I left Tashiding bound to Pemayangtse monastery (I figured a day away). I passed through the town and continued walking down the road. While crossing a dense forest, I was startled by the typical noise of animals stepping on the fallen leaves, but the noise instead of going away was coming towards me, from the top of Tashiding mountain. I got frozen and began to recite the mantra of great compassion, not knowing what would eventually emerge from the foliage.
Two dogs! Two medium-sized black dogs of indeterminable breed jumped to the road to sniff me, though none of their gestures indicated aggressivity, which reassured me. After a few caresses, I resumed my journey, and noticed they seemed to have decided to come along with me, always a few yards ahead. They were male and female, without a drop of extra fat, with each of their muscles trimmed and well defined.
Occasionally, they dived down the ravine to return again shortly after. Then I realized they were wild dogs that had learnt to hunt lizards and mice, which explained their excellent physical condition. After one of their huntings, the male did not return, but the female seemed determined not to abandon me. I sat down to rest and so she did. She accepted to share my tasteless cookies, but she could not avoid a gesture of displeasure when I offered her some soy milk. “Pass with the dry biscuits,” she probably thought, “but I prefer dying of thirst than having to drink that sugary liquid.”
I worried because we had walked many miles and she had not drunk anything. Finally, at the turn of a curve, we spotted the Rangit river so we walked off the road with the intention to get to the shore. Suddenly, my new friend was paralyzed. I kept on going but I immediately discovered the reason for her action. A huge dog was dashing towards me from my right side. I will never forget the reaction of my new friend: instead of running away, she stepped up to call its attention. I covered my face with my hands while reciting mantras at full speed and looking through my fingers. The big dog chased her in a frantic race, throwing a few bites from behind, until she decided to end the matter: she turned herself with a wild movement and skillfully bit him on his neck. The big dog howled in pain, and returned moaning back to where it came.
My friend waited for me, and we went down together to the riverbank. I sat down to rest while watching relieved that she was okay and was drinking plenty of water coming directly from a glacier not far away. Once quenched her thirst, she approached me to lie at my feet. That creature had risked her life to protect me. I don’t want to imagine what could have happened if she had not been there. The encounter with the big dog would have been inevitable… I was moved when I realized how providential was the presence of that special “bodyguard”. Instead of fleeing from the danger she decided to risk her life for a stranger.
After a while, I resumed the march heading towards a big bridge, a few yards down the river. Once there, I squatted and looked directly into her brown eyes, “Thanks for your company and protection, but it’s better we part here.” I got up and she still wanted to follow me. I had to say in a firm voice, “No!,” which she now understood. She sat there while I crossed the bridge without looking back.
Upon reaching the other shore, I turned around and there she was still looking at me with a gentle tilt of her head. At the exit of a curve, I took one last look and I could see her turning around, walking slowly back to Tashiding, from where she had first appeared.
P.D.: Looking for a picture to illustrate the post, I found the one shown above, taken in Sikkim in 1903, of two street dogs quite similar to how I remember them.