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

Advertisements

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.

11215842_10153418937286943_83275803916962934_n

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.

10430466_10153418937416943_5684489428561288977_n

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!

12009625_10153418937731943_4967609543699734470_n

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.

12002113_10153418938016943_8135161031546159582_n

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.

Lamboo

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.

WELL, NOW NOT ANYMORE…

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.

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.

20140320_164043

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

Escaping the Bam-Bholes

View Kasar

July 2008

It was raining season in Rishikesh; which means: PILGRIM SEASON! This is when thousands of pilgrims, many of them from Hariana, invade Ramjhula. Waves of young men clad in orange march 24 hours a day through town shouting: “Bham Bole, Bham Bole” to announce their presence to Lord Shiva. They carry holy water from the Ganges up to the Neelkanth Temple to offer it to the Shiva Lingam. One rule is that the water shall never touch the floor, so all the dhabas and chaishops on the roadside build improvised holders where the pilgrims can hang up their holy offering during their breaks. What I found very funny is that they come back from the temple wearing their underpants on their heads! ‘Strange rite’, I thought and then found out that they do so to dry their pants after having bathed in the temple compound. I wonder what the Indians would think I they saw a horde of Westerners marching through town with their underwear on their head…

Anyways, things get tough for a foreigner during this time of the year, as the pilgrims usually give them a hard time. The foreign tourists actually get evacuated by the authorities from the hotels and guesthouses next to the pilgrim trail and are sent to accommodations in more peaceful areas. So it happened to us and we decided to simply escape from all the turmoil. Baba and I had made friends with a girl from America and we decided to travel together. None of us felt like traveling too far, so we checked on the rarely used travel guide to find nearby attractive places. I hate to read instructions of any kind and also dislike reading guide books! We went through the section of Uttarakhand and stumbled upon Almora, which was only a one-night-trip away. I liked the melody of the word “Almora”. There was not much text to read about it, but as we skimmed it and read

“There is a nearby town called ‘Hippie-Land’ by the locals; ask for accommodation at the chai shops on the road”

it was decided: CHALO ALMORA!

As soon as we left the town of Almora after having survived another crazy local bus ride through the mountains and arrived in the village, I fell in love! It was simply beautiful! Peace, pure nature, village life, cool, fresh air and colorful flowers everywhere! I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland. Actually there is not much to do for tourists, life there is still pretty much authentic. No shops with tourist stuff to buy, no courses or classes, no distractions; it is the perfect spot to chill after having traveled through “Indian hard-core tourist places”. The scene really forces people to calm down, to be with themselves and nature.

We found a simple guesthouse where we spent a lot of time in the roof-top restaurant while the monsoon was pouring down and simply enjoyed the amazing view through the big windows, which offered a great view over the ever-changing clouds, rainbows, valleys and hills while we were munching on chocolate pancakes and sipping chai. It was off-season there, too and we only met one more backpacker. One day early in the morning I stepped out of the room and could not believe my eyes! The rain had stopped, it was a bright clear day and there they were, as if somebody had hung up a painting just in front of my eyes:

THE SNOW-COVERED HIMALAYAS !

Himalaya range

I had no idea that they were that close! Shame on me! Maybe sometimes reading a guide book is not a bad idea, but if you don´t read it you might get blessed with unexpected surprises like this one.

Some peaceful weeks later, Baba suddenly received a phone call from Bihar. His 103-years old grandfather was dying and his last wish was to see his grandson he had been missing for too many years. Since Baba ran away from home at the tender age of eleven he had returned to his birthplace only once after 17 years of absence. After the initiation to Sadhu-life you are reborn as a new being and should break all the attachments to your previous life, which also includes the physical family; at least until you have reached a certain stage.

But once it happened, when Baba and I were visiting Benares, that he suddenly became very introverted. When I asked him what was wrong, he said that soon it would be Rakshabhandan, the festival when the bond between brothers and sisters is worshipped and that he would like to see his sister again. Varanasi is not very far from his birthplace and I told him that I would buy him a train ticket if he wished to go there. He called his Guruji to ask permission and when Baba received his blessings, he took a train to Patna. All of his family thought that he had died and was more than pleased that he returned as a Sadhu, which is believed to bring seven generations of good luck to the family.

So now the grandfather wished to see his beloved grandson again. For some time the three of us were just sitting there wondering what to do. The Himalayas are pretty far from the plains of Bihar; to be more precise about 1000 km, which can be translated into 2 days and 1½ nights of traveling in pubic transports.

Uma in Wonderland

My friend looked at me and asked:

“You feel like going on an adventure?”

“Why not?” I replied

“Okay, then… CHALO BIHAR!”

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!

rainbow