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Saturday , December 4 , 2010
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In search of wellness

There’s rest for the weary these days — that is, if you measure well-being by the offerings at a wellness centre. My experience with wellness and Ayurveda, had been brief but almost tranquillising inside the massage room at a Goan resort. It therefore felt right when the opportunity came to up the ante at an Ayurvedic retreat in Kerala.

Now Ayurveda is a regular high-street affair in Kerala, but my destination was the Kairali Ayurvedic Healing Village, a resort in lush green Palakkad.

Owned by a couple who belong to a family of Ayurvedic physicians, the resort has been spreading wellness near Palakkad for about a decade now with its three resident doctors researching different herbs as cures for various ailments.

It has been rated as one of the top 50 wellness destinations in the world by National Geographic Traveler and even has Green Leaf Certification from the Kerala government (apparently the highest classification for Ayurveda centres).

Thirty-odd quaint cottages nestle in the midst of dense foliage provided by a mix of coconut, teak and mango trees, with a gurgling brook making its way past each cottage. All this set the tone for my stay at the resort.

The protocol, within its 15 acre-boundary, was strictly green. Getting there involved a two-hour drive from Coimbatore airport but once I stepped into the resort the subtle fragrance of the herbs and flowers made up for the journey.

The aim of my trip was to follow a serious detoxifying regime even if it were just over one weekend. The ‘wholesome/ healthy’ note was struck with my first meal there with its assortment of lentil soups, colocasia curries and pickled salads. It almost goes without saying that non-vegetarian fare and alcohol were a definite no-no. Small mercy therefore that I am not a smoker, or I would have spent all my time at the scenic smoker’s point near the herb garden that overlooked a gushing stream flowing through wild overgrowth.

Inevitably, my first morning at Kairali started early at 7am with an hour of yoga and a glass of freshly squeezed pineapple juice followed by chopped fruits for breakfast. The noon was spent luxuriating at the Ayurvedic centre being massaged by experienced masseurs, but only after a brief consultation with the resident Ayurvedic doctors, Dr Rajeev Nair and Dr Dhanya G.

The doctors usually take lengthy sessions with people who come to the resort with a clutch of health problems. They determine your dosha (Ayurvedic constitution), chart out a diet, some treatments and exercising schedules accordingly. The emphasis is on the fact that you need to arrive at the resort with time to spare — if you want the treatments to have any impact.

Dr Nair’s recommendation for me started with the Shirodhara, a treatment that involves gently pouring oil over the forehead (the ‘third eye’). Devyani and Sindhoo, the two Malayalee masseurs in their starched ivory and green bordered saris massaged me in sync while I lay on the droni (wooden bed).

The stream of warmed oil on my forehead continued over an extended period of time till I slipped into a hypnotic state. Everything was just right at that moment. It convinced me that there is something in the claim that regular Shirodhara can enhance blood circulation to the brain besides nourishing the hair — at one point I felt like my scalp was swimming in litres of oil.

A day later, I was ready for yet more rejuvenation — this time with Navera Kizhi. It was a perspiration-triggering goopy body scrub with two masseurs kneading my body with hot muslin tea bags containing rice cooked with natural herbs, milk and oil for about an hour. The duo pounded the body on specific nerve points — this is supposed to have an impact on the nervous system.

The final cleansing, as in any Ayurvedic treatment, happened within the closed box of the steam bath — they also had a steam chamber that looked like a coffin. Creepy as it looked, I settled for the box instead with my head sticking out of it not unlike an ostrich.

Thus invigorated with an overwhelming feeling of exfoliated cleanliness permeating my being, I was ready to step out to see the world immediately outside the resort. It was after all my first visit to Kerala.

The rolling green vista of coconut trees and paddy fields, the rivers and the blue-tinged mountains of the Western Ghats — Kerala looked exactly as the postcards promised.

My share of adventure lay in scouting the neighbourhood of the resort and coming upon an abandoned house. On the creeper-covered wall outside the house which was all in shambles, curiously was a running meter with an orange light blinking that sparked off my imagination. Was it haunted? An attempt to peep inside its dark insides was scuttled by the sight of a snake slithering by my feet. But my encounters with reptiles were far from over.

One of my sightseeing stops next included a snake park near Malampuzha Dam, the largest reservoir in Kerala. All thoughts of being snake-friendly — having once gingerly patted a python at a Malaysian snake temple — went flying out of the window as I peeked into pits to find some tired cobras (they apparently do not feed them well to keep them weak). A few more sightings of some non-poisonous dog-faced snakes, hump-faced snakes, a crocodile lying in a cruelly small pit and a few sluggish pythons coiled around tree branches, and I was done with scales and forked tongues.

The rest of my time before I caught the flight out of Coimbatore was spent visiting a temple of the goddess Mahishasuramardini (that according to local legend was made by the gods and then left half done by them) and Tipu’s Fort, an old granite fort built by Tipu Sultan’s father Hyder Ali.

The highlight of the afternoon a non vegetarian lunch of coconut-flavoured kappa (tapioca), mackerel curry and a spicy seer fry, enough to set me free from the trammels of a vegetarian weekend.

Ready reckoner

Getting there: The nearest airport is Coimbatore, 60km away.

Staying there:To book in the Kairali Ayurvedic Health Resort, call 91-4923-222553 / 222623 or go to

Best time to visit: The best season to visit Kerala is between September and April. For Ayurvedic treatments go during the monsoons, between July and September.

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