In late December 1999, armed with a couple of telescopic rods and various lures, I travelled with a friend from Goa through to Kathmandu then back to Delhi overland for 7 weeks. It was only while I was sitting on the bank of the Babai river in western Nepal, surrounded by rhino dung and young Nepalese women, singing as they cut the grass for the roofs of their homes (not to mention the huge fish leaping out of the water in front of me) that I realised that I had come ill prepared to take on the mahseer, the 'King of the Mountains’ as they are known in Nepal.
Arriving back in the U.K.with what little information I had on the fish of Nepal and the lasting memory of those fish leaping out in front of me, I decided to do some research on mahseer and return to western Nepal with my own raft. Now I know why angling is such a good sport, as everyone I contacted either helped me or knew someone who could, finally I got to know Richard Foster who runs a tackle shop in Birmingham. With his experience of catching mahseer in Southern India he helped me out with the correct gear.
So there I am at Manchester airport on a crisp November morning, loading all my gear onto the conveyor; a Zodiac 260 inflatable, rods, rucksack full of lures, reels ect, (as tackle in Nepal is very limited it's best to bring extra gear) and a small rucksack with various bits of clothing. My only concern now was whether the airline was going to be generous with my allowance. As it turned out, this was the only bit of luck I had on the whole trip. I arrived at Kathmandu airport ready for a month of exploring the rivers of Nepal only to find that my raft was still in Pakistan. For some reason this was not transferred onto the plane heading for Kathmandu so I spent the next four days waiting for it's arrival, most of which was spent sitting in the office of the airline that mislaid my baggage. (They were not very good at returning phone calls.)
With all my gear intact I boarded the plane for a 1.5 hr flight to Nepalganj, passing over the majestic Himalayas en route. I was met at Nepalganj airport by a friend who runs a lodge within the boundary of Bardia National park. The drive to the lodge took longer than expected as I was introduced to various cousins on the way, the openness of the Nepalese is intoxicating. At the lodge I met up with a friend of mine whom I had introduced to fishing while I was living New Zealand.
The next day we took the raft to Chisapani to be christened on the Karnali. Not much fishing was done on this day long trip but we did spot a tiger lying by the riverbank. Fortunately mad Englishmen wasn’t on his menu that day. That night my friend left for Delhi to catch a flight to Australia and I spent the following day planning my first trip to fish the River Bheri.
As I had wasted too much time in Kathmandu I decided to keep the time on this river to a minimum so as to allow more time to look at other rivers. The plan was to 'short walk' to where the river passed Rani Ghat with porters rather than drive to Pabitra Bazar, which is too far upstream for the length of time available. The walk to Rani Ghat was estimated to take 2 days, setting off early morning with three porters and two lads who are more used to taking guests around the National Park looking for rhino, tiger and other game that reside in Bardia, than going down the river in a raft. En route to the river we passed tiger tracks made the night before and evidence of elephants not being too far away.
After only 5 hours one of the porters felt he did not want to carry on, so we split the load between the five of us and entered the bush walking along narrow tracks with deer jumping around ahead of us. Our aim was to get out of the national park by nightfall as there was a village just out side where we could pick up a porter. As it happened, going up the steep narrow tracks took its toll, so we had to spend the night camped within the park. To think that not too long ago we had been passing tracks made by tigers….! As you are not allowed to light fires within the park to ward off any curious game we just slept in a huddle.
The next day we made it to the village only to find out there was a wedding on, so no porters were available and we still had a days walk ahead of us. Rather than go ahead we felt it best to stay the night. Again the locals welcomed us into their homes.
With the mixture of plantations in front of us and the mist rising from the river way ahead of us, I was not going to turn back now.
After a days trekking, passing villages and walking down dried-up riverbeds with boulders over 12 ft high lodged in the middle, we finally reached the banks of the River Bheri. This is a mature river that cuts a wide valley as it flows west to join the Karnali just before it cuts through the Chure Hills, disgorges onto the plains of the Terai, and flows into Bardia National Park.
Soon after getting onto the river we were entering our first gorge, the beauty and total silence was stunning. The day was coming to an end and we had to find a beach to camp on so we found a spot on a sharp bend with plenty of drift wood. While the lads were setting up camp I got the gear out trembling with nervous anticipation, it wasn’t long before fish were rising all around me, but no mahseer. There are over 76 species of fish in these parts and I was unable to identify the ones in front of me, maybe snow trout, jalkapoor but defiantly not the gounch, a catfish that is reputed to grow to 200kg.
A nice cup of tea to go along with the spicy Nepalese dish went down well and so to bed. I was woken the next morning by the sound of fish leaping out of the river. We were running short of time so we got an early start, the Zodiac did well as we went from one rapid to another; not so high maybe 4 ft at the most. On some of the steeper bends we walked the raft around on the shallow side, taking turns to paddle the raft in tandem. It was a long time before we found a spot to pull in for the night, a nice beach with the rapids breaking not too far away, it wasn’t long before a fish of 15-20lbs leapt of the water, not a mahseer though. I wished I had brought my fly tackle now, as they were not taking the lures I had brought for tempting Mahseer. That night something a lot bigger broke the surface, but I was not having any luck.
The next morning we set off early. We had to be at the Chisapani road bridge before evening. We passed the occasional village then onto more rapids, with the occasional scary moment when we could not work out which direction the river was going as it disappeared before us. When we stopped for dinner on one of the many sandy beaches that surround this river, I was already thinking about the next adventure. I explained this to the lads when we were back at the lodge that evening, a 6 day trip down the Seti-Karnali.
The next day was spent sorting out the gear and organising the food, then the following evening after collecting worms and frogs to use as a natural bait, my friend gave us a lift to what looked like just a cross road surrounded by tea shops. This is where, on the last trip a couple of us and a manager of the lodge caught the bus to Dipayal, taking about 14-15hrs. I was sat next to a chap who suffered from travel sickness, and who on one occasion did not make the window, just my lap!
At Dipayal the river had a class 4 section but judging by a map I picked up in Kathmandu, the rest appeared to be easy. As we were near to a large town I thought it best to get a little way down the river, set up camp and get ready for a long haul. We had only been going down river about 1 hour, and past the class 4 section when, as we went around this sharp right hand bend, what we saw in front of us looked too risky. In an attempt to avoid it, we got caught between two boulders. As the raft took on water one lad jumped on the boulder to the right and one to the left, I had my foot caught around a rope, so I started to hand the gear to the lads and get my foot free at the same time, but we were still stuck in the middle, the next thing I noticed as I was getting out of the raft, the rucksack containing all my fishing gear, camera and passport had disappeared off the boulder, and the lad who was on it also disappeared! The raft was now sideways on and half under water. Then the missing lad popped up 50 yds downstream.
After tying two ropes together we got him back. It had taken the three of us standing in the water up to our necks to right the raft and bail out the water, it was now 4.30 pm so we had to get out fast before it got dark. One lad got to the side, but again he had to endure been swept downstream but after a few attempts we got the rope to him. It was then I noticed the rods had disappeared. With no time to dwell on it, we got what gear we had left back into the raft then I went to the shore again, going 50 yards downstream to get there, and helped pull the raft across.
Although we had taken care to put everything in plastic bags, things were still damp. By now the light was fading, the sooner we got a fire going the better. The next morning, when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, we found the raft had a small hole in it and the patches I had brought were in the rucksack which had disappeared. We spent the rest of the day looking for the gear with no luck, we were miles from anywhere, yet luckily the food was o.k. as this was kept in a watertight barrel.
That night it was decided we had better get out as quick as possible, so it was up at dawn and row till dusk, the rapids here were a lot harder than on the Bheri, in some cases 8-10ft high, and in a raft half-full of water it was dangerous. Still the scenery was magnificent.
The Seti Karnali is much more difficult to fish than the Bheri, still I caught sight of numerous fish, and one evening I caught sight of my first mahseer. This was nearer to where the Seti joins up with the Karnali.
After four days of taking on rapids and passing thru jungle wilderness we finally reached Chisapani to the relief of us all. With just 10 days left before my return to England, I spent two more days in Bardia informing the police of my missing passport then I had to get to Kathmandu. The bus ride takes about a day, and not a very pleasant one at that. I managed to get a lift to Pokhara via Chitiwan and spent three or four days there.
The last time I was here I was catching common carp up to 8-9lbs on my telescopic rod. There are three lakes that surround this town, all in full view of the Himalayas. Two of the three, Phewa Tal and Begnas Tal, hold carp that are familiar to U.K. anglers, common, grass, and mirror carp. Two other members of the carp family are silver and big-head; these carp grow to 40 kg. Another species called the Bhaku grow to 60 kg. These statistics I have got from the fisheries office next to Begnas Tal. I will be spending a bit more time on these lakes when I return mid-February 2002.
I am now in the process of looking for anglers who wish to join me on my next expedition to fish the River Bheri starting mid-Feb 2002. I will be staying till the end of March. My basic itinerary will be starting at Pabitra Bazar, going down to Chisapani, spending 6-7 days on the river. I will be taking another small raft with me again with a load capacity of 950lbs. If you are interested in joining me, a more detailed itinerary will be sent to those interested, along with tackle requirements etc.