20 Oct India: The Unlikely Holiday Pt.1
Unless you’re a yogi, into Ayurveda or a spiritual junky, India might not be high on your holiday priority list. I am all three and it wasn’t even high on mine. But, wow, it should have been. In movies and documentaries India looks poor, dirty and chaotic. I was curious, sure, but other holiday destinations always seemed to win out. Yet, in early 2017, India was bumped up my travel list totem-pole. This two-part article is going to cover the emotional circumstances of how I even ended up in India and why I am so grateful I got to spend a few healing weeks in what I found to be a beautiful, challenging, frustrating and rewarding country.
In late 2016, two of my American friends, Debbie and Renee, invited me to India. We’d met the year before on a cruise of the Bahamas with the Ayurveda group, Joyful Belly.
We had a blast on the cruise and promised to meet up again soon. They’d mentioned plans to attend a yoga retreat in India in 2017. It sounded amazing, but didn’t feel realistic for me.
Some months later, and as happens from time to time, life threw people I care about a tragic curveball. In the aftermath, India – this huge and diverse country that brims and bustles on a spiritual legacy thousands of years old began calling to me.
Left to right: Me, Debbie and Renee enjoying time together in the Bahamas after meeting on a cruise in 2016
–A TRIP FOR HEALING–
A few months after the cruise, Debbie’s grandson died unexpectedly following a tragic swimming accident. Her world was turned upside-down. As she sought to heal, she and Renee knew the time had come for the yoga retreat we’d all talked about as we sailed the Bahamas.
Contacting me from their homes in the USA, they invited me too. Although money was tight at the time, I felt a spiritual pull to see them again and be there for Debbie as she grieved and healed.
I’ve experienced loss myself and know it helps to be surrounded by love. It was something I could do for Debbie.
The 12-day Journey To India Retreat offered by Sevanti Adventures. Photo source: James Bailey
We joined the 12-day ‘Journey To India Retreat’ organised by Sevanti Tours, a great company owned and operated by American Ayurveda and yoga practitioner and educator, James Bailey. Our travel group consisted of about 24 people. All Americans, except me!
The whole experience is split into two parts: relaxation and rejuvenation at a resort and then an optional journey to India’s most spiritual places.
Where Part 1 was tranquil paradise, Part 2 turned out perhaps even more rewarding, but for entirely different reasons – and you’ll just have to read along to find out why.
PART 1 SACRED SAP RETREAT: KERALA
For the first 8 days of the trip we stayed in Kerala, South India, at an Ayurveda resort called Somathereem. Nestled in jungle greenery and situated on beach bluffs giving a view of the Arabian Sea, it is a magical place. Each day, we practiced gentle morning yoga overlooking the ocean with Sevanti’s guest yoga teacher, Tawny Sterios. We also had the option to attend additional meditation and yoga classes at the resort.
Day 1: Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort – a gorgeous sight to wake up to
Morning yoga at Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort overlooking the Arabian Sea
FOOD FOR THE SOUL (AND DOSHA)
The resort provided three vegetarian buffet meals a day, each prepared with fresh seasonal vegetables. The cuisine was based on Ayurvedic diet principles and labelled by dosha, or the body type it most suited.
The meals were a mix of northern and southern Indian cuisine, with some western and other dishes included. Non-vegetarian meals could be arranged at an extra cost.
I WAS A VEGETARIAN … FOR 12 DAYS
Although I do eat meat, I decided to fully embrace the experience and ate only vegetarian cuisine for the entire trip. The meals were colourful and delicious and surprisingly filling.
I was even looking forward to meals even more than at home! I didn’t crave meat at all (I might have if the trip had been longer)
DAILY TWO-HOUR MASSAGE TREATMENTS
One of the best things about the retreat were two-hour full-body warm oil massages/treatments at the Ayurveda Centre – every day!
When we arrived at the resort, we each attended an appointment with an Ayurvedic doctor, who did a general check-up and assessed our dosha (body type). I am Vata-Pitta, by the way.
Based on our doshas, each of us was given a script for a week’s worth of treatments and massages. We were also given tailored dietary advice (including weight-loss programs, if you wanted that) and herbal medicines we could purchase (at great prices) at the resort’s herbal pharmacy.
NOT ONE, BUT TWO THERAPISTS
We attended treatments at our allotted time each day (which made it easier to plan the rest of the day) and we met with our doctor daily prior to treatments in case we needed to make any adjustments to our plan.
I was allocated two Ayurvedic body workers to perform my treatments. They were so caring, lovely and sweet – they ended up feeling like family. One of the ladies even called me her “third daughter” and we took lots of photos together.
OIL, OIL AND MORE OIL
Most of the Ayurvedic treatments involved dosha-specific herbal oils. If you don’t like being rubbed down, bathed in and absolutely drenched in oil, then watch out: these treatments are not for you!
For me, it was heaven. Granted, it took about three washes to get the oil out of my hair each day, but it was worth it. And my hair looked really shiny after a week of treatments!
For me, the oil and massages stripped away old, tired layers, renewing and rejuvenating my mind, body and soul. My favourite treatment was Shirodhara – where warm oil is poured over your third eye (forehead). It was so relaxing, I nearly fell asleep.
AYURVEDIC TEACHINGS AND EXCURSIONS
Our tour guide, James, held nightly Ayurvedic teachings before dinner and we had a few excursions during the week, including:
- a tour exploring the exotic and steamy Kerala backwaters
- a ceremony at a local Shiva temple where you smash a coconut to ‘release’ things holding you back
- bath-time for rescued elephants at an elephant sanctuary.
UP CLOSE WITH ELEPHANTS
I loved the elephant excursion … because I love elephants. Unfortunately, the day we arrived was unusually busy and we missed out on elephant bath time. Still, just being close to these peaceful, curious giants was unreal. An experience I won’t forget
DOWN TIME IN KERALA
In between treatments and teachings, we were given plenty of down time. We could go shopping on the nearby streets of Kerala, relax in our hammocks and cottages, read a book, swim in the pool/sea or explore nearby.
I spent a lot of time hanging out with Debbie and Renee, chatting, being silly and laughing. We did lots of shopping. I was mainly window shopping for me, even though everything was a really good price. We spoke to locals, made new friends and enjoyed everything Kerala had to offer