has a lot to answer for... a visit to the hell hole that is Amritsar
to see the beautiful Golden Temple, a cab ride over to the Pakistani
border at Attari, one final push to finally nobble a living,
breathing Goonch (yes!). And then bolting from the madness of
mainland India as it threatened to turn into some kind of
scatological caper, finding sanctuary in the tropical paradise of
the Andaman Islands... just before the monsoon made too big a mess of
and we're at the centre of the Sikh world at the stunning Golden Temple.
Unfortunately, like the Taj Mahal, its another gleaming jewel in another
steaming turd of a town.
like Michael Palin and I like his travel programmes. In Mcleod Ganj one
evening, Lynne and myself somehow found ourselves watching one of his
enticing little Himalayan jaunts on the telly. During the programme we
saw him travel up through Shimla, have a bit of a chinwag with the Dalai Lama
up in the 'Ganj (not a few hundred metres from where we currently sat, which was
kind of surreal), and then he slipped over to Attari and Amritsar near the
Pakistani border for a look at the incredible Golden Temple, the
epicentre of the Sikh universe.
"Wow!" said our Lynne "that looks nice", and even I
had to shuffle out of Cynic's Corner to agree. When we found out that Amritsar was
just a 6 or 7 hour bus ride away, we immediately decided to
go and take a look.
back, the very fact that Mr Palin could actually see out of
his train window should have aroused a little suspicion. After all, all the
ones we'd sat next to were so grimy it was like squinting through inch-thick cataracts.
And the very fact that Shimla appeared to be completely devoid of litter and bubble-noses
really should have at least set a couple of alarm bells gently
chiming. Finally, the confine of the
Golden Temple itself was the only thing that actually featured of
Amritsar in the programme. And
this very fact should have shot me straight back to the safe-haven of my
bean-bag over in Cynic's Corner. A few days later I was left scratching
and wondering if
what is your good name madam?".
And you thought Axel
Rose looked a bit of a knobber?
while we're on the subject of
at Mcleod Ganj Lynneth and myself did a couple of yomps up and down some
of the peaks surrounding the town,
which included a beautiful spot (keep looking up...) called Triund. All very nice,
and I suppose it was only partially
spoiled at the end.
As we wandered downhill, a well-to-do Indian family in front of us
merrily sprinkled their trash around them as they walked- something
that is one of my
pet-hates and it irritated me like mad. Then as
we got closer up behind their happy band we discovered that "rather hefty mum" had
one or two "personal hygiene
issues" which left us following a scent trail not a million miles off
boiled prawns with pickled onions as we wound down the path. She was dressed head to toe in luminous blue man-made
fibres, and clearly that many layers of viscose and polyester weren't
really ideal gear for a hike, as she wobbled along and her frock
crackled like a Van De Graff generator, and I was dying for
her hair to fur up like Don King in a sari.
Palin had found his India steeped in a
pervading aroma of disinfectant and Dulux.
Golden Temple by night.
birds. A Hitchcock moment as the Sikh sentry shoos the crows
from his beard.
a bit we had to get on and push past
them. Her, erm, 'bouquet' was getting far too tangy, and my bag was rammed full of
their rubbish that I'd been picking up in a little fit of self-righteous indignation.
And then we finally had to make a run for it when danger levels soared
as we crossed back under the
tree-line; what with less breeze to disperse the pong, and that many dry leaves laying about, the static build-up was
becoming far too
much of a fire hazard to be hanging around. I think the poor dear could have caused a stampede at a petrol station. V
we survived the long hike in the slipstream of Sally Sebaceous, and next
lumbered aboard a taxi down to the bus station at 4am
to get the first tin crate of the day heading roughly west in the direction of
Pakistan. All passed without incident until reaching Amritsar
itself. Peering out of the cracked pane to our side, we viewed another red hot, dusty, filthy, and incredibly crowded Indian city. A frenzied
hive demonstrating yet again that the caste system is alive and well out
the streets of India- as the pedestrians dived out the way of the
mopeds, the mopeds dodged out the way of the rickshaws, the rickshaws ducked
out the way of the cars, the cars dodged out the way of the buses, the
buses honked and got out the way of the trucks, and then finally
the trucks all gave
way to the cows, which
milled about in
the road grazing sedately on
and Goldfish in the temple pond. No, they didn't do day
awesome Border Security Force at Attari, ready to hit Lahore with a
volley of chapattis at the first hint of
their lo-carb diet of cardboard and carrier
bags, oblivious to their privileged
position at the top of the highway food chain.
chaos was aided none by half the main roads in town being in under
repair, and this resulted in our bus driver getting a bit lost and
crawling round the back streets asking for directions.
By the time we
rolled up to the bus station, there were already half a dozen touts
hanging off the side of the crate like spiders, and another two or three
had already infiltrated the aisle, clambering over people and sacks of
rice with gay abandon. It was clear that they were searching for their
preferred diet of western tourists, and seeing as Lynne and I, along
with another couple wedged in further back between some bales of rags
and bags of chick peas, were the only farangs on there, this put us right
in the firing line.
One of them fixed me with "the look" and
pushed between a couple of passengers.
I felt the pressure rise a notch.
I looked again at the millions around the gate of the station that we were
going to have to batter our way through in just a moment's time.
Pressure up another half a dozen bars.
The bus stopped, no breeze.
Pressure and temperature up another ten degrees. The plastic covers on
the Indian bus seats were really playing havoc with my jock rash (hi
Pressure up thirty bar at least.
I looked back at tout No.1, now
closing in, a few feet away - eyes locked in on his prize like a hawk on
a three legged rabbit.
Pressure up about.... Nggghhhhaaaaarrrggghhhh...!!
"You are wanting hote....?"
I actually screamed. Completely involuntarily, like a tin kettle hitting
boiling point on a camp fire. The tout jumped six feet back down the aisle, shock scratched right into his scrawny
face. Lynne's head sank into her hands:
"Oh my God. For Christ's sake. You are so bloody
But it had quite a desirable effect, in that Toutface
wouldn't come near us now, and I clearly saw him pointing and explaining to a couple
of others how I was obviously mental, which meant they left us alone
too. Spot on! We pushed off the bus, and I clambered onto the roof to
claim our bags, and as I
passing them down Lynneth was completely
surrounded in a melee of turbans and beards. We beat our way through the throng, just
shouting "No. No.
No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No..." on repeat until we finally
burst clear, wriggled our way through the grid locked
traffic, and collapsed into some plastic chairs at a filthy chai shop
growing out of the dust across the road.
I felt bad. Bad at my
reaction, and, well, just bad at feeling bad. I was really wanting to like India, but some days
(particularly in the tourist havens I have to say) it was bloody hard to do so. The
happy, kind and generous people out in the sticks at Pong Dam seemed a
million miles away. We sat silently over
a Coke and then brooded about, (and dreaded) the next task-
finding the hotel.
find yourself doing some pathetically childish things in the end. We
ignored half a dozen more touts all angling to get us on a rickshaw,
just to deliberately find one who didn't hassle us (he
was asleep). Price negotiated (nicely!), he only
took us to the wrong hotel once before he finally got us to the right
one. We paid up and I entered the reception, asking a big, bearded Sikh fella if he had a room.
He wobbled his head, and we were in. Phew,
Back out in the street, I went to help
Lynne with the bags. As we loaded
up again the manager came back out to us:
"Excuse me sir. Were you asking the driver to be bringing you here,
or was it that he recommended you were staying with us?" he asked.
"No, he took us the wrong way first", I replied.
"Thank you sir". And he disappeared back inside.
Three seconds later, our rickshaw man came launching sideways through the doors
and landed in a heap on the street, with manager man following and
dishing him up the octa-bollocking of a lifetime.
out the quadru-triplicate registration forms I asked him what that was all about.
"That man is saying he is bringing you here and he must be paid
commission. He is liar and cheat, sir". Fair enough then. I felt a
bit better about myself because of this, cos at least I wasn't the only
one in a bad mood with it all- and it seems the only thing that treats
an Indian rickshaw driver worse than a western tourist is
Yup, the caste system is alive and well on the streets
of India - illegal or otherwise.
seemed at a premium.
shortage of these fellas- even if the Goonch were
still being a
Golden Temple, or Harmandir Sahib, really is a beautiful place. No,
honest, it really is. Sitting almost as a
mirage above the carp, goldfish and bathing Indians in the lake, the
gold-clad temple is considered the holiest of holy by Sikhs because
their holiest of holy literature, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (thank you,
Wikipedia!), is always inside. But although
central to the Sikh world,
it was built as a place
of worship for anyone from any walk of life
any religion to come and worship
God (generic term), and so is a refuge
peace within the pandemonium of
Amritsar. This caste thing obviously
hasn't spread over the walls.
fact, the only thing faintly disturbing the tranquillity was
the odd local wanting to practice their English. 30,000 a day
come to claim their free dhal and chapatti happy-meal from the
canteen. In my book, this is an operation which relegates that other
religious food phenomenon, the feeding of the five thousand, into the
Homes League of catering operations on a daily basis. Truly
and the clattering of the steel plates going into the dishwasher is the
only thing that
comes close to drowning out the rickshaws just over the temple walls. We
milked the peace for a while and kicked back, took some photos and watched the (Sikh)
world go by for an hour or two. It was like a two hour
one I chewed earlier. Before-Before,
Before-After and After-After!
sigh of relief. But when we stepped back out
into the darkness of the streets, the mayhem was
reality it looked worse than ever, with the
headlights of vehicles streaming like searchlights through the
swirling dust, casting silhouettes of the thousands of
pedestrians desperately trying to
avoid being run over. With the heat, the dust and the crowds it
began to feel like appearing in your own nightmare. So we
chickened out and scarpered back to the sanctuary of room 304 at the Grace Hotel. And there we stayed,
shrinking under a wobbling ceiling fan until the next day came round and
we decided to finally leave the room and give it another try.
hung around and managed to wile away the hours during the day at
the temple, and then come evening we got a taxi over to the
border with Pakistan at Attari, some 30km away. Again, we need
to have another word with Palin, because with 10,000 people a
day heading there to watch the border ceremony (and flick Vs at
the Pakistanis of course), we couldn't get near enough through
the masses to actually see the goose-stepping, let alone get a
ringside seat. I've said it before, 1.2 billion is a lot of
the scrum to it we occupied ourselves with a
beer in the shade, beating off bubble-noses by the dozen, who
were trying to flog DVDs of the ceremony (I guess they knew no one
could ever get close enough to see it...), green, white and
orange visors, chewing gum, miscellaneous tat and Indian flags. One
of the poor lads looked a bit puzzled as
kids are cute when they're little...
It's a bloody Goonch!!!!
Lynne asked him if he
had an English flag. And another nearly dived under the table when he asked
is it you are from good sir?" and I told him "Lahore". If
getting to Amritsar had been a bit of a ball-ache, getting away from the
place proved to be one of the most harrowing days of travel we've had in
a long period of working up a very large carbon footprint. What,
according to our nice manager fella at the hotel, should have been a 6
hour train ride directly back to Haridwar turned into a 15 hour epic
involving a taxi, three trains, a bus and two rickshaws.
didn't look good as the rickshaw dropped us off in the dawn at Amritsar
railway station. Even at five am the place was crawling with bodies
(well, some were crawling, but most weren't even moving). We found the
ticket office and joined another scrum. Seeing a bench become vacant
over to the side, I told Lynne to hold position in the log jam while I chucked the bags on it for her to sit with while I did the queuing. As I
dragged the luggage over, I marvelled at the mess yet again. Filth up
the walls, green, brown and red splashes of spit and paan squirted up the column
behind the bench, and crap all over the floor. I looked again... Jesus
H.... that really was a lump of crap on the floor! I
couldn't believe it. I mean, I'd seen the lines of squatting people doing
ablutions on the railway tracks, but this was a new one on me. What kind
of country was this, one where it's quite
clean water... Now!
acceptable to lay a huge turd right in
the middle of a main-line, big city railway station full of people?
I wondered what would happen back home at King's Cross, if someone
casually squatted down in the queue at Burger King and flipped a Flame
Grilled Whopper of their own? I have a hunch we'd see the CCTV footage
on Crimewatch. It's just wrong. All wrong...
lump of dump should have been taken as a sign of things to come, cos
after that things just got worse. A dispute with a corrupt train guard
(we refused to pay an arbitrary 'fine' he made up on the spot
as he checked our tickets) meant the 'direct' option went out
the door early on. For hours our train
That'll be the monsoon then.
three changes of them) then
sluggishly creaked through the baking panorama of burnt yellow,
occasionally passing through one small town or another, all of
which looked as desperate as the last, while I took to doing a
running commentary of "Ooh, this looks nice hun!" to Lynne as we scraped
into another ramshackle cluster of derelict buildings, rubble,
plastic bags and oily black ponds - usually with pigs wallowing
in the effluent to try and keep cool. Obviously, this amused her
greatly for at least 3 minutes.
final station for a train-change involved Lynne in an incident
which would probably have seen the culprit on the sex-offender's
register back in the western world (and no, it wasn't me),
before we sat crammed
onto a wooden bench on a stationary train dripping with sweat
for an hour or two. Forty pairs of eyes stared intently at us-
as we stared just as intently at another immobile train at
the platform opposite, watching the faces pressed against
the metal grilles of the windows, as bottles, polystyrene and
lumps of phlegm showered onto the tracks through the gaps- and
blokes stood in rows pissing up the wheels of the carriage,
which was nice.
hours after leaving Amritsar, a crusty Ambassador taxi with a
3hp engine and seats stuffed with cutlery finally crawled into
Rishikesh, where we got a room on the hill and crashed out under
another wildly oscillating fan, glad it was all finally over.
I've glossed over that day here and not told the half of it,
because I already realise I go on and on
(and on) too much. But
it really was one of those
Problems with the GNER service to Leeds will never seem the same again.
that, I needed some rustic isolation again. Some clean water, some peace
and quiet and some fishing. So while Lynneth stayed on in the haven
of Rishikesh to practice her half-nelson and regain a spot of cosmic inner
karma or something, once I again I left her to it. I'd had quite a lot of
Mahseer by now, but there was one thing that had eluded me thus far- that
mutant of the riverbeds, the Goonch... So I headed off Ramganga-bound
again- because it was the loveliest river I'd fished in India, it held a
few Goonch, and I reckoned we'd got about a week or so left before the
monsoon swept in and would ultimately sweep away the valley.
"It is having one lady owner and full servicing history sir".
strange how even if you've only been to a place a couple of times, it can
so quickly become familiar. Rickshaw to the bus station, hour or two on a
bus to Haridwar, change at Haridwar, 6 hours to Ramnagar... I even
recognised some of the towns and villages and smoking brickyards
way. All the villages had large conical piles of dried cowpats along the
side of the road. They're only used as fuel
supply for the camp fires, but they usually look sturdier than the
huts housing a family of fourteen. I also amused myself for a couple of
hours by watching the two girls in front of me clambering over each
other to take it in turns to puke out the bus window- though it has to
be said I did have a couple of lucky escapes with a splash of "dhal
blowback". Honk on, ladies!
was great to be back by the lovely Ramganga again. I checked into the
tent up near Marchula, washed the dirt and dust from my nostrils and
ears, and then prepared my gear for battle before kicking back on my bed
to hatch a plan for the following day. I was only disturbed by a request
to join the owner of the camp for drinks. I have to say I (very)
politely declined, just for this once; for one has to be up early to
catch the worm, doesn't one?
5am I was down at the bridge pool, sat on my rock, and soaking dead
chilwa and atta on the riverbed. Mr Anand found me later that morning,
just about the time where the thermometer hit 45 degrees and I couldn't
sit on a rock anymore cos it was burning my arse through my shorts. He
seemed pleased to see me and wobbled his head lots and lots before
taking up his crouch on his perch behind me. Although the Goonch didn't
find me, I did catch 6 nice Mahseer on Hing paste and small chilwa,
which was pleasing. I stayed on until well after dark too, and was
kidnapped by a search
party in a jeep as I walked back home. Whoops.
This evening I was formally requested to join the owner for drinks
down on the lawn. I took it that this meant I was being told to get
myself down there, like, now! And so I did. And what a great
evening it turned out to be. Beers and spicy barbecued chicken served under the light of a big moon and paper lanterns, with
sounds of the rushing river and the jungle as a backdrop. My wise, grey
haired host proved to be very charming company- as long as you weren't
staff, of course. I just wish I could remember his name.
"You British left a fine legacy", he smiled, waving an
unopened bottle of Haig at me.
"Yeah, that and bloody paperwork", I replied.
He laughed; "No, no, no. Sir, that was here long before. We used to
say at the time of partition- 'Give a Pakistani a full stop and an
Indian a comma and they'll go on all night'..." This amused me very
supped a few glasses of "water", as he insisted on calling it,
and then stuck another bottle in the back of a jeep and headed off
"on safari" for an hour or two in the darkness. As we watched
deer and boar by torchlight in the bush, and drank some more
"water", he told story after story about life in India. It
dawned on me, that this
day, and this evening, was why I love travelling so much.
what makes all the Agras and Amritsars of this world worth trawling
through and all the knackered buses worth all the jock-rash. We sat and
hoped to hear a tiger or leopard, but unfortunately without luck. But it
mattered not, to be quite honest.
the whisky took hold his stories got funnier:
know why almost all people eaten by leopard are women? I tell you why.
It is because of toilet. Women cannot be doing toilet in daytime. They
must not be seen doing toilet. So they are taking shit in the
jungle after evening and before dawn. Leopard is mooost active this
times. Woman is lifting sari,
Anand, this is for you!
Look, he insisted, right?
leopard smells shit, eats
woman. All gone! Nothing! All that is left is a pile of shit, I'm
telling you! This is all they are finding!"
I say, charming. I crashed into my tent after midnight, about pissed,
and dreading the 4.30am alarm;
albeit with a big, fat smile spread across my face. Next
morning at 5, the same fat, sweaty, tired face gazed down into the pool below
the bridge, and through the half-light spotted a large Mahseer up near
the surface. It was probably over 25lbs in weight, and I watched it
the basis that India had already driven us round the bend and back, 3
foot of floodwater sloshing around the streets of Kolkata was finally enough
to persuade us it was time to leave- before it was all just tooooo late...
and forth in the current. Oooh. I dropped half a
bread roll into the ravine, and then watched it drift down. The Mahseer
lined itself up, and then devoured the whole chunk in one loud slurp
without a care in the world! Blimey. So I dropped in the other half...
have rolled down the steep cliff face if it hadn't been covered in turds,
but I slipped down as fast as I could anyway, hastily tied a hook, and
then stuck on a chunk of bread as fast as my trembling hands would
allow. I crept into position, flicked out the bait, and then mended the
line... heart pounding in the chest. It snaked down about ten yards...
and then disappeared with a loud "pop!". In an instant I
smacked the rod back, picked up the slack line, and set the hook... I
stopped breathing... waiting for the reel to start emptying of line...
but instead a junior of about 2lbs came splashing back across the top.
Bugger. And I saw the big one no more. Ho hum.
were many more of these bigger Mahseer in the river now than my earlier
visit, you could see them
occasionally from the cliff tops, milling around in groups.
they were very, very shy. Any disturbance saw them melt away, never to
be seen again, which was very frustrating.
"A lot of big Mahseer here now, Anand. Not hungry though", I
noted to my erstwhile nemesis, as I sat
play Loophole! A new law has just been passed that wearing helmets on
motorbikes is now mandatory in the
Andamans, but what they didn't write in the rule books was
I'd be this happy if I was an Andaman concrete contractor.
pulling out my silken curly locks one
"Yes sir, rain is here soon. Mahseer is coming from Dikhala up to
mountain for breeding in monsoon. In four days time, river is here,
sir", he replied, pointing to the top of a rock about 6 feet above
"What? Four days?"
"Yes sir". To me this was unbelievable, a bit like saying
"On the 5th of June next year it's gonna rain in Spalding".
Little did I know how spot on he was going to be.
was a pity he wasn't so accurate about some of his other prophecies.
Like the morning when I'd watched some monkey bastards drinking from the
river's edge at dawn. When he turned up later on, he persuaded me to try
the tail of a pool a little further downstream:
"Come. Leaving bag, sir".
"But what about the monkey bastards?"
monkey here morning. Night time only".
"But there were loads here half an hour ago!" I pleaded.
"No monkey here in morning sir. Coming quickly please". So I
About 30 seconds after my bait hit water, I heard a commotion and a load
of screeching, and looked up up to see my bait bucket and rucksack in the
middle of a heap of scrapping primates. Nothing was damaged once Anand
finally got all the bits back, but most of the bait for the day went
The kids were
on hand with the local knowledge for Wilko at the Havelock jetty.
"It's a plane boss!" Fantasy Island down at Havelock.
"What were they Mr Anand?" I laughed.
"Monkey Bastard, sir"- cue big head wobble.
also spotted a nice looking pool- very similar to a miniature version of
the one at High Cliff in the Corbett Park where all the Goonch had lain
like fat gravel carpeting the bottom. As we caught a couple of small
Mahseer from it one morning, I turned to The Oracle again:
"Are there Goonch living in this pool Mr Anand?"
"No sir. Goonch not living here".
"Ok", I thought, and left it at that.
spent another afternoon and evening turning into a fried egg on a rock,
waiting and hoping for a dumb Bagrus to suck in my offerings of putrid
chicken and festering trout. For days- hours and hours I spent, in the
end. Wishing and dreaming, praying and frying.
The heat was almost
unbearable in the middle of the days. I don't know how hot it actually
got, but I do know that over in Lahore at the same time, 16 people died
when there was a power cut and the red
the thermometer hit 54. And that's proper hot, by my reckoning.
So I'd guess it may have been mid-40s perhaps? But still I stuck at it.
What a mug!
was during one of the baking afternoons that I suddenly heard the
Baitrunner burst into life...! I leapt forth and grabbed the offending
rod. Something had swam off with the rotten chilwa... but it had
stopped. I paused, rod shaking in my hands... nothing. And so it stayed.
I left the bait in position for another hour or so in the hope the
culprit would come back for it's meal, but with no such luck. When I
wound in the bait to check it, the body was limp and squashed with a few
puncture marks to the skin, and the head had been nearly ripped from the
body. Undoubtedly a Goonch.
"Goonch, sir", pointed out Mr Anand by way of
heart sank. Would this be my only chance? Was that the only feeding
Goonch down there? Would I ever get one?
Grimly I hung on until well,
well after dark, but eventually left empty handed, bright pink and not
in the highest of spirits. As I reached the top of the steep cliff face
near the bridge, the River Pixies had one more stab, as in the darkness
I slipped in one of the numerous "obstacles" in the
poo-slalom- never good, but even worse in sandals... bugger.
"Mr Anand? Why do people shit here? Why? They can see it's a
pathway, so why do they shit here? It's filthy- disease, it's dirty, it
smells bad! People walk here, so why do people shit here?!" I nipped,
Anand thought for a second in the darkness:
"But sir, it is a bus stop also". Of course, of course. How
stupid of me...
was running short. With but a day or two (maximum) left, I took a midday
sabbatical and caught some of the small black spotted chilwa in the aim
of trying one more time for a Mahseer, before one last evening of
attrition with the Goonch.
half a dozen of them flitting about in my bucket, I set off in the
direction of Mr Anand's "No Goonch" pool, feeling sure that it
must at least hold a Mahseer or two.
reckon it's goin' tae feckin rayin!!"
it did. Putting on a brave face and sheltering from another monsoon
downpour with the Paneerhead and Irish Mark.
The ever-smiling face of my Cheesehead buddy from Rotterdam
who greeted us
on the island.
early for an evening session for a little me-time without Mr Anand, I
crept into position. I noticed that a breeze had sprung up. In fact I
wasn't even sweating as much as usual- the temperature had really, and
quite suddenly dropped. Wow! I bet it was only about 38 degrees!
Crouching well back from the edge of the small pool, I flicked a small
chilwa with a small stone tied to the swivel into the tail of a plume of
white water. After carefully tightening up, I laid the rod across my
rucksack and sat back to await developments. In seconds, the rod folded
over and I was in.
But into what?
to be out-stared, even with the Trevally Goggles on!.
just swam around the pool in circles, not feeling too heavy- with none
of the initial head-long rushes of a Mahseer. A bit like hooking a crisp
packet really. A moment or two later, a strangely shaped item looking
like a shovel shaped patch of carpet came into focus on the end of my
line. And then I realised what it was! A bloody Goonch!! The next couple
of minutes were spent begging the thing not to fall off, and finally I
scooped the strange creature from the margins. A bloody Goonch!!!
so it was only a juvenile, but dead, dead cute, with tiny orange eyes
and patches of turmeric coloured skin in the bands of olive and
graphite, big flappy whiskers hanging down like a kind of handlebar
moustache. Yes, yes, yes! I punched the air- yet again demonstrating the
art of disproportionate celebration. I piled up some rocks to make my
own pool, and carefully placed the prize inside- wanting to show Mr
Anand when he eventually searched me out- as he most surely would. When
he turned up, I grinned.
"Look in there" I said,
pointing at my tiny little man-made dam.
for the album. Happy days.
Sweet Home in the coconuts!
he peered down, he started to jump around, then he turned and shook my
"Goonch sir! Very good! Very good! Where are you catching it
"No sir?! No Goonch here!"
"Right here... I'm telling you." And The Oracle looked a little
confused, before shrugging his shoulders, wobbling his head and shaking my
If anyone asks, I wonder if this is now Mr Anand's best Goonch spot? I can
hear it now:
"Please casting. Many Goonch we are catching this spot, sir..."
Wobble, wobble, wobble...
Anand insisted on having his photo taken with the little catfish, and so,
once it had become the most photographed juvenile Goonch in Indian
history, we watched him waddle off back into the depths. Happy days.
Walking down to the bridge pool, I managed one small Black Mahseer on
Hing, but precious little else happened that evening. I don't think even
Goonch like chicken so rotten that its nearly liquid. I baulked as I
threaded it on the hook (my hands still stank of it two days later)- it
reminded me of eel fishing in New Zealand- and I hadn't smelled anything
that bad since... well, Dehra Dun.
Big Eye & Jaco: separated at birth?
I said goodbye to Mr Anand that evening for the final time.
Somehow, over my time on the Ramganga I'd become quite fond of
him - despite all the head wobbling, misinformation and just
hanging around getting in the way. I gave him an envelope with a
spot of Baksheesh in, and as we shook hands again, he handed
over a piece of paper with his name and address written on it.
"Sir. Please, would you be posting me picture of Goonch and
Mahseer. I would be liking this very much. Please." Bless
his little cotton Y-fronts. Of course I sent them as soon as I
got home, while also making a promise to myself to go back to
Marchula again, to see if he actually received them... I truly
hope so... And to try for some more of those beautiful Golden
Mahseer... and a proper Goonch. 'Tis a lovely place.
was awoken in the early hours by clattering thunder and huge
raindrops thrashing the canvas above me, signalling the arrival
of the monsoon. And as I sat in the dawn watching the rain
thrash down through the tent flaps, I remembered it was now four
days after The Oracle's monsoon prediction- he was indeed
accurate to the day. By the time I began my journey back to
Rishikesh later that day, the river had already started rising.
Time to go; although when I arrived back at Rishikesh, the
monsoon clearly hadn't arrived there yet as it was still
scorching nicely under a shimmering sun.
meant time to get out, as far as we were concerned. And to this
end, because another of our mates from the heady days of the
Perhentian Islands, The Paneerhead himself, Dutch Jaco, was in
India, we'd arranged to meet up with him on the Andaman Islands
over in the Bay of Bengal.
Night fishing with the locals turned into the usual debacle-
but Jaco came good with a couple of nice snapper that found their way
onto the table the next evening. Spot on.
spot of GT success out on the ocean as bait fish sprayed around the
boat (and realisation dawns that a thinning mullet is maybe not the way
retrospect, although the Andamans are "in India", it would
have been as easy to meet him in the Falklands.
First things first, taxi to Haridwar, and then a train to
Delhi for a
train to Kolkata some 1500km east. What
can you say about Delhi railway station? It was a fitting finale to our
time in this neck of the woods, and a kind of microcosm of life in India
arranged over several platforms. The monsoon hadn't burst there yet- so
the heat was unbearable, and any piece of skin poking out from under
shade turned to cheese on toast in minutes. My T-shirt was soaked in
sweat, my hair looked like I'd just got out of the shower, and my
rucksack was even soaked through too. There was the lack of information,
with seemingly just one information board to the whole station. There
was the chaos and disorganisation. There were the touts and hawkers.
There was the litter- tons of it strewn everywhere. There was the abject
lack of any facilities- 2 seats per thousand, the ubiquitous broken,
filthy toilets, and the canteen facilities needed to be seen to be
believed; a filth encrusted kitchen, with filth encrusted fittings
staff- some of whom seemed to be taking turns to stand barefoot on the
work surfaces. Toe Cheese was on the menu. One quick glimpse was enough
to convince us a hospital visit would probably be needed after a
mouthful of it.
most of all it was the people. Thousands upon thousands of them cramming
every square inch: sweating, stinking, pushing, shoving, pissing,
shitting, spitting, littering, shouting, sleeping, hocking, scratching,
belching, nose-picking and farting. It was like opening Pandora's Box,
and was the most overwhelming display of the human condition I've ever
had the displeasure to be stuck in (yup- even worse than Amritsar!). The
only expression I couldn't see- anywhere- was joy, or even laughter. I
looked around and couldn't see one group of friends having a laugh, one
husband and wife sharing a joke, one group of kids playing and giggling.
get me wrong, I understand why - hell, being rammed onto a platform at
Gas Mark 6 with another 50,000 of the great unwashed is not much fun for
anyone. I certainly wasn't laughing. But surely someone must have been
embarking on a journey they were looking forward to? Or sharing a trip
with a group of good friends? Maybe
four hours, we finally mounted the train and sank into our seats on the
air-conditioned sleeper. We'd turned down the cheapest train because we
were told it would take almost three days to get there. It was obviously
going via Beijing or something. And this was perhaps the best decision
we could make, as almost a full day later we rolled into Kolkata
station, having had a decent night's sleep and about 13 games of Travel
the usual dilapidated suburbs, the torrential rain (I wrote in my diary
"126mm - 4 hours - 6 dead"; now that's a downpour), and the
big sign telling passengers to "Mind the Rat" in the hall,
Kolkata station was nothing like as traumatic as Delhi. We got another decrepit
taxi and drove through the main streets, while most of those off up the
sides were sloshing about under three feet of dirty brown water.
Handcarts and rickshaws sat axle deep, while dozens of kids played in
their impromptu paddling pool and the adults stood around waiting for it
to go away, I suppose. After 9 months of baking heat and zero rainfall,
it seems that the good lord Shiva deems that all the shit should be
washed away by 4 foot of rain a day, every day, for three months. And
let's face it, the drains have no chance of coping with that much shit.
We headed for one of the budget hotels near the airport, which turned
out to be about as knackered as the taxi.
from the village take it easy down at the beach. Who needs a chuffing
header of Big Eye Trevally and it's dinner time for our laughing boatmen.
The Weeble-like owner stood naked but for a white(ish) lunghi round his
waist, his massive honch hanging over the front, showing us a
concrete box of a room with bars for windows. I looked down at the
sheets on the bed, which obviously last got washed in 1973. More filth.
"Jesus. The last person who stayed here?"
happened? Did he die or something?"
All the owner did was laugh... and show us another room. This one
was at the back of the building, and we took it on the basis that the
sheets were last washed in 1977. Much better.
stay in Airport City, Kolkata coincided with a massive plague of million
upon millions of flying ants that evening. A few of these up your nose,
in your eyes, down your shirt and down your throat was enough to
persuade us that the best place to be was in our shitty room watching
shitty programmes on a shitty TV. But at least we fell asleep secure in
the knowledge that early next morning we'd be on a plane and heading to
a tropical paradise. At long last.
and I both smiled broadly as we saw the first turquoise fringed islands
islands stretch out below the plane window. At last indeed. A beach and
clear blue seas, no cities, and after weeks of dhal and chapattis- some
seafood. We could hardly wait. And if the plane flight felt good, for
yours truly the three hour ferry journey from Port Blair to Havelock
Island the following day felt even better: out on the sea, a sunny
afternoon with a cool breeze off the ocean, lush tropical islands off to
port and starboard, and squadrons of flying fish spraying across the
surface. It was so very good to be out of the madness and out on the sea
again. When we docked at the Havelock jetty, the smiling face of Dutch
Jaco was there to greet us, so we got a bamboo hut with him at a lovely
place call the Emerald
the best fish curry I've ever tasted (I ended up having it five nights
running, so it must have been good!), and then got Kingfishered and
talked utter drivel for hours. Life was suddenly very sweet!
only seven travellers staying on the island at
about that time, it could never be described as either a party or an adventure.
had a ball out on the sea... Tuna, Red Bass, GTs, Big Eyes. And
for a couple of hours I had my heaven.
But after all the bus miles and hassles
of recent times, it was great to relax, unwind, eat fish and get
some sand between the toes. And there we stayed- just Jaco,
Lynne, me, Janice and Mark from Belfast (who I thought had
Superglued Bran Flakes round his mouth, but which turned out to
be sunburn), plus a Welsh mentalist called Fred with his Aussie
surf chick called Mandy at another place further up the beach-
who we'd see around-about most days causing a headache for the
locals. Oh, and I forgot the few million mosquitoes too.
it being rainy season, however, most days had a downpour, there
was a lot of cloud, and even when it wasn't raining nothing ever
got dry due to the 90% plus humidity. Just tying on a hook made
me drip like a knackered fridge, and mould soon began to appear
on any clothes or luggage not left in the air.
So it wasn't all
idyllic... But when the sun came out, it was pretty much picture
postcard. We found a beautiful small cove at the end of
Radhanagar Beach and went there several times between squalls to
catch some sun and do some snorkelling- while Jaco tried
something called "schnorkelling" (?). We fished from
the jetty and caught mostly small fish- though I did lose my
magic pink Pong Dam Mahseer Special lure (R.I.P.) when something
bigger than average grabbed it and shot under the concrete and
bust the line. We also amused ourselves with watching the local
stray mongrels, one of which used to run by with her saggy teats
dragging in the sand each day, and was duly nicknamed
from turquoise water to deep blue, Jaco put out a rod to troll. For
some reason he selected a red-head lure from my box:
"I've never even had a hit on that", I told him.
"No. Always use the red-head", replied my Cheesehead
"Up to you", I said, and left him to it. Full speed
ahead was too quick for this lure, and Jaco frowned as he tried
to get the thing to run true and stop popping from the surface.
Suddenly, the lure's vane bit, the lump of plastic dived and the
rod tip nodded rhythmically for a second... and the rod was
nearly wrenched from his grasp. The 65lb braid screamed from the
spool, I screamed at the fisherman to cut the engine, and in
seconds whatever it was had put 150 metres between itself and
the boat... and it kept going at lightning speed... on and on.
Looking at the emptying spool, I realised we were going to have
to go after it, but "Stop boat, turn round, turn
round...!" made no impression on our fisherman friend, and
with but a few turns of line left on the spool the line was cut
on the reef- thankfully near the leader. Which was a bit of an
were truly gutted, Jaco stood a second and wondered what the
hell had just happened, and I made a mental note to learn the
Hindi for "follow that f***ing fish!".
did very little fishing that evening, spending most of it either
untangling hand lines from my end tackle, or retying Jaco's rigs
because he'd forgotten his glasses. Mind you, he caught a couple
snapper, so that made it all worthwhile.
manager, Menaj, promised us we could do some fishing with their
fisherman, but due to the boat
being repaired, days of bad weather and a bout of tennis elbow
for the skipper (eh?), this got put on the backburner on what
seemed to be a manana basis. So
we got ourselves sorted out for a night session with a local
fella out on his wooden boat. Price negotiated (including bait,
no hand lines allowed), we turned up full of optimism. The
fisherman turned up smiling.
"Smiling", said Jaco. "Good sign". I could
see some small silver fish in his carrier bag.
"Bait", I said. "Good sign". Then the bloke
turned up who'd translated and brokered the deal, complete with
his mate who'd decided to tag along with
a basket full of hand lines.
"More people. Hand lines", said Jaco. "Bad
sign". Oh my how we laughed, realising already it was all
probably not going to be quite as agreed... again.
very nearly went right though. I rigged up the rods as we
chugged out to sea - full speed ahead. As the old boat
Tuna and Cheesehead Toastie, please".
proper hermit. The hippies and Saddhus up in the valleys were just
playing at it.
carried them back at midnight, through another torrential squall, all
the while looking out for the packs of dogs roaming the tracks. But they
had more sense than to be out hassling tourists for fish and were
nowhere to be seen- which was good. Shivering, we woke the cook back at
the Gecko. The poor fella looked dazed and confused as he got up off his
mat, but our fish needed ice, and he didn't seem to hold it against us
when the following night he produced a fantastic meal with them... fried
and grilled, with garlic butter on some,
and lime and chilli on the rest. Phenomenal- a terrific chef, and all
from gas burner in a bamboo shack. 11/10. Gold Star.
after many days of inactivity and precipitation, Mr Menaj came up with
the goods. The boat was repaired, the captain's tennis elbow had cleared
up (?), and given fair weather we'd be out on the ocean the following
afternoon (our final day!) when the tide was on the up.
have a recurring dream, as they say. And for better or worse (usually
worse), mine is to fish on beautiful foreign waters, for beautiful
foreign fish, with the local blokes on their local boats- while trying
to avoid paying the biggest, fattest white man, with the biggest,
fattest white boat, the biggest fattest wedge of cash to lay it on a
plate for you. I confess that after trying this for so long now, my
advice to any passing readers of this dribble would be to just get the
cheque book out, cos it ain't worth the heartache. But for this one day,
I think I nearly had my dream.
weather was fine as I prepared the tackle the following morning,
patching together the strongest of everything I had in the hope it'd be
good enough. As the tide got high enough to launch the boat, we set sail
at lunchtime, into the bright blue sea under scorching sunshine. We were
on a long, brightly painted wooden long-boat with a spluttering and
chugging diesel engine stowed somewhere aboard. The boat may have been
'rustic', but the boys on board really, really knew their stuff. Oh
happy days. We set a couple of lines to troll our way out to the reefs
and bommies, and about halfway there, Jaco found himself attached to a
powerful fish on the Yo Zuri- which after a 15 minute fight (and sunburn
to his forearm), turned out to be a nice Tuna. A good start... and we
decided to see what our chef could do with that and stuck it below the
that was just the fluffer. After running out for
about an hour and a half, suddenly they cut the engine and stood up,
palms shielding eyes and scanning the ocean. We'd wound in the rods and
I was tying a leader and Halco Roosta surface popper onto Jaco's rod,
when the boys jabbered something very urgently. I looked up and saw a
shimmering patch of 'living' water about 40 metres from the boat. I
lobbed the rod to Jaco and shouted to him to chuck it in there... first
cast, two strikes... both missed. Second cast, another strike... missed:
"Come on you w**ker!"
Third cast... Bosh! And he was in, and he set about having a run-around
with some lively reef fish. While he played it I was scratching in my
lure box for which one to put out (I wanted the popper really, but it
was busy!). As soon as I laid my hands on a bright yellow, fire-tiger
pattern Rapala Super Shad, one of the fellas hissed a little and wobbled
"Yes... yes! This!" he said. Again he was spot on.
cast, out she went, right into the middle of the melee... half a dozen
turns on the reel handle it all went very tight and the 25lb mono
started to peel from the spool. Jaco landed his fish- a lovely Red Bass,
and a few minutes later, after a strong and stubborn scrap I tailed a
lovely GT aboard, which had absolutely inhaled the plug. We were well
chuffed, and after a few pictures we set about getting some more. It was
action all the way while it lasted, with multiple strikes, misses and
hook-ups. Yours truly had another lucky escape with a hook, as a GT Jaco
had at the boat went nuts as I grabbed it's tail, and for a few seconds
I had 15lbs of Trevally hanging from a size 8/0 SSW in my arm, until it
flapped and the hook came out with an audible "pop"... very
lucky, especially when we noticed that the hook had actually straightened
out a bit. Ooh.
really was the sort of fishing I truly love, chasing fish over the
ocean, searching, casting... an adrenaline rush all the way...
meant we were so wrapped up in chasing fish that we didn't notice the
weather. The sky had gone leaden and there was the odd white-cap building
up. All too soon our boys signalled it was time to make a run for
shelter. I really didn't want to go, but by the time we'd been chugging
back 20 minutes the rain was tipping down again and the waves were
crashing over the side of the boat- which I confess made for one or two
hairy moments. But once back in the lee of the islands we could run out
a couple of lines again. Even then we weren't finished, when as we
followed the edge of the reef a squadron of Big Eye Trevally launched an
attack- at one point we were trolling along quite merrily when I saw
four or five flying fish take to the air at once:
"Flying fish" I said. "Good sign".
"Bollocks!" laughed Jaco... And 10 seconds later we were
playing knit one, pearl two with a double hook-up of the cantankerous
little swines. As
we waded ashore a little later, it was smiles all round. Our boys in the
boat took a couple of Big Eyes and a few Rupes home for their trouble-
top fellas, we'd had a great session out on the sea, and we'd got fresh
tuna for tea. Masterchef back in his shack excelled himself that
evening, each of us being presented with about a 2 pound loin of the
stuff, barbecued with garlic butter and chilli... oh to die for... And
as it was washed down with another tub of Kingfisher, I knew that just
for one day I'd truly found my heaven.
Mother India had followed true to form on the last day on Havelock
when it was time to go, just when trench-foot was setting in, just when
we'd had enough, she'd lifted her sari and given us a little flash of
something worth hanging around for... Or coming back for.
bugger. Not again.
Beach, Havelock Island. Once again now: "My Life Is Shit".