Tales of Pahadi dogs

If you have been to any Himalayan treks, you would have had the experience of an adorable dog following you on the trail with no expectations what so ever. It is so common to see mountain dogs accompanying trekkers as they make their way from one campsite to the other.

Image: (Left)- A typical Pahadi dog
(Right)- This black dog followed us for 4 hours on the Triund trail, near Dharamshala (Himachal Pradesh, 2014).
A characteristic feature of the pahadi dogs are that they are super furry, for they have to endure cold and harsh winters. A few of these pahadi dogs become the watchdogs of the shepherds. They guard the goats and sheep against wild animals, when they are grazing in remote mountains and meadows.
Image: A friendly village pahadi dog leading the way to the river in Rakkar, Himachal Pradesh (2014). Sometimes, they come all the way, sometimes they lead the way and in other times, they stay in limited areas and hangout with you till you are in their territory.
Image: Shepard dogs in a valley near Yamunotri, Uttarakhand (2018)
Image: Notice the collars these shepherd dogs have. They are made of metal, have sharp knife-like edges which have one main purpose- to protect the dogs from leopard attacks.
Image: These dogs are actually brave and can really go all the way to protect their Shepherd’s livestock. But a leopard can be unbelievably silent in the night and can trick the dogs. Since leopards always go for the neck, these spiky collars give the dog a small chance to escape in case of a surprise attack.
Image: Shepherds in Himachal (2014).
It is a common saying in these areas that the best friends of the shepherds are these dogs who might not even think twice to attack a wild animal 5 times its size, if it dares to hunt the livestock. And for this loyalty, the shepherds go to any length to protect their dogs.

In fact, this could not get any more true for the Shepherds in Kashmir. Last month (2022), when we were at Kashmir for a trek, the weather had turned bad which led us to postpone our trek by a few days. When we did go to the mountains a few days later, we heard horrific stories of what the shepherds and the livestock went through. They were buried in 7 feet snow. Many of their make-shift houses collapsed under the weight of the heavy snow. Two of them also recounted that had escaped from their tent at 3AM worrying that the blizzard will kill them. Many lost 15-20 sheep to lightening that week! Many goats and sheep died of cold. Ultimately most of the Bakarwals had to abandon their livestock in the mountains to save their lives and their dogs’ lives.

Image: Kashmiri Shepherds are locally known as Bakarwals. As told to us by the locals, the Bakarwals fiercely protect their dogs. Even in extreme conditions like the bad weather conditions that prevailed the previous week, the bakarwals would ensure that their dogs do not go hungry. They might sacrifice a goat or two, but the dogs were always taken care of. The love and loyalty was true from both sides.

The Bakarwal’s dogs are unlike the shepherd dogs in Himachal or Uttarakhand. While the latter are friendly and would mingle with strangers, Bakarwal’s dogs have zero tolerance for human beings other than their masters. These dogs battle ferocious animals like the black and brown bear, and go to any length to ensure that the livestock are not approached by any animal or human being. They are trained to attack and kill.

Initially, I thought our trekking guide was being over-cautious when he advised us to stay away from the dogs. (Perhaps they were joking and pulling my leg).

But it was not so. We had clear instructions to STAY AWAY from the Bakarwal’s dogs, let alone pet them. Bakwarwals let their dogs loose from 10PM to 7AM. So we had to be very careful during those hours, to not venture far away from our camping site. In fact, we were given a huge stick to keep the dogs at bay in case they attacked us in the night, if we stepped outside the tent to attend nature’s call. At Dagwan campsite, an hour past midnight, one dog barked right outside our tent for over 2 hours continuously!!

It was because of their hostility that I could not even get decent photos of the dogs… because we never went close to them. Once, when we crossed paths with them inadvertently, the dogs growled and turned super aggressive. The only time we saw them a little up close was when the Bakarwals themselves were sitting with us and having chai, near one of the campsites. At this point, even though the dogs were aggressive towards us, they probably chose to look the other way since we were seated with their masters.

Video: You can see the Bakarwal’s dog headed downhill from this group of livestock, from where it could keep an eye on our campsite.

This was indeed something new I learnt about shepherd dogs from different places. So remember, next time if you are trekking in Kashmir and you come across Bakarwal’s dogs, stay away!

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My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.

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