Saturday, March 28, 2015

At the foot of the Shivalik range

As the car pulls into the camp, a flurry of black and brown activity catches my attention. We are a long way from the main road and quite deep into the forest. To my great respite, two of the camp’s faithful aides arrive just in time to greet us. Meeting Leo and Kaalu, two of the four dogs at the camp, ensures that my cramped muscles have enough to stretch about as they sniff out at my clothes and bags. Satisfied, they lead me to the dining area where the owner of the camp, Sunil Gupta, awaits. The journey has been a short six-hour drive but the last one hour has taken its toll. “The Shimla road is still under construction. Once completed we can expect another half-an-hour reduced in travelling,” he says. For now, I need the comfort of a bed and a nice shower.

Riverside retreat

A small stream runs through the camp. At its deepest, it is about five ft but makes a worthy attraction for birds, animals and reptiles. A baby monitor lizard, for example, gets quite upset when I absent-mindedly walk into its spot for the night. It is, after all, too late in the evening to walk around without a local member from the camp. Suzie, the camp’s white Labrador, jumps ahead of me causing the creature to scamper off only to look back quite menacingly. Suzie is undaunted by the threat and after a few more growls, returns to guide me along the stream. Her confidence inspires me and I follow her on. Soon, we come across a meadow most beautiful with a carpet of thousands of tiny blue and yellow wild flowers where Suzie offers me a stone she’s picked up from the river bed and sits back, waiting for me to hurl it to a distance so she can fetch it back for me. I oblige the dear thing and sit back to gaze at the wonderous charm of a place so tantalisingly close to the city and yet untouched by everything it represents.

I have my fill of the mountain air and decide to walk back to the comfort of the camp. Back at the camp, preparations are on for the evening campfire. I sit back to enjoy the sight of the last rays of the evening sun shimmering the top of the pine trees. Almost an hour later, we are told that the guest who had gone towards the meadow just after me spotted a leopard by the stream. A prominent shiver runs down my spine.

Starlight and bonfire

The sun has set and the cold wind makes us huddle close to the bonfire with snacks. With a leopard on the prowl, the natural drift of the conversation veers towards encounters of a wild kind. “We occasionally have monkeys visiting the camp but a few months ago when one of their babies was picked up by one of our dogs, it became quite an ugly scene. They do not venture close to the camp anymore,” informs Gupta. “Of course, we also hear a lot about the leopard that preys on cattle and dogs in this area but I haven’t seen it and I believe that the noise and sound from the camp keeps it at bay.” A log breaks noisily in the fire startling all of us into silence. It is now that I notice the voices of the creatures of the night, the bright shiny stars and a moonless sky. At the same time, I have to admit that I get a bit scared as soon as the feeling of being watched by a hungry predator comes to my mind. Sensing my apprehension, the camp organisers decide to take me for a short night drive to admire the forest in the dark. It is comforting to know that I will be inside the car all the while and I am happy to find only the sight of a few mountain hare. The surprise comes on our way back to the camp when the car stops suddenly in the middle of the road. The first few minutes are frightening but the beauty of the stars, glittering to their own tunes in the silence of the forest, is breath-taking.

Adventure galore

The following morning, I wake up to paradise. It is still the early hours of the morning when I head for a round of the camp. A range of activities are lined up for me that day and I want to know what I am signing up for. After breakfast, we head for the first obstacle course — the Burma bridge. It may sound childish but it’s not child’s play, especially if you take growing up too seriously. The only other adventure I indulge in is rappelling over the stream. Once through, I hardly find time to catch my breath before I am led to the impressive display of a five-course adventure spree that children and corporates visiting the camp keep coming back for.

By lunch time, I have a clear idea of the amount of exercise I need to get the stamina to keep up with such an adventure course. But there is more. As I proceed to check out of the camp and bid adieu to my four furry friends, I am told that the journey back would start with a visit to a local temple. This ancient temple is hardly anything to see from outside. As we climb up at the stairs, I find it no different from thousands of other such hill shrines accessed by a flight of stairs. It is only when I reach the top that I realise why the organisers have chosen this particular temple for a visit. An elaborate underground cave system lies before me.

Compared to the other caves that I have seen, this one is formed not by water cutting through the porous portion of the rocks but by years of sedimentation of particles brought in by the water. Leaving the comfort of sunlight behind, we dunk, bent only at the hip and soon on all fours, to the bottom of the cave. It is here that the sage Bhrigu is believed to have meditated for years on Lord Shiva. A small pool of fresh mountain water lies at one end along with a host of rock idols which the locals believe to be crafted by Gods. The cave system also heads upwards from the entrance and the more adventurous ones can relish the experience. On our way back, we stop at one of the greenhouses that are being used to promote horticulture in the region. I walk around soaking in the small joys of such a blissful life when a bunch of fresh colourful carnations is gifted to me. At that instant I know, this is more than just another summer romance with the mountains.

Copyright: Exotica, the wellness and lifestyle magazine from The Pioneer Group, available in all rooms of select five-star hotel chains across the country

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bed and biscuits please!

Vacations are fun but not for everyone. The lack of information on options across the country has led to a great number of pets being left behind as the owners head for a holiday. Not any more…

Holidays are fun, better when all members of your family get to share valuable time with one another. Last month, a friend of mine decided to surprise his elder sister in Shillong by taking their beloved pet dog, to visit her from Delhi by rail. “Nothing had prepared me for the journey,” he says. “We had to book a coup in the first class to ensure that other travellers were not bothered by our pet. We carried our own lot of medication and food for her as there was no form of first-aid to help her on board.” The worst part of the journey, however, was the two hour delay in getting to the destination. “She (the pet) had been doing fine. There was reasonable amount of space for her to move. We had been advised to give her a sedative but we didn’t want to. The last two hours were toughest on her. She would stare out of the window and whimper.”

Travelling with pets is hardly an easy choice in India. Although we have come a long way from using strong sedatives to put the pets to sleep on a flight, there is much to be done still. Having your own conveyance has been the best bet for commuting with a pet. “There was a time when my mother had not been keeping well in Kolkata and being based in Mumbai, I had to visit her frequently. After two bad experiences at kennels, I decided it was best for me to take my pet along to Kolkata on my visits home,” recalls Rua Das. “After procuring the crate and container for my dog, I was asked to hand her to the authorities. I only saw her after the flight had landed in Kolkata. She (my pet) was shaking tremendously. She had been a terrible ordeal in a cramped space and with was far from restful despite the sedatives. She got sick on the way back and added to my worries.” After the experience, Das promised herself never to travel with her pet. Until recently. “After rave reviews from a friend, I dared to try travelling with my pet. This time, to Mumbai. Although I took precautions like getting a container with a padded base for my pet’s comfort and ensuring she (my pet) was well hydrated and lightly sedated before I set off for the airport.” The flight’s attendants took good care of the animals and the flight had a separate section in the baggage hold for themselves. They were not allowed to move around but the space was open enough to keep off any sense of nausea.”

While both railways and flights have improved their standards when it comes to travelling with animals, private vehicles is still the top choice for pet owners for commuting. The next great challenge is finding a suitable place to stay with your pet. Till only a few years ago, pet-friendly hotels and resorts were a rarity. The past few years has seen better days for pet-owners. Standard rules of good behaviour apply in pet-friendly resorts as well. Owners need to clean up after their pets and unruly behaviour towards other guests or their pets is forbidden. On the whole, the pet-friendly resorts in India have not had too many untoward experiences. “If a guest’s pet is too aggressive then we advise separate dining options and recreational activities to them. The biggest advantage that a pet-friendly resort can have is space. There should be enough room for everyone, even the ones having a bad day,” says Amardeep Singh Sondhi of Kikar Lodge, Punjab.

Pet-friendly stays
When it comes to choosing a resort to stay at with your pet, it is always advisable to call in advance and let the staff know of your requirements. Some pet-friendly resorts and hotels may not e able to accommodate you for the presence of other (larger number) of pets already at the resort.
Vivanta by Taj, Holiday Village Goa, Candolim - Only dogs and cats allowed at this property in specific rooms.
Emerald Trail, Bhimtal, Uttarakhand – A nature lover’s dream, this property is best suited for active owners of hyperactive pets.
The Dune Eco Village and Spa, Puducherry – The owner has four dogs on the premises and the property is referred to as an “artist’s hotel”.
Camp Della Resort, Lonavla, Maharashtra – India’s first pet-friendly resort has 12 different breeds of dogs of its own. Pet food, kennels, bedding, walking and pet sitting services are all available. There’s fun for the owners as well.
Jim’s Jungle, Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand – Located at the heart of the Corbett Jungle, this property helps you and your pet to explore the wild side of life.
Forsyth’s, Satpura, Gujarat – This luxurious boutique property makes for a happy hangout with your pet.
Patan Mahal, Rajasthan – The best time to visit with your pets is during the monsoon. A seasonal river closeby makes for a perfect outing.
Bhainsrorgarh Fort, Rajasthan – A touch of regal luxury awaits you and your pet at this heritage property.

Airline policy for pets
Animals such as dogs, cats, household birds and other pets when properly crated and accompanied by valid health and vaccination certificates, entry permits, and other documents required by countries of entry or transit will, with the advance agreement of carrier, be accepted for carriage, subject to Carrier’s regulations.
Charges for the carriage of accompanied pets will be the normal excess baggage charges and animal and container are not allowed for pooling in the Free Baggage Allowance.
However these pets may be carried free of charge if the dog is trained to lead the blind passenger with impaired vision and dependant on such dog or the passenger with impaired hearing and dependant on the dog, provided this is medically established or supported. Dog if properly harnessed may be permitted to be carried in the cabin but cannot occupy a seat.
Pets will be accepted only when properly crated and accompanied by valid health and rabies vaccination certificates, entry permits and other documents required by countries of entry for transit pets will be accepted at owner’s risk and subject to requirements of the carrier.
Courtesy: Air India

On board the Indian railways
Under section 77-A of the Indian Railway Act, the liability of Railways as carriers of animals is limited as specified below, unless the sender elects to pay the percentage charge on value as shown in the Rule 1301: Per Head Elephants Rs.1500/- Horses Rs.750/- Mules, Camels or Horned Cattle Rs.200/- Donkeys, sheep, goats, dogs and other animals or birds Rs.30/-
The sender or his authorised agent is required to declare the value of each animal on the Forwarding Note when the value of an animal exceeds the amount specified above. The sender or his authorised agent must also record in the Forwarding Note whether he engages to pay the notified percentage charge on value. Should he elect ‘no’ to pay the notified percentage value on value, the animal will be accepted for carriage under the terms and conditions of Section 77-A of Indian Railway Act.
The Railway will not be liable for the loss, destruction or damage arising from freight or restiveness of the animal or from overloading of vehicle or wagon by the consigner or his agent or delay not caused by the negligence or misconduct of their servants, irrespective of whether the sender has engaged to pay the percentage charge on value or not.
Railway will not be responsible for the loss, destruction, damage, deterioration or non-delivery of animals after the termination of transit as defined in Rule 153.

Pet passports
India no longer permits tourists to enter the country with a pet. Only if you are moving to India or are a citizen of India returning to the country, you must obtain an Import Permit in person from the quarantine center in India. The No Objection Certificate (NOC) previously required has been included in the Import Permit.