Oct 20, 2010

Fishing, birding, bathing and beering!

A trip to Marchula and Bhikyasen in the Corbett area.

We started from Noida at about 11.30 am, after several false starts. A critical component of the trip was going to be the incredible photography equipment that my friend KP from Bangalore had got along. Incredible by my standards, as the best I ever had was a Nikon digital camera that had 10X optical zoom.

He had a Canon D40 digital SLR with a plethora of lenses, including a 100-400 Canon, 70-300 Sigma, wide angle, 60 mm Canon besides several other lenses and accompaniments like filters, extenders and what not. The second most critical component of the trip was of course going to be the two fishing rods that he had also got along.

As we began to do the final loading of the bags in the car, which was a very complex task indeed, KP suddenly realized that he couldn’t find the battery of the camera. This was serious as not finding the battery, would render all the above mentioned equipment useless and our trip would be a disaster even before we set out. As for the camera’s battery, it was playing truant the second time. That very morning I had picked him up from another friend’s place, and there too at the time of leaving he had left the battery of the camera behind, and we had to turn the car back, search for it and bring it reluctantly along. The whole house including maids and helps went into a frenzy looking for the tiny grey black camera battery. After a few minutes the consensus was that it had got absent mindedly packed into one of the bags. We quickly got all the bags back into the house, and one by one started to unpack them. After ten minutes it was found inside a slot in the big camera suitcase. There was general joy and we got everything back into the car, and set out.

The journey was comfortable for a while, but then the roads began to crumble. The entire route had been a relatively smooth one until a few months back, but the recent rains had made large stretches of the road into stretches of potholes with occasional islands of intact road. Nevertheless, our spirits were high and we chugged along. There were frequent sightings of this bird and that, but we didn’t stop, our destination was many miles away and we didn’t want to do too much of night driving.

As we drove, KP mentioned that most of the towns that we passed looked like belched out industrial slag, and I agreed whole heartedly. We could see an inhuman desperation on the faces of the people who lined the roads as we passed through town after town. At places where it was particularly bad, we even imagined what it would be like to live there, and came to the conclusion that to be happy in life, each of us should spend 3 compulsory months running a hardware shop and living in such a town, so that we can better appreciate our so called terrible lives in Delhi and Bangalore respectively.

We stopped for a sad bit of lunch and a Thums Up bottle at a road side dhaba. Their toilet was well marked as ‘to let’. We ate very insipid yet chilly hot food, and then set off again.

Waiting for food at the lunch stop!

The toilet that was to let :)

We reached Rampur and then slowly, the quality of the towns and the people started to improve, and we began to see smiles on people’s faces. It was dark by the time we entered the forested area, and that drive was turning out to be quite something. Black eyeless darkness, that would suck out the marrow of your life if you let it. One interesting observation again by KP was that every hotel, motel and guest house on that road was called Corbett something and Corbett some other thing. We felt that it was outrageous and the Corbett family should charge them royalty.

Mahaseer Fishing Camps in Marchula was the very last of the resorts there. It was way way inside, and we took a long time to reach it. En route we crossed streams where the water reached up to the car’s floor, and that too fast flowing water. At places the road wasn’t quite there so the poor car had to really exert all of its limited energies to get us through.

In front of our luxury tent with Karan and the fishing guide.

When we finally reached Marchula, it was 8.30 pm. We got a really warm reception with at least five people fawning all over us. We were taken to our luxury camps, which were quite good indeed, and served welcome tea and some snacks. We couldn’t see most of the resort, not because of the dark, but because most of it had been washed away by the recent floods. We were told upon arrival that the waters had risen so high a month back, that at least ten tents and seventy percent of the lawns and landscaping had been completely demolished and turned into a mangled mix of sand and stones. We saw it all the next day.

The owner of the resort, Karan, was there as the repair work was on, and we met him. He was a warm and nice person, who mentioned that he had suffered losses that ran into eighty lakhs. He invited me to some night fishing, and I agreed as I wasn’t too tired. The night fishing was quite boring as all that was done was that rods with bait were cast and then the rods were pegged to the ground with big river stones. The idea was that as soon as a Mahaseer caught the bait, the rod would move and then the hauling in of the fish would begin. Nothing happened except that I heard a few stories about spirits and such. There was a crocodile somewhere along the river that had a dragged a cow into the river, and during the terrible floods huge mahaseers had knocked down one of the boys in the camp as he waded around trying to save ACs, furniture and other such things.

The next morning, we both were full of beans and after a hearty breakfast, were all set for a session of Mahaseer fishing in the river right in front of the resort. A local expert was called in who met us early in the morning before going off to talk to Karan.

We had just about finished breakfast when Bisht ji, who is part of the retinue at the camps came to us calling us excitedly. It seems Karan had spotted several large Mahaseer in the river, and we were to get our rods to try and catch it. We rushed with our rods and came to the spot in the river where three-four people were standing. Karan said, there are several big Mahaseer moving around in the river. The river incidentally was called Gadhera, and it met with another to finally join the Ram Ganga two kilometers down river.

Portrait of a wannabe Mahaseer fisher!

We got the line ready, the fishing expert made the bait and then the cast was made. Whoa… fifteen seconds after the cast was made, the fish caught. There was general excitement, and everybody rushed here and there. I ran towards the river, KP had the rod. Surprise of surprises, the biggest of the Mahaseer had swallowed the bait, and was pitting its mighty strength against us. I started to scan the river where the fishing line sank into the churning waters. The Mahaseer was trying to go towards the rapids, and if it did, there was no chance of pulling it out. It took about twenty minutes to slowly pull it in, and then we began to see how big it was. It was the biggest fish I had seen in the water. It was huge. Well here are the pictures, so you can judge for yourself.

I look like I have just won a gold at the Olympics, maybe this is the closest I'll get LOL!

With KP - Fishing for compliments!

The fishing expert reeled it in, and then we all took turns lifting it and taking photographs. When I held it, it was slippery and strong, but I was advised to put one hand under its gills and hold the middle portion of the fish very tightly. I managed quite well. I studied the huge fish very carefully, and was quite amazed by it, a slippery texture, which incidentally was like a shield for it, so if our hands rubbed off too much of the slime it could badly damage the fish, its amazing colour, its power, its shape, everything was fascinating.

The fish was on a leash like a pet

We took several photographs.

The intriguing texture through the water

The head of the enormous fish, looking almost like the shark in Jaws!

A bridge across the river

Karan with the catch!

Others catch a bull by the horns, I'm catching a fish by the tail!

'Badal' sleeps on a not so soft pillow

The Mahaseer was a massive 17 kilos, and was a beauty. The fishing expert put a nylon rope through the gills of the fish, and we left it in the water tied to a log for some time. Everyone admired it and took photos with it, after about ten minutes, we released it back into the river.

Releasing the mighty Mahaseer!

Wow what a feeling!

Our trip was a fantabulous success right away. We celebrated with beer and a massive lunch. Everyone in the camp was excited and talked about other fishes that had been caught, this one was amongst the largest.

The recent floods had completely changed the course of the river and had made it a very difficult fishing spot, but I guess we were incredibly lucky. As the day wore on, it was decided that we would go on to another place about 70 kilometers away called Bhikyasen which would be much better for fishing. We started out with the fishing expert after lunch.

On route we went through a place called Manila, which was like an Indian Switzerland. Rolling fields filled with Deodhar trees, it was breathtakingly beautiful. We drove past slowly as we wanted to reach Bhikyasen on time to do some night fishing. Some delicious ‘aloo paranthas’ had been packed for us by the folk at Mahaseer Fishing Camps and we ate them during the drive. I also ate my regular Cream Cracker biscuits, which can be my lunch or dinner during tight situations. On route we stopped in a town of a few shops and houses along the main road. We had a little bit of lunch in a very shabby concrete one room restaurant. The interesting bit was the resident mad man. Dressed in a black long coat worthy of a cow boy, a bandana and several beads and other strange trappings, this dark skinned sharp featured man was continuously walking up and down the road talking on his cell phone. It was only when you noticed that he was only holding his hand to his ears without any phone, that you realized that he was not normal. His blabbering during the short snatches that I caught as he purposefully walked across gesticulating with great seriousness was quite interesting.

“No no the car I am sending you is great, it is a jeep, the best I have. Don’t worry it’s going to come right to your house.”

“What the price… the price of gold or bronze or magnesium… you can give anything, give two hundred rupees, give two thousand, ok just give two and a half lakhs.”


“Yes the car is great, and I have a fleet of them. Good driver, don’t worry…”

We both observed him and the townsfolk indulgently gave him bidis to smoke as he stopped to ask for them while on his all important calls. We set out after a half hour stop.

Bhikyasen was the town, and our destination was a small ashram in a place called Kedar. When we reached this ashram which was by the banks of the Ram Ganga, we realised that the last bit of approach road was badly damaged by the recent heavy rains. We contemplated using wooden planks to get the car down to the ashram, but there would have been no way to get the car back up. So after some discussions and misgivings we parked it beside the main road and walked on downwards. The ashram was beautiful. Not large but with a big field and very nice living quarters.

An interesting view of the ashram in Kedar

The temple at the ashram

There was no provision for food, but on requesting the person who took care of the place, we arranged for some ashram cooked lunch for the next day. We unpacked and headed out to the river.

The fishing expert had got along live earthworms in lumps of mud and chicken gut. The process of putting the fishing hook through the chicken intestines and through the earthworms was a little weird. We made our cats and waited. We had our mandatory two-three bottles of beer and settled in to the night fishing. It was quite dark and the stars were bright. The sky looked huge, and KP pointed out the Milkyway. I was blown away by it. Like a long milky smear running across the night sky, the Milkyway shone down its millions of years old light on us. We spent a lot of time identifying constellations and contemplating UFOs and paranormal activities. We saw a shooting star that went right across the sky slowly and then beyond the horizon. It went slowly and steadily in a straight line and to both of us looked more like a UFO, but the fishing expert insisted that it was a shooting star. It was a surreal time, and we came back awed and tired, but no fish.

The night was chilly, and we settled into out beds soon. KP had got along a phenomenal book called ‘The Tracker’ by Tom Brown Jr. which was about a young American boy who learned the art of tracking from an old Red Indian tracker called Stalking Wolf. I began the book and was blown away by each and every page. It was his true story of how Stalking Wolf trained him to become a fantastic tracker and showed him the way to oneness with nature. I felt like stepping out into the night to do some feel tracking, which requires you to touch the ground with your hands and imagine what animals or creatures had gone by. Wow, the book is a must read for everyone who loves nature.

The next morning, we woke up early to do some bird watching. We walked through a village and came back after about an hour. The village was typical, and presented some beautiful opportunities for photographs.

Common stonechat

Turtle doves playing 'terrapin'

A Himalayan Bulbul amidst the greenery

The path to the village

The path through the village

A Striated Laughingthrush hops along cheekily

A raptor!

A Longtailed Shrike holds two wires together - just an illusion actually!

The Himalayan Bulbul comes closer

A black and white beauty - Oriental Magpie Robin

Early morning in the village

Walls with character

A yellow bloom

Though we saw many birds, photographing them proved to be very difficult. We got a few and then headed back after tea at a lazy roadside tea stall. The people who came by, lazed around and ambled through their peaceful lives, were simply amazing. Here are a few of them, and a few scenes from around that area.

A young boy from the village

A life well lived

Dazed and confused in the hills

A red bloom

Menacing, but actually a retired Govt. servant tending his house garden!

An electric off shoot

Zen and the art of boiling tea

Sitting by the roadside tea stall

Dramatic sparrows

Another wall with character

It was all very idyllic and dream like. Once back in the ashram, we had tea and set out for Mahaseer fishing. The fishing expert once again brought out his chicken gut and live earthworms, and we tried every trick in the book but couldn’t catch anything. There were umpteen nibbles as fish ate parts of the bait, but no real bites. Then we decided to cross the river over a rickety bridge, and settled down on a sandy bank to do some more fishing. We had our mandatory three-four beers and waited for a bite, but no such luck. Then we headed back, but on the bridge, we spotted several large Mahaseer in the water. With great excitement, we headed for a very craggy and dangerous rocky outcropping, to try and catch them. We tried a spinning bait, and could see the huge Mahaseer swimming after it and jumping to catch it, but despite several tries we just couldn’t manage to catch anything. After some time, we wound up and headed back to the ashram. Meanwhile we managed to take some photographs of birds hanging around in and around the ashram. A white capped redstart and a white wagtail were particularly pleased to be photographed.

The White-capped Water Redstart

Hornets and tree

The White Wagtail putting up a show

Bulbul on a wire

The priest of the temple in the ashram was in ‘maun vrat’, which means that he had taken a vow of silence, and conversed with us with flowing hand gestures. He had a very peaceful and joyous face.

On a 'maun vrat' - vow of silence!

A real purple-black beauty

Red dragonfly

The rickety bridge from where we saw the Mahaseer in the river

Lunch was inside a hall that would have seated at least three hundred people, and there was just the three of us. It was a delicious and simple lunch and all of us enjoyed it hugely.

After lunch, we packed our stuff and set out for Mahaseer Fishing Camps in Marchula. It was a long and tiring journey, but we made it around dinner time.

The silky river near the Mahaseer Fishing Camps

Dinner at Marchula was great, and the owner’s dog ‘Badal’ (Cloud in Hindi), and a pack of others kept us company. We sat around in the darkness looking at the ghostly white of the river bed and stones and the stars, and then turned in for sleep.

I read while and then turned to switch off the lights, and fleetingly saw some creature jumping about in one corner. On closer observation I saw a huge rat trying to enter the tent and then running out quickly. It kept making strange sounds for some time and eventually I fell asleep.

The next morning we woke up early to do some bird watching in and around the camp site. Our first session was amongst the trees and fields within the camp. Not too many birds but the morning was crisp and enjoyable. After going up and down some hill trails, we set out in the car to explore close by areas. At one spot we saw a beautiful black and white bird with a plume on its head, but before we could study or photograph it, it flew away. Later we felt that it was one of the forktails.

A long shot of a Long Tailed Shrike

The 'car that could'

A panoramic view of the Mahaseer Fishing Camps

Dried mud abounding in wild footprints

After tea in a sleepy tea-stall, we went back to the camp. Our driver who had gone off to visit his village which was in Pauri Garhwal and not too far away from Marchula, came back by 11, and suddenly the car was clean and looking so shiny and new that the entire camp seemed to look better because of it. After a nice breakfast we decided to cross the river and head for the forests across the river, where there were more chances of seeing birds. The crossing of the river was great fun as the strong currents were pulling us this side and that. My friend settled down near the river to fish, and I with one of the camp hands set out for the forest. ‘Badal’ the black Labrador also set out with us. We had a climb a steep embankment to reach the forests, and once over it we were in an area with shoulder high undergrowth, and loads of footprints. I was shown the pugmarks of a tiger and took a few pictures.

An old pugmark of a tiger

The forest and trees were so large and imposing that it felt good just to stand there and look at them. A very colourful bee-eater made an entry, and I managed to take a few photographs. Being afternoon, most of the birds had gone deep into the foliage of trees and remained hidden from us.

Chestnutheaded Beeeater looking away

Chestnutheaded Beeeater facing us

We went back to the river and both of us decided to have a river-bathing session. It was great fun, and we spent a good hour enjoying the cold river water and the warm sunlight.

The final bathing :)

Next we had a sumptuous lunch and then quickly packed up for our long return journey to Delhi. It was a fond farewell with all the people in the camp and we definitely wanted to be back again soon.

The journey back was largely uneventful but we talked of everything under the sun, and it was over without too much of pain. On route we took a few pictures of the Moradabad landscape where we thought we should spend two months every year so that we realize just how nice our own cities were.

A truly beautiful and interesting trip came to an end, leaving us inspired to do another one very soon. Hope you enjoyed reading about it!


  1. An interesting account of your fascinating trip. Good narration and lucid description. I enjoyed reading every bit of it. Congratulations and keep it up!
    With regards
    T R Sharma -- an arm chair birder

  2. A thoroughly enjoyable piece!Thanks for sharing


  3. Hi,

    Nice! This reminds of my trip to Marchula, about one hour drive from Corbett NP, quite many years ago, when the erstwhile owner, Jaggi Negi owned the fishing camp in partnership. I remember also the new but horrible bright blue coloured fishing camp further down the river marring the entire scene at Marchula. We had also gone to Manila and surrounding areas as we were on a raptor survey trip with my friend, Rishad Naoroji. Incidentally, his book on Indian raptors is now a solid reference material on Indian birds of prey.

    The recent damage must be terrible around the main road in Corbett area. I saw someone's photographs on facebook recently.

    Reviving pleasant memories is wonderful!

    Kiran Srivastava

  4. A very interesting report after a long time!
    Please keep it up!
    With regards.

  5. Thanks T R Sharma, thanks Bhavna, thanks Kiran and of course thank you M. Aslam. Am glad that you found the post interesting. Your comments inspire me to keep posting! :)


  6. Wah, wah! Nice to see pics of you and KP. Can you share a hi-res pic of the silky river, the panoramic view and the priest?

    P.S. How much did the dhaaba guy want for rent?