An 8 hour long tiring bus journey came to an end as the driver steered his moped, up the corrugated roads in Kullu and finally put the vehicle to a halt. We jumped off the bus, covering ourselves with double protective layering and heavy bouncing bags tied to each one of us. It was early morning at 6 and all I could see was wraiths of mist wandering above my head. There were five of us, going in search of breakfast before motivating ourselves to head for a 5 hour long trek up the hills towards Kheerganga; a place I had envisioned to visit in Himachal Pradesh. As prevalent and omnipresent as mountains are in this region, it is hard to find a way through them without a companion or guide.
After a few obvious questions to the passers by, we reached the foothills from where we got to know that it would be a 12km long path trek up the hill. A Himalayan task (at least a quarter-Himalayan Task) we thought, especially when we realized our mistake of carrying 15kgs backpacks each. No man or woman was found as far as our eyes could see. The place was unique and lonely, and it intrigued me. We looked around again to ask someone and verify if we were on the right track but then again, there was nobody to ask; except for one being that walked all the way past us. We heard some squeaky voices at first and then we could hear some barking; it was a dog. I had no clue about the gender and I had never shown interest towards a dog or any animal for that matter, my entire life.
With no choice left, we simply decided to follow that little being. 15 minutes through, not really sure about the path, we took a break at a point where the road or rather the pathway divided into two. We decided, we would choose the one that was less steeper and that which had lesser rocks to climb above. But the dog had it’s own plan, it chose the opposite. Losing all hopes on the dog, watching it climb; to our surprise it glanced back at us wagging it’s tail. And all of a sudden, a diminutive middle-aged man came out from behind the rocks. He worked a toothbrush-sized stick in his hand carrying wood as he climbed down from the route we had decided to take. He was young but a belly was already spreading under his torn t-shirt. He wore tight highwater trousers and it was clear that he was living a life of relative plenty.
On interrogating him, he said the route we had chosen would take us 3 hours longer than the other route to reach the destination. Just as I heard him say this, I looked up the trail, faced the dog and gave it a smile. “Perhaps, it was a trained dog,” I told myself and felt happy to have found a companion. We named the dog, ‘Cheers’ after quite a few suggestions poured out. Cheers led us the way for about 2 hours continuously. We couldn’t match up to it’s pace, especially with heavy bugs pulling us down but every time we took a break, it was quite pleasant to watch Cheers stop, look back and wait till we got back on our legs. Through the mountain, a beautiful river flowed by- fresh, clear, and sky blue in colour. All of us were in awe looking at the river’s beauty; it’s elegance was calming.
Every time we got stuck or tired somewhere, we would scream out ‘Cheers’. Of course, the dog wasn’t going to carry us up but the very presence of a strong companion was quite motivating in itself. At a particular junction, we decided to take some snaps while Cheers decided to rest. I was right behind the dog, holding my friend’s DSLT(Not DSLR, but DSLT; I don’t know the difference though). Just for fun, I called out ‘Cheers’ and to my surprise, the dog turned back and struck a pose. That moment somehow, made me feel special. I can’t really draw parallels to a baby responding to its mom or a best friend screaming out my name, but it was quite a good feeling. As we reached the destination, we gave Cheers food and parted ways. Perhaps, it went to accompany the next set of travelers. It sure wasn’t a ditcher but instead, a loyal and faithful leader.
We reached Kheerganga after 5 hours of trekking(could have been 4, had it not been for the backpacks), set up the tents, bought food, took down some gulps and decided to spend the night out. It was peaceful and we found moments of bliss looking at the beautiful scenery. As we decided to get rolling and go back to sleep, two dogs came towards the tents and sat right there. We tried to sleep all night but the weather never made us feel comfortable, even inside the tent. It was more or less a sleepless night where the dogs decided to sleep alongside the tent, and with one of the dogs, I had to share my back through the tent. With transfer of heat between our bodies, it gave me some warmth. Quite unexpected as it was, your uncomfortable moments can teach you so much in life. We woke up early morning, had a little breakfast, and gave much more to the dogs. Getting back to naming the dogs, we decided to go with ‘Hash’ and ‘Vertigo’. And just as I had thought, these two dogs decided to take us down all the way.
To a person, who has never been affectionate towards any animal except the social kind, it was quite an experience. From jumping out of joy when happy to being loyal and dependable, from living the moment to enjoying the journey, these three companions shared with me a story that will forever remain with me. Their companionship, loyalty and unconditional love is unmatched by any human standards. For a keen traveler, each trekking experience is always different and so was my case. But this time around, it was little more than just trekking, it was more about understanding the affection of animals. I always used to wonder when people talk about pets and love, if there is anything true with respect to that. I never knew that strange companions could actually explain it to me better than humans themselves.