Gokarna, India. What was our awful train experience leading us to? A treat that was worth the travail.
We are staying for a week at SwaSwara, an Ayurvedic spa/resort that rivals anything we have yet seen.
The main entrance is spectacular, and so calming after the outside sun. The round dining room is on the second floor, and is cooled with fans. The main feeling is one of quiet and serenity, throughout the property. It’s definitely the Canyon Ranch of India.
Don is taking the Ayurveda Rejuvenation program, which is so woo-woo that my friend Debra would be in heaven. Don will be telling you all about it.
Me, I opted for the seven-day sit-by-the-pool kind of meditation program, and I assure you that I can slip into a dream state quite easily there.
Meal times are interesting, as Don’s food regimen is very strict, and mine is described as “normal.” But we both have to drink quite warm tree sap water as a beverage, so I am making great sacrifices without cold Pellegrino, I assure you. My food is good, in an Indian health-spa-cuisine kind of way.
What is most astonishing are the grounds and what I would call our dwelling, which is just a few yards away from the gorgeous pool.
We walked into what I first thought was a foyer for several guest rooms, but turned out to be our own atrium. Most of the apartment is either open to the sky, or without walls, including the bathroom and shower. That’s really kind of cool, after you adjust…
The bedroom is glassed-in, air-conditioned, and quite comfortable.
Upstairs is a shaded sitting porch, which we have yet to use, but it’s nice to know it’s there. Various other sitting rooms dot our premises. (What should I call this place?)
The only catch is that there is no wi-fi on the entire property, except in what is called the library, which is in the main building. We now go there before the 7:30 dinner to post the blog and catch up on email. We can use phones, but there are limits to what you want to do on a phone, and many limits on where you want to be seen using one.
I have managed to get pictures of the meals, with permission of the staff, as electronic devices are not allowed in the dining room. Mindfulness is the mantra here!
For those who feared for our well-being during the arduous trip here, I can now report that you can eat your heart out with joy for us.
Don’s Treatment and Food Corner
The seven-day Ayurveda rejuvenation program that brought us here – or, rather, brought me here while Jo takes the week off – is pretty strict.
We arrived here frazzled by our 24-hour car/train/car/car/train/train/car trip, which included a 15-minute ride in a non-air conditioned third-class unreserved car on a train that we took by mistake before a helpful young man told us to get off at the next stop and wait for the actual train. (Jo was too distracted to get a photo of that experience. But we’ll never forget it.)
As soon as we got to the resort we were ushered into the restaurant. Jo was presented with a menu offering a few choices for her lunch. Her “normal” menu does not include meat, only fish and vegetarian. They knew that I was in this special program and brought my platter of tiny amounts of vegetable curry and some brown rice. That was it. Dessert? Jo got something served to her. My dessert? Another glass of warm tree water. Yum.
As soon as that was over, I met with the Ayurveda doctors. Both looked very healthy, so I was heartened by that. After asking lots of questions, they said they would put together a specialized program for me – diet and treatments. But as soon as that consultation was over, I was taken for my first treatment. This was an hour-long hot-oil massage conducted by two quick-handed men.
To receive this massage, I first had to remove all my clothes in front of the two men as they examined what they were getting themselves in for. Then, one of them tied a string around the area of my body that at one time I called my waist. Hanging from this string was a thin strip of light fabric about four inches wide and three feet long. This cloth strip was allowed to hang in front of me to, apparently, provide a small measure of modesty. After the string was tied, the attendant who had tied the string in the back reached between my legs and pulled the hanging cloth back and tucked it into the tied string. So surprising. The final wardrobe effect, on me at least, was kind of like the costume of a Sumo wrestler, but with less coverage.
Why this ceremony of the hanging cloth was necessary, I’m not sure, because as soon as I was lying on the table, it was whisked off. OK. If that’s what these guys want to do with their lives, fine. I just kept my eyes closed.
Then followed this pretty incredible hot-oil massage. The whole thing seemed carefully choreographed. A traditional technique dating back a few thousand years? And while there were only four hands involved in this massage, it seemed like there were about 20. It was both relaxing and invigorating. I fell asleep.
Following the massage, there was the issue of getting all that oil washed off. This meant going to an outdoor shower where one of the therapists proceeded to scrub me down with some exfoliate mixture, which I think was scraped coconut with various cleansing spices thrown in.
After that experience and after settling into the villa, we had dinner. Again, I was presented with a very large plate with small amounts of food artfully arranged on it. And, of course, accompanied by a glass of warm water.
Jo got the “normal” menu and she ordered a fish dish, with butterflied prawns and fish soup for a starter. (All very small portions.) After she was finished, they removed all the plates and returned with a dessert for Jo and refilled my glass with more warm water.
Amazingly, however, after being here 24 hours and having had just three small meals, I’m not hungry. They claim it’s because the food is selected to nourish – and cleanse – my body type. Whatever that means.
Here is the basic daily pattern for the rest of week: meditation and breathing exercises at 6:15 am. Yoga at 7 am. Breakfast. A morning treatment session of various types. A noon meditation/yoga event. Lunch. An afternoon treatment session. More meditation. Dinner. Then, get to bed early. They want you to be asleep by 9 and up no later than 6.
My morning treatment today was dhanyamlad hara. This involves two guys pouring hot, medicated water all over with what seemed like another carefully choreographed pattern. They used beautifully decorative brass pitchers with long spouts. A third guy stood by a pot of the water refilling the pitchers as needed. This lasted an hour and, yes, I wore the little cloth thong. Like the hot-oil massage, this was another amazing experience.
The afternoon session was a kizhi treatment. This involved two guys pounding all over the body with heated herbs and medicinal oils tied in cloth bags. The bags were continually swapped with other heated pouches before they cooled. It was quite performance. (And, yes, I wore the thong.) The purpose of this treatment is to open the pores. I couldn’t tell if my pores were any more open, but it sure got my skin tingling. Despite the heavy slapping action of those pouches, I am not bruised.
Because the program is supposedly designed to get your bodily forces back in alignment, my activities are carefully monitored and prescribed. For example, I’m not allowed to go swimming until at least two hours after a treatment or, they tell me, it would interrupt the effectiveness of the treatment.
I’m determined to follow all the rules for the full week.
Jo took a photo today of me as the “before” in my rejuvenation goal. We’ll see how things turn out in just six more days.