Gratefully, I was once again inhaling the blessed air of India as I stepped out the doors of Mumbai airport. The chaos immediate, and the “fit” palpable. My first mission was to sort out a taxi to my Mumbai welcoming party, and Peruvian Ayahuasca family, Pooja and Rishit, weathering the storm of willing volunteers for the job to choose from, of course.
Once arranged, my driver saw something in me and offered to read my energies for free, as it should be done, so our departure was delayed as he did so, from the back of the cab. Turns out he was an ex-employee of the Osho Ashram in Pune!
OH INDIA, YOU’LL ALWAYS BE MY LOVE AFFAIR
This, my first taste of a familiar and beloved land, a reminder of all I loved about India, and a foretaste of what might be to come over the 6 months ahead. It’s why I felt compelled to return East almost exactly 12 months to the day, same packaging but much changed contents, this time with a renewed sense of purpose.
Two days before I had been in Medellin, Colombia, with a freshly squeezed shiny and new 6 month Indian visa stuck in my passport – the ink barely dry. Now, here I was, in the madness and melee of India – it was an amazing feeling to be back, made all the more surreal because I’d been in suspended animation from travelling for about 4 days to get there, taking 2 buses (Salento-Bogota, Bogota-Medellin), a last minute passport pick-up in Bogota, 4 flights (Medellin-Fort Lauderdale-Chicago-Abu Dhabi-Mumbai), 3 connections, a 12 hour time difference to get the better of, 2 taxis, 1 whatsapp blunder that almost blew the whole surprise, and finally a 5am arrival at my hotel in Pune. Great anecdotes are a numbers game.
There’s only one thing that could have prepared me for such ridiculous mileage and endurance, all for a good cause… ah Dumball…
For the last 10 years I’ve been involved in the Dumball, a “fancy dress on wheels” charity rally that brings a rather splendid kind of people together, where we drive bangers for ridiculous amounts of miles on challenging routes all across Europe, Morocco and India to raise money for Teenage Cancer Trust. It’s not only given me the most incredible experiences in the name of a good cause, but also a family of friends of a distinct and different calibre – the kind you know inside out, from red mist to purple haze, the kind you can trust to come running if ever the sh*t hit the fan, probably to laugh and take photos, but there for you till the end.
The Dumball returned to India for the second time in January 2017, which was to be the first rally I’d miss since 2007. FOMO is one thing, but knowing that all your favourite people are all together in a country you love and you have the chance to see all of them at once after 12 months absence, PLUS you can surprise them all too, is an entirely different thing. Then, the question really isn’t Why? but Why the hell not!
So I did, and it was glorious.
Stood at a non descript bus stop on the side of the road in Pune at 8.30 in the morning after a few hours kip, a convoy of dusty, sweaty, colourful Mahindra Jeeps rounded the corner towards me. Knowing each car was filled with friendly souls that I’d soon be able to touch and squeeze in real life meant I could barely contain myself, and local pedestrians passed me by, ackowledging my huge grin with intrigue. As the infamous Blue Squadron slowly came to a halt, each car pulling over no doubt with some confusion inside as to the ad hoc stop in the middle of nowhere, I searched for those all too familiar faces, beaten only by the glare of the early morning sunshine on the windows. As the news slowly spread down the line suddenly my wait was over – I had dear friends running towards me, and the best group hug anyone could possibly wish for.
With that, I gate-crashed Dumball 2017 on the final leg, and hitched a ride to Goa. Not a bad start. My friend James told me, “India has a way of doing with You what she will”, and as it turns out She had a little unexpected surprise in store for me, involving a little puppy we like to call Mr. Biscuits.
Some of you may have read my recent blog Steve Appreciation Society so you’ll know precisely how stray dogs or “Steves” have been a consistent and integral part of my travels in Asia, Central America and South America over the past year.
The Indian culture is very different to what we know in the West. Here, street dogs are tolerated but are also considered vermin, kicked, shunned, and so they live a very different life compared to our pampered pooches – but that’s the way things work here, and you just have to accept it through some Western gritted teeth.
All that being said, I have a very special Steve story to tell.
THE TAIL OF MR. BISCUITS
On a dusty road in the middle of nowhere, somewhere between Pune and Goa, I found an abandoned and near starved to death 2 month old puppy, all skin and bones, severely dehydrated and malnourished. Standing not much higher than mid calf on some very unsteady and skinny pins with a protruding rib cage, stomach entirely concave, hip bones visible, sores on his fur but with the most gorgeous eyes, I beckoned the little dude towards me.
At first he shied away fully expecting a kick, but with a little encouragement he wagged his bony tail, dipped his head, licked his lips and came towards me, and without hesitation I bundled him up in my arms and into my heart.
With little supplies on board, the only thing we could offer him was biscuits. As he wolfed them down, the nickname “Mr. Biscuits” was coined, and stuck immediately.
On the Dumball time is precious, so all too soon we were ready for The Off, so I had to make a decision, and I decided to save Mr. Biscuits – at the very least to get him the hell outta there, feed him back to strength and deliver him to a rescue centre somewhere in Goa: I had the time to do this, and I knew from past experience that street dogs on the beaches have pretty much the best life in India, which had to be better than leaving him by the side of that road to an uncertain fate.
TWO HITCH-HIKERS TOGETHER
So, just like me, Mr. Biscuits gate-crashed a Dumball, hitched a ride to Goa, and into the arms of 130 (give or take) sympathetic Dumballers who showered him with love.
As time passed, Mr. Biscuits became less street-dog and more loved, to the point of no return frankly (who couldn’t fall in love with those eyes), and I had to make the ultimate decision.
Street dogs, or Desis, like Biscuit are ownerless scavengers who have been free-living these continents for 1,000’s of years. An abundant and fertile population leads to abundant breeding – many secure a safe territory to survive, but plenty become abandoned, alone, malnourished, sick or injured from attacks by other dogs or traffic accidents.
The charitable infrastructure to help those animals is meagre, but growing and needs support. The Indian culture is also very different to what we know in the West, so rehoming or adoption was highly unlikely. At best, I had to find a hostel or restaurant owner who wouldn’t mind “keeping an eye out for him”, and I grew uncomfortable with that uncertainty.
So I made a choice: to save one, to give him a better chance at life, safety, security and love on a permanent basis – now, he needs your help to start a new life the UK.
To do that I need to raise ~£2.5k to cover the vets bills and various bits of paperwork and administration. If by some miracle I smash my target, I’ll donate the extra funds to the Animal Rescue Centre here in Goa.
It’s been 42 days since that fateful day, and I have much to update you on… till next time!
You can follow his journey on
twitter: @mrbiscuitstail &