There is a special kind of calmness that comes with sitting by a Himalayan river. The bank is often littered with pebbles, smooth and warm in the sunshine; the water is icy-cold and invigorating, and the sound of the river — nature’s white noise — has the capacity to drown even the most niggling thoughts. In these moments, it is evident why so many spiritual traditions ascribe sacred value to rivers: They are the lifelines of our planet, bringers of freshwater, breeders of life, and reminders of the ever-changing and wonderful impermanence of life.
Rivers are crucial to the harmonious running of Earth’s ecosystem, and yet, there are relatively few studies on freshwater ecosystems in India and around the world. As a result, freshwater species (of fish in particular) do not receive much attention, even though India’s staggering riverine systems are brimming with biodiversity.
Among the many species that inhabit the country’s rivers, is the mahseer, a member of the carp family known for its agility and large size. India has about 19 species of mahseer — belonging to the Naziritor, Neolissocheilus, and Tor genera. Different mahseer are found across the country, from Himalayan streams to rivers in the Deccan Plateau, though taxonomical studies are still incomplete, and there are species yet to be classified. Of the ones we know, the golden mahseer (Tor putitora) is the largest, with records of fish measuring 3 m and 54 kilos! It is sometimes called the “tiger of the water”, for its vigour, golden colour, and athletic abilities.
Though golden mahseers are found in rivers and streams from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in Iraq to waterbodies in Southeast Asia, “the Indian Himalayan rivers are thought to be the real distribution,” says Dr Vidyadhar Atkore, Senior Coordinator of WWF India, who has spent many years studying the species and its habitat. The golden mahseer is found in Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and the northeastern states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim, Tripura, and Manipur. These photos were taken in the Ramganga river, which originates in the Dudhatoli hills of Uttarakhand state, flows through Corbett National Park, and onward to Uttar Pradesh.