Summer breaks

At the end of April, keen on travelling somewhere with Soulkadi, we returned to Mrugaya in Amboli where we had gone a few years ago (link to that post here). We stayed there for a weekend, along with two other close-friend couples. Since the place had exactly three bedrooms, we had it all to ourselves. (There was a separate cottage under construction when we were there, and social media posts have indicated that that is also functional now.)

Then, in end-May, with Lily – whom the smooth flow of our daily lives depends upon – on leave,we decided to take a series of short breaks in places around Goa. In the process, we discovered a number of excellent pet-friendly options close to home.

Two of these – a ‘jungle cottage’ in Revora, near Colvale, and a ‘lake house’ overlooking the Carambolim Lake – were through AirBnB, while the Living Room chalets in Morjim were a more standard resort option. Luckily for us, each place turned out to be wonderful in its own way, and we had relaxed, re-invigorating sojourns.

This is a pictorial chronicle of all these short stays (click on photo collages to see them bigger).

The Mrugaya resort in Amboli
A short drive away from the Mrugaya property, we came across this reservoir of a dam, and spent some part of an evening there.
These are advertised on AirBnB as ‘jungle cottages’ in Revora; what the page doesn’t reveal (and neither do these photos) is that habitation, including the host’s house is right next door. Still, it was a pleasant, quiet place to stay.
Cats at our host Mearl Aunty’s house
The area around Revora-Nadora-Colvale is not somewhere we have explored much, so there was that to do. The Chapora river is a ubiquitous presence.
This ‘blue bridge’ that connects the village of Nadora to the island of Juem is evidently quite the Instagram hotspot.
As with most villages in Goa, the place is dotted with wonderful little places to eat, and eat we did.
The Living Room chalets in Morjim were a more fancy place to stay, and we wallowed in the luxury of doing so.
The resort is right on the beach, where we met a very friendly dog, who even tried to make advances on Soulkadi, who was having none of it.
The boys got up to some energetic Frisbeeing.
But order was soon restored.
Our next port of call was this one-room AirBnB right on the lake in Carambolim (Karmali). The deck overlooking the water was a great place to sit and read, doze off, or watch the birds.
A young Brahminy kite, who seemed quite comfortable around people, cam visiting.
Anjali decided to try out the night photo feature of her phone, and – in conjunction with lights under the deck that cycled through the colours of the spectrum, which reflected on the water – it produced psychedelic results.

Hero and friends

It’s been a year since Hero departed for the happy hunting grounds. I was thinking about how he was selective in giving love and, probably as a result, how his love was particularly cherished by those whom he chose to give it to.

For those who didn’t know him, he came with a bit of a fearsome reputation – our standard instruction to strangers was “isko mat chhoona”. He had even taken a nip of some people whom he took inexplicable objection to, including a few friends.

But when he made friends, he did it heart and soul. This post is for those to whom he gave those. I couldn’t find photos of him with every one who was on that list, but most are here.

His greatest love was always Anjali. Playing with her after we returned from one of our trips.

With Baba, Ma, Gurpreet, and my cousin Chhordi on various trips.

Listening to Mahalaya with Ma at Radio House, Olaulim.

At Suntikoppa in Coorg with Baba, Ma, Anjali, my nephew Arjun (Joy) and his wife Suchita.
Our friends Salil and Monika were part of several trips with the dogs.

Having grown up with our niece Pakhi (sadly, couldn’t find any good photos of the two of them together, or even of my brother Orijit with Hero), he seemed to always have a soft spot for young girls. Here he is with my grand-niece Sia – who was allowed to do just about anything to him – and her toy Tigger.

The key to his acceptance seemed to be one of two things – either you travelled somewhere with him, or you slept in his house.

With my nephews Abhimanyu (Babai) and Rahul, and being playfully pummelled by my brother Abhijit, the only person whom he was ever cowed by.
With some of his dearest friends, at home and abroad.

One of the most astonishing early episodes in a life full of incident was when my brother’s dog Vanilla (later renamed Kaju) was recuperating at our place from a mauling he had received at the fangs of a larger dog. Hero, at the time about 8 months old, took him under his wing and, we believe, played a big part in his quick recovery. Of course, Kaju himself is a spunky dog who shook off the life-threatening injuries very quickly and had a ball with our four larger dogs.

Some videos of Hero and Vanilla mock-tussling in the warm winter sun at our Noida residence.

Of all the dogs that we had, Jaya was a special favourite of Hero’s. Both were of a rambunctious bent of mind, and loved to get up to shenanigans together.

To circle back to the beginning of this post, Anjali was the sun in his life. Though these photos are rather dark and have motion blur, I really love this series.

Hero’s journey comes to an end

When a hero dies, as much as one mourns his death, one also celebrates his life. In the nearly 16 years that Hero was in this world, there was much to celebrate. He lived a life full of action and adventure, with panache and joie de vivre. Words won’t suffice to talk about the place he had in our lives, so I’m going to let pictures do the talking. In the first of this three-part recounting of his life, we’ll focus on the travels that were such a defining aspect of it.

Pictures in this and other posts on him are from his many friends and admirers – in particular, Anuradha, Gurpreet, Madhura, and Srijit – besides Anjali and me.

Two Scorpios, one Alto, five other dogs (not all of them visible here), two humans – the ingredients of Hero’s travels


“I call shotgun!” “Oh wait, the driver seat’s vacant. I’m taking over!” Bottom: Hero pretends to drive, on a tricky descent from Mandu down a rubble-filled dirt track.


His preferred vantage point was the middle of the centre seat, from where he could survey the road ahead, and quickly dart to any of the side windows if there was anything worth barking at. Once in a while, the burden of holding his head up would get too much for him, at which time the driver’s shoulder served usefully as a chin rest.


But any location and position in the car was fine…

Hero-travels-05 long as he got to check out the sights. Clockwise from top left: passing a herd of goats near Gwalior; looking at monkeys that had been chirping at him from the ramparts of the Agra Fort; “What on earth are those things?!” mystified by camels on a village track in Gujarat.


And, of course, give passing dogs a piece of his mind. Yelling at Suzy, the Alsatian at the Hotel Haveli in Ajmer.


Going places… top to bottom: at Deja Vu in Naukuchiatal, UP, on his first trip ever, 2005; in the shade of an ancient wall on the edge of a gorge in Mandu, MP, 2006; taking a sip from the Narmada at dusk, near Khalghat, MP, 2006.


In Pratapgarh, Maharashtra, 2006 – walking down the unending staircase inside the fort; running around where Maratha soldiers once patrolled; more monkey business through the window of the PWD Rest House where we stayed inside the fort.


The first sight of the sea, at Ganpatipule, 2006; Hero, of course, vaults right in!


Doing the raja thing in the excessively pink bedroom of the Royal Mandwa Suite no 1 at the Chanod Haveli in Gujarat, 2006; later, checking out the Narmada nearby.


Taking in the view from the first-floor balcony of Bhakti Kutir in Palolem; and playing tug-of-war with Bhaloo and Jaya, while Anjali struggles to hold it all together along with her skimpy bikini on Agonda; Goa, 2007.


In Suntikoppa, Coorg, 2008: seeing Bhaloo hitch a ride on a coracle with Anjali, Hero decided to try and scramble aboard; having nearly capsized the craft, he was pushed unceremoniously overboard, and returned to the shore sneezing with indignation.


Wildernest, Chorla Ghats, Goa, 2007: merrily trotting along on a path made muddy by the monsoon; and later in the room, washed and dried, enjoying the view of the jungle from the bay window.


Mount Abu, 2008: At Trevor Tal (where rumour has it there was a crocodile); and at Roop Mahal, which was my home for the first 8 years of my life (Hero couldn’t care less for the personal history!).


Surla, Goa, 2009: Tugging me and the rest of the dogs along on the rocky plateau; and later, on a dry river bed nearby, deciding to take matters and the leash into his own mouth as it was troubling him while trailing behind.


Changanassery, Kerala, 2009: Hero got a ride on a houseboat and was fascinated with the water rushing by, and things and people on the shore (the curiosity was mutual).


For the next couple of days, whenever we sat on the canalside platform, he would stare wistfully at boats passing by, big and small. Sometimes, it was clear to us that he was judging the distance to the boat and whether he could make it across, and we made sure to hang on to him when he did that.


When we had to leave, he got his chance to be on the water again, as we had to travel by boat from the island that the resort was on to where the Scorpio was parked. He was happy!


Back on the beach, in Kannur, Kerala, 2009.

In 2011, during a trip to Off The Grid, a resort near Castlerock in Karnataka, Hero had the adventure that defined his life. While we were trekking at the top of the Dudhsagar Waterfalls, he decided to take off on his own.


Frolicking with the other dogs in a pool on the dry riverbed above the falls; and later, sitting on a ledge way down below, overlooking the train tracks where the water flows down. This was our last sight of him. The next time we looked, he was gone, where we had no idea.

This blog started with my post about Hero’s disappearance:

Astonishingly, 22 days later, we managed to find him and bring him back. That story is told here:


When he returned from his epic outing, he was little more than skin draped over a skeleton. But love and a lot of fat-rich foods got him back in fighting form quite quickly.


Around Amboli, 2013: on the way back from a trip to Girivan near Pune.


Amboli, 2019: at a resort called Mrugaya.


Vengurla, Maharashtra, 2019: he loved the beach trips.


Hero’s last time at a beach, in Morjim, November 2020.


Master of his domain. In the sea at Hedavi, near Chiplun, Maharashtra.

Babes in the woods

Having switched from a Scorpio (our car of choice for most of the last 15 years) to the much smaller Alto, we were wondering what it would be like for the dogs – now down to just two, Hero and Soulkadi – to take a long trip in the new car. It turned out not great, the ride at least.

First of all, the roads themselves were in terrible shape. We were driving up to Amboli, a route we’ve done quite often, either to stay there, or while passing through to places further afield. It’s always been a very pleasant drive, through lovely landscapes. But with the highway widening that has been the bane of the past couple of years, driving anywhere in or out of Goa has become a crater-filled nightmare.

[Includes photos by Anjali Dar Sen Gupta, Srijit Kumar, Rajiv D’Silva, and Arvind Siva. All collages can be enlarged by clicking on them]


In this case, it was bad all the way up to Banda, across the border in Maharashtra, after which we turned off the highway. But that didn’t improve things. The roads into and out of Sawantwadi – which used to be part of the main highway before the development of the bypasses – now lie neglected, and are shock absorber killers as well.

Only once one hits the bypass coming in from Vengurla does the road get better, but on that stretch too, there are unheralded bad patches. In some ways, these are worse. When you are negotiating potholed and cracked roads, you are perforce driving slow; but when the going seems good, you start moving at a rapid clip, and hit the rough spots without warning, which is far more jarring to car, body, and soul.

The condition of the roads aggravated the effects of being in a smaller car, and our canine passengers were visibly unhappy for most of the journey. Their initial excitement at seeing their belongings packed and put in the car, and then at setting off with the wind in their faces, were quickly forgotten in their discomfort as they were buffeted around in the close confines. They hardly barked at the monkeys we passed on the tortuous climb up towards Amboli. Soulkadi even threw up along the way.

Thankfully, when we arrived three hours later at Mrugaya, the eco resort we were booked at, it turned out to be perfect for them. The property is set just a few hundred metres off the main road, making it a breeze to get to, but it’s nevertheless tucked into a wooded area that isolates it from the traffic and noise. Our group was just large enough that we had booked all the three rooms at the resort, so we had the place completely to ourselves.


Mrugaya was set up and is run by Parag Rangnekar, a naturalist from Goa. It’s on an ancestral property that he has developed with a focus on natural resources and locally-relevant and sustainable materials and techniques. No plastic is used in the premises (except when we brought in some Coke bottles), and the wet waste is disposed of in an eco-friendly way.


The dogs settled into our room quickly and comfortably. Though Parag generally doesn’t allow pets – citing the difficulty of getting fur off the blankets as the reason – he had made an exception for us. We, on our part, took our usual protective measure of covering everything with our own sheets.


We spent a relaxed weekend there, which is exactly what we were looking for. The resort is in a sylvan thicket surrounded by open fields, with a stream gurgling along one boundary. The dogs found much to sniff at in the woods, and long excursions to go on across the fields. Given that the property is open on all sides (and taking into account the sort of adventures that they have been on a couple of times), we couldn’t leave them off-leash, but they were quite comfortable sitting around while we ate and drank in the communal dining and hangout space that spans the front of the building.



Talking about eating, the food was absolutely marvellous. On the first afternoon, Hari – one of two caretakers who take turns looking after guests – got us rotis and a delicious chicken dish from a local joint. For dinner, we ordered food from an Amboli restuarant (which delivers to Mrugaya) which was also very good. The next day, Sukumar, the second of the caretakers, got a gauntthi kombdi cooked at his place in the Malvani style, with the pandhra rasa and rthe tambda rasa, which we had with solkadi and bhakris made at the resort. But the highlight for me were the breakfasts. I have never been a big fan of misal, but the way Hari prepared it and the accompaniments he laid out with it made a convert of me. To complement that archetypal Maharashtrian meal were little omelette rolls that we put away by the dozen.


Having landed there Friday afternoon, we headed back after breakfast on Sunday. The dogs were again uncomfortable, and Soulkadi puked once again, when we had almost made it back. Bookended with those two incidents, we could have felt bad about the trip, but the stay at Mrugaya more than made up for it.


However, it seems unlikely we will take the dogs for trips to places outside Goa again in this car. They are also growing old, Hero in particular, and the excitement of going to new places is not the same with them any more. Like it happens when humans grow old, the comfort of home and a routine seems to be outweighing the pleasures of travel for them now.

So long, Sungta

Death came by our house on Friday, and whistled at the gate, and our sweet little barrel, Sungta, went for a walk with him. No longer will she do her head-tossing prancing in anticipation of her food. No longer will she proffer her ample butt for a scratching, casting coquettish backward glances and gurgling for attention. No longer will she plonk herself in the most inconvenient locations on the bed at night, growling and digging in her feet against efforts to re-position her.

It all happened suddenly and unexpectedly, within a matter of minutes. She had been a trifle unwell over the past two days, but nothing to indicate it was serious. On Friday night, though, as we prepared to go out with friends, she suddenly started having silent but severe convulsions. In less than ten minutes, she let out one last loud cry, and was gone.

Luckily for us, we had friends at hand, including one who’s a vet and was trying to guide us on the phone while driving to our place. They helped us bury Sungta in a patch near the bougainvillea plants in our yard.

At times when she was feeling a surge of affection for Anjali or me (which was, like, all the time), Sungta would nibble excitedly and fervently on whatever was close at hand. Often this would be the bedsheet she was sitting on. On Friday, she was on the bed when the seizures started, and we bundled her in the bedsheet to carry her to her grave. When we tried to unravel her from it, though, we found that she had one corner of it in her teeth, clenched tightly in the throes of rigor mortis. We had to cut the sheet, and she went into the darkness with a little bit of it sticking out of her mouth, as though she was still nibbling away at it in ecstasy. So long, Sungta!


Sungta came to us as part of a litter of days-old puppies that had been dumped in a field and rescued by a local shelter with which Anjali volunteered. It fell to us to foster them, feeding them like babies every few hours from milk bottles to begin with.


As they grew a little older, they got more adventurous. Their preferred hangout was under the moda on our balcao. Their interaction with the bigger dogs (four at the time) was minimal. My nephew Abhimanyu, who was visiting at the time, helped out with the care.


Two of the litter found homes, one died in the first month. Sungta and Soulkadi spent the first few months outside the house, but eventually became ‘foster fails’ and indoor dogs.


Anjali and I were her de facto mother and father. She, on her part, was a fat little bolster that we loved to trouble.


She wasn’t the most social dog, but she had her favourites. There were a handful of other special friends whom we sadly don’t have photos of her with.


Such a cutie she was!


Walking with Sungta was a pain. She would put her head down and put her entire weight into yanking you about.


Oh, the places she went…


…right till the end.


Any time of night or day, we would return to the sight of her in the back door, yodelling with joy. The bed is colder without her there.

Beauty Walks a Razor’s Edge

Stray animals anywhere lead precarious lives, even those that have someone looking out for them. Anyone who cares for them knows this, but every once in a while, the lesson is brought home, often in deadly and devastating ways. This is a tale of something that happened recently with one of our community dogs, one whom we call Beauty.

We have been seeing Beauty ever since we’ve been in Olaulim, part of a pack that hangs out on a grassy patch on the hill behind our house. Four years ago, when we moved here, she must have been the newly-anointed alpha female of the pack, that was dominated by a larger yellow-brown dog. Over time, she has grown into the confident core of the pack. The pack itself, as these tend to, has seen a lot of comings and goings. Over time, more or less all of its other adherents have disappeared, and only Beauty remains of the original dogs. The attrition rate of stray dog packs is often greater than that of IT firms.

Our interaction with Beauty’s pack used to be restricted to drive-bys with our dogs, where both gangs would hurl abuse at each other – ours from the safety of the car, the others as they ran alongside it as it traversed their territory.

This changed when, driven by a sudden fetish for fitness, I started going for morning walks. On the first day itself, I came across Beauty, sitting by herself outside the gate of a cemetery a short distance from our place. As is my wont when I see a dog, I did the whistling, tongue-clicking, kissy sounds and finger-snapping that is the universal tactic of a human trying to get friendly with an animal. To my delight, she came running up to me and did a little prancing around, then lay down submissively at my feet. When I got back home and told Anjali about her, I spoke of what a beauty she was, and that’s what we started calling her.

She was a scrawny little thing, so I started carrying rotis to give her, which she would nuzzle my pockets for after the initial welcome greetings.

From these beginnings, things came to a state where, for the past year, Anjali and I have been taking food for Beauty and her pack twice a week, on Tuesday and Friday nights. We know that they have other sources of food as well, and we don’t want them to become completely dependent on us, as there are periods when we won’t be around, and they will need to find food elsewhere. As of now, the pack consists of (though none of them are aware that they are referred to by these names) Beauty, a bratty but very affectionate male we call Beastie, three unrelated pups called Clouseau, Shady and Pumpy, plus an old guy called Hangal who appears on occasion.


Beauty waits for her dinner, her tail a furry blur of anticipation


Beastie likes to get intimate with his feeders


Top to bottom: Clouseau, Hangal and Shady


Beauty and Beastie have to be fed inside the car, as they tend to gobble down their helpings and then go after the others’

A couple of months ago, on one of our regular feeding runs, we found that Beauty was holding her mouth open in a strange manner. The area where we feed the pack is not well-lit at all, so we couldn’t really figure out what was wrong with her. When we gave her food, we found she was trying to eat, but her mouth was not closing and a lot of the food kept flowing out. There was also a lot of salivary discharge, and when we got close to her, we could make out a bad smell from her mouth.

Our first surmise was that she had been hit by something or someone, and that her jaw was broken. Her eagerness to eat seemed to indicate that it was perhaps not some more debilitating ailment, such as distemper or something that causes lockjaw. But we couldn’t completely discount that it was one of those diseases at an early stage.

What was most worrying was that we were due to head out of town a few days later, and wouldn’t be around to give her whatever care she needed. Thankfully, there is an active community of animal welfare workers here in Goa, and once Anjali sent out an SOS on those groups, response was quick. Karen, a volunteer with the Worldwide Veterinary Services (WVS) hospital and shelter in Assagao who lives in the same village, offered her help.

We brought Beauty home for the night, and parked her in the back room, keeping our hyper dogs at bay. The next morning, just hours before we were due to leave for the airport, Karen came by and picked her up. Later that evening, we learnt from Karen that the problem was not medical, strictly speaking. Beauty had a large bone stuck like a cap over the back molars, and that was preventing her from being able to close her mouth. The edges of the bone had dug into her gums, causing wounds that had got maggot-infested, therefore the rotten smell.


The bone that caused the problem

The WVS doctors put her under anaesthesia, and did a minor operation to remove the bone and clean and suture her wounds. Within a day or two, Karen reported to our relief, she was eating. When we got back to Goa, Karen brought her back to our place, and we released her back to her accustomed spot, where she was greeted with curiosity by the rest of her pack.


Mmmm… biscuits!


Food and love at our place before being released


What’s going on in there??!!


Back home in the wild, and off to mark her territory immediately

This story ended well, but it made us think of how such a simple thing – chewing on a bone – could have ended up killing her. Most strays in such a condition – even those who are fed by people – wouldn’t end up getting the little care that she eventually needed, and would die of the maggot infestation or of starvation. We come across so many cases where strays get their heads stuck in plastic jars or wire loops or other such discards of humanity that can prove fatal to animals. It takes so very little to devastate a life like theirs.

A getaway for hot dogs

Until the unseasonal rain in mid-May, it was hot as hell, and the dogs were lethargic and bored. A trip to cooler climes seemed like a good idea, but Goa doesn’t offer much within easy driving range. After some scouring of the Internet, we zeroed in on a resort called The Last Resort, in the hills near Chikmagalur. But that was still a long drive away — Google Maps said it would take close to nine hours, but with our way of doing things, we new that would stretch to ten or ten-and-a-half.

That’s a little too much for us to do at one go, so we looked for a pit stop closer to home, and found it in the Coqueiros Beach Resort at Kundapura, which promised air-conditioned cottages to offset the heat. Anjali sprang into action, and soon had the Coqueiros management convinced about allowing the dogs at their place. The Last Resort guys were willing anyway, so the itinerary was sewn up.


Waiting to leave

But one knows what happens with the best-laid plans. To begin with, a bunch of chores backslid into the day of departure, and by the time we left from Porvorim, it was already noon. The bothersome business of negotiating the bridge construction work either side of the Mandovi and the Zuari became much, much worse once we crossed over into Karnataka. The National Highways Authority of India seems to have gone into overdrive there, and construction was afoot virtually every inch of the way till Kundapura.

We were, as a result, driving through half-built highways, with chaotic traffic going both ways on the constricted roads. The effects of a cyclone over the Arabian Sea were also making themselves felt, and by about 4pm, thunderclouds were overhead, plunging us into a deepening gloom. The light stayed in that quasi-twilight zone till nightfall some three hours later, creating a strong sense of disorientation. Oncoming vehicles would sometimes have their headlights on high-beam, sometimes not have them on at all; some had double-blinkers in action, others drove as though it was bright daylight. To add to everyone’s woes, piles of gravel and sand, haphazardly-placed barriers, and construction crews would pop up out of nowhere. I usually enjoy driving this stretch of the coast because of the spectacular landscapes cut into strips by wide rivers. But even those were a bit hazardous under the current circumstances, as many bridges were being enhanced or newly-constructed, and a lack of signage plus, in several cases, vanished siderails, made negotiating them a tricky prospect.


On long drives, initially the dogs are all hanging out the windows, but after we hit the highway, they figure that they aren’t going to have any more dogs to bark at, or other interesting pastimes to indluge, so they settle down. Hero, of course, takes up most of the space in the middle seat, leaving the others scrunched up in the remaining space. Sungta, in particular, can’t abide this.


This time, therefore, after about four hours of driving, we put Sungta up in front, and Anjali sat in the middle of the rear bench, with Hero and Soulkadi on either side of her. This arrangement seems to be the precedent to follow on future journeys.

It was one of the more difficult drives that I have done, and I was mentally and physically quite drained by the time we turned into the Coqueiros compound. By that time, the storm was raging around us, winds and rain lashing, lightning flashing, and thunderclaps booming like massive explosions. The sea across the road from the cottages was a deep slate grey, and wild and frothing.

The Coqueiros Beach Cottages have been set up by a local entrepreneur named Chandrakant Shenoy, who we learnt had had a long professional association and a strong affinity for Goa. He named the resort after the O Coqueiro restaurant in Porvorim, and dotted the area with the coconut trees that the original is named for. When we drove in, those trees were whipping themselves into a frenzy of headbanging in time with the blasts of wind. Prashant, who oversaw our arrival, was quite nonchalant about the weather conditions, mentioning casually that it had been raining there for the past 20 days or so.

It was good to get out of the storm — the cottages are cosy and pretty much insulated from exterior weather. They are pre-fab wooden cottages which we had, in fact, seen some years ago being promoted in Goa. We had stopped by a demo site where they had been out up, off the highway between Verna and Nuvem, and had a look at them as a potential option for use when (or if) we got around to building a home for ourselves.


The complicated protocol of bed occupation


Ah, bliss!

Though there is a dining area, we ordered in, not wanting to brave the bad weather again. On our trips with the dogs, before we settle in for the night, we give our dogs one last walk. This one got quickly aborted, however. While the main entry to the cottages is from the compound, they each also have a balcony that faces the sea, which would no doubt be a lovely place to watch the sunset from in more pleasant conditions. We decided to go out that was with the dogs, but had just got out when a local mutt came trotting out of the darkness. Fearing a raucous battle, we beat a hasty retreat. After a while, I peeked through the curtains to see if the coast was clear, and found her sitting right outside our balcony door. She seemed to feel that if these interlopers could be allowed access to the shelter of the cottage, she should be too.

The next morning, we learnt that the dog is Rani, a much-loved dog that hangs around the resort, and we got to make friends with her too (our dogs, of course, are anti-social brutes and only want to tear non-pack dogs limb from limb, so they didn’t get to meet her).


The view from the cottage balcony




The Coqueiros resort


Dogs at rest; dogs in action


By the dim light of day

After a heavy-duty breakfast, we drove out towards Chikmagalur. The storm had abated, and the weather was much more pleasant. Once we turned off the national highway, the drive was also a dream, and we reached The Last Resort by around 5.30pm. The cottages here were much more basic, but huge! There were two double beds in our cottage, and there was still enough room for us to have had a kabaddi match if we had so desired.


The road to the hills; the truck in front of us said ‘Vegetable Express’ on the bumper


At The Last Resort


Our cottage at The Last Resort


Coffee and dogs


Room to stretch

The landscape was the opposite of the previous evening’s. The Last Resort is in the middle of agricultural fields and orchards of arecanut and coconut, and looks out towards misty hills. The day after our arrival, we drove up into the hills. The road, to our surprise, was concrete up to the start of the Bhadra Tiger Reserve, some 10-12 kilometres up. Till that point, the hillside is covered by coffee plantations, many of them sporting signs announcing their association with Coffee Day.


Tourist map of the region


Happy dogs walking


The lantana poacher


An installation presumably inspired by the Appiko movement, which started not far from here. The sign says something along the lines of ‘Save trees, save the environment’


Panoramic view of the beautiful landscape


Panoramic photography in progress

This area, of course, is the birthplace of coffee in India, legend having it that the plant was brought from West Asia by a pir called Baba Budan, whose shrine is in this area.

We had hoped to take the dogs to a stream or waterfall, but the only one in the vicinity, the Kalahatti Falls, can only be accessed through some dratted temple premises. Religion messes with everything!

We enjoyed the drive and the walks, though. The area is beautiful, and the weather was great.

By the time we got back to the resort, though, a potentially undesirable eventuality had happened. We had been given a cottage right at the end of the resort, one of a bunch of three. When we got back, we found that some group of young people — either college students or perhaps colleagues at an office — had occupied the other two cottages. Some horrendous music was emanating from phones, but luckily they weren’t particularly loud and obnoxious.

That night, they had a bonfire lit in a little clearing across from our cottage, and partied into the night. The Kannada and Bollywood film music was interspersed, to our surprise, by Pink Floyd and Santana, and we were please to find that our cottage was astonishingly soundproof.


Bonfire awaiting party


Dogs behind bars

The food that they had, and the detritus from it, presumably, had a different side-effect that had repercussions for us. Late in the night, around 3am, Soulkadi suddenly needed to take a walk. As I was taking him out, I found that the plush sofas in the patio were occupied by two dogs, one of whom greeted us by thumping his tail on the sofa arm. Hidden by the sofa backs, though, they escaped Soulkadi’s attention and I managed to take him for his spin.

On our way back from the resort the next day, we stopped at a small shop selling the produce of a farming initiative run by a young woman, from whom Anjali ordered some ghee and stuff to be delivered by courier.


The stuff that nightmares are made of


On the way back, near Hubbali

The trip back — we returned directly to Goa — was also long, but not as harrowing as the outward journey, as we drove through the interiors which are largely forested or covered with fields. For the large part, the roads are in excellent shape, and we reached home tired but quite satisfied with the uneventful but relaxed trip.

Coffee Home

This Sunday morning was a little disorienting. For starters, I woke up in our bed in the bedroom. My slippers were right by the bed where I had left them – I had had no cause to put them up on some out-of-the-way spot the night before. On my way to the loo, I didn’t have to carefully negotiate the little puddles of pee and look out for the occasional coprological booby trap. I wasn’t ambushed on the way by something small with teeth like a shark. When I shut the door, it didn’t get pushed in after a short while by a curious trespasser. The main door to the bedroom stood open all along, and I didn’t even have to shut it when I fed the dogs later.

All this was at odds with how it was for the month before. Around that time, the sound of a puppy crying in the immediate vicinity of our house had roused our sympathetic instincts, and resulted in Anjali bringing in a terrified little black puppy from the road outside. I had vehemently opposed her move, arguing that we were not in a position to have another dog, especially not a small pup that would be around for another 12-15 years (Anjali and I had agreed on this a couple of years ago). She was adamant, saying that she would find a home for it.


Soon after she arrived, wide-eyed and worried

The first couple of days she was here, we hardly saw her. We kept her in our bedroom with the door locked, to keep her safe from our pack. When we were in the room, she would scoot under the bed, and find herself a hiding place amongst the suitcases stored there. She was so completely black that it was impossible to spot her except with a torch, and even then it was difficult at times, so cannily would she conceal herself.

We would haul her out from time to time and take her out into the yard on a leash, running the gauntlet of enquiring dog noses on the way. On these jaunts, she would sometimes stand petrified and be more or less dragged around on the leash; or strain away from Anjali at the other end of the tether.

Over a few days, though, she started gaining confidence and courage. She would come out and greet Anjali when she brought her food. My presence too was accepted. One day, Anjali ecstatically reported that she had got a few licks. A few days later, it was my turn. It felt great!


Out on her own in the backyard

Gradually, she came out of her shell. From supervised ‘visits’ with our dogs, we took to letting her wander about as long as we were around. There were a couple of minor skirmishes with Soulkadi, who is always the most aggressive towards other canines, but on the whole she ruled the lower levels while the older dogs escaped to higher ground — the sofas, the diwan, the bed — to get away from her.


Soulkadi was aggressive, Hero dismissive; so she took to tailing Sungta whenever she could

I had felt from the beginning that it would be difficult to find an adoptive home for her. So, about a month into her stay, I was beginning to waver from my position that she remain She-Who-Has-Not-Been-Named. A few names had passed through my mind – I liked Kiwi (since she was all black). But Anjali finally decided on Coffee – she likes hers black.


Just when it looked like our pack size had increased to four, though, Coffee found a home. Anjali had been trying everything she could all along, and from time to time we would try and identify new targets for our adoption efforts. Last week, we thought of our friends Elaine, Anushka and Sachin, who had lost two dogs over the last couple of years, and had adopted a young puppy. Why not try them, we thought.


Getting her shots before going off to her new home

Anjali’s call to Elaine revealed that they had adopted not one, but two pups, but Elaine was large-heartedly open to the idea of having a third. She said that, if not them, her sister-in-law on Divar had five dogs of her own but might be open to having another. Quickly, the deal was sealed and on Saturday morning, Coffee went to her new home. Earlier that morning, Elaine’s sister-in-law had told her that a neighbour whom she vouched for was looking for a puppy, so that was also an option.


Coffee with Elaine and Anushka

We handed Coffee over, and met Elaine and Anushka’s dogs Mojo and Zober at the same time, fat boisterous little pup both. By the evening, Elaine sent us video of Coffee romping around with her two new housemates (though she was still wary of the new humans), and we knew she had gone to the perfect home for her.

Getting away from Ganesh

Rackety processions blaring music that go by late in the night, accompanied by firework explosions that sound like a mini-war, make the Ganesh Chaturthi period hellish for the non-human denizens around here. On the animal welfare groups on Facebook and WhatsApp, the days around Ganesh result in a deluge of posts about pets that have run away, strays that have gone missing from their usual spots, injured animals, and other tales of woe.

Visarjan nights are terrifying for our dogs, too, who spend them trying futilely to find some shelter from the storm of noise. Over the last couple of years, our tactic has been to try and take them to quieter spaces during the period. This year, we chose two places in southern Maharashtra, just across the border to our north.


Let’s go already!

The first couple of nights we spent at Golven Resorts, a set of 10 beachside huts in Vengurla. The wigwam-like cottages are built in mildly landscaped grounds off the Sagareshwar beach, set back the CRZ-mandated 500 metres from the waterline. They are well-constructed using wood, bamboo, thatch, cloth and mud, and are very comfortable, if a trifle cramped. But our priority is simply that the place allow us to take dogs — they don’t care much about the amenities.

What they do get excited about are the surroundings, and Golven generally had the right elements. Wild, green patches to sniff around — and pee and crap — in. A comfortable walk, no doubt replete with scents for them to pick up, to the beach. The beach itself was quite uncrowded at this time of year, and the gently sloping sand allowed us to walk quite a way in without overwhelming the dogs.

About the only challenge was the presence of a pack of dogs in the grounds, but we didn’t mind that. In fact, we like places where they let the strays be — in our eyes, it speaks of their tolerance and compassion. How it affects us is that we have to put up with a bit of a struggle keeping our pack and theirs from going at each other, but that’s something we have learnt to handle.


The Golven pack takes a stroll

From the point of view of us humans, the resort has the most comprehensive menu we have ever come across — it was a veritable book. The food — we stuck to the local Malvani fare — is good, and though there’s a dining hall, you can be served in the huts if you want. Given that it was raining, even if mildly, most of the time we were there, that helped. The young chaps manning the place were very nice, and really took pains to ensure we got what we needed.


Besides spending our time lazing around, walking on the beach with the dogs and eating, we also took a drive down the coastal highway, which is a picturesque road to drive on.

After two nights at Golven Resorts, we drove up the same highway to Bhogwe, where we had booked a stay at the Aditya Eco-Village. Run by the Samant family, this is a bunch of huts perched high up on a plateau overlooking the Deobagh and Tarkarli beaches and their backwaters. The view is spectacular, and it would be very pleasant to sit out on the deck of the hut gazing down at it, but because of the rains, we had to largely stay indoors — and keep the door closed because of the dogs.

Arun Samant, whose son Chetan runs the place (he was away at a relative’s on Ganesh duty when we arrived), pointed out to us when we arrived that one could even see, deep in the distance, the island fortress of Sindhudurg and the town of Malvan from this vantage point.

Chetan’s wife Ashwini and his mother organised a sumptuous thali lunch for us on arrival, made entirely from locally grown ingredients — Anjali got a fish thali, while I had a vegetarian spread. Ashwini’s daughter Dhanashree was quite mesmerised at having dogs as guests. We learnt later that she had called up all her aunts and uncles and told them that Hero, Sungta and Soulkadi had come visiting their place. She had also taken the opportunity to tell them that she had a dog named Melya.

In the evening, as we were having dinner, Chetan came home and it was a delight to spend some time talking to him. Like his father, he’s very knowledgeable about local matters — ecology, wildlife, agriculture of all varieties, food. Gradually, as it’s wont to, the conversation drifted towards politics, and we were quite pleased to find that, in the midst of what we assumed must be a BJP stronghold, Chetan and his father were quite outspoken in their views against the right-wing party. Though they would intersperse their sentences with “we are not for or against the BJP, but…”, it was clear their sympathies didn’t lie with the policies of the ruling party.

We were also later joined by a couple of other members of the extended family — a father-and-son duo — who had been enticed by Dhanashree’s account of the travelling dogs, and come to see them. They came and checked them out through the glass doors to the hut, which of course, sent Hero into a paroxysm of angry barking.

“Dangerous, hunh?” the older man asked, evidently quite pleased at the prospect. He was a little deflated when I said they weren’t, and that the barking was because it was dark and the dogs didn’t know them.


The dangerous dogs in the hut

Though we had planned to stay a couple more days, we curtailed the Bhogwe stay to just a day. Because of the wet weather, we were being constrained to quarters, and that had begun to tell on the dogs, who were becoming rather whiny. We gambled on the possibility that the main Ganesh celebrations and visarjan ruckus would have happened on day two, and what remained wouldn’t hassle the dogs too much. (As it turned out, there was just about half an hour one night that was disruptive, so not too bad a decision, I would say.)

We drove back via Kudal. The landscape around the Vengurla-Bhogwe area is quite unusual. You’ll be travelling on twisting ghat roads through thick forests, and suddenly breast a ridge to find yourself on a vast, flat plateau with the road a long, straight ribbon slicing through. In both circumstances, there were many good spots to stop and give the dogs a walk, and use the opportunity to take some photos as well.


Flags flourish next to a temple in Vengurla

Some more photos, if you’re interested, on my Flickr feed: 

Lost and found dogs (part 1)

A while ago, I had written a post about how we managed to find homes for three puppies that dropped into our laps (not all together, at different points of time). I had meant to include stories about some lost dogs who have also passed through our life, but that post grew too long, so I decided to keep those tales for a separate update. It’s taken me almost a year to get around to it, but here is the first of those anecdotes.

This was when we were living in Porvorim, a year or two after we had moved to Goa. Late one night, one of our neighbours — not one we knew too well — landed up at home, so drunk that he was swaying as he stood there. With him was a dog on a rope, a young Labrador, panting and excitable. While our four dogs raised raucous objections to this sudden intrusion from inside the house, he tried to persuade us that the Lab was one of ours.

Too sozzled to take no for an answer, he left the dog with us and stumbled off into the night. At a loss about what to do, we gave the dog some food and water on the balcao while the others continued to rage away inside. After he had wolfed it all down, Anjali and I ventured out into the night with him on a leash, hoping he would recognise something and find his way home. No such luck. For close to an hour, we walked this way and that around the neighbourhood, but got nowhere.

On our way back home, we worked out a plan of action for the night. Back at home, our fearsome foursome were bundled into our bedroom (they generally slept there anyway), while we took the lab into the dining room. We set up a makeshift bed for me on the floor, and I spent the night there with the dog. While he had been generally cheerful as labs tend to be, the way he clung to me after we lay down betrayed how insecure he must have been feeling. It was almost as if he was afraid I might leave him at night and disappear, and therefore needed the assurance of physical contact.

Early the next day, Anjali and I walked out with the dog again, this time towards the shops and apartment complexes a couple of roads above where we stayed. At the shops, we were told that he had suddenly appeared there a couple of days earlier, and had been wandering around since. He had even tried to get into cars when people had opened the doors. Combined with his general good health, this reinforced our belief that he was from a home where he was well looked after, and used to going places in a car.

If such were the case, we felt our best bet would be to canvass the vets in the neighbourhood. There aren’t too many in all of Porvorim, so it wouldn’t have required a whole lot of effort, but we lucked out with the first one we visited — Dr Marilyn Estibeiro, quite close to where we lived. We were told by staffers at her clinic that they had had an enquiry the previous day from the GSPCA shelter nearby, about a lab that had gone missing. Excited by the information, we rushed him down to the shelter, and were told to our immense relief that our peripatetic pooch was indeed the missing pet.

His name, we learnt, was Miles, he lived in Alto Betim, and was brought regularly to GSPCA for his vaccinations and stuff, just as our dogs were. He and had been spooked by some crackers a few nights before and had run out unnoticed by his family, probably through a break in the compound wall. Alto Betim wasn’t exactly next door to where our house was, and Anjali remarked how the dog had lived up to his name in the distance he had travelled to get there.

The shelter staff contacted his guardian, who was delighted that Miles had been found. He was at work, and said he would come by in his lunch break to take the dog home. Happy at how things had turned out, we left Miles at the shelter and returned home, where we were given a rigorous investigation by our dogs.

That wasn’t the last we would see of Miles, though. A couple of weeks later, we had taken our dogs for shots or something to the GSPCA, and had just put them back in the car to head back home, when a car drove up with a dog in the back. Never ones to pass up a chance to meet a new dog, we waited for him to be taken out. To our delight, it was Miles! His guardian (whose name I can unfortunately not remember — yes, I know what it says of me that I can recall the dog’s name but not the human’s) told us that from the moment he drove up, Miles started to get all excited. He could evidently see us through the windshield and couldn’t wait to come out of the car. A short and ecstatic reunion happened, and then we said goodbye to Miles.