Thursday, May 15, 2003

Yesterday, I had high hopes of reporting back that I had succesfully caught a Himalayan trout or two on my trusty flyrod. But, as has been observed by many older and wiser than me, there's a reason they call it "fishing and not catching." Regardless, exploring the Beas River and it's tributaries downstream from the fine mountain town of Manali, was a real pleasure today; I had an additional brief, rod-in-hand saunter yesterday. But today it was my goal to hook one of the more favorable leftovers of the English colonial period.

Manali is quite different from Dharmasala from the standpoint of overall vibe. It's in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh (as is D-sala) but Manali hasn't the Tibetan influence so much as its long history as a stepping off point for the Tibetan Plateau, making it recognized as the final frontier of habitable land before the Himalayas turn nasty and forbodding to all but the hardiest explorers. Suffice it to say, I have resigned myself to fishing and not trekking for the time being.

I did make one pretty good hike to the snowline in Dharmasala before taking off. Starting out pretty early, crossing paths with a Belgian Buddhist, marching him into the ground while the sounds of a Techno Rave echoed off the mountain like some crazy mantra to the party people, I was a walking machine. It was great after so much mental exercise -- when so many people are meditating, you're bound to have some deep thoughts of your own -- to work up a sweat and breathe hard for a few hours. And breathe hard I did, for the snowline meant that I walked way past the picturesque camps at Triund above Mcloed Ganj, leaving behind the dance music and the middle class Indians in the process. There was a cafe on the hillside near the tongues of snow snaking down from Lahesh Cave just below the pass, and the chai-walla there allowed as if I kept to the West I'd find my way to caves used for generations by the local Gaddi shepherds, who are just starting to make their way to the high country. Topping out at over 10,000 feet, dangling my legs over the edge of a cave that would have made a cold camp, the air was crystaline and the clouds were threatening but didn't crack until I was safe and sound back in town a little after 11 hours of hard walking.

Manali has a fair number of Israelis, and apparently one has gone missing in the woods. These sorts of reports have become increasingly common over the past couple of years, thanks to an increased number of foreigners coming to Manali, and the fact that a good many of them are chasing the major grass crops that grow along the roadsides and up in the hillls. Apparently, there is a serious hash mafia, which makes trouble for suspecting and unsuspecting dopers, as well as trekkers like me. This is another reason that I have not decided to head for the high country, although the town itself is high and Old Manali where I'm staying is perched on a small hilloc in a manner reminiscent of some of the ski towns in America I have known.

So, I've been chasing trout without much success. Two fish knocking my beaded nymph, and one chasing a royal wulff into the air was all the action I saw. The Beas is running high with snowmelt, and the tribs are all running pools and falls down steep hillsides, so it was tricky water to manage. I couldn't tell exactly where the trout were holding, and the main channel was stained the color of light milk chai by the time I called it quits.

There's one more spot to try for, likely the day after tomorrow, when I will begin to wend my way home to C. She has picked up another grant, so it looks like we've got a few more months to mop up here within the next year. This is great news in many ways, and my mind is spinning with the adventures I'll have in the future. But life in India, where so much happens in one day, even a day of chilling at the inn, forces me to keep in the Now.

Given that the present options include stepping into a river, smelling the pine breeze, and staring at the nearby glaciers, I'm not complaining. Not until I get back on the road at least. And if I happen to catch a fish, you'll read it here first.