Festival founders Ram and Sonali Banerjee keep a diary on their Ayurvedic retreat so that we can all discover more about this ancient practice.
The first day of our great Ayurvedic adventure actually started the day before when we boarded a plane at Heathrow bounded for Kochi, India via Abu Dhabi – yes , it's actually on the way – and there are no direct flights to Kochi from England.
Thus began day 1 as we landed around 8 at a bright, warm small airport that has all the sounds, and sights of an Indian airport. For those not familiar, it means the bustle of endless people at the luggage carousel with some of us praying that the suitcase made it. There is nothing more daunting that waiting for your last case having gone through in your mind how you would replace its contents if it did not arrive.
Miraculously, it was there right at the end living up to the reputation that they load bags in reverse alphabetical order – and my surname begins with a ‘B’. Immigration and customs was easy enough although the sight of a camera delicately placed in a hand carved wooden box with an elephant on top forced a smile on an otherwise weary face. Our taxi man was waiting with a hastily handwritten placard that Sonali saw first – well she was a mile ahead carrying her dreadfully heavy handbag while I was bringing up a trolley full of the rest of our luggage. The kind driver, not wishing to see his passenger collapse even before he got him into the car, dutifully took it from me as we informed him that we needed an ATM.
The fee for the 4 hour ride in a spacious air-conditioned car was a reasonable 7000 rupees (£86) but that was 7000 I did not have until we found an ATM. There is one just 30 feet away, he informed me. What luck. India is so good these days, I thought. Having dutifully gone through the entire sequence (including amount and PIN), the machine had the audacity to tell me that it had run out of money! Good old India. Luckily, there turned out to be many other ATMs en route.
The Ayurvedalaya (place of Ayurveda) is located in a Valley called Anaikatti tucked in the hills above the large bustling city of Coimbatore. Anaikatti means the valley of the elephants and apparently only the day before 12 had passed right through the grounds. Pleased and excited as I was at the prospect of seeing more, I was reminded of the number of times I had told visitors to England that if they had only come the day before they would have been in bright sunshine!
The Ayurvedalaya is associated with the nearby Swami Dayananda Ashram and is called the Swami Dayananda Jayavardanavelu Ayurvedalaya (SDJ for short, thankfully) and our driver drove us to the door of a pretty bungalow, Cottage 1. Inside we had a bedroom, bathroom, lounge and a small kitchen all immaculately clean and outside was a lovely little veranda overlooking the hills beyond the SDJ grounds. Wow if this was the Premier Cottage, what does the Executive Cottage look like? You are in the executive cottage came the reply. “It wasn’t booked, so we upgraded you.” This as it turned out was the first of many acts of kindness we would eventually witness.
It was now about 1.30 and I did not know what time my body clock was at but my tummy clock was saying “well past FOOD”. A knock on the door and a lady in a sari stood with two large covered thalis. We thanked her and settled down to some home-cooked south India vegetarian food…delicious.
The lack of a night’s sleep was catching up fast so we decided to shower and go to bed. Needing hot water, I went to turn the electric water heater on – no need, it was already on and hot water ready. But no time for bed, we had a visitor!
Dr Saraniya was a young (I know, at my age everyone looks young) bright lady dressed in traditional attire and with perfect English. No stethoscope or white coat, was she really doctor? We knew that the head of the centre was Dr Parthasarathy (I know these names are ridiculously long, why they can’t have a simple name such as Ramanuj Banerjee beats me) was abroad at present. Well this bright young lady in front of me turned out to be his wife. As Sonali never ceases to remind me, “behind every great man is an even greater woman”. Apparently we were looking at her.
She introduced herself and proceeded to ask very few questions but listened intently as we (well actually mostly Sonali with some superbly timed interruptions from me) rattled on about ourselves, our life, the yoga festival… This was the verbal equivalent of the photo album and she listened patiently and informed us that we should expect a snack at 4pm followed at 4.45 by a massage! She left and we went to sleep with our phone alarm set for an hour so that we could enjoy our snack. The thought of waking up to a plate of Bombay mix and a South Indian Coffee, gently lulled us off to sleep.
The afternoon started badly with an untimely alarm just as we were reaching deep sleep. The snack arrived and it was just a bowl of gruel. Goodness knows what was in it but in it there was definitely goodness, so it was unceremoniously consumed as we prepared for the next stage of our journey – the oil massage.
… to be continued.