Friday, April 19, 2024
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Travelling with a furry companion in India

Travelling across the South Indian tropics with a rescued dog? Why not!

Here’s the story of how we rescued our dog, Moana, and decided to bring her with us on our travels.

We tried all the means of transport: from taking her as a bus passenger, to hitchhiking, to bike riding. 

When there is a will there’s a way, and our will to take her with us was definitely stronger than the challenges.    

From the mountains to the tropics

My partner and I were bike riding across the Himalayas when winter started approaching. It was only the start of the cold season, but when you’re in the mountains, and especially travelling by bike, it can be really intense and challenging. After months of mountain rides, we were deeply craving warmth, beaches and tropical heavens, so we started planning a bike ride across the South Indian tropics. Starting from Gokarna, a town on the Arabian sea in the southwestern state of Karnataka, through Auroville, a town in the state of Tamil Nadu and back to Karnataka.

Riding from the Himalayas till the south would take weeks, so we chose the quickest option and decided to ride till Delhi, where we shipped our bike to Gokarna, and embarked on a 37 hour train journey till the Southeast Indian state. 

It was the middle of the night when we reached our destination. We fell into a deep sleep and woke up early the day after to discover the new beach town.

The first morning in a new place always feels like an adventure! Getting mesmerised by the new incredible beauty that the Earth is able to offer, with no expectations at all, just deep love and appreciation for everything that surrounds you, allowing yourself to be completely involved in the present moment and surprised by the energy of the unknown! Especially after spending so much time in the mountains, Gokarna seemed like paradise on Earth – filled with palm trees, crystal blue oceans and a vibrant hippie vibe. We were planning to stay in Gokarna for one week, to discover all its beautiful surroundings, before continuing our journey.

The rescue

On our second morning in Gokarna we were bike riding in the newness of a yet undiscovered suburb, when we decided to randomly turn right in what looked like a beautiful lane filled with tropical flowers and banana trees.

My partner was riding and I was immersed in the beauty of the scenery, when we noticed two little puppies on the edge of the street crying out for help. The Sun was really strong and no one was around. We immediately stopped and rescued those two creatures that needed help more than ever: a male and a female, who soon after became Maui and Moana.

Maui was way healthier, but Moana couldn’t walk and was full of worms in her body. We went to the first local shop and explained the situation. So they immediately gave us an empty box and two packets of biscuits to feed them with. We put them in the box and I held it on my lap while we were riding towards the closest vet which was kilometres away from our location.

The ride towards the vet was really painful. I was crying tears of pain while looking at those little creatures, so scared in front of me, curled up in that tiny box, screaming out of pain. I was so afraid they could die at any moment, while in my arms.

Once we reached, the vet gave us all the medicine needed and made sure we could take care of them for at least one month. Maui got really healthy super fast and it was very easy to find a family for him, but Moana needed to stay with us for longer until she fully healed.

Of course, we would have never thought of adopting her, we are travellers who wander around the world, it’s not easy, almost impossible to keep that lifestyle with a dog. We were pretty sure we were going to find a family to adopt her, but… have you ever experienced a deep connection with a pet?

Well, you don’t really choose it, it simply happens. Moana came to us in such an unexpected way, and we could never let go of her. In such a short time we created a really strong, deep bond and we decided to extend our stay in Gokarna until she fully healed, and then make the impossible possible and bring her with us on our travels.

Attempt number 1: Bus journey

It took months for Moana to fully heal. We rented a beautiful little room right on the Kudle Beach coast, in Gokarna, for three months. They were months filled with love, exploration and adventure. Gokarna is such a little town, most people would never be able to stay for so long, but I guess only when you truly live it for a long time you can really see everything that it can offer: from camping on new moon nights in front of the ocean filled with plankton, to discovering all the spiritual temples, to daily bathing in the ocean, to hiking and exploring little nearby towns… There is so much to do! We were really grateful that Moana “forced” us to stay a bit longer, and fully explore all of the hidden wonders of that special tropical town.

But, no matter how much you love a place, or how many people you connect with, if you have a gypsy soul, you know that sooner or later it is time to go. 

We were still willing to complete our plan and discover other South Indian wanders.

Even though we usually travelled with our Royal Enfield Bike, we decided to change our plan because we didn’t think bike riding was going to be possible with a dog: either too dangerous or too uncomfortable. So we parked our bike at a friends’ garage and chose to take a bus to our first destination: Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, with a stop in Bangalore, the capital city of the state of Karnataka, in between. 

It’s not legal to bring a dog inside a bus or a train in India. Indian people do not really see dogs as pets, especially a rescued dog full of scars like Moana. They rather see them as stray animals and most people are afraid of them too.

Anyways, we tried our luck and travelled by bus with Moana at first. Our will to bring her with us was stronger than the forbidden. So we thought, hell yeah! We only live once and the worst thing that can happen is either a fine, or be kicked out of the bus, nothing tooooo bad.

We took the chance, wrapped Moana in a blanket, and carried her as if she was a new born baby – yes, we did that… oh, what you do for love!

My partner was holding her in his arms, I was taking care of the backpacks.

I had a fast heartbeat while approaching the bus driver. I felt a rush of adrenaline. Lots of questions and insecurities pervaded my body, balanced with a strong feeling of pride. Yes, I was feeling proud to be there, with my dog and a will that was stronger than fear. At that moment, I felt really alive. I was presently living in excitement, motivation and curiosity.

Moana really collaborated. She did not move, and waited patiently inside the blanket until we reached our seat, relieved. 

This, to me, is the definition of journey, rather than destination. The embodiment of living, rather than just being alive.

The journey was really smooth, Moana slept most of the time, but it was definitely not the best option, as we were living the whole trip with the fear of being kicked out in the middle of nowhere.

We explored Coimbatore for a couple of days but then we decided to spice things up a little bit, and hitchhike to our next destination: Auroville.

Attempt number 2: Hitchhiking

We waited, in the middle of one road, showing our thumbs to strangers passing by, with heavy backpacks and a dog. The first minutes were really exciting. That moment when you realise you’re pushing yourself out of your limits without any expectations. But then the nervousness and impatience started hitting… No one would stop. For them we might have looked like two weirdos with a stray animal and lots of luggage. Two lost hippies and a dirty creature. Dangerous individuals.

How could you blame them! – I was overthinking.

But the intensity merged with positivity and deep trust.

And so we waited, and so we laughed, and so we panicked, and so we got excited…

Until “Silk saree” advertisement truck stopped.

Yes, a tiny advertisement truck, with barely some space for one person.

Still, the driver stopped.

Maybe was he moved by our same adrenaline feeling?

Maybe was he having an affair with the unknown just like us? 

I don’t know, but he stopped.

So we took the chance and hopped on the tiniest vehicle, squeezing in backpacks, ourselves and a dog. Proudly sitting in front of the Silk Saree advertisement.

That was the first of many rides that eventually led us to our destination.

Coimbatore is 6 hours away from Auroville, but we reached it after hitchhiking for two days.

It was as exciting as extremely frustrating.

Yes, that experience was really beautiful and indeed an unforgettable one, though it was not so convenient.. The time spent waiting for a ride was even more than the time needed to reach the destination.

Attempt number 3: Bike Riding

Auroville was as magical as ever. It is an experimental township where people from all over the world get together to share culture, languages, experiences and life. Being in Auroville feels like being everywhere in the world, and nowhere at the same time, it really doesn’t feel like being in India, it is such a unique kind of experience. We spent two weeks there, attending events of many kinds: from Afro nights dancing on live drums, to eating sushi at the Japanese restaurant, to indulging in French cafes and bakeries in town, to exploring all of the surroundings filled with wild nature.

When it was time for us to proceed with our explorations, we thought of other travel options… Travelling by car did not fit our budget, as we would have to rent one for many days, and travelling by bike sounded way too complicated at first, but we still tried it out, because at that point, it was our only choice.

It’s crazy how sometimes the option that you would have least expected, ends up being the best one!

Let me tell you…. Moana absolutely adores bike riding! It’s no coincidence that she chose us as her family, two gipsies, reckless bikers… It felt like she knew exactly what she wanted!

We got our bike shipped from our friend’s garage to Auroville. We already had a tank bag, which we always placed in the front of the bike to carry the chargers, laptops and wallets, but we did a DIY and created a comfy seat for Moana. It was filled with cushions and towels and cosy blankets. We made her sit inside, at first a bit doubtful that she would feel comfortable, enjoy it or jump out in the middle of the trip. So we went on some “trial rides” around Auroville, to make sure Moana was comfortable enough, and surprisingly she was just sitting the whole time while enjoying the fresh air and being intrigued by the surroundings. 

Yes, bike riding is cool… but have you ever rode with a furry pillion?

That’s how we started our journey from Auroville, Tamil Nadu, to Hampi, Karnataka.

When the journey would be too long and she needed to stretch, or stand, or use the loo… she was giving us a sign, by moving or looking at us with an expression that said “guys, stop please” so we took more stops than we would normally have done, but that made the journey so much more longer and felt.

At times, I used to just hold Moana in the back, so she could sleep with the calming freshness of the wind, and allow herself to fully relax in my arms.

We had ridden many times before, but this one was a completely different experience. Such a new way to live something we had lived many other times before. It’s really fascinating to think about how bike riding can be experienced in so many unique shades.

This time we were getting lost in the Indian tropics, speeding between banana leaves and coconut trees. The smell of hibiscus flowers was refreshing us while we were getting surprised by the yet unknown streets revealing in front of us.

What was making everything so special, was adding up the innocent spark of Moana, who was so deeply present, living the moment in total awareness. She was not missing out on any insect, animal passing by, leaf moving, bike crossing the way… She was in the front seat watching it all!

Sometimes, while bike riding, it’s so easy to get distracted by unnecessary thoughts, and forget to be fully there. Moana was our precious reminder – not to miss out on the incredible beauty gifted by the road. We didn’t miss out on anything during that bike ride. From the stranger’s smile, to the locals photographing us at times, to the most unusual tree or the funniest looking lane. Every single detail was observed by the three of us with such innocent joy.

You see, I feel that many times travellers tend to focus on the arrival. They post stunning pictures of the destination, they talk about how wonderful the landing place is, but they forget to mention how they got there. Actually, no, they probably didn’t forget to mention it… they simply forgot to live it.

Backpacking the world introduced me to the beauty of simply being. Taught me how to appreciate every moment, even the most simple one, and live it as an extremely adventurous occurrence. Backpacking turned simple gestures into wild experiences, and the beauty is that it can only get better! 

Adding Moana, a sweet little (not so little) stray dog to our travels, was a way to add some innocence, adventure, and entertainment to what had always been our reality! It made us realise how there ALWAYS is a solution and a way to make things happen – when there is a will, there is a way. But mostly, it made us adventure in a totally different way, and experience the world through different eyes!

What a special journey! 

Melany Sferragatta
Melany Sferragatta
I like to define myself as a "gypsy in a love affair with the world" that's because after I first started traveling, at the age of 18, I fell in love with this Earth and never stopped exploring it. Traveling turned me into a storyteller, writing and sharing my experiences gives me incredible joy, so I wrote a book with the aim to inspire people to wander and adventure.

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