My family has had dogs for as long as I can remember. Got my first one at the tender age of 10 and life has been beautiful ever since. At the moment we have two boxers, Zara (age 9) and Jack (age 2). Jack had his first vacation with the family, last year in March, to our cottage in Saat-tal. A sleepy hill town in Uttarakhand, nestled between beautiful lakes and about an hour’s drive from Nainital.
I find that if ever I pull out my suitcase to pack for a trip, my dogs sense that I’ll be gone for some time. Usually tantrums ensue. My neatly piled clothes are pawed and strewed all over my bed, my shoes are attacked as chew toys and every once in a while I find Zara sitting inside my open suitcase, looking at me accusingly. Well in this case, they sensed something different. I was planning the packing list, carefully laying out my clothes and toiletries and keeping an eye out for the destructive duo. Then almost nonchalantly, I opened their drawer and started pulling out their sweatshirts and toys. They looked at me intently, a little startled, a little confused. Then I started arranging their stuff into the suitcase. Lo and behold! They broke into animated frenzy. There was shrill barking, there was crazy gymnastics, total commotion and unruliness! Their innocent excitement was so heartwarming that I joined in the cacophony. They knew. They felt included. They were over the moon.
The following morning at 4am, my dad’s scorpio was loaded with the luggage. The back seat was folded over the suitcases and layered with light quilts and small cushions. Almost like a mini mattress, to make comfortable stretching room. And so we embarked upon our 6 hour drive to the hills, 4 humans, 2 dogs and much excitement.
Soon, Zara picked a cozy spot and settled on of the cushions. Crazy Jack kept jumping in confused anticipation. By the time we reached the outskirts of Delhi, I think he realised this was not a regular every morning drive to the park. He decided to conserve his energy and sprawled himself on the make shift bed to take a nap. We made our first pit stop after 3 hours at the McDonalds courtyard. My sister and I walked the dogs and fed them their morning meal. Stomachs full and bladders empty we resumed our journey. We made it to Saat-tal by about noon.
As I opened the gate to the winding pathway, Jack tugged me back, reluctant to proceed. He has always had a slightly nervous temperament, a sceptic to anything new. He just wouldn’t budge. Finally, his courage fostered by Zara’s lead, he entered. Once inside, I took off their leashes and pulled out their toys and sweatshirts. The sight of his familiar belongings comforted his initial reluctance and he understood, that this was the intended destination. We let the dogs loose inside the compound while we settled into the house.
I returned after an hour, surprised to find my hesitant baby completely transformed. His face happy, with carefree delight. He had never seen so much open space. He could not control his own excitement. He would jump over the hedge, up the steps, around the back, into the lawn, over the flower beds, into the door, out of the door…. running, running, running. He was like a gazelle on ecstasy. I had never seen him so happy and wild. I think that day Jack discovered his own exuberance.
We spent 4 days in Saat-tal. In the mornings we would take the dogs for long walks on the hiking trails around the lake. They were overjoyed to be left loose without leashes. No scare of traffic or other stray dogs. They would run around, chase rabbits, charge at birds, bark at monkeys, fetch stray pine-cones mistaking them for toys and bound around the hill side, their ears flapping and tongues lolling in this new found paradise. The afternoons were spent swimming in the lake. We carried empty sprite bottles tied with string as little floaty toys. We would throw, they would dive, swim and fetch. This routine would go on endlessly. Once exhausted, they would come and sprawl on our mats by the shore, drying themselves and snoozing. We spent hours together, soaking up the sun, in perfect silence and perfect love. Those were the moments, I needed nothing else. My world happy and complete.
In the evening, curled up in a blanket by the fireplace, snuggling up next to my leg, he looks up at me, his sleepy eyes saying,
“I had a fun day. I like the fresh air. I love to run free. I like fetching silly things for you from the garden. I think I like swimming too. I love long walks by your side. I like holidays with you. I like when you spend the whole day with me. I think what I’m trying to tell you is, my home is wherever you are. So always take me along.”