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

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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

A place where cats eat dogs

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Yes, I know. The photo to this post is a bit tough. Sorry about that… just try to focus on the beautiful Himalayan Magpies feasting over the dead body…

The victim’s name was Shankar and he was our second dog, which ended up as a leopard meal. None of our dogs got actually older than 18 months.

When I first came here, I had no idea about the existence of those big cats in the area. I first knew about them, when one of the two friendly dogs that visited us regularly in the guesthouse, didn’t show up anymore. When I asked the owner about the dog, he shrugged his shoulders and just said

“Oh, this…. leopard taking!” and then smiled.

Wait a minute… WHAAAAT? LEOPARDS?

I assailed him with questions and he smilingly assured me, that leopards only attack at night, from time to time they kill dogs, a goat or a young cow and NEVER eat people. Ok, this was good to know.

The guesthouse had a nice big garden bordering to a slope that lead down to the forest. Its inviting fireplace was just waiting for a bonfire party. Together with the other guesthouse residents we decided to get things started. On this mellow summer evening, everyone would cook something different to create a little international buffet.

We were sitting happily around the fire enjoying delicious food creations. Someone was playing the guitar and the atmosphere was pretty idyllic, when I suddenly heard a strange noise.

“Guys, what’s this sound? Who is sawing wood in the middle of the night?”

The music stopped. Everybody paused for a moment to listen. Then out of sudden the dog started barking like crazy and raced straight into the kitchen to hide under a shelf behind the door. No need for words, just a couple of looks and everybody understood: “LEOPAAAARD!” All of us jumped up and dashed also to the kitchen, which was the nearest shelter.

There we were; 8 people and a shaking dog, cramped into a tiny space, listening so hard to the sound of the leopard that we could hear our own breaths.

About 30 minutes passed until we finally declared the party as over. Everybody felt uneasy and ready to go back to his room. The sound was still somewhere out there. Our room was on the upper floor, the only way to go there was crossing the big garden, passing the slope. Great! All of us upper floor guests went up as fast as possible, followed by the dog, who had decided to spend the night in our room.

Lying in my bed, I felt as if I had drunk at least one liter of black espresso coffee. My eyes were wide open and I just couldn’t stop listening to the leopard sounds that were moving from one side of the slope to the other, while the dog was trembling under our bed, whining from time to time.

indian-leopard

And there was something more that kept me from falling asleep: I had to pee really badly! Maybe at this point I have to explain that many of the guesthouses here have a shared outdoor bathroom, which in our case lay on the other side of the pretty long porch. Not even in my dreams I would have left the room in this situation! I will tell you something pretty embarrassing: I came to a point when I almost cried, because things were getting really painful… as an emergency solution I emptied the waste bin and peed in there. I guess most of you would have done the same. Well, if you’re a guy, you might have used an empty plastic bottle or something like that.

We lived in this guesthouse for almost a year while our own house was under construction. A couple of months after the bonfire party there was an incredible uproar coming from a gang of monkeys that had occupied our roof. I was busy cooking lunch, but I stepped out to see what was going on outside. There I stood, like numbed, with a wooden spoon in one hand and my mouth wide open; I couldn’t believe my eyes: A huge leopard was sprinting down the hill at about only 30 meters away from me! He was amazingly beautiful! And he was also tremendous! I always thought that they were about the size of a big dog, but what I saw outmatched all of my imagination! That meant that the theory that leopards only come out at night, was proved to be nothing but rubbish!

My latest leopard story dates to about one week ago. This is a village area and from time to time stories come up about leopards attacking women while working in the fields down in some valley or while cutting greens from trees for their goats. Last week a woman got killed at 3 km distance from our place. Apparently she was mentally challenged and went out to the fields by herself in the middle of the night. According to the sayings of some locals, what was left of her looked more or less like the mortal remains of our poor Shankar.

Babaji, once met the forest ranger, who explained to him that there are about 20 specimens roaming through this area. This is not a small number! Anyway, I think that one has to be very, very unlucky to end up as a leopard’s dish. Most of the locals who lived here for life never even saw one.

One thing I admit is that I like to be accompanied by a dog when I go out. Don’t get me wrong, I really love dogs, but still it comforts me to believe that the leopard will prefer the animal to a chewy human.

Primera parada: “Last Chance”

Junio 2007

“Señoras y Señores en breve aterrizaremos en el aeropuerto de Nueva Delhi. Son las cuatro de la mañana y la temperatura local es de 42 Cº”

¿Cómo?

¡Ahora sí que estaba despierta!

¿Podría ser verdad, 42 Cº a estas horas de la madrugada?

¡Claro que era verdad!

¿Qué esperaba? Estábamos en junio, el último mes antes de que empiece el monzón, cuando el calor sofocante está llegando a su culminación en el Norte de la India.

Una vez fuera del aeropuerto, la intensidad del calor casi me tumbó. Subí al Rickshaw que se me había asignado en el contador del aeropuerto para dirigirme a uno de los hoteles baratos recurridos por mochileros que me había recomendado un amigo. También me había dicho que era uno de los hoteles de bajo coste más decente del barrio de Pahar Ganj y que era un buen sitio para alojarse en Delhi.

Como la mayoría de los hoteles de la zona, la habitación no tenía ventanas y dentro hacía al menos el doble de calor que fuera. Tomé una ducha rápida rezando que el trozo de madera que se estaba desprendiendo del techo no me iba a caer en la cabeza. Pensé que una ducha iba a refrescarme, pero el agua que salía del grifo tenía la temperatura de un buen caldo casero. Me tumbé encima de la cama debajo del ventilador ruidoso y tambaleante, intentando no moverme. Esto tampoco sirvió de mucho y en cuestión de segundos estaba igual de empapada que antes.

Tenía pensado quedarme una noche en Delhi y tirar hacía Rishikesh el día siguiente y aprendí que en la India hay que ser flexible. Había intentado salir de mi habitación para explorar el bazar, pero abandoné la idea después de solo cinco minutos. Era una tortura estar allí fuera, era como alguien me estaba poniendo un secador industrial de aire caliente en plena cara y con cada paso tenía la sensación de encoger. Volví al Hotel a por mis cosas y subí al siguiente autobús de turistas rumbo Rishikesh.

¡Qué ganas de salir de Delhi y que ganas más aun de llegar a mi destino!

El trayecto duró unas ocho horas y no pegue ojo en toda la noche. Por un lado porque no sabía que la intensidad de los golpes producido por las carreteras en mal estado se triplicaba en la parte trasera del bus (que por cierto estaba compartiendo con una familia India y el hijo más pequeño durmió tranquilamente con medio cuerpecito encima mío) y por el otro porque estaba muy nerviosa. Baba me había llamado el día antes y le dije cuando el bus iba a llegar.

¿Vendría a buscarme?

¿En que guesthouse me iba a alojar?

¿Como los dos íbamos a reaccionar al vernos cara a cara?

Todo olía a aventura y al amanecer crucé el puente de Ramjuhla con mi pesada mochila. También en Rishikesh ya hacía calor a estas horas tempranas, pero comparado con Delhi era un verdadero placer.

Para mí, cruzar este puente antes de que salga el sol siempre es un momento mágico. No hay ruido de tráfico y la paz me invade mientras observo como unas pocas personas ya comienzan sus rituales matutinas en las orillas del Ganges, que fluye majestuosamente por debajo de mis pies.

Me dirigí hacía el Last Chance Café, el lugar dónde quedábamos casi siempre cuando había venido a Rishikish para participar en el Festival de Yoga. Sabía que también alquilaban habitaciones. Pase por la callejuela del bazar. Todas las tiendas aún estaban cerradas y hasta las vacas y los perros callejeros aun estaban durmiendo. En el Last Chance tampoco nadie estaba despierto, me daba cosa de despertar a alguien y de Baba ni rastro. Así que por fin me quité la mochila que apretaba mis hombros y me senté en el jardín. Después de un rato apareció Vijay, que es el encargado, seguido por el cocinero y al verme ambos sonrieron de oreja a oreja y su primera pregunta fue:

“Y dónde está Baba Ji?”

“Esto ya me gustaría saber a mi” contesté.

 Me instalé en una de las habitaciones, para llamarlo de alguna manera. Creo que ahora toca describir este lugar único llamado Last Chance Café: Hasta este momento no había visto la guesthouse por dentro, ya que siempre nos habíamos sentado en el jardín o en la cabaña de bambú, que es el café-restaurante.

Más o menos estas eran mis primeras observaciones:

En la entrada se encuentra un pequeño escritorio que sirve de recepción y un armario metálico oxidado. A la derecha se hay un dormitorio con ocho camas que parece salir de una película triste sobre un orfanato. A la derecha hay una sala con cuatro puertas que llevan a las habitaciones, que de hecho se parecen podrían pasar perfectamente por establos para ganado: Las paredes están hechas de madera contrachapada que no llegan ni al techo; este espacio está cubierto por una alambrera, es decir que se puede escuchar hasta un pedito de tu vecino que está durmiendo dos habitaciones más allá. Ah, y no nos olvidemos de la habitación “Deluxe” a la que llamamos “la suite de luna de miel”, simplemente porque es la única habitación del edificio que tiene paredes de verdad, pero que en estos momentos desafortunadamente ya estaba ocupada.

Los baños y lavabos están fuera y dan al visitante la oportunidad de conocer a la fauna local de cerca, ya que allí habitan salamanquesas, ranas e insectos de todos los colores y tamaños, siempre dependiendo de la época del año. Las instalaciones no están alicatadas y funcionan con el antiguo sistema indio, también conocido como “Cubo y jarra”, es decir, no hay ducha. Lo que se hace es llenar el cubo de agua y echarse el agua por encima mediante una jarra. Lavar pelos largos requiere algo de práctica. Si realmente hace falta, se puede pedir un cubo de agua caliente en la cocina. Los váteres, también son estilo Indio, es decir que no hay asientos y que tienes que acuclillarte y practicar la postura de yoga del cuervo. De hecho yo prefiero este tipo de WC ya que me parece mucho más higiénico, visto las circunstancias.

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Ya había pasado un punto de fatiga en el cual fue imposible dormirme. Así que dejé todo en mi establo de vacas para dar un paseo por las orillas del Ganges, que por cierto había cambiado mucho desde mi última visita en marzo. Sus aguas ya no estaban tranquilas como lo recordaba y su color turquesa, se habían convertido en un tono café con leche, probablemente causado por lluvia y nieve fundida de los Himalayas. Me senté en un banco de piedra y observé como un gran número de ofrendas entregadas a la Madre Ganga en forma de flores de todos los colores flotaban alegremente por las suaves olas, cuando de repente sonó mi móvil.

 “Hola?”

“Ahora tu donde?”

“Sentada en un banco cerca del puente.”

“Ok. Yo vengo.”

Cinco minutos más tardes apareció mi Baba acompañado por otro sadhu. El reencuentro fue bastante formal: Nos dimos la mano, pero mi corazón palpitaba con fuerza. El, como siempre, me parecía guapísimo!

Sonrió y dijo:

“Chelo Last Chance!” – “Vamos al Last Chance!”

NOIDA – Where the streets have no name

June 2008

After our “beautiful” honeymoon and after a short pit stop at Rishikesh basecamp, we went to visit our good friend from Belgium in NOIDA, where he was studying Film; an unknown side of “my” India would reveal to me.

He was sharing a house there with two schoolmates from Ivory Coast and India; and I really mean a HOUSE in the sense of what a house looks like in the West: It was a two storey building with American kitchen, balconies and tiled floor. They called it “The House of Joy”.

Sector 51

The house was situated in sector 51; All NOIDA, or “NO-IDEA” as it was called by the House of Joy crew, only consists of sectors, there are no street names or description of addresses as I knew it until now from India, like “Next to Shiva Temple”, “In front of the well” or “Corner OM chai shop”. Everytime I took a Rickshaw and said “To sector 40, please” I felt strange, it sounds so robotic! NOIDA actually stands for New Okhla Industrial Development Authority (what a poetic name for a town!) and lies 20 km southeast of New Delhi.

Sector 51 was like all residential sectors surrounded and protected by a wall and a couple of big gates, a sort of “rich-people-ghetto”. At Night the watchman would make his rounds and blow his whistle from time to time to assure the neighborhood that he was on the watch and everything was all right.

It was weird, but interesting for me to be in this “kind of India”. “My” India was just on the other side of the wall: Little chai shops, local Dhabas, shouting street vendors and where laughing kids were running around.

Cow in NoidaInside of the enclosure life was quiet, except the generators’ humming after a power cut. People would drive by on their racing cycles with their squashbats hung over their shoulders, neighbors were walking their Dalmatians and some people were jogging light-footed around the blog. The only thing that reminded of the outer world were the cows, which I could occasionally spot chilling and ruminating in trimmed flower beds in front of the villas.

But the House of Joy was giving its best to interrupt the silence in the neighborhood! All day there was a coming and going of people from all over the world and every night there was some kind of a crazy party going on. We had jam-sessions, face-painting-parties, Spanish nights, etc. I wonder what the middle-class neighbors thought when they saw a group of face-painted Westerners coming out of the House of Joy.

It was June and it was getting unbearable hot. We frequently sought shelter from the heat, the mosquitos and the pollution in the nearby Mall when the power went off and the fan stopped to turn. The Mall was a strange, but air-conditioned world. Baba’s eyes turned big as saucers the first time he stepped in there. Just imagine a sadhu who has been living about 15 years in ashrams, ghats and caves inside of a mall!  He had never been in such a place and marveled at the spotless cleanness, the fancy shops and of course the prices labels!

We had expensive ice cream and pizza, went to the movies and even went bowling once with a big group of people. Baba enjoyed it a lot and made the bowling alley suffering pretty much.

Noida street

It was fun to enjoy that part of India for some time; it was like a break from the dusty hippie-trails, where you are surrounded by a different kind of “freaks” most of time and naturally forget a big part of the material world, get used to freezing cold bucket showers, holes in your clothes that never will be white again and sharing your room with a variety of the local insect fauna.

However, I missed “my” India and I would never change it for a modern Indian city life.

 

Himalayan Highway to Hell

May 2008

During the six years I live in India I went on a lot of bus rides and of course  none of them was actually pleasant.

The Himalayan roads are situated on rank 5 on the list of the world’s most dangerous roads and the worst bus ride experience I ever had by far was driving down the Himalayas from Gangotri:

The weather was miserable, it was freezing cold and rainy. Shortly after the departure it started raining cats and dogs. Soon it rained so much, that I could barely figure out what was happening behind the dirty bus windows.

The bus driver did not seem to worry at all and rushed along the incredibly steep slopes. At each bend the brakes squeaked in anguish; and inside of me, my nerves did just the same! I felt as if I was sitting in a rollercoaster instead of in a public transport. The only thing I could see when looking outside was the sky; not even one inch of the narrow road was visible.

To cap it all, a thunderstorm came up gradually; soon the bus was not only shaken from side to side due to the extremely bad road conditions, but the strong wind contributed an extra thrill to the situation. I wiped the mist from the window and distinguished broken trees and electricity poles on the side of the road. Colorful plastic bags, branches and metal objects were whirling high up through the air. I held on tight to my seat and for some reason the movie “The Wizard of Oz”, with the scene where Dorothy’s house gets lifted up to the sky by a tornado, came into my mind. I would not have been surprised at all, if suddenly a cow or the wicked witch of the east would appear from out of nowhere swirling by my bus window.

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While Sita Ram Baba was complaining loudly about the driver’s craziness, I silently supplicated and prayed to all the 330.000.000 Hindu Gods. I felt terrified like never before and truly believed that I was spending my last moments on earth. I always thought that my life was good and happy and that if I had to die, it would not be such a big deal; everybody has to do so sooner or later.

In the end, death is the only thing that will come to all of us for sure!

But in that precise instant I suddenly realized that I had been wrong; I was not prepared to die at all! I still wanted to have kids and see them grow! I felt the urge to hug my family and friends who were far away back home and after all I still needed to meet my parents before I died, to tell them that their crazy daughter had married an Indian Sadhu without their knowledge!

..and by the way…

Where the heck were Toto, Tin Man, Lion and the Scarecrow?!?

Sita Ram Baba was still complaining and now started to threaten the driver with peeing into his stainless-steel-indian-tupperware-container if the bus would not stop immediately!

Suddenly the two jeeps that were driving just in front of us braked hard and so did the bus with a long and extremely loud and awful creak. The passengers had to hold on hard to avoid being catapulted towards the front; a huge tree had crashed onto the road, right in front of us. That was close! First nobody moved; then several Indian heroes jumped off the vehicles into the pouring rain and started to pull on the immense tree, which of course did not move an inch. As if it would help Sita Ram shouted:

“This not working, you Stupids! You need one elephant!”

 and grimly climbed off the bus to follow nature’s call.

A long queue of vehicles started to line up behind us. After about three hours of waiting in the standing bus and observing, like in a movie, how more and more Indian heroes dressed in different styles tried to pull and push on the tree, the rain ceased. Eventually someone tied a rope to a jeep and they succeeded to drag the tree to a side. From that moment on I had the feeling that the bus driver was driving a bit more carefully.

Writing and reading this post made me remember how precious life is and that I really should try harder to be aware of that fact more often in everyday’s life.

It will end one day and I for sure still have a long bucket list and much cleaning up to do before I will feel ready to leave this body; although I wonder if I will ever feel prepared for that last journey…

Thank you, crazy life, for being just the way you are!

wizard-of-oz

First stop: Last Chance

June 2007

“Ladies and gentlemen we are landing at Delhi Airport. It is 4 a.m. and the local temperature is 42 Cº”

This really woke me up! Could this be true, 42 Cº at these early hours? Of course it was true! What had I expected? It was June the month just before the monsoon starts, when the sizzling heat is at its peak in most parts of India.

I checked into a budget Hotel recommended by a friend, who also told me that it was one of the better budget Hotels in Pahar Ganj; a good and economic place to stay.

Like most of the Hotels in this area, the room had no window and the stuffy air pushed me down when I stepped through the door. I took a quick shower praying that the dangling piece of ceiling would not fall off and knock me down. I would have preferred an ice-cold shower to ease the burning heat, but only bubbling hot water came out of the tap. I lay down on the bed under the wobbly fan and tried not to move; that did not help much, I started to sweat anyway straight away.

I had planned to stay one night in Delhi and leave for Rishikesh on the next day. But in India plans rarely work out. I had tried to go out of my room to explore the bazaar, but I gave up after only five minutes. It was a torture to be out there, it felt as if someone was constantly holding a dust spitting hot-air-blower right into my face. Back in the Hotel I booked a tourist bus ticket for the same night. I couldn’t wait to get out of Delhi and of course to arrive in Rishikesh!

It was about an eight hour bus ride. I couldn’t sleep all night. On one hand due to the bumpy movements of the bus that are even more intense on the back seats (which I also shared with an Indian family, who’s child ended up sleeping with half of its body on my lap)and on the other, of course, because I was incredibly nervous. Baba had called me the day before and knew when the bus would arrive. Would he come to receive me? Into which guesthouse should I check in? How would both of us react once we stood in front of each other?

It was just before sunrise when I slowly crossed the Ramjhula Bridge by walk, carrying my heavy backpack. It was still very hot, but yet felt more pleasant than the heat mixed with air pollution in Delhi.

For me it is always a magic moment to cross this bridge during the early hours of the day. There is no traffic noise; the sensation of peace is in the air while a few people already perform their morning rituals on the bench of the holy Ganges that flows majestically under your feet.

I headed towards Last Chance Café, the place where we met most of the time during the Yoga festival. I knew that they had rooms to rent, too. I walked along the market street to reach the end of Ramjhula. All the little shops were still closed, there was no sign of life, even the cows and street dogs were still sleeping. Nobody in the Last Chance Café was awake yet either. I dropped my backpack and took a seat in the garden. After a while the young cook showed up, followed by Vijay, the guesthouse manager, both of them with sleepy morning faces. They were grinning and obviously happy to see me. We greeted each other cheerfully and the first thing they wanted to know was:

“Where is Babaji?”

“No idea. Actually this is a good question!” I answered.

I checked into one of the rooms, to give it a name. I think at this point I have to describe this unique place called “Last Chance Café”. I never had seen it from the inside. Normally we had gathered there only outside in the garden or in the little bamboo restaurant hut.

These were more or less my first observations: At the entrance are a small reception desk and a metal cupboard. On the right side of it there is a dormitory with lockers and eight beds. To the left is a hall with four rooms, which actually reminded me more of cow sheds. The walls are made of wooden panels that do not even reach up to the top of the ceiling. The space between is covered with a mosquito grid, which means that you can hear every single of your room neighbour’s movements. There is also one deluxe room, which we ended up calling the honeymoon-suite, because it is the only single room with proper walls (That time it was unfortunately busy).

The bathrooms and toilets are outside and give visitors the opportunity to gain an insight of the local fauna; Geckos, frogs and colourful exotic insects frequently dwell there, depending on the season of the year. The bathrooms with the good old Indian bucket plus jug system are not tiled and there is no hot water. The toilets are also Indian style, which means that there is no western toilet seat and you have to adapt the squatting position, which I actually prefer as it is more hygienic; and by the way a good yoga exercise.

But there is a beautiful garden with a bamboo hut, which invites to have a tasty breakfast or a cup of chai. The rooftop is excellent for yoga practice and offers an amazing view over the Ganges. It is the last building on the way to the famous Beatles Ashram, there is almost no traffic and you can find good places for a bath in the Ganges nearby. The staff is really cool, they make great food and the rent is cheap. And if you think that you are a weirdo, it is a good place to find out that you are actually not that bad off. At Last Chance I met the creme de la creme of freaky people, what I really loved and enjoyed. In my family I think that I am considered a bit the strange one. While staying at the Last Chance Café I wished more than once my mom could see me there to find out, that I am actually pretty normal.

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I didn’t even try to sleep. I already had passed the point of fatigue, where falling asleep becomes impossible. I put my stuff in my cow shed and took a walk along the river.

The Ganges had changed pretty much since I came here in March. It was much wider and the water wasn’t of the same beautiful turquoise colour as I remembered, but had turned into a dingy brown, probably due to rains and snowmelt in the Himalayas. I sat on a stone bench on the shore and watched the colourful flowers that had been offered to Mother Ganga floating merrily down the stream. My cellphone rang.

“Hello?”

“You now where?”

“Sitting on a bench near the bridge.”

“Ok. Me coming.”

Five minutes later he showed up in company of a Baba friend. The second encounter was pretty formal; we shook hands.

Wow, he looks gorgeous! 

I thought, while he grinned broadly at me and asked:

“You already breakfast?”

“Not yet”

“Okay, then chalo Last Chance!”