On a thrilling trekking excursion to Harishchandragad via Ratangad through Katrabai pass, we carried food supplies for three days with us. We took a break to lounge at Samrad backwaters, dropped our supplies and were chilling. Shortly, we experienced hunger pangs and decided to whip up sandwiches, only to find out that the entire box of butter has been missing. Guess what we saw next! Two dogs were licking their paws and the box of butter was demolished, of course, with nothing left for us. We couldn’t resist their adorable faces, laughed at the incident and decided to name them ‘Bread’ and ‘Butter’. After having some cuddling sessions with the dogs, we strapped our backpacks and headed to Ratangad fort. To our surprise, our two dogs with their wagging tails and enthusiasm accompanied us on our way to Ratangad. Soon, we found them leading us and all we did was follow them to the top. Even though we were without butter, we got something even precious in return. The camaraderie of these loving dogs, who lead and motivated us to the top and made sure we didn’t lose the trail.
Hiking and camping in the Sahyadri Mountain Ranges is leisure and bliss in its truest sense. Everything about these mountains ranging from forests, trails, forts, caves, water bodies, climate and much more makes one feel at utmost ease and peace. But trekking and camping with dogs have their magic. You are purely lucky if a dog accompanies you on a trek. The presence of dogs levels up any outdoor experience with their undying ability to explore, protect, and provide unconditional companionship. It is astonishing the way these dogs join us on treks. At one moment you are walking and dodging some rocks and the next instance, out of the blue there’s a dog right beside you. You don’t know where did this dog come from but from now on, the dog and you have found each other and it’s time to trek to the top together. The company of a canine friend completely elevates the vibe of the trek.
Honestly, there aren’t many reasons that could tell us about the motives of these dogs joining us on our treks. After personal experiences on several treks, we have boiled down to two reasons. Dogs are unconditional beings, they place love, loyalty and friendship above everything else. When they see humans on treks, all they want is love in the form of some pats, belly and ear rubs from them. Another valid reason for these dogs has to be food. Most of these mountain dogs are fed by the villagers. However, they can't feed every dog in the area. That’s why these dogs come up to trekkers in the hope to get some food from them.
Mountain dogs are the best guides trekkers can ever have. These dogs are born in hilly regions which makes them accustomed to the various routes and terrains of the mountains. They are well aware of the paths, shelters, villages and trails because it is their territory. A dog will never lead you the wrong way. If you ever lose your way in the woods or on the trek, the best thing to do is to follow a dog. Trekking with dogs always brings assurance and calmness to the trekkers. Dogs are natural climbers. They climb with such swiftness and vigour, that only by observing their epic climbing skills the trekkers get pumped up. When you are hiking with a dog, a dog will always be a couple of steps ahead of you, wait for you to reach them and then start climbing again. They have this incredible sixth sense which tells them to stop when they realise that they are tired and need a break.
Once a dog has decided to accompany you, then they will be with you till the top and even while descending. A dog brings in gusto, playfulness and friendliness on the trek. You might want to give up because you are exhausted but the presence of this passionate dog will keep you going and won’t let you quit. Dogs are always going to be there to uplift your mood and spirits with their comic antics. While trekking with a dog, we hardly realise that we have completed the trek.
Mountain dogs are also fearless protectors and always vigilant. When you are camping, a dog will protect your campsite and will never let any stranger come close to it. Their impeccable intuitiveness and sense of danger have saved many lives on treks. Some of the villages in Maharashtra paint stripes on their dogs. Scarecrows don’t work anymore. Therefore, they are replaced by dogs which are painted to look like tigers to protect farms and villagers from wild animals and robbers. Dogs provide us with unconditional love and support, but what makes us furious is the way they are treated. Many trekkers harass the dogs by throwing stones at them or by kicking them. Dogs are sentient beings and don’t deserve such cruelty. If you don’t like them, you can ignore them and they will go away but it is absolutely brutal to hurt them.
It has also come to our notice that many of these dogs have maggots, ticks, fleas, lice, skin infections and injuries. You can always keep a basic first aid pouch with you on treks to treat dogs in villages that do not have access to vets. Your first-aid pouch should contain Cotton, Gauge bandage, Betadine lotion or ointment, Neosporin or Nebasulf powder, Soframycin ointment, Himax ointment, Topicure spray, Ivermectin tablet and Ibuprofen tablet as well as neem, coconut or eucalyptus oil. All these medications are available at regular chemist shops and are not expensive. The best way to treat an open wound is to clean it with Betadine or any other Iodine solution, sprinkle Neosporin powder and apply Himax. Make sure that you never feed a dog Parle-G biscuits, Marie biscuits, chocolates or anything sweet. Sweet and chocolates are poison for them, which cause majority of skin infections and ticks. Slices of bread, chapatis, rice, boiled eggs, chicken and any other meat is the best diet for dogs. You can carry some leftover chapatis, rice and eggs on your next trek to feed the dogs.