Walks are a non-negotiable part of the day.. the two efficient members of the walking force, Biskit and Pepper, ensure that all imaginative and imaginary excuses dissolve into thin air with their trademark “WHAT? We are not going?” look. It’s a look which has been perfected with skill, doggy planning and team work (totally missed by this writer at the best of times) and doggy devotion.. And it’s a look which has me reaching for the leashes and front door key right away.
The front door opens, two furry balls rush out, the door is locked and we step out into the world.. and stop. Spoilt for choice, that’s what we are—walk up the road to the rolling Golf course, walk down the road to the twinkling lights of the town and the panoramic views of the Gharwal and Kumaon Himalyas, cut across the road and climb the paths of the dense deodar forest, run down the slope behind the building and dive into the pine forest, walk on the village path and pass an iffy stream, boulders and village folklore. The final decision comes down to two factors—my energy levels, and the position of the sun. And then, we set off—to get fresh air, meet our regular and irregular passing community, look at the ever-changing forest and never-changing grand Himalayas, and stock up on Vitamin D.
It’s never just the three of us striding into the sunrise/sunset.. Escort duties are done promptly by our canine neighbors. At the best of times, we get two sentries, and at other times, when Kajal enters the season of being at her most attractive, we have been seeing walking with 12 dogs following us… single line, tails aloft, noses sniffing the same spot, and soft growls warning enthusiastic suitors to behave themselves. Pepper is completely unconcerned about this escort service, but Biskit seems aware of what she has been missing ever since the decision to get them spayed at an early stage of living with us. Biskit frolics, frisks and flirts, wags and sniffs, but the male escort service is well and truly entwined in Kajal and her hormones.
There is someone else who is keen to see this escort service emerge during the doggy mating season. Later in the evening, when we have settled for the night and the escort service continues to trot behind the enticing Kajal, the Big Cat emerges from the forest shadows and quietly snatches the last dog in the line for its dinner. Last season had four canines vanishing into the paws and jaws of the Big Cat, the next season will see some more going. Nothing makes a dog loose his senses and skills like an attractive female walking away from him…. hmmm, now that statement has potential!!
Cold winter dawns are meant for sipping tea in our cozy room and snuggling under blankets . I wait for the sun to puncture the grey gloom and flood the field and forest with yellow gold. Till that time, those feisty and fit men have jumped , touched-toes, sprinted and laughed loudly before vanishing into their barracks. We walk out as the last man walks off, and it’s time to greet the world. Morning walks are for the golf course. The mighty mountains on the left are admired first, the tiny yellow flowers emerging on the hillside, on the right, come next. A few jumps on the piles of dry leaves, a couple of adroit skips to avoid the steaming piles of cow dung on the road, and we reach the cross-roads and toll gate.
The toll gate is the local meeting place. 4 tin-covered shops which sell tea and snacks, a forest toll office team of 4 ruddy cheeked men and 1 polite leader, a line of parked Sumo and Bolero taxis and all the drivers huddled around a bon-fire. Noisy men-talk ceases as I pass by, polite “Namastes” and smiles are exchanged, with two comments about fat, bear-like Peppu and slim, goat-like Biskit, and we stride on. The town garbage dump is near the road… early morning sunshine turns it into a glowing, steaming, surprisingly clean platform with some kites, jackals and stray cattle checking out the debris. We walk on, past a pine-tree lined valley till the rolling brown slopes of the golf course arrive.
The leashes are dumped on a tree-branch and the dogs run off into the vast space. I watch Biskit turn into a super-fast rocket with her flapping ears doing a non-rocket propeller act.
Pepper starts her “give me-throw for me-quickly get me that stone” routine. She hops and trots backwards, both shiny eyes on the stone in my hand, tail wagging furiously in anticipation, and then off she goes, chasing the stone. It’s more an olfactory chase than visual, and she finds it by sniffing circles in the general direction of the throw. Pepper has disdainfully rejected all pet-shop toys and balls. They don’t have that stony zing which makes for good grabbing and munching, and they cannot exasperate Mom when she tries to ferret out the stone from locked canine jaws!
While we run across the empty slopes, watched by the pines and the mountains, and feel the morning sun warming every bone, I indulge in that daily emotion of gratitude. Our morning walks in Delhi were like the goldfish-swimming-in-circles-inside-bowl-on-dining-table routine. Biskit and Pepper would take four rounds of the colony (leashes firmly around neck), sniff for the cats under the parked cars, look at the surprised rat bolting down the drain, glance yearningly at the park ( forbidden for dogs), glance at those grim old men walking around the park and throwing dirty looks in our direction ( why does this woman need to keep TWO dogs?!) and finally reach the school kids at the bus-stop for some careful petting ( uniforms need to remain clean and paw-mark free).
At the golf –course, other than the indulgent pines, there are no on-lookers. The marathon runners jog past in their shiny shorts, focusing on stride and breathing; taxi drivers try to maneuver past each other, without falling off the road; village women file past, talking and laughing, on their way to the forest for firewood; stray winter tourists drive past, with kids hanging out to stare at the dogs.
We chase stones and each other, stride across the slopes and take in all that clear air and sunshine till two long, pink tongues begin to hang out of happy mouths.
Leashes are fastened and we walk back. A quick stop at the toll gate (for a cup of hot tea and pakodas) happens when the dogs dig their heels in and refuse to walk without some tid-bits. Men stop to watch the dogs eat their share of the pakodas, there is a quick discussion on politics and weather, and after a round of polite “Namastes”, we come home.
Home is a hot cup of tea (again), bowls of fresh water, a whimsical breakfast and booting the laptop to connect with the world and begin the day.. Great way to begin a day—strongly recommended.