This the story of a street dog named Chor, who stole my heart.
As a resident of McLeod Ganj in northern India, every year I―and most of the other expats―leave town to escape the monsoon.
In 2016, I went to Kaza in Spiti to stay dry. On my return to Kaza last year, I was disappointed not to be reunited with my friend Sergio, the grand lolloping, long-legged clown of a dog I befriended the summer before. I can only hope he is out there somewhere, and okay.
But it didn’t take long for another amazing little character to appear on the scene, insisting his way into my life.
He was named Chor―which is a bit mean, because it means ‘thief’. He once snuck into a cake shop and devoured an entire tray of cream cakes. The story is that he was sick for three days.
Chor was small and slight of build, with big eyes, a foxy pointed nose, and a bushy tail. If you lifted him, he felt as insubstantial as if he were still a puppy. But boy, what a determined little character he was. He needed food, so he hung around the Himalayan Café, where he was in direct competition with a much larger, moody black dog who would chase him away. But Chor didn’t give up and he always returned. His biggest joy in life, after food, was to be able to lie undisturbed at your feet. Very soon he was spotting me from a distance and happily bounding to greet me, and I would chase Blacky away, sometimes dousing him with water, so that Chor could hang around without a problem. I know that Blacky was only taking care of himself, and that was entirely natural, but he was moody and grumpy―and I preferred Chor.
Chor got to like me so much that he became determined to follow me at all costs. At night, I heard him thumping at my guesthouse door trying to get in. When I opened the door, he dashed around my legs and tried to get to my room―and sadly I had to escort him out, back into the street again. Carrying him, I could feel how little weight he had.
I was in Kaza for a few weeks that time, so I encouraged him to follow me to the Taste of Spiti restaurant where the Ecosphere dogs hung out. I fed him there and did everything I wanted to habituate him to the pack, and with a certain amount of wariness and grumpiness from the others, it seemed to work. He seemed to get the message and was accepted. The word was that a local women’s group would organise themselves during the winter months, when everybody else had left town, to watch over these poor animals and feed them to help them survive the harsh conditions until the town came back to life with people the following spring. (The picture above shows the village of Kaza, on the banks of the Spiti River, in the full grip of winter―you can really get an idea of the severity of the climate.) Ecosphere bought in sacks of dog food from Manali so that there was plenty available for this compassionate service from these Buddhist ladies.
When the time approached and I knew I would be leaving soon, I asked my friends who were remaining a few weeks longer to pay particular attention to Chor and keep encouraging him to hang around Ecosphere. Unfortunately, Blacky cottoned on to the same idea and would hang around too, and aggressively continued to harass Chor there also. Very frustrating.
With a strong echo of my experience with Sergio the year before, the day came for me to leave town at the end of September, and head south in a taxi to Kalpa, near Shimla. Uncannily, Chor seemed to be aware that I was leaving and was very clingy, literally holding on to me, tugging at my clothes. I crouched down and hugged him and whispered to him for some time, and he responded by lying contentedly on the ground at my feet.
It had been raining in the early morning and there were puddles everywhere as I came out of the guesthouse with my travel bag. Chor immediately jumped on me and clung to my sleeves and my trousers, trying to pull me back. I pushed him off repeatedly, but he kept jumping up at me so that my trousers became wet and thick with mud as I headed to the taxi. Eventually he gave up and watched me receding into the distance, turning the corner towards the market. The next few hours of my taxi journey were excruciating because of my discomfort with the filthy, muddy trousers―disgusting and embarrassing.
Over the following weeks I heard from my friends who remained in Kaza that Chor was still with the pack. In spite of occasional rivalries and struggles amongst the dogs, it was working. He was still there, continued to beg for food at the Himalayan Café, and was being fed at Ecosphere.
By the end of November, all of the businesses had closed down and just a couple of the lads remained at the Taste of Spiti restaurant to close it down for the end of the season. The weather was becoming increasingly cold, as expected. Winter had arrived. It was just before Christmas that word came through that Chor had been discovered dead nearby. He had succumbed in some way―maybe to the cold, maybe from eating a poisoned rat, maybe as the result of a fight. My heart sank and I felt gutted. I wasn’t the only one, because by that time others had fallen in love with him too. My friend Ishita said she had wept upon hearing the news. I was affected by this for some time, as were others.
I am likely to return to Kaza. These experiences have left a deep impression on me. When you have connected with a creature in such a way, they remain a part of you. The sad fate of my little friend has become one of my own life’s lessons, and I will long remember and be affected by my brief encounters with the likes of Chor and Sergio.
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About the author
George Lubikowski is a world traveller from London, who is based much of the time in Dharamsala, India, and who likes to escape the monsoon by heading for the mountain regions. Formerly an IT professional, he managed to move on and is now enjoying an entirely different existence surrounded mostly by panoramic scenery and spending his days as a photographer, occasional English Teacher, and constant food explorer. One of the joys of this lifestyle is the number of new friends he has made, both human and canine.