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.

creamcake

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)

Advertisements

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.

Discoveries with MILINDIAS

March 2011

Finally I came back to the Indian Himalayas with a bit of money in my pockets in February. Up here this is the coldest month of the year, when it sometimes even snows and we spend most of the time sitting around a fire, on which we also cook.

At night, we light the wood stove in our room, if we don’t want to sleep covered with ten blankets. That year the winter was short for me; soon it would be March. Spring was almost around the corner and it was easier for me to deal with the coldness, which can be pretty uncomfortable in a house which does not exactly match western standards. But this year after not having seen Baba for many months the chilliness was putting me rather in a romantic than in a bad mood.

Fire Cooking

Furthermore I was full of new energies and felt very enthusiastic because while I was working in Spain a friend of mine, who also lived in India for several years, contacted me asking to join him organizing alternative travels to India. Funny, this was the same way how I set foot on Indian soil for the first time.

INDIA –  a single country containing a thousand worlds!

Now I had the opportunity to accompany people who were going to perceive the magic of India for the very first time, in more or less the same way I did.

A wonderful project came into life: 

MILINDIAS

My friend and I truly wished to share our Indian experiences with others and give them the chance to perceive the amazing plurality of India as we do, by offering insights one would probably miss by booking a simple package tour. For both of us, India is an important chapter in our lives; it teaches us how to need less and how to love more, to accept and act instead of react.

We wanted to show India how she is; which also means to experience exactly what you are supposed to. A journey to India means diving through magic moments, but at the same time it is almost impossible to escape from her unconcealed shadows; both aspects let you reflect and grow.

Soon I would be on Indian roads again, as the small group of adventurous travelers would arrive in March.

We picked them up from Delhi, where we went to meditate in the magnificent Gurudwara Bangla Sahib. It was a great group of open-minded people of different ages, who were ready to go with the flow of the Indian rhythm.

From Delhi we took a train to Rishikesh to learn more from different kind of practices at the International Yoga Festival. We visited amazing spots like the abandoned Beatles Ashram invaded by the jungle and the ancient cave where the Sage Vashsishta was meditating for ages.

Beatles Ashram

Interesting talks about Buddhism and the teachings of His Holiness the 17th Karmapa came up and the group was keen on learning more; and so it happened that we all together decided spontaneously to cancel the scheduled visit to Amritsar, and take a train into the opposite direction to Varanasi and Bodhgaya instead, where we would have a personal audience with His Holiness.

This is what I call flexibility and a wonderful spirit of traveling!

Varanasi is definitively a must to visit in India. It represents much of what India is in one single spot: Beauty, ugliness, devotion, magic and death. We reached the city at night. The next morning before dawn we walked through the darkness to the ghats and took a boat ride on the Ganges to contemplate the sunrise and the awakening of the city from the river. Slowly the smooth light of the first sunrays started to paint the skies. As if under a spell, everyone was visibly enjoying the placidity; we even spotted the pink dolphins, whose existence I previously considered a mere rumour. Perfect moments!

The facial expressions though changed drastically after the sun started to reveal the scenery more clearly: Dead bodies of cows and dogs were floating here and there and we saw from close the smoke and movements on the burning ghats, were cremation takes place 24/7.

Just like life itself: From one moment to another perception of things and situations can change unexpectedly

All of us enjoyed the entire experience of this journey to the fullest. It was enriching in many ways and I learnt that sharing and giving is something which makes me feel really happy; but this was not my only personal discovery during that trip: I also found out that I was pregnant!

By the way.. in case  you wish to learn more about MILINDIAS, maybe you would like to have a look at our page:

https://www.facebook.com/milindias

 

 

Living a Double Life

July 2010

Yes, in India everything is pretty cheap; at least if you have a western salary. But when you have to earn your living in rupees, things look very different.

Sure, we didn’t have to pay a rent anymore, but like everywhere else, there were bills to pay and still plenty of things to finish in the house. As you can imagine, we did not get really far with renting only one room to travelers; the tourist seasons here are short and it was impossible to put even one single rupee aside for surviving during the off-season. The last of my savings were shrinking drastically, too.

However, necessity is the mother of invention.

festesgracia

We started to organize Jam Sessions at our place, cooking and selling our tasty home-cooked food. Sometimes our narrow terrace was so crowded that people had to squeeze tightly together. Usually people brought their instruments along and some of the parties were really amazing. Other times our guests waited full of expectations for the music to begin, the only problem was that nobody had brought an instrument; in which case the jam-session was spontaneously transformed into a movie night in our living room.

Nevertheless it was never enough income and I had to rush back to Europe to make some money. The crisis had started there and people were discouraging me considerably regarding the chances of finding a job.

But I was lucky! Not even two weeks had passed and I received an acceptance letter from the first job interview I had in a telecommunication company. I was aiming for something temporary, but the company was looking for people seeking regular employment. I agreed and few days later I started working in the call-center. I felt guilty in the beginning, as I had not the slightest intention of doing that job longer than a few months. But I could not afford to not take this job and decided to put my needs in first place. Who would actually care if resigned? Does any big company really care about the personal needs of their workers? Their interests are numbers; and so were mine.

When they first showed me my future workstation, I caught my breath! To me it looked like a scene from a science fiction movie: A huge, grey office-cube consisting of countless rows of seats where people were plugged onto the computer system with their headsets.

SCARY !

office

I just came out of the jungle and by now was used to see the blue sky over my head, feel the sunbeams caressing my skin, the green grass tickling my naked feet and the wind brushing through my hair throughout the day.

“Only some months, You can do it!”

I told myself again and again. It’s amazing, humans are creatures of habit and soon I accepted and got used to my new situation.

The job itself was of course not really fulfilling, but the company was pretty cool. I got food tickets to spend in the food-court which belonged to the office compound where I stuffed myself daily with pizzas and other western food which I haven’t had for many months. All of the employees were young people from all over the world and the working atmosphere was friendly and casual. With some colleagues I got along very well; there was only one problem:

I WAS LEADING A DOUBLE LIFE !

As I had signed a contract of employment of indefinite duration, I couldn’t tell anybody about my intention to quit in a few months. Neither could I tell anybody much about my private life; living in the Himalayas and married to a sadhu. Therefore I tried to keep conversations simple and if somebody asked me by chance if I was in a relationship, I limited myself by answering “Oh, it’s complicated” – which, it was indeed.

My intention was to go back to India in three months after having saved some money to bring back. The thing is that saving money in the west is not easy. In Spain salaries are low and in Barcelona life is expensive. I spent much money for public transport, food and other necessary things. Of course, I also wanted to meet all my friends there and every time I had a coffee or a beer I was calculating for how many days I could buy food in India with the money I had just spent for a single drink. Few things are free in Barcelona; there is the beach and a few street festivals; anything else costs money. I was lucky enough that my best Spanish friend hosted me in her flat and I really enjoyed all the time I could spend with her and her flatmate.

I also could go on paid holiday like a normal employee and went to visit my parents, who live in a small village in the south-west coast of France and in the end of the year I spent some quality time with my sister’s family in Germany.

In the end I had to work six months in Barcelona to save at least a bit of money. I also found out that only few workers actually stayed in the company longer than a year and I didn’t feel that guilty anymore about my little lie. The day I quit they asked me for the reason and I answered that I would go back home. For them it was clear that I meant Germany, but while saying so, I pictured in my head the beauty of the Indian Himalaya peaks.

Our First Season – Lama Kaha, Why Like This !?!

March 2010

The first tourist season here went pretty well for us; our guest room was rented out most of the time. We really had a lot of fun and sheltered all kind of people from all over the world, but most of them were Israeli Nationals. I have to say that I never ever met an Israeli before I came to India; maybe the reason for this is that they are all here.

There is this strange phenomenon: After they finish their obligatory military service, 2 years if you are a female and 3 years if you are a male, they all decide to travel, preferably to India or South America.

By now, my understanding of the Israeli Culture has improved a bit, although there are still a million of things I do not catch.

Observing and living with them I realized so far that there are two kind of Israeli backpackers:

The ones who have a huge urge to travel in groups, whatever it takes, and constantly seek the company of their fellow-countryman and the ones that try to keep a distance as much as they can from the first kind. The first group often gives me the impression that they are scared for some reason; maybe they fear to get lost or maybe the chaotic ways of the country makes them feel unsecure . Most of the time they do not show too much interest in the Indian way of life and keep themselves busy with shopping and meeting in the most fashionable tourist restaurants. The female members of the first group frequently shock the conservative Indians they cross on their way with their fashion style, revealing too much skin for the taste and nerve of the Indian eye. Once I asked an Israeli friend:

“Why like this?”

And he told me that many of the young Israelis don’t actually want to travel, but they do so anyways because everybody does. Some would say that this is then a waste of time, but I guess that Mother India will bless them with new insights and offer them plenty of lessons of life, like she does with everybody who comes to visit her.

Then there are also the very religious Israelis and the not so religious ones, who celebrate the Shabbat anyways. Once we had a very religious guest staying at our house, very orthodox, but at the same time very open. I liked him a lot and really enjoyed to have him around. We had long talks about the Jewish and the Hindu religions and I had the opportunity to ask many questions about his believe, rituals and practice. Anyhow many times the answer I received to my endless why-questions was:

“Because the bible says so”

This was a bit strange and disappointing for me. If I would decide to strictly follow any kind of religion, I would want to know all the whys and reasons for each and every rite and rule I were to practice. Hindu religion is really interesting in that sense, every single act and ritual has a deep meaning, mostly energetic (and so does the Jewish religion, too, I guess), but of course as in most religions, people grow up with it and act according to it never really asking themselves why, which is really a pity, because most of the “magic” remains concealed. I pretty much gave up asking the locals here for deeper explanations, as most of the time the answer is unsatisfactory and I have to google it anyways; which is pretty boring. I prefer to learn while talking to people instead of sitting in front of a screen.

Here a funny anecdote comes to my mind:

tefillinOnce Baba and I were visiting a friend at a nearby guesthouse. A Jewish boy was standing on the balcony absorbed in his prayers, wearing all the items needed for it, which involved also the Tefillin (small leather boxes containing verses from the Torah of which one is worn strapped around the arm with a leather string). Baba saw the leather string tightly wrapped around his arm; and as Baba is always worried about the well-being of everyone near him, he rushed towards the boy asking him anxiously

“Man, you okay? Your arm have some problem, you need help? What happened?”

The boy still praying and confused looked a bit annoyed at Baba from the corner of his eyes, while I, embarrassed, did my best to drag Baba away from him trying to explain that everything was all right and that the boy was simply performing a Jewish “puja” (ritual).

WE ALL HAVE OUR DIFFERENT WAYS, BUT STILL:

WE ARE ONE !

Villagers and Backpackers

March 2010

The humble, little home we built consists of three rooms: Our private room, a guest room we rent out to backpackers and a common living-room, which we rarely use as we spend most of the time outdoors.

Loft BedTo have as much space as possible I decided to build a loft bed, to gain some extra space beneath it. Our mysteries (carpenters) were pretty surprised and looked at me doubtfully while I somehow tried to explain them the idea. I had to show them some photos on the internet and eventually and despite their obvious doubts about the “weird” project we managed to get the beds done. The voice spread and soon the entire village came by to have a look at the construction.

 

The village people accepted us well, but of course we were a bit of a strange couple to them; a Sadhu MARRIED to a western woman and we did not have kids, but plenty of dogs hanging out at our place. But there is something that I really love about this village: The locals live their lives and the travelers live theirs’. No staring, no hassling, but a general mutual acceptance. Of course there is some of an understandable amazement among the inhabitants when a western tourist girl walks through the tiny Himalayan village in a Mini-skirt. That kind of situations still make me feel embarrassed in some way and I cannot understand what is so difficult about dressing in a decent way to show some respect towards the local culture.

Since I live here I met a lot of people from all over the world; they come and go.

…and then at some point most of them return!

This makes it much easier to say goodbye, as somehow I know or I feel that we well meet again someday, somehow. The village is very popular among long-stayers, many stay for months and come back here year after year. The travelers who decide to rent out our guest room are usually really nice. It’s not to everybody’s taste to share a space with strangers; some people rather prefer to have their own private space. The people who come to us are usually very social and used to live in some kind of community. Baba is absolutely a people-person; he loves to meet new people, to share his stories and to make others happy with very simple things, like the delicious Indian dishes he cooks. More often than not our visitors end up being really good friends, sometimes they even become part of the family.

Of course like everywhere else in the world there are also exceptions, but I firmly believe that all encounters in life, no matter how insignificant they may seem, are meant to happen and that we don’t cross people due to mere coincidence.

There is a lot to learn from others in so many ways. Each person gives us a chance to learn a bit more about ourselves, and maybe sometimes they are also meant to learn something from us.

A Problem-Free-Philosophy

October 2009

It took us about nine months to finish the house. Well, it was actually not really complete, but we moved in, as soon as one of the rooms had four walls and a door. Money was getting less and that way we could at least save the money we would otherwise spend for the rent in the guesthouse we stayed at.

The kitchen was not ready either, so we put the gas stove in a corner of the provisional bedroom, where we slept on mattresses on the floor. Most of the time life was taking place outside anyways and the camping adventure like living style even had a touch of romanticism. We had no running water and there was still a wall missing in the bathroom, too. We improvised and hung a mat where that wall was supposed to be, so that we could at least use the toilet with some privacy.

suryacottage

Everybody who has built a house probably knows that it is never really finished for good. There is always a bit of work somewhere, things to repair and to improve.

…WELL, IMAGINE IN INDIA !

We discovered what really went wrong during the construction only once we started living in the house;

that much for ‘No Problem!‘

which is the phrase I got most of the time as a reply to my questions while the house was being built. Actually it is one of the sentences you get to hear most of time if you have a doubt or are worried about something and expect to get advice from an Indian!

INDIA IS THE LAND OF NO PROBLEM !

I wondered for example why the wastewater from the kitchen and the bathroom was flowing through an open gutter and not through a pipe, why the wooden window frames did not close hermetically and why the floor was anything else but a plain surface.

One evening I was lying on my mattress on the floor staring at the ceiling and discovered with dismay a huge bump in one of the corners. It looked pretty ugly, as if someone had dropped a huge wrecking ball on top of the roof or as if the house got hit by a meteoroid right on that spot! I called Baba immediately and angrily pointed at the nasty bulge:

“Look up there! What is this?”

He shrugged:

“Oh, yes… There tin sheet a tora (little) broken when making roof; but, NO PROBLEM!

I sighed loudly doubting that any “mystery” would ever see any problem where I did and thought about what could be done to fix the ugly corner. Maybe I should try something artistic and paint a 3-D planet on that bump, which might look nice.

Nothing like that ever happened; today it is still the way it was back then. I actually completely forgot about the silly bump. No problem!

Maybe it all depends on the point of view. Perhaps if someone here tells you ‘No problem’ he refers to himself. No problem for me, then why should it be a problem for you? Or maybe: Maybe it is a problem for you, but not for me, which means ‘No problem’.

Once I even found these two words being used as an advertising slogan on a signboard at my favourite guesthouse in Rishikesh:

‘Last Chance Café – The No Problem Company’

DSC04250

This sounded pretty much suspicious to me when I first saw it, but I have to say that it was actually all true! In the end I got married with a helping hand of the No Problem Company and things that seemed impossible eventually became reality.

I start to think that the No Problem Philosophy is a magic key to open certain doors; possibly not the ones you wanted to open, but maybe precisely those which you had to cross!