Thoughts About Ayurvedic Treatments, and Hitting the Beach In Varkala Beach, Kerala, India
From Kovalam Beach, we hired a taxi to take us to Varkala Beach, just about an hour and a half’s drive north along the same coastline.
We did not book a taxi from the Leela hotel in which we were staying, but instead walked to the end of Lighthouse Beach where a taxi driver offered us a taxi for only 1500 rupees ($25), about half of the official rate.
In Varkala Beach, we stayed at a small guesthouse, similar to all the other small hotels and guesthouses that line the cliffs immediately above the beach.
There are no luxury hotels and no fancy boutique accommodations, although many small places claim to be boutique hotels, and some even charge higher prices.
Our guesthouse is located at the Varkala Helipad, overlooking the Arabian Sea, at the entrance to the long Boardwalk along the cliffs.
The beach is far below the cliffs, and all of the restaurants, cafes, shops and guesthouses are located above, along the boardwalk that runs the length of the cliffs.
Some of the cliffs are deteriorating, eroded by the powerful rains during each monsoon season.
But the cliffs’ stretch is long, meandering for ten kilometers from south Varkala to Kappil Beach.
Most of the time, the beaches below are very rocky, but there are a few places where there are sandy beaches, with steep steps leading to them.
The government of Thiruvananthapuram has created a lovely boardwalk all along the cliffs, and it has also created a seawall to protect the cliffs from erosion, but they do not do a good job at cleaning the cliffs and keeping the entire area clean.
Tons of rubbish are dumped down the cliffs onto the rocks and beaches below, by the locals and tourists alike.
It is so sad to see this level of rubbish, plastic bottles, debris and plastic bags, all being carried into the Arabian Sea with each high tide…
There are NO trash cans around Varkala, which is the main cause for this terrible pollution.
Tourists buy ice cream, chips, and water bottles, and there is no place to dispose of all the plastic wrappings and empty bottles.
One morning as we meditated in our room, I found my mind wandering uncontrollably.
I envisioned myself talking to one of the many foreigners who have made this place their home.
They have come from Britain or France, and they run and own cafes and restaurants, shops and travel agencies.
In my meditation, I met with them and told them about starting an initiative for cleaning the cliffs…. after all, it was the beauty of the area that attracted them to move there, shouldn’t they get involved in helping to maintain its beauty?….
I recalled the British woman we heard about in Daramshala, who started a private initiative of cleaning the mountain trails throughout the area.
Every two weeks she hired some locals with donkeys, and they went on a hike collecting rubbish.
She raised the money by donations from other foreigners.
When I finished my meditation, I knew that I would not go and actually talk with these expat women about any of this.
Many of them were young, smokers, raising young kids and fully involved in their marriages to Indian guys, with all the cultural differences and difficulties that those marriages entail.
They seemed to be struggling just to create happy and balanced lives for themselves, and not ready to focus much of their energies on their environment.
I fully understood these women and one could not expect more of them at that stage of their lives, and I clearly remember how I struggled as a young woman with defining and creating my own life’s balance.
But perhaps I already had communicated with them on a spiritual level, and maybe one day these thoughts that I put into the collective consciousness, will enter their consciences as well.
There is not much to do in Varkala Beach besides hanging out for hours reading in one of the juice bars or cafes, or working on your tan on the beach.
The quality of the food in many of the restaurants is not as good as the seafood in Kovalam Beach.
Even the international cuisine that most of the places offer is not prepared very well.
The “Juice Shack Cafe” offers generous amounts of fresh squeezed juices, including juices for people who wish to do a long juice fast.
I also enjoyed their raw beetroot and cabbage salad with lime, and Jules enjoyed their breakfast oatmeal, prepared with water instead of milk, and served with banana and nuts.
At “Cafe Del Mar,” we ate good breakfasts, a good Hummus with clay oven baked Nan bread, including a Peshawari and Afghani flatbread prepared with nuts, raisins, cherries and cheese.
They also have generous sizes of fresh juices.
One day we walked all along the cliffs to Kappil beach, fending off constant offers of vendors asking us to look at their shops, buy their clothing or eat at their restaurants.
“Come take a look inside my shop!
T-shirt, dresses, Lungi, bed covers, pashmina scarf….
Lungi 200 rupees, same you wear now.
T-shirt, EXACTLY same you wear now, I have
Come look inside
Looking free, no money.”
This line of persuasion does not make much sense to me.
If I already have a T-shirt with Shiva and Parvati on it, why would I want ANOTHER one that is EXACTLY the same?….
But this is what they used to try to lure us to their shops.
“We have exactly same sarong, you come buy…”
On the long walk to Kappil Beach, we got a good view of the area.
In one area some workers were having their lunch under the coconut trees.
They were eating chicken Biryani (rice with spices and vegetables), served on a very large banana leaf as a communal plate.
They generously invited us to share their lunch, but we politely refused, saying that we do not eat chicken.
I have to say that the food did look very good.
One day we decided to get more Ayurvedic treatments.
There are dozens of small places offering Ayurvedic treatments along the cliffs, some offering a full body massage for as little as 500 rupees ($7.50).
It was obvious that many of the tourists come for long stays, taking advantage of the cheap food, cheap massages and cheap accommodations (some rooms rent for as little as $8 per night, and many places have rooms for $20-$60).
Many of the Ayurveda places offer packages of daily treatments for fourteen, twenty one or even forty two days.
During dinner the day before, Jules had developed a stiffness in his neck, and we thought that a good treatment would help him.
On our walk along the cliffs, we had found an Ayurvedic clinic inside an eco cafe and resort which looked very cool.
Their restaurant used all organic ingredients cooked only on wood fires.
They also told us that they bake their own breads and make their own yogurt.
On the walls of the cafe they had lots of wise and semi-wise quotes.
The excited proprietors showed us the kitchen, which offers South Indian cooking classes, and took us to see the eco-cabins in the back of the lodge.
To be honest with you, the word “Eco-Lodge,” brings to my mind rustic, buggy and dark cabins with very little hot water.
Their cabins were just as I expected.
Somehow, many of the proprietors of Eco-Lodges around the world think that they can charge good money in exchange for very little in return.
They build low cost, basic cabins with simple materials, and hope to get environmentally minded people to stay in these buggy, hot and uncomfortable cabins.
This was no different, except that their claim to have built environmentally friendly mud brick cabins was incorrect.
The cabins were constructed very badly from concrete blocks, which they later smeared with brown mud.
In many places you could clearly see the concrete bricks from the sides that were not smeared with mud.
Inside the small cabins, there was hardly room for a small, hard double bed with mosquito netting hanging from the ceiling.
The cabins were dark with hardly any windows, no lights and no AC.
We smiles and said “Very lovely,” and went over to check out their Ayurveda clinic.
A husband and wife, both doctors, operate the clinic in association with two other doctors.
They invited us to have a chat, and said that many of the places around town were unlicensed and give inferior Ayurvedic treatments, and that it is a real problem in Kerala.
They told us that they were all medical doctors who had studied medicine for five and a half years and later specialized in Ayurveda for an extra three and a half years.
Then they tried to sign us for a multi day package.
We said that we only had two extra days, and they reluctantly agreed that Jules would get two head, neck and shoulder massages from the male doctor, and I would get a two day cellulite massage and scrub treatment, and also a nose cleaning treatment in which a herbal mixture is poured into the nostrils to clear the sinus passages.
I asked if they had a shower which I could use after the treatment to remove the oils and the herbal mud from my body and I was told:
“Sure, sure, madam will get a towel and a hot shower so you can clean up, no problem.”
They told us to come back that evening.
When we returned, the doctor took Jules into a small treatment room, and gave him a good but very painful neck and shoulder massage that truly helped him regain some movement in his neck.
I was taken to a bare room, shabbily constructed with bamboo mats as walls.
There was a massage bed with an oily sheet of thick plastic on it.
My “therapist” was no doctor, and definitely not a licensed therapist either.
She was only a teenager.
The female doctor had mysteriously disappeared.
The teenager asked me to take off all my clothes.
She then tied a cord to my waist and from it she improvised a loincloth underwear with a piece of disposable cloth.
Then she proceeded to give me the weakest oil massage I have ever gotten.
She had zero knowledge of the art of Ayurvedic or any other massages, and I found myself getting annoyed that I had bought all this crap about non-licensed massage places being a problem in Varkala, and believed that I would get a treatment from one of the two female doctors.
The doctors were obviously more interested in being clinic owners, making money by selling bags of herbal medicine, than actually doing the hard work of massaging their clients.
I consoled myself that at least Jules was getting a real treatment that might help him.
I decided not to let the annoyance rise in me, but to relax and see the comical side of things.
The girl dripped five drops of a herbal liquid into my nostrils and asked me to inhale.
She spoke almost no English.
The sensation was strange and my instinct was to snort out the thick liquid, but she told me to hold it in and then spit in the toilet.
Then for the rest of the twenty minutes (the treatment is supposed to be thirty minutes), she had me sit naked in a plastic chair while she did nothing.
Then she gave me a very poor oil massage, and in the last fifteen minutes, she rubbed the abrasive herbal mix for cellulite on my skin.
It felt and looked like sand from the beach.
For some bizarre reason, she rubbed it the hardest on the parts of my body which are most sensitive and have no cellulite on them, like the front of my leg below the knees, the shin area.
I asked her to go easy on the sand rubbing when my shins felt like my skin would rub off, but she spoke no English and shushed me.
I have such soft and sensitive skin that I normally bruise quite easily, and I could feel that her treatment would leave scratch marks on my skin.
I marveled about how could they possibly offer people to do this harsh treatment daily for consecutive twenty one or forty two days….
I was more than ready to be done, and happy to slide off the oily bed and get into the shower to remove the sand from my skin.
But there was no shower.
The girl boiled some hot water in a big aluminum pot, then poured it into a plastic bucket next to a cold water faucet.
She gave me a small piece of fabric, which looked like it was cut from a stained sarong, as my towel.
She also gave me a tiny soap, and told me to use the bucket to wash up.
I knew that a better shower awaited me at our guesthouse, and that I could take the time there to get throughly clean.
When we got back to our guesthouse, the floor of our room was covered in water, and the air conditioner was rapidly spewing water.
Even though it was late at night, we had to switch to another suite.
Luckily, we had left our big bag at the Oberoi hotel in Mumbai, and had traveled south with nothing but small backpacks, so there was not much luggage to move to the new room.
The new room had two double beds which we pushed together, and army wool blankets, which we replaced with the better duvet blanket from our old room.
That night as I drifted off to sleep, I thought about why some of the Ayurvedic Panchakarma treatments were not working for me….
For many years now, I have been a great believer in the principals of Ayurveda in restoring balance through understanding our Doshas, and by eating food that suits our constitution and temperament, but the Panchakarma treatments that are offered here nowadays have left me feeling depleted.
I realized that when a person comes to get treatments when he is sick or unbalanced, the gentle oil massages can soothe the raging anger inside that has caused him to get sick to begin with.
Laying down and tuning into your mind, thoughts, emotions and listening to the natural rhythm of your body while you get rubbed in oil, can bring about much good if you need to rebalance yourself.
But it the harmony level in your body is GREATER than that of the therapist who treats you, since their energies blend with yours, you are bound to feel less harmonious than when you started.
It is the law of equalizing vessels, which works in all humans who are in reality, pure energy….
We tend to harmonize with those around us, which is why it is SO important to surround yourself with good influences.
One night at a cafe, we sat next to a young Russian couple who obviously had been staying in Varkala for a long time.
They looked so unhappy, and the man had a stern and severe demeanor about him.
I was very sad, but not surprised to see that he was very ill, with some kind of dis-ease that affected his motor function.
He needed to use special eye glasses, connected to his ear pieces, that received a signal from a device that helped him to equalize his walk.
Even with this device and using two walking canes, one in each hand, he still walked very unbalanced.
It saddened me to see this extremely unhappy soul, and I realized that it was an example of the kind of people who would definitely benefit from forty days of gentle Ayurvedic treatments, to try to soften their hard edged shells and rediscover the tender sweet soul that is inside each and every one of us….
Health and wellbeing, is our natural state.
Our very core is soft, loving, tender and full of light.
We get dis-eased by living a life that is not filled with the love, light, tenderness and sweetness.
When we are not loving, kind and full of light, when we are angry, judgmental, hateful, bigoted, believe that we are better than others and act in a disrespectful ways towards our fellow humans and the planet, we get unbalanced.
When we allow anger to take place in us for a prolonged period of time, we develop chronic illnesses.
The only way to truly heal is to become like little children who love the world around them.
By becoming loving again and by embodying the Light, we regain our true balance and health.
With peace and love,