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Manali Lockdown Diversions

Had you told me in January 2020, that the whole wide world would go into a crazy strict lockdown mode, I’d have laughed so loud. After completing a 10 day retreat in blissful BodhGaya at the time, I shared a room with 2 course mates, one of whom was actually from Wuhan, frantically awaiting and looking for news about covid-19 and the Wuhan lockdown every few minutes on his phone. It was completely beyond me how anyone could be so stressed about a “silly little flu bug”.

Fast forward to March 2020 and the very beautiful town of Manali in the lap of the Indian Himalayas received news of a total lockdown in India too. At the time, the first thing that came to mind, was how much I’d miss great coffee, since all the coffee shops would be closed, but very soon other matters became all too apparent, like for instance, food supply for all the stray dogs in our valley who were dependent on dhabas(roadside eateries or foodstalls) for their food(scraps). Local government who were aware of the work that our newly found(28 September 2019) NGO, Manali Strays, was doing for stray and other animals, soon called a meeting with two of our founders and some other interested and caring parties. A group was initiated to feed all the stray dogs in our valley who lived along the main roads and depended totally on dhabas and tourism for food. Two members of this newly formed group, sponsored buckets of special chapatis(Indian flat breads) which included eggs and butter, for daily distribution. As a result, in a time when all the wise Kullu valley elders were digging up their lawns to replace them with vegetable gardens, we had permission to do a daily feeding round by vehicle. In no time, the dogs on our route recognised the sound of our camper(jeep) and my whistle and would rush to meet us for their much-anticipated treats. Many animal loving residents also recognised our logo and would stop the car to ask for assistance with their sick pets and other strays they looked after. What started as a small whatsapp group of caring feeders grew to a vast community along the Beas river valley, all feeding and keeping an eye on the health of the stray dogs and cows. This is the power of networking among the good people on the streets of India, especially in a time where nothing else was moving. People here love to engage with goodwill.

Daily we encountered so many wonderful animals. What a blessing to get to know all these special souls, whom we normally would just drive past, hardly noticing their unique and humorous characteristics. Each and every dog had preferred feeding habits. Many wanted to be hand fed, while others preferred the chapatis broken into manageable bits for them to pick up when ready and nearly all of them wanted a good helping of cuddles on the side. Never did we imagine that the gross population of stray animals would be so approachable and friendly! Getting to know all the animals in the valley, meant that all the carers were aware of every health issue, so the Manali Strays mobile clinic got extra busy with all the calls coming in for treatments. These consisted mostly of wounds, mange treatments and some unfortunate rabid dogs, but as you can well imagine, there were a myriad of different cases. While the world turned inward into silence, Kullu valley was buzzing with animal care and of course new-found friendships among the carers.

As the locked down months drew on, so our vehicles on my particular feeding route transformed from a camper/jeep sponsored by Himalayan Frontiers, to a Suzuki Alto, the best car to drive in this valley(my humble and of course, “completely unbiased” opinion), to a Royal Enfield Himalayan (YAY!!) sponsored by Motorcycle Expeditions to a Honda scooty on which the bucket of chapatis fitted so snugly between my feet. Feeding and treating strays on two wheels had the added benefit of wind in the face while riding around the magnificent Himalayas, since long trips were off the cards.

On the flip side, we’d go online in the afternoons and discuss the incomparable motorcycle adventures across Asia, or rather the fact that these had to be postponed to a later and safer date with riders who had planned for and dreamt about these. The quiet time at the office, made space for concocting some more and fantastically exhilarating new rides for when the world opens up her borders, so please keep watching the Motorcycle Expeditions space for fresh fantasies to be turned into reality!

Slowly but surely, more and more local businesses opened their doors as lockdown was lifted within India and relieved the pressure on us for being the animal’s only source of nutrition. This presented Manali Strays with time to go after our next goal, a building of our own, to set up a class animal hospital for more intricate and longer duration medical treatments, of which sterilisations are a high priority, and which require animals to be resident with us for some days or weeks. From our founding event on World Rabies Day 2019 when we vaccinated nearly 100 stray dogs against rabies between Old and New Manali and our sterilisation campaign in October/November 2019 when 110 dogs in New Manali were sterilised and in between innumerable mobile clinic and pet treatments, we finally found a perfect property and are setting up. As a sidenote, we celebrated our first anniversary, starting on 28 September 2020, with another anti-rabies vaccination camp this year by vaccinating 300 dogs.

This led to the next phase of cleaning out, painting and organising required equipment to be able to function as a hospital. We’ve had tonnes of fun and laughs, covering the walls and ourselves in paint and wood dust and building fences around the property to keep our inpatients close to the house/hospital. During sterilization surgeries at the moment, we can bop along to the 80’s classics Bollywood film songs played at full volume on AmaJi’s phone outside, while she and her team are building much needed kennels, so we can finally keep more inpatients safely until they are healed and ready to face their usual hubbub again.

If you’d like to be a part of this fantastic journey to improve the lives of our beautiful Manali stray animal population, please see our Global Giving link.

Special thanks goes to the following people

Himalayan Frontiers – for assistance with everything from human helping hands, to transport and materialsMotorcycle Expeditions – for human and transport assistanceManali Strays – the team, who’ve been working passionately and non-stop to improve the lives of stray animals in the Kullu valley areaAll our wonderful supporters for helping to get us this far. You are wonderful and inspiring and give us the strength to carry on when things seem a little tumultuous at times! The Manali Strays animals and humans thank you from the bottom of our furry hearts!

by Irma Wouters

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