Back to the Cauvery before the Monsoons Break May '08 at Galibore
I had received a note from Kam. He told me that there could be a strong possibility that
we could arrange a short trip to the Cauvery before the monsoons broke. It was May,
and I could just about manage it before the June deadline. He also told me some other
great news, not only would we be planning to visit to our favourite camp, but also
Rashu and Mikey were set on making this trip too. This was really great news indeed
and I checked out my visa and made arrangements to get out to Bangalore.
Last time we were out, Rashu spoke about getting his own fishing outfit and
learning to do more than reel in the fish. It seems that the stakes had been raised, for
Kam and Mikey were secretly planning on fishing two rods each to double their
chances. In his letter he let it slip that 'double zero is still zero!' and I guessed that this
was an ironical reference to his last two trips that he had miserably blanked. No-one
likes to blank, but two in a row makes one wonder when the luck will improve. With
Rashu being the new beginner, it is always nice for the new beginner to catch perhaps at least half of what the 'seasoned veterans' catch, and so the secret strategy was 'two rods each'. Mikey and Kam were colluding in their tactics.
My own fishing style is usually with just the one rod. It is difficult to manage the cameras and the rod all at the same time, and usually the cameras get the most attention anyway. Often I find that I catch the fish with the one rod anyway.
By mid May, all was planned and the three anglers had made their preparations
for one last two-day and one night visit to the Galibore camp before the monsoons. I
arrived in Bangalore a couple of days early to be as certain as could be to meet up with the other three and get to the river.
Finally the day arrived and we met up for an early start out of Bangalore. We all noticed that Rashu now had his own rod and abag full of tackle. His rod was housed in a very nice looking protective tube, and judging by the looks on Kam and Mikey's faces, they were impressed with his diligence since the last trip when he made the promise that he would turn into a fully-fledged angler.
We all climbed into the vehicle that Rashu was driving. He knew the roads
going out of Bangalore best, and it was not long before we would be heading out into
the countryside and seeing the Cauvery hills in the distance. That there had been
unusual amounts of rain through the dry season was obvious ~ the trees were all leafy
green. Ordinarily at this time of the year the trees on the red slopes are sparse and
leafless in the aridness. The usual essence of the scrub jungle is that each of the trees are fairly well spaced out from its neighbour so much so that it is easy to see through the tree cover and see the boulder strewn slopes, even in full leaf like this. The terrain gets fairly hilly by approximately forty miles out of Bangalore, and arable farming gives way completely to cattle grazing in the wild scrub jungles. There are a few villages that we drive through, and they are characterised with thatch roofs, mud walls and livestock living 'cheek by jowl' with the villagers. Time seems to have little affected the smaller of the villages, and it seems that there have been endless generations of people, cows, goats, chicken and sheep existing like this since immemorable times. Of course, there are the village dogs too. The Poinciana trees were in full flower as we drove through the countryside, setting a very vivid red blaze all over the lush greenery covering the valley sides. It looked very stunning and there was a flower perfume thick in the warm air, further adding to the amazing landscapes before our eyes.
When we reach the hair-pin bends dropping down into the Cauvery valley, we
start getting our first glimpses of the river, tantalising us. In between the lush green tree cover, we see short stretches of the river, here the channel is boulder strewn and reasonably turbulent but not enough for white-water; a greenish tinge is there in the water. We carry on driving, excitement starts to reverberate inside the vehicle's interior as the anglers all recognise that within half an hour they would be beside their tents, busily putting their rods together. There is only one main topic of conversation now.
The camp appeared little changed since our March visit, however the air felt
hotter, and the ground was bone dry. There had not been much significant rain in the
intervening time, and the river looked a couple of feet lower than when we last saw it. The pondlet next to the camp beach was now completely dry.
There was no ragi immediately available so we sat around Kam's veranda and
made a customary dent into a vodka bottle. At this time Rashu showed us that he had
got two rods as well, and when we tackled up our full lot of rods and leaned them up
against the tent walls, we were fairly bristling with them; surely we were at our most
We had some lunch and commandeered a plate of chicken curry to act as
temporary bait for lack of ragi. Thankfully we didn't have much longer to wait, and our ghillie soon appeared with a large lump of the doughy paste inside a plastic bag.
It was very hot and Mikey was the first in the water. He was drinking it too,
which we all thought was a bit perilous considering the stomach-bugs etc. On questioning, Mikey justified it by saying that it was clean river water, and he was really thirsty. He didn't stray more than a few feet from the shore, as it slopes very steeply into deep water. After a few minutes of Mikey informing us all how cool and lovely the water was, Rashu joined in, though he laid on the beach looking like a seal, half in the water, half out. Soon cooled down and with the sun's power diminishing, thankfully they both got out of the water and resumed fishing. Mikey was continually drinking the river water, and all of us were somewhat intrigued as to what would happen to his digestive system over the next few hours. I asked him why he was drinking the water like this and he replied that he was thirsty, and generally river water in the wilderness is safe to drink. Rashu told him that there were other camps upstream and that they might have discharges into the river ~ “where do all the toilets flush into?”. He just shrugged his shoulders and carried on drinking regardless, I guess that he knew that if he was going to get the dreaded trots, then he would be afflicted by now, and so he may as well drink as much as he liked in this heat. The river water might have brought him a bit of good luck though, as he caught the first three fish including a black carp which he returned. Rashu asked him why he didn't keep it for our supper, but he said that the camp-chickens are far tastier than any black carp. A catfish was a different prospect though, and we were all hoping one of us might catch one.
We moved over to the far shore via ghillie rowing us in a coracle. Essentially all we were doing was casting into the same water but from the other side. Rashu caught some fish, and Kam finally got his first fish since 3 trips ago, and he broke his duck for his new rod - he was elated. Like waiting for a bus, when several turn up at same time after ages of waiting, Kam caught four more fish in quick succession taking him out into the lead. Mikey was the only one persevering with the two rods, as Kam and Rashu had opted to use their main rods only, and focus on fishing like that. By about six-thirty in the evening, the full moon was rising over the valley's hills south east of our position. With the bright moon we were able to fish until seven-thirty before packing in for the night. We traversed back over the river and spent the rest of the evening on the veranda. Since we didn't have any catfish, we had to eat the local chickens, but these were extremely tasty any way.
The night in the tents was pretty much non-eventful for once ~ we heard no
night-time animals pass by. In fact it was fairly quiet, and there were no frogs calling at all, the night seemed docile. The only noises were the cicadas, but these seem to make most of their noise in the daytime. Whilst we were eating our chicken, we soon had the camp dogs loitering around waiting for scraps of bones. I couldn’t help thinking that one of the dogs looked distinctly odd. The paraffin lamp rarely illuminates particularly well, but there was something not altogether right with the dog.
The pre-dawn dimness was up, the stars having passed; the air did not feel damp at all, in fact it felt bone dry and not particularly chilly. I got out of my bed and proceeded to the bathroom. Brushing my teeth I could taste the tap water and distantly was wondering if the river tastes like this too; after all, there was little doubting the source of the tap-water. I was vaguely wondering how Mikey had fared overnight, as he surely must have drunk several pints of the river water the afternoon before! All of a sudden, there was a commotion going on outside the tents on the open area in between the tents and the river! It was Kam, and he was very agitated about something, urgently telling us to get out to the river as quick as we could, something about a crocodile! I grabbed my camera on the way out of the tent, and saw Mikey and Kam already over by the trees fringing the river nearest our tents; they were staring out into the river, with Kam pointing into the river and looking alarmed. There were at leastfour or five of the ghillies and camp-staff climbing up the bank, and by their group demeanour, something bad had happened. When I reached Kam, it was obvious that he had seen something and was explaining to Mikey what had happened. There had been a full-grown sambar stag that had been chased by the two camp dogs down our side of the bank, and it had jumped into the river and started to swim across. It didn’t even manage to get as far as the middle, when all of a sudden, a crocodile appeared out of the water and seized the hapless sambar by the neck. Very shortly, another crocodile appeared along side the stricken sambar and made its move on the deer. The trio of animals soon disappeared under the water. Whilst this was happening, several of the ghillies had been attempting a rescue mission, and were rowing out in a coracle as fast as they could, but they did not get anywhere near to the poor deer before the submergence occurred. On this, they gave up and resigned and turned the coracle and came back to the shore. They were all quite shocked and a bit disturbed with what had happened. It was about this time that I managed to get to the riverside to see what was going on, and despite a lot of scanning of the river and the surrounding banks, we saw no signs of either crocodile or the sambar. The deer must have drowned fairly quickly we guessed. The most horrifying thing about this little episode was just how amazingly quickly the crocodiles had rounded on the sambar deer, and they just seemed to have materialized out of nowhere. We all thought of yesterday and Mikey and Rashu getting into the water like that. A sambar stag is easily bigger and stronger than a man; a very sobering thought.
With the events with the crocodiles, the ghillies were all very upset, and our fishing was slightly delayed due to this. I was a little puzzled. I couldn’t understand why everyone seemed to be so shocked about what was just an ordinary act of
predation. After all, isn’t that what crocodiles are supposed to do? Eventually, we
gathered that the crocodiles here, despite being quite large are usually feeding on the fish and smaller mammals and birds; rarely do they go for large creatures, but one never knows, and on rare occasion, even a buffalo can get dragged in.
We sat around and noticed that even the camp dogs were behaving a little bit on edge and were trotting around briskly. One of the dogs had the tips of its ears blunted, whereas the ginger looking one was completely bereft of its ears. The black dog had both of its ears intact. I remembered back to the previous evening, and now all seemed clear. It was the ginger dog that had the unusual appearance in the gloom beyond the lamp-light ~ it had no ears. I had seen earless dogs before in India, but never really close-up like this. I looked at the fringes of its head where the ears should arise, and did see a rudimentary flange of what probably was the stump of its ears. The margin consisted of straight lines, several of them on each ear, almost as if the dog once had ears, but they were sheared off by some force? I knew that Kam was a kennel-owner, and should therefore know quite a lot about dogs. I walked over to where he was sitting and sat next to him, pointing to the dog and asking him why the dog has no ears? Kam replied instantly that the dog also has no tail either. He told me to look at the two other dogs, and look at the tails and their ears. The black dog had a full tail, and full ears. The pie-bald dog had blunted ears and a docked tail, and the ginger dog had neither tail nor ears at all. “The black dog was born with no owner”, Kam explained. He sensed that I didn’t fully understand, so he continued by explaining that it is customary to dock a dog’s tail. I agreed and said that most breeds have their tails docked, though I didn’t know why. Maybe it was fashionable to do that? “No Freddy, the cutting is done for practical reasons alone. The ears are cut off so that the dog doesn’t get ticks in there.” Sometimes, the Indian logic seems very strange at times; here was an example of that. I knew that Kam wasn’t joking; he was being serious, although I couldn’t follow it initially. I paused for a while, and then asked Kam if he thought that the dog would prefer the nuisance of ticks over the trauma of having his ears cut off? “No Freddy, you see, he cannot feel his ears getting cut off, he was a new born puppy, and he can’t remember the pain, if it happened at all. The tail is cut off at the same time too.” I looked at the dogs, and noticed something odd about the pie-bald dog that didn’t seem to fit in with what Kam was saying ~ only the tips of its ears had been cut off, I had noticed this already, but didn’t know previously that they were deliberately cut off by its owner when it was a puppy. I asked Kam why this was, for if the ears are cut off to avoid infestation with ticks, then it seems to serve no purpose to leave most of the ear intact? Kam shrugged his shoulders and offered no explanation to this at all, and suggested that when the man who was wielding the scissors that did the cutting, only he alone knew his exact reasons. We continued talking about the village dogs, and Kam told me that when a dog lives under the rule of Man, he no longer needs his ears or his tail. It is only in wild dog society that these appendages are actually needed. I finished the last of the tea as our ghillie approached, our interesting conversation about the dogs was now drawn to an end with the impending fishing that was about to happen.
Rashu and Mikey had been sitting and talking on the veranda outside of Rashu’s tent. They saw us approaching with our rods, and deduced that we must have seen the arrival of our ghillie. Shortly we were all walking rods in hand, and I noticed that none of the spare rods were out, each was fishing only with his main rod today. Ghillie instructed us to make our way past the camp’s main veranda and if we follow the path, it would bring us out onto the river bank some one-hundred yards upstream of the camp-beach. It was there that we were to fish, and Ghillie was to meet us there in his coracle. We noticed that there was another half to the camp on this side, and there were another half dozen tents situated here, and also a second main veranda. This side of the camp is rarely used apparently.
As we got out of the shade of the trees and onto the sandy shore there, we
immediately noticed large plate sized spoor of elephants. We determined that they had
been made overnight by a small group of the creatures, and that they had been drinking
the river water and pulling up some of the small bushes alongside the river margin.
Looking about, the terrain in between the river and the surrounding land looked quite
rough, and I was having difficulty picturing in my mind the elephants ambling down to
the river and back again into the scrub jungle. It also must have been dark when they
did this, and it was quite rocky too. For such abominably large animals, elephants are
surprisingly deft in their movements.
Ghillie was having to row against a fairly strong current. The river here is
effectively the end of a long set of rapids that are at least six-hundred yards long; they round a corner, and from our positions here it is not possible to see exactly where the rapids start. The rapids have plenty of white water, but it is not fierce white water, and coracles can comfortably navigate up and down this stretch. I realised that we would be fishing from the shore, and that the coracle was only there in case we needed it, i.e. if we wanted to move, or for utilitarian things like recovering snagged tackle,and of course chasing down a large fish if ever we managed to hook one.
The sun had risen before we got to the river, and there was no mist at all in the valley or the hills, the sky was perfectly blue and the air was warming up already. We had positioned our little chairs around a small bay, and we were all fishing quite close together; this time we were re-baiting our hooks and casting ourselves. It was not as if the Ghillie was incapable of this, but Kam and Rashu were wanting to become adept at the fishing skills, and this was a good opportunity for them to learn themselves. Mikey was using a multiplier reel, and all the ghillie’s liked this reel. It was an Abu 7000, and was actually casting the big ragi baits further into the river than the big fixed spool reels that Kam and Rashu were using. Even Mikey was getting casts of 70 yards with apparent ease. The aficionados of the multiplier reels always go on about the dreaded twisting effect of the fixed spool reels, and also that fixed spool reels are bad because of their tangles, etc. I watched Mikey spend a good ten minutes at least in unpicking a big over-run that had happened on his reel~ he looked quite versed in untangling it. When the reel was sorted out and the loose line wound back on, he just re-baited his hook and
cast it out again as though nothing had happened on the previous cast.
Whilst we were sitting waiting for fish to notice our newly cast out baits, the camp-dogs trotted down the bank to visit us. I couldn’t help wondering what Kam had meant about them no longer needing their ears or tails anymore? Only wild dogs need them. I suppose that he had a point, and considered something I have never thought about before, for instance all wild dogs, wolves and foxes included, their ears stand erect to act like parabolic reflectors, and thereby amplify the sound into the ear canals. This made perfect evolutionary sense and a dog will hear better with large erect ears. Why is it then, that the majority of domesticated dogs have soft floppy ears that do the exact opposite ~ they cover the ear canals and surely would muffle the noise? It made no sense at all, except that once a dog breed has well and truly given up and is ruled by Man, then he no longer must hunt for his food like a wild dog does. This part now aligned with what Kam had said, but what about the tail? A wild dog doesn’t need its tail so much for balance (unlike a cat), nor does it use it to mechanical effect. However, when you see a group of dogs, they hold their tails aloft and use them as a social signal, like “I am here”, “I am happy”, “I am being submissive”, etc. These are inter-dog social signals, and not really necessary for a dog that is effectively integrated into Man’s world. I finally realised what Kam had meant now, or at least I had theorized that this was what he meant anyway.
Mikey broke the silence with “nibble”, and then started off angling affairs by striking, hooking and landing a small mahseer of two pounds, and then in following
casts had several more to four or five pounds. All of us were suddenly having nibbles
and were striking and reeling in to re-bait. The river had suddenly come alive, and they seemed to be staying on Mikey’s rod, whereas the rest of us were having problems
converting nibbles to catches. Mikey seemed to have the golden rod right now, as he
hooked and landed an eight pounder, and had another reasonable fish on for a while
before it got off. In the meantime, Rashu landed a fish, and then he and Kam had a
period of getting snagged and losing tackle. Mikey caught more fish and was not
getting snagged until he hooked a fish that got snagged mid-way in the channel. He and
the Ghillie took to the coracle and landed the four pounder there ~ the fish had got
snagged on some lost tackle, so it was good to help clean up the river bed a bit.
Kam and Rashu swapped rods to try to improve each other’s luck, and it really
paid off when Kam, fishing with Rashu’s rod hooked an obviously big fish. It shot off
taking line off the reel. Ghillie went to Kam’s assistance and adjusted the reel’s drag. The fish was brought into the shallower water, and we all looked to see how big it was. It streaked off back into the deeper water, the reel buzzing and the rod jagging violently downwards with each burst of speed from the fish. The heavy 30lb line that Rashu had on his reel started showing on the fish, and within five to ten minutes, the fish was beaten and floundering in the shallow water, Ghillie smartly securing the fish. Kam looked elated and was grinning like a small boy. I took a bunch of photos of him and the Ghillie proudly holding up the fish. We all agreed that it was a twenty pounder alright, and a fantastic looking silver mahseer.
After releasing the fish, we decided to pack in fishing on a high and think about making preparations to leave the river and leave the camp; for once again the time was nigh that the fishing had come to an end. We all knew that we would not be getting another trip out for the mahseer, not until the monsoons have been and gone anyway. The trip back was one in high spirits though, and that was mainly to do with the big one that Kam had just caught, there was going to be plenty to reminisce about!