Or the day we smuggled a dog into our hotel room
Most stray dogs in India know their place well: on the streets. But this was not the case for Kumbha. Here’s a special story of this Himalayan hound.
Each stray has its own nature and mannerism that distinguishes the individual from its fellows. And yet, most dogs are loyal to those who feed them. They show the same remorse and guilt after committing a mistake. They love to fight and wrestle amongst themselves when not in the company of people. If you look long enough, every street dog has pretty much the same heart-melting eyes as all the cuddly pet-dogs at home, even those with the battle-worn faces. And as for stepping into the sacred precincts of a human house, all dogs hesitate, with paws and snouts wavering at the threshold, daunted by the divine pleasures that lie within, which are not for them to experience.
But this canine ethical sense was too far below Kumbha’s tastes.
Kumbha was the biggest dog we met in the Himalayas
Su and I met him one cold November night in the mountain village of Kalpa. We were surrounded by the majestic range of the Kinner Kailash, next to valleys covered in golden apples famous for their mouth-watering sweetness. As we were walking back to our mountain resort, some several hundred feet above the village, we found a large, furry, stray dog that looked like a mix between an Alsatian and a Great Dane, lounging across the main entrance to our night’s lodging.
We were instantly in love. Big dogs never fail to draw our attention. Although in this case, we were all the more in love because of the rumbling snores that escaped the giant’s huddled body.
As we opened the main wooden door into the resort, we expected the dog to wake up at the least and glance at us. However, this big fellow did not budge, he just kept sleeping. I whistled to it once, saw its ears twitch, but that was just about all the movement we could get out of him.
Shaking our heads at this giants’ deep slumber, we made our way to our room upstairs, thinking we’d return to meet him during dinner with a packet of biscuits we always carry for the friendlier mountain dogs we meet on our way.
We had to befriend the giant
Later that evening, we could see a bonfire being lit from the tall glass and wood-panelled windows of our room. Excited, we made our way back downstairs to warm ourselves, not forgetting the packet of biscuits for sleeping beauty.
As we headed to the bonfire, our hearts skipped a beat as we heard a loud cracker bursting not far. This wasn’t on the menu, we thought. We had with every intention escaped the noise of the cities to get as far away as possible from the dangerous smoke and pollution that engulfs India during the few days of Diwali. Surely, the puerile din could not have followed us to the land of Shiva?
There were more loud bursts that announced that this wasn’t going to be a pleasant evening in the Himalayas after all. Instead of heading further towards the fire and the loud emissions, our thoughts were promptly diverted to the gentle giant sleeping alone. We made a beeline for the main entrance of the property.
As we neared this place, we discovered that the large dog had just about had enough of all the ear-numbing commotion and was hastily trotting away towards some quieter locale. The poor frightened beast, we thought, it must be so scary for all the animals around, and not just him. We, humans, owe animal-kind a lot of apologies: plenty more than what they owe to us.
It’s amazing how trusting dogs are
I gave another loud whistle to call the dog back and to reassure him that there was still some humanity left amongst a few of us anthropoids. Hearing this, the dog instantly looked around, and without hesitating came trotting back to the main entrance. He was much bigger than we had first imagined, probably one of the biggest strays we had come across in this part of the world. Not only did he have large limbs, but his ribcage and skull were as massive as a Rottweiler, although he had a much longer snout. “He is a bit like Scooby-Doo, isn’t he?” I said.
I let him sniff my hand, then placed my palm on his mighty head, and began scratching him with great affection. He loved it.
Soon, he had settled back down before the main entrance and was enjoying our company. Every time a cracker burst, he simply buried his face in my arms, as if blocking his visual perception would somehow prevent the next explosion. We fed him the biscuits, and he ate up the entire packet within a few seconds as if to reassure himself that the world was not about to end after all. He seemed very well trained, as he ate off our palms carefully, using his tongue and lips, but making sure his teeth were well out of the way.
Kumbha seemed well trained for a stray
After about ten minutes, we were starting to get cold, and seeing all the hullabaloo near the fire, we realised that dinner would take some time to be served. So we bid our mountain friend goodbye and went back to our room to warm ourselves up.
Only this time, as we passed through the main door and went up the first flight of stairs across the lobby, we heard the door squeaking open again behind us. And there was our new friend’s snout, followed by his two coal-black pet-me eyes timidly peering in as if waiting for a nod or a welcoming gesture.
We beamed at one another. And that was enough for the humankind’s best friend to register that he was still in our good books. He strolled in confidently and came right up the stair to where we were standing. Our driver, Vikram Thakur, who was sitting in the lobby watching TV, stared at the big dog, totally nonplussed. He was too surprised to say anything, and he simply let matters pass before turning his attention back on the TV.
Did we just sneak a stray dog into a hotel room?!
The dog paused on the landing for a while, looking up at us; but seeing that we were ascending to the first floor, he half-led the way to our room with canine instinct, waiting patiently for me to open the door’s lock on arrival.
By this time, we were quite perplexed about who was the guest at this hotel: us or the dog. We kept looking at each other half-amused but felt equally thrilled the more we came to terms with the domestic nonchalance of this apparent street-dog. “This one’s a little too big to take back home, isn’t he?” we thought aloud, almost simultaneously.
“He probably belongs to the owner or something. He seems to know his way around better than us.”
This was all the more clear the moment the dog stepped into our room. Without looking around or sniffing at our food-filled backpacks, he did a half-circle and sat comfortably on the carpet just below the bed.
“This has to be the room his owner sleeps in,” I said aloud, “It cannot be otherwise, surely! Or how can a dog trust us so blindly and be so familiar with the insides of a hotel?”
We brought out more biscuits from our bag and began feeding the dog. But he didn’t seem keen on biscuits anymore. All he wanted was to rest his head and have a lie-down, now that he had a safe noise-free environment. And so we let him.
Kumbha as the name suggests, was only keen on sleeping
As he rested, we went about our holiday evening routine: relaxing on the bed, reading, and browsing through our vacation photos. Only, we were bubbling with excitement throughout, and we kept looking at the sleeping giant, pinching ourselves each time to make sure it wasn’t all a wish-fulfilling dream. We have always wanted to have a large pet-dog sitting by us as we went about our day-to-day tasks, surrounded by a wintry landscape with tall snow-capped peaks. And this was it – the full package.
“What should we call him?” I asked.
“Why, Kumbha, of course!” Su replied, as if the name was already his.
We both giggled aloud, and watched Kumbha’s lips twitch in his sleep.
“I suppose he feels safe with us, since we comforted him when those loud crackers were bursting downstairs. He must have been terrified.”
“Yes,” Su said, “Every Diwali is like an apocalypse for dogs. There’s nothing worse than loud bangs for the sensitive ears of these darlings.”
There were a few more bursts that evening. But the sound was muffled by the single-glazed windows and the thick concrete walls. Each time there was a sound, Kumbha raised his head, and looked straight at us. Although he felt comforted by seeing us every-time, I sat down next to him on two occasions, patting him to reassure him that he wasn’t going to die.
Looks can indeed be deceptive. Kumbha was a gentle giant despite his giant stature.
Our biggest dilemma was when my brother came knocking at the door to inform us that dinner was ready downstairs. We were both starving, so skipping a meal in order to keep Kumbha company was not an option. We could have gone one after the other, but that would have looked very suspicious, as we weren’t planning on telling our parents who had come with us of our big secret. Room-service would have only meant a lot of explaining to do to the hotel staff and fabricating stories as to how Kumbha had got into the room in the first place.
Fingers on lips, we ushered my younger brother in. Kumbha glanced at the newcomer, then went back to sleep. But the moment brother saw the dog, his jaws dropped, “Is this even allowed?” he asked. “Won’t you get into trouble for this?” He was half-amused, but it was clear he wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about stray-dogs entering one’s hotel room.
“I suppose we will, if the hotel staff find out,” I replied. “But look at him: the poor thing was clearly frightened to death outside. He wouldn’t have come in here otherwise.”
“How did he get in?” brother said, clearly not convinced.
“He just followed us and walked straight into our room.”
“And you let him in?”
“We had no option now, did we? Anyway, what do we do about dinner?”
“I don’t know. You decide,” he clearly did not wish to be any part of this.
I looked at Su, and she was equally confused. We were, however, thinking along the same line. “But we cannot lock the dog in this room with all our belongings. What if he woke up? He would ransack the place!”
To leave him in or get him out?
“Well, we must get him out then,” I said.
“You let him in, so you let him out,” Su replied. She had already taken her bath and didn’t want to dirty her hands again.
As my brother kept watch, we tried holding a biscuit outside our room, then nudged Kumbha awake. The pooch barely raised his head. He was very fast asleep, and least interested in food at the moment. The fellow was way too big to lift and carry out of the room.
“I suppose we have just the one option left. We must leave him here, lock our room, and hope he doesn’t tear the place down while we’re away,” Su said.
“Yes,” I replied, “I think you’re right. We can’t leave the door open. All our belongings, including our laptops, are here. So that is out of the question.”
“Of course, we can’t.”
We glanced over at Kumbha. He was fast asleep, or so it seemed, as his stomach rose up and down, with loud breathing interspersed with occasional snores escaping his snout. I then picked the keys from the dressing table, and we closed the door apprehensively, with one final look at the giant sleeping beauty.
Will the sleeping beauty stay sleeping?
We then hurried downstairs and were happy to find that dinner was just being served, although in reverse order. First came our chapatis, which isn’t usually the custom. But just as we were beginning to complain about them getting cold, a platter of chicken curry arrived with a bowl of dal makhani and some salad.
The food wasn’t great, so we didn’t regret finishing our meal in a hurry. I secretly kept a few remaining bones in a tissue paper and pocketed them without my parents noticing. My brother’s lips curled as he sat right opposite and realised what I was doing. Keeping my face straight, I told my parents, “So, brother and I have some work to complete, related to the project that he must submit next week. I think we should go upstairs and do whatever little we can before crashing tonight. We are all quite tired, aren’t we?”
Su half choked, as she tried to control her laughter.
“Yes, that’s right,” my brother nodded, barely hiding his smile that practically gave him away.
Mother didn’t seem convinced about the project bit, while father wasn’t much bothered, although both were looking at us quizzically, wondering where all the mirth was coming from. “Boy, it’s cold here,” I said, rubbing my hands, trying to break the awkwardness, “I wonder whether we’ll survive tonight!”
Lazy Kumbha didn’t budge at all
My brother and I left soon after, while Su and my parents finished their dinner. While brother went directly to his room, I opened the door to ours, fearing the worst. But as I peeped in, Kumbha was lying exactly where we’d left him, and he raised his head to check who it was coming in. Seeing it was his protector from the previous terrible nightmare, he wagged his tail twice against the floor, then put his head back down and went back to rest.
It didn’t take him long though to sniff out the new scent that was rapidly pervading the room. He raised his head back up, looking at me searchingly and smacking his lips with his tongue. I could see he was hungry, as he ought to be, given his size and the cold outside.
I pulled the bones out of my pocket and held them out to him. He sat up clumsily and crunched them all in no time, licking my hands for whatever taste lingered in them. Once finished, he settled back down for what seemed to be a good long night’s sleep. I too went under the blankets and began working on my laptop.
Su appeared soon after and she shook her head seeing Kumbha fast asleep. “I thought you’d keep the bones outside,” she said, “that way he would have surely budged out of the room.”
“Oh, I didn’t think of that! He seemed very hungry, so I just fed them to him.”
How to get a dog out?
“At this rate, you’ll never qualify as a pet-trainer you know. I’ll have to do everything once we have our own dog. Be the alfa-male and all that. You’ve already spoiled this fellow, and he’s definitely not going out of this room tonight!”
“Oh, well, let him stay then, where’s the harm?”
“I don’t want him to stay here. What if he wants to go out in the middle of the night? What if he starts howling or something? And what if he soils the carpet?”
Sure enough, the last was a clear and present danger, as there was already an unwanted smell drifting across the room. Cleaning a stray dog’s poo from a hotel room carpet wasn’t something I was keen on doing over the holidays. We knew this dog would most likely not have been potty-trained, as pet dogs commonly are. Moreover, we couldn’t have been sure as to whether Kumbha was aware that this was a hotel room, and that pooping on the carpet was strictly prohibited.
Bravely, I got out of bed, and went over to Kumbha, holding my nose all the while. I then carefully lifted his tail to check whether there was any evidence of faeces. I was relieved to find nothing, besides the smell. “He must have farted,” I concluded, “Now I have found the perfect companion to point at every time I cause mischief!”
“You mean you’ll blame every stink bomb on him? The poor chap!” Su retorted. Her sympathies seemed to be shifting by the second.
Planning the best course of action
As we settled back down, still undecided about the best course of action before turning in for the night, we could hear loud voices from downstairs. There were two men speaking in Bengali, probably the hotel staff, and I could faintly make out the word “dog” repeated several times. I looked down at Kumbha and it wasn’t difficult to make the connection. Casually, I went out to the balcony, and gazed at the panoramic mountain-scene, lit by a million stars. And sure enough, the two staff members were conversing loudly by the front yard.
“I gave him his meal at the usual time. He ate it and was sitting near the main door. He seemed perfectly fine.”
“Yes, I noticed him too. But then there was the bonfire and I had to head into the kitchen after that.”
“I am sure he’s somewhere around. He generally goes to sleep over there,” the man said, pointing to a construction site a hundred meters from the hotel, down the mountain slope.
“I see. But generally he’s here at this time.”
“Yes, well, maybe it was the fireworks that set him off.”
“Yes, that must be it.”
Kumbha had to go
I had heard enough to realise that Kumbha was raised by the hotel staff. I went back into the room and told this to Su. We both felt quite uncomfortable with the situation. We didn’t want the people around to think we were dog-nappers. There were too many dog-films lodged in our conscience that made us feel very much in the wrong, especially if we kept him with us for the rest of the night. And so, we decided that Kumbha must go, and right away.
As there was nothing else to it, the qualms of removing this gentle giant from our room was our next big hurdle. Only, as if suspecting that his game was up, Kumbha kept his eyes resolutely closed, and breathed louder than he was earlier. He wasn’t going to leave without resistance, and he put every bit of his immovable bodily mass on the line.
I first tried to stroke him gently awake, so that he would realise that we wanted him to leave. But he kept sleeping.
We then tried holding some biscuits outside the room, with the door open, calling him to come and eat. He looked up momentarily, then went back to sleep.
I then tried moving the entire carpet along with the dog. But the carpet stretched across an entire half of the room, and there was no way that it would fit through the door. And nor would sleeping Kumbha, for that matter.
Kumbha didn’t want to leave
I then tried pushing Kumbha from his back but very soon realised that my efforts would be of no avail, as I barely moved him a couple of inches. To make matters more difficult, Kumbha stretched out his long legs as far as he could and pretended to play dead.
I tried slipping my hand below his body, feeling his muscles and his colossal ribcage as I did so, but there was no way I could lift him up from the ground, despite the weightlifting records I’ve held in the past. Besides not knowing where to hold, I was scared of hurting him and getting bitten in return. Kumbha rolled lazily over to his other side, stretched, yawned, looked at me with one eye, then went back to sleep. He moved his legs a little, as if he was dreaming of dog-paddling through water.
Su and I looked at each other, totally at a loss as to what to do next. I shook my head in defeat, “It looks like Kumbha moves only when he wishes to, and not otherwise. Even an elephant would struggle to get him out of this room.”
“What if we sprinkled some water on him?” Su observed, thoughtfully.
“What? Like we do with unwanted cats in the room?” The thought had not even occurred to me, as Kumbha was a dog. The sanctity of cold water worked well to cast off evil. However, I wasn’t sure we’d be doing the right thing in disgruntling Kumbha by unceremoniously sprinkling water on his massive body. But then what options had we left?
We were left with no option
And so, Su went into the bathroom, and she brought out a mug of water and passed it to me. But as I sprinkled water on sleepy Kumbha, Su chanted: “Om shantih, Om shantih, Om shantih.” With this Kumbha’s sleep was finally broken. He got off his haunches, gave us an OK-I-get-it look, and moved to the doormat we had placed outside to keep him off the cold floor.
That night, we kept a few biscuits next to Kumbha, which he did not devour immediately to make it clear how much he disapproved of our cruelty. As far as we know, he spent most of the night outside our room; but sometime early in the morning, he ate the remaining biscuits and trotted back to his wonted shelter in the construction site, where we saw him very briefly the next day as we were leaving the hill station of Kalpa.
All illustrations done by the very talented Sushant Khomane (firstname.lastname@example.org).