Sushant rode 11,000 kms on a bike to spread awareness on street dogs

At first glance, Sushant Ajnikar looks like any other passionate biker; wearing his biker gear like a second skin, and always found next to his Royal Enfield Classic 500. But dig a little deeper, and one understands that Sushant is cut from a different cloth. This 31-year- old has ridden 11,000 kilometres on the bike, spanning three countries, India, Nepal, and Bhutan, all for one reason; to spread awareness around street dogs. 

Not surprisingly, this is Sushant’s second long journey. The first one included travelling 9,000 kilometres from Bengaluru to Leh and Ladakh, spreading the same message. His adventures and the aspiration to create a more hospitable environment for street dogs (indies) has given rise to his own small social enterprise, Paws of India.

“Riding to Leh-Ladakh was always on my bucket list, so when I finally decided to do it, my wife suggested that we can actually make this trip bigger than it is. We had adopted two Indian dogs already by then and were very keen on advocating the adoption of Indian dogs. Hence, being in this frame of mind, we decided to add some more meaning to my trip. I had also observed the attention a solo rider receives when I rode from Bangalore to Rajasthan and back and how easily people open
up to you and listen to your experiences. Deriving from all of the above, we decided to create an entity for our initiative - thus Paws of India was born,” explains Sushant.

An animal lover since he was a kid, Sushant knew that his long-term goal would be to initiate projects that would make the lives of his four-legged friends better. “As a kid, my mom would give me pocket money for myself, and I would use that to buy biscuits to feed dogs, much to her chagrin. Her anger didn’t stop me, though,” he says.

Sushant tells people to remember that one need not be a canine behaviorist or any kind of animal expert to understand the core basics of animal behaviour - no animal will harm you unless provoked by you, or by circumstance. “No animal does anything without a reason - nature has coded animals to do what they need to do for survival - no other reason other than to sustain and stay alive.

Animals are far more intelligent than humans and contrary to popular belief, they know how to adapt and coexist, unlike the human race. If we simply observe the nuances of animals, we will understand how they function, and our fear and antagonistic attitude will transform to intrigue, tolerance and eventually acceptance. The problem today is that people don’t want to take the effort to understand and neither do they want to accept the fact that the ecosystem cannot function without other species - that intentional harming of any species is harming their own kind, more than anyone else, as the resulting imbalance cannot be corrected at the pace with which humans are consistently trying to wipe out some species. We should leave the ecosystem clean-up to nature - any human interference will only make things worse,” he says.

Preparations for the trip:

Undertaking such a long and tedious journey required Sushant to meticulously plan out every single detail. “I start by saving for any trip almost two years in advance. The biggest cost of the trip is petrol, then comes the gear and spares. My last trip in 2014 cost me a lakh, of which 60% was spent on petrol, rest were spent on hotels and food. That trip was for 9,000 kms and I fed around 200 dogs. I also met countless inspiring people and some who were inspired by me as well,” he adds.

In this trip, Sushant rode 11,000kms! “And, I fed more than 200 dogs, and spent around 2.5 lakhs,” he says.

Speaking of the price of the travel always earns Sushant some detractors. “Some have told me that this model doesn’t work and that I could use the money to rescue dogs instead. But I point out that their advised method will allow me to only rescue a handful of dogs. The biking trips on the other hand, will enable me to reach out to a larger audience and also feed a greater number of dogs. Thereby, making the trip more impactful,” says Sushant.

Before undertaking the journey, Sushant invested a lot of time in doing stamina building exercises. “Other exercises include those that increase lung capacity and help to get a flexible back and neck. These preparations are very important as the body endures a lot on any trip that I have undertaken,” he says.

The trip:

Needless to say, the trip was not an easy one. Sushant had to battle rough terrain, and moody weather conditions, among other hardships. “The initial plan was to ride for 16,000 kilometres, but I ended up riding for only 11,000, as I encountered a lot of rains, harsh sun, and very bad roads. I rode through three countries, India, Nepal, and Bhutan,” he explains. Sushant started from Bengaluru, rode through the eastern coastal highway of India passing through Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Mizoram. “In Nepal, I entered through Kakarbitta border near Siliguri, rode to Kathmandu through Sindhuri highway, then went to Pokhara,” he adds.

Sharing the problems he went through, Sushant says, “Sometimes I would stay in the cheapest hotels thinking that I won't get any sleep, but I was so tired I crashed within five minutes. I once got lost on the highway because of the fog and found myself in the middle of a jungle trying to make my own roads, got caught in flash floods, bike stuck in slush with its wheels locked waiting for the sun to come so that the wet mud dries off and i could move the bike, rode for 950 kms in 12 and half hours one day and so many more crazy experiences like these,” he says.

Creating awareness:

The modus operandi of Sushant was very simple. When taking breaks, he would feed dogs, and educate people around him about why it is important to love and care for our own indies. “My heavy-duty biker gear almost always gets people’s attention. They are curious about what a person like me is doing by feeding, talking to, and petting dogs. A conversation is then struck between them and I. I use this opportunity to talk about my initiative, and try and make the listener see the importance of these dogs,” he says.

Sushant is also extremely grateful to have met some amazing people on his way, who have humbled him with the amazing work done by them. “In Jowai near Shillong, I met a lady Kongka Passah who has managed to influence her small town to look after animals and report if any animal has met with an accident or so. I also met another lady, Tashnim Mawlong, who started an NGO called SARS to rescue and spread awareness in Shillong along with my friend Lorina Richmond,” he says.

“After this trip, I have decided to take it on myself to correct the wrong image that is created of our eastern part of the country. Our friends from the northeast are a lovely lot, genuine at heart, not at all harmful or scary and no they also do not feast on dogs! We really need to travel a lot more to the northeast to learn and understand from their culture to appreciate their beauty,” he adds.

Traveling to various places has sensitised Sushant to the varying attitudes shown to street dogs by people in different places. “In Nepal and Bhutan, there is a general respect for all living creatures. One can find dogs in every part of the city, and people have learned to live with them and have no problems. Both Bhutan and Nepal are living examples how compassion and coexistence are the answer, while on the other hand, we have Kerala and other such states in our country who have taken upon themselves to kill every street dog out there,” says Sushant.

Sending a message:

Urging people to be more compassionate, Sushant says, “It is very easy to be empathetic. All it takes is five minutes and a biscuit packet worth Rs. 5. Rescuing requires commitment, money, effort, time and most of all, a very strong resolve to be able to withstand the emotional drain that comes with rescuing dogs - it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. However, feeding a dog, although smaller in action, is definitely easier to do, and anyone can do it.”

The serial adventurer adds that adventures are a risky business, and if something goes wrong, his work should go on. “And, lastly, the most important thing is to prepare for the worst case scenario. I get my wife to understand it and accept it. It’s an adventure and anything can go wrong. So if I do not come back just remember me for what I was set out to do.”

Follow Sushant’s journey on Facebook.

By Gayatri Nair
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Tash said...

Proud of you.... God bless you