Most cynophiles outside of India and for that matter, most within India, remain uncertain as to the characteristics that make a Caravan Hound — the defining aspects of function, type, and temperament. To better understand the Caravan Hound, it is imperative to understand the historical and functional context in which the dog came to be. It is also important to have at the very least, basic knowledge about the other sighthound types that exist within the Caravan’s natural habitat.
It is thought by many urbanites and those involved in dog shows that any and all sighthound type dogs found throughout the Deccan Plateau covering the contemporary states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, and to a lesser extent, Andhra Pradesh, fall under the umbrella of “Caravan Hound.” However, further study, expeditions into the dogs’ natural habitat, and discussions with older villagers, farmers, and tribal people will reveal that there are in fact, approximately five distinct sighthound breeds present in the Deccan Plateau.
Karwani (Caravan Hound)
Concentrated primarily within the state of Maharashtra today, it is found from south of Pune (Baramati area) to Kolhapur, Pandharpur, Solapur, Osmanabad, and Latur. Distinct Asiatic sighthound type said to be descended from the dogs brought in by caravans of traders from Central Asia. Utilized for coursing hare, chinkara, and blackbuck, this is a dog built for running over rough terrain for long distances in extreme heat. Kept by poor villagers, farmers, nomadic people and tribal people. Though there are slight variations from one locality to another, overall the Karwani is definitely an identifiable and distinct type. Always smooth-coated.
Pashmi (Saluki type)
Found primarily in Western Maharashtra, from south of Pune (Baramati) to Kolhapur and Pandharpur areas. These dogs are practically indistinguishable from Salukis found elsewhere. Some families have kept and bred these dogs for several generations, and they suggest that their dogs descend directly from Salukis imported to the Deccan from Arabia by local aristocracy and later by the British. Some lines have a more recent infusion of English and American registered Saluki blood. Used for coursing hare, chinkara, and to a lesser extent, blackbuck and jackal. Kept mostly by wealthier farmers and villagers.
Pashmi (Afghan type)
Found in the Marathwada region of Eastern Maharashtra, particularly in Latur district and especially a town called Janwal. These dogs strongly resemble, in every way, the Afghan Hounds of old and as they still exist in Afghanistan and the Kirghiz Taigan. It is said that these dogs were brought to the area by the guards of the Nizam of Hyderabad, most of whom came from Afghanistan. The Nizam’s guards gifted them to village chiefs upon their return to their native country, and the villagers maintained their bloodlines. They serve primarily as guard dogs and are kept mostly by landlords and wealthier farmers.
Originally just a local variety of Caravan Hound bred in Karnataka, particularly around Bijapur, the Mudhol today is a very different dog. In the early 2000s, the state government of Karnataka set out to create a distinct and identifiable “state breed.” Using the local aboriginal Karwani population, the government set up breeding centres and began the task of creating dogs to fit a prescriptive standard. It is said by some that Alaknoori and/or Rajapalayam might have been introduced to produce the desired outcome. The Mudhol today is a much taller dog than the Caravan, with a longer and often more tubular body, longer tail, often with rose or folded ears, and generally found only in white/cream, black and white, or brindle and white.
Named for the sleepy town of Alaknoor in Karnataka, once part of the private hunting grounds of H. H. Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur. The Maharaja adored hounds, both local and exotic, and thus imported several fine Greyhounds from England. Impressed by the speed of the English hounds but at the same time disappointed by their inability to cope with the Indian climate, Shahu Maharaj began crossing the local Karwanis with his imported Greyhounds, producing a sprinting dog able to perform in extreme heat. These dogs laid the foundation for the Alaknoori breed, which was and is maintained by villagers and shepherds in the same area today. They are immediately recognizable as a Greyhound type dog, and although they do come in other colours, black and white remains the most prized.
The Deccan has also seen a recent influx of Greyhounds, mostly brought down from the Punjab where they are very popular. These dogs are very popular for racing and are bred pure as well as used to cross with local hounds, producing several longdogs.
It is important to note the differences between these types because they are different in their origin and function. It is particularly essential to be aware of the fact that sighthounds of Occidental origins exist in the Deccan; the number of Kennel Club breeders and officials that seem totally oblivious to this fact is rather astounding. It is unsettling that supposedly knowledgeable doggy people are unable to tell the differences between a hound which likely has Occidental elements in its background and one that is visibly Oriental. Since many seem unaware of the “tells,” we shall cover a few of the basics here.
Shape and insertion of ears: The Caravan must always be drop-eared and have a moderately large ear leather set on slightly above the level of the eye. Rose ears, ears that are set on too high, erect or semi-erect are all definite indicators of questionable breeding.
Topline and croup: The top line must be fairly level or gentle slope from the rear to the front. Toplines sloping from the front to the rear, with an exaggerated or pronounced arch, or roach or wheel backs, while typical for some Occidental sighthounds, and rather typical for an Oriental one. The croup is relatively steep and the hipbones are usually noticeable, a flat or fall away croup is atypical. The tail is set on low reaching approximately to the hock, but should not be too long and is very thin. Very long tails are considered a sign of outside influence.
Body: The Caravan is a very square dog with a deep chest and good tuckup. It is fine, but not slight, strong but not hefty. The musculature is lean and dry, indicative of a hound meant to run long distances over hard ground in extreme heat. Tubular bodies, a longer-than-tall format, long back and loin, overangulated rear, and heavy “bulging” muscles are definite signs of an Occidental influence.
Coat and colour: The coat must be very short and fine, and the hair on the tail should be exceptionally short. A thicker coat and slight “brush” on the tail is said to be a sign of questionable breeding. Colour is a hotly debated topic, but one worth mentioning. While the brindle pattern is widely accepted in show circles, according to many rural people it is not desirable or natural for a Caravan. There are three theories on how the pattern came to be: 1. most older rural people suggest that it is the result of crossing with Greyhounds, 2. some say it is a sign of Occidental influence but one worth keeping due to its lending to camouflage, 3. a few say it has always been present. To date, most animals exhibiting the brindle pattern seem to be found in exhibition and racing stock.
The misconception that all Deccan sighthounds are Caravan Hounds has dire consequences on the true Caravan Hound, as Occidental sighthound blood then dilutes the original gene pool and type. The people who know and love the Karwani for what it is are deeply concerned and alarmed at the situation, which is further exacerbated by the fact that most Indian and foreign judges are only exposed to a modern type composed of various elements rather than the original Caravan as it has existed for generations. The fear is that foreign judges will then have that image imprinted in their mind as “Caravan Hound,” and in turn consider the dogs that are actually representative and typical to be atypical. It is the sincere hope of genuine Karwani fanciers that judges study history, function, and type prior to stepping into the ring.