Wednesday, February 24, 2021

All About Fishing: Part III of III

In my last and final 3-parts blog on fishing, I would like to present my rods, reels and lures that I have used over the years. Some of them have been with me from the start of my fishing journey – testimony that if you pay good money, your purchases will last you a lifetime. I am also happy to say that other than a number of lures, I have never lost a reel, or broken a rod.

I own 9 rod sets – all made of carbon fiber blanks and designed for the bait casting form of fishing. Of the nine, 3 are single piece: 2 for Mahseer and one for Trout. Single piece rods are stronger but cumbersome to carry. But these rods can reel in Mahseer of upto 70 KGs – and trout of up to 12 KGs - not that there are any fish in that weight class surviving in the wild.

A Classic 2-pieces rod set from Abu Garcia of Sweden

Custom crafted for me - one piece Mahseer Rod with blanks by Tamer of USA

Real brute of a rod - single piece rod by Shimano of Japan

Single piece trout rod custom crafted for me in 1994

I have 2 rods that are of 2-pieces construction. They both come with pistol-grip handles. One is a classic by Abu Garcia of Sweden. The other is a custom crafted rod specially built for me in Singapore. The blanks are by G-Loomis of USA.

Two pieces classic rod set by Abu Garcia of Sweden

Custom crafted for me in Singapore - two pieces rod set with reel seat made of wood

I have one rod set that comprises of 3 pieces – the blanks are by SAGE of USA and is also a part of a family of rods that is very special to me.

Three pieces rod set custom crafted for me by a rod builder in Singapore - blanks are by SAGE of USA

I have another 2-pieces rod set constructed by Shimano of Japan which I bought in 1986 and forms a part of the family of rods that I hold dear.

Original rod set made by Shimano of Japan - my first and most loved rod set

Two pieces rod set custom crafted for me - with blanks by G-Loomis of USA

The most valuable and precious rod set I have is a pretty unique one. It is crafted by Shimano of Japan and I am told it is the only rod model in the whole world for which a special issue of reels were built to pair with it. I know a rod builder in Singapore who has that particular reel for this rod. When he saw that I had the rod, he was ecstatic and wanted to buy it off me – because he said he had the reel built for the rod. I said, I have a better idea - let us do it the other way round – let me buy that reel off you. He said NO. And I wasn’t willing to sell mine to him – so we had no deal.

During a fishing trip some 20 years back, one friend slammed the car door on this rod’s tip and smashed it out of service. I was heart broken because I loved the rod – its medium action, its length, its aluminum reel seat with rubber pistol grip. I could not imagine giving up the rod. Thus I made a trip to Singapore – with an endeavor to do something with the damaged rod and make it even more meaningful. I hunted for a rod builder with special skills and tooling - to build me rods that would adapt to the aluminum rod handle. I located one – he knew exactly what I wanted. He machined aluminum parts on a special lathe machine – that enabled two different rod blanks to be slotted into the aluminum rod handle. Thus I turned a defunct rod into a family of 3 rods sharing the same rod handle. An example of how to turn a disaster into something even more meaningful. The following is the special rod set of three rods using one common rod handle.

My Most special collection - three rod sets that fit into one unique aluminum rod handle and reel seat

As I said earlier, I am into bait casting form of fishing. I have 8 multiplier reels: 4 for the mighty Mahseer and 4 for trout. The black one by Abu Garcia called Ambassadeur F-I-V-E is my first and thus the oldest reel I own.

My collection of multiplier reels

Initially I started off my fishing journey with metal spinner baits. Over time I graduated to plug baits. They attract bigger fish and are more effective and makes for better casting. Some of these plugs are made of plastic and some are made of Balsa wood which tend to be more expensive.

A small selection of my collection of Plugs

It is important to protect what you have. I have a number of rod cases that protect my rods during transportation and on fishing trips.

A variety of sturdy rod cases by Plano of USA that fit all

My biggest Mahseer catch weighed in at 27 KGs. My biggest brown trout was caught at Zomlingthang, Punakha. It weighed an impressive 7 KGs.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

All About Fishing: Part – II of III

A successful fisherman is by design and not by accident. As everything else in life, to succeed in fishing one needs to work hard – at fact gathering about suitable equipment, feeding habits of the fish, vegetation types, seasonal food available to the fish during a given season and, above all, their preferred hiding places. It is surprising that the same fish species will not feed on the same type of food in different locations. I have also discovered that they do not live and hide in the same type of cover and vegetation. Their habits seem to vary depending upon different vegetation and perhaps level of oxygen and altitude.

In some locations the fish hide under overhangs, around river-weeds - in others they live and prey around rocks and boulders. Some take the bait in the middle of the river – others at the far end of the riverbank. Unfortunately all these are something you cannot always be prepared for – you will have to learn as you fish the rivers. However, what you can be prepared for all the time is a selection of a set of tackles that will consistently deliver under all situations.

Fishing Line

There is no point in hooking a lot of fish if you cannot land them. Thus a strong and dependable fishing line is important. You have to be able to reel-in the fish you hook and not lose it to a snapped line. There are really only three choices available to us, when it comes to casting fishing lines:

1.  Monofilament

2.  Multi Braid

3.  Fluorocarbon

Mono lines have been there for a long time. The multi braid or braided lines came much later. I use the multi braid because they are stronger; have no memory and are stiff as hell – so hook setting is faster because of lack of elasticity. Because of their superior dia-to-strength ratio, one can load more lines into a reel providing you with longer distance run – if you have to run with the fish so that you do not end up running out of line. Mono on the other hand is thicker in diameter, retains memory and tends to kink easily.

I have not used the fluorocarbon lines.

Three of the primary line types

Lures & Baits

While the rod, reel, line and quality of trebles all matter to a great degree for a successful fishing trip, I have learnt that the bait or the lure is the one that attracts the fish to take the bite. Thus the selection of the bait is crucial. Obviously, your choice of baits will depend on the type of fish you are after. But in Bhutan there are only two fish types that we can look forward to hooking – the mighty Mahseer and the introduced Brown Trout. These two fish are at the opposite end of the scale – one is big game and the other is small game.

The following are the bait types that are available for our kind of fish.


Spinners are handy for small fish – like the trout. My favorite spinners are the following. But I no longer use spinners since I find that the plugs yield better and bigger results – small time fish is not my game.

The wobbler called the Tasmanian Devil is an ugly looking bait from Australia - but a very successful bugger. Some Bhutanese anglers never use anything but this strange looking and behaving piece of plastic.

Plugs for small game

The following are my favorite for Brown Trout:

My choice of plugs for trout

Plugs for big game:

My favorite plugs for the monster Mahseer are the following. They have been very productive for me – I have landed a 27 KGs Mahseer with the Abu Garcia “Hi-Lo” – at a place called Sheytey Kharey in Kalikhola.

My favorite lures for the big fellows

I carry more than 2 dozen lures on a fishing trip – but most often I end up using only two of the baits – Rapala’s "Count down Minnow" and Abu Garcia’s "Hi Lo" for Mahseer. For Trout – the same – I end up using the “Fat Rap” and “Count Down” every time – both by Rapala of Finland.


I have noticed that the original treble hooks that come with the plugs/spinners/wobblers are not so durable or strong enough. Particularly for our river types where the flow is swift and strong, we need stronger treble hooks that do not flatten out or are brittle and break with the force of the fish’s tug and pull. Thus, I order special treble hooks by Mustad – called the "Short-Shank" – and replace the original trebles with these much stronger and shorter hooks.

Friday, February 19, 2021

All About Fishing: Part - I of III

In the mid 1980’s I was absolutely fanatical about fishing – even more than photography. I was so keen on it that I never attended office after lunch – afternoon was reserved for fishing – every day, all year round. In order that I could go fishing, my day would start at 4AM in the morning. By lunchtime I would end my day’s work. Without fail I would then head for the riverbanks – for fishing.

Some of the friends from those days remember my romance with fishing --- so they have been asking me to show them my gear. Thus, instead of bothering them to come over to my home – I decided to show them here – so that other readers may get to see my collection of fishing gear – that is second to none.

Before I get to my gear list, I believe that it is important for readers to understand a little about what fishing is all about.

The Fundamental Differences

There are few dozen ways in which to do fishing – but in game fishing the three most popular are: spinning, bait casting and fly-fishing. Fly-fishing is a truly graceful form of fishing – some contend that it is for the nose-in-the-air types – but not very productive. For sheer productivity, it has been my experience that bait casting is the true jawbreaker – so bait-casting form of fishing is my choice.

But it is not easy to master bait casting – in fact it is difficult – that is why most shun it. Spin casting is lot easier by comparison. It is my belief that there are less than 10 people in whole of Bhutan who have mastered the art of bait casting form of fishing.

Different Types Of Fishing Reels

While the spinning reel is fixed to the under part of the rod handle, the bait casting reel is mounted on top of the rod handle. Thus, given the manner in which the rods are constructed to suite the choice of reel, the rod's "spine" or "backbone" is on the opposing sides of the rod blank.

Types of Rods & Reels

How the spinning/casting reels are mounted on the fishing rod handle

Bait casting and spin casting employ two completely opposing ways in which they deliver the bait. In the case of the spinning reel, it is the weight of the bait that pulls the fishing line out of the reel’s line spool, as it travels through the air. The reel’s line spool remains static – it does not spin. Thus the moment the bait stops traveling through the air or lands on the water, the line’s motion stops. Thus there is very little chance of a bird’s nest being formed on the reel.

The bait casting reel on the other hand works completely differently. In this case, it is the reel’s line spool that spins and throws out the line as the bait shoots through the air, upon casting. Thus, even if there is the slightest of mismatch between the speed at which the bait travels through the air, and the timing of your release of the line and angle of the rod that will control the line flow, you are in for a serious case of bird’s nest. Also, unlike in the case of the spinning reel, in the case of the bait casting reel, the spinning of the reel’s line spool does not stop even when the bait has stopped traveling – thereby causing a huge bird’s nest.

Tangled line – called a Bird’s Nest

Being able to master the precision and timing takes months – thus not many are tempted to take up bait casting form of fishing. But if you have the tenacity and patience to master the art, you will be rewarded with a number of advantages (too numerous to list here) over the spinning reel.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

My Jaunts Into The Alpine Regions of Bhutan

I am happy in the knowledge that I must be among the very few lucky Bhutanese to have had the opportunity to visit almost every alpine regions of the country. Ofcourse it is not entirely true that luck had everything to do with it – it had to do mostly with determination, a strong will to achieve, faith in my own capabilities, a good measure of dare-devilry and infinite inclination towards recklessness. And, ofcourse, good health with strong lungpower. If you notice, most of my photographs are acquired in the thick of winter – at altitudes close to or in excess of 5,000 Mtrs.

As I get time and the inclination, I will show you some really awesome sceneries from all across the country – but the prospect of having to sift through tens of thousand of photographs is sooooo defeating.

I have climbed half way up the mighty Gangkhar Puensoom in north central Bhutan, including three-fourth of Masagung past Laya village when my Bjop horseman stuck his head into a hole in the ground and requested to be excused because he could not stand the chill. I plodded atop Singye Dzong’s ridge named Gosoong above Terdalhatso, which rises up over 6,000 Mtrs. – and got lost in the thick downpour of snow, for over 14 hours. That was the time when I was taught an important life lesson – by a world class high altitude marathoner - that in the thick of the dark, do not light up – but train your eyes to get accustomed to the darkness around you.

I camped over a week atop a mountain in Laya – to try and photograph the mighty Gungchen Taag – I never got the image I wanted and finally had to give up after a sudden snow blizzard destroyed my support team’s camp. Not one to give up, I persisted and finally got my image of the Gungchen Taag – not from any high frigid peaks – but from balmy Wangduephodrang.

Recently I got way-laid by a reader of my blog who is a historian of Bhutan’s postage stamps. We got into a dispute over the veracity of some of the written accounts surrounding our postal runners that delivered mail to Bhutan House, Kalimpong over the Nathu-La Pass. My stand was that there would not have been any need for every one of our postal runners of the yore – to go into Yatung in Tibet and that there should have existed a route that would bypass Yatung – such as Chumbithang which is clearly mentioned in the account rendered by Nari Rustomji when he makes the return journey over Nathu-La Pass into Gangtok, Sikkim, accompanied by the late Haa Drunmgp Jigme Palden Dorji, in 1955 after attending the marriage of Dasho Rimp to Her Royal Highness Ashi Choeki Wangmo Wangchuck.

In an effort to see if I could get some clues, I dug up my photos that I took during my trek up to Chudu Gung/Gonzola/Sinchuloompa/Nob Tshonapatta areas that share border with Chumbithang, which is located within the disputed areas known as Doklam Plateau, to the north of Haa. The following are some of the photographs I took during my trip there in December of 2011:

Approaching Chundu Gung and Gonzo-La Pass. During this trip, I had 8 pack ponies, 2 camp assistants 2 RBA personnel and 2 horsemen

Chundu Gung the abode of Haa's Protecting Deity Aap Chunduin the evening sun

Gonzo-La Pass with Chundu Gung in the background - as seen from my campsite at Gonzo-La

My campsite at Gonzola: Note the starkness of the vegetation. The tent to the left houses my kitchen and 2-persons support team. My Cabela's Extreme Weather Tent is in the centre. The tent on the right houses the 2 RBA johnnies who kept watch over me for the entire duration of the trek - lest I stray into Chinese territory

Blue Sheep grazing on the ridges and mountain sides of Gonzo-La

Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris) captured at Sinchuloompa

Robin Accentor (Prunella rubeculoides) captured at Sinchuloompa

View from Gonzo-La - road/mule track leading from Bhutan to Yatung in Tibet over the ridge into Chumbithang

Location of Mt. Kanchunjanga in relation to Nathu-La Pass

Mule tracks into Chumbithang over the ridge from Bhutan border

Nathu-La Pass as seen from Nobtshonapatta

Full moon setting over Mt. Kanchanjunga as seen from my campsite at Nobtshonapatta

White Poppy (Meconopsis superb) Bhutan's rarest flower endemic to Nobtshonapatta of Haa. The flower was supposedly discovered by a Japanese botanist, a fact that is in dispute. I saw the photograph of this flower for the first time in the dinning hall of Rigsum Resort, Haa - that resulted in my trip to Nobtshonapatta in June of the same year - not the same trip that I made to Chundu Gung - which happened the same year - but in December of 2011

My camp site at Nobtshonapatta during day - warm and sparkling

The temperature in the night drops so low that my tent crumples up and slackens, caused by the extreme temperature. The clump of grass in front of my tent is laden with ice and frost

I want to go back to Nobtshonapatta so that I could take the picture of the moon as it sets over the summit of Mt. Kanchunjanga. Sadly, my Haap horseman refuses to oblige me - he says that the lives of his mules would be in danger - because during the times I want to go the mule tracks would be caked with ice and the mules would slip over them and fall into the ravines.

By the way I have also trekked to Chundu Lhatsho - and photographed the sacred lake that is credited as the heart of Aap Chundu. But I am not posting the image - in difference to the reverence in which the lake is held by the Haaps. To date I have never released the photographs.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Bhutan: A success story?

For the past many years, on every National Day Celebration address since his taking the reigns of the country, His Majesty the King has been encouraging and goading the Bhutanese people, his subjects, to work harder, perform better and bring change in the way we do things. Seeing no change, His Majesty finally decided that enough had been spoken – he decided to deliver his wishes in writing – in the form of two Kashos, during the last National Day. It was painful - to me that was an indication that Bhutanese as a society was irredeemable.

Only a few days back, I was telling two friends at the MyMart – that Bhutan has no dearth of people with smart brains. Unfortunately, we have precious few people with any minds. We have people with brilliant brains working on our many committees – but they produce work that can only be the products of people with swathed minds. And yet, the following article authored by a friend that was published in the influential "The Atlantic", could be an indication that not everything may be lost for us:

Obviously there is still chance for the Bhutanese race – that is if we survive. A Bhutanese friend worries as follows:

I have run a statistical model based on the current fertility rate. Population will decline at 1.5% per year. This is not even considering out migration and cross marriage. In 20 years the rate will fall below 1.5 and it is no longer reversible. So it becomes a road roller without brakes. And unlike other existential problems we faced before, nothing can save us. Singapore is in that road roller situation – fighting a loosing war. But Singapore has suggested that they could import Chinese from China, if need be. Bhutan has no such possibility.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Hand Washing Stations for Thimphu City

The Rotary Club of Thimphu is yet again at it - endeavoring to provide protection and safeguards to the Bhutanese people - against the dreaded COVID-19 virus. On two occasions, the RGoB had declined to accept our offer to do fund raising for purchase of vaccines. Undeterred, the Rotary Club of Thimphu ventured into other areas where we know help is needed.

Yesterday we handed over 83 imported Hand Washing Stations to Thimphu Thromde. The Thromde will install these hands-free stations at locations of mass congregation, community centers, schools, hospitals, parks etc.

The Club President hands over the Hand Washing Stations to Thimphu City's alpha Chaangphagla

We are aware that one of the best safeguards against infection by the virus is hand-washing at regular intervals. Thus, we are working on supply and delivery of additional close to 100 more units. With about 200 units spread across the city, it is our hope that the country's largest city will be adequately protected from the virus.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Shut Down Punatsangchhu-I

The massive flooding and destruction of two hydropower projects in India’s Uttarakhand state caused by breaking of the glacier upstream yesterday, should serve as a reminder to the governments of Bhutan and India to act without further delay – and order the shutting down of the perilous Punatsangchhu-I Project. To remain adamant despite more than a decade of proven failure – the two governments are being irresponsible and negligent to the citizens of Bhutan and India. When disaster strikes, it will be too late and no amount of saying sorry will mend and repair the lives and properties that will be devastated.

Uttarakhand Glacier Burst yesterday that destroyed 2 hydropower project dams.
Image Credit:

The project’s cost overrun is in excess of three fold its initial projection. The project completion date has been shifted many times and yet the project is not even half done - it is unlikely to be ever done.

If the danger of GLOF were not real enough, the project sits bang in the middle of a seismically active zone.

Seismic Hazard Map of Bhutan

One report on the Punatsangchhu-I project states as follows:

An incomplete understanding of the nature and extent of the real problem, during planning, design, excavation and construction phases has led to costly delays and the potential future amplification of an existing natural hazard.

The spatial coverage of the measurements also highlights that the instability is not only affecting the area immediately around a large failure which occurred in 2013, but it covers a much larger area of about 8 km2 in total.

To date, I have written 65 blogs on why our hydropower projects are done all wrong. Every year since 19th of February 2015 I have been calling for the shutting down of the PHEP-I. It is impossible to best nature - humanity has always come off worst – when we ignored nature’s warnings.

I have offered every conceivable reason why we must be extremely cautious when contemplating doing hydropower projects:

I have already stated years back that India is already more than self-sufficient in electricity – that it is a myth that they need our electricity to supplement their requirement. As I had pointed out quite accurately 2 years back, India has now declared that they are going the solar route – leaving us clutching our failed hydropower projects:

Once again the Sankosh Project is rearing its head. I hope that this time the Bhutanese are better educated on the issue. I am glad that Khollongchhu Project is stalled – for the sake of the country’s future I hope that project is also scrapped for good.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Bhutan’s own modern day Frank Ludlow

On 16th February, 2012 the Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail (Bhutanitis ludlowi) was adopted as our National Butterfly. This beautiful butterfly was first discovered in 1933 by the famous British botanist Frank Ludlow. Then for over seven decades it was believed to have gone extinct.

Frank Ludlow with George Sherriff and others

Seventy-seven years later, this extremely rare and endemic butterfly was rediscovered on 28th August, 2009, by a Bhutanese forester who was than working with the Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary. After two attempts, a kinsman Khengpa from Zurphey village in Kheng Zhemgang by the name of Karma Wangdi sighted and took a specimen of the butterfly from Tobrang areas in Trashiyangtse, Eastern Bhutan.

Modern day Frank Ludlow - Karma Wangdi who rediscovered the butterfly in Tobrang, Trashiyangtse in 2009

The following image of the butterfly was shot by me at Tobrang, Trashiyangtsi at 9.30AM on 12th August, 2011 at an altitude of 2,281 Mtrs. The butterfly is seen feeding on a white flowering plant called Viburnum cylindricum.

The beautiful Ludlow's Bhutan Swallowtail

I tried to dissuade the government from naming the butterfly as our National Butterfly because I argued that the butterfly is so rare and that its habitat and range was so restricted, that if there were to be a natural disaster in its only known habitat – Tobrang, we would be left with an extinct National Butterfly. But Lyonpo Dr. Pema Gyamtsho said that there is nothing that can be done – since the announcement had already been made.

PS: A mounted specimen of the butterfly is said to have been presented to the Emperor of Japan, by His Majesty the King.