nation with one hand down its trousers and the other stuffed up a
nostril- and that's just the bloke who made your chapattis. It all begins in the bedlam of Delhi,
visits the bedlam of Agra, takes
in the bedlam of Haridwar. Then, at last, a little peace and quiet catching
some Mahseer in the lovely
Ramganga River followed by a shameful fishing debacle down on the Kosi...
forgotten how much I used to love airports. That feeling of relief and excitement
tingling my very skin as the mundane stresses and worries of everyday life are left behind,
swirling in the wake of a seven quid sandwich, a poke round duty free and a couple of pints in Weatherspoons.
Watching the world around come and go, relaxing with a nice glass of
beer, savouring the knowledge that the next time my feet touched
tarmac it'd be in some exotic, far-flung, distant land... But for obvious reasons,
these days that little interval of bliss is all but gone, lost in the interminable
queues, checks and x-rays of Heathrow. Arriving four
hours before take off leaves just enough time for a quick sprint
to the gate (if your trainers make it through the x-ray), with fat
chance of a
spare hour to lounge about in front of a plasma telly. Still, looking
on the bright side, you save a small fortune in sandwiches, and I
suppose the odds are cut of being hijacked by some dippy radical
waving his nail clippers about- or even coming a cropper due to a
stray bottle of incendiary Evian - both of which are clearly lethal in
the wrong hands.
I'd also forgotten about 5 hour transfer delays at airports (hello
Milan). I'd forgotten how 'long' long-haul can seem when you're tired. I'd
how bad airline food can be (truly lethal in the wrong
I'd forgotten the "oooh, I must be a wounded gazelle"
feeling arrival at an Asian airport can instigate. I'd forgotten the
madness of Indian taxi rides (when they have a blow-out in the middle
of the highway). I'd forgotten about being air-lifted by squadrons of
mosquitoes. I'd forgotten the smell. I'd forgotten the heat. And as I
lay in our Paharganj Palace staring at the four walls and ceiling with
their delicate patina of flaking pink paint,
handprints, footprints, cracks, mould and other unidentifiable stains
in the vein of a dirty protest, I realised I'd also forgotten just how
'crap' crap rooms can be.
already clear that during the previous few months, as I'd sat at my desk
scrimping up the pennies and dreaming wistfully about leaving Blighty's draughty
shores for warmer climes again, my selective travel memory had skipped
a few issues with regard to independent budget travel.
we had a bed, in a room, in a hotel, in Delhi, and were staying in
India for as long as it takes. However long that may be.
o'clock in the morning. A terrified pounding rattled the door on its
"I am frome ze next roooom... I am frome ze next roooom!!!"
the door shook in its frame. "I am frome ze next rooooooooom!!!"
I bolted upright from a jet-lagged slumber.
Grabbing a pair of grubby boxers from off the grubby
floor I lurched across the room, pushing a foot through
the fly-hole and fretting on how we'd escape a
burning semi-derelict hotel in the crumbling rat's maze that is Delhi's
door banged and banged and banged:
"I am frome ze next
roooom!!! I am frome ze next rooooooooom!!!" the concrete
corridor echoed again.
alright! I'm coming, I'm coming!"
the still rattling door, I glimpsed through the crack expecting to see
a soot smudged, panic stricken face topped with a
smouldering tuft of hair. But instead, all I could see was a small, wet,
middle aged, fur-ball of a Frenchman, standing naked but for a dirty towel
wrapped around his waist. He held out a scrawny hand:
ave run out of ze showere gel and ze shop is now closed. Can you elp me
please and give me some for ze showere?"
Tired, stroppy and confused, I gazed down at his trembling paw. "Wait
there" I snapped. Arriving back at the door a few seconds later, I dripped a
Cow, Fatman... It's India!!!"
Delhi, having a quiet moment as a Holy Cow casually exercises it's
right of way.
Taj Mahal; the gleaming jewel in the steaming turd that is Agra.
with India being, well, India, you'll find no 100% Holy Cow patty in a
McDeepaks quarterpounder with paneer.
Melon & Mango
Tropical Zest about the
size of a baked bean in his palm. He
glanced at the tiny squirt of shower gel and then looked up at me with
a pathetic, pleading
expression: "Pleeeaassse, give me
ze ole bottle- I will return eet after I ave ad ze showere" he
the door shut squarely into his forlorn
looking little face, I turned back into the hovel.
was all that about?" groaned Lynne as she slipped back
under the sheet.
worry duck, we're not on fire. We'd just forgotten about the
Main Bazaar of Paharganj is really more Main Bizarre- the narrow
alleys and randomly kerbed streets a heaving, baking amalgam of chaos
and cowshit. Stepping fresh off
the plane from England is like being
dropped into an industrial tumble
drier. I'm sure we've all read people
whimsically waxing lyrical about India's
"sensory overload" and other similar
threadbare clichés, but
attempted to battle your way through
the heat, stench,
touts and rickshaws of Paharganj it
nothing. I remember
thinking; "I've been a few
places. It can't be
can it?" But in
reality, I have to say it really does
bar somewhat. Or lower it, depending on your standpoint.
course there are the crowds, the sights and the smells to deal with (I remember one particularly stomach-churning
interlude being a sewer repair underway down one of the tiny
alleys, half a dozen
Hippy = Saddhu.
Hippy = Saddo.
But please- always
remember: "Never Trust A Hippy"
almost naked blokes in a pit wrestling with the pipes whilst thigh
and elbow deep in black human shit) but it's impossible to wander
down the cramped, rickety lanes as a foreigner without being accosted
every few metres by a tout of some description.
Whether it's flogging
tours, tickets or hotels, each and every one of them somehow miraculously
claims to be your "friend", and each and every one of them
is as persistent as the last; English apparently perfect, yet strangely
without the slightest grasp of the word "NO!". Amusingly,
one even advised us as he followed us down the street chattering
endlessly, "you can't trust anyone here... in fact, you can't
even trust me". This was precisely 5 minutes before depositing us
at the door of his mate's back street tour office instead of the
tourist railway ticket office we were heading for. Luckily, we quickly
discovered a useful survival technique- called Spanglish.
A bewildered "que?" in the style of Manuel on Fawlty Towers,
the odd shrug of the shoulders and a "lo siento senor, no entiendo, no
hablo ingles" usually saw a pan-faced vulture slinking off back to his ambush spot to await
some more easily understood prey. Honestly, it worked virtually every time- worth remembering if you ever find
yourself feeling like the Pied Piper of Paharganj.
couple of days in Delhi, and it has to be said that it already felt
like time to get out. I'm sure that somewhere there must be some nicer
districts, but we obviously weren't in one of them. So before heading
up to the rivers further north, the decision was made to go and visit
Agra and the Taj Mahal while in this neck of the woods, on the basis
that it's plain rude not to.
To this end a railway ticket was
required, something which in the western world is a straightforward,
simple thing to obtain, but which in Delhi turned into a day-long
trail of lies, half-truths, misinformation and combat-queuing with the
great unwashed. After
fleeing the aforementioned back-street tour office without even
pulling up a seat, we were directed to what turned out to be another
bloke's friend's granddad's uncle's brother-in-law's back street tour office. We very
quickly bolted from this one after being informed quite sincerely that
no trains were running the next day and that we'd need to hire a car
and driver for the equivalent of a couple of hundred dollars a day...
blah, blah, blah de blah.
The search continued. After a couple of unnecessary detours, next
stop, what should have been the "tourist" railway ticket office. Here
another dumbbell locked us in on his radar and swooped to inform us that
we couldn't buy tickets there, and that we should follow him to
another "official" tourist railway ticket office. Of course... of course... I cocked an ear, feeling sure
I'd heard another tooth fairy chucking herself out of a Christmas tree.
off by now, his pleading and whining was steadfastly ignored and we
entered the melee of the ticket hall. A mind-boggling vision greeted
us: dozens of
Will Smith and
Sanjeev's Kumar Grandma dish out the offerings down at the Har-Ki-Pairi
you are madam. Now please be giving me 100 Rupees to be helping with
my spiritual development".
mesh-fronted service desks, each one with a scrum of
people practicing various levels of free-form queuing in front of it.
The stinking air was circulated only by a few languidly rotating ceiling
fans- along with a few hundred frantically waving arms.
out a couple of elbows, I took a deep breath and joined what I thought
might be some kind of random queue. But elbows alone are not enough,
especially when you're a foreigner in these parts. As I stood politely
awaiting my turn, at least three people forced their way directly in front
as I was edged further and further back, thereby inadvertently fulfilling
the designated role of "polite Johnny foreigner".
broke out in front of me and at the mesh hatches to either side: people
behind screeched jabbered exchanges over my shoulder with those at the
front, the toiling chaos not unlike a punch-up at a turkey farm. Beads of
sweat on my forehead became streams, and my shirt stuck to my back. The
pungent hot air started to feel almost too thick to breathe as it barely
moved around the hall. Another diminutive Indian tried to force his way in
front of me. Thoroughly pissed off, and figuring that it was going to take
14 hours to buy a ticket at this rate, I stood firm and elbowed him back
out- his face forming a momentary expression of surprise before he slinked
off and pushed in somewhere further back. Meanwhile, more people were
forcing their way into the scrum from the sides, some waving hands
clutching wads of grubby Rupee notes, others with arms clasped to their chest
to make themselves more streamlined for the wedging in process, while I
kept myself pushed up as tight as possible to the sweating figure in front
to prevent anyone else from crow-barring themselves into the human grid
lock. Oh for an online check-in...
ordeal was brought to an end when Lynne appeared through the swarm with a pair of rail
tickets clutched in her mitts. It seems the lady's queue along the
hall was an orderly line of about a dozen duckies in multi-coloured saris
discussing the price of chapattis. I knew I'd brought her along for something. Aside from the
pleasure of her company, of course.
junction of the Main Bazaar and Chelmsford Road (which I can assure
you will not bring you out in
After just a few days in India, we'd already began to get an
idea of just how many people constitutes 1.2 billion as the
great unwashed gathered for an evening paddle in the Ganges at
Haridwar. This isn't even the Kumbh Mela festival, where it
turns out things start to get busy.
suburban Essex) was also grid locked
even as the train left the station at 6.15am the following morning,
just as it had been at 10pm the previous evening, and as we slid along
the rails we got to gaze upon Delhi awaking. As I said earlier, there
must be nice districts somewhere, but all I can remember seeing on the
way out of the city were incredible slums - acre after acre of smoky smouldering
blackplastic sheeting, corrugated tin and cardboard, nearly naked
kids playing in the dust and the smoking heaps of rubbish, with goats and cattle wandering
among the heaps, huts and kids. Ramshackle clusters of homes consisting
of stacked bricks (without the mortar filling) teetered as if the
slightest breeze would bring the whole lot crashing in on the sleeping
inhabitants. There were stagnant black ponds and stagnant black
ditches full of refuse, while lines of squatting men discussed the
state of the nation over a morning dump on the railway tracks.
the urban sprawl thinned a little to allow the occasional patch of
scrubby green field to poke through, I remember looking at the scene
aside the train and thinking: "How quaint. All the people working
the fields together at this early hour. So charming... And look...
they're all squatting... at the... same... time... oh... dear..."
Each of the patches of scrubby green must have been like some kind of
poo minefield, and clearly not somewhere you'd want to be skipping
across after dark in your flip flops. Eventually the scrubby green
patches metamorphosed into a flat panorama of baked ochre, interspersed only by
oily black rivers and small dusty villages. I picked the Hindustan Times
off a seat nearby. An article inside celebrated India's phenomenal
economic growth, at the time of tapping
Arriving at Agra, we ended up
getting hustled into taking an auto rickshaw to our lavish lodgings(!)
down near the Taj Mahal itself, a place called Shanti
Lodge. Our rickshaw driver, we'll call him Gadoop, cos
that was what it sounded like, seemed like a nice enough old fella. Chatty and smiling, somehow we
even found ourselves flicking
through his "comments book" (yup, that old chestnut) and obviously
they all gave a glowing commendation of his services. We really should
have checked for torn out pages. Anyway, we signed up his services as
"tour and guide" for the day- once I'd made it crystal clear
that we would not be doing any "shopping". He was either
very good, very thick skinned, or both.
Taj itself is a work of architectural genius, a glowing
mausoleum of intricately inlaid marble which looks as remarkable from
one metre as it does from a hundred, situated right on the banks of
the Yamuna River. Ok, so the river is an oily black slug bejewelled
with a fleet plastic bags, and Agra itself is a hectic, smelly,
stressful kind of place to visit, but the setting and the building are
truly a sight to behold- especially bathed in the evening sunshine.
The Taj is one of the world's iconic images, so we all know what it
looks like, but it really is worth a visit to see for yourself anyway.
The box is ticked.
Oh, but one other thing I just remembered... the visit here
was our first induction in the Indian governments 'split pricing'
structure. We all know, accept and understand why it happens right across the world in terms of
'local price' and 'tourist price', but India has no qualms about
sticking it's tongue out and flicking the Vs as it does it. The tariff
on the wall proudly states on entry "Taj Mahal, Admission: Indian
20 Rupees. Foreigner 750 Rupees". A restrained increase in
margin, I'd say. Though it's entertaining to see a lot of the foreigners arriving on foot or by rickshaw and handing over a
fat wedge of
notes, while several dozen Indian businessmen and their families
arriving by brand new air conditioned 4x4 then dribble out a handful of 5
Rupee notes onto the desk. Hmmm. I guess the bloke doing the mogul
means-testing was having a day off. I wondered if it might be a worth
a try back in
the UK... I can see it now: "Tower of London, Admission: Briton
£16.00. Foreigner £400.00". Naaa, it's not gonna work is it?
out, standing 2nd
fastest in the world (behind China) at around 9%. All very
good I'm sure, but from what I'd seen thus far I'd suggest
that 90% of the population don't see a single Rupee of it.
your haaands on... put your haaands on..."
from the Taj tariff, Mr Gadoop had several clever little segues and
scams up his sleeve which kept us ducking and diving all day, some of
which we kind of
dodged, and some of which we didn't, and by evening I felt
like a sheep with udders, having been simultaneously fleeced and
milked all day long. As I sat on the loo that evening
trying to avoid the drips percolating through the mouldy ceiling from
the bathroom above, and speculating why our room had a random mural of New York's Twin Towers covering the wall at the head of the
bed (?!), the executive decision was made that
one night in Agra would be enough. After all, it was time to hit the
north and try to find a few Mahseer.
another day, another railway station, but Agra was Squabble-lite in comparison
to Delhi. The ticket seemed very cheap- suspiciously cheap- just 108
Rupees for a 10 hour journey, but we figured maybe that was just the
way it was. Our suspicions were aroused a little further when the
lovely old handle-bar moustachioed superintendent on the platform
politely suggested that maybe we should "be getting upgrade from
conductor when aboard sir".
Bridge over the Ramganga. Clear water, clean air, green countryside
and peace and quiet. At last.
Aren't they lovely?
thanks" I replied.
please be finding the conductor with moustache sir. He will help you
sir". He wobbled his head and smiled politely.
so we stood on the platform and waited under a burning sun. An hour or
so later, the train creaked into view and then clunked into the
station. As we loaded our packs onto our backs, I saw our carriage
number creep past. Oh...my...gawwwd... It resembled a sooty metal
salami, crammed to
bursting with a writhing stuffing of human offal.
barred windows were filled with a montage of sweating, pinched, pained and
squashed faces; arms popped out between the bars as if there were small
splits in the salami's skin. As the train halted in a hot pall of black
diesel smoke, lumps of phlegm and food remnants catapulted between the
barred windows onto the tracks. Several dhal-yellow go-faster stripes of
vomit were visible down the side of the carriage in varying stages of
solidification. Lynne and I exchanged glances:
We're not that poor...!"
A few minutes later, after a chat
with the nice man with the clipboard and moustache (and the handing
over of another sheave of Rupees) we spent the next 10 hours in our own seats
in an air-conditioned carriage, albeit feeling a little guilty that at
least we had an option to bail out- unlike those poor souls rammed into cattle
class. Although cattle class is probably a bit of a misnomer, because you'd never shoehorn that many ruminants
into one cart without contravening some kind of live animal export regulations.
It was, frankly, appalling. Hmm. Rattling
northwards my mind finally began to
focus on fishing.
Mahseer, the slim-line northern cousins of the hump-backed ones
I'd encountered a few years previous down in the south. And I'd been
looking forward to catching one for so long. The further north the train
made tracks, the harder I looked at each little patch of water. But it was
all becoming a little disturbing. Every puddle, pond, stream or river we
had crossed by this point had looked, well, at best "not very
fishy", to a flowing slug of open sewage at worst.
Ok, so it's only small - but it's perfectly formed.
fact, by the time we were less than 100km from Haridwar I'd still seen
very little water looking capable of supporting anything higher than a
single cell life form. I truly, truly hoped this wouldn't be the case once
we got up into them there hills.
a late night arrival and an overnight in Haridwar, we found there is an
Uttaranchal State Tourist Office in town. It is a chocolate teapot of the
highest order. I enquired therein about the requirements for fishing
permits in the state.
There was clearly
something getting lost in translation (not for the first or for the last time).
Do you have any information on getting fishing permits in Uttaranchal
bloke working behind the desk wobbled his head; "Yes sir" he
replied, as he handed over a pamphlet on trekking up Nanda Devi.
no. Erm... fishing... Mahseer. Ramganga. River. In Uttaranchal?"
yes sir!" The head wobbled again and he slid over a leaflet
highlighting various white water rafting options on the Ganges.
No. Mahseer? You know? Fishing permit? Ramganga? Kosi River?
yes sir!" his furrowed brow widened again and his head wobbled
like a toy dog on a parcel shelf as he handed over a nicely
printed flyer for a resort supplying safaris into the Corbett Park.
"Erm. Rrrrright... I'd like to go fishing for Mahseer... you know Mahseer? (Head
wobble) Right... erm, in Uttaranchal. Can I buy a Mahseer fishing
wobble, large size: "Ahhh. Not here sir. At Foreign Immigration Office".
where is the Foreign Immigration Office?"
"At the post office of course sir", he concluded with a
satisfied smile and yet another head wobble.
up and down Haridwar High Street, eventually we found the post office.
Approaching the counter, I smiled and nodded to the man behind it:
Is the Foreign Immigration Office here?"
Wobble wobble. "No. This post office sir"."Well
is there a Foreign Immigration Office near to here? I'd like to buy a
Wobble wobble wobble: "No sir. 2 kilometre this way" he replied
pointing up the road. "Taking cycle rickshaw. Pass Shiva monument. Asking
for Urdi Burdiwallam**," (**ok, I made that up, but you get the
picture). We walked out into the masses again. A cycle rickshaw pulled
up; "Can you take us to Urdi Burdiwallam please?"
head wobble, and we were in and off. Ten minutes later our man stopped
Burdiwallam", he said. We got out and paid him his Rupees.
"Over there?" I asked, and his head wobbled. I decided to
take this as positive, but who can really tell?
After walking up and
down the street a couple of times, we picked the largest, most
building and walked into the courtyard. A young lad slumbering in the
shade woke as we walked through:
this Urdi Burdiwallam?" I asked, "Can I buy a fishing permit
here?". He wobbled his head and gestured towards the office door
nearest. Entering, the lad followed us and shouted something through
An old man awoke behind the desk, yawning and stretching out in the style
Can I buy a fishing permit here please?" And he wobbled his his
head. My heart froze. Extreme tension. Was this a yes wobble or a no
wobble... or just a wobble wobble....?
sir. This way. Going 3 kilometre" he replied, pointing back past
the post office in
exactly the same direction from which we had arrived. "Oh arse to
this point I gave up and decided to sort it out another day, before my
karma shot off down the Ganges on an inner tube.
We went down to the Har-Ki-Pairi Ghat for a look around for now. At least down there
there were only a few thousand priests, pilgrims, lepers, hawkers,
beggars, saddhus, hippies and cheeky kids to drive me nuts.
one back into the crystal clear waters. Happy days. Very, very happy.
at the ghat, it was all kicking off. It seemed that way, anyway. As
the afternoon progressed, more and more people gathered on the banks of
the Ganges. Priests collected donations for the various shrines and temples along
the embankments. People pretending to be priests tried to collect more
donations for their own imaginary shrines and temples along the
embankments. Kids ran
among the crowds begging money, sweets, pens, chewing gum, fags(?), paper and anything else
they could get for nothing, while lepers sat waving their stumps at anyone
who could bear to look.
Hawkers at their stalls were doing a roaring trade
in puja baskets containing
flowers and candles, plastic canisters for Holy Ganges Water®
take-aways, and in atta paste offerings to chuck in
the river. Aligning with our particular lanes of interest, I bought a
bowl of marble sized atta balls from a lovely old lady who was sat on the
steps with glasses like fish-eye
lenses, while Lynne purchased a puja so she could launch a burnt offering at sundown. Finding
a spot off a bridge where I could see some fish below, I
ceremoniously dripped my balls into the river. The fish were mainly
carp and catfish which eagerly devoured the stuff as
it hit the surface. I guessed it wasn't all going to be quite so easy once
we reached a stretch of river where fishing was permitted!
evening there were absolutely
thousands of people- women in hitched-up brightly coloured saris paddling in
the edges, their children hanging onto the railings and chains
anchored to the banks to stop them being swept away in the roaring
current, and a
few thousand spectacular Parantha Paunches which hung over an eclectic mix of
Y-fronts and Spandex as the male contingent cavorted in the
As the light began to fail, still further the crowds
swelled. Torches, lamps and streetlights began to illuminate the
masses; bells and whistles fought to clamour above the crescendo of
rushing water and babbling voices. Officials started to try and
arrange the masses into some kind of order, indicating when
groups should raise their hands in some kind of sanctified Mexican
Wave. More and more scam-artists and children tried their luck, more
bells rang out their message, the edge of the river became rammed
solid with a writhing string of bodies, so when it was
Lynne's time to release her puja we were stuck in a squabbling
saris. Luckily, a bloke offered to help her out- guiding her to
the water's edge and lighting her candle so her burnt offering
be launched. The second the puja hit the water he held out his hand and demanded a hundred rupees. He
settled for fifty. But after chucking Lynne's puja and
my atta balls into the holy river, at the very least we figured we were
now blessed to the max! Reversing back into the madness, a
little leave of combat was required and we retired to one of the nearby
bridges, only to find that this too was rammed solid with
people. Soon there was only one place left to go: the hotel -
where we collapsed with relief, relishing peace and
quiet under the cool of a
fan a short while later.
interesting afternoon, and its a spectacle I don't think it's
possible to have any realistic concept of until you're stuck in the
middle of it all. And even though we were, we still had absolutely no idea of what the
was going on. We did find out that there wasn't a festival on-
this was just an average day at the Har-Ki-Pairi. A few days into the journey,
and I was beginning
to understand one thing: just how many people it takes to make up 1.2
so finally to
the hills... please!!
bus to Ramnagar consisted of several bits of other vehicles patched
together with a bit of weld sputter, a few screws and a couple of rolls of
Duck tape, and as usual it was jammed to the wheel arches with all manner of baggage- human or otherwise.
Wilko irritating the chilwa in Marchula bridge pool.
Lovely fish...But my most shameful fishing exploit ever? It was
certainly up there, I'm afraid.
But... as dirty, uncomfortable,
crowded, stifling (and unlikely to pass an M.O.T.) as it was, it was
as chips and it was going to where we wanted to go. Well, where I wanted to go,
Along the way it stopped at a couple of similar looking
before finally rumbling to a halt in the lively little bus station off
bustling Ranikhet Road in the centre of Ramnagar.
got a room at a budget hotel along the main drag, the Hotel Anand (at
this point I had
no idea how many times the name
Anand would be cropping up to
haunt me in the days to come),
and then I went up to the
park ticket office to find out
what I could find out.
I found out it was shut.
least they'd opened up the next morning. But we had a problem. The
scoop of pakoras we'd eaten at one of the stopping points during the
bus journey was clearly still disagreeing with poor Lynne. In fact,
it was more than disagreeing; it was having a nasty little scuffle
that was escalating by the hour. Though the temperatures ranged from
30 degrees at night to 40 degrees by day, she remained in bed, wrapped in my fleece, a
bottoms, two pairs of socks
and all the blankets we could muster,
with the fan switched firmly off.
freezing cold, the poor
girl was sweating
fevered, and permanently curled up on the marble filled mattress just waiting
for the next foray into Trap 1 - while I laid on the bed in my boxers, sweating and
hyperventilating in the heat.
Luckily, a happy and helpful young
lad called Purwal who worked
at the hotel had for some
reason taken it upon
himself to look after us during our stay. While Lynne insisted that
I go and see what I could sort out, Purwal insisted that he'd wait
on her every need. I reluctantly left her in his capable hands for a
while... albeit pleased to be able to breathe
some fresh air for an hour or two. Although I use the word 'fresh' pretty
figured I'd need a driver and/or a guide to get down to the river, and
once I'd asked around at the ticket office, it all fell into place
remarkably easily, just for once. A couple of the blokes hanging around
with mobile phones said they knew a couple of guides, and before I knew it
I'd arranged to meet one of them later that afternoon. After meeting
Assaram, it was clear he was knowledgeable about things Ramganga and
Mahseer, and the trip was lined up for a 6am start the next morning. I
could hardly wait!
last... After checking that Our Lynneth was suitably warm(?!!), wrapped
up and watered, and after Purwal had promised that he'd keep regular
tabs on her progress throughout the day, I crept out of the room into
the relative cool of morning. Before sunrise the jeep wound it's way through the beautiful valley on the
road that forms the eastern boundary of the reserve, and I have to admit that I was tingling with excitement. For the
first time since arriving in India I could smell the countryside instead
of decay and diesel.
Monkeys swung through the trees, while peacocks and wild chickens
scurried around in the crisp brown leaves of the brush verges. We passed
through just stirring villages with the smoke of the fires drifting
between the rustic huts. There were deer crossing the boulder strewn
beds of dried out tributaries, and a multitude of birds flitting between
the branches of the leafy canopy over head. At last, at last, at
calling at a tiny village store along the way for some atta flour and a
couple of bags of bread, we finally stopped on the iron bridge which
traverses the river gorge at Marchula. Gazing down at the river, it was
running gin clear and it looked stunning. The river babbled over some
boulders directly beneath the bridge, before hitting a near vertical
cliff projecting on the left hand side and disappearing into a deep,
dark pool. 100 metres down stream, and the pool shallowed up to another
sparkling riffle before sweeping down the bottom of another near
vertical cliff face on the right hand side, a flat, wide gravel beach
forming the left hand bank. Further down, I could make
out a big, sweeping S-bend, again with more cliffs and rocks on the opposite
bank... One thing was for sure, the Ramganga was not short of character.
I couldn't wait to get fishing.
the changes with the atta paste. Additions that proved successful:
turmeric, Hing asafoetida, molasses and shrimp paste. At the end of
the day, nothing beat a wriggling
scorching sunshine and 40 degrees plus out on my rock, but for some
reason this cheeky fella decided to come and brighten my day.
course, with India being India there was some paperwork to be completed
first. Assaram knocked up the clerk at the permit office in the village
(I'd been barking completely up the wrong tree back in Haridwar, which
probably explains the wild goose chase...). He shuffled through with
only a lunghi around his waist, yawning and wiping sleep from his eyes
before sitting at his desk, and then nipping out a small but crisp fart
as he leaned forward to pick up his pen:
"What is your good name sir?"
"Andy Piss, sir?"
"Erm... Sometimes", I smiled, and the permit was duly filled
out. I've been called worse I suppose.
first spot Assaram took me down to was about 2 kilometres downstream from
the bridge- a sweeping, boulder strewn bend in the river. As we approached
the edge, I first noticed how clear the water was, and then secondly, I
noticed just how full of fish the water was! Clouds of chilwa hung in a
slack to my left, and with the polaroids on it was easy to see small Mahseer
chasing around in gaps between the boulders. I had been thinking it might be
tricky to catch one of these fellas, but early evidence suggested that it
wouldn't be too difficult to get off the mark. Assaram looked through the
tackle box I had in my dry bag. I'd brought some of my smaller lures with
me, and it disturbed me when he dismissed all of them
"I want... errrrrm... that one!"
(bar one) as too
after all we'd used big Rapala Super Shads down in the south, and none of
what I had brought was over 3 and a half inches long! Anyway we were to use
bait to begin with, and settling on 11lb test line and the lighter spinning
rod I'd brought with me, he set about tying a double hook rig on the end,
with what I thought looked like the dodgiest looking knot in the world:
"You sure this is this ok? " I asked, holding it up to him.
"Good sir", he replied. "Ok", I thought, "when in
Rome and all that". A further surprise was the bait. He removed a bread
roll from one of the bags, broke it in two, impaled half on each of the size
2/0 hooks, and then gestured towards the water. I really never expected to
be trotting bread crust for Chub.
first cast into the Ramganga. The bread hit the water, a mob of greedy
fish attacked it on impact, and 30 seconds later I had my first
Himalayan Mahseer in my hands. Quite how it got a 2/0 hook and half a
bun in it's mouth I'll never know. Still, small it may have been, but
it was perfectly formed... and I was off the mark. Every run down
produced a frenzy of small Mahseer round the crust, until it was
either devoured from the hook or a fish impaled itself, and after 3 or
4 of them, biggest perhaps about 3lbs, I was already looking around
for something more, well, challenging to do. It really was like Chub
fishing on the Welland- even the fish were a similar size! When I
struck at a bite and foul hooked a cute little fish of about 2lbs
under it's pectoral fin on the 'stinger' hook, this was enough, and I
asked Assaram if we could do something different. He nodded, and we
set off with the gear to another spot a bit further downstream.
swim looked really fishy. Looking at the amount of rocks in
this area, I decided to rig up my other slightly more powerful rod
with 15lb line threaded through the rings. Assaram wobbled his head as
I did so (yes wobble or no wobble... who knows?), and then showed me
how they rig up for legering in these parts. He tied a swivel on the
mainline, then a 2 foot long hook length of 15lb line, and then the ubiquitous
double hook rig. Again, I really didn't like the look of the top knot,
resting right on the gap in the eye of the hook. He saw me pulling a
"Very good sir, many Mahseer"... I guess you've realised
what's coming by now.
small stone was bound and tied to the swivel with cotton, and we were
ready to go. Atta paste was moulded to cover each hook, and as we
slipped behind a huge boulder on the river side, I flicked the rig out
into a crease of water slipping from the tip of a barely visible
mid-river rock. The rod barely laid still. Small fish set the rod tip
bouncing from the second the stone hit bottom, and I laid the rod
across the top of the boulder and wedged the butt under another rock
behind me- a. to stop me striking at every half decent pull on the rod
tip, and b. to stop the rod being pulled
"You Monkey Bastard".
into the drink should I get a
more than decent pull on the rod tip. A few minutes of
tip-bouncing later, and I suddenly realised that 9 feet of carbon
fibre was lurching in mid-air. I grabbed the cork, and as I did so the
clutch began to buzz, my heart began to flutter in anticipation of
what might just be on the other end... and then the line fluttered
back slack. "Bollocks!" I squealed. I was right about the
knot. Assaram looked a little sheepish, and I decided to tie just one
hook on the end, myself, with a proper knot, from here on in
if anything went wrong there'd only be me to blame.
chilwa proved to be a problem for much of the rest of the day, and to
try and alleviate some of the hassle, I stepped up a hook size, tying
a size 3/0 O'Shaugnessy to the hooklength and then making the atta
balls a little larger in the hope that by the time a larger fish found
it there was at least a little bit left. I'd also brought a small tub
of Hing asafoetida powder with me and getting Assaram's approval I
added some to half of the atta paste we had mixed up- just for a taste
of something different. After another couple of smaller Mahseer,
things quietened down a little. I was slipping towards one of those
mesmerised, hypnotic states you can drift into a short while later,
sun was reaching it's zenith, and by early afternoon, the temperature
was hitting 40 degrees. The rock I sat on was
burning my arse cheeks through my shorts, so we slipped into the
shade of a cliff face for a while to have a spot of lunch. All very
convivial. After snacking on some dhal (for a change), chapattis and
some spicy spuds, we headed upstream to try a bit of different water. Again,
another couple of small Mahseer succumbed to the Hing Balls, and after
another quiet spell of crisping up nicely in the baking
from nowhere I was snapped out of the trance by the sound of rod
rings scraping along rock!
I saved the rod just before it disappeared
over the boulder, and for perhaps 2 seconds found myself attached to
something very lively, before it gained it's freedom. As I wound in
the rig, I prayed that the bloody hook knot hadn't given way!! To my
partial relief the hook was still there so I managed to keep what little kudos I have, but
somehow, in the short amount of time it had been on the end the fish
had utterly destroyed a nasty, heavy, forged, size 3/0 hook. Quite how I'll
never know, cos later on I hooked one into a tree trunk on the same
rod, reel and line and pulled until my head turned purple and nothing
moved a millimetre!
heat, the rod unexpectedly launched skyward from it's
and I was pleased to finally wind one into the net. The best fish of
the day at perhaps 6 or 7 pounds- not one of the big girls that had
figured so prominently in my dreams, but it was a start. I figured all it was going to take was for one
of the big ones to make a mistake and then stay connected, and it'd be
happy days all round.
drive back that evening was lovely. After a nice day's fishing, the heat had finally slipped a
little from the day, the forest and idyllic looking hamlets were
bathed in an amber glow, and I realised that for the first time since I'd arrived in
India I was feeling at some kind of peace with it all. Assaram mentioned that
he could show me a place where there were dozens of Mahseer, all shoaled up
and ready for viewing. I assumed it would be a
temple somewhere, but turned out to be a quick glance at the back if the Infinity Resort, a five star hotel
and spa with it's gardens backing onto the Kosi River. There
must have been a couple of hundred Mahseer shoaled up in the pool
covering the full spectrum of size- including one or two really big
ones of perhaps 30 pounds in weight. I stood and drooled... then arranged for Assaram and
driver to pick
me up, same time, same place the next morning.
big Mahseer at the Infinity, Assaram? Is there somewhere on the
Ramganga or the Kosi where we can try to catch some big ones like them?"
head wobbled: "Yes sir. Tomorrow we try". This sounded
Drag Ramnagar was it's usual havoc as the jeep tried to pick its
way through the mess. As we waited behind a tangle of carts and
cucumbers, something was clearly kicking off. About 20 yards in
front of us an unstable looking bare-footed bezerker in national
costume (torn trousers, knackered flip-flops, bogie splattered
vest) was screaming right in the face of a younger lad who was
standing with his friends at the roadside. Losing the plot
completely, he grabbed the lad and smacked him squarely in the
with a punch Marvellous Marvin would have been proud of. This knocked the
lad straight on the floor in front of a passing motorbike, which promptly
ran straight over one of his legs.
As the wheels straddled the damaged
limb the lad then found another loony (on the motorbike) screaming in his
face, before the bike was rolled back over the leg, kick started and then
screamed off down the high street in a puff of dust and smoke. The young
lad urgently dragged his damaged leg to the side of the road before he
became the Ramnagar speed-bump, and strangely he seemed to be gurning some
kind of ironic grin as the blood dripped from his mouth, while his buddies
on the kerb were folded over in a fit of hysterics. Meanwhile the
mentalist who'd started it all was now strutting down the street ranting
at the top of his voice and beating his chest as he berated anyone else
who was in earshot. No one in the street raise so much as an eyebrow.
Madness, I'd wager.
and the driver pulled up at dawn the next morning. Lynneth had decided to
venture down to the river rather than spend another day imprisoned in the
Above- Waiting for a rod to launch in a small pool on the Ramganga.
concrete sweat-box at the Hotel Anand.
I jumped aboard the jeep looking
forward to trying to outwit one of the large Mahseer we now knew were
living in the vicinity. Half an hour later, after a brief bait-stop, we
were pulling up in the car park of the Infinity Resort. This worried me a
little. But I hoped this was just a convenient place to leave the vehicle
as we wandered and fished. As we walked down the path through the neatly
tended gardens Assaram finally placed my bag down on the rock viewing
platform at the edge of the river. A knot started to form in my stomach.
"Fishing here sir" he swept his arm towards the river,
"setting up rod now sir".
Oh dear oh dear oh dear.
ripped up a couple of bread buns and threw them in the river, then
watched a frenzy of slurping rubber-lips hoover up the offerings in
seconds. "I'm really not sure I want to do this..." I
muttered. Handing me a chunk of bread, Assaram gestured that I should,
well, fill my boots as it were. Reluctantly I threaded the bait on the
hook. Trying to swallow my guilt and taking a deep sigh I flicked it
out into the middle of the huge shoal of Mahseer. They rushed forward
as one... and then stopped. A couple half-heartedly nudged the bait
with their noses, but there were surprisingly no takers as they warily
circled. Eventually a small one of a pound or so took a little too
much interest, and I pulled the bait out of it's way, breaking the
sodden bread from the hook... at which point it was demolished again
in a couple of loud slurps. I heard Assaram and one of the resort
gardeners sniggering behind me.
cast, the same scenario, and the same sniggers from behind. I was
getting the impression that perhaps Assaram and his mate knew the
rules and were enjoying watching the 'tame' Mahseer 'take the piss',
as it were. Deciding to try an old carp fishing dodge, I threaded a
chunk of crust a couple of feet up the line and then squeezed a big
lump of the soft bread flake onto the hook. Dropping it into the
school, the crust slapped on the surface, the Mahseer lunged forward
as one, the flake sank, and within a couple of seconds I found myself
attached to a good sized fish. It careered around the pool and gave a
really spirited account of itself, while the remainder of the shoal
drifted around trying to keep out of it's way. A few minutes later, a
beautiful, golden fish of perhaps 12 pounds lay in the bottom of my
landing net, and after a quick couple of snaps for posterity, it was
slipped back into the river.
"Right, that'll do", I remember saying to Lynne.
Looking round Assaram stood with bread bun and rod in hand, all ready
to go again. After another couple of fish in the next ten minutes, I'd
had enough. This had nothing to do with 'sporting', had nothing in
common with the picture of Mahseer fishing my imagination had painted
before I left England, and quite frankly, I wanted to be out of there
before the first of the resort guests were up and about for breakfast
partly cos I didn't want to face the usual "caught anything
mate?" inquisition every five seconds... but most of all because
I would have been mortally ashamed to be seen fishing there.
This not good. We go fishing properly now please?" I asked. He
"Good place here. Many many fish".
know there's many fish. But they're pets. No fun. Not sport. Not
fair. Please can we go another place on Kosi River and try
He shrugged his shoulders: "Many fish here. Best place. Kosi
very shallow sir. No many fish. This good". He obviously
found it bizarre that I didn't actually want to fish the most
heavily fish-populated spot on the whole river. I pleaded with him
again but it fell on deaf ears.
he shrug-wobbled; "Best place here. Staying sir. Catching many
Mahseer". It seemed he had no other places to fish- or more to
the point that he didn't even have an inclination go and try anywhere
else. I caught another Mahseer there and then, and then began to pack
up my gear. "Please, where can we go and fish Mahseer?" I
asked again. Assaram stuffed his hands in his pockets and
head-wobbled. "This best place on Kosi sir".
it came to pass that by 9.30am I'd paid Assaram and Mr Driver half
their fee for the day, and we were back at the hotel. All you can do
is just shrug your shoulders (and wobble your head). In retrospect it
perhaps wasn't such a bad thing, as Lynne was still far from 100%
anyway. We sat drinking coffee and eating Parantha for breakfast as I
revised the plan to catch some Mahseer and try to find a Goonch. I'd
only really wanted a guide as some kind of an induction, having the
idea that any successes or failures I had should be down to my own
shortcomings as far as possible- for better or worse. And after this
first little taster, I was doubly determined that this would be the
case. Plan B began to form - one which didn't involve fishing any more
stock ponds, with any luck.