Tails from all over: Meet India’s most well-travelled pets
As hotels and the hospitality industry open up to animals, travel enthusiasts have started taking their pets along on trips — dogs, cats, hamsters, parrots. And companies, too, are stepping in to offer gear.Updated: Mar 06, 2019 20:06 IST
Marcopolo goes on about 30 trips a year. He prefers trains, but always travels by first-class coupe. He carries his own food so he can eat healthy — oats, brown rice, dry fruit. Oh, and he’s a rescued stray.
Marcopolo was adopted seven years ago, by Divya Dugar, a travel writer and documentary producer from Delhi. They usually travel in a group of four — Divya, Marcopolo, and her other two adoptees, Tigress and Pari. Last year, they traipsed through Chamba and Dalhousie in Himachal Pradesh, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Pushkar in Rajasthan, Orchha in Madhya Pradesh, and Goa.
As hotels and the hospitality industry open up to animals, travel enthusiasts have started taking their pets along on trips — dogs, cats, hamsters, parrots — and as more people begin travelling with animals and birds, companies are stepping in to offer gear.
These include lifejackets for dogs, so they can paddle safely or go boating (read on and you’ll meet two frequent users); also backpacks, so they can carry their own snacks, water and other gear, especially when trekking; also foldable beds and bowls; sweaters and jackets; goggles for the glare; and even cooling vests for those sweltering summer days abroad.
Sometimes people in love with their pets go overboard, says Vidha Shukla, laughing. The founder and head of Delhi-based pet accessories brand Lana Paws says she once got a request for a bandana for a horse and a travel mat for a hamster.
“While the latter was challenging due to its tiny size, we managed to deliver the goods, but the bandana for horse did not work out,” Shukla adds. “The logistics were a challenge and we just couldn’t make it.”
LIFE IN THE WINDOW SEAT
Every time Divya Dugar books a train ticket for herself and her pups — planes are far more expensive and stressful for animals — she writes to the chief commercial officer for the Indian Railways to make sure there are no hurdles at the last minute.
Having hopped off, her three strays clamber onto buses, hitchhike by van, even travel by tempo with her. “I’m usually overcharged horribly, so we do a lot of walking too,” Dugar says.
She started taking her dogs along on trips after the death of her first stray, Pondi, in 2016.
“I travel a lot on work assignments and I felt horrible thinking about all the times I had just left her behind,” she says. “I could have spent so much more time with her if I had taken her along, so that’s what I decided to do.”
Tigress is the fussiest of the three; she has to have her mini yoga mat to sleep on, her favourite sweater at hand, and her blankie to help her feel at home in strange places.
Pari was adopted only nine months ago and has been on three trips so far. As a female, she’s more protective, so new places put her on high alert. “But when she sees Marcopolo and Tigress enjoying themselves, she starts to have fun too.”
Each dog has their own backpack. “When we go on short treks, I put their water bottles, fruit — mainly apples, berries and bananas — and medicines in these bags,” she says.
So far, Dugar has found Madhya Pradesh to be most pet-friendly. “At heritage sites, including temples, ASI officials welcomed us warmly and allowed the dogs in.”
One time near Gagar in Uttarakhand, the priest of a small temple took such a shine to Tigress that he insisted on giving her a private tour to of each shrine, and made sure all the dogs had some biscuits and water afterwards.
“For every person I meet who is not nice to us or my dogs on the road, I meet at least five people who are not just nice but unbelievably generous, kind and compassionate,” she says.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Frodo and Cruise are in the midst of a 100-day, 10,000-km road trip across India with Priyanka Jena, a social media influencer who runs a travel company, and her partner Tanveer Taj, a content creator.
They’re calling the journey Wheels and Tails. “We are avid travellers and over the past year, have started to take our dogs too on road trips too,” says Taj. “Back home, it’s rushing from one workday to the next. On the road, the pace is slow, we spend time together. We didn’t want our two boys to miss out on all that.”
The couple started out small, going from their home in Mumbai to nearby tourist destinations such as Ganpatipule and Alibaug.
They began this road trip in December. “The dogs, who used to be so hesitant around water, have become ace swimmers since then. They’ve also learnt how to sit still in a canoe,” says Jena. They have their own lifejackets and winter coats.
The group of four is currently in Meghalaya, having made their way through Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal and Assam.
“Eating out becomes difficult when you’re travelling with pets,” says Jena. “In Madurai, we got glowered at even in pet-friendly establishments.”
Jena and Taj say the trip has been a learning experience for everyone. “We’ve discovered that Frodo is the more enthusiastic traveller. He loves the window seat and will spend an entire ride with his head outside the window, with short breaks to doze every few hours,” says Taj.
Jena and Taj drive fewer hours in the day to make sure the dogs don’t get exhausted or carsick.
The group spent New Year’s Eve camping at Tuticorin beach and even made friends at a hotel in Rameswaram. “They had two other dogs to play with. It was an adorable sight. Four dogs running around the property,” says Taj.
- While there is a rise in the number of travelling cats, parrots and hamsters, dogs are the most common animal hotel guests
- The Belgadia Palace homestay in Odisha, which opened a section of of the palace for people travelling with pets, has received requests for rabbits, tortoises, and birds too. The animals are not allowed in suite rooms that contain vintage items and antiques,” says Akshita Bhanj Deo, is director of the luxury heritage, owned and run by her family
- Most hotels charge extra for a pet in the room — at the Taj Vivanta President in Mumbai, for instance, it’s additional Rs 3,000 per night. At Marriott Suites in Pune, there is a refundable deposit of Rs 5,000 in case they find any damage such as scuffing of the carpet or upholstery, and an additional Rs 2,000 for sanitation and room maintenance costs
- To ensure the comfort and safety of other guests at the hotel, some establishments mandate a muzzle on cats and dogs and ask that the animals not be let off the leash when outside the room
- The challenge for most pet-friendly hotels is getting the room ready for the next guest. It may have to be fumigated — especially in case the next guest has an allergy they don’t know about. Blankets and pillows tend to be shampooed, and corners sterilised
- But it’s not all grim rules and reminders. Hotels also invite pets in with special bowls, litter bags, chew toys, shampoos and soaps. Pet-friendly rooms tend to have larger balconies and are usually situated on the ground floor.
A MOBILE PENTHOUSE
Zareen and Mehernosh Pastakia from Navsari, Gujarat, are in their early 70s and enjoy their retirement by travelling in and around Maharashtra and Gujarat — with their four-year-old hamster, Sultan. Together, they take about eight trips a year.
Next month, they’re going even further afoot, to Kodaikanal. “We take him wherever we go. Be it a wedding or just a visit to a relative,” says Mehernosh.
The couple used to have a parrot, a gift from a colleague to Zareen. He was the most sought-after guest at family weddings, says Zareen, but he died four years ago. Only a pet can fill the vaccum created by the loss of another pet, the Pastakias say. So they decided to adopt — not a bird, but an animal more suited to a confined life.
That’s how they came to have Sultan. The princely hamster travels with his own little suite — a special, three-level cage with ladders and tiny ‘bedroom’. “He’s nocturnal. So most of the time that we’re travelling, he sleeps. That’s why his home is so important,” says Zareen.
The cage is his caravan; he never uses it at home. “At home, he is free to run around. We take him to the garden and leave him on the lawns,” says Zareen.
Letting him out to play in unfamiliar places is rife with danger, because he’s so small and could be seen as prey by even dogs and cats, so one of the Pastakias keeps a watchful eye.
The Pastakias never travel at night because that’s Sultan’s time to play. He spends a lot of nights halfway up the hotel room curtains, or playing with his ball.
The scamp can be hard to keep track of, but he’s only been lost once — and even that time, after much panicked searching, he was found him sitting on top of a door. “He was seated there comfortably, nibbling something,” says Zareen, laughing.
Chandramouli, a stray from Bengaluru, has a bike seat and biker goggles made especially for her and accompanies her pet parent, Gowtham Kumar, on rides under 300 km.
“She would miss me a lot when I was away and she seemed to enjoy the rides, so I decided to take her along. We now take around eight trips a year,” Kumar says. “My other dog Sivagami does not like to travel on the bike, and so does my wife. So they stay home together.”
Chandramouli and Kumar have been to Hampi, Mysuru, Hassan, Mullayanagiri and Pondicherry, on trips that last between two and seven days.
“I hardly spend any extra money on her,” Kumar says. Even the glares were a DIY project made by upcycling his own swimming goggles with an elastic strap from an old helmet.
Chandramouli loves campfires and an enthusiastic dog can make your uphill trek feel easier, says Gowtham.
Chicken with rice is her favourite meal. “She is a very easy companion to travel with. No fuss, no demands. But she is a big-time foodie. After finishing her bowl of food, she will eye mine too. And I don’t budge to offer her any,” he says.
On treks, Chandramouli is wary of monkeys and cats. “She makes friend easily with other dogs, but gets skittish around monkeys. Once she spots one, she won’t leave my side.”
AN UNUSUAL PERCH
Rina Dev’s pet parrot Kamaki goes everywhere perched on her head or shoulders. Even as the veterinarian makes her way to her clinic in Mumbai, neighbours, watchmen and street vendors have got used to the sight of Kamaki hitching a ride.
Their first long trip was to Goa in December. Before that they had been to hill stations and beaches within Maharashtra.
Dev loves to have the radio on in the car when they’re riding. “He starts clucking and does these little grooving steps to the songs. I love seeing him do that,” says Dev.
When travelling with pets, you have to keep an eye on the animal’s comfort level, the vet adds. “Some develop motion sickness and vomit. That may be a sign that they’re not suited to long journeys,” says Dev. “Initially, I used to be concerned that Kamaki would get bored or homesick. So I carried trinkets and balls for him to play with. But he loves sitting on my shoulder. And he won’t stop singing. I take that as a good sign, and I don’t carry toys with me any more.”
Next month, the duo is headed to Ratnagiri. Dev, who got married a year ago, says she could never leave him behind. “He was even on my wedding invitation card.”