Having been driven two and half hours into the Keralan countryside, we were dropped off at the Kandamkulathy Ayurvedic Treatment Resort, which was situated on the banks of the Chalakudy River. Nikki was having treatment on her back, and I was just tagging along for the vegetarian, alcohol free, yoga flavoured ‘ride’. Mr Thomas made it clear that if I was bored I could return to his homestay, where there was a nearby beer shop, a fridge, and a wide variety of restaurants serving tasty meaty food. I explained that I was going to be a ‘good boy’, and the tranquil setting of the resort offered a welcome break from the busy city streets of Kochi.
So we were left amongst the beautiful flowers and critters.
In the evening we met some of the other guests in the dining area. Most were well educated Indians, often with lives beyond Kerala and India. They informed us that though it may be considered ‘alternative’ in the west, Ayurvedic treatment is conventional medicine in Kerala with a tradition and practice stretching back thousands of years. Their treatment was ending just before the Onam Festival, which is the biggest festival in the state. It would take place during our stay.
We settled into the routine of the resort. Yoga at 6.30am was fun. Mine and Nikki’s bodies were differently creaky, so we groaned alternately as the session moved through us. Our instructor Dr Neethu seemed to flow through all the movements. We would then head off for a walk around the village, leaving the doctor to get ready. The rest of our day consisted of breakfast, a treatment for Nikki, lunch, another treatment, afternoon tea, some free time, and then dinner.
During our daily walks we received many friendly greetings from the good natured Keralan country folk, as we were drawn in to the pace of village life.
Back at the resort Pookalums started appearing in the build up to Onam. They were constructed from the brightly coloured foliage that was typical of the area.
The designs were different each day, and increasing in size. The night before the big celebration at the resort everyone was mucking in chopping petals and extracting pine needles. We turned in around 10pm, but we heard that many stayed up into the small hours in preparation.
By the following morning, our very own Pookalum had been created on our doorstep,
and there was a huge and ornate design on the main reception.
We had also been provided with traditional costume – a sari for Nikki, and a mundh for me (a long sheet wrapped around the waste). For lunch we had the customary Sadya served on a banana leaf, which was followed by a programme of entertainments. The Onam God King Mahabali (though I’m fairly sure he was my masseur in costume) watched on as Dr Neethu and then Lily performed some traditional dances.
There were also songs followed by games. I came very close to a major wardrobe malfunction competing in musical chairs. Luckily the staff were on hand to help out (which I promise is what is going on in this picture).
After organized activities we all had a dance. The style was a mix of western nightclub and Indian (Dr Neethu showing some easy to follow moves); all done without the aid of alcohol, and luckily for everyone concerned there were no wardrobe malfunctions.
Later we went down to the river with our resort buddies. Kiran and Nikki were still looking glamourous,
I was cooling off,
and Elan was on the phone (as usual).
Two days later we were presented with a cake after breakfast to celebrate seventeen years of mine and Nikki’s coupling. In India there is very little prompting required to bring out a cake, and it was very touching that they had gone to such an effort.
Later in the day we went down to the village, where we had been invited by Indira for another Onam meal. We had got to know her daughter Aryadevi (third from left) during our daily walks, and a mixture of curiosity and generosity of spirit had led mum to reach out the hand of hospitality. The kids from the family came to meet us en route,
and we were treated to a delicious spread (as good as any food we have had in India).
Indira’s elder daughter Athira made the ginger pickle (a highlight) and did some henna on Nikki’s hand.
It was a big family group. Indira (forth from the right) had introduced us around – we were welcomed very warmly. Her English was very good, and she told us that she would be travelling to Kuwait for two years to work as a maid for a family there. When we asked how hard she would find it being away from her children for so long, she shrugged her shoulders and explained that they were poor, and this is what must be done – we felt a little humbled.
Next day we did some sightseeing at the local Athirapally Waterfalls,
and some yoga by the river with Lily.
Walking around the village on our last night, we were lucky enough to see two Indian Flying Foxes. Disturbed from fruit feeding, they took flight causing a great commotion in the branches. Their broad wings were caught briefly in the lamplight as they disappeared into the darkness.
On our final morning we took a last look round the village with Elan, Kiran and Galina (a Russian translator). Village life was returning to normal after Onam.
Elan asked if we could have some coconuts from a tree growing in one of the villager’s gardens, we were passing. He did the honours with the machete, and we all had a taste of some very fresh coconut juice.
Three generations of the ladies of the house came out to say hello.
Once back at the resort, the manager asked us to plant a tree use for arthritis treatment in the garden. We said our goodbyes to the staff and of course Dr Neethu.
Some said that Nikki looked more rejuvenated from the treatment than myself…
…but I am not so sure.