Spiti is known for its majestic landscapes, beautiful people and amazing wildlife. But the one thing that often goes unnoticed or rather, taken for granted by tourists is its canine population. Being a dog lover myself, I planned my first trip to Spiti this March with the intent of spending some quality time with its furry denizens. I spent a few days in Kaza and Chicham to document the lives of stray dogs and their relationship with humans during the winter season.
A Warm (and Moist) Welcome.
On my first morning in Kaza I walked down to the bazaar where I received a warm welcome from all the strays. They were very curious about my camera, sniffing and licking it all over. Most of the dogs prefer to stay in the bazaar area where they feed on leftovers from restaurants and vegetable stalls. In the winter months they are heavily dependent on humans as food becomes scarce.
During consequent walks in Kaza I came across these oddballs:
The Enlightened One (Below)
The Old Monk (Below)
Puppies With an Attitude (Below)
Sleeping like a hog (Below)
A Snowball In The Snowstorm (Below)
All Aboard The Gnaw Train!
A Handful of Puppers
In a small lane behind the main bazaar I found these four puppies hiding in a makeshift shed. Devraj, a vegetable vendor told me he was personally taking care of them, feeding the mother daily so she has enough milk for them.
Lunchtime With Mommy (above)
It was heartening to see the locals taking it upon themselves to look after the dogs during the harsh
The Good Samaritans
Although the people of Kaza are quite tolerant and empathetic towards the strays, their growing numbers do have some serious consequences especially during the winter months. When the temperature drops and the snow accumulates, food becomes scarce. This tends to make the dogs violent and attack each other, even the livestock and people. To make sure this doesn't happen, Spiti Ecosphere teamed up with the locals to start a daily feeding program. Donations of Pedigree (dog food) now come all the way from Shimla and are distributed to volunteers. A group of women cook food on Sundays and feed it to the dogs during the week. Sadly, I was unable to meet the women as they were not in Kaza during my stay but I managed to meet a couple other Samaritans.
Mr. Angrup who works at the Kaza Circuit House feeds a bunch of strays that live nearby. It was fun to see the dogs pop out of several nooks and crannies the moment he walked out with a bag of Pedigree.
Another Angrup who works as a cook in Kelsang Kitchen (their Momos are delicious!) keeps aside sheep bones and feeds them to a few dogs in an alley. He told me how they used to be extremely malnourished and aggressive earlier when they had a hard time finding food.
Takpa, who lives in the village of Chicham was my main point of contact for the whole trip. Apart from hosting me in Chicham for several days he also showed me around Kaza on the first day and introduced me to all the right people. This trip wouldn't have been possible without his help.
Takpa was taking care of two dogs in Chicham: Nono and Zikpoh. More on them below.
Ecosphere has also teamed up with the Forest Department and Nature Conservation Foundation to sterilize the strays. The locals help to capture and bring in the strays while a few vets volunteer to operate on them. The dogs are kept under observation for a few days till they fully recover from the operation and then tagged before being released.
Chilling Out In Chicham.
After spending three days in Kaza I headed off to Chicham in Takpa's car to search for Snow Leopards (that's another story). The first day was spent taking a long walk with the handsome duo Nono and Zikpoh.
This is Nono. He loves basking in the sun all day long (below)
This is Zikpoh. He loves rolling in the snow and barking at the Yaks (below)
Walking down to Chicham Bridge with the boys. We had a small standoff with a band of strays that looked like they had become feral. This is a growing problem in Spiti as feral dogs can have a negative impact on the wildlife of the area.
Zikpoh (below) found a sheep carcass and got busy gnawing it while Nono (above) went around marking his territory.
Puppy Patrons (below)
One day I met these kids who were going to build a shelter for some newly born puppies just outside the village. I joined them on their quest while they performed some antics for the camera.
Building a cozy tent to keep away the harsh sun and cold, piercing winds...
...and it's ready!
Bhuyang (below) a traveller from Delhi who was staying in Chicham decided to adopt a puppy and take it home. Here he is posing with the little bundle of joy during a snowfall.
I stayed in Spiti for almost two weeks and it still felt like I was just scratching the surface of this place. I was spellbound by the bond that exists between the people and the canines. Yes there are problems to be solved but everywhere in Spiti I saw the communities coming together to find the most inclusive and humane solutions, with Ishita and her Ecosphere team being the catalysts. This trip felt like the beginning of a long relationship with Spiti, its people and its crazy canines.
Article Contributed by Sarang Naik, you can follow him on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/sarang.naik.77