It’s a Friday afternoon in Gul Bela, a suburban village on main Charsadda Road, Peshawar and people are gathering to witness the weekly dog race. The race track is situated on the riverside and hundreds of people from Gul Bela and surrounding villages have already taken their places around the race track. They shout and clap to encourage the dogs. The din created by the excited spectators is deafening. Everybody is in the moment, enjoying the spectacle, forgetting all their worries and problems for a while.
“We gather here after offering Friday prayers,” says Subhan Ali, a dog owner. “We bring our dogs for the race. Our only aim is to provide entertainment for people while our dogs get an opportunity to run and show their abilities.”
The dog race is undoubtedly a rare entertainment spectacle. There are no dog fights, just a race. A thrilling, gripping gallop to the finish line.
A weekly dog racing event provides public entertainment
A thin but strong steel wire is installed on a 600-800-feet pre-set track, on which a toy rabbit, made out of fabric and fill, is dragged with the help of a hand-operated machine made locally. The dogs are allowed to run after the toy rabbit, and the dog that catches the rabbit is declared the winner. At the end of the track, a shelter is set up to hide the rabbit.
The dogs participating in the race are of a special hound breed — locally known as ‘Tazi’. There are two types of dogs bought for the race: the more expensive imported dogs and the local breed which is comparatively cheaper. They are renowned as among the fastest breed of dogs. Sometimes, the dogs participating in the race run so fast that thier momentum keeps them running for several metres beyond the finish line. Especially trained and nurtured to take part in competitions, including race and hunting, their toned torsoes and strong legs enable them to run faster.
To help them maintain stamina and keep them healthy and strong, they are fed a special diet, including milk, eggs, desi ghee, bread and a small amount of meat.
Ali says that the race provides a training platform to dogs. In this way, he adds, the dogs prepare to take part in the real races held in various parts of the country. “We take them to Punjab,” he adds. “Bhalwal, Gujranwala, Lilla and other areas of Punjab famous for holding dog races and hunting. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, such races take place in Khyber Agency, Mohmand Agency, Badhber and other areas. The dogs are allowed to run after wild rabbits and cats in the widespread deserts. Wild rabbits are faster and quicker.”
Ali Shah, another dog owner, explains these dogs need special care and attention. “They are very special to us and, hence, we take extraordinary care of them,” he says. “Despite our financial constraints, we provide energetic and fresh food to them. It is important to keep them healthy and strong. The owner of the winning dog gets a cash prize but the amount is not hefty. So the entire activity is mostly about passion. The owners have a lot of emotional attachment with their dogs. Some people do earn lot of money by selling trained dogs and puppies of this breed.”
The dogs are worth a lot of money. “An ordinary Tazi can be bought for 50,000 to 200,000 rupees, whereas imported and trained dogs can be bought for 500,000 to one million rupees. The most special and fastest dogs are sold for up to 1.5 million rupees as these are mostly imported from foreign countries.”
Nasim bought his dog for 300,000 rupees not long ago from someone in Punjab. “Now I am trying to feed and train it so that it can adjust in the new environment,” he says. He adds that they take their dogs to various parts of the country, particularly Punjab, for hunting trips for hares and wild cats.
In Gul Bela, hundreds of people sit around the race track. They shout and clap to encourage the dogs. The din created by the excited spectators is deafening. Everybody is in the moment, enjoying the spectacle, forgetting all their worries and problems for a while.
“We travel on foot for miles to find wild hares or cats. When we see one, we allow our dogs to chase after them. It is amazing to watch them run after the target at great speed,” he says.
Nasim says it is not an easy task for the dogs to catch wild cats and rabbits in the forests. “Plains and forests are not like a smooth race track,” he explains. “The bushes, stones and wild plants are hurdles and the dogs can hurt themselves while running. There have been instances where some of them have broken their legs while trying to catch a wild rabbit or cat.”
Meanwhile, spectators are left on the edge of their seats as the race begins proper.
“The race between the fastest dogs is a treat to watch,” says Mushtaq, a spectator. “They finish the race track in seconds at unbelievable speed. It is almost like watching a magic show,” he adds.
Another spectator says that people from nearby villages also come to Gul Bela to see the exciting event.
“We belong to a village known as Karari and travelled a long distance on foot. Then, we had to cross the river to reach the venue. The race between the fast and furious dogs is worth the journey,” he adds.
According to dog owners, permits are obtained from the forest department so that they are legally covered to hunt wild hares in the deserts in various parts of the country. Without the permits, it is illegal to hunt hares, cats or anything else in the deserts. Sometimes, the dog-owners may run into trouble with police, who make demands for bribes. Resisting them or not paying bribes to them can lead to confiscation of their dogs or being disallowed to participate in hunting events.
Published in Dawn, EOS, March 11th, 2018