Published: 23rd March 2021
A man, his wife, two dogs and a three-legged kitten: This is the unbelievable story of one family's journey to the Himalayas in a Tiago
We spoke to Arun Sekhar, a techie from Bengaluru, about his experience of travelling from the Garden City to the Himalayas in a Tiago with his family of dogs and a rescue kitten
The COVID-19-induced lockdown was gradually easing across states when Arun Sekhar and his family — his wife, two dogs and a rescue cat, to be precise — made plans to visit his in-law's residence in Bhilai, Chhattisgarh. On September 19, 2020, they set foot in their car, a Tiago, to begin their week-long journey from Bengaluru. Little did they know that life had bigger adventures planned for them.
"My wife and I love to travel, but all our plans in 2020 got cancelled due to the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. Both of us had indefinite work from home as we work in the IT sector. When the lockdown began to ease, we decided to drive to my in-law's place in Bhilai, Chhattisgarh, but we couldn't leave our pets anywhere. So we decided to take them along. This was this kitten's first long trip - we rescued her during the lockdown, she has only three legs - so we trained her over a few weeks by doing some short rides within the city. What we learnt through those rides was that the kitten wasn't keen on travelling and we needed to have her on a leash and harness at all times. Once we began our journey, we realised that we couldn't travel for more than two days at a stretch as it wouldn't be good for the pets, they would be sitting in the same position for such a long time," Arun recalls.
The duo and their 'kids', as the couple like to call their pets, left home thinking that it would be a week-long trip to Bhilai. The roads from Bengaluru to Hyderabad were quite comfortable. Soon after Hyderabad, they decided to take a break. "We decided to halt at Kamareddy town in Telangana where we rented a room with a balcony for the pets to be comfortable. The next day, we started really early and reached Nagpur in no time. From then on, it was pretty exhausting — pothole-filled roads until we reached Bhilai," adds Arun. Then misfortune struck, they got stuck in their in-law's house for two weeks when the Chhattisgarh State Government imposed a brand new lockdown at that point. To their surprise, they found that their pets were comfortable with travelling and getting accustomed to new places.
Arun then shares that when it was time for them to return to Bengaluru, they had already come across a few of their friends, acquaintances and others working from picturesque places near the Himalayas or at seaside resorts. As Arun and his wife both had the luxury to work from home, from anywhere in the country basically with their laptops and good WiFi, ideas came pouring in. However, what they had to worry about was whether their pets could survive the cold of mountaintops. Also, if their car, a humble Tiago, could manage the climb. Arun shares that what he decided then led them on a once-in-a-lifetime experience. "The second lockdown was just easing up, we did not have warm clothes to protect us, let alone food and clothing for all our pets — there were so many uncertainties but we decided to take the risk. The first step was to reach Delhi and camp there for a week at my parents' house. Acquire all the necessary supplies, get the car washed and ready we were to go. What we had to keep in mind was to find a working WiFi connection and pet-friendly hotels wherever we go," adds Arun.
They began their journey from Delhi around October 10, 2020, with Arun's brother and his cousin tagging along, and reached Manali in one and a half days. So just to reiterate: it was four people, two dogs and a three-legged kitten, all the luggage, in their Tiago. Phew! And Arun was the only one driving as his wife and brothers weren't too confident of driving on the hilly terrain. Upon reaching Manali, they searched for a room on Airbnb and found a guest house that suited their needs. "The four of us had a 2BHK to ourselves. Even though the WiFi was not so strong, we had good mobile signals here and so we managed to get through our WFH (work-from-Himalayas) without any issues," says Arun.
All in all, the pets took the trip quite well, says Arun, barring a few hiccups with their dog Voxy who was vomiting for a while due to the uneven Ghat roads. "Voxy began vomiting every day after the car ride, but it was just because of travel and we were relieved to hear that from a vet we took her to in Manali," Arun tells us. The others are Body, a five-year-old golden retriever, Pixie a four-year-old mixed breed (Labrador and Doberman) and the rescue kitten that was three months old at the time of the journey.
After their stint in Manali, the duo had taken a week's leave from work to drive through Ladakh and Kashmir. Driving from Manali to Leh is very tricky thanks to the insane altitude gain, adds Arun. But all that he kept thinking was that they wouldn't get this opportunity again. "We wanted our dogs to experience snowfall for the first time in their lives and that kept us going. Through this trip, we learnt a lot too. We got to know the limitations of the car, it wouldn't climb at all in places. Also, it wasn't the ideal time to travel there, typically tourists visit from May to August," shares Arun. Speaking of some of the major challenges on the road, he continues, "The roads seem normal to you but they have a layer of ice on top called black ice. At points when we had to stop, the car was starting but the wheels weren't moving at all. The toughest hurdle is the Taglang La Pass."
The trip's most memorable experience was when their furry children got to play in the snow for the very first time. "We introduced them to snow for the first time and we wouldn't have done it any differently - not by train or airplane, but in a car. It was quite a special moment for us," concludes Arun. Finally on November 29, 2020, after two and a half months of travelling more than 10,000 kilometres, the family returned home.