I hate being naked. Especially in front of man. And here I have not one, but two men, waiting and watching, for me to undress. I hesitate, and then take my T-shirt off; then the vest; and then off go my trouser. “You underwear also, sir,” says the one with a bird-nest for hairdo – he looks like a Bollywood backdrop dancer of the 80s. I dilly-dally, hoping they would leave me alone so that I can quickly wrap myself up in a towel, but no, there is no such luck as two pair of watchful eyes focus on my mid area, impatient for the curtain to go up.
Optionless, I take off the last remaining piece of cloth that covers my modest assets. Of course, I feel naked. Very naked. Then one of them proceeds to tie, with military precision, a little white piece of cloth, smaller than a handkerchief, around my waist. The langothi – or the Indian version of a G string in white muslin – is as good as wearing nothing. Thank god there is no mirror! I must be looking so pathetically funny. A naked man is never a nice sight.
That’s the way they do it there
The scene of action is Kairali Ayurveda Health Resort at Pallakad, Kerala, 64 km away from Coimbatore from where we drive down in less than two hours.
Nowhere in my many spa experiences around the world have I been asked to go stark naked under such watchful eyes. In most five star spas, the therapist (mostly women) would provide you a teeny-weeny disposable underwear and tell you to wear it in the privacy of the bathroom. Or the masseur would leave the room for a while. At times, a towel is spread out as a privacy curtain.
But no such niceties here, where the focus is on no-nonsense treatments for serious disorders ranging from constipation and insomnia to infertility and menstrual blues. Both my masseurs, in dhoti and kurta, are short and stocky, their pearly white teeth hugely contrasting with their Dravidian dark complexion.
“Lie on the bed, sir,” the man with the bird nest says. Very conscious of my nude self, I lie face down on the narrow wooden bed. “Don’t make your buttocks stiff, sir,” says one of them. The B word makes me stifle a smile, even as the masseurs on either side of the bed now get to work, ready with their oils and powders, and talking among themselves in Malayalam. This makes me more awkward: Are they commenting on my Anil Kapoorish body? Or are they discussing about things where size matters?
It’s only after 20 odd minutes that I begin to relax, as two pair of hands move over mechanically in a rhythmic motion. Strains of Hindustani classical music wafts from somewhere, complete with ghatam, tabla, sitar, and so on. But I see no speakers. Where is the sound coming from? “There,” they say pointing to an earthen pot that hangs from the corner of the wall. The speakers are inside the urn – that amplifies the bass.
I am now told to turn around for a full frontal massage. I feel like an Egyptian prince, but then I also feel like a hapless penguin doused in oil spilled by a tanker on the sea. After the 45 minute massage, I am escorted to another room where a wooden chair occupies centre space. It looks like a cross between an electric execution chair and a twisted version of a guillotine – the medieval apparatus designed for beheading. But it turns out to be a steam chair which has little doors. I sit and the doors are shut so that my entire body is hidden inside the chair with only my neck sticking out from a circular hole, as if ready for chopping off. Soon, the masseurs turn some knobs and hot steam flows in through metal pipes, heating up my body and sweating me out. It is a primitive idea but very cool actually – why build a big space-guzzling steam room! It’s getting hotter and hotter inside and 10 minutes later, I shout for the masseur to free me. Now I’m escorted out to a bathroom for the wash. “Happy, sir?” the bird-nester asks me. “Yes, yes, of course,” I say, to which he responds: “Foreigners tip me well when they are happy,” indicating his expectations from me
Holiday sure, minus it’s trappings
Kairali Ayurveda Health Resort has all the elements of a resort – cute cottages scattered over 60-acres of land dotted with aromatic fruit trees, gentle waterways and tropical palms
Kairali Ayurveda Health Resort isn’t like your usual holiday resort. Yes, it has all the elements of a resort – cute cottages scattered over 60-acres of land dotted with aromatic fruit trees, gentle waterways and tropical palms, far away from the din of city life. But what distinguishes it from a resort is that here you have to follow instructions and spend your days in a disciplined manner, your holiday bound by various rules and restrictions. For one, no non-vegetarian food here – only food prescribed by the Ayurvedic doctor minus onions, spices and garlic. And you are to stick to a routine. Yoga at sunrise, breakfast by 8, followed by massage, then lunch, afternoon siesta, then meditation and then massage again. You are also not encouraged to go outside the resort, lest you end up eating things that can upset your system. For a carnivore, it’s difficult to avoid non-veg for seven days at a stretch, but like this podiatrist (foot doctor) from Paris, Carol Soriano, here for a detox programme, says: “The first few days I was hating myself for choosing this place. The food is so blend, and there is virtually nothing to do, nowhere to go, but now I have become used to the diet and enjoying myself.”
Help! Butter chicken, please
But that can hardly stop a butter chicken loving Dilliwala. So I sneak out of the resort one day for a tour of the Pallakad town and have my fill of rice and mutton rogan josh at a popular restaurant called Noor Jahan. Run like Andhra Bhawan in Delhi, the service is quick: Eat, pay, leave.
The town itself is typically South Indian, complete with men in half lungis on motorcycles, cloth stores selling Kerala cotton sarees, stalls frying and selling banana and jackfruit chips, and temples with colourfully carved deities. This is not your usual Kerala with backwaters. Pallakad region has no backwaters, but sure it has a few tourist attractions that include the spectacular Malampuzha dam on the suburbs, a Tipu Sultan Fort, a natural spring called Thenari and a few sacred temples. However, the dam is a clear favourite, with mountains on one side, lake on the other, and gondola rides, a well kept garden, an amusement park, and eateries.
Back at the resort, I find more tourists checking in. Germans top the list of visitors followed by the Americans, the Italians, the Brits and the Japanese. “Hey,” I say, “any help?” I ask a Japanese girl in shorts loitering about the lanes, seemingly lost in the dark. She wants to go to the reception, but can’t find her way. I escort her and find out that she has come here all by herself for some skin treatment. But how did she get to know about this resort? “Oh, there is always Google,” says the girl, a real estate agent from Osaka. The foot doctor from Paris, on her part, heard about it from her brother in law who was cured of arthritis.
Indeed, people who come here can easily be called medical tourists. When Western medicines fail, they come here as a last resort to get relief from arthritis, osteoarthritis, bronchial diseases, paraplegia, hetraplegia, facial paralysis, sinusitis and migraine, hypertension, slip disk and spondylitis. People also come here for weight loss (in a seven day package you can lose upto 10 kg), nervous debility, and to remove mental stress and other pains and aches. And oh, Ayurveda also has medicines and treatments to increase sex drive. “One of the great things about this Vedic science is that the medicines do not have any side effects. Ayurveda treatments use the healing power of nature to help live a healthy life,” says the resident doctor, Sarvan.
Since, I suffer from none of the above, the doctor suggests relaxing and detoxifying massages like Abhayangam, Siro Dhara (in which warm herbal oil drops on your forehead), Pichu and Kizhi. With two to three massages a day, I have been rubbed, scrubbed, kneaded, polished, punched, clawed and steamed. No wonder, I take back home a glowing skin as a souvenir.
Following a philosophy of less is more, Kairali Ayurvedic Resort was set up in 1989 by KV Ramesh and Gita Ramesh who belong to a family of Ayurvedic doctors. The rooms here are basic: Red oxide – and not marble, tiles or wood – makes the floors. The exterior walls are of exposed brick, not dressed in cement or paint. The rooms are Vaastu compliant – a Valambari conch is placed strategically in the room for positive energy. Cosmetics like soaps, toothpaste and shampoos in the bathroom are all organic and come from their own gardens and factory. Even the gardens grow organically without any serious attempt to enhance them artificially. It’s truly a secret retreat far away from mainstream life, you realise, as an escort guides you to the herbal and the vegetable gardens.
Interestingly, many tourists prefer to stay for months in this resort listed among the 50 best wellness centres in the world (by NG Traveller). Some come twice a year. “See that lady,” says one staffer, “she is from Spain and staying here for three months.” “What’s her problem?” I ask. “She is suffering from depression. She believes there is no one who cares for her. She feels lonely. Her depression has led to various physical problems as well,” he says. The cure lies not just in meditation, medicines and massages. The cure lies in changing her lifestyle – from diet to sleeping patterns. “We go for complete mind, body and soul treatments,” he says.
For the uninitiated, Ayurveda is more than just a healing method – it is an entire philosophy of life. It removes the cause of disease and re-establishes balance to your system through herbal remedies and medicinal massage, as well as Yoga, meditation and approaches to a spiritual lifestyle.
To begin with, you have to give up colas, alcohol, smoking, meat and fish. You have to follow a special diet. A cooking demonstration offers you recipes for home that are simple, easy to make, yet tasty. I also get an Ayurvedic cookbook written by Gita Ramesh.
Lead, kindly staff
The staff are a humble and helpful lot. Even the young Delhi-based owner, Abhilash K. Ramesh, who himself is here for a weight-loss programme, is a very simple, down-to-earth man who betrays none of the affluence that he and his family enjoy courtesy a vast family business empire spanning from wellness to real estate. A frequent flyer, he regales us with stories from his travels, including one on how he was detained in Tokyo airport once. Reason: He was mistaken for a child trafficker.
Go slow – that’s the message from this Mecca of Ayurveda. So far so good. I even get used to my daily nudist ritual. It has been bliss. However, the end doesn’t come as the proverbial cherry on the cake.
Not a happy ending
As it turns out, Ayurveda doesn’t have a cure for everything. Especially for matters that relate to future. And that’s when Astrology, another Indian stream of thought, steps in. You see, the resort also provides an astrologer for consultation. When my turn comes, the bearded man calculates my birth chart on a computer, shuffles some cowry shells, then knitting his brows, tells me, “You must go to Srikalahasti temple near Tirupati.” “But why? What’s the problem?” I ask.
He remains quiet for a while, and then answers: “In 2017, you may suffer a divorce”!
No prizes for guessing, where my next travel story is coming from.
(For more details, visit: AyurvedicHealingVillage.com)