I went to Varkala at the weekend, the haven for virgin backpackers and seasoned travellers alike. Varkala is the new Kovalam: the place to convene for a spot of yoga on the beach, the place to be submerged in the merits of meditation, to bum around with no place to go and no purpose but indulging in the now, the very essence of a visit to India (see photographs below). Although the beach huts and non-commercialism have long since disappeared, Varkala has not yet attracted the spoils of the 5* hotels and home-stays mingle with small hotels where cookery classes, massages, yoga and lessons in meditation are the order of the day.
Having learnt the basics of Indian cooking in Cochin and having had a further cooking initiation last weekend, I finally succumbed to the call of the Ayurvedic massage. The temptation of an ancient lifestyle practice which aims to create harmony within the body sounded like something not to be missed, because I can certainly use some harmony in my life!! I was offered different types of massage: I turned down the ‘rejuvenating massage’ as I thought it might be a little late for that and I was not particularly keen on those that involved pouring copious amounts of oil on my head, so I settled for the ‘Ayurvedic General Body Massage’ which seemed to be a rather sedate and intermediate affair, neither too greasy nor too intensive; after all it was promoted as the ‘relaxation massage’. And in anticipation of a busy week ahead at school (no sarcasm intended!), I believed relaxation to be a good choice, although in fairness, sitting in the evening cool being mesmerised by the whispers of the swaying palm trees and drinking in the last dregs of the dying sunrays has an equally calming effect. I booked my appointment for Sunday lunchtime to allow some sun worshipping in the morning and time for lunch after the pummelling before catching a late afternoon train home.
So on Sunday, after breakfast and checking out of my Home Stay, I spent a nice hour on the beach, immersing myself in the breaking waves and leaving the gently warming sun to deal with the salty water on my body. I only had to shake off the sand and brush down my clothes, and hey presto, I was ready for my massage. Not quite buying into the Ayurvedic lifestyle I had already dispensed with the talk to the ‘doctor’ which should have preceded the massage, probably to determine which oils would be most effective in tackling the woes in my life – if only things were that simple, I would by now have happily drowned in the fragrance of all-absolving oils.
As I do not normally indulge in the luxuries of massages, I cannot honestly say how the Ayurvedic massage differs from any other massage, but I am sure the dress code was certainly unusual. Thank the Lord for female masseuses, because being dressed as a Sumo Wrestler with only a string and small strip of cloth to cover your modesty, is certainly not the most alluring of sights – well maybe in my younger days it would have been a different story… So I submitted to the process and was lying face down to undergo the onslaught. Unfortunately, there was a massive flaw in my plan: coming straight from the beach to be smothered in oil meant that the gentle and not so gentle rubbing was accompanied by a fairly intensive exfoliating due to the multitude of salt and sand grains which were stubbornly clinging to my skin… And the amount of oil kneaded in my hair, skin and muscles would have made a fine marinade for a whole suckling pig waiting to be roasted. I somehow had not factored in the urgent desire of washing it all off as soon as possible after the massage and was envisaging myself all smelly and covered in oil squeezed in my churidar perfuming the train and bus. But luckily, the establishment I chose for my massage offered a refreshing shower at the end and it was bliss to rinse the oil out of my hair and of my skin with lots of bubbling shampoo and foaming soap. What a treat to feel clean again and when I turned off the taps, I did not even have to bother with towelling myself dry as the female masseuse was immediately on hand to assist me with this onerous task… Just a bit unnerving!
The burning question: did I feel any more relaxed after the experience? Not really, the pulling on limbs, the pushing of muscles and use of finger nails to increase blood flow does not exactly send you to the land of Morpheus. However, just for a day or two, my skin has felt soft and smooth and maybe I look just that little bit on the younger side.. Or has this more to do with my recent haircut????
Sunday morning on Varkala Beach:
Catching the early morning surf.