Are you a dog person or a cat person? Memes and short videos have made this question redundant these days. Instead, we’re left to ponder about how we’ve been domesticated by both our furry friends, thanks to social media.
In the craggy reaches of the Himalayas, though, the answer has always been simple — dogs rule! Shaggy-coated, flop-eared, and always ambling by your side, mountain dogs are the best companions one can have on mountain trails and guesthouses alike.
However, I didn’t always have this love for dogs; I used to be quite terrified of their size and loud bark.
There’s a misconception that Himalayan dogs are aggressive and unfriendly. Yes, they are aloof but that’s probably because their cuddly appearance gets a fair share of attention anyway.
In all my years of walking in the Himalayas, I’ve noticed that a low whistle is often what pricks their ears up, enough to lead you on misty forest trails and wait patiently by your side till you finish your chai. Dogs also make walks along unknown trails safer.
Pahadi dogs have heaps of self-esteem, so shooing away one is guaranteed to drive them away forever, whereas offering a small treat will make them your best friend. Don’t even get me started on how loveable the pups are!
The cold climate ensures that these dogs do not suffer from the range of ticks and insects that their mainland cousins gather in the hot plains. Their thick coats are also fluffy enough to turn into a pillow the next time you read a book in the forest.
Among the formidable mountain dogs, the gaddi mongrels are known to be fierce protectors. Reared by shepherds (known as gaddis in North india), these distant relatives of the Tibetan mastiff are loyal to the point of giving heart attacks to solitary motorcyclists who get too close to their flock on lonely roads in the Trans-Himalayas. Approach one with utmost care, and only under the supervision of their masters.
It was a few years ago, in Himachal Pradesh, that I first met Lakshi, a smart Himalayan dog with the killer look of a frizzy-haired punk drenched in cold rain. The proverbial good dog, Lakshi and I shared many values such as always looking good, being exceptionally decent, and perfecting the art of being unconcerned with the world.
Lakshi was a master of chilling as well. At any given opportunity he’d find a good spot, lie down, and take a nap. Sometimes even in the rain. And best of all, he never barked — at least at me. In the dog world, he was my first love — until he passed away recently due to old age.
It was only then that I started to notice common traits among the others who pawed their way into my heart. On the streets of Old Manali, I would be accompanied by a trio of dogs in varying sizes but equally playful.
The smallest one, a female called Nano, remains a constant friend over the years, as she rolls over and expects to be belly-rubbed at all times of the day (or night).
Image Credit: Mineli Goswami