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Donkeys stuck in Wagah,Nepal mission waits

Two donkeys— and a unique trek to the Himalayas — are now stuck at the Wagah border,awaiting diplomatic clearance.

Written by Dipanita Nath | New Delhi |
March 25, 2009 12:22:30 am

Two donkeys— and a unique trek to the Himalayas — are now stuck at the Wagah border,awaiting diplomatic clearance. And some protocol clearance across the border.

For close to three years now,Mathias Berovalis and Celine Overney have been travelling on foot from Yverdon in Switzerland to the Himalayas — via Italy,Slovenia,Croatia,Bosnia,Montenegro,Albania,Macedonia,Greece,Turkey,Iran and Pakistan.

Today,the Swiss couple would have been in Nepal. But for seven weeks now,they have been camping at Krishi Bhawan and various other government offices here,hoping they will be allowed to get their pets — two donkeys — across the Wagah border into India.

As per Indian laws animals are allowed into the country only through the international airports at Delhi,Kolkata,Mumbai and Chennai,after they have fulfilled strict health and quarantine requirements. “This means we should return to Pakistan and fulfil the necessary protocol,” Berovalis,33,an osteopath,says.

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He and Overney began their journey on May 12,2007,having been inspired by Gandhian Vinoba Bhave. “He walked to collect land for the landless,and his story deeply moved us. Since we are also on a spiritual journey,we thought it best to travel on foot. This is also the best way to get to know different cultures and people,” Overney,32,a nurse,says.

She says,“Donkeys are as sacred to us as cows are to Indians. The Virgin Mary and Christ travelled on donkeys.” The couple bought their first donkey,Skender,in Albania; they picked up a mate for Skender in Turkey later and named her Karma.

The group steered clear of big cities and charted a route through villages. They did face some hostility in the Kurdish mountains east of Turkey but the journey was otherwise peaceful. “We followed two rules: never stay out after dark,and sleep in a lit area.” Pakistan,they say,was the only territory they covered on wheels “because we had been warned of terrorist activity”.

At the Wagah border,however,they ran into legal fineprint. “We have come a long way together,and though we have spent enough in India to have bought four donkeys,there’s no way we will let go of our pets,” Overney says.

Gokul Ram,Secretary,Animal Husbandry department,could not be reached for comments. Another senior official maintained that the law is “inviolable”.

Bernhard Schurch,first secretary and consul of the Switzerland Embassy,says the matter is now with the Indian authorities.

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