As one drives from Havelian to Abbottabad and reaches the point where the road begins winding up the mountain to this wonderful destination, one is apt to overlook a shrine like structure on the left, because of new construction around it. This is ‘Khotay di Kabar’ or the ‘Grave of The Donkey’ – a spot that has an intriguing story linked to it. I first saw the place somewhere in 1966 and being the curious person that I am, began asking the locals as to the origins of its name. According to the most common explanation, there is indeed a beast of burden interred here, but one which has a heroic story attached to it.

It was during the armed struggle featuring Syed Ahmed Shaheed and his companions in the early years of the 19th Century that the freedom fighters found themselves besieged in the mountains north of Abbottabad and their supply line disrupted. Looking desperately for a solution, the besieged discovered a donkey with highly developed homing skills. According to the narrative, supplies were loaded on the beast, which was then let loose to wend its way along paths inaccessible to humans to reach the freedom fighters. When this unique animal passed away, it was buried at what is now named after it, as ‘Khotay di Kabar’.

Homing instincts amongst animals and birds are nothing new. Take for example pigeons, which have figured as message carriers since ancient times. These birds were effectively used by French Resistance to exchange intelligence with London during the Second World War. The Germans countered this, by issuing an order to their troops in the Calais region that any pigeon flying across the channel was to be shot down.

Horses too are known to have reached their home stables carrying sick or wounded riders, braving snow storms, flooded streams and hot waterless deserts. The annual migration of animals, birds and even marine creatures is a phenomena, answers to which have still only been partly discovered. I am witness to lost cats and dogs retracing their steps in order to reach the safety of their homes.

Lily came to us as a stray mongrel puppy somewhere in the early 1950s. She was incredibly ugly, but was taken in by my mother and fed into adulthood. In return she became a most efficient guard dog and perhaps even a body guard to the woman, who had raised her. There were some in our family, who were unhappy with a scruffy looking canine moving around the house and demanded that she be given away. My mother resisted this demand, but had to surrender under extreme pressure. We offered the dog to friends and other family members, who refused us saying that it did not have pedigree and was ugly.

The powers that be, then decided to drop the beast off at some place, where she could fend for herself. This was done, but we found Lily back in our compound by nightfall. Her return put into motion a more desperate plan, wherein she was put in a vehicle and abandoned across the River Ravi somewhere close to Sheikhupura. Four days later, we saw a bleeding and bedraggled canine limping up our drive – Lily had once again beaten all odds and come home.

The reunion with her mistress was something to see, as was the change in my mother, who stood up and boldly stated that the dog was here to stay and there was nothing that could stop this from happening. The next few days were spent in treating the animal’s injuries and feeding her back to strength. We then saw a miracle happening for those, who had proposed to abandon her, became her most ardent admirers, pampering her to no end.

Lily spent the rest of her life as a member of our family and paid us back with unflinching loyalty and love. I remember one of my grandparents saying that she was ‘someone’ with a heart of gold. Then one morning, ten or eleven years down the timeline, we found her lost in eternal sleep on the blanket that she had taken for her own. We buried her under an ‘ambaltas’ tree amidst tears and the loss of a friend, who had used her homing skills and devotion to give us the greatest gift of all – happiness.

 

The writer is a historian.