driver and guide signalled for
them to slow down, and they stopped and cut their engines to the side of
us and just behind us, each jeep crammed to the roll bars with Indian
families- mums, dads, grandparents and a liberal sprinkling of
waited in the twilight, actually feeling a little tension. Another deer
bark. More tension. The adjacent families alternately jabbering and
shhhhing. Finally some quiet, and a few more minutes passed. You could
almost feel the bubble of noise in each of the adjacent jeeps straining
to burst, they'd obviously not been this quiet for this long in years.
then, in one surreal moment, there he was. A big
omnipresent Northern Nemesis, Mr Anand. Kind... but painful.
Happy... but sad. Helpful... but annoying. And always there, hovering,
wobbling his head... cos somehow he seemed to have me marked on his GPS.
beautifully marked male Tiger casually wandered into the
track, about 70 metres in front of us and just laid down in a tyre rut. I
couldn't believe I was actually seeing one... a real, wild one, larger
than life. I looked away and then looked again- but it was still there.
As it kicked back and relaxed in the style of true a Jungle VIP,
occasionally it lifted it's head to check what was going on around, as
if without a care in the world. The hairs on my arms stood on end. It
was too far away to get a decent picture of the creature, and the low
light, and my cheapo telephoto lens didn't help, so after a couple of attempts
I gave up and just took to gawping at the lovely creature.
the tension was rising in the other jeeps. As Lynne and I pointed and mimed "Tiger, Tiger!! It's a bloody Tiger!!!!"
at each other, a couple of scraps had broken out next door over whose turn it
was with the binoculars, which brought on another flurry of shhhhing again.
Then a big air conditioned Toyota 4x4 full of VIPs (bigger lenses and
turbans) appeared from down the other direction of the "one
lovely fish from the Ramganga on the chilwa. This one made me a very
happy little bunny.
there are no rules, but there are lots of rules. Our guide and
driver frantically waved to get them to stop, which, surprisingly,
they did. This was all just too much, and the bubble went pop... an
engine striking up to our side... then one from behind. Our man Mr Puran
was obviously feeling a bit left out, so he struck his up too.
it all went a bit Wacky Racers. The jeep to
our left inched forward. Then the jeep behind slipped round and edged up a
bit. Puran nudged his nose in front again. More tension. Another
scuffle broke out over the binoculars. Then the creeping really
started in earnest, a few inches here... a foot there. Before one of
the drivers just lost the plot completely and floored it, bouncing
straight up the track in a bee-line for the Tiger. The turban filled Toyota joined in from
the other direction, and it was Game Over. The majestic creature
lifted it's head a little, had a second to think, growled "Bollocks to
this!", and then bounded off
back into the sanctity of his jungle, leaving us staring at a wall of
green. Oh well, t'was still a great moment in life. Just a pity the poor thing nearly
got run over.
Mr Anand Mahseer fishing- freelining a marble sized dollop of atta paste on an
6/0 hook and
60lb wire. He was nothing if not very patient.
at Hotel Anand that evening, I sat down to a plate of rice and curry as
Purwal questioned us about our trip into the park: "Many animal you
are seeing sir?" he asked, head wobbling away quite merrily.
"Lots and lots Purwal, thank you for asking".
"Do you have photo sir?" So I got out my camera and handed it
over. He found a few pictures of Spotted Deer and held it up. This set
his head wobbling even faster; "Aaah- I am liking deer
"You like Spotted Deer? They're like on the Disney film?", chipped in
Purwal thought for second and looked a little blank.
"Oh, erm... Disney? Like the film? Erm the cartoon? You
know...erm... Bambi?" she chipped up again.
His face brightened: "Ahhh yes miss!! Of
course I am knowing Bambi very well!! I am knowing Bambi... Delhi...
some reason this amused me a lot more than the blood clot nesting in my chicken that teatime. I don't remember ordering it medium-rare,
and only found it after I'd burrowed half way through the plate. Nice. I
laid awake under the fan all night awaiting whatever alimentary havoc it
was going to cause, but somehow morning came round without so much as a
squeak. How this happened I'll never know, but somehow I got away with
it. The stomach of a goat? Maybe, but I won't bleat about it.
forms of offal were soaked in the name of attracting a Goonch from out
of it's cave. Fermented chicken guts and lumps of mutton were two types
which I was told might work...
considered them as an environmental hazard before, but even the remotest
bend in a river seemed to be some kind of flip flop graveyard.
the box next to 'Tiger' ticked, it was finally time to get down
to the river in the buffer zone up above the park and try for
some more Mahseer. Arriving at the camp was all a little bit of
a culture shock, to be honest. Over-polite staff, starched bed sheets,
no traffic, no cows, no beggars. Even the canvas tent was bigger
than my living room- and it had a brick shithouse on the back! I
felt a bit out of place
sitting on the tended lawns- but what a setting. Right by the
river, the valley stretched down to hazy hills disappearing
into the distance, and the feint background rush of
water over boulders, which fluffed the
fisherman in me down to the river's
where I could hardly wait to be
line in the morning.
was one other
person staying at the camp-
fishing Kazu from Japan. His driver
and guide gave me a lift down to the
Marchula ticket office a couple of kilometres
upstream at dawn the next morning. I bought enough
tickets to keep me out of trouble for a few days, and left Kazu
and his guide to fish the bridge pool while I disappeared
downstream to find
some Mahseer spots on my own. The fishing was
pretty unremarkable that first day,
just a couple of little fellas
interfering with my bait. But, on the subject of interference, I
my very first encounter with Mr Anand, when at about mid-morning he skipped into
position and took up his Gollum-like
crouch on the rock behind me, checked my ticket and wobbled his
head a lot.
rubber lips. Some of the little juniors had a mouth a 30lb carp would be
Anand became my companion and nemesis over the next few days, bless him. He'd
clearly self-appointed himself as my guide- "because we have the same
name"(?), and although I tried to
explain that I just wanted to fish alone, all I got in reply was a head
wobble. So tried I telling him little white lies- like that I wasn't
fishing at any given point in the next lifetime or two. Or that I was selling all
my gear on Ebay and buying some golf clubs. I even tried paying him to not
come and sit behind me (seriously)... though I should have known
better and ended up grateful he didn't bring all his mates down
for some free bunce as well. Thing is, he was ultimately harmless and
obviously had nothing else to do, and I certainly couldn't bring myself to be rude to him, so I just
knocked back any
ideas that kept popping into my head about poking him off his rock with a pooey
As I sat catching some Mahseer one evening, there was,
however, a brief window where I thought Mr Anand might have come up
with something good. He'd picked up the Goonch rod and patiently (very!) set about
freelining a tiny dollop of Atta for Mahseer on a 6/0 hook and 60lb wire, while
on a rock about 6 feet above where my bait was laying. This cocked up the
swim again, and, as politely as possible, I asked him to pack it in and
move back from the water's edge:
"Anyway" I said, "that rod's for a Goonch".
"No Goonch here sir" he wobbled "living good spot different
place down river. I show you sir". Hmmm, and after a bit of a chat and the promise of a fist full of Rupees, the deal was done.
5am the next morning I slipped out of the tent in the half-light to head down for
the rendezvous with Mr Anand, but found him leaning against a tree about 30
feet along the path. Heaven forbid that I should try a covert
operation to give him the slip. I followed him across the river and we
walked for perhaps half an hour winding through goat tracks in the course
brush and across boulder and gravel strewn beaches. As the sun started to
slip out across the hill tops, he pointed out a lovely pool fifty yards or so
ahead where a small rapid emptied into a wider section of river. The river
then bore left at the end of the pool beside a vertical pillar of rock. To
the right of the pillar was a large, deep looking slack. A couple of
Mahseer fell to the paste straight away, but then I lost a couple of rigs
on underwater snags.
"Changing like this sir" said the ever helpful Mr Anand, as he
took a break from trying to snatch chilwa from the margins. He pulled off
the stone I had just tied on, moulded a lump of paste round the hook, and
then chucked it into the white water in front of us, freeline style. He
wobbled his head and contentedly resumed the crouch position, rod in hand,
line strung horizontal from the rod tip and unfazed that his ball of atta paste was flapping about on the surface 20 yards downstream.
my head, I assembled the Goonch rod I had with me and gagged as
I slipped a foot of rotting chicken guts up the trace and over a
couple of hooks.
good?" I held the snotty mess up for Mr Anand to have a
look at. He wobbled his head.
"Errrm... This ok Mr Anand?"
Hmm. I swung the bait again. "Ok... Chicken stomach good
Wobble wobble wobble.
"Ok. So... erm chicken is good yes? Or no?"
"Good. Right. Nice one. I try Goonch now...Ok?"
I cast the rig into position and relaxed...
thinking chilwa is better sir..." Arrrrgghh!
the chicken guts continued their fermentation process on the
bottom of the pool, I set about catching a chilwa or two.
Meanwhile Mr Anand was still happily crouched on his rock
watching his rod tip nodding as the ball of atta continued
spinning on the surface. After a bite free hour or so, I decided to swap
offal for chilwa and lifted a five inch silver and black bait
fish from my bucket:
live Mr Anand?" I smiled.
Wobble wobble. So I asked again...
"Erm... Best fishing this
Wobble... "Oh bollocks to it... Live it is
"Erm, look, is there a good way to hook them? Keep them alive?" I
wobble wobble... I
passed the fish to Mr Anand. "You
use these live, yes?"..
"Yes sir!" He took the fish from me, and then the hook.
Carefully, he lined the hook point up with the fishes head end, then
painstakingly he slipped it in just between the tiny lips and
meticulously threaded the poor thing along the length of a 6/0 SSW until it had ravelled up like a sock and the point came out
somewhere near it's arse with a pop. Right. Nice one. Having
slipped up to the edge of the pool, I tried to suss the exact spot to
place the bait. In the quicker water to the left, or the edge of big
slack to the right? Hmmm.
To hopefully avoid hours of pointless waiting,
I turned to the oracle again:
"Mr Anand. Casting this side? Or this side better?" I gestured
to either side of the pillar. And he wobbled his head.
"Ok. Right. Casting Goonch- right side good?" I pointed to the
right of the pillar. And he wobbled his head. Bloody hell.
Or casting this side...?"
"Ok. What about left side?" and I pointed left..... And
he wobbled his bloody
head again. Arrgghh... Arrgghh...
"Erm. Please. Mr Anand. Casting.
This side best or this side best...?"
Wobble wobble wobble. Biting my
bottom lip I turned to the water's
edge, hedged my bets, and chucked
the bait out straight in line with the
rock pillar. I tightened up to the rig,
laid the rod across a rock and laid back
in the sun, hoping my bait was within
20 yards of a Goonch. Mr Anand
into a crouch next to me. He opened
his hand towards the right of the pillar:
"Sir. Better this
side. Please casting again".
Arrgghh... Suppressing the
urge to rub dhal
in his eyes and lash him to a rock in the
sun for a few hours, I recast as
instructed. But left, right or centre;
mutton, chicken or chilwa, it mattered
not a jot cos the day ended
already been fetched back from the river after dark by the fellas from the
camp a couple of times, on the basis that there was "Tiger in
area" (which was kind of ironic, since we'd actually just spent days
desperately hoping to encounter one). So reluctantly I packed in as the sun set to
take the long hike back to camp. We managed to avoid a tangle with a tiger
on the way back, but unable to resist just one more cast with a lump of
atta behind a seductive mid-river boulder I did manage to tangle with one
more handsome Mahseer. I met the "search party" on the path back
up to the camp, and apologised again for being resident "Camp Pain In The
Trying to lose my rod as the last of the sun slips off the hill tops.
Goonch ended up being staunch in their resolution not to feed. I tried
several spots and soaked a variety of offal- most of it rancid- but all
to no avail. Aside from Mr Anand's advice, another local fella spoke to me
as he bashed the stains out of his Y-fronts on a soapy riverside
rock one evening. He informed
me of another couple of spots where Goonch were sometimes found. They
may have been there in their dozens, but they didn't want to eat
anything I offered them. And I guess that's their paradox; they may be
ugly, fierce looking creatures capable of growing to great sizes, but
they only seem to feed for short windows at selective times, so although
their bulk would suggest that they should be swimming about like mobile
skips, shovelling up anything they might encounter, a bait sat a foot
from their noses may as well be chucked up a tree behind you most of the time. I confess to being
slightly envious of Fishing Kazu, when one of his baits on the
gun-turret of rods he was using in the bridge pool was seized by a 20
kilo plus Goonch- but it was a well deserved success after tenaciously
sitting for hours on a boulder, turning into a red panda in his
wrap-round shades. Personally, after several bouts of
low-activity high-temperature boredom sitting and waiting for one of
them to finally open it's mouth, I decided to go and have some respite by
targeting a few more Mahseer, which to be honest, until they reach a
certain size, seem to be much more accommodating.
from the use of surface and bottom baits for the Mahseer, a variety of
lures were also tried, but my confidence in them was dented quite
severely early on when I watched several fish actively bolting spots as
the different coloured pieces of plastic and metal were retrieved
through the pool. Hmmm. "Him no want um plastic...". However,
one by-product of targeting the Goonch for a while was getting the
chilwa situation sorted out. By washing a couple of fists
full of atta flour in the edge of the river, it was easy to tempt a
swarm of small fish to the margins and simply snatch a few of them on a
spool of 4lb line, a size 18 hook and a smudge of paste. In fact,
sometimes the only difficulty in catching them was avoiding the hoards
of small Mahseer that invariably invaded the chapatti cloud. I did
briefly try a live Mahseer about 6 inches long for bait one day, but
felt a little guilty doing it and quickly swapped it for one of the
black and silver bleak-like fish that also seem to proliferate. I must
be getting soft in my old age. The little black numbers are actually
excellent baits, and they proved to be tough as old boots (as long as
you don't thread them along the hook shank...) and
they'd "happily" flutter around in their spot for ages as they
waited to get eaten. They also had other advantages- the average size of
fish caught on them was bigger than bread or atta (probably because they
were more small fish proof), and if there was a reasonable sized fish in
the area the bait was placed, it seemed that it didn't usually have as
many inhibitions when it came to eating them as it would less animate
baits. That was the impression I developed, anyway.
trying to get over a bridge in India can bring on a little turn of hypertension.
on my last day on the beautiful Ramganga (for now), I decided to put all
my eggs in one small basket and head to the bridge pool at Marchula, put
a lump of offal out on the bottom for a Goonch, and then drop in a
little black chilwa at the bottom of the pool in the hope of a large
Mahseer. I also wanted to try and have a day without my nemesis, so I'd already explained (ok... lied) to him that I wasn't
sure if I would fish or not the next day, but that if I did, it would be
at a pool near the camp. Then I decided I'd get up extra, extra
early and instead of walking the couple of kilometres up the winding
hillside road to the bridge, I'd scramble along the boulders and follow
the river's course down in the valley bed- hopefully missing Mr Anand as
he made his way towards the camp and his ambush spot. Devious, I know,
but I did pull up short of blacking my face in.
5am I found myself slipping and sliding over the rocks. The
valley was shrouded in dark blue as I negotiated a couple of river
crossings and algae covered boulders. Even at that time of the morning,
the heat was still uncomfortable, and my vest was soaked in sweat as I
panted my way down the river. Stop. I heard a noise. I froze. Petrified.
What was it?
Again... A distant voice? I
looked up and around me, scanning the ridge at the edge of the road far
above. Nothing, just babbling water. Again, a little echoing voice:
"Good morning sir...".
I looked up once more. And there stood Mr Anand, a little dot on the hillside waving his arms
like he was directing air traffic. Bollocks. Devious, but not devious enough. I
knew I should have stuck on the balaclava.
to my fate,
I got to the pool, put out the offal rod, dropped in a dollop of atta
and then set about nobbling a few chilwa for the bucket. By the time Mr Anand
had scooted down the cliff and resumed his crouch on my left shoulder,
I'd already managed two small Mahseer on the paste- one of which was a
lovely little Red-Finned variety. And soon I had a few of the
little black and silver chilwa numbers in the bucket, and one of them
replaced the atta on the rod at the bottom end of the pool. And then I
waited. The sun rose above the cliff tops and began burning down, the
rocks seemed to shimmer in the heat, and by mid-morning it was well over
Lynne had joined us down in the pool and we sat and fried as
we watched the rod tips nodding in the current. Nothing stirred. Mr
Anand said he was off for dinner and scurried off up the cliff behind
for some sense and some shade. I began to wonder about the sanity of my
decision to sit it out in one spot all day and wait for something to
happen. Then from nowhere the chilwa rod was bent double over the rocks
it was wedged between. I quickly grabbed it, set the hook, and held on
as the 15lb line zipped off the Baitrunner. The fish tried to get
through the shallow riffle at the bottom of the pool, but I held on
tight and turned it at the last minute.
Is it a bird? Is it a bloke? Shiva: the first and only metrosexual god of
The Gullible Rod Tube bounces around on the floor of yet another filthy,
stinking, knackered Indian bus.
The cheeky kid came up and sponged 10 Rupees for the picture after! I
just hope he shared it with the Monkey Bastards.
ashrams of Rishikesh- with gaggles of middle aged western women
auditioning for Ab Fab. Omalomadingdong... One day I hope to find my Mojo too
It then cut back
had me winding furiously to keep in touch. After careering around the
pool for the next five minutes or so it eventually found itself
circling under my rod tip. I could see the silver, green and gold bar
shaking it's head and still trying desperately to gain it's freedom down
in the clear water, and I could also see the fish was a nice one. I was
even getting a bit excited. Weakening, the fish was soon on the surface,
but twice when I thought I had it in the landing net it burst forward
again and tail walked it's way back out, and it was with some relief
that I finally lifted the net clear at the third time of asking- this
time with a lovely Mahseer of perhaps 15lbs in the bottom. I slipped out
the hook with fingers actually trembling, and held up the prize for
Lynne to rattle off a few snaps, then quickly stuck it back in the water before
it turned into a crisp. Ok, so it wasn't one of the
fabled monsters, but it was as perfect a fish as I've ever seen, one
that had given me a terrific scrap, and one that I was very chuffed to
When Mr Anand returned after his dinner and I told him what had
happened, he wobbled his head a lot and looked a bit downcast that he'd
missed the event- especially when I showed him the picture in the back
of my camera. But he brightened up considerably when
I tipped him at the end of the day, bless him. Suspecting the
commotion of the fight
had clearly put the willies up any of the
that may have been
milling about in the pool, I concentrated on a
couple of Goonch baits for the rest of the day. All to no avail, since
they remained untouched by anything but a thousand flies by the time I
chucked the last of the rotting mess in the edge, nearly puked and then packed up at dusk to
head back to base camp, hot but happy.
day, we called to say goodbye to Laughing Purwal before we left. The knackered bus to Rishikesh (via Haridwar) filled up in Ramnagar
and then carried on filling up as it continued towards it's destination,
and while Lynne was wedged in a tiny gap on the gear box up near the front
somewhere, I spent most of the journey with my "you gotta be having a
fecking giraffe" face on as more and more people were crow-barred
onto the creaking vessel. Looking at the state of it I wondered
whether any bus, anywhere, in the history of Indian logistics, had ever
been serviced or washed? At what stage is it deemed that the ageing crates
should finally be laid to rest? It seems like as long as there's a
driver's seat and an axle left they'll still keep them rolling. Still,
they're a bloody cheap way of getting around, and somehow, they seem to
get to where they're going- usually, anyway.
several hours of shoving and sweating we
finally got a room in a pleasant hotel up on the hill
The sacred Ganges rushes through Hippy Dippy Central.
The resident Rishikesh Lucky Gonk in his usual begging perch
up on the bridge. The face of madness.... Wahahey!!
Lakshman Jhula, and from this oasis of calm, amongst the prayer beads and
hessian G-strings of the gaggles of Lynne Franks wannabes, we could watch
the Kids of the Coca Cholera Nation bathing themselves in the holy Ganges
far below. All very convivial. A change in diet from the dhal and veg
curry staple was also a revelation, and we even found a new favourite in the
Himalayan Yak Cheese sandwiches- a big improvement on the Himalayan Toe
Cheese sandwiches which I'm pretty sure we'd been served up a couple of
And so, while I lounged around and did a spot of people watching
for a day or two, Lynne tied herself up in a Half-Nelson at
a yoga workshop. I could only cross my fingers and hope she wouldn't wind up
shaving her head and swapping her frocks for Jesus sandals and a henna kaftan.