One last chance to spot the elusive tiger?, by Philip Game

We step off the highway into the silent forest, following a foot track down into the valley of the Ramganga.

Tiger’s pug or pawprint indicates the age and health of the animal

Tiger’s pug or pawprint indicates the age and health of the animal

We glimpse a lone sambar deer, more timid than the chital; the canine bark of the barking deer reaches us from a bend ahead. Porcupines and wild boar have dug up the ground in many places. Tiger scat, examined by expert eyes, reveals fur and crushed bones from its last kill: that is as close as I’ll come to a face-to-face encounter with the king of the forests. Tiger hunting has long since ceased, but the ‘king of Indian sport fish’ still draws anglers from around the world. Esteemed by pukka sahib sportsmen since the nineteenth century, the yellowfin or golden mahseer remains abundant here; catches are released.

At a once-abandoned hamlet on the river flat, ecologist Sumantha Ghosh, in partnership with local communities has established Vanghat River Lodge, a wilderness and fishing lodge just outside the reserve.

Vanghat trains and employs young villagers as housekeeping staff and gillies. Poaching and dynamite fishing have virtually ceased, and catch sizes are rising noticeably. The hamlets and their garden beds are shielded by solar-powered electric fencing, for protection from predatory leopards, browsing elephants – and the occasional tiger.

Vanghat’s stone and mud-brick cottages have been fitted with comfortable beds and ensuite bathrooms: far more welcoming than India’s scruffy government resthouses. Drinks are offered around the campfire before dinner materialises.

Barry Abbott, a retired Briton who has fished all over the world, declares himself well pleased with his first day’s tally: a 15lb mahseer, with a 25-pounder slipping off the hook. My own catch is considerably less impressive, but the intangible rewards include a glimpse of two very large otters slithering across the river-worn pebbles.

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