For Assam’s Chow Sureng Rajkonwar, having pets stay in one place doesn’t sit well. No wonder, then, his four-pawed travel buddy Bella has gone where many dream of — the world’s highest motor-able road, Umlingla Pass. The two have been going on numerous exciting travels together across India on a bike, all the while recording their tales on YouTube. In a conversation with Travel + Leisure India & South Asia, Sureng Rajkonwar shares his journey with Bella, the challenges of a road trip with pets, and more. By Ralan Kithan
Excerpts from the interview with Chow Sureng Rajkonwar:
T+L India: You recently travelled with your pet Bella on a motorcycle to Ladakh. How did it happen?
Chow Sureng Rajkonwar: I established a motorcycle club called I Dream Ride (IDR) in 2013. We plan one major trip every year. This year, Leh Ladakh was on our list of yearly destinations. There was a three-year delay [for the trip] because of the pandemic. On August 18, members of the IDR club began preparing for the trip. By then, Bella already 6,000 kilometres travel experience so she was already part of the plan!
T+L India: How did you and Bella start taking adventurous trips together?
Chow Sureng Rajkonwar: On December 16, 2021, Bella entered our life. We began taking road trips together when she was five months old.
I realised the purpose of travelling with pets when I observed an elderly man travelling with his dog. I saw another video video where an elderly man was cliff diving into the water and his dog followed — my mind was blown! That’s when I realised how an animal, other than humans, can be travel companions. But I also believe keeping animals as ‘pets’ and confining them to a house would obstruct their ability to live freely. So, I made the decision to try to provide my pet a life where they aren’t confined to a house their entire life.
T+L India: What are the reactions of the people who’ve learned about your journey?
Chow Sureng Rajkonwar: I’ve been telling a lot of my friends and family members about my aspirations to travel with Bella on a bike. A majority of them were taken aback to hear the idea because it was unfamiliar to them. They were also worried about Bella at the same time.
After we had travelled 800 kilometres to and from Dong, a village that experiences the first sunrise in India, people applauded us. They were amazed when we completed our 2,500 kilometres road journey from Dibrugarh (Assam) to Delhi on a scooter. After that trip, we received some media coverage. We began to receive more attention and recognition during the Ladakh trip. People started to understand our trip; many approached us to engage in discussion. They loved Bella the most. She received all the admiration!
T+L India: Which has been the most thrilling experience you’ve had on your motorcycle so far?
Chow Sureng Rajkonwar: Imagine riding 2,500 kilometres, from Delhi to Dibrugarh, by bike to get married! This was in 2014. Isn’t that thrilling? All my family members were stressed for five days because those were my initial years of riding. The journey from Delhi to Spiti in 2017 was also incredibly exciting because of the people who we were travelling with.
Our backs have been put to the test while travelling from Delhi to Nepal in 2018. The journey to Upper Mustang was among the scariest off-roads we’ve ever experienced. We hiked to the 4,900-meter Tilicho lake on that trip. The Tilicho Lake is known to be the highest lake in the world for its size.
The most perilous journey this year was with Bella to Dong, Arunachal Pradesh due to the downpour we rode in. Nearly everywhere there were landslides, and the river crossings were enormous.
The most exciting journey of the year was with Bella and eight of us from my motorcycle club to Zanskar, Leh Ladakh, and Sach Pass. There were many challenges like the weather, lack of roads, river crossings, high altitudes, breathing difficulties, and other factors. However, we were able to make it to the 19,024-feet high Umling La Pass, the highest motor-able road in the world.
T+L India: What are some challenges you face when taking Bella on road trips? How do you overcome them?
Chow Sureng Rajkonwar: There are several challenges when I take Bella on road trips, especially when I ride a bike.
The first challenge is getting her to take a seat. She never sits down till she is utterly worn out. She keeps shifts postures on her seat, which also causes my bike to sway. But we are now accustomed to it. [Getting] her [to wear] protective gear is the second challenge, such as her riding glasses. Her eyes might be harmed by wind, dust exposure for an extended period of time, or raindrops landing on them.
The third challenge is finding a suitable raincoat for her. Standard dog raincoats are only intended for outside activities like walks. They cannot be used for bike travel.
Riding at a constant speed is the fourth difficulty. She needs to be safe, thus I can’t ride fast. Her safety is my top priority; therefore, I leash her so that she won’t have to remain attached to her carrier in the event of an emergency, allowing her to jump with confidence and land in an area with little damage. Sometimes, when she notices other animals close by, she attempts to jump if the bike is moving at a slower speed. This happened twice while we were travelling to Leh Ladakh. Fortunately, though, there was no damage since I was riding slowly through a hazardous area. Finding a pet-friendly hotel or homestay is also a challenge.
T+L India: Which places are on your bucket list?
Chow Sureng Rajkonwar: The list is huge! I want to show Bella and my wife the deserts in West India so Bella can run in the open area as much as she wants; the ocean in the South so that she can play around with the tides and also take boat or ship rides; the caves of Meghalaya; the high-altitude mountains in Nepal; and base camps like the Everest base camp to experience snow.
We would like to travel all the corners of India at first and then to the southeast Asian countries like Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
T+L India: Your greatest travel feat you’ve achieved so far?
Chow Sureng Rajkonwar: Undoubtedly, my trip with Bella to Leh Ladakh this year. No motorcycle club in India had ever taken a pet to Leh Ladakh. Taking my pet on a bike to the highest motor-able route in the world was a huge accomplishment.
T+L India: What prompted you to start a travel vlog?
Chow Sureng Rajkonwar: Since I was a kid, I was addicted to adventures. After receiving my diploma at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in Delhi, I worked as a fashion designer with various designers, including Shantanu and Nikhil, and Satya Paul. That was when I first got introduced to photography. My passion eventually switched from photography to videography. 10 years later, in 2011, I began motorcycle touring.
In 2012, I started a YouTube channel. However, I was a partner in a firm at the time. At that time, I posted videos occasionally—maybe one per year. I started publishing my travel videos in 2020 when the pandemic struck since I had stockpiled those recordings since 2011. I needed a source of income because, as of 2019, I had ended my business relationship with my friend. I also wanted to do something creative and follow my passion for making videos. I quit my job and began doing travel vlogs as a result. I’ve been regularly posting videos since April 2020.
T+L India: What is the most challenging journey you’ve undertaken so far?
Chow Sureng Rajkonwar: The journey on YouTube! I started posting frequent videos at the age of 38. Other than the support of my mother and wife, I have no money. All of the funds had been invested in yet another venture, but the pandemic had put an end to that. I have always had the support of my family, especially my wife, and I can’t let her down. Things are fitting together gradually.
Aside from that, my trip to Ladakh with Bella was the toughest adventure I have ever made.
T+L India: How has travelling with Bella impacted you personally?
Chow Sureng Rajkonwar: Earlier I did not care about after-dusk rides but now I do it in a very unavoidable circumstance. I used to wake up at 8-9 am and start my rides. Nowadays, I wake up at 5 am, give Bella a walk, and then start my ride by 6.30 am. She has helped me develop discipline. She has taught me how to love unconditionally, be patient, control my temper when I’m furious, and appreciate life’s little pleasures.
T+L India: How do you think the government and institutions can help make travelling with pets easier?
Chow Sureng Rajkonwar: It’s not simple to travel with a pet on public transportation, like trains and planes. They are, first and foremost, expensive. One must reserve a seat in a coupe or a cabin if one wants to take a train. Rajdhani Express is the only vehicle that offers this facility, and there are just a small number of planes that allow dogs. I believe that the process for purchasing a train ticket should be made simple. Additionally, more trains should also permit dogs.
Purchasing a carrier is an additional cost. Pets should be allowed to travel in separate compartments in one or two coaches, and owners should be allowed to observe and feed their animals during the trip. The cost of flying with pets ought to be lower. Buses should have one or two compartments where animals can be carried with their owners.
T+L India: You also wish to spread awareness about animal cruelty while travelling. How do you do this? How have the responses been so far?
Chow Sureng Rajkonwar: I am by no means an activist; I could definitely do better. Having Bella in my life has impacted me in various ways and has opened my eyes to all the things I could do better. It has also opened up my eyes to stray animals and I try to feed them when I travel. I interact with as many people as possible and try to spread the message of loving animals. I hope to do this on a much bigger scale someday but right now I am just doing it at the capacity I can.
T+L India: Any tips for people who want to travel with pets on a two-wheeler?
Chow Sureng Rajkonwar:
- Make a comfortable and safe sitting arrangement for your pet.
- Tuck their leash in such a way that they can move in their seat to a certain extent.
- Keep their food and water along with their utensils in such a way that they can be served immediately at any stop.
- Don’t ride when it is too hot or raining heavily.
- Ride with limited speed.
- Make them wear riding goggles and rain jackets. They might hesitate initially but later they will get used to it.
- Take frequent breaks.
- Unleash them and allow them to play around where you feel it’s safe.
- Sometimes your pet might not eat for two-three days, that’s fine. They can survive. Make sure they are drinking a lot of water and they are active with their activities. That way you will know that they are fine. Sometimes they don’t eat because of changes in place and weather.
- Don’t let strangers feed your pet anything or everything. You never know about people’s intention.
T+L India: Where are you travelling next with Bella?
Chow Sureng Rajkonwar: Right now, we both need to relax for a little while. But I’ve considered going to Kerala with my motorcycle club the following year. If everything is in order, we may also go to Dhanushkodi. We’ll continue to go to adjacent locations before visiting Kerala, anything between 500 and 1,000 kilometres.