Dear India, won't you let Nala visit?

Updated: Nov 17, 2019, 07:28 IST | Prutha Bhosle | Mumbai

Scottish biker Dean Nicholson was on a solo trip until he met a cat. And now they want to come here. But there's a hiccup

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In September 2018, Dunbar-born Dean Nicholson quit his day job as a welder to cycle around the world. About three months into his odyssey, he discovered a furry sidekick who refused to let go of his side. "In Bosnia, I was cycling up to the border point that crossed into Montenegro when I heard meowing from behind me," the 31-year-old recalls. "I stopped to check and there she was chasing me up the hill desperately trying to get my attention." Before he knew it, the kitten was with him on his bike.

"Originally, I planned to get her to the vet and then find her a forever home. But when she climbed out of the basket, fastened to my bike handle, and up onto my neck and fell asleep while I was cycling, I knew I couldn't let her go."

Nicholson named her Nala. "I love The Lion King. If she was a boy, she'd probably be called Simba. But Nala [Simba's queen in the Disney franchise], is cute nonetheless," he jokes.

So far, Nicholson has travelled through Scotland, England, Holland, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Italy, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Nala has been his companion through a large part. "When I started biking last year, I simply wanted to explore the world. But now, I also use my journey to spread awareness for stray animals. This [leaving his job to explore the world and taking up the cause of stray animals] has been the best decision I've made."

Obviously, Nicholson counts Nala as the best travel buddy he's had. "She sleeps about 18 hours a day, and when she wakes up, she sits in the basket watching the world go by, sniffing the air." Sometimes, though, the journey gets challenging, especially with an animal in tow. "It gets difficult when you are wet or cold, but it is a part of the adventure. Nala has a box on the front of my bike, which is sheltered from the rain and cold, so she is good."

However, their adventure has hit a roadblock. The paperwork for Nala's entry into India remains a concern. "I've always been fascinated with India, its culture and, of course, the cuisine," he says over email even as he struggles to get through his paperwork at the Indian Embassy in Turkey. It helped, though, that he has a large Indian following on social media that began rooting for the two on Twitter and Instagram. Several appeals have gone to the Ministry of External Affairs and it seems like things may be looking up.

NalaCanadian illustrator-artist Kelly Ulrich has made a few sketches of Dean and Nala, after her husband told her about their incredible journey on Instagram. Ulrich says, "Nala is remarkably calm at being touted about in all sorts of vehicles, bags, etc. Nothing seems to upset her. She is, thankfully, not a nervous cat. Dean has her best interests at heart."

After about a week of trying, Nicholson who is currently in Ankara, Turkey, has received a letter of recommendation from animal welfare activist Ravi Dubey, who runs People for Animals Trust in Faridabad. "It is easy for me to enter India, but I needed help to bring Nala here too. There is a lot of contradiction online, with respect to bringing pets to India. But it seems that we may be able to arrive in India after all," he says.

When contacted, Dubey says, "We found out about the problem he was facing with respect to Nala's entry to India. So, we dropped him a text on Instagram to understand the situation better." Dubey found out that Nicholson was fed wrong information on animal immigration. "He was told that cats, if found unfit at the airport, are euthanised in India. We told him nothing of that sort would happen and sent him an invitation letter to help him get through all the paperwork."

Things are looking good now, as Dubey says, their efforts will soon bear fruit. "Nala has a fitness certificate, so she is good to travel to India. But at the time of arrival, the customs officials will still ask their vet to run a routine health check on her," he adds.

If all goes well, the two will fly down from Istanbul to Mumbai in December and will be travelling throughout the country for about a year. Given the support he has received so far, it's safe to say the two will find themselves at home.

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