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Back to Northern India Part 1

Onto Northern India Part 3

Onto Northern India Part 4

It's a dumbo dusk down in the park.

After the first little Golden Mahseer induction, there was a visit to probably the worst bar in the world, some more lovely fishing on the Ramganga, an unsuccessful first punt for a Goonch, some cat and mouse with a local nemesis, a trip upsetting the wildlife and the management down at the Corbett Park... and finally winding up in a half-nelson on the banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh. Om.

It was already clear it would be better to stay closer to the river. That way I could explore at leisure with no driver or guide in tow, and more importantly I could also fish earlier and later at the peak times of day. After deliberation, I decided to stay in a camp right on the banks further upstream at Marchula. I couldn't get the 'discount deal' at the camp for a few days, so the time was passed with a few day's safari in the Corbett Reserve in the hope of spotting an elusive tiger- or any other wildlife that might poke it's head up above the undergrowth. Up at the park office, we had a couple of hours negotiating the endless reams of paperwork, then found a driver called Mr Patwal, and finally handed over wedge of Rupees (Indian; 50 each, Foreigner; 450 each) for a ticket. We were all set to head into the park the following day. Lynne still wasn't feeling great and retired back to bed. It didn't take long for the room to reach gas mark 4, and I didn't need asking twice when she suggested that I should perhaps go and "see if I could find somewhere to have a drink".

 

Above and below left- the lovely Ramganga River valley in the Corbett Park. Full of fish; but no fishing allowed. That's a bit of an arse!

Outside of the tourist resorts, a glass of beer can be a little thin on the ground up in Northern India. A visit to the English Wine Shop (colonial liquor store) can have you feeling like some kind of dodgy criminal as your bundle of Rupees are pushed through a tiny gap in the mesh screen incarcerating the staff and stock, and then your bottle of beer (carefully disguised in a wrap of newspaper) is furtively pushed back out. Wandering through the stalls of Ranikhet Road I asked at a shop if there was a bar in town. I was directed down one of the side streets, and on the left hand side there was a small glass shop front. It was blacked out completely, but had the letters B-A-R in white written on the entrance. I took this as a fair clue and tentatively stepped in.

In the dimly lit room, the congregation of The Slaughtered Lamb flicked silent as I approached the bar to order a Kingfisher. I headed down some steps to a tiny basement area to grab a stool where I could sit for a while. The crypt was illuminated by the pallid yellow glow from a couple of 20 watt bulbs on the wall, and it felt that every pair of eyes was fixed on me. The exclusively male clientele were without exception hocking up huge power-balls of phlegm and spitting them around the room, and as the fat swathes of cockroaches scurried up the walls

 

Tigermania. 
The race is on...

they were busily swerving the bubbles of snot running down them. Not a place for the ladies. I ordered another beer off the lad who was charged with the job of running after the drinkers, and the head wobbling and staring continued. Soon another couple of punters came down the steps and looked round the room. I gestured that the two empty stools at my table were free, so they smiled and took a seat. One of the blokes was a pretty short, happy looking bloke with a thin moustache and neatly parted wiry hair, whose name turned out to be Yam Yam. The other was taller, with thinning hair, more spectacular facial topiary, and looked like he'd borrowed his teeth off Eyore - like an Indian Freddy Mercury. Hmm, actually, Freddy was from India anyway, wasn't he?

 

They sat down, wobbled their heads and then clinked bottles with mine. It turned out that Yam Yam was a driver in the Corbett Reserve, and he had lots of amusing stories about tiger related shenanigans in the park. Eyore was his mate.

 I ordered another beer, but when the young lad sat it on the table, Yam Yam and Eyore soon put me straight: my beer was a girl. If I was to share table space with them, I was going to have to drink Kingfisher Strong. Fair enough. When in Ramnagar and all that... Finishing my current slurp, I ordered a round of three more 'strongs'. Reading the back of the bottles, it turns out Kingfisher Light has an alcohol content of between 3.75% and 5.5% (if I remember rightly), whereas Kingfisher Strong comes in at a lively 5.75% to 8.75%. This seemed like a fairly wide bracket to me, but looking back it's only about as random as India itself. That night I think the batch of 'strongs' must have been edging past the tramp's-piss side of 8.75, because after another three of them I was away with the fairies, and Yam Yam and Eyore were rolling on their stools and laughing at anything. Yam Yam's tales of the Corbett Underworld were getting more and more random, Eyore was producing some very impressive mucus and displaying it in his own contemporary gallery for the cockroaches on the wall, and by the time they got up to leave the bar, I had little idea of what was going on to be honest. Yam Yam was soon blind, and so offered us a lift, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. In a minute we were crawling down the dark back alleys of

Look! The Goonch are paving the river bed like fat gravel. The teasing little minxes.

Jim Corbett eat your heart out: 20 yards inside the park and look- we're in the thick of it already! The one below is real, by the way, but I confess the picture is shite!

Ramnagar at about 15mph, and while Eyore was sniggering away on the floor in the back, Yam Yam had his face pressed up the dashboard trying to look out under the top of the steering wheel. I hinted he could probably switch the headlights on: "Oooh. Better better" he said as he hit the switch and relaxed back into his seat... No kidding. Outside the hotel there were a few overenthusiastic handshakes as we said adios, and I thanked them for my taxi home- and for not parking the jeep behind reception. Bouncing up the stairwell and clattering into the room, I woke our Lynne with a glazed grin across my face and lolloped out across the bed in the style of a tranquillised walrus with a sinus problem. She's a lucky girl. A bizarre night, and all good fun... But the worst bar in the world? Probably. And I've been in some bad ones.

 

5am the next morning, the alarm dragged me out of a Kingfisher slumber, and our driver Mr Patwal was waiting outside in the half light. Laughing Purwal at the Hotel Anand had happily agreed to look after our heavy bags for a couple of days until our return and waved us off. Again, the boundary road at that side of the park was beautiful at that time of the morning, with deer, pheasants and monkeys and the added bonus of spotting some tiger prints in the dust at the edge of the track. Ok, so we didn't actually see the creature that made them, but at least it was a bit of a boost to know there was one in the area.

At the park entrance, the jeep pulled over and we were ushered into the office to fill out another tedious sheave of paper work. Name, age, sex, passport number, visa number, duration of stay in the park, port of arrival in India, address while in India, next port of call in India, previous port of call in India, duration of visit to India, reason for visit to India, date of birth, profession, shoe size, favourite Spice Girl... 

Mr Patwal at Ramganga Reservoir. Full of fish. No fishing. Again. Arse.
But it's good really, cos at least this means The Family Gharial down there were unlikely to go hungry- or get blown up.

Once this was out of the way though, there was only the lovely drive through the park to negotiate on our way to the accommodation centre at Dikhala. The jeep slowly rolled through the winding tracks amongst the dense Sal trees, their leaves crunching under the tyres as the pleasant smell of decomposing vegetation filled the air, we saw Elephants, more Deer (Spotted, Barking and Sambar), different species of Monkey (Rhesus, Langur and Bastard- of course), Wild Boar, and last but not least an incredible diversity of birds- Kingfishers, Bee-Eaters, Parakeets, Wagtails, Owls, Herons; tweet on! A proper twitcher's delight! 

But for me the highlight was a visit to a spot called High Cliff. This was a place where there was a cliff, and it was quite high. Gazing downwards through the trees clinging to its lip, a deep, wide pool opened out after a small rapid on the dazzling Ramganga way below. I was instantly mesmerised by the fish life in the river. There were several Mahseer milling around in the pool, and they looked like they had been quite unruffled by anything for quite some time. Some were small ones, some were medium ones, and some were big ones- a couple of which would have perhaps been around the 40 pound mark. As I drooled over the scene in front of me Wilko chirped up at my left shoulder: "Wow! Look at that one!" and as I quickly scanned the pool again, there, sliding across the current in the centre, was the mother of all the Mahseer in the river:  

"Jesus H. Christ on a bike...!!!" I whispered. As she gently finned the tranquil turquoise waters, I was trying to get a handle on it; just that bit larger and that bit darker than all the others (why does the really big fish of a group often seem to be a slightly different colour to its brethren?). All I can say is that it was possibly over 5 feet long, and it must have been 50 pounds in weight. Absolutely enormous, and it made my stomach turn just to look at it. If only... 

Mahseer weren't the only inhabitants of this magical spot either. A fish-eating Gharial crocodile laid sunning itself motionlessly on the gravel beach to the far side of the river, and at the tail end of the pool, just before it narrowed and shallowed up, a large school of pan-shaped Goonch littered the river bed like a cluster of fat boulders. I sighed:
"Sorry love, but I'd sell the house and my left marble for a week fishing in here".

Arriving at the Dikhala accommodation area, the less than wonderful side of the Corbett Reserve began to emerge. We found we had to go through the whole rigmarole of filling out yet more of the interminable paperwork... answering exactly the same questions as we had at the ticket office and again at the entrance. At the bit where the triplicate sheet asked "Purpose of visit to India?", my sarcastic streak got the better of me and I scribbled down: "To fill out unnecessary paperwork". The next line requested "Duration of stay in India?", I decided to put "6 months- in order to fill out unnecessary paperwork". This turned out to be a bit of a daft move which did nothing to endear me to the officious Space-Hopper with a moustache behind the desk. After some more head wobbling and scribbling, we were eventually told that we should make our way to the log hut which houses the dorm accommodation for the park.

Out of the 24 beds arranged in 3 storey bunks across two rooms, 22 were already occupied by a field trip of Indian school kids. A silent night was looking unlikely. The dorms were filthy, and a visit to the shower/toilet block became a safari in itself. Ok, so the fact that it was full of cobwebs and insects couldn't be helped - it is sat right in the jungle after all, but the shit up the walls and across the floors, the filthy broken tiles in the shower room (the ones that hadn't dropped off), the random plumbing, the absence of light bulbs in any of the sockets, the grimy ceilings...? 

Monkey
    Bastard.


Elephant Grass.

However it's India, and so you'd normally just wobble your head, roll your eyes and go, "ho hum, whatever"... 

But... before you can buy a ticket to enter the reserve (from the usual split tariff) you have to find a jeep driver and separately negotiate a rate for taking you to, from and around the park. After this you find yourself paying for the accommodation separately. Ok. That's all fair enough. But, then there's a separate "camera fee", then there's a "video camera fee" and if you want to use one of the hessian litter bags from the park entrance office, there's a "rubbish bag rental fee". Then add to this a further "jeep entry fee" to allow the driver's jeep into the park... followed by a "parking fee" for the driver's jeep while it's in the park (I shit you not!). Tacked onto the end of all that, the final added extra (for now) turns out to be another "housekeeping fee" which is over and on top of the accommodation charge. Quite what the housekeeping fee covers seems to be open to interpretation, but it certainly doesn't encompass "cleaning". 

 


Background picture- some of the big Mahseer just hanging around, taunting me and flicking V's with their fins in High Cliff pool!

















"...98, 99, 100... Coming, ready or not!!"  
Bless... the poor old deer still couldn't work out why they always got found first.

 

It becomes quite clear after a short time that the reverence thrown at the Holy Cow in these parts is nothing compared to the attention the powers-that-be chuck at milking the Caucasian Cash Cow. It really drives you nuts. Still, after spending the next four or five hours roasting in the incredible heat and hoping we didn't get slapped with a "sitting in shade fee", at last Mr Patwal came and told us it was time to head out back into the bush for the evening. 

But... as fleeced as you feel and as crappy as Dikhala is, the reserve itself is wonderful- a proper must-see. There's a myriad of bird and animal life, there's the 

reservoir and it's resident Gharial family (plus schools of carp and small Mahseer by the dozens cruising up and down the margins), and being chased backwards through the dust down the track by a big, angry, protective mother elephant leaves one relieved that Mr Patwal's foot didn't slip off the pedal. The only thing missing at the end of our stay was a Tiger, but as you'd guess this is pretty much the luck of the draw anyway. I loved it. So we decided to come back a day or two later to try our luck on the Tiger Lotto again, once we'd filled up the udders and got fully psyched up for the paperwork of course. 




Sunset and a couple of Spotted Deer cross the river. Why? To get to the other side.

Our friend Laughing Purwal was as happy as ever to see us when we picked up our bags at the Hotel Anand, and over the next day or two, we took a rickety bus up into the mountains and paid a short visit to the nearby hill station of Nanital, a small town on the polluted little lake they call Naini. Legend has it that the lake is actually the emerald coloured eye of Shiva's wife, Parvati. As Wilko succinctly put it, "She must have got a bit of grit in it then". It's a far from spectacular puddle of water, and Nanital itself is more like an alpine Skegness, complete with donkeys, donuts and crappy amusement arcades. The lake and town are surrounded by hills, and The Lonely Planet says that Snow View Hotel at the top of the cable car is, and I quote, "in a magical spot" and, again I quote, has "a million dollar location". Hmmm. This might be the case if your idea of a "magical spot" is a kiddies fairground on a hummock and your "million dollar location" is directly in the shadow of a 150 foot mobile phone mast. Utter rubbish. I've cast my eyes across a few Lonely Planets now, and I'll admit they aren't my favourite publications for all kinds of reasons, but when I see stuff like this I really wonder whether some of the correspondents have ever even set foot in the places they are supposed to be experts in. Certainly in the Uttaranchal section of the Indian tome anyway!

I couldn't wait to get back to the Ramganga valley to be honest, and the park revisit was booked. After all, you can't see a Tiger if you don't look for them. This time we knew what to expect in terms of extras, we were determined to keep our karma on a much more even keel, and this time we knew the rules. Although with India being India, there are no rules... but there are lots of rules... and the rules are always open to implementation and/or interpretation at the rule maker's discretion. If you know what I mean. Nuts nuts nuts.

 During the jaunt all the usual fauna suspects put in a cameo, and as an aside I marvelled at the fields of marijuana plants growing in large patches of the park- you can smell the stuff everywhere, and our guide informed us that the mahouts often have to get a grip on their elephants cos they sometimes eat so much of it that they end up with a wobble on. I suppose that's why it's called Elephant Grass, and there was so much of it about I was surprised all the animals weren't laid around eating Mars bars and wondering where they'd put the TV remote. 

As the sun sank behind the trees that evening, our guide said that he wanted to head back to a spot where we might have a good chance of a Tiger sighting, but that we might have to wait quietly and patiently for a while. Obviously this wasn't a problem to us. Our jeep pulled up at the side of a heavily wooded track, the engine cut, and there we sat, carefully scanning the undergrowth and the track up ahead. After a few minutes, a Barking Deer barked, as they do. A good sign. 
Then another a short while later. Oooh, a very good sign.
Then some engine noises behind us. Our driver and guide signalled for them to slow down, and they stopped and cut their engines to the side of us and just behind us, each jeep crammed to the roll bars with Indian families- mums, dads, grandparents and a liberal sprinkling of kids. 

We waited in the twilight, actually feeling a little tension. Another deer bark. More tension. The adjacent families alternately jabbering and shhhhing. Finally some quiet, and a few more minutes passed. You could almost feel the bubble of noise in each of the adjacent jeeps straining to burst, they'd obviously not been this quiet for this long in years. 

And then, in one surreal moment, there he was. A big

 

My omnipresent Northern Nemesis, Mr Anand.  Kind... but painful. Happy... but sad. Helpful... but annoying. And always there, hovering, wobbling his head... cos somehow he seemed to have me marked on his GPS. Nuts.

beautifully marked male Tiger casually wandered into the track, about 70 metres in front of us and just laid down in a tyre rut. I couldn't believe I was actually seeing one... a real, wild one, larger than life. I looked away and then looked again- but it was still there. As it kicked back and relaxed in the style of true a Jungle VIP, occasionally it lifted it's head to check what was going on around, as if without a care in the world. The hairs on my arms stood on end. It was too far away to get a decent picture of the creature, and the low light, and my cheapo telephoto lens didn't help, so after a couple of attempts I gave up and just took to gawping at the lovely creature.
But the tension was rising in the other jeeps. As Lynne and I pointed and mimed "Tiger, Tiger!! It's a bloody Tiger!!!!" at each other, a couple of scraps had broken out next door over whose turn it was with the binoculars, which brought on another flurry of shhhhing again. Then a big air conditioned Toyota 4x4 full of VIPs (bigger lenses and turbans) appeared from down the other direction of the "one


A lovely fish from the Ramganga on the chilwa. This one made me a very happy little bunny.

way" track... yup, there are no rules, but there are lots of rules. Our guide and driver frantically waved to get them to stop, which, surprisingly, they did. This was all just too much, and the bubble went pop... an engine striking up to our side... then one from behind. Our man Mr Puran was obviously feeling a bit left out, so he struck his up too.

Finally it all went a bit Wacky Racers. The jeep to our left inched forward. Then the jeep behind slipped round and edged up a bit. Puran nudged his nose in front again. More tension. Another scuffle broke out over the binoculars. Then the creeping really started in earnest, a few inches here... a foot there. Before one of the drivers just lost the plot completely and floored it, bouncing straight up the track in a bee-line for the Tiger. The turban filled Toyota joined in from the other direction, and it was Game Over. The majestic creature lifted it's head a little, had a second to think, growled "Bollocks to this!", and then bounded off back into the sanctity of his jungle, leaving us staring at a wall of green. Oh well, t'was still a great moment in life. Just a pity the poor thing nearly got run over.







Mr Anand Mahseer fishing- freelining a marble sized dollop of atta paste on an 6/0 hook and 60lb wire. He was nothing if not very patient.

Back at Hotel Anand that evening, I sat down to a plate of rice and curry as Purwal questioned us about our trip into the park: "Many animal you are seeing sir?" he asked, head wobbling away quite merrily.
"Lots and lots Purwal, thank you for asking".
"Do you have photo sir?" So I got out my camera and handed it over. He found a few pictures of Spotted Deer and held it up. This set his head wobbling even faster; "Aaah- I am liking deer sir!"
 "You like Spotted Deer? They're like on the Disney film?", chipped in Lynne.
Purwal thought for second and looked a little blank.
"Oh, erm... Disney? Like the film? Erm the cartoon? You know...erm... Bambi?" she chipped up again.
His face brightened: "Ahhh yes miss!! Of course I am knowing Bambi very well!! I am knowing Bambi... Delhi... London... Paris..."

For some reason this amused me a lot more than the blood clot nesting in my chicken that teatime. I don't remember ordering it medium-rare, and only found it after I'd burrowed half way through the plate. Nice. I laid awake under the fan all night awaiting whatever alimentary havoc it was going to cause, but somehow morning came round without so much as a squeak. How this happened I'll never know, but somehow I got away with it. The stomach of a goat? Maybe, but I won't bleat about it.

 

Various forms of offal were soaked in the name of attracting a Goonch from out of it's cave. Fermented chicken guts and lumps of mutton were two types which I was told might work...

 


I'd never considered them as an environmental hazard before, but even the remotest bend in a river seemed to be some kind of flip flop graveyard.

With the box next to 'Tiger' ticked, it was finally time to get down to the river in the buffer zone up above the park and try for some more Mahseer. Arriving at the camp was all a little bit of a culture shock, to be honest. Over-polite staff, starched bed sheets, no traffic, no cows, no beggars. Even the canvas tent was bigger than my living room- and it had a brick shithouse on the back! I felt a bit out of place 
sitting on the tended lawns- but what a setting. Right by the
river, the valley stretched down to hazy hills disappearing
into the distance, and the feint background rush of 
water over boulders, which fluffed the 
fisherman in me down to the river's
edge- where I could hardly wait to be 
wetting a line in the morning.

There was one other 
person staying at the camp- 
fishing Kazu from Japan. His driver
and guide gave me a lift down to the
Marchula ticket office a couple of kilometres
upstream at dawn the next morning. I bought enough
tickets to keep me out of trouble for a few days, and left Kazu
and his guide to fish the bridge pool while I disappeared downstream to find
some Mahseer spots on my own. The fishing was pretty unremarkable that first day,
just a couple of little fellas interfering with my bait. But, on the subject of interference, I had
my very first encounter with Mr Anand, when at about mid-morning he skipped into position and took up his Gollum-like crouch on the rock behind me, checked my ticket and wobbled his head a lot.



Ol' rubber lips. Some of the little juniors had a mouth a 30lb carp would be proud of.

Mr Anand became my companion and nemesis over the next few days, bless him. He'd clearly self-appointed himself as my guide- "because we have the same name"(?), and although I tried to explain that I just wanted to fish alone, all I got in reply was a head wobble. So tried I telling him little white lies- like that I wasn't fishing at any given point in the next lifetime or two. Or that I was selling all my gear on Ebay and buying some golf clubs. I even tried paying him to not come and sit behind me (seriously)... though I should have known better and ended up grateful he didn't bring all his mates down for some free bunce as well. Thing is, he was ultimately harmless and obviously had nothing else to do, and I certainly couldn't bring myself to be rude to him, so I just knocked back any ideas that kept popping into my head about poking him off his rock with a pooey stick.

As I sat catching some Mahseer one evening, there was, however, a brief window where I thought Mr Anand might have come up with something good. He'd picked up the Goonch rod and patiently (very!) set about freelining a tiny dollop of Atta for Mahseer on a 6/0 hook and 60lb wire, while squatting on a rock about 6 feet above where my bait was laying. This cocked up the swim again, and, as politely as possible, I asked him to pack it in and move back from the water's edge:
"Anyway" I said, "that rod's for a Goonch".
"No Goonch here sir" he wobbled "living good spot different place down river. I show you sir". Hmmm, and after a bit of a chat and the promise of a fist full of Rupees, the deal was done.

At 5am the next morning I slipped out of the tent in the half-light to head down for the rendezvous with Mr Anand, but found him leaning against a tree about 30 feet along the path. Heaven forbid that I should try a covert operation to give him the slip. I followed him across the river and we walked for perhaps half an hour winding through goat tracks in the course brush and across boulder and gravel strewn beaches. As the sun started to slip out across the hill tops, he pointed out a lovely pool fifty yards or so ahead where a small rapid emptied into a wider section of river. The river then bore left at the end of the pool beside a vertical pillar of rock. To the right of the pillar was a large, deep looking slack. A couple of Mahseer fell to the paste straight away, but then I lost a couple of rigs on underwater snags.
"Changing like this sir" said the ever helpful Mr Anand, as he took a break from trying to snatch chilwa from the margins. He pulled off the stone I had just tied on, moulded a lump of paste round the hook, and then chucked it into the white water in front of us, freeline style. He wobbled his head and contentedly resumed the crouch position, rod in hand, line strung horizontal from the rod tip and unfazed that his ball of atta paste was flapping about on the surface 20 yards downstream.

Shaking my head, I assembled the Goonch rod I had with me and gagged as I slipped a foot of rotting chicken guts up the trace and over a couple of hooks. 
"This good?" I held the snotty mess up for Mr Anand to have a look at. He wobbled his head.
"Errrm... This ok Mr Anand?" 
Wobble wobble. 
Hmm. I swung the bait again. "Ok... Chicken stomach good for Goonch? " 
Wobble wobble wobble.
"Ok. So... erm chicken is good yes? Or no?" 
Wobble wobble.
"Good. Right. Nice one. I try Goonch now...Ok?" 
Wobble wobble... 
I cast the rig into position and relaxed...
"I am thinking chilwa is better sir..." Arrrrgghh!

So as the chicken guts continued their fermentation process on the bottom of the pool, I set about catching a chilwa or two. Meanwhile Mr Anand was still happily crouched on his rock watching his rod tip nodding as the ball of atta continued spinning on the surface. After a bite free hour or so, I decided to swap offal for chilwa and lifted a five inch silver and black bait fish from my bucket:
"Are chilwa best live Mr Anand?" I smiled.
Wobble wobble. So I asked again... 
"Erm... Best fishing this live?"

Wobble... "Oh bollocks to it... Live it is then". 
Wobble wobble... "Erm, look, is there a good way to hook them? Keep them alive?" I asked.
Wobble wobble wobble... I passed the fish to Mr Anand. "You use these live, yes?"..
"Yes sir!" He took the fish from me, and then the hook. Carefully, he lined the hook point up with the fishes head end, then painstakingly he slipped it in just between the tiny lips and meticulously threaded the poor thing along the length of a 6/0 SSW until it had ravelled up like a sock and the point came out somewhere near it's arse with a pop. Right. Nice one.
Having slipped up to the edge of the pool, I tried to suss the exact spot to place the bait. In the quicker water to the left, or the edge of big slack to the right? Hmmm. 
To hopefully avoid hours of pointless waiting, I turned to the oracle again:
"Mr Anand. Casting this side? Or this side better?" I gestured to either side of the pillar. And he wobbled his head.
"Ok. Right. Casting Goonch- right side good?" I pointed to the right of the pillar. And he wobbled his head. Bloody hell.

 

 

 

"Casting this side... 
Or casting this side...?"

"Ok. What about left side?" and I pointed left..... And he wobbled his bloody 
head again. Arrgghh... Arrgghh...
Arrgghh.
"Erm. Please. Mr Anand. Casting.
This side best or this side best...?"
Wobble wobble wobble. Biting my
bottom lip I turned to the water's
edge, hedged my bets, and chucked
the bait out straight in line with the
rock pillar. I tightened up to the rig,
laid the rod across a rock and laid back
in the sun, hoping my bait was within
20 yards of a Goonch. Mr Anand   

slipped into a crouch next to me. He opened 
his hand towards the right of the pillar: 
"Sir. Better this side. Please casting again".
Arrgghh... Suppressing the urge to rub dhal
in his eyes and lash him to a rock in the
sun for a few hours, I recast as 
instructed. But left, right or centre;
mutton, chicken or chilwa, it mattered 
not a jot cos the day ended
completely Goonchless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I'd already been fetched back from the river after dark by the fellas from the camp a couple of times, on the basis that there was "Tiger in area" (which was kind of ironic, since we'd actually just spent days desperately hoping to encounter one). So reluctantly I packed in as the sun set to take the long hike back to camp. We managed to avoid a tangle with a tiger on the way back, but unable to resist just one more cast with a lump of atta behind a seductive mid-river boulder I did manage to tangle with one more handsome Mahseer. I met the "search party" on the path back up to the camp, and apologised again for being resident "Camp Pain In The Arse".


Trying to lose my rod as the last of the sun slips off the hill tops
.

The Goonch ended up being staunch in their resolution not to feed. I tried several spots and soaked a variety of offal- most of it rancid- but all to no avail. Aside from Mr Anand's advice, another local fella spoke to me as he bashed the stains out of his Y-fronts on a soapy riverside rock one evening. He informed me of another couple of spots where Goonch were sometimes found. They may have been there in their dozens, but they didn't want to eat anything I offered them. And I guess that's their paradox; they may be ugly, fierce looking creatures capable of growing to great sizes, but they only seem to feed for short windows at selective times, so although their bulk would suggest that they should be swimming about like mobile skips, shovelling up anything they might encounter, a bait sat a foot from their noses may as well be chucked up a tree behind you most of the time. I confess to being slightly envious of Fishing Kazu, when one of his baits on the gun-turret of rods he was using in the bridge pool was seized by a 20 kilo plus Goonch- but it was a well deserved success after tenaciously sitting for hours on a boulder, turning into a red panda in his wrap-round shades. Personally, after several bouts of low-activity high-temperature boredom sitting and waiting for one of them to finally open it's mouth, I decided to go and have some respite by targeting a few more Mahseer, which to be honest, until they reach a certain size, seem to be much more accommodating.

Aside from the use of surface and bottom baits for the Mahseer, a variety of lures were also tried, but my confidence in them was dented quite severely early on when I watched several fish actively bolting spots as the different coloured pieces of plastic and metal were retrieved through the pool. Hmmm. "Him no want um plastic...". However, one by-product of targeting the Goonch for a while was getting the chilwa situation sorted out. By washing a couple of fists full of atta flour in the edge of the river, it was easy to tempt a swarm of small fish to the margins and simply snatch a few of them on a spool of 4lb line, a size 18 hook and a smudge of paste. In fact, sometimes the only difficulty in catching them was avoiding the hoards of small Mahseer that invariably invaded the chapatti cloud. I did briefly try a live Mahseer about 6 inches long for bait one day, but felt a little guilty doing it and quickly swapped it for one of the black and silver bleak-like fish that also seem to proliferate. I must be getting soft in my old age. The little black numbers are actually excellent baits, and they proved to be tough as old boots (as long as you don't thread them along the hook shank...) and they'd "happily" flutter around in their spot for ages as they waited to get eaten. They also had other advantages- the average size of fish caught on them was bigger than bread or atta (probably because they were more small fish proof), and if there was a reasonable sized fish in the area the bait was placed, it seemed that it didn't usually have as many inhibitions when it came to eating them as it would less animate baits. That was the impression I developed, anyway.



Sometimes, just trying to get over a bridge in India can bring on a little turn of hypertension
.

 

 

 

 

 

So on my last day on the beautiful Ramganga (for now), I decided to put all my eggs in one small basket and head to the bridge pool at Marchula, put a lump of offal out on the bottom for a Goonch, and then drop in a little black chilwa at the bottom of the pool in the hope of a large Mahseer. I also wanted to try and have a day without my nemesis, so I'd already explained (ok... lied) to him that I wasn't sure if I would fish or not the next day, but that if I did, it would be at a pool near the camp. Then I decided I'd get up extra, extra early and instead of walking the couple of kilometres up the winding hillside road to the bridge, I'd scramble along the boulders and follow the river's course down in the valley bed- hopefully missing Mr Anand as he made his way towards the camp and his ambush spot. Devious, I know, but I did pull up short of blacking my face in.

At 5am I found myself slipping and sliding over the rocks. The valley was shrouded in dark blue as I negotiated a couple of river crossings and algae covered boulders. Even at that time of the morning, the heat was still uncomfortable, and my vest was soaked in sweat as I panted my way down the river. Stop. I heard a noise. I froze. Petrified. What was it? Again... A distant voice? I looked up and around me, scanning the ridge at the edge of the road far above. Nothing, just babbling water. Again, a little echoing voice:
"Good morning sir...". I looked up once more. And there stood Mr Anand, a little dot on the hillside waving his arms like he was directing air traffic. Bollocks. Devious, but not devious enough. I knew I should have stuck on the balaclava.

Resigned to my fate, I got to the pool, put out the offal rod, dropped in a dollop of atta and then set about nobbling a few chilwa for the bucket. By the time Mr Anand had scooted down the cliff and resumed his crouch on my left shoulder, I'd already managed two small Mahseer on the paste- one of which was a lovely little Red-Finned variety. And soon I had a few of the little black and silver chilwa numbers in the bucket, and one of them replaced the atta on the rod at the bottom end of the pool. And then I waited. The sun rose above the cliff tops and began burning down, the rocks seemed to shimmer in the heat, and by mid-morning it was well over 40 degrees. 

Lynne had joined us down in the pool and we sat and fried as we watched the rod tips nodding in the current. Nothing stirred. Mr Anand said he was off for dinner and scurried off up the cliff behind for some sense and some shade. I began to wonder about the sanity of my decision to sit it out in one spot all day and wait for something to happen. Then from nowhere the chilwa rod was bent double over the rocks it was wedged between. I quickly grabbed it, set the hook, and held on as the 15lb line zipped off the Baitrunner. The fish tried to get through the shallow riffle at the bottom of the pool, but I held on tight and turned it at the last minute.  


Is it a bird? Is it a bloke? Shiva: the first and only metrosexual god of destruction.














Above- The Gullible Rod Tube bounces around on the floor of yet another filthy, stinking, knackered Indian bus.

Oi! The cheeky kid came up and sponged 10 Rupees for the picture after! I just hope he shared it with the Monkey Bastards.


The ashrams of Rishikesh- with gaggles of middle aged western women auditioning for Ab Fab. Omalomadingdong... One day I hope to find my Mojo too you know.

It then cut back upstream and had me winding furiously to keep in touch. After careering around the pool for the next five minutes or so it eventually found itself circling under my rod tip. I could see the silver, green and gold bar shaking it's head and still trying desperately to gain it's freedom down in the clear water, and I could also see the fish was a nice one. I was even getting a bit excited. Weakening, the fish was soon on the surface, but twice when I thought I had it in the landing net it burst forward again and tail walked it's way back out, and it was with some relief that I finally lifted the net clear at the third time of asking- this time with a lovely Mahseer of perhaps 15lbs in the bottom. I slipped out the hook with fingers actually trembling, and held up the prize for Lynne to rattle off a few snaps, then quickly stuck it back in the water before it turned into a crisp. Ok, so it wasn't one of the fabled monsters, but it was as perfect a fish as I've ever seen, one that had given me a terrific scrap, and one that I was very chuffed to have caught. 

When Mr Anand returned after his dinner and I told him what had happened, he wobbled his head a lot and looked a bit downcast that he'd missed the event- especially when I showed him the picture in the back of my camera. But he brightened up considerably when I tipped him at the end of the day, bless him. Suspecting the commotion of the fight

had clearly put the willies up any of the other Mahseer that may have been milling about in the pool, I concentrated on a couple of Goonch baits for the rest of the day. All to no avail, since they remained untouched by anything but a thousand flies by the time I chucked the last of the rotting mess in the edge, nearly puked and then packed up at dusk to head back to base camp, hot but happy.

Next day, we called to say goodbye to Laughing Purwal before we left. The knackered bus to Rishikesh (via Haridwar) filled up in Ramnagar and then carried on filling up as it continued towards it's destination, and while Lynne was wedged in a tiny gap on the gear box up near the front somewhere, I spent most of the journey with my "you gotta be having a fecking giraffe" face on as more and more people were crow-barred onto the creaking vessel. Looking at the state of it I wondered whether any bus, anywhere, in the history of Indian logistics, had ever been serviced or washed? At what stage is it deemed that the ageing crates should finally be laid to rest? It seems like as long as there's a driver's seat and an axle left they'll still keep them rolling. Still, they're a bloody cheap way of getting around, and somehow, they seem to get to where they're going- usually, anyway.
After several hours of shoving and sweating we finally got a room in a pleasant hotel up on the hill


The sacred Ganges rushes through Hippy Dippy Central.


The resident Rishikesh Lucky Gonk in his usual begging perch up on the bridge. The face of madness.... Wahahey!!

overlooking Lakshman Jhula, and from this oasis of calm, amongst the prayer beads and hessian G-strings of the gaggles of Lynne Franks wannabes, we could watch the Kids of the Coca Cholera Nation bathing themselves in the holy Ganges far below. All very convivial. A change in diet from the dhal and veg curry staple was also a revelation, and we even found a new favourite in the Himalayan Yak Cheese sandwiches- a big improvement on the Himalayan Toe Cheese sandwiches which I'm pretty sure we'd been served up a couple of times. 

And so, while I lounged around and did a spot of people watching for a day or two, Lynne tied herself up in a Half-Nelson at a yoga workshop. I could only cross my fingers and hope she wouldn't wind up shaving her head and swapping her frocks for Jesus sandals and a henna kaftan.

Back to Northern India Part 1

Onto Northern India Part 3

Onto Northern India Part 4

 

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