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

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A place where cats eat dogs

Image

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.