Tourism in Kashmir is bubbling with swarming number of tourists but at the same time, it is grappling with the challenges to cope up with the lack of infrastructure and other related issues. With tourism confined to a few spots in the Valley, most of the beautiful places remain virgin and unexplored. ‘Rising Kashmir’s’ Editorial Contributor RASHMI TALWAR was recently in Srinagar to attend the fortnight long Tourism festival in the month of May and tried to peep into some important facets of tourism. In this weekly series, she will look at various sectors and bring our readers a hands-on account.
Tourism Series —- Part IKashmir’s Trout Fish trailBy Rashmi TalwarWhat the Chinar is to the most incredible horizon of the Kashmir skyline, the Trout is to the bubbly elixir of tumbling waters that unabashedly flows over the smoothened edges of the Himalayan rockery, in the magnificent valley.I recall as a child, the soft nibble by naughty trout fish, as I dipped my toe in the crystalline waters of this vale and threw puffed rice over it. The sensation when the fish scooped up the rice from my toes still tickles me whenever I see a fish manicure being done in pricey malls that have emerged in metro cities recently. Strangely, even though the fish nibbles the same way, it can never draw the childhood giggles and is no match for the twinkling mischievousness of early infancy. The trout maybe the Rainbow or the Brown variety, but time has not eroded the innate impishness of this marine delicacy, even as the valley around it saw the bloodiest turmoil for more than two decades.Unfettered and liberally flapping in multitude schools, the fish – in rivers, waterfalls, water parks, ponds, streams and lakes, completely lords over Kashmir’s flowing frothy waters and joining the dance of the tumbling friendly waves. I happened to watch their antics once again during the angling competition introduced this year in the Kashmir Festival 2013 organized by the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism. The puffed rice sprinkled on the surface of water brought them in hordes to become an angler’s delight. They were finally caught and put on the griddle after an angling competition in the virgin waters of River Brengi in the Daksum- Kokernag area.No one sleeps or dies hungry in Kashmir- the vale of plenty. The waters are abundant with the choicest fish, the fruit plentiful and grain in aplenty ensures a tummy full. Even a plastic string with a hook and a ball of dough can fetch you a kilo of fish that is enough for a meal for four or five with the rice as a staple fare. Fried, barbecued, toasted, saucy or curried- fish is indisputably one of the healthiest diets. Combine this with the cleanest air, water and one feels rejuvenated.Although the Fisheries Department has put fishing by tourists on a tight leash it has given leeway in terms of obtaining a permit and issued guidelines on the period of fishing, the baits used and banned, the type of rods that are permitted etc. While fly fishing and fly rods are permitted, spinning rods or reels and live baits are forbidden. Also one has to reserve the beat on various rivers to have a smooth run in this beatific and holistically satisfying leisure.Sit in a quiet corner along the river Lidder flowing through Pahalgam or River Brengi in the upper regions of Daksum and Kokernag, drop your line into the flowing gushes and engage in something so serene, scenic and fructifying that instantly merges one with scents of nature. And if you want to be warmed by the sound of human voice, an I-pod can do the trick.Camp alongside the river and enjoy an outdoor experience or eat with the stars, in the moonlight. The Directorate of Fisheries has lodges in some of the finest spots and you may need only three days for an advance booking to enjoy close encounters with the sound of waterfalls. Your amateur or learned angling skills too may get a boost over fishing in the gurgling waters of Sindh, Nambal, Madhumati, Erin and other fabulous spots or beats.However unsupervised angling could drastically deplete this rich marine dainty. An avid angler who has angled for years in the remotest regions of Kashmir along with his pet expert angler called ‘Gillie’ or ‘Shikari’ observed, “The size of the average trout has reduced.” Although this could be attributed to many other reasons including the effect of global warming and various changing weather conditions, it is tip-off that should be probed.Fishy talesMohammad Altaf Wani, Chief Executive Officer, Tourism Development Authority, Kokernag region contends that, in 20th century British were able to successfully bring in varieties of fish that became plentiful in the mountain streams falling over from Himalayas and the Pir Panjal range by early 1920’s. A mother trout fish farming project under European Union assistance too has been established at Kokernag.High altitude lakes on a short drive of an hour or two from Srinagar can bring in hot catches.April to October could be your best time bet. But catch no more than half a dozen per person with an average length of 7.5 cms, the younger fish should be left alone to develop as adults, lest you may have to deal with the law. Artificial flies are the only ones permitted and beats can be reserved ranging from a single day to a week.The Lidder and Sindh streams provide best of trout. In April, August and September these rivers turn more silent and in the stilled water the big fish leisurely swims, giving a wonderful chance for a bigger catch.‘Look under the boulders too, the smallish ponds or try for all season smaller tributaries and channels, they may hold many surprises for a marine bounty’.ConditionsFlights to Kashmir do not object to a light two to three meter fishing rods that can be booked with main luggage and an eight cm reel, despite security concerns.If you do not wish to carry your own fishing equipment or line or rod, you could pick one of the best at the most reasonable cost in terms of foreign exchange at Munawar Shah and Sons, the oldest fish angling equipment outlet located at Lal Chowk. In this business from the time of British in 1880, spanning a history of more than 130 years. It can cater to any of your needs that conform to angling in Kashmir. All of Munawar’s four sons run their outlets using the same brand name.Regular flies used in Kashmir include Jinger Quill, Butcher, Peacock, March Brown, Woodcock, Watson’s Fancy & Green Coachman and equipment could cost you anywhere between Rs 1000 to Rs 10,000.The water level, clarity, swiftness, and no rain are just the right weather factors for angling.High end tourist demand has helped in carving out niche` clientele for whom customized itineraries are on offer, to include entire angling tours of Kashmir. Gaffara’s Tour and Travel’s Managing Director Ghulam Mohammed Khuroo, talking about the soaring demand of the high leisure activity says “We can plan a whole angling tour for enthusiasts including packed lunch, folding tents and camps, providing authorized gillies, advising and arranging permits, booking beats and other needs”. Many other travel agencies too have roped in this leisure in their travel offers.Khuroo with a twinkle in his eye gives a solid tip, “Don’t underestimate the trout as easy prey, it is a crafty fish and will involve all your skills to make it bite the bait’. The angling package could also include rods and baits.A multi-crore fish feed manufacturing mill close to Manasbal is likely to start production in the coming year for fish feed to be made like floating pellets that would further boost fish farming in Kashmir. The machinery has been imported from Holland.BOXFishing beatsFisheries opened 198 beats for reservations this season; the choice range from the turbulent Wangat and Sindh Rivers to the serene high altitude lakes of Krishansar, Vishansar, Gangabal and Nunkhol.Other nullahs and streams could be those of Bringi, Gurez, Hamal, Dachigam, Kishenganga, Kokernag, Lam, Ferozpora(Tangmarg), Hirpora, Naristan, Nowbugh, Madhumati, Puhru, Dessu Bidhar, Mather and others.Trout is present in all the streams and high altitude lakes of the valley. The important ones are Lidder, Sindh, Kishenganga, Sukhnag, Doodhganga, Erin, Ferozpora, Bringi, Rambiara, Vishav, Madhumati and Puhru. These streams have been divided into a number of trout beats:Lidder area encompasses Nafran, Aru, Sheesh Nag, Fryslan, Masjid, Langanbal, Batkote Yenner, Kutnari, Bumzu, Wahdan , Tricker , Nambal, Panzath.In the Sindh Area is Kullan, Gund, Sumbal, Mammar.The Wangath area has Kangan and Wussan to offerIn the lush untouched Bringi Area falls the beat of Nowbugh, Daksum, Mather, Dyus, Ahlan and Dandipora .The Kulgam Area connects Aharbal, Kutnari, Isthal and Kandai beatsIn the high reaches of Budgam Area lies Sukhnag Fall, Sukhnag Arizal, Beerwa, Shaliganga Burzkoor, Doodhpathri, Basant Wuder, Doodhganga Frasnag, Doodhganga kalnag, Doodhganga Charji and the Doodhganga in Yusmarg.The Bandipura Area angles the beats of Erin Sheesh Sar , Erin Chuntmulla that is merely 70 kms from Srinagar and close by falls the Erin Shokhbaba and Erin Papchhan.Further off from Srinagar the Madhumati consists of three beats namely Madhumati Athwatu, Madhumati Pannar, Madhumati SonerwaniIn the one of the most picturesque Gurez areas falls the Kishenganga and most beats are named after it as Kishenganga Sheikpura, Kishenganga Barzil, Kishenganga Dawar and Kanzalwan.The Tangmarg area near the beautiful valley of flowers of Gulmarg is equally stunning. Add to it are the fishing beats of Hamal, Drang, FerozpurAnother is the Shopian area and the angler’s delight at Hirpora.Keep in mindEach beat stretches to about 2.5 Kms.With a permit for a day, one can take a catch of maximum of six fish.Take the permit with you while fishing but refrain from sharing or sub letting it.Seek help from only authorized gillies or shikaris .If you try a balancing act whilst holding two rods in both hands or you may just think of using natural baits, beware ! You may see yourself hauled up by the law.HistoryThe History of introduction of Trout in Kashmir dates back to early 1900s. The first batch of Trout ova of 10,000 eggs arrived from U.K. in 1899 with the courtesy of Duke of Bedford, to whom the Kashmir Maharaja presented an excellent Kashmir Stag trophy through Sir Adelbert Talbot, British Resident at Srinagar. Unfortunately the first batch of fish ova perished enroute due to absence of air transport.This of course did not deter the importers who ordered a second shipment of trout ova that arrived through Mr. J.S.Macdonall from Scotland in excellent condition in the winter chill of December 19,1900 which included 1800 fry . Almost 1000 fry were transferred to Panzagam, Dachigam (Harwan) while the rest were reared in the premises of a private carpet factory in the heart of city near Khank-e-Moulla.Bringi in south Kashmir was one of the most prized beats where many VIPs flew down in helicopters to fish prior to militancy in the valley in 1989. Locals of Bringhi reveal that this area became a hot bed of militancy due to its direct connect with Chandanwari in a trekking trail that further connects to the annual pilgrimage of Amarnath Yatra.Frequent Hartals in the valley came as a blessing in disguise for soaring demand for fishing. Earlier only houseboat owners bought equipment for their foreign clients as they accompanied them for angling but strikes led to more people leaving the city to go to quiet reaches and spend time in angling.