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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.

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?


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…


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.


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

The revenge of the chicken

August 2008

Baba did not get too many chances to spend some quality time with his sister Kamla during our short stay in his native Bihari village. There were always too many people around and he was most of the time involved in some “men activities”. I knew he would have loved to meet her more in private. We came up to the idea to invite his sister to meet us in Bodhgaya. Her husband’s village where she lived was not very far from there. We told her that we would come up for her room in the same buddhist monastery where we were staying.

Om Mane Padme Hum

Om Mane Padme Hum

Actually I was a little nervous, because I barely spoke a handful of words of Hindi and I was very insecure about the social expectation as an “Indian” wife. There are plenty of social “rules” about how to act and what to say (or better not) in all kind of worldly situations and I really did’t think that I would do very good at it. I just wanted them to like me and make a good impression. I was so thankful to have Pagli, our American friend around to give me some moral support!




Something strange must have been in the air, because I don’t know why Baba suddenly decided that he wanted to eat that chicken curry! At the end of the meal we even started arguing, which is something we do extremely rarely:

“You really have to order this chicken?”

“Me long time no eating chicken! I want chicken!”

“It’s expensive!”

“no problem!”

Few minutes later…

“Why you don’t eat the chicken?”

“This chicken strange taste!”

“Well, you wanted it! And I told you! Common, now you eat!”

“NO! Me not eating this possible! Chalo!”


The three of us left that strange restaurant in a grumbly mood. His sister would arrive tomorrow morning with her husband, her mother in law and her youngest son; this didn’t help much to improve my state of mind.

In the evening Baba started to spend several long periods inside of the bath-room and ended up spending most of the night there, too. In the morning there was nothing more left for him to get rid off and he was crouching in anguish next to the toilet. His head was really hot and he was bathed in cold sweat. It was the first time that I witnessed an Indian’s skin turning into a greenish complexion.

We girls put him to bed and tried to make him drink water, but that effort only ended up in further stomach cramps. Baba stopped talking. He did not react to us at all anymore. Suddenly he started to repeat in a weak voice:

“Doctor, Hospital…!”

This really made us panic! Baba never went to see a doctor in all his life, neither did he believe very much in them. This situation was truly not looking good at all!

Monsoon in Bodhgaya

Monsoon in Bodhgaya

Kamla arrived with her family and it was all a big mess! Baba couldn’t talk, Pagli and I didn’t speak any Hindi and non of them spoke any English. She immediately started to take care of her brother, sitting on the edge of the bed holding his hand. We told her that we would go out to find a doctor. It took us some time to find the doctor the resident buddhist monk had recommended us. The doc and his assistant followed us immediately to the monastery. He performed a quick check on Baba and shortly after I saw how the assistant started sticking all kind of needles into my poor husband’s body. I tried to find out what they were giving him and why, but without success. The doctor talked vividly to Kamla and her husband, but the only thing that I understood was that they had to put a drip and eventually the word


I felt helpless and numb, but at least Baba’s fever went down fast and he had fallen into a peaceful sleep. I wanted to be a good wife and a good host. We didn’t have any kitchen to offer snacks or chai and the street sellers were not out on the street due to the heavy rainfall of the monsoon. We managed to get some chai from the monastery and explained Kamla that we would go out to bring some food and asked her to stay with Baba. The only thing we could find was some momos and samosas. When we came back the doctor explained us somehow that Baba was okay now, but that his assistant would stay that night with him to change the glucose drips.

The rooms were reorganizes in Indian style: Kamla’s husband would sleep in Baba’s room on the other bed. I would sleep with Pagli and Kamla with her mother in law and her son. This was all very strange.

Was I supposed to oppose?

I just agreed and decided to check from time to time on Baba during the night. On my first inspection the assistant was snoring loudly in an armchair. On my second visit he was for some reason sleeping next to Baba; in the same bed and almost hugging him. Was that normal?

I guess that sometimes it is better not to think too much and to let things simply happen the way they are supposed to in the Indian way without asking oneself too many questions.

The next morning the assistant looked rested and Baba looked much better, too. He could speak normally again and around noon he even started to feel hungry. The following day we all went out to do some sight-seeing and to eat out in a restaurant. Kamla ordered Chinese Noodles. I think she never had tried such a dish before.

It was touching to see her trying to manage to handle the long noodles with a fork and I remembered how some women in the village whispered with each other and laughed at me when they saw me eating, saying:

“Look! She doesn’t know how to eat properly only with the hand”

…and I could not avoid a smile…  

Baba &  Mathilda

Baba & Mathilda

Floating cups and water snakes

August 2008

As soon we sat in the bus heading from Baba’s tiny Bihari Village near Patna to Bodhgaya, a sensation of freedom came over me. Free from masses of staring eyes, expectations from the Indian family side and I would have not to worry about if my behaviour as a western wife could accidentally offend anyone.

In Bodhgaya we checked into a buddhist monastery. It was a big compound, but it was off-season and the three of us were the only guests in the entire building.

Of course! To whom else but us crazy monkeys it would occur to travel through Bihar during the peak of the raining season?

It felt just like haven to have such simple things like an own room with a door, a toilet and a shower again. Baba, Pagli and I were in a very happy mood. We celebrated our freedom with a small dance party in the room and playing card games.

Monastery "Garden"

Monastery “Garden”

The next day it started raining; a warm constant monsoon drizzle – which didn’t stop. To leave the monastery we had to cross the garden to reach the main gate. In the evening the garden had started to turn into a pool and the water accumulated came up to our ankles.

On the second day the water had reached knee level and some kids were bathing and playing in the growing pool. It was still okay to cross it after taking out the sandals and rolling up the pants.

After the third day of rain, the water came up to our waists and as I looked down from the balcony to the waterscape I discovered several water snakes and a couple of rats swimming happily through the green element.

No way that I would cross that pool any longer!

To get out of the monastery to have some food we took the safer way: Balancing on the narrow edge of a long wall along the pool. And naturally at the first crossing mission I fell straight into the pool accompanying my clumsiness with an hysteric shriek. All the diseases one might contract during the monsoons described in the Lonely Planet rushed through my mind. The thought of touching the ground with my bare feet made me panic and I paddled at high speed back towards and up the wall.

On the fourth day it stopped raining and Pagli and I decided to visit an Indian family with who she had made friendship during a previous trip to Bodhgaya. The pool was still full of all kind of creatures, but at least I was able to figure out a suitable balance technique to walk on the wall. Outside of the monastery, all streets were filled with stale water or there were still streams of brown soup rushing down the sides of the roads.

Eventually we reached the family’s house; well, actually it was not a real house, but a bamboo structure covered with plastics and tin sheets. The residents were busy piling up all kind of objects in front of it. A fatty mataji in a thin cotton saree spotted us and started to beam as soon as she recognized Pagli.

“Come in, come in! Welcome, welcome!”

she said joyfully and hastily pulled a few leeches off her leg. Blood ran down her skin. We took out our sandals (well, I did, as Pagli most of the time prefered not to wear any) and stepped through the small entrance, where we found ourselves up to the ankles in a nasty broth of monsoon water.

Chai time

Chai time

She led us to a charpoy in a corner of the room, as if there was absolutely nothing strange at all happening. There we sat down to enjoy an interesting view on floating cups, plates, flip-flops and even a paddling mouse. Mataji lived in that hut together with her husband and one of her sons, who’s beautiful wife was pretty advanced in pregnancy.

She went out for a moment and shortly after came back with two cups of chai. I wondered with which water this chai had been prepared, but I drank it.


I like to remember that story, for instance when I drown in self-pity or catch myself complaining about my situation too intensely. It reminds me that no matter how big my problems seem to me, I can be sure that there are people who have many more reasons to complain and worry about.

But they just keep on going;

…and they do so with a smile…

Inside the hut

Inside the hut

Bye-Bye Bihar!

August 2008

It was so hot, that we ended up sleeping all together on the roof top under the open sky. In the middle of the night the monsoon surprised us and the whole lot of us grabbed our blankets and drowsily went down to the rooms for shelter while large bats were flying across the open patio. Pagli and I slept together with our little caretakers on a large bed.

The Patio

The Patio

I woke up expecting to have a more peaceful day, as it seemed that all the village inhabitants had already come to stare at us “weird” Westerners for a while the day before; hopefully to their entire satisfaction.

Well, maybe the greater part of them did; the thing is that the voice about two white ladies had spread to the surrounding villages and by the time we were having breakfast we were watched again by an even bigger crowd than we had staring at us the previous day!

I think this was the moment when I internalized an important lesson:


In India it is better not to have any expectations all. Good and not so good surprises lurk behind every corner just waiting to jump on you! Every single thing usually turns out quite different from how it should have – sometimes much better than expected; or well, much worse….

…and what fascinates me pretty much about human nature, is how we manage to get used to all kind of circumstances and routines relatively quickly. It did not bother me that much anymore to have all those strangers at a short distance observing every detail about how I stuffed my Indian breakfast into my mouth, as if I were doing something absolutely amazing, like for example swallowing a box of nails.

After breakfast we decided to visit the village temple, just to get a bit out of the house in which we were trapped; of course, we were followed by a large crowd. I think the temple never had before that many visitors at once since its construction, not even on Shivratri!

Pagli and me were trying to go along with the joking and laughing kids that jumped excitedly around us, when suddenly a boy with a wicked gaze came up to me and kicked me hard in the leg. I have no idea why he did it; maybe he thought he’d better make sure in case we were a sort of ghost or he just didn’t like me.


The boy who kicked me

We thought it was a good idea to make a gift to the girls that took so good care of us, they were constantly with us, fanning us with palm leaves and making sure we were as happy as possible. When we went back in the house we went through our bags. We gathered some fancy jewellery and make-up items that we distributed among the girls; which turned out to be a big mistake! Soon all the kids were fighting with each other, grabbing the things out of each others hands and complaining loudly that they also wanted this item and not the one they got. Baba’s niece ran back to her house crying complaining that the other girls received so much nicer things than she did from the westerners, she came back with her mother and a big drama started to develop.

The 103 year old dying grandfather we had come to visit was still in the same state. He got to see my husband, his youngest grandson one more time, which was one of his wishes to be fulfilled before he died.


Village Kids

Actually we had planned to stay longer in the village, but things were getting really intense and on the fourth day of our visit, with a sugar rush for having had farewell-chais in most of the family houses of the village, we took our backpacks and walked out of the Bihari village to reach the bus stand by walk at one kilometer distance.

I looked behind me and the German story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, who led the rats out of a village by playing his flute, came to my mind; a never-ending line of villagers was walking right behind us to say goodbye; they stayed with us waiting until the bus left and merrily waved at us as we drove off.

These four days which I will never forget felt like four years to me! So many incredible things happened in such a very short time, many situations were pretty tough, others just amazingly beautiful!

I learned so much about people, life, love and most of all about myself.

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The Bihari Adventure starts

Village Bihar

August 2008

The trip was long and very tiring. Our American friend Pagli, Baba and I took a normal sleeper class train, in which we spent two days and almost two nights. I never manage to get a good sleep on such a train. For instance there are shouting travelling vendors constantly jumping in and out of the train trying to sell chai, snacks, cheap watches or whatever; and usually they do so when I am just about to fall asleep. I always admire the Indian art of being able to sleep in whatever place and under whatever circumstances; it’s amazing! Yet I prefer train rides to busses; at least you can walk around, there is a toilet (even if most of the time bringing yourself to use it might take a larger amount of courage) and you can sit at the open door to watch the landscapes rushing by for a while.

Pagli and I were imagining how it would be to live in a small Bihari village, but actually had not idea of what to expect really. We asked Baba many questions about life there, his family and his 103 year old grandfather who was presently on his deathbed, which was the reason we decided to go on this trip in the first place. Baba told us some of his childhood memories; He remembered the elephant his grandfather once owned, recounted some urban myths like the mysterious money printing machine, which somebody one day buried somewhere in the village, but which never could be found, that many Biharis out of necessity work as illegal gun-makers and how quite a number of scorpions used to sit on the ceiling of the classroom during the monsoons.

If that didn’t sound like and adventure, well then I don’t know!

Late at night of the second day we finally arrived in Patna, the capital of Bihar. I don’t remember that I ever felt that much exhausted before. I felt sweaty and dirty. It was July and it was sticky and unbearably hot. Another disadvantage of sitting in a sleeper class train is that the windows don’t have glass panels and you end up breaded with dust like a pakora.

Baba's village

It was raining when we went off the train. The streets consisted only of mud and puddles. Baba’s brother was supposed to pick us up at the railway station, but we couldn’t find him. He had probably been waiting at the station for a long time, as our train, of course, had a delay of several hours. Finally Baba found him and after a short and a formal greeting he led us out of the station area through the mud, where I lost one of my slippers in the thick dirt. I was carrying a pretty big backpack and felt like in a boot camp while I was trying to follow the small group through the rainy night.

Baba’s brother, who resembled him a lot, reckoned that Patna station was a dangerous area and more for two female foreigners and that it was safer to get away from there as fast as possible. It was about 2 a.m. and the rickshaws and taxis were not operating yet, so we took refuge under a tin roof that belonged to one of the closed shops. We wearily sat down on a couple of wooden benches. There was a police office next door, which felt kind of comforting. A whole regiment of mosquitoes was attacking us under the ugly neon lights. I had to fight hard to keep my eyes open; at least the insects helped me to stay awake. For a moment I even thought that I was hallucinating when I discovered some tiny snakes that looked more like earthworms crawling underneath the bench on which we were sitting. With excitement I informed Baba about my discovery

“Oh, look Baba! Little Baby-snakes!”

Baba looked and jumped up to shove them quickly aside with his foot

“This wallah very dangerous! Much poison! This biting you then you dead!”



Three hours later the first Rickshaw-wallah showed up and we headed for Baba’s village, which is 12 Km away from the capital. During the ride my mind did nothing else but to repeat the following mantra like a zombie over and over again:


The sun was already rising while we were driving by lush green rice fields. The rickshaw suddenly stopped on Baba’s demand. We finally had arrived! We had to walk down a slope to reach the village, which we could see in a near distance. Pagli jumped out of the Rickshaw, slid and sled down the slope holding her Banjo high over her head to save it from getting damaged.

Like this we marched towards the village:

Exhausted, stinky, dirty and clustered with mud!

Singing in the rain

People ask me sometimes, when the summer season starts up here. I think that we actually have two summers.

The first one is before the monsoon from April to June, when everything is so dry that your skin starts peeling off and your hair crackles at your touch. The landscape then looks pretty desolated. All is tainted in a uniform brown shade due to the pine trees that shed their needles everywhere. There shouldn’t be so many pine trees here, the original forest was much more green and dense, but unfortunately the British cut it off to build the railways and planted the fast growing pine-trees instead. Nothing can grow beneath the thick layer of dead needles, so the locals have to burn them. The dense smoke added to the dry air blocks the beautiful view to the valleys. They found a few ways to recycle the pine-needles. Some is used for bedding the cows and this year a tractor was collecting them on the sides of the roads to make mattresses out of them.

The second summer and my favourite season begins after the rains from September and October. Everything is lush green, butterflies swirl around, colourful flowers grow everywhere and the sweet scent of the Cannabis plants fills the air. Nature seems to invite you to soak in as much energy as possible to store it for the approaching winter.

The raining season though can be quite tough. The first rains after the dry season feel like a blessing being poured down on you. In some countries with monsoon climate it starts raining every day at the same time. Here you never really know, how much and how long it will rain, though the weather forecast is sometimes right. It can rain only for a couple of hours, the whole night, days or even more than one week. Nevertheless the mountains are a good place where to spend the monsoon. We don’t have the thick, stuffy humidity and the temperature stays pleasant.

On the first couple of days of continuous heavy rain, I get into a romantic mood. I enjoy staying inside the house, reading a good book, watching a movie or just sitting on the porch with a cup of hot chai to observe how the rain pours down incessantly. The small path that passes by our house and leads to the village has already turned into a narrow whitewater channel dragging sand, earth and plastic bags along with it.

Approximately on the third day I start to feel bored. Sitting on the porch is not that much fun anymore either, as after a couple of raining days temperature drops considerably. I do some housework and catch myself humming rain songs like “singing in the rain” or “it’s raining men” to cheer me up.

The next day I wake up and expectantly pull the window curtains aside; still the same scene. I start feeling like in the movie “Groundhog Day”; it seems like exactly the same day is starting again with every sunrise. The song “raiders on the storm” comes to my mind – not too much cheering. As I look closer, a huge crack across our terrace catches my eye. I want to swear, but pull myself together and just sigh: “Om Namah Shivaya”. A heavy smell of mould has started to fill the house. The road to our village is blocked due to landslides, the trucks cannot supply groceries and we eat mostly rice and potatoes.

On the fifth day I don’t even want to get out of my bed anymore that by the way, has started to feel pretty damp. I feel melancholic and think about all the summertime parties with barbecues and good German Beer back home. Eventually I get up. Our house stands in midst of an immense cloud pierced by constant raindrops. My mood has reached its lowest point. I look up and detect with horror water drops coming through the ceiling of our living room. I put a little bucket under it. Next I find a mushroom growing out of the cement in the laundry room. No mold, a real mushroom! I call Baba and show it to him. He wants to eat it:

“Maybe this magic-wallah” he says.

I forbid him from doing so and proceed to its destruction. I sit on the porch with my chai and cannot get the Milli-Vanilli song “Blame it on the rain” out of my mind. This sucks!

What to do… inhale, exhale… this day will also go by somehow.

Day six: A MIRACLE!

The sun is shining and the birds are singing. It seems as nothing has happened. Well, now there is the crack crossing the terrace and this time the roof has to be repaired without any further excuses. We scrape our last rupees together to invest them in the repair work.

We have to take all the blankets, mattresses and clothes out to let them dry in the sun and get rid of the mouldy smell. But under a blue sky, things seem just half as bad as they are.

I do not complain; if you think that your own situation is bad, you can be sure, that someone else’s is even worse. This year the region of Uttarakhand has suffered catastrophic floods. People lost their homes and lives.

I should be thankful for trivial things like mould, a crack in terrace and a leaking roof.

Om Namah Shivaya!