My name is Divya Dugar. I am a freelance journalist and a producer by profession, working for French and German Television.
I used to have three dogs and now I have two. I rescued them all when I was living in Nizamuddin West, while working for France 2 – a French television channel. Tigress and Pondi were my office dogs. After office hours, they were let out to live on the streets and would wait for the doors to open the next morning (they were young pups back then, eight and four months respectively). I couldn’t see them like that so I decided to take them in and make them my family. A decision I made in 5 minutes changed my entire life and these little ones would never let me give up. Marcopolo was the last entry; he is Pondi’s pup and the most spoilt of the lot.
Tigress is now eight years old and Marcopolo is six. So when Pondi passed away two years back, we decided to travel with Tigress and Marcopolo to heal; to spend more time on the road as a family and to create awareness about rescuing/adopting Indian dogs. I spend a lot of time on the road for work, sometimes I have to travel to see family and it was always heartbreaking to leave Tigress and Marcopolo back home. So, I decided to take them with me as much as possible and I love it. When I rescued them, I was just twenty-five year old. Everyone had told tell me that the decision will limit my moment and that I won’t be as free as I like and won’t be able to travel. It took me a bit of time to fight this battle – to make a living, give them everything they deserve, and travel together.
We don’t own a car in Delhi, we mostly move around in autos which all of us love. When we decided to travel with them, the Indian railways came to our rescue. We were a bit hesitant and worried in the beginning to travel by train, but our first journey from Delhi to Madgaon – thirty-two hours long trip changed our perspective. Marcopolo and Tigress loved travelling on the train, as they could watch the world go by the window as they enjoyed their treats. Also, Tigress gets motion sick in a car, so train is our best option for long distance travelling. Besides, it is more economical than owning a car.
We prepare by making a list of all the necessary meals and medicines, and also stops for toilet breaks. We have completed over thirty-two train journeys till now and have helped over fifty pet parents (including cats parents) to travel by Indian Railways. The rules of Indian Railways are quite simple, but due to lack of knowledge and awareness, there are very few people who use it to travel with their pets.
Another very important point for us to travel using only public transport is to claim a slice of public space with our dogs and not feel restricted for having pets.
And it’s true, there are a lot of people who mock us or laugh at us. It is hard sometimes to rent a car as people do not want to have dog hair on their car seats. But mostly, I have to say a lot of people went out of their way to help us and make friends with us. We ended up striking more friendships because of our pets than we would have had travelling alone. If ten car rentals reject us, there is always one who is happy to move us around. The trick to travelling with pets in India is to hustle a lot.
We have had some great travelling experiences in India. Till now, we have done five weeks in Western Ghats and Goa, five weeks in Landour and around, and multiple trips to Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. It gives me so much pleasure to see them having fun, their excitement of discovering the hotel rooms, and running around without a care in the world. Most of the Indies have a hard life, they have to fight to fend for themselves or wait in shelters with no families to adopt them. Another message we want to send across through our travels is how amazing pets are as companions and travel buddies. What I do for them is nothing compared to the love I get in return!
Some of the most positive experiences I had while travelling with them was on our five week trip around Landour, where public transport was really bad and super expensive. We would either end up walking/hiking or hitchhiking. It is quite sad that many times, taxies or car operators want to over-charge us as we have pets. I did not want this pattern to be encouraged, hence, I decided to hitchhike. Every time the four of us stood on the road, waiting for a pick-up truck or jeep to come by, all of them would stop for us. People went out of their way to drop us to our location. I was really touched by it and both our dogs love pick-up trucks – they want to jump on the first one they see now and the same goes for the train. In fact, it is sometimes difficult to reach our compartment as they are ready to get on the first coach they see!
Travelling with our pets is a completely new take on how we move around. Our perspective has completely changed and it is no more about following a guide book or top recommendations but about charting our own way through the country. It is like having fresh eyes to see the world all over again, from rediscovering our love for train travel to going to the beach for the first time to finding road-side stalls for date nights while watching sunsets as we all huddle up together.
Three top experiences we have had with Marcopolo and Tigress –
First – Mountain trekking! The trek from The White Peak Home stay near Gagar in Uttarakhand to Jhanidhar temple took us about an hour. It was spectacular to walk in nature, in solitude and to be surrounded by mountains. What was more amazing was to be greeted by the priest who immediately took to our dogs, offered them water and biscuits and let them rest next to a shrine. He loved them; his belief that animals are sacred and need equal love was really moving. We literally had to drag Tigress as she wanted to spend more time there and probably live in that temple with the view of the mountains around.
Second – Beach dates! At Goa, in our struggle to find pet friendly date spots (which we did manage to find few) we found this amazing place in Assagao with a road-side stall serving delicious hot Goan fast food and burgers. We used to park our car, pull out the plastic stools, and sit with Marcopolo and Tigress. We enjoyed the meal – of which of course they got a share, but laughter, love, and people made everything special. Also, at the weekly Friday Mapusa Bazaar visit, we were always packed off with extra gifts for our furries. By the end of our five week stay, everyone knew these shoppers on four paws and their two humans.
Third – Palace hopping! In Orchha, we were not just allowed in all ASI sights like Raja Mahal, Jahangir Mahal, and Laxmi temple, we had a great time exploring local culture. It felt good to be tourists with these two, who surprisingly loved exploring every single room in the palace.
Top pet-friendly places we stayed would be –
It has to be the White Peak Homestay near Gagar. Beautifully done cottage overlooking the valley with the in-house rescue dog Kali, their staff loves animals and the owners are equally passionate about their furries. The cottage is stacked with books and beautiful souvenirs from various travels, done by Aparupa and Abhijit. They have the softest bed, a fireplace, and a non-stop supply of tea. What else could one need? Let’s not forget Marcopolo and Tigress who make it feel cozier. They serve both human and doggy meals which we can vouch for.
The Goat’s village in Uttarakhand, made up of a cluster of locally crafted stone houses that are set against the backdrop of Himalayas, is the perfect place to escape the city madness. We loved hiking around the mountains, spending time in the wilderness, and enjoying a quiet time away from Wi-Fi and phones. It is very important to keep your pet leashed all the time when in mountains, as there are many leopards around. We never let them out of our sight even for a minute.
Another great find was this untouched haveli hotel called Narayan Niwas Castle in my home region of Shekhawati near Churu; Room No.1 is the most amazing room, completely donned in Wes Anderson style, and perfect to spend days surrounded by beautiful fresco’s on aging walls, with books and lip-smacking food prepared with age-old secret recipes.
Running around the farm, tube well swims, tractor rides and Marcopolo and Tigress chasing us while we rode our bicycle – Yes, enacting a bit of Bollywood with our pooches – was the experience of a life time. Punjabiyat is another favourite experiential stay. There is lot of space for your pet to run around, cottages are beautifully done and having meals in the middle of the farm is quite an experience.
Some basic precautions to take while traveling with pets:
1. Always keep your dogs leashed when in mountains or any new space. Mountains in particular as there are leopards and they can easily get lost in forests.
2. Always have a handy medicine kit with basic medicines prescribed by your vet since a lot of places don’t have easy access to vets.
3. Always check with the property if they can provide fresh meals for your pets. Having some extra food is always helpful in case of train delays, or road blocks.
4. You have to be a responsible pet parent for the space that the hotel or Airbnb is renting out to you.