Mumbai: Interracial couple travelling across country with 3 dogs and baby
From Goa to Uttaranchal, a journalist and her husband are exploring the country by train with three dogs and a baby. Here's how
Journalist Divya Dugar and her family invariably turn heads when they travel as a unit. It's not every day that you come across an interracial couple—her husband Olivier Telle is French—with three dogs and a nine-month-old baby, hopping aboard long-distance trains. Since 2016, they have been on 54 rail journeys across the country. "I can safely say that Tigress, Marco Polo and Pari are the most travelled dogs in India," says Dugar, who works for a German and Russian television network and is based out of Delhi.
Eleven-year-old Tigress happens to be her first rescue. "All three came with their own issues. Tigress was abandoned and had a broken leg. We found Pondy, Marco Polo's mother, in a garbage dump and she followed us home. Later, Marco was born. Pari, the youngest, was the most abused of the lot. She had a broken skull and jaw when we rescued her, plus tick fever. She was scared, anxious and not trusting. It took us a lot of time to work on them." Pondy's passing in 2016 made the couple realise the woefully short lifespan of dogs. "We wanted to give them the best we could. And, that's when the travelling began." They decided on trains since renting a car was turning out to be an expensive proposition and air travel was a no because pets find it stressful travelling alone in the hold of a plane. Their research on the Indian Railways' pet policy threw up little information. "It took us a month to figure how we could do it without glitches. The Indian Railways may not publicise it, but they are quite pet-friendly."
While Pari likes to sleep on the upper berth, Marco Polo and Tigress snuggle on the lower berth with their human companions
Their first journey was to Goa in 2016 and they are back in the sleepy town of Saligao this winter. The couple has been meticulously documenting the adventures, peppered with warm anecdotes and pictures, on their Instagram page @dugardd. They are often greeted with DMs inquiring about how to travel with pets. She says it is often assumed that you get tied down if you get a pet, and that you can't travel freely if you have a dog, but that's far from true. "It's never a hindrance. I'd say it's a beautiful journey of discovering another aspect of travelling."
We thought we'd get Dugar and Olivier to share a definitive guide to travelling with pets, and they more than agreed.
Build rapport with guard: First-class compartments are situated next to the guard room and he can watch out for you when the station is nearing. Accordingly, you can take your dog for a loo break. Recently, our train was running late and we arrived at Vadodara in the wee hours. I jumped out of my seat, scooped Marius and woke up Olivier to make a dash for the station; this was supposed to be our longest halt on what would be 35 hours of travelling in total. We didn't know how much time we had as the station was deserted and the train was empty, but luckily, this guard walked in for his duty and told us we still had 12 minutes. He watched out for us, while the dogs were busy finding the right spot for their business. This is where a friendship was forged. In fact, each dog got to spend an hour in the guard's cabin, even sharing his Gujarati snacks.
Pari bonding with the train guard during their recent journey to Goa
Remember, India is pet-friendly: I had underestimated the number of pet-friendly establishments we have here. Just because they don't promote themselves as pet-friendly, doesn't mean they are not. So, you just have to call up places of accommodation during your research. Sometimes, they seem wary but after a polite conversation, they are willing to accommodate. Madhya Pradesh, I would say, is the most welcoming state. We have taken the dogs to historical sites in MP and the ASI hasn't blinked an eye. Dhaba owners have even made special meals for them. I remember the time when we were put up at a fancy hotel called Raas in Jodhpur. We checked into the room and my dogs were ecstatic to see the warm, comfortable, sink-in beds. Tigress refused to leave the bed. We had to literally drag her out for a walk.
In Goa, they love chilling at a local dive called Joseph Bar in Panjim.
Carry small stick for walks: Goa has a decent stray dog population. As long as you have a small stick to just shoo them away and not hurt them, they will not bother you or your dogs. Here, in Saligao, there is a gang of four dogs named 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G and they are really loud. But they have never approached us or hurt us. It's normal for them to bark because we are entering their territory. Be respectful of their space.
Keep them hydrated: A lot of people don't give enough water to their pets because that would mean more loo breaks during the journey. That's a mistake because dogs are very stimulated due to the sounds and presence of people and tend to salivate more, therefore, keeping them hydrated is important. For day-long journeys, we carry home-cooked food. Earlier, Rajdhani had a pantry, so they would keep the food in their fridge. This time, along with freshly-cooked meals, we carried dry food and treats.
Make a list of all stops: If the stop is less than five minutes, we don't bother getting off because it's a lot of work with three dogs. Fortunately, the first class is at the far end, so the dogs get privacy to do their business in a patch of green. By now, Marco Polo and Tigress are ace travellers and waste no time finding the right spot. Pari is still learning.
One person, one dog: Though it's easy to travel in a first-class coupe with your pets, there are certain rules. A funny one is that one person is allowed only one pet. So, the two of us are technically "allowed" only two dogs, unless we book an entire cabin, hence, calculate well when you're travelling so that the authorities don't end up fining you.
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