How it was introduced in Bhutan
“One thing that I noticed is that the Ha trout don’t fight as well as they do in Kashmir.” Frank Ludlowi (1885-1972), the English naturalist, made this entry in his diary when fishing in the Haa river in 1949. “Perhaps they are too fat.”
The brown trout (Salmo trutta fario) is not native to Bhutan. Gongzim Sonam Tobgye Dorji (1896-1953) introduced them in 1941.
Gongzim imported 20,000 fertilized ova from the Harwan Hatchery in Kashmir, which was transported by motorcar over 2,187 km to Kalimpong. From there Bhutanese porters carried the buckets of the eyed eggs over the Nathula Pass (4,310 m) via the Chumbi valley (2,895 m) to the hatchery in the Haa valley (2712m).
The porters used a relay system similar to the one used by Genghis Khan’s messengers called Yam. This ensured the load was constantly on the move and delivered at the earliest without tiring the runners.
In 1939-40, the Gongzim sent Tsudup to Kashmir to study trout breeding and building hatcheries.
The brown trout is a European species of the salmonid. In 1904-05, eggs of the pure fresh water fish were imported from Scotland, bred in hatcheries and successfully introduced into the rivers of Kashmir.
Ichthyologists, (people who study fish), established that the environment and the physicochemical parameters of Kashmir’s snow-fed streams were suitable for this species of cold-water fish.
The conditions in Haa valley are similar to that of Kashmir so, Bhutan’s first ichthyologist, Tsudup, spent three months in the hatcheries in Kashmir before returning to Haa to set up the country’s first hatcheryii.
In addition to Ludlow’s diary iii, there are two other documents, in the British Library that reel in the tale of the brown trout.
The first document was written in 1944iv. It was from Gonzim’s wife, Mayum Chuni Wangmo Dorji (1897-1994) to Irma, the wife of Lieut. Col FM Bailey (1882-1967). The same year, Gongzim wrote the second letter v to the Colonel, (British Intelligence Officer).
Mayum’s letter says, “Col Baileyvi will be interested to hear that Tobgye introduced brown trout at Ha three years ago.”
From Gongzim’s letter it emerges that Sir Basil Gouldvii, (1833-1956) provided assistance to the project. Gould was the British Political Officer in Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet from 1935-1945.
The letters have details of the hatchery in the Haa valley and the first two attempts of breeding, which happened in 1943 and 1944. In the first attempt, one fish was stripped and 200 eggs found. The second attempt took place a year later and was an even bigger success than the first.
The project had its setbacks but by 1944 the eggs brought from Kashmir had hatched and 100 of them ranging from 2-5 lbs in size were kept in the hatchery for further breeding.
In the beginning of 1944, a brown trout was caught from the river. According to Gongzim’s letter, the fish weighed, “10 lbs and was 2 feet in length,” It was released back into the river.
Gongzim also stocked three glacial lakes above the Haa valley. We have also put fish into the Hala & Kyula lakes about 3 years ago”viii .
By then the fish in the rivers were much larger than the ones in the hatchery but he used the fish from the hatchery to stock the two lakes.
Gongzim was curious about this experiment and kept sending men to the lakes at regular intervals to see the progress. The good news came in the autumn of 1944 when the Gongzim and his men managed to sight a couple of the fish in the Hala Lake on two occasions. The same could not be said for other lake where they just managed to see several rise but did not actually see them.
Gongzim’s letter, reports that the fish in the Hala Lake had not grown as much as the ones in Haa river. They measured about only 1-2 lbs. But judging from the big splashes the fishes made at the Kyula Lake; Gongzim believed that the ones in these lakes were much bigger. “They should be bigger as the Kyual Lake is bigger than the lake at (near) Hala & there is also more food in it.”
The third lake that was stocked with the brown trout fingerlings was the Bidang Lake at Kupup in 1943.
In 1949, Frank Ludlow fished for brown trout in the rivers of Haa. His diary says the river of Haa were well stocked and gives credit to Tsudup, “it is entirely due to him the Ha river has now probably the finest trout fishing anywhere in India”.
At the time of his visit, the hatchery had about 20 fish of 3-6 lbs and a number of smaller ones.
Ludlow was seasoned fisherman and declared, “I cannot imagine better fishing anywhere.” He said people would gladly pay Rs 500/- a month to fish in Bhutan and would be a commercial success but knew that the Gongzim would not entertain such an idea.
The botanist also confirms the brown trout in the Kyula Lake. He saw one or two good sized fish rise in it and noted that the little lake appeared to better stocked and found the fish in the lake in better condition and specially made note of its dark color.
In Damthang, Haa Ludlow caught a two pounder and found numerous fish all in splendid condition. “They are, I think, the most golden and handsome trout I have ever set my eyes upon & there is no doubt that the abundance of food accounts for them.”
On April 24th, 1949, Ludlow discovered trout in Chunzom, the Paro, Thimphu river confluence and in 1945-46 found the trout had already been introduced in the Pachhu. By the end of 1949, the brown trout had established itself in the waters in Western Bhutan.
Contributed by Tshering Tashi
i. He was stationed in the British mission at Lhasa and and in 1927 retired to Srinagar, Kashmir.
ii. MSS.Eur.D.979/2, India Office Library, British Library, Ludlow’s, Papers, Diary, Bhutan 1949, 132 Pages, Handwritten.
iii. MSS.Eur.D.979/2, India Office Library, British Library, Ludlow’s, Papers, Diary, Bhutan 1949, 132 Pages, Handwritten.
iv. Dated 9.8.44, addressed to Irma, Written from Bhutan House, Kalimpong, N.Bengal, India. Archived in the India Office Library of British Library, London.
v. Dated, 23.9.44, addressed to Col Bailey. Written from Kalimpong. Archived in the India Office Library of British Library, London.
vi. The Bailey’s were close friend of the Dorji’s.
vii. British Political Officer
viii. Gongzim’s Letter