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!”