With our preferred route to Allepey thwarted, we were starting to feel like a pair of hapless, bumbling fools. What to do?, what to do? How about a stop at an Ayurvedic spa? Nice! A short 2 hour hop by train and we would be relaxing with a juice by the pool. As the journey was short , we chose to travel in the non air conditioned sleeper class. This class tends to be pretty busy but not heaving and we had been reassured by several people in Varkala that a reservation would not be necessary. We rock up at the train station half an hour early and it seems that the mass emigration from Varkala begins today. The platform is swarming with tourists and locals alike. The tourists slowly start to group together, whether this is a subconscious action or not, will remain a mystery. As we have only used the trains, we were feeling pretty comfortable and when asked by a German couple about whether we knew what the train carriage was going to be like, we mentally rolled up our sleeves and happily imparted our wealth of knowledge.
With them suitably terrified, about 10 minutes before the train was due we wandered off down the platform. 5 minutes before the train is due, the German guys nonchalantly amble down the platform towards us. We both were laughing internally.
The train rolled in and to our horror it was packed, every seat and every gap was filled with someone going somewhere further down the line. That was until the carriage that stopped by where we were stood. The carriage was all but empty, Jan jumped on first and bagsied us an empty 6 berth (room for 3 people on each side of the open cabin). We opened the windows turned on the fans and had a pretty relaxing journey. Tourists don't go to Haripad, they go to Alleppey or Kochi (Ernakulum). As we stood to get off, a gentleman seated near us stood and tried to get us to sit back down "not Alleppey, not Alleppey!" he cried. We smiled, "it's Haripad, we know". His face dropped, a frown wrinkled his forehead. "Haripad?" he questioned again. "Haripad. " we countered and off we jumped with a wave and a smile and thank you.
We had already agreed that the 6km journey to the hotel shouldn't cost more than 100Rs, a rickshaw was waiting by the exit and we jumped in. The driver asked for 80Rs for the journey and we didn't barter.
We arrived at the accommodation, the 'wellness centre' was in fact a hospital, and we were in for an interesting few days. We were greeted at the entrance and were whisked to our room, no C forms to sign, no formality at all, it was very relaxed, very pleasant. Our room was spacious and clean and the small verandah at the rear led to our private steps to the pool. Not bad. We were asked if we were going to have lunch and we said that we weren't sure but we might wander over to the restaurant a bit later. 10 minutes passed and the phone rang, it was reception asking if we were going to have lunch, we gave the same reply as earlier. Another 10 minutes and we had a knock at the door, it was the receptionist asking if we had decided whether we were going for lunch. We surrendered and said we'd go to the restaurant and have a look at the menu. As we entered the canteen, we went to the only spare table and before we had both sat down, two thalis (a tray with rice and a selection of vegetable curries, sauces and pickles) were placed in front of us. No choice of food or even whether we wanted it, it was on the table and that made it ours (as it happens, the food throughout our stay was exceptional and we chose to have lunch on every occasion after that). All meals are eaten Indian style with no cutlery laid out. We both have our own style of doing this, we have watched many other people's technique and picked up tips, some take handfulls and make the rice into balls, others scoop the food onto two fingers and use their thumb to flick the food into their mouth, some lick their hands at the end to get the last few grains of rice and others simply go wash their hands once they've had their fill. We have developed our own unique styles that seem to work, Jan use the index finger to mix the food together and her middle finger and thumb whilst rotating the rice/curry into bite size clusters, obviously dabbing her fingers on the serviette between mouthfuls (she is a lady). I use all five fingers and shovel. I do get less in my chest hair now by the way. Along with every meal we were given glasses of warm pink water that we became quite partial to. It is made from the bark of Pathimugam tree and supposedly assists curing everything from indigestion to cancer.
Before our lunch was finished we were asked to put in our orders for that night's dinner and breakfast the following morning, even for us this was quite a difficult concept. Many of the dishes on menu were on rotation and then only available at either lunch or dinner, others listed weren't available at all and the staff had the giggles when we asked for them.
Choices made and we had a wander around the grounds. Back in the room and the visits start. First, the hotel manager turns up at our back door, asking if everything is ok. We reassure him. Within minutes, the head housekeeper arrived to ask if everything is ok. We reassure her. The manager returns 15 minutes after his first visit to request our passports (normal check in procedure in India). We are starting to get a little irritated. The visits continue at irregular intervals for a couple of hours despite the 'do not disturb' sign and our best efforts to ignore the repetitive knocks at the front door (they would then come and knock at the back door, the room was not so large that we could have not heard them wherever they knocked). Each door opening saw us getting more and more exasperated as the requests and questions from the staff became increasingly pointless, had we worked out the light switches?for example.
We had been told to be at the canteen no later than six for dinner as it shuts at six thirty. So we promptly arrive at six, before we have chosen where to sit down, two glasses of the warm medicine water is being poured into glasses on a table and again the food was placed down straight away before our bums were even on the seats. The women serving in the canteen started to get their bags and were leaving for the day. We ate as quickly as we could under the impatient gaze of the remaining staff who stood, bags on shoulders waiting to go home. We took the hint and ate in our room thereafter at a slower pace.
The next day we had to see the Doctor before we could have a our Ayurvedic massages. Whilst walking there, we saw a young lady whose beautiful pink sarwar kameez dazzled as it caught the light. Jan stopped the girl and struck up a conversation, complementing her outfit, the girl just stared back like a deer caught in the headlights. After some perseverance, Jan encouraged the lady to join in and they conversed for a short while. It turned out it was her first day working here, which explained her nervousness. Jan wished her good luck and we left to go and see the doctor. As we waited outside, the young lady in the pink outfit walks in, it turns out it was her first day here as a doctor. I think we're getting old.
We had a routine check up with a different doctor, (blood pressure , weight, height, tongue check etc) and we both received the same diagnosis "you're overweight, ok I prescribe a relaxing massage". Hmmm, you're a Doctor you say?
Massages booked for the following day, we jumped in a rickshaw and headed into Haripad town. Apparently Haripad has 85 temples and we will describe each one for you now...
We visited just a couple of the temples, the day was hot and the paving stones under our bare feet were like coals. The sun was so high that very few shadows were cast and shade was difficult to find. I was pretty much at my pain threshold by the second temple, so we decided to view only the outside of the temples so that we could keep our flip flops on. We had a nice walk around town, which is a busy hub about 35 kilometres from Alleppey and just 4kms from the nearest beach. Aside from the extraordinary number of temples, Haripad is a fairly typical Indian town, lots of people, shops and traffic.
People seemed quite curious as to why we were there and where groups of people gathered (bus stops and in diners) we could see the ripple of head turns occurring like a Mexican wave. Haripad is the first place we have visited where the rickshaw drivers don't pull up along side us touting for business.
Back at the hotel, dinner was delivered at 5.45 and at 7.00 we had a knock at the door, here we go again, we thought. It was a young guy carrying a heavily smoking bowl. The chap was on mosquito extermination patrol. He came in and blew thick smoke throughout the room, behind the curtains, under the table, no corner was left untouched. What was strange was that the smoke didn't choke us one bit, no coughing or spluttering. He didn't know what it was he was burning but the slightly sweet smell was not entirely unpleasant. This was just as well as the dense fog lingered for at least 2 hours. We had a moment of paranoia just after the smoke had been put in the room. We started to feel very tired and as our heads lolled, the power went off (we later were told that there had been a minor fire in the fuse box) but at the time we were convinced that we had been given something to make us sleep.
Massage day, Jan was getting very excited and to be honest, I was looking forward to being rejuvenated, I've watched Dr Who and it looks pretty cool. We had a light breakfast and waited in our room to be called by the therapist.
About 15 minutes before the treatment, the therapist knocked on our door to tell us that the appointment was delayed by 45 minutes and only one of us has a massage booked, we asked why we weren't both booked in and we got an embarrassed shrug. I very gallantly let Janet take the appointment, crest fallen I slumped back into the chair and wondered what films were on tv.
Within 5 minutes of the door being shut, the male therapist knocked on the door for me, I was booked in and was going first, I put on my bravest face.
At the top of the stairs, in a hallway, I was told to take off my clothes, Jan had reassured me that I'd be able to keep my undies on so my mild embarrassment was bearable. And short lived. Everything had to come off and a paper loin cloth went on. I was not happy. Not happy at all. I was shown to the treatment table and told to hop up. In a paper nappy, I wasn't 'hopping' anywhere.
The treatment lasted about an hour during which time all doors to the room were left open and people wandered in and out and stood around chatting. When it had finished I was definitely not feeling either relaxed or rejuvenated.
Jan had a similar miserable experience.
She was shown into a room and an adjoining door flung open. Our muslim neighbours were showering after their treatment, (the lady who had up to this point, was always in a full hijab) was naked and the male was standing in his under shorts. They all exchanged glances of shock before the therapist closed the door again.
Jan was told to get changed, she was expecting a towel to be given to preserve her modesty at least. Nope, one of the women even tried to help remove her bikini bottoms, which she declined the assistance and placed on a similar skimpy loin cloth. The Ayurvedic massage had started, but how can she relax when two strangers are putting warm oil over her body? She ensures they are no longer strangers. Jan exchanged names with her therapists to help ease the awkwardness. Enter two female doctors, it was their turn to stand and watch the massage. The two doctors were there to observe that the relaxation massage was done correctly, this seemed OTT for a non medical treatment. After not too long Jan had had enough and ordered the doctors out of the room. Good for her. I took the stance of if someone had nothing better to do with their day than come and look at my white arse, then good luck to them.
We spoke to our fellow guests/patients and discovered to our surprise that people whose lifestyles do not conform to the typical Ayurvedic way were here for some pretty serious care. There was a nurse who had come from America for treatment, likewise our Muslim neighbours were here receiving Hindu 'alternative medicine'
We decided not to have any further therapy but it seems that the lack of privacy does not deter people from coming here from all over the world specifically for treatment and good for them.
Our next and final stop in Kerala is Kochi and this in turn means the end is near for our Indian adventure.