To Everything There is a Season

December 2015

It has been some time that I have not been writing on my blog. Actually I would say that I am sort of a seasonal blogger, as during the tourist season it is almost impossible for me to find the right moment or to get inspired.

It is only Baba and I who run the shop, plus our four year old daughter who is keeping us company there during the whole day. Usually she has a good time there at Baba Cake: She goes visiting the neighbors, helps me to bake when in the mood, plays outside with the dogs and goats and many of our customers are delighted to play or paint with her for some time while they are enjoying a chai at our place.

But, obviously, it is not always like that; there are days (…in fact many days…) when she demands my attention, and A LOT OF IT! Of course, this usually happens when our café is extremely crowded and we can barely handle all the orders we get.

My husband stays in the shop until late, while I go home in the evenings to prepare dinner for my daughter and to bring her to bed. When she finally sleeps soundly, I don’t have the energy anymore to start writing or to even think.

Everyone who has been working in the services sector knows what I mean; there is not only physical tiredness from standing most of the time during the day and serving tables, but also mental fatigue from talking and listening to a lot of different people for hours, which I usually enjoy, but yes, it can be tough! From time to time I give blogging a try, but then I find myself staring at the screen and my mind goes blank.

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Our main season here usually falls also on the same time when I help to organize alternative travels to India for spiritual seekers with a beautiful project called milindias. I really enjoy being part of it with all my soul, but it can also be a real challenge: Between cake-baking, preparing sandwiches, serving thalis, taking customer orders and my daughter tied on my apron strings, I make business calls and answer messages as best I can, already thinking about the work that awaits me at night on the computer, hoping that there won’t be any power cuts.

Sometimes I get so desperate that all I want is to run to the top of one of the Himalayan hills to scream out a very nasty swearword from the top of my lungs!

Then, when the off season starts the change from doing everything to doing nothing is drastic! In the beginning I feel lost in time, as all of a sudden there is not much to do, but to get our home back into a decent state, as during the season there is as good as no time for the household.

If my mother would see that!

In the beginning of the transition I feel like trapped in a gap and frequently find myself just sitting there observing the landscape, wondering what to do with myself and with what where to start. Most of the time, I then opt for not doing anything! It takes me about two weeks, sometimes more, to get back to my old self and to be able to enjoy the sudden silence and tranquility which again covers my village life.

India is a place full of extremes in all aspects and as I live here, I seem to have automatically joined the play: There are periods when life runs smooth, things simply flow naturally and everything is perfectly balanced. Suddenly it’s over!

When a problem occurs, no matter how small, it for sure never comes alone! Problems and complications here apparently feel more comfortable in company of many of their kind! They burst in like a hurricane and all of a sudden action is required! It’s like a shock; as if somebody tried to shake you up while you are in the middle of a beautiful dream.

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Getting things started here is extremely difficult and requires a triple effort, as the mountain energy of the Himalayas is very heavy, dense and grounding. It is a bit like trying really hard to move a huge rock; it takes a lot of strength to push it the first few inches, but once it starts to roll, it cannot be stopped!

The other day I discovered an article about a thing called the “Van Allen Radiation Belt”. It is said that Kasar Devi is under a great influence of that energetic phenomenon as the ridge is situated in a gap of it and therefore has gained the reputation of a so called Power Center. It is probably a wonderful energy if you plan to retreat into a cave to meditate all day long, but possibly not ideal if you try to live a mundane life.

This could actually be an explanation! Great, now I can blame it all on the Van Allen Belt!

Eventually I came to the conclusion that these so-called “extremes” of my life in India are nothing but what life in deed is. Would we learn anything at all if life consisted only of a constant, single line instead of many waves? I am trying to learn how to enjoy the downs and how to cherish the ups:

To Everything there is a Season” (The Byrds, 1965)

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Grass-Cutting-Season

September 2015

Every year in September it’s officially “Grass-Cutting-Season” A beautiful and cheerful time up here in the Himalayas.

First of all, the women of the surrounding area gather for a grass-cutting-council. They organize who will help to cut whose grass on which land. The grass prices are extensively discussed and eventually settled.

haytree

Some may wonder why there is so much fuss about something as trivial as grass. Up here we are talking about a very valuable natural product. The mountain side is dry and barren during the winter months and every family has to make sure that there will be enough hay available for their cows, buffaloes and goats.

Soon after all the organizing part is clear, the ladies set themselves to work. In the steep hillside no machines can be used. Crouching on the ground to cut grass by hand with a sickle and then transport a huge bundle of it on the head is a very hard job. On top of it the women also climb high on trees to hang the grass there to dry. Nature turns into a big barn and whenever pasture is needed in the winter, they go back to the trees to take of the necessary amount.

Grasscutting

When I first saw women sometimes double my age carrying the heavy load on their head up the hill, I was torn between a feeling of pity and deepest admiration. Women here are amazingly strong in all senses! To be honest, most of the time I already struggle with my own body weight when I walk up the mountain; (don’t tell anyone!). My feeling of pity soon dissolved, as I realized that all of them, no matter how young or old, are really looking forward to the grass-cutting-season and indeed enjoy it a lot! It actually seems to be some kind of women’s circle, where they charge themselves with the energy of Mother Nature. It’s a time to teach, learn, chat, gossip, and exchange grass-cutting-stories not only during a well deserved Thermos chai break; stories about babies being born on the field, snakes and leopards. They are rightly proud of how high and good they can climb and of how much weight they are able to carry.

When they come back from a day of work, they look tired, but happy with a lot of hay in their beautiful black hair. When I meet them, they always ask me seriously, but half laughing (…an Indian thing…) to come along with them with my sickle. Before I didn’t get very much the Indian sense of humor and replied with excuses like not having land, cows, sickle, time or whatever. Now I just answer that I’ll be there in a minute with my tool; sometimes I say so ten times a day.

Grasstransport

I love to observe the women working in the fields. Sometimes even in the form of colorful spots through a curtain of rain. Instead of going home, they cover themselves with a piece of plastic to keep themselves dry and keep on cutting. But the same season also turns me sad somehow, as the landscape turns from green into brown and Grey again. I also found out that it somehow affects my mood.

It probably has to do with the general change which comes along with fall and the slowly inwards turning energies.

Mid September here marks also the beginning of the cold season. Last week the corresponding ritual took place: On the night in question, women light a big fire in front of their homes and feed it with some cannabis branches as an offering (by the way, the cutting of this “grass” happens in October) and share a cucumber as prasad (blessed food).

In their prayer they ask the coming winter not to be too much cold and cruel. From that moment on the cold season has been officially declared, accepted and who knows, maybe even invited. At least I don’t really understand how they do it; but every year right the next day after the ritual there is a major drop in temperature, frequently accompanied by cold rain.

IT’S LIKE MAGIC!

puja

Another One Bites The Dust

September 2015

Sometimes I forget the life-giving and nurturing force of the powerful and sometimes equally destructive monsoon. I left a bone-dry landscape when I departed to Europe and found a stunning, lush green scenery after my return to our Himalayan village. My garden had turned into a wild jungle and the young trees had visibly been growing taller in a very short time.

Due to the high grown grass we had a lot of leopard presence lately. They seem to feel more secure, as the thicket allows them to hide themselves easily. They also turned bolder when it comes to approaching houses in search of easy prey.

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One night Baba drove home from our coffee shop late at night, as usually together with our dog Lamboo who used to run along with him right next to the motorbike. The guest who was staying at our house at that time was sitting behind Baba.

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They had almost reached home when Baba saw a leopard lurking in between the grass on the road side and in the blink of an eye Lamboo was suddenly gone!

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I could hear the howling down to our house. Our guest did not see anything from his position and as he is deaf, he did not realize what had happened until they reached home, where we explained it all to him with the help of gestures and scribbling notes on a piece of paper. He was shocked! They decided to drive back and see if the dog had survived and was maybe lying injured somewhere in the bush near the dirt road, but no trace.

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Lamboo was the fourth dog we lost to the leopards in seven years! Each time I tell myself that I do not want anymore dogs, but then, when they just pop up out of nowhere and look at me with their big brown eyes, I get weak and decide to give again a happy, but short life to one or two of them.

After this incident the leopard kept on sneaking around the neighboring houses after dusk for several nights and people would throb on steel plates or light a fire in the garden to drive him away. Some say that they saw several leopards roaming together. Maybe it was a mother with bigger cubs, as they are usually solitary animals.

Before I used to think that big cats generally avoid humans; until the following happened:

Like every evening, I was sitting in the bed with my daughter reading her a bedtime story; ironically this time she had chosen “The Jungle Book”. Lamboo was still alive at that time and while we were reading the chapter where Mowgli fights the tiger with a stick on fire, our dog all of a sudden started barking like mad. From the bed I peaked through the window to find out what was going on.

I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw a huge leopard sitting right next to my bedroom window! My first reaction was to scream as if possessed by the devil. The gate was open and brave Lamboo was only a few inches away from the cat. My outcry made the leopard look up and his hypnotizing green eyes stared right into mine.

Then, with a big leap, he disappeared into the night. By the time Baba had run out to the porch, the leopard had already vanished, but at least he managed to keep the dog from following him.

Lamboo

The whole situation lasted only a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity to me. I felt horribly vulnerable and shivered with fear. The fact that these animals come that close to a house, even with the outdoor lighting on, was almost more scary than the happening itself.

From that day on I made sure to not let my child play outside in the late evening and to keep the gates closed. Usually leopards go for goats, dogs or other animals, but who knows, a child might look equally tasty to them and on top of it, easy to catch. Before that, I even used to enjoy sitting on the porch to listen to the very special roar leopards produce, when they occasionally roamed the area at night.

WELL, NOW NOT ANYMORE…

I do not blame the leopards. They are just wild animals which like any other being in this world need to somehow satisfy their hunger. They were always here and now find every time less space where to live and hunt. There is not much natural prey left for them in the area we live in. As far as I know, there are only pheasants and monkeys. The birds might not be enough to fill a big cat’s stomach and monkeys I imagine are not very easy to catch.

Not long ago I have read about a project by the Uttarakhand government, which consists in counting the leopards in each area of the region and return deer to the wild to keep the cats from coming to close to humans. Hopefully something will happen soon. I think it is worth a try, even with the consequence that the deer might feast on the precious grass meant for the cows during winter time and the crops for which the village people have to work really hard every year.

Lost in tradition

August 2015

My comeback to India was indeed intense this time. On the same day I arrived in Delhi I received a phone call with horrible news: My best friend in the village had died of mushroom poisoning. I couldn’t believe it, she had a pretty good mushroom hunting knowledge.There are rumors that unhappy Indian wives occasionally mix some “special” mushrooms into their husbands’ dishes to get rid of them, but that’s another story…

She was an Indian lady, a strong woman, kind and fun. My daughter loved to go to her place to play with her grandchildren and I loved to go there, because I felt absolutely comfortable in her company. I don’t even know how old she was; every time I asked about her age over the past seven years she used to answer “40”. I will miss her hugs, laughter, company and listening to her singing and playing the dolak, especially during the Holi Festival.

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After coming back to our mountain village, I went to visit the family to offer my condolences. It was hard. And of course, as all too often, I unknowingly blundered.

When I came back from there, our neighbor told me that TODAY was NOT the right day to visit a mourning family. The good days were Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. I sighed. How would I know? But being a foreigner, the family probably understood and kindly ignored my mistake.

Indian traditions and social rules are really complicated to get for a foreigner, no matter how hard you try. There are innumerable details that have to be observed and all of it depends on the region, community, family and caste. Sure you can always ask an Indian, but for them all the details just come naturally and if you do not ask precisely about any possible little thing, they will probably forget explaining it to you.

I live in India since almost eight years and I only can say that the bit I know is equal to nothing!

Where we live a mourning period of eleven days is observed after somebody passes away. Close family members are not supposed to leave the house, except for performing the corresponding rituals for the parting soul in the temple. The ladies of the household will wear simple clothes and will renounce wearing jewelry and cosmetics, while the male members of the family shave their heads; the sons wear traditional white colored clothing.

On the eleventh day the mourning phase ends and people start slowly getting back to their routine. A humble celebration is held in remembrance of the departed person and people dress up for the occasion. Exactly on that day my daughter ran away to meet the children of the family and I followed her. I didn’t know that it was the end of the morning period and was completely under dressed, my faded clothes stained with flour from baking. I greeted timidly from a distance, caught my girl and disappeared unobtrusively.

People here must think that I am a real weirdo. I am a bit of a disaster when it comes to remembering dates: I usually barely know which day of the week it actually is. I guess it has something to do that during the tourist season we open our cafe seven days a week and in the off-season, every day is a Sunday for us. Usually I forget about fasting days and most of the religious celebrations, too.

THERE ARE SO MANY!

Sometimes I only know about a festivity because our neighbor Mataji suddenly shows up with a plate full of treats in her hands. Shame on me!

Some might wonder how come that I do not have more knowledge about the Indian rituals and traditions being married with an Indian. I have been asking myself the same question and came to the conclusion that it figures that my husband left his home at the young age of eleven. He did not witness many years of deep family traditions inside of his home. Another point is that in most of the traditions there is a great difference in behavior and rituals, depending on whether you are a man or a woman.

Many times I asked my husband if I should go to this or that ceremony, what I should wear or what I should bring. He never really knew which advice to give me. He lived most of his life as a sadhu, which means that he did not live with any female presence that was not the image or a sculpture of a goddess. How would he know about how his wife was supposed to behave on a wedding, a funeral, when a new baby was born or if she was to attend this or that temple ceremony or not?

Baba also never has been a very ritualistic person himself and uses to say:

” If you are happy, then god is also happy. God doesn’t care if you fast or not; or even if you fail visiting the temple. All this, people actually just do for themselves. What really matters is that you try to be the best person you can be in your daily life ”

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Alien encounters at the Embassy

August 2015

This summer I spent two and a half months in Europe together with my three year old daughter. We came back to Delhi in at the end of August, where my husband was waiting for us. It was still very hot and humid and of course as usual dusty, loud and crowded. Normally I try to get out of the city as soon as possible under these circumstances, but as it takes a minimum of 10 hours to the capital from where we live, I seized the opportunity to renew my passport which expires at the end of this year, so I could save an extra journey.

After a dusty Rickshaw ride through the heat I found myself sitting on a bench outside of the small office counter number 4 of the German embassy, where I was waiting for my turn together with a bunch of other people, mostly Indians. After some time the guy next to me stretched out his hand and introduced himself as Dr. M. He was a Westerner in his late 40’s, slim with short hair, a big nose and was wearing khaki shorts and a tank top, that might have been white some time ago. He did not look much like a doctor of any kind to me, but who knows, maybe he was a backpacking physician or something like this.

Without me asking anything, he started to explain that he had been living in India for 3 years and that he was actually a healer. It is common to meet many kinds of foreign therapists traveling or living in India and I decided to put some interest into his story; waiting there was boring anyways. I asked him, what kind of healing he was practicing. What followed, was a looong monolog:

“I do all kind of healing. I opened a clinic here in Delhi with two partners. I have already healed many famous people, like the former president of Australia. They come to me. Actually I have changed my body seven times. This body, which you see here… I just decided to take it. The guy who had it was sick and died. And then my eyes changed: Look!”

He stared at me. I looked him in the eyes; they were brown.

“Ahhhhh!” I said and thought, why not. In the end, this is India, where people change bodies all the time.

“In 2017 the world will face a big changing. I will come to clean and destroy it all and then I will create everything from the start. You will see!”

“Just like Shiva!” I said and nodded.

“Yes, kind of. If you are going to be there, you have to follow the light point and ask for Dr. M. – They know me very well. You know, actually the thing is that we are all programmed. They programmed us, a long time ago, when we were still connected to mother and father alien. Give me your hand!”

Illustration courtesy of <a href="http://talamaletina.blogspot.com.es/" target="_blank">talamaletina</a>

Illustration courtesy of talamaletina

He took my hand and performed some tickling movements, combined with some turns and strokes on the back of it. He looked very concentrated and nodded knowingly from time to time.

“Your hormones are not balanced. I just fixed it. Oh, I forgot to check your blood sugar”

And he started again to reprogram me through the back of my hand. I noticed that the Indians who shared the bench with us were observing us discretely from the corner of their eyes; for me it was the first time that I ever witnessed natives in India observing a situation tactfully. I was actually more used to be stared at without any embarrassment by Indians, often with their faces just an inch away from my own.

The situation was indeed odd and I joked

“I hope you didn’t put any alien inside of me!”

He smiled and replied “You already ARE an alien, my dear!”

Then he was called in by the lady behind the counter. Only after a few seconds he stepped out again and said

“Oh, I just asked her to bring me a cup of coffee” 

I guess this was supposed to be a joke, unless he really was a V.I.P. 

It was my turn. The AC had broken down and I was sweating intensely inside of the small room. To make matters worse, I had thought that I could pay the fee in Euros, but it was to be paid in rupees, which I did not have on me. Now, I had to go back to the Hotel and again return to the embassy. As I went off, I hurriedly said goodbye to Dr. M. and wished him good luck.

When I came back after about two hours I was surprised to see through the glass door that Dr. M. was still there, talking vividly to the lady behind the counter. Maybe he was negotiating another cup of coffee. He smiled when he spotted me and stuck his head out of the door to ask if I would like to have a cup of chai with him after the business. I replied that I had to go back to the hotel straight away as my child was waiting there. “Oh you have a child?!” He seemed surprised.

I was called into the office next, as my application was already done and I only had to pay the fee. When I walked out, I saw Dr. M. sitting on the bench next to another Western woman, holding her hand.


By the way: It is said that we Germans are a serious Nation. The German Ambassador in Delhi, Mr. Steiner, proved the contrary by creating this amazing Bollywood video, acting himself as the main character: It’s really fun and you can check it out on Youtube: German Embassy goes Bollywood

Changes, Chances, Choices…

Not even two seasons since the inauguration of Baba Cake Café had passed when we suddenly had a problem: The traveling musicians loved to gather at our place and enjoy themselves playing some good music, which of course was not an issue at all for us. But unfortunately our neighbors did not share our enthusiasm about the jam sessions.

As we did not want to get into any silly never-ending fights with anybody, we had to come up with a solution quickly. They asked us to keep the heavy roll-up door closed in the evenings, which was not really helping much; the sound was still audible and now it included the new and loud clattering noise of the rusty door being rolled up and down each time somebody wanted to come in or leave the place.

I am not even sure if the activities at Baba Cake were actually the true reason for all the complaints. In small towns all over the world  jealousy matters are happening and people love to talk. The years that I have been living here taught me quite a bit about the Indian sort of jealousy, which I personally perceive as extremely strong. It also seems to be extremely difficult for people here to be happy from the heart about somebody else’s luck, achievements, success or happiness and it doesn’t even matter much if it comes to a neighbor, friend or even a close family member; ugly and unbelievable things happen – at least this is what they are to me, as for some people all of this is nothing but “normal” behavior.

For me personally this fact is very hard to digest, because somebody else’s happiness makes me feel extremely happy, too.I rather prefer to feel good and happy inside, for or with someone else than grumpy and bad and will for sure keep on trying my best to choose a positive attitude instead of spreading miserable feelings.

There is a famous saying, which goes

“When one door closes, another opens”

– in our case this is what literally happened.

We had started to make friends with the grocery shopkeepers, whose place was just a stone’s throw from our café. The same family also runs the local mill, where women from the surroundings bring their crops to grind. As I already mentioned, it’s a small village, and of course, the shopkeeper already knew about our trouble and offered his storage place as a new location for our project. I had serious doubts, when we had a look at the place. There was nothing but a rough tin hut with a bunch of flour bags in it. But as always, Baba immediately saw the positive side of it:

“No problem, this good place! Much bigger!”

He was already figuring out in his mind which improvements were necessary to turn the tin hut into a cozy café. Sure, the rent was a bit higher and we would have to spend again some money to somehow build something like a kitchen, but in the end this was still better than having to face endless hassles with the locals. Besides, we did not have any means for something more sophisticated anyways. So we decided to take a chance.

It was January 2014 and with a bit of an effort we would manage to get the new space ready for the coming spring season, which begins every year in March. There was a lot of work to do: the tin set needed to be cleaned and painted, an additional door was necessary and we decided to build an open kitchen inside of the same space.

I was surprised when I realized how attached I got to the old place, which we had created only a short while ago.  It was not easy for me to let it go, but as the new location slowly took shape I started to look forward for the change. Aside from that the place was indeed bigger and we even managed to create a nice and inviting porch.

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And again an artistic soul appeared just on time to create the final touch in form of an amazing painting on our outer wall – well, in this case our outer steel sheet. To cover the metal indoors we used some sarees for the ceiling and pretty bed covers for the walls. Maybe the end result was a touch too colorful, but well, let’s not forget that we are in India, so being generous with colors is okay 😀

Something that keeps on fascinating me about India is that there is always the possibility to create something out of nothing really quickly. Likewise, thoughts and ideas manifest much faster than expected, so it is wise to think twice before making a wish and to watch the flow of your mind from time to time. As Gautama Buddha said:

“Our life is the creation of our mind”


If you like to see and know a bit more, you can also have a look at our Baba Cake Page on facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/babacake.kasar

BABA CAKE

September 2012

Time had come to think about how to make a living in our Himalayan Village. Just renting out a room for 200 rupees (3 $) a day and organizing a few jam sessions during the tourist seasons, which all together last only six months, was definitively not enough to survive. The big question was:

WHAT TO DO ?

There was an infinite spectrum of possibilities and ideas, but almost none could realistically be materialized. Suddenly I had an idea:

I always loved to bake, so why not make cakes and sell them to the tourists?

Famous applecrumble

We had  the tool, a tiny electric oven that we once bought in Delhi, that would have to do it to begin. Going from guesthouse to guesthouse loaded with cakes while carrying a little baby at the same time was not the best idea, as this would mean A LOT of walking, as the guesthouses are spread all over the village to each side of the ridge. So I asked a local who was running a bigger guesthouse with a little grocery shop attached to it, if he could sell the cakes for us. He agreed and soon our fist cakes were displayed at Ram Singh’s Guesthouse. We sold some, but it was not really a roaring success. Sometimes when people walked by the shop,  no one was there to attend them, because the owner had gone to town and his wife was working somewhere on the fields and people probably didn’t want to wait for an hour or so only to get a piece of cake.

There was this young local fellow, who came to visit us almost daily, because he was neither studying, nor working and did not know what else to do with his time. His father had a well paid government job in Delhi and the family was pretty wealthy, so there was not really a great need for him to do any of this. One day I mentioned that it would be good to have a small place of our own where we could sell the cakes and maybe even some good chai and coffee and the guy said

 “Oh, we have a shop which sits empty, nobody uses it since years and there it even has a counter”

Baba Cake counter

The same day we went to check on the place and for us it was just perfect! Well, it was not really a shop by Western standards, it was more like a garage. But there was a small terrace, some shelves and a second small room which could be used as a kitchen. There was no running water either, but the water supply was nearby and we could do the dishes in a tub and bring all the necessary water in buckets; all good enough for a start. We talked to his big brother who was in charge of business matters and agreed a good price for the rent.

As always, our budget was very limited and therefore we tried to keep things as cheap and simple as possible. We bought some plywood which was turned into low tables, mattresses to sit on the floor, tableware and a couple of buckets with paint. Baba Cake Café was ready just on time for the fall season. My job was to bake the cakes and muffins and Baba was in charge of tea and coffee. As our baby was not even one year old and slept a lot and needed very much of her mommy’s attention I would prepare the cakes at home early in the morning and we would then carry them up thee hill to the shop.

Baba Cake wall painting

The travelers loved our place! I was very much happy and excited, but at the same time pretty much surprised as the place was really small and humble. Probably this was exactly the reason why people liked it. It soon turned into a meeting point and favorite hangout for many travelers, where people enjoyed a good cup of masala chai and a tasty piece of cake. Our Apple-Crumble became really famous and sometimes I could not bake enough of it to make everybody happy. Our tiny electric oven did magic, although the daily and frequent power cuts made me go wild regularly.

There are always many amazing and creative souls among the traveler community and so in exchange for cake and chai, we even got a really cool design painted on our entrance wall. There was always somebody with an instrument playing music in the shop, the atmosphere was wonderful and somehow most of the guests ended up becoming our very good friends. A big Baba Cake Family came into life, where people are open, kind, colorful, creative and of course all a bit crazy; each of us in our own particular way 😉

Sadhu Baba Cake