Saturday, January 12, 2013

On travel, and on Kovalam...

I have the unbelievable good fortune of spending a week in Kerala with my extended family. There's 12 of us here, ranging from age twenty to sixty two - the logistics are mind-boggling, but the joy and the madness is amazing. We have traveled across the western border of India in a two day train journey, played endlessly in the Arabian Sea and watched Kathakali dancers on the beach, but like all good things, this one is ending too. I'm writing this post from a verandah where I can see a swimming pool overlooking the sea. My brother and his wife are doing laps in the pool, my baby sister is sleeping in the room, and the rest of the family is off climbing a lighthouse to watch the sunset. 


We will pour oil on body and do massage, he said (he pronounced the 'mass' as it is in 'massive' - prophetically as it later turned out). Oil will enter body subcutaneous tissue and remove all toxins from body. When we live in the cities, we take in lot of metallic and non-metallic toxins into body. So regular massage is very important to pull the toxins out (miming an impressive pulling at this point).

We were talking to Dr. Shambhu from the Ayush Ayurveda clinic in Kovalam, and he was giving us an Abhyangam 101. It was a convincing lecture, and five of us signed up for an hour long session each at his clinic. My take on Abhyangam: they slather you with buckets of oil and do something resembling a massage. I give it a 6 on 10. I guess I prefer the Balinese variety.

Interesting as it was, the massage isn't what I want this post to be about.

My adorable chacha and chachi on the Poovar beach
It occured to me today, as I was walking on the white sands of the Poovar beach, that what Dr. Shambhu said about massage is a brilliant metaphor for travel itself. Every time we run barefoot on a beach, with the music of the sea filling us up, every time we sigh over how blue the water is, or how deliciously steep the climb is, some of the exhaustion that we have accumulated for months washes away. Every crazy meal shared with the people we love (and the people who love food), every walk under the moon with people who enjoy arguing for the sake of argument, every mountain climbed with people who like nothing better than finding out how much they can push themselves (and then do it a little bit more), and every directionless rambling through a village with a fellow dreamer - these are the ways we clean up the clutter in our heads.

And then we go back to the 'real world', to collect some more of the clutter and the 'toxins' (metallic and non metallic) - we wake up to smoggy skies and views of ugly high rises, commute in fear, breathe in smoke, do our jogging in concrete jungles, and eat whatever junk is available quickly and with minimum fuss (I'd like to add 'spend our days doing work that doesn't move us', to this list but that part isn't true for me anymore *Grin*).

But all that is tomorrow. Today, what remains topmost in my being, is the memory of my mother's voice behind me, as our boat floated gently in the green backwaters of Poovar,"It doesn't feel like this is earth, does it?"

It really didn't. Not the earth we're used to.

I have a list of recommendations (you're welcome, universe!) for Things That You Have To Do In Kovalam (order does not indicate the delight I derived from each - that part is very hard to pin down):
Poovar backwaters, picture courtesy Kanwaljit Kaur

1. Have breakfast at the German Bakery (Hawah Beach).
2. Go swimming in the infinity pool at the Leela Kovalam and have their brunch.
3. Eat at the Lonely Planet Restaurant (yes, that is the name).
4. Go to the Fusion Restaurant (Eve's beach) and order the pineapple curry with rice.
5. Take a boat through the backwaters of Poovar.
6. Walk on the Poovar Beach.
7. Believe in the magic of post-breakfast siestas.
8. Ditto for post-lunch siestas.

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