Travels In India: Looking for the pure Caravan Hound
We were nearing the end of a four-day journey. I was lying on a strange bed, at an unfamiliar hotel room in a foreign town. Although I was exhausted, sleep was unthinkable. We had spent many hours driving through cities, towns and villages to reach outlying homesteads to fulfil a quest, a search for the rarest of dogs. Its native name is Karwani, otherwise known as the Caravan Hound. Over the last few days I had experienced such a bombardment of emotions, my brain was trying to process it all. In that darkened hotel room, my head was spinning like a kaleidoscope with images, vivid colours, sounds and smells that are all part and parcel of experiencing India. I have made many similar trips over the years, but this journey had proved the most rewarding …
I am passionate about dogs and also about India. Although born and raised in England, as a child I was taken back to India every winter. At home I spent my time with gypsy-bred lurchers and, later, Salukis and coursing Greyhounds. However, my earliest childhood memories of India were times spent with the native pariah dogs, affectionately termed "Pi dogs." I formed a strong bond with ours that lived in the garden. Occasionally outside our house, I would get a glimpse of the "ghosts of the road." These were bands of nomadic gypsy tribes, who were seen one minute but gone in a flash. They fascinated me with their children dressed in colorful rags, skipping alongside their loaded oxen carts.
The best treat of all was the sight of the regal, aloof and mysterious Sighthounds that were tethered to the axle of their wagons, demurely trotting behind. Other sightings of these wondrous, elegant hounds, spotted at roadside camps, left a deep impression on me. I had no idea what sort of dogs they were and wondered if I would ever see such graceful beauties ever again.
The mature black Karwan bitch showing typical structure, credit to Vishal Khamkar.
During a trip to India in the '90s I finally realized that the hounds I had seen all those years ago had a name … — Karwani. Since then I have made a number of excursions to seek out and learn more about a breed that fascinates me. I am the first to admit it’s been a long, hard road and I feel embarrassed at the naïve mistakes that were made along the way, but it’s been a learning curve full of discovery. At my first-ever Indian dog show I saw a group of "Caravan hounds." My overwhelming impression was how much they resembled the myriad of Saluki/Greyhound composites I was accustomed to seeing at lurcher shows back in England, and I think that first impression was correct. Unbeknown to me at the time, these were registered Caravan Hounds in name only — looking back now, I feel qualified to say they had an infusion of other Sighthound blood in their makeup.
Even when I visited faraway villages, although I saw a few really lovely specimens of good type, the majority seemed to resemble white-and-black-pied Karwani/Greyhound crosses. I was gullible and believed they were all Caravan Hounds, but something concerned me. How could one breed vary so much? After a few years and several trips later, the truth dawned on me … — the original Karwani was being systematically adulterated, its genes diluted with other Sighthound blood.
Another journey was now essential to find and take a last look at my beloved Karwanis before it was too late.
An old favorite, the black Karwani bitch Kajal, a truly typical and authentic specimen from very old and known village bloodlines. She had produced quality pups and was a highly valued brood bitch.
A TRIP IS PLANNED
With great excitement, I and my Internet pen-pal Neil Trilokekar made firm plans to be in India at the same time. We had been discussing our shared passion for this breed over many years, comparing notes and experiences. Also, we had promised ourselves that one day, together, we would scour the Deccan plains for the dogs we recalled from our youth.
This ambition was about to come to fruition. Plans were made for an educational road trip. I was coming with two dear friends, David and Ben, neither of whom had ever seen India before. Perhaps this was throwing them in at the deep end, but they seemed keen to embrace an adventure away from the usual tourist trail.
David Marr has bred and shown Terriers at the highest level (his Ch. Balengro Tben Tainte at Sujoncla was top Irish Terrier for three years in the U.K.) and has been involved with Sighthounds throughout his life; growing up he was a neighbor of Eileen Skelton-Fortune, talked to Terry Thorn and obtained an early Saluki from Daxlore when he was first introduced to the showing world. He was excited to see Karwanis in the flesh. We planned to travel deep into rural India through isolated districts within the state of Maharashtra, hoping to find the breed in its pure form and view dogs that I have been passionate about for more than 20 years.
THE ENDANGERED CARAVAN HOUND
A genuine villagebred Caravan Hound, the epitome of correct, authentic, unadulterated breed type.
Before I describe our wonderful journey, I would like to explain how the Karwani has become so endangered and why it is in this dire situation today.
Although the breed's history is shrouded in mystery, we do know that many hundreds of years ago, hounds of Saluki and Afghan type travelled into India with traders and invaders. Some came from the neighboring countries to the West and some from the North. These were probably the progenitors of the three original, distinct breeds of the Deccan.
The smooth hounds were developed into the Karwani, perhaps through the intermingling with a pre-existing Sighthound type. The feathered hounds became naturalized into the Pashmi, or Indian Saluki, and the hounds that came through from the North were carefully selected into the heavier hound, the Afghan Pashmi.
The Indian Saluki/Pashmi has all but disappeared, its Indian bloodlines mixed with Western Saluki imports, but the other two original breeds of the Deccan survive on a knife-edge. It is important for us to remember that the Deccan villagers themselves consider these to be three distinct breeds. They have traditionally been bred separately, by different people, in different areas within the state of Maharashtra.
I prefer to call Caravan Hounds by their original Marathi name, Karwani, given to them by the native villagers who kept them. The Karwani was the dog of the poorer man, used for providing meat for the pot and guarding stock and homestead. For hundreds of years they have resided in villages around certain areas of Maharashtra, where they were commonplace and could be seen in their local fields, tethered in cattle sheds around farms or relaxing on the verandas of their owners’ dwellings.
However, times have changed, and now these hounds have become increasingly hard to find. Their numbers have dwindled alarmingly and the original purebred hounds only exist on small pockets of agricultural land nurtured by a few die-hard aficionados. Their reasons for still keeping these dogs may lie in maintaining the family’s traditional breeding lines, or that farmers still find their Karwanis irreplaceable, as they have found no other breed with comparable attributes. It may be that they just enjoy having the hounds around, as they have done for generations.
THE DECLINE OF THE BREED
There are many complex reasons behind the decline of the breed. In 1972 the Indian Government’s hunting ban came into force. It didn’t have much effect, as it was hard to police, and hounds continued their original function as hunters. They were designed to tolerate the most severe conditions while coursing and were capable of bringing down many and varied quarry. This meat, whether consumed or sold, provided much needed income for poor farmers. The hounds were still intrinsic to the farms and their numbers remained very healthy, as they also protected flock and home.
Although I had seen particolored Karwani crosses in the villages during the '90s —white markings on the body being a sure sign of foreign blood — hunting decreased when the ban was more strictly enforced in the 2000s, and the void was filled with a new trend. The sport of dog racing started to take off. This proved very popular with the younger generation, but they needed a fast dog that could sprint across a dirt field. When transport links improved, a wave of imported racing Greyhounds found their way into the previously isolated villages. But these suffered from heat strokes, blistered feet and other problems, and so were bred to the Karwanis to produce dogs more suitable for racing.
This practice exacerbated the decline of the authentic village hounds that had evolved over hundreds of years for their qualities of tough constitution and hunting ability. The crossbreeding with Greyhounds continued indiscriminately over subsequent years, further diluting the blood of purebred hounds.
But the damage done to their gene pool had already become apparent. The first nail in the coffin had been hammered down years earlier, and that was when the Karwani was plucked from its native home to become a show dog.
THE SHOW SCENE
"Exhibition Caravan Hounds," showing atypical conformation, colour and exaggerated hind leg angulation that hints strongly of addition of Whippet and Greyhound blood. These were Kennel Club of India registered Caravan Hounds.
Top winning Kennel Club of India "Exhibition Caravan Hound". A few generations down from the dogs showin in the photos above. This hound shows atypical topline, underline and brindle color pattern. Although beautiful in its own right as a "longdog," it is of incorrect and suspicious type for a Karwani.
If only those first pioneers who introduced the Caravan to the show world, one of whom was a prominent Indian all-breed judge, had accepted and cherished this beautiful native breed and encouraged its preservation, today there would be a very healthy, thriving population of registered dogs.
When I started going to shows in the mid-'90s, some well-respected show breeders of the time actually told me they deemed the village dogs to be lacking in quality and in need of improvement. So, more damage was inflicted on the breed in the form of cross-breeding with a variety of Western Sighthounds — Whippets, Greyhounds, Salukis and even Borzoi. There were telltale signs of this foreign blood creeping in. Alarm bells began to ring with certain judges, who had done their research and could recognize an authentic hound of correct type. The original Karwani was being replaced — and most people were unaware that there was a cuckoo in the ring.
The impure exhibition version of the breed was being accepted as the norm and the true hound evicted for appearing atypical or too rustic. The great travesty is that this major crime against the breed was perpetrated by those who alleged to adhere to the concept of purebred dogs. How sad that a perfectly crafted, functional, heritage breed should be ruined on a flawed whim. For the Karwani, the slippery slope of decline was well underway.
The Internet would have you believe the Caravan Hound is thriving. It is recognized by the Kennel Club of India. It has an official breed standard and its own classes at dog shows. But unfortunately this is not the whole story. The written standard is erroneous. It diverges considerably from the ideals that the villagers and tribal people who created the original have bred towards for generations. The breed seems to have changed insidiously over the last 30 years into dogs that are unrecognizable by the older villagers, who used to keep them. At the shows I attended, there was a hotchpotch of Sighthound types being exhibited under the banner of Caravan hound.
CONFUSION OVER THE MUDHOL HOUND
A fine example of a white Mudhol Hound with little pigment, showing typical length of back and tail. The Mudhol is taller than the Karwani, with a more arched topline and a more tubular body.
The identity of the Karwani was also under threat because of confusion over the Mudhol Hound.
During the British Raj in the 19th Century, a wealthy maharajah of the Mudhol district in the state of Karntaka decided to breed his village type Karwanis to the newly imported Greyhounds to improve the speed of these native coursing dogs. From then on they were known as Mudhol Hounds. Perhaps this maharajah was the first to start the crossbreeding trend, but whether by accident or design, it continued into the future.
In an attempt to preserve the Mudhol Hound, it was adopted by its state government in early 2000, which set up a breeding center where it was bred in large numbers, some hounds recently being inducted into the Indian army. Others were selectively bred for exhibition, and an addition of other blood has produced a very tall, rangy hound with a lengthy tail that almost touches the ground.
As pure white animals were popular and commanded higher prices, Mudhol breeders have focused on producing litters with little pigment to meet the market demand. Due to the lack of melanin in combination with its size and structure, this dog is unable to function in blistering heat under scorching sun. It can no longer be considered a working hound of the Deccan, but more an ornamental breed for show and companionship.
Although the modern Mudhol is now breeding true to type, it certainly bears no resemblance whatsoever to the authentic Caravan Hound. It is a newly created breed that has its own classes at the Kennel Club of India shows. Much damage is being done via the Internet, due to a wealth of confusing misinformation that has caused the general public to believe this recent breed to be a Caravan Hound. We should appreciate the Mudhol, but also make efforts to recognize, preserve and protect the authentic old Karwani of Maharashtra.
By now I had become quite disillusioned and hadn’t returned to India for a few years. But I had kept abreast with the huge efforts made by genuine fanciers from India and other countries, who had banded together to highlight the Caravan’s plight. I wanted to help preserve the breed in any way I could. So with renewed hope, the decision to return to the country and the dogs that I love was easily made.
RETURNING TO INDIA
In February this year we arrived in India. The very next day all four of us met up and began a long, hot and arduous drive to see some dogs. It was decided that we would stop midway to view a particularly exquisite bitch. Neil had lined up some of the best of these rare, elusive hounds for us to see. He had valuable contacts and without his knowledge I would never have had access to the dogs or their locations. After hours of driving, we eventually turned into a side street off the main road and disembarked to find our first hound of the trip.
Here I met Honey, owned by Abhay Arikar, one of the knowledgeable Karwani people who were trying to resurrect the breed. She was well-nourished and in lovely condition. On first seeing her I felt a wave of emotion, intense joy and a moment to savor — followed by overwhelming sadness at the prospect of losing this breed of such throat-catching beauty. As she approached me daintily, I was held entranced by her amber brown, almond eyes that shone from a perfect head of my favorite type.
Honey showing correct Karwani type.
Honey had a beautiful, kind and gentle face.
Let me explain. A moderately narrow head is completely acceptable and normal. However, a dog with a very refined head is named "Bangdi Karwan" (Caravan with a "bangle" head). The old adage stated that if the dog’s muzzle could pass through a woman’s bangle and it could be drawn up to the level of the eyes, it was an animal of great quality. (This is, of course, not an exact measure, as bangle sizes vary … but very narrow compared to my dogs' snouts! One of my bangles was about 7 centimeters across! (That's less than 3 inches.) Indian women and men are very fine-boned!
Honey’s chiselled little head passed muster, as did her whole countenance. She exuded breed type and her sculptural lines delighted my eye. It had been a long time since I’d seen such a correct little bitch with a straight topline, perfect angles and that hallmark Karwani tail: set low on a steep croup and strong at the base, the tail is covered in sparse hair with the vertebrae visible, and tapers quickly to the finest of points. In length, it reaches to about the hock and resembles a piece of thin cord. A dog with a thick or long tail is incorrect.
Having been told so many times that this breed is unfriendly toward strangers, wary and aloof, I was delighted to see her interacting with two other Sighthounds and children, who obviously knew her. Whilst talking among ourselves, the dogs and children indulged in a crazy game with a beaten-up football. All three dogs were retrieving the ball or running off to hide it, which just shows that Karwanis do have a capacity to "play" if given the opportunity. As for Honey, she was quietly sociable with the four of us, allowing us to handle and move her with grace and dignity.
With regret, we left Honey to continue on our way. My passion was now re-fuelled and I was full of anticipation at what treasures may lay ahead.
THE HEARTLAND OF THE KARWANI
The following day we drove deeper into farmland of the Deccan plateau, the very heartland of this breed. Our next destination proved hard to locate. After bumping along rough dirt tracks, we finally arrived at a humble farmstead. What a welcome we received! A few fireworks were let off (typically Indian!) in honor of our visit and we were bedecked with garlands.
I soon spotted two nice-looking males tethered in a shelter out of the burning sun. They were brought up for closer inspection. Both were older, purely working animals with a few battle scars. Rajah (King), a tall pale Karwani, sported a crooked tail, possibly from an old break. He was a fine, upstanding and gentle hound, reminding me of the dogs that travelled with the "ghosts of the road."
The other black male, Pintya (Beloved), had a distinctive brand on his face. Branding is an old practice followed by traditional villagers, but is less prevalent nowadays. It is believed to keep the dog safe from harm and in good health. We decided Pintya may not be 100% pure, as his coat and musculature hinted at some external influence, but he was a useful farm dog and a real character.
Karwani Rajah and his owner.
Due to the harsh conditions of their lifestyle, Karwanis often show blemishes that one has to try to look past. Their very structure, with thin coat and lack of protective subcutaneous fat, means that even when lying on Hessian burlap sacking, the choice of bedding in most places, their skin is at risk, especially around areas such as elbows and hocks.
The hounds were allowed their freedom and trotted around us with that fluid, springy action that I find so elegant. Our hosts wanted to demonstrate how dogs were transported when working in distant fields. A motorbike was brought forward. Two men climbed aboard, closely followed by the black dog that leapt up athletically to sit straddled securely between them. Dogs we met at subsequent farms were transported in the same way. The sun was now beating down and Pintya’s owner laughed affectionately when he realized his ward had disappeared into the near-by shallow well to submerge himself in the cool water. "That dog is very clever,’’ he declared with obvious pride. "He looks after his health!’’
The hospitality shown by all the villagers we visited was overwhelming. We were always invited to share a meal with them, sitting cross-legged on mats, eating with our hands after washing with a jug and bowl kindly supplied for our use. As the farmers were proud cattlemen, we were given a guided tour of their best dairy cows and bulls after viewing dogs. So, not surprisingly, it became mandatory for us to be offered a bowl of fresh milk at each new place we arrived at or with each meal. This became very difficult for me, as I am not a milk drinker, so I tried to make polite excuses of ill-health. That certainly didn’t work, as they assured me their milk had magical healing properties, so I decided to "develop" a more easily explained milk allergy!
AN EARTHY COLOR PALETTE
Bajirao, a young seal-colored dog blending perfectly with the black cotton soil of his homeland. Photo Vishal Khamkar.
Mastani, a young fawn bitch gliding across her fields. Photo Vishal Khamkar.
The timeless beauty of Rani, an ancient bitch from ancient lines.
The Karwani color palette is typically earthy. This hound comes in several shades reminiscent of Indian spices. Fawns ranging from light through to a fiery chilli red. In between are shades of cinnamon, mustard and ginger, all with a saddle area of a darker hue. A predominant color is the enigmatic "seal," probably selected due to the wonderful camouflage it provides. Basically seal can be described as a rich, dark brown with a deeper dorsal stripe.
Some versions remind me of the color of pulped tamarind. However, the "dark seal" can range from a bronzed black to the charcoal grey/black of a peppercorn or clove. True black, sable or shaded and liver red are also seen. Karwanis’ natural colors often reflect the soil they live and work upon. The area where we saw these hounds is fairly typical of the Deccan plateau geology. Soil is either red or black. Rich in minerals, this land is renowned for growing sugar cane, oilseed and pulses, but mainly cotton, and is termed "black cotton soil."
This is a landscape of cultivated fields, surrounded by scrub and thorn among boulder-strewn plains. Here the dog is perfectly blended within his homeland. During my viewings of genuine Karwanis, I have never seen a particolored or purely white hound. When questioned, the elders of the area felt that white, brindle or pied coloring was not typical of the breed. Interestingly, they immediately recognized these colored hounds as the racing hybrids I mentioned earlier and referred to them as "Alaknooris," now a breed in its own right. Karwanis are of a solid body color but can have dark masks, mottled or white socks, chest and tail tip. Some sport discrete facial snips or narrow stripes.
There was a very special old bitch that my friend knew from previous visits and was keen to show us. With relief, we were delighted to find she was still on her farm, living out her days happily. Life is tenuous for working dogs out here, many succumbing to illness or accidents. But the tough ones breed on, perpetuating the law of survival of the fittest. When we arrived, lying comfortably on her Hessian sack, was the ancient and regal Rani (Queen), testament to the endurance of the breed and care of her owners. She is apparently around 19 years of age; I have no reason to doubt this, as her owner has nothing to gain by lying. A black beauty in her prime, this wise old lady was now a grizzled grey with an old wrist injury, but she was still alert and possessed amazingly white teeth. Even as a veteran, her quality shone through. It was a privilege to have met her.
A SIGHT TO MAKE THE HEART SING …
David with proud mum, Champi.
Neil with two siblings; one is the black-masked dog we particularly liked.
Champi's four young Karwani puppies.
We continued our search in hope of finding more authentic hounds. Although we were in the epicentre of their land, they have become as rare as hens’ teeth. Many crossbred dogs were spotted, showing obvious Greyhound and Saluki influences. In case any of us were in doubt about the availability of Greyhounds in the Deccan region, at one farm we were proudly shown six ex-track dogs. They were in fine fettle and the apple of their owner’s eye. It’s strange how they are regarded as "exotic" and treated like kings, while the Karwanis are treated as purely every-day working dogs.
At last we came across a sight that made our hearts sing with joy. I can’t explain the feeling of elation that rushes through me when I see a good hound in the flesh. A very pretty red bitch named Champi (meaning orange golden color) was at the front of her owner’s house, heavy with milk and nursing four pups of around three weeks old. What a lovely specimen with a generous temperament, allowing us to handle her toddling puppies without any fuss. We were particularly taken with one of these pups, a grey fawn dog with black mask. This "pick of the litter" we ear-marked to be a future star. These were beautifully bred by a good sire that hailed from an old, respected village bloodline. This little family gave us great hope for things to come.
UNIQUE COAT AND STRUCTURE
Head study of Champi, showing typical Karwani profile with imperceptible stop. She wears the traditional village "jingle bell" collar.
The correct scissor bite.
Bajirao's head illustrating sparse (skin visible in places!), very short, coat with facial wrinkles. The coat has a surprisingly harsh texture.
Body structure is one of the most efficient ways of ascertaining purity. After years of looking at impure Caravans, I now wanted to absorb as much correct information as I could. If comparisons have to be made, the Karwani is far removed from a Greyhound and more akin to an Azawakh, but with marked differences. Their bodies are square and linear. When photographing Karwanis, it is important that they are relaxed, or they can appear to stand very awkwardly. When allowed a natural stance, they display perfect balance, symmetry and poise.
In some ways it is a breed of paradoxes. They look frail but are as tough as teak with strong constitution. Their seemingly bony bodies are in fact covered with a layer of hard, fit muscle, giving them the elastic, supple feel of an athlete. Fine skin stretched over a spare frame, clad in firm, flat muscle, describes this hound. There are no excesses. Bulging musculature or excess weight is detrimental to a dog used for marathon galloping in temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
Their toplines are a particular feature, being straight and level, NEVER sloping down from wither to hip. Sometimes their prominent hip bones appear to be slightly higher than their withers. This can be an odd look compared to the gently curved or arched topline found on many Sighthounds.
Correct conformation and outline of a sapling bitch.
Mastani is a young and immature bitch, but shows true Karwani conformation with lovely head, deep chest, correct topline, good angulation fore and aft, a finely tapered tail and beautiful, balanced poise. Note the huge heel pads!
Karwani feet are strong and sound and have well knuckled-up toes with stout nails. The foot sits on tough, rubber-like pads that can withstand blistering heat and assist when working on unforgiving terrain. The coat may look sleek and have a shine, but this illusion is short-lived. Close up, the hair is quite sparse with the skin often visible, especially on the throat, chest and undersides. A strange quirk is the fine facial wrinkling that is usually seen on forehead and cheeks.
Once felt, the Karwani’s coat is unforgettable. It is surprisingly harsh, neither rough nor wiry, but so short as to feel almost bristly, yet it still has a healthy sheen. This unique coat is one of the best "tells" of an authentic dog. When in doubt, feel the coat texture. If there is a hint of a silky, soft coat, there will be other blood involved.
FIGHTING TO PRESERVE THE BREED
We next drove to the home of Sachin Malvadkar, a lovely man who is helping in the fight to preserve the breed. Again we were greeted with great hospitality by the whole family and found a table loaded with fruits and drinks waiting to refresh us. Here we met a true working dog, the charming Yashwanti, meaning "One who has achieved great fame." This red sable bitch of great type must have lived up to her name, as she was obviously highly valued.
When I requested a photo, her owner tried to hurriedly remove her working collar, but it fascinated me, as it was a spiked protection collar that she wore whilst guarding her flocks. In the line of duty these dogs may have to face and tackle a variety of predators, including fox, leopard and even the small, striped Indian hyena. I received a puzzled look as I asked for the collar to be left on. To him it was like her picture being taken whilst in her shabby work clothes!
Yashwanti in her spiked protection collar.
After a pleasant hour discussing breeding plans for the few Karwanis available in the area, it was announced that on her next season, Yashwanti would be visiting a very good stud dog. This was very pleasing and positive news for the continuation of the breed.
A short drive away, and the last dog to be seen that day, was a promising youngster that my friend had seen the previous year as a puppy. The litter was bred by Shyam Barure, who is working tirelessly to revive the breed. He has been instrumental in finding, buying in and breeding from good examples of correct type. The beautiful yearling bitch was called Chikki, named after a delicious Indian sweet of nuts and honey.
It took a while to catch her, as she was thoroughly enjoying herself cavorting around us, showing off her elastic gait. Eventually she stood to be photographed, proud and erect with that typical piercing amber-eyed stare. A very dark, almost black seal color, she was quite a stunner. However, she was still very leggy and immature and would probably take another year or two to furnish properly. The next day we were promised a visit to Shyam’s home and farms, where we would see the rest of her siblings and other quality dogs, but tonight we retired wearily with our heads buzzing.
David stacking Chikki.
THE DOG OF MY DREAMS
The following day I met the dog of my dreams. We walked in to Shyam’s kennels and forecourt to meet Chikki’s two littermates, a dog and a bitch. First to view was the dog Bajirao, named after a powerful Hindu warrior general, the hero of a famous love story. Again, this dog needed to mature but had great potential. He was a nice, moderate and correct dark black seal, showing good traits and those strong well-padded feet I love.
However, Bajirao paled in the shadow of his sister, Mastani, named after the heroine in the legendary tale of devoted love. Mastani had been a skilled courtesan and dancer in the court of Bajirao, who had been utterly seduced by her unworldly beauty. This bitch was well named —she’d had a similar effect upon me: I was captivated. She came trotting demurely around the corner with her handler, stopped dead in her tracks when she saw her audience and with supercilious stare approached condescendingly to be admired. Actually, she was one of the shyest Karwanis we had met so far, also the most stunningly beautiful.
Mastani head shot.
My friend David, an accomplished breeder with a superb eye for quality, was similarly impressed and made a concerted effort to befriend her. She was not nervous, just unsure, young and skittish, and within a short while, David managed to win her confidence. At only 13 months old and still immature, she was structurally almost perfect, with correct type and every inch a genuine Karwani. When she moved, floating around her court yard, I was transfixed. If there was any animal I longed to bring home with me, Mastani was the one. If only I was younger, richer and owned a farm …
Rocky, an Afghan Pashmi, with the Karwani Mastani.
Shyam Barure was an imposing man of commanding stature, a wealthy and well-respected land-owner who had many tenant farmers. He was placed perfectly to follow his passion for preservation breeding of the Karwani and his first love, the Afghan Pashmi. This magnificent hound can be loosely compared to the Taigan or an aboriginal Afghan. It is taller and heavier-boned than the Karwani, but with a similar outline. It was the dog of wealthier farmers, whose primary job was as an allround guard dog and boar hunter.
Shyam proudly showed us Rocky, his prolific stud dog of the region, and some of his offspring. When delicate Mastani was placed next to Rocky’s solid frame, the difference between the two breeds stood out markedly. We also viewed another old favorite of my friend, the black Karwani bitch named Kajal, a truly typical and authentic specimen from very old and known village bloodlines. She had bred quality pups and was a highly valued brood bitch.
Shyam was keen to show us his prize-winning cattle and a few more dogs, so we jumped in the car and followed him to his other farms, where we viewed local breeds of work and show stock. In one of the fields his men brought out a striking Karwani bitch for us to admire .This unusual liver red bitch, well named as Chingi (a spark of fire), was the epitome of a hard-working farmer’s dog who knew her job inside out. Constantly alert, her drive and focus was apparent. She was a neat bitch in hard, fit condition, showing very typical conformation.
ENCOUNTERS WITH WATER BUFFALOS
Later we shared a meal with Shyam and his friends and sampled milk fresh from the cows we’d seen earlier. By now poor David was awash with the white stuff, as he was kindly drinking my quota, so as not to offend the cattlemen. After a delicious lunch we were taken to meet the pride and joy of the farm, the buffalos.
Water buffalos are fascinating creatures. This local Pandharpuri breed was indeed magnificent. The champion bull had his own water-filled trench that served as a swimming pool. We watched enthralled as this massive animal was taken for his daily 200-yard swim that kept him in fit condition.
We also viewed the buffalo cows, whose milk of course we were invited to taste. To get their attention, the cowman called them over by uttering the strangest guttural grunts and noises from deep within his belly. It was a sound I have never heard before or since, and its effect was astounding. Every beast turned instantly and lumbered towards him, so dangerously close I thought he would be trampled. With huge heads lifted gently to his face, they crowded round to lick him. Their pale eyes and long, sharp horns were quite menacing, yet they showed great affinity with this man, who could literally speak to them. Seeing the affection and strong bonds they had formed with their herdsman was quite touching.
More bizarre to come was the way he exercised his cows. They followed him on to the dirt road, where he climbed aboard his motorbike, careering away at speed with the buffalos charging after him, vying with each other to rest their chins on his shoulders. At the top he turned, revved up his bike with them galloping back behind him in a cloud of dust and exhaust. It was a surreal sight I’ll never forget. Later, we saw him sitting among them as they grazed contentedly in his company. Shyam told us he was the safest man in town, as his cows would attack and kill anyone who tried to harm him.
THE FINAL VISITS
Our tour was nearing its end, with two more visits to fit in before night fall. First was to meet a lovely old dog that resided with a restaurant-owner in the local town. Although getting on in years, Malhar (a Hindu God) was another wonderful example of everything the breed should be. He was a classically proportioned dark seal Karwani, sadly under-used at stud. It was fervently hoped that he may still be capable of siring more pups, as he had great provenance with quality blood behind him. What a shame that the Karwani of old, exemplified by Malhar, find little appreciation amongst those who claim to support the idea of breed preservation.
The best visit was left till last in terms of excitement. I had no clue where we were heading; driving in convoy to find two dogs that Shyam was determined to show us. Light was fading fast and we were trying to locate some nomads with their flocks of goats and a rare breed of sheep. Somewhere in the vast black pastures bathed in eerie twilight, we eventually located the tribal band of nomadic people know as Lamaani. The strangest thing was that they had communicated their whereabouts to the driver via their mobile phones. Typical India, the simplest of tent-dwelling goat herders owned Smartphones!
By now it was pitch black, as night descends quickly here, so we pointed the headlights of our vehicles into the field to pick out far-off twinkling lights of tents and a huge inquisitive flock before us. The dogs in question were summoned and held for our benefit. I admit I couldn’t see much with weird shadows being cast everywhere, but the exquisite pale fawn Karwani bitch in front of me had a fairy-like quality.
In contrast the other was a strong black Afghan Pashmi, another of Rocky’s produce. The men exchanged greetings in their native Marathi tongue and with much laughter and enthusiasm began discussing the dogs that Shyam had gifted to these nomads last year. Apparently they had turned out to be excellent single-handed workers and protected their stock diligently. We had a delightful time looking over all the flock, picking up the beautiful long-eared kids and gawping at the huge roman-nosed sheep and lambs.
Again I was acutely aware of the respect and warm bonds that exist between the men and animals. They were all tame and so accustomed to being handled. As the dogs milled around, I innocently asked what names they had been given. How foolish I felt at the herdsman’s look of total puzzlement. ‘’What does she mean?’’ he asked in dialect. ’’What do you call the dogs?’’ Shyam repeated. With a knowing nod he replied ‘’Ah … Small Pale Female and Strong Black One.’’ It made perfect sense.
With a wistful sadness I glanced back at that scene, the Lamaani with their womenfolk waving us off, the warm smell of goats and fresh earth, those hounds living cheek to jowl with their tribe, sharing meagre rations and a harsh life-style, yet absolutely as content as dogs can be. It had been an enchanting encounter and the highlight of my mission to see the real old-style dogs doing the job they were bred for.
It was agreed we would meet at a restaurant and have a final meal together before we headed home the next day. We made a jovial party with Shyam and his cattlemen friends, who had enjoyed their day with us. We were strangers brought together in our mutual love for the dogs. Although we couldn’t speak each other’s language, it didn’t seem to matter. I think we amused them. The big, fierce water-buffalo man was reduced to fits of embarrassed giggles when I asked him to demonstrate his buffalo whispering. We fought over who was going to pay at the end of the meal, but Shyam won. Their hospitality was second to none and I couldn’t thank everyone enough when the night ended. Again I felt a wave of sadness as we left the area, the dogs and the men who might be their only saviors.
I had done what I needed to do. I had taken a last look at the Karwani of yesterday. This journey had shown me a glimmer of hope for the breed’s preservation, but it hangs in the balance. My dearest wish is that there will be a Karwani for tomorrow.