India. Our dream had finally come true.
We were invited to India in the autumn of 2012 by a young Hindu journalist we’d met during one of our climbing trips over Armenia. The call sounded serious and tempting: “I’ve decided to come back to India and start my own newspaper, The Outdoor Journal. I need help from someone who knows climbing and photography. Your help.”
We did not hesitate for a moment. The dream had just come true, and this was our call. The only obstacle had four paws and a wet nose. But was it a real obstacle? Leaving our dog was not an option. When we’d made the decision to have a dog, we knew she would accompany us everywhere. Even when we heard questions like, “India with a dog? You cannot do it.” Of course we could. After several months of preparation, in mid-January 2013, we landed at the international airport in New Delhi.
We climbed a few times during our stay in Delhi: First, at an outdoor artificial wall in the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. Later, outside Gurgaon and New Delhi, at the rocks in Dhauj, a desert area with an old, dried-up lake and 10- to 30-meter-high rocks. Climbers from abroad look like aliens among the women in saris passing by with brushwood on their heads, children herding goats, and “city people” who come to Dhauj to speed up and burn rubber (the flat sandy area is perfect for the motorcycle sports so popular nowadays in India). In the middle of this madness were two Polish climbers and a dog.
Apart from those short climbs outside Delhi, it soon became clear that life in the big Indian city with a dog would be difficult. After three months, we’d had enough. We wanted to go back to Warsaw, a city that seemed gray and dull at our departure. Now, Warsaw shone again in our dreams. We missed the European lifestyle of Poland and Warsaw, but most often, our thoughts turned to the Tatra Mountains, our idyllic place. The decision was made: we would go back. But then it turned out that our “fairy tale from One Thousand and One Nights” was more like Shrek.
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How’s that? In the European Union, companion-animal travel is subject to strict laws and regulations in order to avoid spreading or reintroducing rabies. Conditions for the non-commercial movement of pet animals have been harmonized under the rules laid down in Regulation 998/2003 of the European Parliament. Pets should be identified by an electronic identification system (transponder) or by a clearly readable tattoo applied before July 3, 2011. For all travel, the animal needs to be have a passport and have a valid rabies vaccination. Pets coming from third-world countries should have a positive serologic test, a blood sample taken at least 30 days after vaccination and three months before movement. This can be certified only by an approved EU lab. We had all the papers but not the blood test. Nobody told us in Poland that it’s required to reenter the European Union.
So we had to spend another three months in India.
“What shall we do?” we asked each other. Going back and risking quarantine for Diuna was not an option. Easiest solutions are always hardest to find. We thought, Let’s spend those three months in the Himalayas. Let’s go dogtrekking! After all, Garhwal is only 500 kilometers from Delhi.
We bought a tent; packed our backpacks with basic and essential gear; and headed to Munsiari, a town in the border triangle of India, China and Nepal. From there, we headed west on foot, living as nomads on the roof of the world. Most nights we spent in the “many-stars hotel” in our tent; sometimes we sought refuge in Hindu temples, village huts made of clay and stone (which often lack toilets, though a satellite dish is a must) and, rarely, cheap hostels for backpackers. We tried to avoid major hiking trails. All the food for us and our dog we carried in our backpacks, then cooked over a campfire. We did not use porters and guides, traveling on our own.
Every morning, we wake up to a view of the 5-, 6- and 7,000-meter-high peaks of Maiktoli, Bhagirathi, Trisul, Nanda Devi, Shivling. We performbasic duties: pitch a tent, set a campfire, cook, feed Diuna, pack our gear and walk through the mountains with our dog. Clear the mind and follow the sun, forget about our problems and live with nature. Walking up and down, through villages, meadows and high passes, heading west of Garhwal. After 55 days, we have trekked through a Himalayan range (from Munsiari toward Gangotri), walking 500 kilometers (the other 500 kilometers were spent in buses and jeeps). During those two months, we visited 12 Himalayan valleys suspended between 6- and 7,000-meter-high mountain peaks, occasionally losing the trail and surviving moments of true horror at being lost. We have climbed 63 kilometers vertically—it’s like summiting Mount Everest seven times, starting from sea level—accompanied by Diuna, our brave Czechoslovakian Vlcak, the first Polish dog in the Garhwal Himalayas.
One day, on the way to Pindari Valley, an unleashed Diuna (we had to go down a very steep, slippery slope) chased a herd of goats grazing nearby. She was gone for a half-hour. When she finally came back, her jaws and front legs were full of blood. Fear paralyzed us. Had anything happened to her? Maybe she was attacked by another dog defending its goats? Or maybe … no, she could not have hunted. But it turned out to be true. For the first time in her life, Diuna unleashed her wolf ancestors’ instinct to hunt and kill a fleeing animal.
In a short time, we were surrounded by a dozen residents of a nearby village, Lahur. An elderly woman, the owner of the herd of goats, wailed on a mountain slope. After several hours of negotiations conducted in Hindi (a language we did not know), English (known by one inhabitant of the village) and international body language, we were able to come to an agreement: we paid for the damage, and the goat would be eaten by the people of Lahur.
From now on, we promised ourselves not to unleash Diuna below 3,500 meters. Even on the steepest slopes, we walked with Diuna strapped to our backpack hip belt. It worked well provided there was no wild animal nearby.
After two months of trekking, we reached the holy place for the Hindu religion: Gaumukh, the source of the Ganges, which comes from the melting glacier of Bhagirathi. On June 1, Diuna scented the presence of a herd of Himalayan tahrs (rare animals resembling mountain goats). Suddenly, she dragged Agata so hard that Agata fell and hit her shoulder; the collarbone was broken. This was the end of our adventure; now was the time for rescue. The nearest town of Gangotri was 16 kilometers. There was nobody in this pilgrimage area, no cell phone coverage, no help available. We managed to go down to the village and went the next day to Uttarkashi for emergency medical help.
It’s been five months since the accident. The collarbone was eventually operated on in Poland. We cannot be angry with Diuna; we believe fate rescued us from Garhwal. The day we left Gangotri, the Himalayas experienced an early monsoon (usually it arrives a month later), bringing heavy rain and causing flooding. Thousands of people were trapped in the place we had been a few days earlier. More than 100,000 people were evacuated from the mountains by military helicopters. A month later, in Poland, we learned that 5,000 people missing in the “Himalayan tsunami” were considered dead. We live, thanks to Diuna.
Trekking with a dog might not be easy. But we cannot imagine doing it without Diuna. She is a part of our family and we are responsible for her. Our 500-kilometer dog “walk” gave us a lot of experience and taught us a lot too, so now we know that you can follow your adventure dreams with a dog at your side.
This year, we’re planning a 1,000-kilometer trek over the Mongolian Altai—with Diuna of course. Please help us inspire more people: igg.me/at/dogtrekking
For more photos of this incredible adventure, see The Bark Issue 77, Spring 2014.