A place where cats eat dogs

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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.

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Walking in John Lennon’s footsteps

meditation huts

Time you enjoyed wasting, was not wasted.
(John Lennon) 

July 2007

…I loved Rishikesh and I loved my Baba.

Sometimes everything felt absolutely unreal. I was still thinking about work a lot. While I was sitting on the Ganga shore, bathing my feet in the cool stream while yellow butterflies swirled around me, I thought that in this moment I would be sitting in my grey office working on the weekly report. With a satisfied smile I wiped this image away, observed the small waves surrounding my toes, sighed and felt deeply grateful that I finally had managed to quit this job that I had been doing for so many years and never liked.

One day, Baba and me we were sitting alone in the Last Chance Bamboo hut, when he suddenly asked me:

“Ek puppy milega?”

He did this a lot, talking to me in hindi and I of course did not understand a dreg. But I already had learned a few words so far. “Ek” means one; “milega” means possible. This was somewhat confusing. What did he want???

“Puppy? What do you mean? A small dog?”

He laughed and said:

“No small dog! Kiiiiiss!”

I guess, this was, when we became a couple.

It was raining season and not too many tourists were around. I discovered beautiful places, but most of the time we just did nothing and enjoyed our time in the guesthouse, where we soon became members of the Last Chance family.

My favourite place was and still is the Beatles Ashram. It is called that way because the Beatles came here in 1968 to attend advanced Transcendental Meditation lessons at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Ashram. The Ashram seems to have been a little town by itself in its glorious times. It now lies in ruins and has been taken over by nature. It is pure magic to stroll through this place in the middle of the deep forest, where lianas and colourful Bougainvillea have invaded the old buildings. It is easy to imagine, what it must have looked like back in the old hippie times. It feels crazy to picture, that John Lennon walked on the same little trails.

The place is also called Chaurasi (84) Kutir (hut) by the locals, as there are 84 single meditation huts inside of the Ashram. There are also big buildings which offered accommodation and a meditation hall where the walls show pretty good art done by people who come through the Ashram nowadays.

File0324All of the buildings though have been plundered after the Ashram had been abandoned. Everything that could be sold or used for construction, like iron bars, tiles, toilet seats, etc. has been carried away. But in some rooms I still could find old treasures, like old magazines and brochures of yoga retreats dated back from 1969. The underground meditation hall is rather spooky. It consists of a long narrow hallway with little round meditation caves to both sides. Bats, rats and snakes dwell there; it is really a thrill to cross it with nothing but a torch on you. The rooftops of the big buildings are amazing, as they offer a spectacular view, especially during sunset. The mosaic designs of the floors might remind you of Antoni Gaudi’s Art in Barcelona. The former egg-shaped Water tanks are accessible by a ladder and very popular among musicians and yogis, as the inside’s acoustic and atmosphere are fantastic.

Once we tried to spend a romantic night in one of the eggs. It was all but romantic; too much dust and insects along with wild sounds coming from the jungle. Locals say that leopards, elephants and other ferocious creatures roam there. Baba says that he once saw a five-headed cobra. Luckily I never had any encounter of that kind. The only thing I ever saw there were harmless peacocks and huge dung heaps, proofing the existence of elephants.

CIMG2633Somehow now the Beatles Ashram belongs to the government. Before there was a governmental watchman there, who lived in the old reception building and was supposed to not let anybody in due to security reasons. But for a bit of baksheesh everybody was more than welcome; an alternative option is to sneak in from the backside. For a bit more baksheesh, you might even be allowed to organize jam sessions and parties there.

For some reason now, the watchman has been replaced by a Sadhu called Langra Baba, or Limping Baba. Don’t ask me how this comes. It’s been a long time since I stopped searching for logical connections in this country, mainly because I don’t understand most of the explanations I get anyways and also because things sometimes just “are”.

Seriously, don’t miss the chance to visit the Beatles Ashram while you are in Rishikesh. Take your time; it is worth to spend the day there.

And don’t forget to stop by Last Chance Café on your way! (You’ll wish you’d come in)