Babar The Lifeguard: Pondicherry

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“Babar’s been playing the lifeguard, honey,” Sandeep called out to me as I walked towards them. He sounded worried.

“He’s been running towards the sea every time someone would dip their heads under the water. He thinks they are drowning and he keeps trying to rescue them.”

Babar greeted me cheerfully with his wagging tail as I came near him. He was completely drenched.

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“He did the same thing with me when we were in Goa. Whenever I go underwater, Babar would swim towards me to rescue me. I am anxious these strong waves would carry him to the middle of the sea, and he might not be able to swim back to shore.” Sandeep added.

I looked at the waves. It did look extra violent that evening.

“Let’s walk further away from these people,” Sandeep suggested. I saw a group of five people half-submerged in the water, holding hands to brace themselves from the onslaught of the thundering waves. It seemed to thrill them each time the waves assaulted them. A little girl kept shrieking whenever the waves hit them. In turn, we kept urging  Babar to move on when we see him turning his head towards them every time she screams.

It was then our second evening in Pondicherry, well in Tamil Nadu technically, since the pet-friendly resort where we were staying at was located almost outside the border of Pondicherry.

We were staying in an eco-resort and spa of sorts. That was our second time there. We chose to stay in this place again because they allow dogs in their property and they have a nice enough private beach. It is located about 20 km away from the main town of Pondicherry though.

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The sprawling property is vast; we have to take a short ride in their resort cab to reach our cottage. The cottages are expensive during peak season at 7500 rupees per night for nature cooled bamboo hut but drops to 5000 rupees on the lean season. The air-conditioned private bungalows could be as costly as 15000 rupees to 30000 rupees per night. If you feel like splurging, you can book the most expensive ones with private swimming pools. The most popular accommodation is the tower suite which offers gorgeous panoramic views of the sea. Breakfast buffet is included in the room rates. ( Be sure to read reviews from travel websites like Tripadvisors or Booking.com before booking your rooms to have realistic expectations of your accommodation and browse travelers photos instead of the professional ones taken by the resorts themselves.)

 

 

The resort ambiance is quaint in its rural village appeal. It has glimpses of some artistic concept, but overall, the grounds lack proper maintenance. The landscaping looks too wild, unkempt, semi-desert, semi-tropical beach-inspired. Towering coconut trees lining the pathways and giant cactuses serving as fences in between bamboo bungalows. While roaming around, I felt like a castaway in an abandoned resort where wilderness crept in and swallowed it.

 

 

 

 

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It is the nearest beach from Bangalore and the only resort allowing dogs we did not have many choices if we want to go on a quick drive to a coastal town. And the city of Pondicherry is always lovely to visit especially the French town area, though parking is often a problem. We spent our Christmas holiday there thinking that, Pondicherry is a former French colony,  the Christians in Pondicherry would be celebrating the Christmas festival more earnestly that they would in Bangalore. I saw a couple of churches with some Christmas lanterns on them, but there was none of the Christmas cheer I was expecting. The resort itself did not have any Christmas decorations. There was a magician who performed in the resort restaurant on Christmas eve, but that was it.

 

 

 

 

Ten kilometers away from the resort, we discovered a nice pizzeria serving delicious woodfired pizzas at a reasonable price. They allowed Babar to sit with us on their outdoor table, so that was a plus. 

 

 

One good thing about Babar in this kind of trips, he’ll be so exhausted playing outdoors and would snooze away while we have our meal. We never have to worry about him bothering anybody. Before coming in with Babar in any restaurant, I would always ask the owner’s permission. Babar usually slept so quietly that the manager or owner would often ask me where is the dog that came with us. They would laugh upon seeing him sleeping so sedately under the table.

The restaurant in the resort prohibited us from taking Babar there while we eat. Sandeep and I have to eat separately, one at a time. One has to stay with Babar in the cottage while the other eats at the restaurant. It’s not an unusual practice for us whenever we visit in places offering breakfast buffet meals. In our six years of travelling with Babar, we have developed an efficient routine in reducing the chances of Babar being a nuisance to other holidayers.

 

 

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In the balcony of the cottage we rented for this Christmas weekend, a fraction of the sea was visible framed by overgrown hibiscus and bougainvillaea shrubs. From a distance, the whiteness of the surf merges with the sky. If not for the movement of the waves, you would not be able to tell where the sky and sea meet.

 

 

It made me sad to see a bit of debris on the beach. It would be nice if they can keep the place litter-free. Although the sea itself does the job of cleaning the shores each push, the waves as it come and go keep the coast clean. The rubbish retreats to where the water could not reach it. It was a pity since it is a lovely beach.

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On our last day on the beach Babar, the self-appointed lifeguard of Kalapet beach, suddenly needed some rescuing himself but not from the tumultous waves. Aside from playing in the water, Babar’s enjoyment comes from meeting other dogs. The resort has a couple of resident dogs, and Babar has wanted to meet them. Sandeep, thinking the dogs were friendly, let Babar approached them. One of the dogs started growling, menacingly, as he came nearer then lunged towards Babar’s leg all of a sudden. Sandeep bolted to where they were to rescue Babar from getting bitten. Babar let out a pained whine. He felt hurt that his friendly gesture was reciprocated with violence. We examined his body thoroughly. Thankfully we did not find any bite wounds, only wounded pride.

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I was glad the unfortunate incident did not dampen Babar’s happiness.  He forgot about the mean dog as soon as he started playing in the water again, flirting with the waves as it advanced and retreated.

 

 

 

A Heavenly GetAway

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What was I thinking? Where did I get the nerve to plan a hillside trip in the monsoon season? I did check the weather forecast for the next four days, and like an ominous sign, the illustration above the forecast showed sinister-looking dark clouds and bolts of lightning. There will be thunderstorms for the entire week. Should I trust the forecast? I checked the weather situation on all the states we have to pass by, and it was the same all throughout, up to the hills and to our final destination. It was going to be a 12-hour drive, half of it on the hillsides.

On the morning of our departure, I awoke with uncertainty about our trip. I told my husband we don’t have to go, but he assured me it was going to be alright. I looked at Babar and thought how he must be missing the hills and the spacious space where he can run so I thought, what the hell, this trip would be an adventure. It did become a nail-biting adventure, for me at least. Hubby did not even break a sweat.

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We were already out of the city when the heavens opened up and poured out all its watery contents over our heads. The wiper of the car worked overtime, but still, it was not fast enough to clear the tons of water cascading on the windshield of the vehicle. We could not see anything in front of us but a thick wall of rain. We stopped when it was getting dangerous. This same narrative recurred during the entire trip until we reached the hillside. Over there another element added to this thrilling experience. Fog. We snaked up slowly and drove gingerly in zero visibility. Once in a while, the mist cleared up to give us a view of what lies for us up ahead. It showed us the tip of the mountain shrouded in thick clouds. After a few hours, we were literally driving through a thick blanket of clouds. I held my breath each time we turn on a curve which we could barely see if not for the light coming from the trucks driving toward us.

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DSCF6427.JPGIt was six in the evening when we reached Narkanda, as instructed by the manager of Agyaat Vaas resort, where we would be staying, we drove to Baghi road. Darkness was fast approaching when we saw the fork in the road. We had to take the middle one leading to Hatu peak. It was just a cycle track, really. Only wide enough for one car to pass. And we had to climb 5 kilometres of it to reach 3400 meters where our destination lies. 15 minutes had never seemed longer. My heart stopped beating for a few seconds when a huge white SUV came nose to nose with our car on a curve. What to do. We had to go back down with one of the rear wheel hanging for dear life until we found a space wide enough for the other car to pass by. The driver of the other vehicle told us they had to turn back for it was much too dangerous to climb any further. My heartbeat went into overdrive.
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When I alighted from the car, upon reaching our hotel, my legs were shaking. Babar jumped from the vehicle in wild excitement and dipped his nose in the first puddle he saw. He ran and ran. Ahead of us and then towards us, wagging his tail gratefully. I laughed. We made it in one piece. Thanks to the steely nerves of my husband.

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20130816-121241.jpgAs we walked down towards our cottage nestled in the misty woods, I felt like I was walking inside a fairy tale. The place was romantic and mysterious.

Different seasons in the hills have different challenges but different rewards too. The jungle has never been more beautiful. Everything was so lush, fresh and green. The weather was incredible. It was delightful, with just a little bit of chill.

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As the forecast predicted, it did rain for the whole week. So we sipped chai as we watched the rain and, munched on tasty pakoras. I read an entire novel in 5 hours straight. A slim volume by Haruki Murakami, The West Of The Border East of The Sun. Hubby got all the rest he needed. Babar ran as much as he wanted, rain, mud and all.

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On the few hours it stopped raining we were able to trek towards a vast lovely meadow called Jau Bagh where numerous wild horses were grazing peacefully undisturbed even by our presence, even by Babar’s excitement.

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The most extraordinary thing about the trip was how awesome it was to walk in the clouds. To see a wisp of it rising up from the ground like thick smoke from a fire. How it touches my shoulder. I almost wondered I had died and gone to heaven.

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-JMKhapra copyright 2013

Babar, The Road Nut And The Search For The Perfect Pet Friendly Holiday Destination In India Part 1

 

The August calendar, I noticed, was looking especially colorful with three dates standing out in color red. My husband glanced at what I was looking at.

“We should plan a short vacation around these dates.”

Babar who was sitting calmly in the corner raised his head, ears perked up. I grinned at him. We both knew what it means. Road trip!

Three holidays are coming up, Eid, Raksha Bandhan and the independence day of India. So once again I went on the internet searching for holiday ideas. We can only take four day leaves from work, meaning the place I have to choose this time should be a one day drive away only which limits my choices very narrowly. To reach the most beautiful places in the hills of India you need at least 7 to 10 days. Otherwise most of the holiday will be spent on the road, which is also fun if we are not taking the dog with us. Babar loves running and hiking with us and I would hate for him to be cooped up in the car for the entire trip.

Babar loves riding in the car. As young as three months old, after his vaccines were completed,we have been taking him in the car everywhere around Delhi. We made sure the destination would always be fun for him and, never to the vet clinic for a traumatic painful injection. I read somewhere that, if his first trip on the car is going to the vet, he will associate that experience with the car so we avoided that. We took him to all the big parks in Delhi instead. Now he is addicted to riding in the car. He has to be at center seat where he can walk back and forth to peak at both windows. On these trips he likes poking his head out the windows,  the wind on his face.

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Choices for pet friendly hotels in India are very limited, almost nil. I have to be very resourceful and search mostly for adventure camps where I think the owners will likely allow our dog to stay with us even if it does not say so in their website.

Finally, after hours of searching, I found a pretty cluster of quaint looking cottages on top of a hill in Narkanda. A place we passed by when we went to Sangla last year. It is only two hours ahead of Shimla so we can reach there in one day if we start early from Delhi.

On the internet, I searched for images of the camp and its surroundings. It is in the middle of a lush green forest with a good view of the snowy Himalayan peak. I became excited. It is exactly the kind of place I was looking for. Crossing my fingers, I called the number printed on the website. The owner answered my call. He sounded nice and accommodating. After inquiring about the availability of the cottages and tariff, I asked the bomb-laden question.

” Sir, we are planning to take our labrador with us, will you allow that? ” I held my breath waiting for his answer which came quickly without the slightest hint of hesitation.

” Yes, you can take your dog here. Our place is spacious so he can run around freely.”

The adventure camp is called, Aagyat Vaas which means, I think, hideaway. And to hide away means you have to go deep into the forest and to reach the secluded peak means to climb dangerously steep narrow roads. Again. Roads in the hills are always the thrilling part of our adventure.

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I realized that after two years of living with Babar I have now come up with a decent list of pet friendly holiday destinations in India. Well, mostly in the hills of North India.

The owners of the places who allowed Babar to come with us are usually dog lovers too. All of them were also very nice, well mannered and treated their guests well. We have enjoyed ourselves, Babar most of all, in all of these places.

Number one on my list is Kinner camps, nestled in the gorgeous valley of Sangla in Himachal Pradesh. Owner Mr. Negi and associates were very nice to us. They were very accommodating and made sure our visit was comfortable and enjoyable. They became very fond of Babar. The tent we stayed at for four days was spacious and clean. Each tent has its own bathroom with a western style toilet.

Babar had plenty of spaces to run in the meadow near Baspa river, slightly below the camp area. Babar made a lot friends over there. The kids adored him.

There are also plenty of scenic places nearby, like Chitkul, Kalpa and the charming Batseri village.

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Sangla

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On the other side of the Himalayas in Uttrakhand lies the mystical mountain of Chopta. And somewhere hidden in the midst of its endless sage green meadows surrounded by a dense forest, lies Magpie camp.

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For 3500 rupees a night (including meals) we had an amazing time, for we were the sole guest of the camp during our stay. Babar roamed around freely everywhere without any screaming, complaining auntie anywhere. Although I got spooked by their talks of leopards stalking the camp at night but the only cat Babar came across  was this one!

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In order to initiate Babar on our vagabond lifestyle we took him on a nine hour ride to the nearest hill station in the Himalayas. He was not even one year old then. We had a slight difficulty with his toilet habits during the trip. For the entire nine hours on the road he did not pee, even when we stopped at  many places. We were just fearing his bladder would blast. I read somewhere it is difficult for dogs to relieve themselves if they cannot smell their urine anywhere. But as he grew older this problem got corrected.

His first long journey was the trip to Sola , Shogi. There we found a pet friendly adventure camp with small charming cottages. The Hotel Oakwood Hamlet. The room was nice, the staff was helpful and the food was decent. Although the front yard was not spacious enough for Babar to run around. For guest with pets it is good for a stop over if your destination requires more than one day of travel.

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In Kufri there is another good stop over if you are traveling with your pet. Hidden in the middle of the forest are these charming cottages of Eco Village resort. Although the room is very basic, it is comfortable. The place is actually an apple orchard where guest are free to pick as much as they want. A few horses also gave us a surprised visit in the morning.

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For our stop over on our way to Chopta, we stayed at a camp in Rishikesh near the river. Babar enjoyed his sprint along the sandy shores and the sunset reflecting on water was gorgeous. If you like roughing it up I will recommend it but it is not for the finicky. The tent is not comfortable, toilets are communal and the food was awful. But it was nice to spend the evening near the water.

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I am sure the list will grow longer in the years to come. I will also try our luck in the deserts of Rajasthan. That would be a completely different experience for Babar.

The quest for the perfect pet friendly holiday destination in India can be very frustrating as you will not only get negative reply from most hotel owners but also disapproving frowns from fellow guests. But if you are patient enough when finally you do discover a perfect oasis for you and your pets it would be the most awesome vacation you can ever have.

-JMKhapra copyright 2013