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Travels with Bagha

By Aakar Patel
April 14, 2018 10:10 IST
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Want to fly on an Indian airline with a dog?
Aakar Patel tells you all you need to know.

IMAGE: Bagha at his Bengaluru home. Photographs: Kind courtesy Aakar Patel


This is our dog. He's named Bagha.

His certificate identifies his breed as 'mixed', meaning he's a mongrel.

People see Husky and Alsatian blood in him, because of the shape of his head and fur and that tail, but I doubt that very much.

I thought he was named after the little drummer played by Rabi Ghosh in Satyajit Ray's terrific movie Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne. But he's actually named after Devil, the wolf owned by the comic hero, the Phantom.

In the Bengali translation of the comics, Devil is called Bagha.

Bagha was bought from the weekly animal and bird market in Kolkata for ₹2,000.

My brother-in-law, visiting from Coonoor, bought him to amuse his daughter, but they left after a week's holiday.

The dog remained in the family home in North Calcutta (the old part), having never stepped out of it, or met another animal, till he was almost two.

On our biannual visits there we found him delightful, if eccentric, and thought we should bring him home to Bengaluru.

So I flew over one day to do this, beginning what turned out to be quite a process as those who have transported animals in India -- and I am not even referring to bovines here -- will know.

There were two sets of things to be tackled. Those relating to the airline and then those relating to Bagha.


The first thing I learned was that only Boeing airplanes had pressurised cargo holds.

Since Indigo and the rest fly mostly Airbus aircraft, that meant going either by Jet Airways or Air India. I picked the former.

The airline required that dogs be transported in a crate whose design had been approved by the International Air Transport Association.

I went looking to buy one for a medium sized dog. The crate was an enormous thing akin to a doghouse, that didn't fit in our little hatchback and had to be dismantled.

It cost about ₹12,000 and was like a cage with wheels and some fixed containers for water.

Then, reading the instructions on their Web site, I learned that the airline required that I have Bagha's papers checked by a vet who made out a 'fit to fly' certificate (how come airlines don't demand it of humans?).

His vet came around to inspect Bagha's vaccinations and his health and issued the certificate. I had been told by someone that dogs also needed to be sedated on the flight, and this concerned me, but it was apparently not needed, which was a relief.

I called the airline to ask what the process for transportation was and was told that only two dogs could be allowed on each flight and so I had to inform them in advance if I wished to carry him, which I did.

The night before we were to fly, I bought a leash and a collar.

Bagha had never been collared before and was reluctant to be leashed. He decided he didn't like the thing at all, and began chewing at it.

After an hour or so of continual and patient champing, he bit right through it and lay down in exhausted panting.

This was going to be more problematic than I had thought, because I couldn't have an unleashed animal running about the airport.

I got a chain instead and immediately felt for him because he had a failed go at it with his teeth. His sad face seemed to know that this was like slavery.

The next morning we hired a large car into which we would pile the dog, his crate and the rest.

Bagha had never stepped out of the house even once till that point.

On exiting the gate, he saw a cat crossing the road and, slipping his leash, made a curious dash for it. The poor cat scrambled away, terrified at this assault.

Bagha had never been in a car before and was reluctant to get in.

We had to lift him in. He was nervous about the traffic and the cars and the honking.

On reaching the airport he didn't want to get out of the car, afraid now about all the uncertainty and clinging to what he knew.

I went over to the airline's cargo section where someone asked me to bring the dog and crate over and calculated the cost, saying it would be ₹25,000.

Then he asked if I was flying also and why I wasn't checking the dog in as excess baggage. That would only cost ₹5,000.

I hadn't known that was an option and so drove (again Bagha reluctant to go in and then out of the car) up to departures.

Here the thing became complicated. I put Bagha in the crate (with difficulty) and then wheeled him in.

It turned out that the crate would have be X-rayed (without the dog) and so I took him out, which he was again unwilling to do, and after the scan put him back in.

Having paid the excess baggage and shown his certificate, I had to leave Bagha to the airline's minders and they wheeled him away, looking morose.

The three-hour flight was uneventful, but it had a poor landing, with a huge thump and I wondered how Bagha in the cargo hold, all alone, had handled all the strange things he had seen, felt and heard.

I found out soon enough.

When the crate was wheeled out by the staff Bagha was totally petrified in the real sense of the word: He was still like a rock. He had absolutely no intention of coming out of the crate.

When pulled out, he refused to walk, not wanting to undergo further adventure.

I lifted him in my arms and carried him to the car (which readers familiar with Bengaluru airport will know is not very near the exit).

Once at the car he again refused to get in, but was more at ease because he had company.

On reaching home, when the door opened, he bounded in, happy to see my wife.

Unfortunately our cat, Sheela (a tom despite the name and that's another story) fled on seeing him.

These days Sheela only comes to be fed, and sits on the external walls, out of the dog's reach.

Bagha is settled in now and is good company.

It is good to come back home to him. One can talk to one's dog -- though he doesn't talk back.

He responds mostly to words like "biscuit" (he has a Pavlovian response to that: Smacking his lips in anticipation).

It is fascinating to live with an animal and I'll write more about it another time.

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Aakar Patel