Monday morning at the office recently was rather more peculiar than Monday mornings usually are. I had just returned from a three-day trip that had so effectively relaxed me that I felt as though I'd been away from work for three months.
What was the cover story this week? I'd known what it was even at 10 am the previous Friday, when my flight landed at Coimbatore Airport. But by 10.01 am, the scent of fresh, green foliage and the practically pollution-free oxygen I'd inhaled in the last one minute had clearly gone to my head. I'd forgotten all about Mumbai. And by 2 pm, after I'd been at the Kairali Ayurvedic Health Resort for a couple of hours, I'd forgotten even that I work for a living. No wonder Monday morning - and reality - was so very puzzling.
The big easy
I hadn't known what to expect when I was invited to visit the Kairali Ayurvedic Health Resort in Palakkad, Kerala, endorsed by the National Geographic Traveller as one of the top 50 wellness Meccas in the world. I'd never been to the state before, so all I knew about it was what I'd read in travelogues - that it is green, beautiful and the perfect place for fresh-from-the-Arabian Sea seafood. Which sounded good, but I was to stay at the Kairali Ayurvedic Health Resort. And I hadn't a clue what a health resort would be like. Likely to be self-righteous and grim? Ayurvedic, so pure vegetarian? Early to bed and earlier to rise for earnest yoga and meditation?
Well. It was pure veg so there was not even a hint of seafood (and since it's a health resort, the food was also low in salt). It was early to bed simply because the resort is not close to any town, and aside from TV and books, there wasn't anything else to do. It was, therefore, early to rise, but not for earnest yoga if I didn't want to do it (though I did).
But self-righteous and grim? Far from it. It was quiet, peaceful, filled with smiley, helpful people who'd chat if you wanted to chat but leave you alone if the only company you wanted was your book.
To my surprise, I didn't languish in this non-urban (the resort is set in 55 acres of land, 45 acres of which are devoted to growing organic food for its kitchens), slow-paced environment so different from my own. I thrived. And I hadn't gone there with a specific ailment, so imagine what might have happened if I had.
Usually, you go to Kairali with specific ailments or complaints. It is a health resort after all, and its ayurvedic hospital with doctors and trained therapists, is the reason for its existence. Though there is a swimming pool, library, gym, business centre and curio shop within the Kairali premises (not to mention the fact that every room is actually a charming little villa), this isn't really a place for the ordinary holidaymaker. It's a place for a cure.
Which means a three- or four-day break here, though possible to arrange, is not really encouraged. A week is the minimum you'd require if a health programme is to do you any real good; ideally two weeks to a month. In any case, before you sign up for a stay at Kairali, you have to consult either online or on the phone with one of the resort's two ayurvedic doctors who will advise you on the kind of package you could take.
Treatments are holistic (and hooray, they include massages!), and this is where Kairali's relative isolation helps. Aside from providing peace and quiet of a kind you'd never find in any city - also essential to your good health - its distance from the towns that dot Palakkad district means that you're more or less protected from being led off your health programme's straight and narrow path.
Not that you have to stay within the premises of the resort all the time if you'd rather not. You could hire a car and take off for a bit of sightseeing, shopping and perhaps the occasional non-sattvic meal.
So on Sunday morning, even though I could have wandered off to the sit-out by the waterfall with my book and sat around doing nothing for longer, I consented to get into a car instead to see a bit more of Kerala than Kairali.
After an exhilarating walk across the dam at the Malampuzha Garden and a look around the Palakkad Fort, built by Hyder Ali, father of Tipu Sultan, it was time for some shopping. I wasn't terribly interested in clothing and curios. All I wanted was sambar powder and banana chips, and I found the real things. The sambar powder is now jazzing up my daal at home, and what can I say about the banana chips? I actually stood at the shop and watched the plantains go through the slicing machine, drop into the hot oil, and emerge crisp, ready for the salt and my one-kilo packet. So there wasn't seafood. But there were banana chips. It was Kerala.
(The writer's trip was sponsored by Kairali. For more details, see www.kairali.com)