In 2010, my life changed for good when Pondi and Tigress adopted me into their family. One year later, Marco-Polo joined our gang. I felt responsible, anchored, and looked forward to coming home to wet noses, wagging tails, and nonstop cuddles. Then, last summer, Pondi passed away, leaving me and my partner Olivier, heartbroken. Sad, angry, and a bit guilty for not having spent enough time with my family, I made a pact with Olivier to take Marco-Polo and Tigress along with us on our travels.
Our first trip with the dogs was a five-week road trip across Goa. The journey began with a train ride from our home in New Delhi to Madgaon in Goa—an adventure in itself (see box). Once in Goa, we rented a car for our five-week stay. At first, we were wary of driving long distances with Tigress and Marco-Polo, so we started with short half-hour drives, planning our routes well, carrying plenty of water, and avoiding big meals just before a drive. The dogs were happy troopers, and soon we were going on longer journeys. In fact, after a while, Tigress only wanted to be driven around instead of going for walks.
Introducing our dogs to water was not easy, but at the end of five weeks Marco-Polo was jumping waves. Photo: Divya Dugar
A day of running around and chasing dogs on the beach at Saligao ends with a quiet sunset. Photo: Divya Dugar
On the way to Keri Beach, Marco-Polo refuses to budge from the front seat holding on to Olivier during the drive. Photo: Divya Dugar
While I kicked back with a book at Morjim, Marco-Polo enjoyed the breeze and sniffed delicious food aromas wafting through the air. Photo: Divya Dugar
Goa became a whole new experience as we rediscovered the joy of slow travel, searched for offbeat locations for picnics and walks, and made many more local friends because of our motley family. We’d frequently pull over on a whim to go on impromptu picnics, run across fields, chase buffaloes, explore a fishing village, or walk in the wilderness. Marco-Polo and Tigress marked great swathes of territory as their own.
With Colvale, Benaulim, and Saligao as our bases, we explored the region drive by drive. Olivier and I found a scenic route from Colvale to Keri beach, which we hadn’t experienced on our previous trips. Colvale to Alorna Fort became another favourite stretch. We loved the dreamy landscape of the riverside fort, surrounded by swaying palms: perfect for sunset views and letting the pets off the leash.
From Benaulim, we drove through Salcete, Quepem, and Chandor, to admire Portuguese houses in a lush landscape. From Saligao, we often made the easy drive to Chapora fort to watch sunsets. With a hamper full of beer, and treats for the dogs, we’d hike a little to the fort’s outer periphery where the crowd was thinner and the views unparalleled. Our longest drive was a day trip to Wildernest Resort in Chorla Ghat, on SH4, where we took a small hike in the tropical forest.
Most shacks including Babazin’s in Nerul allow well-behaved pets entry. Photo: Divya Dugar
Green picnic spots close to Aldona allow pets the liberty of exploring and being close to nature. Theyare a welcome change from the urban jungle that is Delhi. Photo: Divya Dugar
We discovered that taking Marco-Polo and Tigress to the ocean was a challenge, as most beaches are overrun by shacks, or occupied by territorial, frequently aggressive stray dogs.
Our favourite slice of coast was the laidback Colva beach, with fewer shacks, hence fewer beach dogs, and lots of space to run around. Morjim and Keri beaches were also convenient to visit with the dogs. And most of the shacks allow well-behaved pets.
But our favourite spot became Mapusa Market, whose fruit vendors, bossy fish ladies, and local bakers all began to recognise Olivier and me as Marco-Polo and Tigress’s parents. On each trip, the two dogs had a ball sniffing out Goa sausages, assorted cookies, and seafood. By the end of five weeks of crisscrossing Goa, my family of four felt more tightly knit than ever.
Within half an hour of boarding, Marco-Polo and Tigress abandoned their inhibitions of being on a train. They perched on window seats to take in the sights and partake of the hospitality of Indian Railways. Photo: Divya Dugar
We debated driving to Goa from our home in Delhi, or taking a 26-odd-hour train journey to Madgaon, eventually settling on the latter. It is possible to travel with pets on a train if you take a complete coupe (2 berths) or cabin (4 berths). So, we booked two first-class tickets on the Hazrat Nizamuddin-Madgaon Rajdhani Express, then submitted an application three days before departure to the railways’ Chief Commercial Officer, who allocates seats.
Since the seats are only confirmed when the chart arrives at the station, we lived in suspense until a few hours before departure. When we finally got our coupe, I registered both my pets at the parcel office (it is not necessary for the pet to be physically present). Marco-Polo and Tigress arrived with Olivier half an hour before departure, full of excitement and energy. Once we were settled in, we informed the first-class staff, and made a list of the train’s stops, so we could plan our pets’ toilet breaks.
Marco-Polo and Tigress enjoyed the hospitality of the Indian Railways. They munched on bread sticks, ate rice with yogurt, and got a few licks of vanilla ice cream at night. The train journey there and back was one of the highlights of the trip.
Goa is a pet-friendly state, with numerous hotels that allow four-legged guests. To avoid crowds and traffic, we stayed away from beachfront properties, choosing spaces that were big enough for our pets to enjoy the outdoors. We settled on three Airbnbs run by the same hosts, Yshana and Jude, who opened their beautifully restored Portuguese houses in the villages of Saligao, Benaulim, and Colvale to us. Each of the properties came with staff who cooked us lovely Goan meals, and cleaned the house on alternate days.
Travelling with our pets turned out to have the unexpected side benefit of being budget-friendly, as we kept an eye out for small, local eateries that wouldn’t mind our furry family. Some of our regular favourites weren’t on any pet-friendly list, but were extremely welcoming.
Saligao Deck at Kotla Waddo in Saligao was our go-to place for an evening snack or light meal, sandwiched between locals exchanging gossip or discussing a football match. I particularly loved their coconut flavoured mushroom xacuti with pao.
Babazin’s shack near Reis Magos fort is a great place to enjoy a lazy Goan fish curry lunch. Marco-Polo and Tigress loved looking out to the beach and sleeping on the cool floor. We also frequented Hotel Venite near the Head Post Office in Panjim, and always booked a balcony table, from where our dogs could indulge in people-watching while we ate.
Gunpowder Assagao, at Saunta Vaddo, Assagao, is a great spot for dog lovers. They already have four in-house furry residents, and there’s a lovely outdoor seating area. Mum’s Kitchen at D.B. Street in Panjim, also allows pets on prior notice.
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