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.

himalayaview

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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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

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.

An adventure called life

September 2008

The three of us really wanted to stay at a peaceful place for a longer period after the intense time in Baba’s native Bihari village and Baba´s Food poisoning drama in Bodghaya. We  definitively needed a large amount of relaxation!

What a better place for that than the beautiful countryside of Almora in the Himalayas, which we had only recently discovered?

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We checked into an even nicer guesthouse with a large garden and found out that most of the accommodations in Kasar Devi include a kitchen. When you have traveled for a long time, you eventually get tired of eating out at restaurants, which are all offering mostly the same kind of menu. Having a kitchen made us more than happy, and it was also a way to save some money.

Someone had offered me a thick Indian cookbook for my birthday. First I thought that this person didn’t like me very much, because I had to carry the heavy volume with me through the whole country. But Pagli and I, both of us love to cook and we eventually went through the illustrated pages with the same excitement as a couple of teenager boys would do while reading their first playboy-magazine.

I love good food and admit that eating is something that makes me very happy!

Besides of spending much time in the kitchen, we wandered a lot through the beautiful lush green nature of the monsoon scenery, admiring the diversity of colourful flowers and collecting chanterelle in the forest. When it rained, the temperature cooled notably down and then Baba, Pagli and I would sit on the bed wrapped in blankets, drinking hot chocolate prepared of fresh milk coming directly from the buffalo, while telling each other stories or singing bhajans to the sound of Pagli’s Banjo.

The time had come to think about how life would go on from now on. Here I was, sitting in the middle of a small piece of paradise with my sadhu…

…BUT THEN WHAT?

Baba was not keen on living in Europe and not by a long shot I would dare to take him there to do any silly job and press him into the speedy western society. He was a free spirit and taking him to the other world would more than sure make him fade like a cut flower. Neither did I want to go back to the ignorance of an office job.

Kasar view

Life is too short to live only for making money that one will probably spend anyways in things that don’t really bring along any happiness and eventually will decay.

I could not come up with any alternative lifestyle, that appealed to me and that I actually would be able to put into practice in the west.

I loved Baba just as I loved India, even if at times the country made me really crazy. So, why not try to build up a life somewhere here? Of course, it is a place very far away from “home” and it was a big decision.

But my life-philosophy is:

If you don’t try, you will never know!

What was the worst that could really happen? Europe would not run away and I could go back there if I needed to do so anytime.

Now, the question was where in India?!?

I remember how Baba’s family in Bihar suggested us to build a house there in the village, as they owned a lot of land.

HA! NO WAY!

I would not survive there for even a month without going completely nuts!

On the other hand there was my beloved Rishikesh. But buying something there was too costly and everyone in town knew my Baba as he was part of Rishikesh’s sadhu society. A picture of dozens of sadhus coming to sit day and night at our place to enjoy chai, chillum and chapatis came to my mind. Nothing bad about that, but on a long-term that was not really an option!

Flowers in KasarWe decided to give Kasar Devi a try, we really loved that place. People are respectful, there is the tourist season when to meet nice people from all over the world, but also the off-season to enjoy the peace of the simple village life. The climate is pleasant, too, as it never got unbearably hot, though  the short winters can be pretty chilly.

Only a couple of weeks later Baba found a small piece of land that we could afford. This went so fast, that I interpreted it as a sign that things were flowing towards the direction they were supposed to.

Time had come to start a new adventure: The beginning of a new life in a new place