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Circa 1990, and the classic TV programme "Casting for Gold" hit my mum and dad's TV screen. I remember rewinding the video over and over as the footage of those Himalayan Mahseer brawling down the Ganges rapids made the 
hairs of my neck stand on end. Recently my imagination had 
been running all over the shop again, so I decided to bury 
the hatchet, head back to India, and try to recreate my 
own bit of Boote & Bailey's Himalayan Experience, 
just without the denim hot-pants.
 





(If you don't like fishing or are under a certain age you'll have no idea what I'm on about there - but please feel free to have a look at the pictures anyway).

"Mr Andy Ji has returned! Mr Andy Ji has returned!" they shout, showering petals at my feet as I stepped off the plane and into the chaos of Paharganj.

But it was only Interflora exploding again.

I shook my head in despair. The eternal circle of doom that is BBC News 24 was on the telly. Gloom on a loop, you might call it. Recession. Squirming politicians. Global warming. Rising unemployment. Fat bankers. The war on terror. PC do-gooders. Teenage chavs stabbing each other. And worse... Someone or other had been controversially voted off of Minor Celebrity Dancing On Ice In The Jungle Factor. I scratched my head. Jesus. How will I cope?

Flicking channels, The Jeremy Kyle Show was just kicking off (literally); a morbidly fascinating episode entitled something like "My dad's a lesbian smackhead and I'm having his baby". Chuffed as I was for the unhappy couple, I doubted their offspring would be the second coming that would save us all from either tracky bottoms tucked in socks or the evil credit crunch. All pretty depressing: "Stop the world, I'm getting off", as the King Monkey himself would say. 

If I wasn't already itching to escape and get some fishing in, that little lot confirmed it. So I decided to visit Paharganj again, just to remind myself what it'd be like if the world went completely tits-up. 

Anyhow, I'd promised myself a return to the Ramganga - just to see if Mr Anand from my last trip got the photos I'd posted him if nothing else. I could have a bit of time off the job, our Lynne was well happy with the idea of a couple of week's peace and quiet, so the air ticket to Delhi was booked and I started piling tackle up in my office, then whittling it back down to a payload I could actually carry.

  The flight was uneventful, really. Packed, but uneventful. I noticed the camp Air India steward (is mincing really a professional prerequisite?) had poured a huge Johnnie Walker for a bloke a couple of rows in front of me, and having had a quick brush with a couple

of Stellas at Heathrow, this seemed like a good idea at the time. "Can I have a Johnnie Walker on ice please?"
"Certainly sir. In fact I am recommending that you are having two - the food trolley is coming now".

 

A dirty, swirling, Ganges and I'm worried. Well, more worried than the kids!

It's still a dump though.

Coming through. Give it a couple of years there'll be a multi-storey at Byas Ghat.

Below: Devapryag, the confluence of the milky Bhagirathi on the left and the crystal Alaknanda on the right, thereby forming the jade Ganges.

 

 He handed over two massive neat whiskies on the rocks, with a bag of snacks called Taka Taks - like an Indian version of the scampi Nik Nak, but even more anti-social. 

Meal over, he minced past again, so I asked for another Johnnie, just one more, just for medicinal purposes you understand. He was back in a jiffy, so to speak, with another two beakers full of the stuff. I smiled and said thanks. He wobbled his

First glimpse through the trees of the famous black rock, with the Nyar River coming in from the left.

head and minced off down the aisle again, while I sipped my drinks, forced down a few more Taka Taks and relaxed into my seat, all spot-on with the world. 

Next thing I knew, we were on the tarmac at Indira Gandhi International Airport after the shortest nine hour flight I've ever had. Ok, so I had dried dribble down my shirt and I felt like crap, but I made a mental note to get a seat in Johnnie Walker Class next time I booked a flight, cos it clearly knocks hours off your journey. Brilliant! 

Paharganj was still filthy, smelly and chaotic - not that I expected anyone to have tidied up, and the


Paying homage down the black rock rapid.

touts were still a pain, albeit at least they hadn't grasped Spanglish yet. I got out the pressure zone for a bite to eat, and the waiter recommend the 'chef's special' mutton curry - which I agreed to have under the proviso that chef left his 'special' out of it. It turned out to be very, very special indeed - for the goat that produced the mutton must have been bred with fingers, going by the knuckle count in the bowl.

Back at the hotel, I wanted to go to my room but I couldn't find it, and wandered round on the second floor looking for a door with '203' on it. But it really wasn't there. Spooky. Trying a random door without a number on it, I stuck the key in the lock and turned it. "Click", it swung open, and I was horrified to find clothes and stuff thrown all over the room. Oh no, no, no, nooooooo...! My heart sank, and a hollow, empty feeling swept through my stomach. 
"Bollocks. I've been robbed."
I looked around the mess - a hairdryer, box of Tampax, couple of bras and straightening irons on the bed, a g-string and pink flip flops on the floor:
"Christ, and I don't even remember packing them" I thought. And then it dawned on me. Oooh. Wrong room. I backed out and clicked the door shut, carefully locking it behind me in the interests of security.

In the end I had a look round four rooms before I went and had a word at reception.
"Excuse us, mate. I can't find my room, but this key opens four other rooms on the second floor".
Reception fella shrugged and did a head-wobble:
"Yes sir. System not good". He took the key and revealed the exact location of room 203 - tucked away behind a blank door in an alcove.

A hydro-electric low tide below the steps of the temple at Byas Ghat.

The reason I did a 10,000 mile round trip again.








(Note to self... must grow up.)

"202 here side", pointed reception fella at a door with 202 on it, "203 here side" pointed reception fella at the door with nothing on it, barely missing off a "duuurrr" at the end. I still couldn't see any pattern with it all, but then that's probably why I'd never get in Mensa.

Nobody walked in and helped themselves to me or my stuff during the night, which was a plus, and the following dawn the train creaked out of Delhi railway station with me and said stuff on it. But before we'd even cleared the city limits my little balloon of high-optimism that sprung from being in the sub-continent again had hit a pin and gone pop. A continual conveyor belt of overpopulation, rubble and squalor drifted past the sepia tainted window. I gazed at the acres of rubbish forming scree-slopes tumbling from the stacks of almost-derelict buildings, finally coming to rest in putrid black streams and pools. Knee-deep kids (not the goat sort) waded amongst the disease and detritus scratching their living from whatever they could strain from the soup. Not for the first time, I thanked the croupier that is Father Fate for dealing me a plastic chair at Monkshouse County Primary School.  

In a reasonable parody of time spent in India generally, my spiritual see-saw dipped up and down for the whole of the train journey. One minute happy as Happy Larry when he's having a happy day, with a grin from ear to ear as big skies, green trees, open countryside and fat bullocks replaced the smog, black plastic shanties and emaciated, poo-plastered city cows. Then a minute later my little bubble of brightness would deflate again like one of the eight billion carrier bags lining the tracks as we scraped into another shambolic municipal sprawl. Nearing Haridwar, the first feint outlines of the Himalayan foothills teased through the horizon's haze: I couldn't wait to meet them again, along with their clean air and fast flowing mountain rivers. 

 


DP awaits the big pull in a lovely oily pool above Byas Ghat.

The little 'uns wouldn't leave the atta alone and the chilwa couldn't get a look in.

I'd arranged for the nice people at Himalayan Outback to look after me on the Ganges for the first week. I know last time up there I ran round in circles just seeing where I ended up, for better or worse (ok, usually worse). But I'd only got a couple of weeks and couldn't afford to spend one of them arsing about before I even wet a line. Camp Manager, Mr David Ji, was there to meet me off the train at Haridwar, and once the taxiwalla had lashed the rod tube to the rack and climbed down off the roof, our teeny-Tata-tourist-taxi took off for Rishikesh and beyond, right up to Devapryag and finally Byas Ghat, where Mr David told me my tent was pitched, and I was hoping the Mahseer were queued up waiting to eat plastic. 


"Kinell!! A Mahseer!!"

Another bucket of plugs, spoons and shads. But after 500 blank chucks the mantra's still the same: "Him not like um plastic - him like um meat".






Parked on the trumpery but determined not to miss a second by the water.

As the teeny-Tata screeched up to Rishikesh, I had a few reminders that Indian road safety relies as much on other vehicles swerving out the way as it does to any code of conduct, then we picked up a few supplies, and above the town I got the first view of the river from up high. The car picked it's way through the miles of mountain hairpins and crawling traffic, and two things bothered me. Firstly, the amount of road-building and tarmac-laying going on, and secondly Mummy Ganges herself, who appeared to be a brown, swirling torrent oozing her way through the valley floor below. Each time I glimpsed the river, I hoped vainly she'd have cleaned herself up a bit, but an hour or so further up the valley she still appeared to be as dirty as ever.

It was only as we neared the confluence of the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers at Devapryag that jade green water prevailed and I breathed a small sigh of relief that everything might just all turn out ok. We crossed the valley, swapped vehicles for a 4x4, and dodged a few more diggers levelling the valley sides before finally crunching to a halt above the river in sight of the big black rock at Byas Ghat.

I was amazed to find I'd got the camp to myself for the trip, and after we'd been rafted across the river to the sand bar where they'd set everything up, I met the boys and girls. Mr David Ji, our camp commandant and table-cloth aligner, introduced head guide Mr Pralad Ji (PD), trainee guide Mr Dharampal Ji (DP), rafting guide Miss Sunita (NYPD), Mr Chef Ji (LAPD), camp gopher Mr Bobby Gee (OCD) and another lad whose name I didn't get, who didn't say much, but who did a great job of carrying lots of heavy stuff around (JCB-D). 
"Why really boys..." I thought "...all this for little ol' pondlife me...?"

There were two or three hours of light left for the evening session, so I hastily chucked my gear all over the tent floor and assembled a set of tackle. My ever-reliable, donkey's years old 10ft 2.75lb Dave Lumb P4 had an ever-reliable, donkey's years old Baitrunner 4500A screwed onto it. I'd chosen 50lb Power Pro braid for the main line to help with the casting distance over straight through mono, with a 10 metre rubbing leader of 25lb clear mono tied to the end with a 30 turn Bimini and Cairns Quickie (or Deckie's) knot... blah de blah. Anyway, if it's good enough for the blokes fishing the Barrier Reef, I figured it'd wind in anything the Ganges could chuck at me. This lot was finished off with a metre of 30lb fluorocarbon (in the name of subtlety) Palomar-knotted to size 7 Berkley swivels and cross-lok links. And that's enough of that before I send myself to bed early.

Morning view of the camp. More comfortable than it looks. I got used to sleeping standing up after a couple of nights.


Mr PD models the latest line of hi-tech Ganga Mai lifejackets. I swear he even wore it in the shower.

While I rigged up, Mr PD had been rooting through my lure box. I'd noticed him wobbling his head a lot out the corner of my eye as he placed a small pile of jointed Rapalas, X-raps, Yo Zuris and other bits of plastic and metal in my collapsible bucket. Then he gave my set-up the once over, wobbled his head again; "Ok. Is good". Finally I attached the whole lot to an eye of the tent, stepped back a few yards, and then pulled it til I turned purple, to coin a phrase. Apart from the corks under my forearm nothing so much as squeaked. Excellent.

Mr PD chose the area upstream of the camp for my first dabble in Ganges waters, and his first lure selection was a 13cm Jointed Rapala in Fire Tiger pattern. We arrived at a beautiful, translucent green pool, swirling by steadily under a near vertical cliff face opposite. Mr PD pointed and gave a thumbs-up:
"Big big Mahseer this place September". 
I decided to ignore the fact that it was April, and still only just got the cross-lok done up with my trembling fingers. 

I gave that first cast the big 'un, and timed it a treat. The lure shot across the river like a small missile and landed only a few yards from the base of the cliff. 
"Good cast sir" whispered Mr PD.
I clicked the bail shut and began winding. It felt good; good to be by the river, really good to feel the throb of the lure as it's lip bit into the current - and really, really good that I hadn't had a whiplash, cracked off and made a knob of myself. 

Nothing chewed the lure that cast. Or the next hundred or two, for that matter. I'd worked my way systematically down the whole length of the pool, tried each of the lures in the bucket and all I'd had to show for it was a couple of hook-ups on the river bed. DP saved the lures by stripping down to his Y-fronts and wading out in the glacier-fed waters to get them, which was service beyond the call of duty in my book. Mother Ganges looked great, I'd fished pretty well, yet nothing had happened. But as dusk enveloped the valley and the squawking Peacocks competed with the music wafting on down from the 

 

 

Above: Under Pressure - Chef Freddie Mercury kicks out the zeds on his bed of boulders, bless him.

Right: A late night Asla which was kind enough to nobble my lump of atta paste. Mr PD came down to have a look at it, and he was still in his lifejacket.



Bobby Gee cuddles a future Ganges Legend? Maybe, though a few more dams and road building projects might have something to say about that.


Happiness is Mahseer shaped.

temple, there were truly few places on earth I'd rather have been.

Chef Ji had cooked up a storm back at camp that night, and it was a magical spot to be, eating delicious barbecued chicken and curried veg in front of the campfire, with cicadas chipping away in the bushes behind us and a clear starry sky overhead. All very convivial, yah?

As lovely as the river valley was, the fishing just didn't happen over the next day or two. I just about

Mr David Ji plays it super cool.

chucked everything I had at them. Every lure in every colour; fast, white water and slow, deep pools... In front of the rock, behind the rock... upstream, downstream... all for nada - not so much as a knock, or even an inquisitive follow. It seemed the fish just weren't there. 500 casts in I'd hooked the river bed about 6 times, some local long-lines (with a hundred tiny nooses in place of the hooks) twice, and myself just the once. I pulled the lure out with my pliers and DP set about me with a pint of Dettol, rendering my whole left side safe from any kind of infection for the foreseeable future. 

 

About the only time the boys took their lifejackets off was when they went in the water.




Mid-afternoon 38 degree sandstorms and a little taster of the Bedouindian lifestyle.

 

Not going quite to plan, you could say, but I still loved it, and still felt sure something would happen. We tried to catch some chilwa for bait, using small hooks and atta paste, but only caught loads of small Mahseer, of which there seemed to be no shortage. 

Every day during late morning/early afternoon the river would rise by 3 or 4 feet and turn the colour of milky chai due to some dam activity upstream, and then during late afternoon and evening the river would drop back down and clear again, signalling the times to fish. I'm not sure what affect the daily mini-monsoon has on the Mahseer's 























The delicate art of Goonch fishing. It's not exactly rocket science.

Sacrilege. You travel 5000 miles... and end up fishing hair rigged boilies.

The Gullible rod tube ticks off a new mode of transport as we left the Holy Boulders of Byas Ghat behind.

onboard computer, but my guess is it can't be very good, finely tuned as they are. Still, it'd force me into a short siesta through the 35 degree plus heat of mid afternoon, whereby Bobby Gee would sometimes appear through the baking sandstorms clutching a flask of chai and a packet of Jammy Dodgers for a spot of fishin' tiffin, bless him. Then he'd cross the river and walk the best part of a mile to take the empties back after. Service with smile. They really looked after me - a great bunch.

I even began to think about a change of tactics one morning after watching the villagers collecting their long lines strung with Asla lassoed in the nooses. When a lure first snagged one and I dragged it in, I couldn't believe it'd work, and thought they'd be better off splashing out on a pack of hooks between them. I admit I got that badly wrong. By this stage lassoing a Mahseer was starting to look like a reasonable option.

The rafts were loaded and we headed downstream to try another area. Sunita did her rafting induction to the group (well, me), I gave her my best Benny Hill salute in my potty helmet, and we were on our way, winding down river through canyon-like gorges with Mountain Goats Velcroed to their near vertical faces, Langur Monkey Bastards trying to punch each other out of the trees and huge Buzzards swirling high above our heads. Another world, and I loved every minute of it. 
"Yup. My life is shit." I muttered down the neck of my life jacket.

The next spot proved to be well away from any civilisation. No villages, no trucks honking round the mountain roads above us, just our camp set upon the top of a high white dune deposited by the floods, right aside the river. 

While the boys set up the tents, Mr PD reckoned I should get a line in the water. Standing on a rock at the water's edge, he thrust the 13cm Jointed Rapala in Fire Tiger pattern in my direction with a head wobble, large size. "Indian man. 45 pound Mahseer. This place. This plug. Casting to other side sir" he said, confirming why he always chucked the 13cm Jointed Rapala in Fire Tiger 



Taking in the sights and smells
at the No-Goonch Pool where a bloated pig swirled about under the rod tip as my Asla head fermented on the bottom. 

 

Woo Woo! All aboard the Funbus.

All this crap ends up shunted into the holy waters every day. Sacred river my arse.

 

pattern at me first. But unfortunately history didn't repeat itself, and if there were any Mahseer there they didn't want to eat a 13cm Jointed Rapala in Fire Tiger pattern. Or any of the other contraptions I tried either... Spoons, plugs, rubber shads... the lot. Like I say, "Him no want um plastic..." 

Trying lumps of atta after dark did bring some measure of success in the form of several Asla, which have a head like our Barbel and the body of a Brown Trout minus spots - a Troubel, you could say. 

 

 

A couple of them were on the large side, which was nice, but I'd really have preferred a dozen four to six inch versions to send out for a play with the Mahseer. Mr PD had also told me that we'd be likely to camp at a spot where there was a nearby pool holding a few Goonch, so after catching an average sized Asla of about 3lbs at dawn one morning, I decided to keep it for bait. I dispatched the fish with a quick smack to the back of the head with a rock.
"Asla expire" nodded the ever-observant Bobby Gee before sticking it in with the bananas. 

The atta also accounted for the odd Mahseer too - aside from all the tiny ones which drove me nuts. One of them gave rise to the inordinate celebration level award for the trip, when a fish of some 5 or 6 pounds took me for a bit of a run-around the pool in front of the camp. I'd have probably celebrated even more inordinately if I'd realised that was the biggest Mahseer I was going to see in the Ganges. But it still put a smile on my face. And to think I had dreams of 20 and 30 pounders screaming down the rapids just days before. Ho hum.

Ghat again for a few snapshots.

 

 

The animals liked this out of the way spot as much as I did, sharing it with Mountain Goats, Langur Monkey Bastards, Buzzards and Pine Martens. Even a Barking Deer somehow ended up just 20 yards behind me before it realised I was there, whereby it barked, as they do, shat itself, and then scrambled off back through the trees up the cliff behind me. Believe it or not, this incident actually made my day. But wildlife or none, we needed to move on again in the hope of finding a few fish before I moved rivers entirely, so we left them behind for pastures new.

And this spot looked best of all - a huge, sweeping bend in the river, in all probably a kilometre in length, consisting of deeps, rapids, drop-offs, eddies, creases between slow and fast water and, about ten minute's walk downstream, even a big deep pool in which Mr PD Ji assured me there were some huge Goonch, making it pretty much a full-house. Lovely, and I couldn't wait to start.

But again, despite the 'fishiness' of the river, the Mahseer were hard to come by. Any different shaped and coloured bits of plastic were steadfastly ignored, and only small ones fell foul of the atta paste - if they didn't nick the bait and get away with it!  

While the fella at the holy water receptacle shop just wishes the boys would decide whether they want the 1 litre individual or the 2 litre party pack, the holy cows of Haridwar graze sedately at the all-you-can-eat buffet of carrier bags and wheel-spun Y-fronts...

As I sat kneading more atta and huffing, Mr PD described a way he'd seen of overcoming the problem:
"English men fishing Kali River last year are catching many Mahseer sir - no small - 5kg... 10kg... Atta no on hook. Is under hook. You are knowing sir?". 
Jesus. Surely not...? I quickly tied up a no-knot hair rig, with a bead on the hair, then moulded a lump of paste around it.
"Like this?"
"Yes sir" he wobbled, "but atta is with egg and boil". And so it came to pass that he appeared at my tent flap that afternoon with a tray of bright orange asafoetida and turmeric flavoured atta boilies. Of course I was sure they'd work, and it'd seem rude not to use them... but being such a purist(!) how could I even consider sitting on the Ganges carp fishing for bloody Mahseer, for it would feel like sacrilege.

I battled long and hard with my conscience that evening, and after at least seven or maybe even eight seconds of internal turmoil I chucked a hair rigged boilie out into a crease to see what happened, while I waited for a Goonch to wake up and eat half an Asla I had soaking on a heavy rig in the corner pool. Did the boilie get eaten? Of course it did!! The rod pulled round, I struck, the fish zipped out into the main flow, then set off down towards Rishikesh, the hook dropped out, and I had another swearing session! One chance all week and I'm using the bloody rubber hooks again. 

   

Yes! Back to the lovely Ramganga valley that had been on my mind since the day I last left it. I love it there.

Look! It's Mr Anand!! Oh my Jesus H!!!!

It was to be the one and only and final chance of my time on the river. The gradually fermenting Asla didn't get eaten either, but I don't think the Goonch could find it over the stench of a bloated pig that was stuck in the eddy of the pool. It floated by under my feet every ten minutes or so, pale green, legs akimbo and fit to explode. Ahhh, the sights and sounds...

The following morning, after one last, desperate, unfruitful attempt with the remaining lump of festering Asla, the camp was folded down for the final time and we took a drift down river to the finish point of the trip. 

First evening on the Ramganga and its happy days.


The swim at Marchula corner was occupied as usual, but the threat of handbags soon shifted it.

Though the fishing had been (very) hard and ultimately disappointing, the boys and girls of Himalayan Outback had looked after me brilliantly and worked hard to try and make it all work right. The spots we fished had looked terrific, the river was beautiful, and at the end of the day I'd still loved every minute of being by the water. Maybe I shall go back before they build any more dams or anything, but next time in September as recommended by Mr PD Ji. Perhaps when there are some fish up the river, cos it'll help.

Whatever and whenever; there was still an eagerly awaited revisit to the Ramganga to look forward to, which I was confident would come up trumps.

A revisit I wasn't quite as enthusiastic about was a night in Haridwar again, but I passed the time by visiting the Har-Ki-Pairi Ghat to check out the pilgrims, hippies, saddhus and beggars in the mounds of scorched Y-fronts and lines of litter. One new development there - and particularly nice touch - is the sponsorship of the plastic seat mats by M&Ms, Skittles, Kit Kat, Coke, Snickers, Oreos etc etc - all of which end up in the river at the end of the day. Very good of them. For a river considered so sacred, it seems to get very little in the way of respect. I don't understand things. Still, I wandered around for a bit and took some pictures, rediscovered that saying no to lepers all day is ultimately a pretty negative experience, and then went back to an onion-trailer of a bed for a night's sleep before the long bus journey to come in the morning.

I saw DP, PD and JCB-D at the bus station the next morning, as they were taking the same bus over to Ramnagar. It was nice to see them and have a bit of



Oh yes. That's the one.

 Highly strung.

company for the journey. Though they were now "off duty", DP still insisted on carrying my bag, and, not being very good with subservience, I still insisted on racing him to pick them up. It was a tug-of-war we'd been having all week, and I felt bad enough when he was actually working so there was no way I was having him carry my stuff on his day off.

The rust bucket crawled by the Haridwar municipal dump on the way out of town. It's similar to the ghat really, just with slightly less rubbish, and stuck in traffic we were kept entertained by gangs of crows pecking at 

A bit of unilateral disarmament with the pliers and this little fella went out for a scratch about on the river bed.









A popped-up Kalabas all trussed up to go play with the Goonch.

The Marchula Masterbaiter psyches himself up for the traditional cow-chucking ceremony...

...Jesus. What a minger of a pre-baiting system.

another bloated pig carcass, and then treated to a spot of bovine water sports, as a cow lifted it's tail and turned on the sprinkler while the one next to it looked sideways and slurped the lot without missing a drop - a party trick rarely seen outside the world of rugby union.

A young bloke came over and wedged himself between DP and me, and then kicked off a conversation about the structure of the English language. Well, I say a conversation, but it was more like a turkey on speed pecking your head for three hours. 

Apparently he wrote stuff for the Oxford University Press and the Hindustan Times, amongst other publications... blah de blah. He finally lost me for good with the line: "You see, as an Indian writer, the use of a pronoun becomes especially troublesome when that pronoun is compounded with something else..." Bloody hell. I'd not a clue. Anyone reading this rubbish will realise my grasp of English is colloquial at best, so I ducked out, flicked the little "white noise only" button on the back of my neck and watched the miles of brickyards, dung piles and marijuana slip by the window, leaving DP to talk turkey.
We both sighed with relief when he finally un-wedged himself and got off the bus.
"I am thinking he is very much too super smart" nodded DP. Very nicely put.

All that's left of the last bloke to hang it out for a Goonch at Marchula Bridge Pool... 
And not far off joining him myself after another day of arse-scratching on that godforsaken rock.





An oblivious Barking Deer crosses the river as I quietly wile away the hours on my boulder...

DP and the boys headed off to their camp at Marchula, while I said a fond goodbye and headed off for a luxury tent I'd emailed ahead and booked down on the Ramganga. A lovely spot, on a river I'd dreamed of fishing again since the last time I'd left it, even if it is a little on the poshe side. They even gave me the same tent as my previous visit, so I felt right at home, and I set about getting a rod together for an evening session. 

As I threaded the rod rings, a familiar smell wafted through the flaps of my tent. Very, very familiar, and right away... I knew... He was close. Very close. That hint of damp armpit combined with the aromatic waft of pre-packed paan... it could only be... A tap on the flap, and I folded it back to reveal my Ramganga Shadow, Mr Anand. His face broke into a smile of recognition; "Ah sir I have photo!" he said, and I was very happy that the envelope I'd sent after my previous visit had found it's way from sunny Spalding to downtown Marchula.

I had a plan - nothing flashy (obviously, after all, I dreamed it up) - but I hoped my confidence that I'd catch a few from the Ramganga wasn't misplaced. As we wandered down to the river across the boulders, Mr Anand asked: "Fishing atta sir or plug?"
"Not this time, Mr Anand. Chilwa, chilwa, chilwa and more chilwa - with added chilwa" I replied, and after I'd caught half a dozen silver Jhebri (or something very similar) from the rock pools in the margins, we slipped into position at the large bend a couple of hundred metres downstream of the camp. And a lovely evening it was too. Four times a chilwa was seized, though I missed the first three out of shock before I got the hooking correct, then I finally landed a lovely fish of 7lbs or so that fizzed around the pool and punched well above it's weight before giving in for a photo. Happiness is Mahseer shaped. But event of the session was when a very large Mahseer cruised into view, right above where my bait rested, swimming round looking like it owned the place. It looked to be over 20lbs in weight, and it stuck in my mind's eye as I drifted off to sleep. Morning couldn't come quick enough.

...it knows something's up...

... but goes ahead anyway...

...up to it's neck...

...what's that smell...?

...wading on gingerly...

...very gingerly...

...and then it clocks me...

...and chuffs...

...right...

...off...!!!"




With the first hint of light I was hopping the rock pools trying to catch some chilwa. Sight fishing them in the dark proved to be on the difficult side, but eventually a couple held on long enough and were flitting round in my bucket. Just before the sun slipped above the hilltops, Mr Anand turned up and resumed chilwa duties, while I slipped into position behind a huge boulder on the bend. A small stone was tied onto the swivel with cotton and then a chilwa flicked out into a crease formed by a barely-submerged mid-river rock. The rig bounced on the river bed once, then held. Perfect. I placed the rod over the boulder, hid myself back and hoped the big girl was home and ready for breakfast. 

The sunlight hit the gravel beach on the other side of the river half an hour later, and nothing at all had

happened, bar the bait banging the rod-tip erratically every now and again, just to keep me on my toes. In no time the bright sun would permeate the crystal water. The big girl had left the pool, and the little tear-streaked face of disillusionment was heading my way again.  
"Ker...sploosh!!" What the bloody he... A big fish crashed in mid-river, I grabbed the rod as it bent double over the rock, and before I even struck the 14lb Trilene was already leaving the reel at speed. I held the rod high, jumped up on the boulder and more 14lb Trilene left the reel. It got to the bottom of the bend and into the very tip of a small rapid of white water, and I cupped the spool and bent the rod to the corks to try and stop any more 14lb Trilene leaving the spool. Somehow all held firm, and while I stood on my boulder quaking and muttering to myself, the fish kept chucking itself around the pool for quite some time (I have not the faintest idea how long


You freak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I like them a lot. Even the baby ones. You may have guessed...

The Mahseer chewed my bait on each session that followed, and I had a great time down on the lovely Ramganga. I tried spots I'd caught them from before (nice to see the resident Mugger croc still in place at Marchula corner!), and discovered one or two new ones, getting lucky with a number of beautiful fish. The big golden one was still special though. 

I also spent some time (too much bloody time) trying to wear down a Goonch in the bridge pool. Hours of tedium and thumb twiddling. Oh my aching arse, parked on a rock... waiting... bored... just hoping one would open it's mouth and suck a bait in. I dropped a bit of fish guts in the edge one afternoon, and watched a crab come out his crack in a rock to have a go at it. This represented some light entertainment, and after four attempts it was finally tempted it into the net... Hmmm... bait. I tried to rig it up with a band to get it on a hook, but the swine kept nipping me and wouldn't lay still, so a couple of quick snips (well, crunches) with the pliers 'neutralised the threat'. I got a band round it's carapace while it windmilled it's stumps at me and threatened to knock my lights out, then hitched on a 4/0 hook and sent it out for a scrat about on the bottom. To this day I can't believe nothing had eaten it 6 hours later.

During one long wait, Mr Anand explained that Kalabas were the best Goonch bait. These are a dark, slender fish which spend their life scraping the algae off rocks - and hence are pretty much impossible to catch. I have tried, though I've yet to sit it out properly with a paternostered lettuce. Anyway, he explained the local fishermen get them in cast nets, and for a fist full of rupees, bait could be sourced. Into his hand went a hundred rupees and my collapsible bucket, and a few hours later he was back, with three Kalabas and two other freaky-type algae-eaters splashing about inside. Within minutes, I'd rigged one of about half a pound on a pop-up rig and placed it right next to the undercut rock-face opposite, jammed the rod back in it's crack, flicked the reel into free-spool, and sat back to watch my rod tip bouncing merrily in the air.

exactly, for I was crapping myself far too much to worry).

When she finally dived into the landing net I was a very happy little bunny, and I treated myself to a little understated punch of the air... So understated that Mr Anand heard it a hundred yards away and came scrambling over the boulder fields to investigate. 

The beautiful fish went 21lbs on the scales, and was as perfect a creature as I've ever caught or seen. Solid, bright, bright gold scales, powerful, perfect fins, a massive paddle for a tail and six inches thick across the neck - all I'd dreamed of and hoped for. I set up the camera and asked Mr Anand to "look through here and press here - lots of times", and then he took a turn at the fishy end of things as well. I like to think that right now the photo will be sat on his mantle piece next to the horse brasses and the holiday snaps of Mrs Anand in her one-piece. I really hope he got it.

We watched her swim off with a stroke of the perfect sides, then I turned round and smiled a lot, and Mr A shook my hand nearly as vigorously as he wobbled his head. The beans on toast slid down a treat at breakfast that morning. Oh happy days. Little things eh?!

Right: Last bite of the trip, and having the attention span of a goldfish with a deficit syndrome, I ended up chasing the rod down the river after it.

 

A Mahseer mantle piece mug shot.

It didn't bounce about for long before it finally pulled round properly and the clicker buzzed into life. But only for a second. Dropped - I'd been done again.  I couldn't believe it. The bait soaked for another half an hour in case the Goonch came back, before I wound in the squashed and slashed fish for an inspection to find it completely mullered. Time for a new lively one. When I unzipped the lid on the bucket, I was somewhat confused to find what looked like a load of dead fish porridge inside it. 
"Erm... Mr Anand?"
"Yes Mr Andy sir?"

"What happened in here?"

"Atta sir".
"Erm... Atta...?"
"Yes sir, I am putting in atta sir".
"Erm... Like, wwwwhy?"
"Fish is hungry. Eating atta sir", he wobbled, ever so chuffed with himself.
Jesus H... "Pray tell Mr Anand, are you mental?" I politely enquired. I picked the largest Kalabas from the gloop and gazed at it's limp little form. A quick squint under the gill covers indicated they had indeed suffered a death by dough. Goonch: nil points. Nuts nuts nuts nuts nuts... 

The bridge pool bore witness to other forms of madness too. Three blokes came down from the village to dump a decomposing cow carcass in the river. It had been rotting away steadily at the bottom of the cliff right under the chai shop, and the smell had got so bad it was putting them off their tea. These boys had drawn the short straw - albeit they seemed to be in remarkably high spirits, considering. Why they hadn't shifted it before it rotted is anyone's guess. They manhandled the putrid bundle of bones into the river, dripping grey maggots as they staggered, and then dumped it under the bridge amid a chorus of gagging reflexes - thereby chumming up my spot quite nicely, thank you. 

Next morning, though the smell from my rock was bit tangy, it seemed the small fish loved it, even if it appeared to have no discernible effect on Goonch activity. It had no effect on Mr Anand's sense of smell either, apparently, as he walked right up and squatted down by the river, scooping a mouthful of water from the edge. I did a double take through the haze of flies and rotting cow:
"Drinking dead cow nice, Mr Anand?" I asked, and was then more than a little amused to see him do a comedy spray and spend the next ten minutes shaking his head and retching over a rock. Bless him. Hopefully he'll be ok.

Unusually for the time of year, a bit of inclement weather swept down the valley that afternoon - gale force winds, driving rain and plummeting temperatures. By dark I'd joined Mr Anand and the rest of the village shivering around the fire in the chai shop (minus dead cow stench, thankfully). I sat and waited for a lift back to my tent, while they all stared and had half an hour of fun taking the piss. Mr A and I agreed - if the weather was like this in the morning, fishing would not be happening!

It felt like the tent nearly turned inside out during the night - thunder, lashing rain and all that, and at 4.30am

R.I.P... The alarmed expression of a recently choked Kalabas.

 

when the alarm sounded it was still tipping down. I stuck my thermometer out the door, read 15.5 degrees and got back in bed. But by the time I'd had a leisurely breakfast, the sun had poked it's head out and the valley was starting to look more welcoming... In fact... things began to look brighter all round, for I could have an Anand-free afternoon out on the river, minus my little rock-hopping Hobbit buddy.

It turned out to be an afternoon in heaven. After wandering downstream to cut down the chances of being found, a few baits went in the bucket and a few hours passed wandering and wading, dropping into likely spots as I went. Another oblivious Barking Deer crossed the river near where I sat, and I managed to crawl up to within about a hundred feet of it before it saw me and bolted. I virtually stepped on a 20lb Mahseer in 18 inches of water (I don't know who shat himself more)... and I re-learned not to leave your rucksack on the bank and finished up chasing a bunch of Monkey Bastards through the bush as the thieving gits ran off with the last of my atta. I dropped into a final spot on last knockings. The sun went down as darkness and Peacock calls began to close in around me, and the rod tip kept a-trembling over my backpack. Time was running out. I didn't want to pack up... but I knew I'd get a proper finger-wagging if another search party had to come out. Reluctantly I started to put my stuff away... come on... come on... All done. I clipped up the buckles... come onnnn... And then the rod ran off into the river with the reel clattering over the gravel. I caught up with it a second later and played my final Mahseer of the trip out, up to my knees in water, in the dark, and loving every, single last second of it.

I only just beat the search party, but the finger got wagged anyway. But did I care? Naaaaa. I love it.

Au revoir, Sir Harry Ramganga.

 

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