Friday 26 January 2007

Seductive Verkala

This place is paradise to travel weary travellers.

We started by having THE most delicious breakfast. I still have slightly dodgy bouts of nausea and we both feel that we are temporarily unable to take any more Indian food for a while. We love it, but are suffering an overdose of rice and the various variants on chapati. So instead, here I was eating a delicious muesli, fruit and yoghurt mix for breakfast, washed down by a cappuccino.

We have both bought new clothes (me, because I have been moving too often to wash and have run out of clean tops!). Claire can by cheaper off the peg, but my size means I have to pay double and get them made. I have said that I need at least one skirt for tomorrow morning (didnt say how many days I had been wearing the skirt I had on...).

Then I used Claire as my porter to carry my rucksack to the new place, and we both signed up for our Ayurvedic treatment, me for arthritis and her for asthma.We both have a pretty sceptical approach to mystical philosophies based on the balance of the forces of space, fire, earth, water and air. But Ayurvedic medicine has been around for a long time, and is particularly strong in Kerala, and we were attracted above all by the notion of relaxing massages.

First we had to see the Ayurvedic doctor. He turned out to be a young, gentle good looking man. As we were only here for a few days rather than the usual fortnight, we did not get the usual detailed interrogation of our family and history; instead we were each prescribed a daily massage followed in my case by a treatment whose name I didnt catch but seems to involve hot sponges, and in Claire's case, more massaging of the head. The doctor asked me if my arthritis was worse when in Europe, and when I agreed with surprise, said that the forces of cold and dryness contributed to my problems. I nodded, smiling.

Then off for my first session with a masseuse called Veena. I really didnt know what to expect: my only experience until now was partial massages, usually by friends. I suppose the most difficult bit for an overweight 63-year-old is stripping in front of this lovely young woman.

That apart, my main overall impression was of the pleasure of being covered by warm oil. The massage started with me sitting on a chair, while Veena first poured oil into my hair and massaged my head - a nice sensation (and what's more I am surprised to find that perhaps the oil is helping my overly dry hair). Then onto the leather cushioned bed for a full head to toe massage. She may be tiny, but Veena has incredible strength and energy! The second part of my treatment was similar, but instead of massaging, Veena patted a sponge covered in oil vigorously all over the body. All this is not only meant to redress the balance of the forces, but to encourage blood circulation and cleansing of the pores.

It did feel very good, though at the end of two hours (!) I was beginning to wilt with the strain of lying alternately on my front and back. We had been able to have very little conversation, given Veena's lack of English, but I did gather that she was 23 years old and, surprisingly, unmarried, and had followed a one-year course on massage before joining this centre.

She then helped me as I slipped gingerly off the couch and slithered across the oily floor to the adjacent bathroom, to shower off all this lovely oil. I asked the doctor afterwards what was in the oil and he explained that it was warmed sesame oil combined with the ancient remedies of Ayurvedic herbs. I later saw that beside his room there is a herbal garden where these are cultivated.

An interesting and on the whole pleasurable experience, which will be repeated daily. I think it is going to cost about 15 quid a two-hour session. Goodness knows what this would cost in Europe!

Well, after all that hard work, I treated myself to a delicious fish cocktail and fruit juice in the hotel garden. Claire indulged herself as well - even though she had not yet had a session.

In the afternoon we had a brilliant session on the beach. The water is wonderfully warm, there is enough surf to be fun, and we found a quiet spot at the end of the beach where we could sit on the sand, leaning back against conveniently comfortable flat rocks. David Attenborough would have been proud of us as we earnestly watched and discussed the behaviour of the tiny crabs scuttling in and out of their holes just above the water, and wondered about the diet of the exotic but definitely mundane crow-like birds walking aimlessly on the beach. Suddenly the sun was setting, there was a lovely line of shimmering light stretched from the horizon to the sand, and the sun turned into a moulten red ball.

We finished this perfect day with a delicious meal. I had tiger prawns in an excellent spicy sauce, good vegetables and rice (so much that I actually left some prawns - unheard of for me).

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