Holiday Postmortem | Hari Singh
What kind of holidays do you like doing as a family?
Anything outdoors-oriented. Fortunately for me, the kids like such holidays too. I remember, my daughter Azmat was just one when we went on a rafting holiday to Rishikesh. Since then, we have involved them in every kind of activity, from paragliding in Kathmandu to bungee jumping in New Zealand. My wife Simran enjoys these holidays, too, though they are not on the top of her list. Both for her sake and that of the kids’, we like to travel with friends who have children in a similar age group. That way, we adults get some time to ourselves, too.
For a five-time Indian national rally champ, isn’t fishing a bit out of character?
Setsail: (left to right) Hari, Kewal, Gagan and Kirti on the boat to Ransar island; (below) Azmat and Mivaan with the dogs at Pong. (Photograph by Hari Singh)
Not really. If rallying is an extreme sport, I suppose angling is a calming pastime, just like meditation and yoga. Because angling isn’t just about sitting quietly on the banks of a river or a lake, waiting for a fish to bite. It’s also about visiting out of the way places in the interiors—places off the regular tourist track—bonding with nature, sitting back and unwinding. In the end, it doesn’t matter how many fish we catch, or if we catch any at all. A good lunch, a beer in the afternoon, watching the kids enjoy themselves are as important to me as the actual angling.
Does a break like last October’s call for a lot of planning?
Well, my wife always complains that she has to get everything together in half an hour! But that’s not always the case—if we have to book ahead, get friends together, etc.—a week is usually enough. I like to be as comfortable as can be, so good food and drinks are a must. I carry a portable barbecue with chicken, mutton and pork, all marinated at home.
What about the kids? Does it take a lot of doing, enthusing them about a trip like this?
Not at all—in fact, the kids love camping so much they occasionally sleep in tents on the lawns of our Chandigarh home! We’ve never thought or told them that they are too young to do something so, by now, they are complete naturals in the outdoors. They’re very sure-footed, excellent swimmers and pretty good at fishing, too. Our two Labradors, too, are enthusiastic companions on these trips.
I guess you travelled by road to the Pong dam.
That’s right. It ended with a half-hour motorboat journey ahead of us, since Ransar is some distance away from the water sports centre on the lake, where you get the fishing permits, etc. There are some anglers’ huts—basic rooms with basic facilities—on the banks and there’s a forest department rest house, too, on Ransar. But these are all very basic facilities, with no electricity and no running water. We prefer to set up camp ourselves, so we lugged along all kinds of gear—from stove and barbecue to tents and sleeping bags. And, of course, our Man Friday, Trilok Singh, who takes care of all the nitty-gritty.
The entire Pong dam lake is nestled in the lap of the mighty Dhauladhars. The views—the massive expanse of water and then the snow-clad mountain range rising above them—are awesome. In the evening, we set up a big bonfire and barbecue meats, roast jacket potatoes and toast marshmallows. We were the only people on the island.
And how’s the actual fishing?
Oh, well, it’s all about patience—sometimes you catch a fish and sometimes you don’t. The Pong waters are known for the mahseer, and that’s what we were fishing for. One can cast from the banks for it or wade into the water, but still-water fishing isn’t as exciting as freshwater fishing. We also went out in the local fishermen’s boats—that’s usually the best bet, too, as they know exactly where the fish hang out. The mahseer is the best freshwater sport fish in the world; landing one can get you addicted to angling. But since we were fishing only to eat, we were happy with the two we landed: two fellas, weighing 1.5kg each. We like to deep-fry the fish—it’s very bony and the scales are hard to remove, but it’s very tasty. And, of course, the fact that it’s so fresh makes a world of difference.
Pong is also rich in biodiversity. Are you or the kids enthusiastic about nature and conservation?
Oh, yes! A lot of migratory birds visit the Pong dam during the winter months. But, I’m not an avid bird-watcher, nor do I claim to know all about flora and fauna. For me, conservation is more about ensuring I leave behind a place as I found it: no plastic, no waste. That is what I hope the kids will learn, too. As for names of birds, I think if they’re interested, they will have ample opportunity to pick these things up for themselves.
Are the kids into active angling themselves?
They just love being near water. They have no time to get bored—both of them enjoy fishing and do their bit to add to the pot for dinner. They have their own rods and reels—my old gear—which are slightly small for me but okay for them to use. They spend the day skipping across the flat stones in the water, sending the dogs into the water to retrieve sticks, and they are dead tired by the evening.
The kids, in fact, are the main reason why we mostly like our holidays to be outdoorsy. I did some great trips with my father—mostly hunting, in the days before it was banned—and I think these trips allow me to create memories for my kids that not many parents can give their children in these days of hotels and organized tours.
Champion rallyist and JK Tyres’ manager, motorsport, and head, product evaluation, Hari Singh, 41, believes in frequent holidays with his family and friends. Last October, he made a camping getaway to Ransar, an island in the Pong dam lake, with father Teddy Singh, 71, wife Simran, kids Azmat, 11, and Mivaan, 6, and two other families. The sole focus: fishing for supper
Pong dam is about 200km from Chandigarh, via Ropar, Nangal, Una, Amb, Mubarakpur and Talwara. On a good day, it takes four hours by road.
As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at email@example.com