We had read a lot about the dogs of Malana even before getting there. But we didn’t expect Usaini to come galloping towards us 10kms before even arriving at this remote mountain village.
After Manali, Malana was the next stop we had planned for on our impromptu 10-day scooter adventure in Himachal. The resort proprietor at Manali suggested we skip the village. It was out of season and there wouldn’t be anything open for tourists. But we were quite adamant about our plan and having heard a lot about Malana, we were quite determined to get there.
Soon after crossing the check post near Malana reservoir, where we had to show our passports, the road became quite hard to navigate on a scooter. It had fallen rocks and a thick layer of silt that made it quite slippery and dangerous, given the steep valley on alternating sides. We crossed a tunnel on the way, and subsequently, the road was in far better shape.
As we crossed a bridge over River Malana that led to a steep ascent on the opposite side of the valley, we thought we’d stop for a water break. That’s when, out of nowhere, a dog came running towards us. She was cream coloured, extremely lean for a mountain dog, and looked almost like an English Whippet. Dog racing wasn’t a part of Himachali culture, or at least not to our knowledge. Therefore, she seemed somewhat out of place in a remote area like this.
Himalayan dog or an English Whippet?
There was no one else around, so we weren’t sure how to respond. But we let her approach us and sniff our hands. She was way more talkative than the usual stray and clapped her front paws on my thighs the moment she came up to us. “Aoouuhh aaouuhh!” she happily greeted, before jumping on Su who had by now gotten off the bike.
“Hey! Get the packet of biscuits out!” Su said.
We had kept 3 packets of Parle-G in our bag for en-route hobos like the gal before us. Her wagging tail showed just how excited she was, as she observed me reaching into the bag. By the time she saw the packet of biscuits, she was absolutely elated and jumping around. Su fed her half of the small packet, and that made her energy levels soar even higher. She kept yapping animatedly, stopping only to prick her ears up as she looked around to check whether the coast was clear of intruding animals.
We took a few snaps of her and the scenic bridge. We then decided it was time we made our way to the village. As if foreseeing our plans, the dog ran around 50m ahead and waited for us to catch up. As soon as we did, she started running alongside us.
Dogs have played an important part in our Himalayan adventures
We laughed initially: “You’ve got to be kidding!” Su exclaimed. Just as with pet dogs running next to their owner’s bicycle, here was a sprinter next to our red scooter!
“There’s no way she’d be able to keep up with us!” I said, turning my head and looking at her running alongside.
“You please focus on the road ahead,” Su said loudly, nervous as usual from her backseat.
“Yeah, but I can’t help it! This dog has gotta be crazy!” I shouted back.
That’s how we met the Usain Bolt of all dogs
And crazy she was. Despite us going at around 20km/hr, she followed resolutely at a constant pace and with exceptional stamina. Soon, it wasn’t just a straight road, but one hairpin bend after another. Surely one of the steepest climbs Nimbus had scaled so far. We kept going at around 10 to 15km/hr, and the dog kept following us as if she were the hound of heaven herself: “those strong feet that followed, followed after, but with unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace” etc.
“This one’s like the Usain Bolt of all dogs!” Su exclaimed.
“More like Usaini Bolt, huh?” I replied.
“That has got to be her name: Usaini, the Malana runner!” Su decided, there and then.
As we made our way further up towards the village of Malana, we did a couple of stops to allow Usaini to catch up with us. We could see that she was beginning to get tired, despite her boundless energy. We fed her Parle-G biscuits to make sure she wouldn’t faint along the way, but of course, we knew quite well that we had a phenomenal Himalayan dog following us with a super dog’s strength. She lapped some water from a stream that flowed across the road, then she was all set to carry on the mountain marathon.
Himalayan dogs have always surprised us with their boundless energy
It was then that we realised that perhaps Usaini was running along to please us and to keep us company. Maybe she wanted to make sure that we didn’t get stuck along the way, given the rarity of having a scooter puttering all the way to Malana. Or perhaps she was keeping us safe from the wild animals lurking on the path ahead. Whatever may be the case, we thought it may be wrong on our part to keep encouraging her to run along, now for almost 3 or 4 km of the way. A dog loves exercising to a certain extent, no doubt, but we had no wish to have the blood of a dog dying of exhaustion streaking our hands.
And so we sped up, as much as the bumpy mountain lane would allow us to, and we did not look back until we reached Malana. That probably made Usaini realise that it was time for her to return home and meet us again on our route back.
Malana is an ideal place for both nature and dog lovers
We met a number of beautiful dogs in Malana while we were there for the next two days — Mr Peanut Butter, Sultan, Dadu, and Minnie — each a unique character, but with a shared love for humankind. They all followed us around the village selflessly, quite simply rejoicing in our company, without any need for treats or rewards. The reputation of these dogs not only preceded them, but they lived up to it every bit and more.
When it was time for us to continue our journey to Jibhi in Kullu District, which was to be our next stop, we made sure to keep an extra packet of biscuits for Usaini. And sure enough, as we crossed the same bridge across River Malana, I saw Usaini come galloping towards us in the rearview mirror. We stopped, she jumped on us with the same excitement as before, licked us all over, and got the entire packet of Parle-G as a treat. And thus Usaini, the swift-footed, won her special place in our hearts.
As you’ve now figured we have plenty of doggo stories to share. You can check out our Arctic dog experience – Hiking with huskies in Svalbard
We once snuck a stray in a hotel room. Read about it – Kumbha’s Sleep
All illustrations done by the very talented Sushant Khomane (firstname.lastname@example.org)