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Hitting Rock Bottom

After travelling for over a month on my own I was ready for some company, and with the indulgence of a house boat all to myself and some time relaxing on the beach in Varkala I was looking forward to the week ahead.  I had booked into Amrutham Ayurvedic Village Resort based near Kovalam.  It was a short taxi ride from Varkala to the retreat, and being slightly out-of-the-way, we were greeted at a junction by a resort escort to guide us to what was to be my home for the next week.

After experiencing the five-star treatment at Shreya’s Retreat I knew it would be a tough act to follow, but I had searched for hours trying to find the perfect retreat that would suit what I was looking for.  It had to have yoga and meditation, I wanted to try ayurvedic treatments and it needed to offer the flexibility of free time by a pool and be close to a beach.  All was going well, I had made it safe and sound, I was blessed on arrival and an amazing lunch was served soon after I arrived.  But my dreams of some company over the next week quickly faded as I learned the resort was not really a resort but a villa consisting of 8 quest rooms and there was only one couple staying for the next two days.  I was to spend most of the week being the only guest there, again another off-season treat!

So I started to hit rock bottom. I had been experiencing quite a lot of back pain from all of the travelling and with not a lot of exercise over the first six weeks of my travels, my back was feeling neglected.  And then the grief of my dad passing away caught up with me and I couldn’t shake it.  I had booked a seven-day Svastii retreat which is designed to provide inner peace, reduce stress and make you fresh and fit and I really needed it.

Over the span of the week under doctor consultation, I had an Ayurvedic treatment every day. I did 90 mins of yoga every morning at 7am which was a challenge at the start with my back and meditation every evening. Breakfast and lunch were served between yoga and treatments and dinner after free time and meditation.  It was the first time I had tried Ayurvedic treatments.  Like the massages I had experienced in Thailand, so too in India, you need to leave your inhibitions at the door. I had four different types of treatments during the week.

The first was Sarvanga Kashaya Dhara which was prescribed to me as a massage to help with my aching back. It’s therapy which uses herbal decoctions makes the body perspire by pouring a warm decoction made out of herbs.  It removes toxins and promotes fat metabolism, removes tension and is also good for pain and stiffness of the joints and muscles.

The second treatment I tried was Ksheera Dhara.  This treatment felt amazing and was my favourite. It’s a treatment where lukewarm medicated milk is poured slowly and rhythmically over your forehead to your scalp.  A thin piece of cloth is tied just above your eyebrows to prevent the milk running down your face.  Ksheera Dhara helps with stress, headaches, insomnia and anxiety.  It also nourishes and illuminates the skin.  It was an extremely relaxing treatment which I didn’t want to end and my skin was glowing afterwards.  The treatment was then repeated over my body, where two therapists poor milk consistently for half an hour. Bliss!

My last two types of treatment were Patra Potala Swedam and Navara Kizhi.  With Patra Potala Swedam, leaves and powders of medicinal herbs are fried in an oil and then applied over the body as a massage in a scrubbing and patting like motion giving the therapist a good workout.  It’s benefits can ease sciatic, which I have, and stiffness and pain, which I needed.  It also benefits arthritic and inflammatory conditions.  Navara Kizhi which was my least favourite of all the treatments uses a rice which is grown in 60 days.  With its medicinal properties, the body perspires and what feels like grime residue lies on top of the skin as the therapist massages the body.  I had this treatment twice and I was glad when both of them were over and I was clean!

Garden path that leads to the treatment rooms

Garden path that leads to the treatment rooms

Inside the treatment room.

Inside the treatment room

Ayurvedic medicine

Ayurvedic medicine

After my treatments lunch was always ready and I found the food throughout the entire week to be of a high standard and in abundance.  On my last day I was treated to Sadya (a Keralean feast normally prepared by men and often served at weddings), where vegetarian dishes are served on a banana leaf and you eat the meal with your hands!  It was a feast indeed that left me rolling out of the resort.

Vegetarian breakfast

Vegetarian breakfast

Sadya feast

Sadya feast

Food delivery!

Food delivery!

After lunch, the afternoons were always my free time and I spent them mainly lounging by the pool.  At around 5pm each day I was taken to a local site in the area such as a temple, the beach, or a lake.  This was then followed by meditation and dinner around 8.30pm.

Relaxing by the pool

Relaxing by the pool

Napier Museum, Trivandrum

Napier Museum, Trivandrum

On the way to Shri Padnambadhaswamy Temple

On the way to Shri Padnambadhaswamy Temple

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Meditation rock

Meditation rock

Local beach

Local beach

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Vellyani Lake

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Lotus flowers almost ready to bloom

Lotus flowers almost ready to bloom

I missed the lake being a sea of pink with Lotus flowers by one month!

I missed the lake being a sea of pink with Lotus flowers by one month!

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They say to feel the full benefits of Ayurvedic treatments you should do one a day for 28 days.  I would have loved to have experienced the full 28 days, but unfortunately money wouldn’t allow.  I could only image how amazing you would feel at the completion of it.  After my seven-day experience, I felt rejuvenated, my back pain was gone, my grief was fading and I was feeling lighter and looking forward to venturing into my second month in India.

The yoga and meditation space

The yoga and meditation space

On the up

On the up

I thought Amrutham was a great place to experience a retreat.  The staff were excellent and nothing was ever a problem which was a welcome change and the food was excellent.  For the price of the retreat there were a few things that I found disappointing.  It lacked comfort in areas which at times was excruciating for me with my back.  The wi-fi in the guest rooms was non-existent and you could only get it in one area of the villa which meant sitting on wooden furniture and all I wanted to be able to do was flop onto some comfy sofss.  The swimming pool also lacked comfort with their sun lounges and it would lose the afternoon sun early on in the day.

Looks pretty, but lacks comfort

Looks pretty, but lacks comfort

I also felt the yoga was way overpriced compared to what other resorts were charging.  My instructor Sree was a great teacher and added special touches to my experience such as the Keralean feast on my last day and a lighting of the chakras on my last night which was very moving, however he was the only staff member teaching me yoga, taking me on excursions and for meditation.  And with no other guests staying I began to tire of the same person. There was supposed to be a separate meditation teacher to yoga but it never happened and I gave up asking in the end. I did however find Sree’s approach to meditation informative and he helped me understand more about the sensations I had been experiencing during meditation. If they could make improvements in those areas it would definitely be a place I would happily return to.  If you’re looking for a quiet retreat then Amrutham could just be the place for you.

Entrance with the shakra tower

Entrance with the chakra tower

Alighting shakras

Alighting chakras

Leaving refreshed and rejuvenated

Leaving refreshed and rejuvenated

Images shot on a Fujifilm XT100 and iPhone 4s ©Not The Jealous Kind 2015

Sweet Varkala

Varkala was an idyllic place to stay in Kerala. It was recommended to me by a friend and I wasn’t disappointed by adding it to my itinerary. My only regret was that I couldn’t stay longer due to a retreat I had booked near Kovalam.  I spent three nights in Varkala and I could easily have spent a week.  With its beautiful red cliffs, it’s long stretching beaches and the sound of breaking waves, Varkala had a vibe where you could park up and lose yourself day after day.

Varkala was my first beach experience in India and having read about the warnings of some of their beaches, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Being a beach lover, I was ready to enjoy sinking my toes into some sand and thankfully it was like spending time on any other beach I’d been too.  The water was clean and the beach was predominantly clear of rubbish. Sure there were roaming eyes and walkers, but there were patrols whistling them away and I was able to really relax and enjoy being by the Arabian sea.

Skip a yoga class as the stretching coastline makes walking easy and accessible, but make sure you head out in the morning to beat the afternoon heat. If you walk heading north towards Black Beach and Kappil Beach pack your swimsuit and lunch to enjoy some quieter beaches and spend the day there, or you can relax on the main beach and shop along the cliff top in one of its numerous hippy stalls. There are plenty of restaurants scattered along the cliff all much of the same and you can’t go wrong with your choice.  And make sure you end your day sipping on a beer or a cocktail or two watching the majestic sunsets and enjoying the starry nights.

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Graffiti Artist Tona, Varkala, Kerala

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Images shot on a Fujifilm XT100 & iPhone4s  ©Not The Jealous Kind 2015

Chasing Tona

I was buzzing when I discovered the graffiti artist Tona on arrival in India, it was an unexpected surprise.  My first glimpse of the artist was in Puducherry.  I was captivated by the images in front of me, hidden amongst the stunning architecture of the French Quarter.  So much so was my captivation that when I caught a glimpse of the artist again while on a tuk tuk in Bengaluru, I made my friend walk the streets at night in search of this mysterious artist. Sadly we didn’t have any luck that evening in finding Tona, but we did stumble across the Ritz Carlton!

To my delight when I saw his art again in the Fort Cochin area I really got excited, they were everywhere. From there on in as I continued to travel through India I was on the look out for Tona.  I discovered more in Varkala (on a boat), and again in Cape Comorin.  From what I can find Tona is a stencil artist based in Hamburg. Sadly I didn’t find anymore past this point, but when I return back to India to see the north, I’ll be chasing images of Tona again.

Puducherry discoveries:

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Graffiti artist Tona, Puducherry

Spotted in Fort Cochin:

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Varkala:

Graffiti artist Tona, Varkala, Kerala

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Images shot on a Fujifilm XT100 ©Not The Jealous Kind 2015

The Backwaters Of Kerala

The serene backwaters of Kerala are now a distant memory for me, though every time I look at these images I’m taken back to India and wishing I could be there steering into the warm still air.  There’s something very mesmerising about the backwaters.  There is a state of calm and tranquility as the landscapes blend and reflect into the water, locals bathe and wash in the abundance of water surrounding them, children ride their bikes (which seems for miles) to get to school and farmers walk the rice paddy fields.

Anyone who’s researched about visiting Kerala will know that the backwaters is a mandatory stop on the itinerary and I was not going to miss the chance to see these stunning landscapes. Travelling on your own has its disadvantages and I was about to experience it first hand when I went to book a house boat tour in Alleppey.  My only option to experience a night on the backwaters was to book an entire house boat to myself.  Surely there must be other people in the same position who I could book with?  Ah, no it’s off season!  So as indulgent as it felt I spent a whole day and night cruising the backwaters in a house boat all to myself.  A time spent listening to iTunes, enjoying Keralan food and reflecting into the hypnotic waters.

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Images taken on a Fujifilm XT100 ©Not The Jealous Kind 2015

Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014

It was great to stumble across the Kochi-Muziris Biennale while visiting Fort Cochin. The event was hosted by the Kochi Biennale Foundation, a non-profit charitable trust who help promote art, culture and educational activities in India.  I had visited some poor representations of museums during my time in India and my expectations of the event were low, however I was pleasantly surprised and exposed to a great group of talented artists, all for the cost of 100 rupees. You needed a few days to get around to see everything and I managed to squeeze in a day and half of viewing, zig zagging my way through the streets visiting the various locations and exhibitions.  Here are my pics from who I managed to see, unfortunately there are a few I don’t have references for.  If you’re in Kochi around the same time next year it’s well worth staying an extra day to look at the vast variety on offer to view.

Aram Saroyan

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Janine Antoni

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Hew Locke

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Pors & Rao

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If you have time watch this interview on the duo.

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Kochi-Murziris Biennale 2014 at Aspinwall House

Kochi-Murziris Biennale 2014 at Aspinwall House

Striking It Lucky

One of the most wonderful things about India is its diversity when it comes to it’s towns and cities.  Some are bustling cosmopolitan delights and some are not and have a long way to go. What I enjoyed most on my travels was discovering the quaint smaller towns mixed with history and an infusion of European-Indo culture. Fort Cochin and its surrounding areas was one of these. Mixed with Portuguese houses, ancient Chinese fishing nets and an old Jewish Town there was plenty to observe as you strolled through the village streets.  I spent three nights staying in Mattancherry staying at Sui House a boutique B&B and one night in Fort Cochin at Bernard Bungalow.

Sui House is a tranquil retreat located away from the crowds, but easily accessible to explore the surrounding areas on foot or by tuk tuk. Owners Kumar and Pauline make you feel welcome in their home which is filled with antiques and religious relics from their prior antique business. They also own an additional property and restaurant Caza Maria in the Jewish Town.  With their flair for style and having lived in the area for many years they provide guests with a convenient map of the area and their top recommendations of where to eat, drink and shop.

Large bright rooms at Sui House

Large bright rooms at Sui House

Sui House

Sui House

Inside courtyard at Sui House

Inside courtyard at Sui House

Sui House

One of many antiques and religious relics in Sui House

Following their map I spent my first day wandering the streets, firstly in Mattancherry and the Jewish Town.  I was mesmerised by the abundance of wonderful street art surrounding me as I took to the quiet streets.  There was a government strike on across Kerala which meant most shops were closed for the day and I missed seeing the famous spice shops in the Jewish Town in full action, but it was actually pleasant to stroll and meander with hardly anyone around, which is a very rare occasion in India.

Jewish Town

Jewish Town

One of the many spice shops closed in Jewish Town

One of the many spice shops closed in Jewish Town

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One of the few spice shops open

One of the few spice shops open

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Spices at the Spices Market

Spices at the Spices Market

Quiet streets of Mattancherry

Quiet streets of Mattancherry

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Walking the loop around from the Jewish Town to Mattencherry you’ll reach the ancient Chinese Fishing nets.  You can purchase fresh fish from the fish mongers behind the fishing nets and have one of the local surrounding restaurants cook them for you.  From here keep walking into Fort Cochin where there are many more shops, restaurants and bars to discover.

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Ancient Chinese Fishing nets

Ancient Chinese Fishing nets

Locals playing Cricket and Football on Parade Ground, Fort Kochi

Locals playing Cricket and Football on Parade Ground, Fort Cochin

Santa Cruz Bascilica

Santa Cruz Bascilica

I loved that you could literally eat your way around the towns.  My picks were Dal Roti with their scrumptious kati rolls that leave you wanting to go back and again and again. Brunton Boatyard Bar, a great place for a wine, Malabar House and Old Harbour Hotel for seafood and local Keralan delicacies.

Sui House recommendations to eat and drink in Fort Cochin are; Fusion Bay, Santa Cruz Basilica, Oceanos, Opposite Britto School, Dal Roti, Lily Street, Tibetan Chef, Santa Cruz Basilica, Fort House, Kalvathy, Brunton Boatyard Bar, Old Harbour Hotel for wine and beer, Malabar House, Parade Ground, Upstairs, Italian restaurant, David Hall, Parade Ground, Dosas & Pancakes.

In Mattancherry; Caza Maria, Jew Town, Hotel Abad, Chullickal, Kai’s Biriyani, New Road, Krishna Cafe (veg), Palace Road, Vijaya Lakshmi (veg), Palace Road, Ayyappas (veg), Anavathil, Shami Restaurant, Kappalandimukku, Hotel Fort Queen (bar), Mantra Road, Ginger, Jew Town Taj Malabar and on Willington Island, Hotel Casino and Hotel Trident on Willington Island

And there are great boutiques scattered around.  My favourites were Fabindia and Anokhi for their fabrics and affordability.  Other boutiques recommended by Sui House are; Cinnammon, Parade Ground, Tribes, Inside Post Office, Joe Ikareth, Bazar Road, Ritu Kumar, Jew Town

Lily Street, Fort Cochin

Lily Street, Fort Cochin

For my last couple of days I visited the Dutch Palace which was completed in 1561 by the Portuguese.  The palace has amazingly preserved Hindu murals which are well worth a visit.  I was also fortunate enough to be in Fort Cochin when the Kochi-Muziris Biennale was on and I spent these last couple  of days visiting the exhibitions scattered around the area.

If you’re planning a trip to Kerala  don’t miss Fort Cochin as a destination.  It’s easily accessible by air, train, bus or taxi and is a gateway to the back waters.  And if you can plan your trip when the next Biennale is on even better.

Dutch Palace, Jewish Town

Dutch Palace, Jewish Town

Kochi-Murziris Biennale 2014 at Aspinwall House

Kochi-Murziris Biennale 2014 at Aspinwall House

Images taken on FujifilmXT100

An Ancient Tradition In Modern Times

After being in Wayanad for a couple of days and taking some time to rest and relax, it was nice to be back by the water, this time the west coast of India enjoying my first views of the Arabian Sea.  I was in the Fort Cochin area for four days and on the must see list were the ancient Chinese fishing nets.  This ancient technique has been around since 1400AD.  At high tide it requires at least four people to pull up the nets which is was fascinating to watch.

You can purchase seafood caught from the local fisherman at the numerous fish mongers located behind them.  The restaurants next to them will then cook the catch for you while you sit outside enjoying the warm weather.  I chose not to do this after seeing the abundance of rubbish that was collected in their nets.  With faster modern fishing techniques these fisherman are struggling financially and rely on tourists to help fund their living.  Judging by the small pathetic and polluted catches I saw, they need all the help they can get.

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Images taken on a Fujifilm XT100 © Not The Jealous Kind