Monday, May 2, 2011

Ayurveda in the Cardamom Hills

As if the Backwaters weren't enough of a treat, we also spent five days in the Cardamom Hills near Thekaddy, at Paradisa Plantation Retreat, a labor of love cut into the side of a hill with a panoramic view of the Western Ghats and the beginnings of Tamil Nadu state. All the buildings were made from old house that were going to be torn down, and the doors, windows, fixtures, and columns and rooftops found a new home here. The attention to detail and the respect for the fine craftsmanship of the past was hard to miss. It was like going back in time. The views themselves were timeless.

We stayed in Cardamom Cottage, which sleeps four, but since we were three we had plenty of room to lounge, read, play charades, and generally try to identify insect life (an army of tiny red ants took two full days to carry a dead spider across the veranda! the crickets were, like, two inches long! a giant brown beetle-ish thing ended up in my, well, never mind, but it was HUGE) and oncoming storm clouds.

We ate like kings. Literally, we were served, then served again, then again. I have gained weight, not lost it in this country. Carbs, dairy, sugar, coconut, wow, it's been sensational. Here we grew accustomed to having freshly squeezed pineapple, watermelon, mango (it's Alphanso season!!! yippee!!), lime juice, or papaya shakes, then at twilight a bottle of Indian white wine on the porch. Mornings we switched that out for masala chai while the mist cleared with the early sun. We gorged ourselves on coconut-based curries with fish and chicken, thoran (dry cocunut curry with green beans, okra, or carrot), mango pickle, and breakfasts of appam (rice-flour pancakes), coconut milk, and honey. Did I mention the peanut butter? I was fresh, with little salt and a hit of red chili powder. As Emeril would say, "Bam!!"

The three of us had our first Ayurvedic massages. Full-body, even Janet. After I consoled (and cajoled) Janet into feeling comfortable with the idea (it was a highly-rated medical facility, we met with a doctor first, who felt my forehead and proclaimed, "You think too much!"), saying that this was a modest culture and that she'd be covered up like the model was in the brochures at the hotel, a half an hour later I was sitting on a plastic stool in a room with nothing on but this shower cap gizmo that I was supposed to wear like a diaper. I had hot oil poured over my head, and the ensuing scalp massage almost had me on the floor in slippery swoon. Then, the FULL body massage began on the table, and I mean FULL. I was lubed up in medicinal oil (perhaps tailored to my propensity for hyper-mentality), then afterward told to sit in a shower stall on the plastic stool while the woman handed me a glob of what looked like muddy green sand and said, "Wash." She washed me, too, with this stuff that smelled a little like hay and mugwort, with bits of granular things in it, and then poured hot water over me from a MASSIVE bucket until I was smooth as a baby's tush. Then she washed my hair. By the time it was over, I was reduced to a childlike, maybe even infantile, state, and did whatever she told me. Goo-goo.

 See? It's really a hospital. Very green. Serene. Unearthly silent.

Andrew wonders what he's gotten himself into.
Little does he know....

The massage annex. Say your prayers!

 Now I glow. And unless there were hidden cameras in the room that later surface on YouTube, we're both women and no one else is the wiser. Fingers crossed!

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