Beat Stress At Ayurvedic Jungle Retreat
I needed somewhere to get away from it all. I had just quit my job and moved house. I was suffering from stress and needed time to reflect on what next.
I decided to try Vythiri Resort in the unspoilt Wayanad district of northern Kerala. I was told this was a place where time slows down, where I could rejuvenate mind and body, and be close to nature. The resort offers Ayurvedic treatment and spa facilities in a pristine rainforest location, 2,600 feet above sea level .
The rustic feel of the 150 acre resort and the sounds of insects, birds and running water immediately forced me to relax. The rooms were mostly individual cottages sited on the sides of a narrow valley so my private balcony was elevated and put me in the thick of the flora and fauna.
Monkeys and giant squirrels could be observed at close range. Unlike some places, the monkeys at Vythiri remained wary of humans and did not beg for food . However they did like to clamber on the roof of my cottage which was noisy at 5:30am.
There was good trekking from the resort. Manicured tea plantations carpeted the hillsides. Women could be seen clipping the top leaves from the tea bushes. Apart from tea, the tracks were lined with coffee, clove, cardamom, pepper and nutmeg trees. I purchased a bag containing a dozen whole nutmegs for just Rs10. Considering England and Holland used to fight wars with each other to gain control of the nutmeg trade, this seemed a ridiculously cheap price to pay. Vanilla however is a higher priced crop here, fetching Rs3,000 per kilo, and the trees yielding the precious pods were protected by electric fences. I found the trekking to be excellent for relieving stress. The high altitude and frequent rain meant that the air was clean and unpolluted and there was virtually no traffic. I usually wore walking boots outside the resort but one morning I popped out for a quick stroll wearing open sandals. Big mistake! When I returned to the lobby after just 20 minutes or so, I noticed two small leeches attached to my ankles. On closer inspection I found a third leech burrowing between my toes. The front office manager was obviously used to this hazard and promptly produced a bottle of antiseptic liquid which he pored over the leeches. The leeches dropped off but blood flowed freely from the wounds. There was a newspaper cutting on the notice board in the lobby which described the medical benefits of leech therapy and how it can cure arthritis among other things. The article claimed that the saliva of these blood sucking creatures contains an analgesic and anaesthetic as well as an anti-blood clotting agent. There are said to be no ‘significant side effects and the use of leeches is both safe and effective’. I hoped they were right! I wonder what they meant by ‘significant’?
That’s the trouble with being close to nature – there are times when you wish nature would keep its distance! In my bathroom large black ants emerged every evening and seemed to find the toilet bowl quite attractive. The notice in the room summed up the resort management’s charming philosophy towards nature: ‘ Dear Guest, Vythiri is a resort where nature is a part of the pleasure and it is we who are guests in nature. We want to happily co-exist with all the creatures of nature and that includes insects. However, even if we have a high tolerance, sometimes it becomes a bit burdensome when our “hosts” take advantage of us and disturb us a bit too much in their eagerness to show affection. We therefore have a couple of ways to deter their approach should you wish to be left alone in your room. THE MILD DETERRENT SOLUTION: Burning of frankincense at sunset or before retiring. Deters insects and leaves a pleasant perfume. Or, THE NO KIDDING SOLUTION: we will use bug spray.’
This was not a 5 star resort, probably around 3 star if it had a rating. There were only 16 cottages, 2 honeymoon suites, 6 paadi rooms and 8 tribal huts so the resort had a small and friendly atmosphere. The rooms were fairly basic – no TV, no radio, no air conditioning (temperatures are comfortable all year round) and no room service, apart from having ‘bed tea/coffee’ delivered to your room before breakfast. The bed was rather hard but the sheets, towels and floors were clean. All meals, which were included in the room rate, were buffet style Indian food and mostly vegetarian. I found the quality of food to be excellent although, as a westerner, I am unaccustomed to eating curry for breakfast. Most of the hotel guests seemed to be Indian professionals and their families enjoying a break away from the bustle of Bangalore and other Indian cities.
There were limited recreational facilities in the resort. There was a pleasant swimming pool. The water appeared to be a radioactive green colour but this was more a reflection of the colour of the tiles used in the pool rather than an indication of water quality. Indeed the water quality must have been good because some mornings monkeys could be seen drinking from the pool. The main attractions of the resort however , apart from its beautiful setting, have to be the Ayurvedic Centre and the Spa.
Two types of programmes were available, Rejuvenation and Therapeutic. Not suffering from any particular ailments, I opted for the 3 day rejuvenation package which was intended to “add years to your life and life to your years”. The main treatment was Abhayangam in which the therapist massaged the whole body with medicated oil to “provide relaxation to the body and mind, improve blood circulation, vitality and texture of the skin”. After undressing, I was asked to wrap myself in a langoti to protect my modesty. A langoti is a sort of nappy-like Kerala loin cloth. The oil, which is made up of 16 herbs and medications, was heated and applied with both hands working together in long pressing motions which got the veins flowing and the nerves stimulated. The oil had a powerful and distinctive odour which lasted through several showers but the effect was magical. Stresses and worries melted away while my body felt unusually relaxed and fit.
A second session of my rejuvenation package was called Shirodhara. This was the continuous application of medicated herbal oil over the forehead. It is said to be effective in treating diseases of the head, insomnia and lack of memory. A wooden bowl was hung above my head. The bowl had a hole in the bottom and a few strands of string dangled from it like a wick. The therapists continually poured warmed oil into the bowl and this ran down the wick and onto my forehead. The bowl was swung slowly from side to side so that the flow of oil moved back and fro gently across my forehead for about 40 minutes. The delicious effect was wonderfully soothing and I was told that it would relieve stress and help improve any sleep disorders.
A range of other treatments were available. The centre’s Therapeutic programmes are supposed to be able to treat anything from rheumatism to obesity. More and more people are turning to Ayurvedic treatments as an alternative to conventional medicine. However you should ensure that you obtain expert advice from a qualified practitioner.
In contrast to the somewhat Spartan surroundings of the Ayurvedic Centre, Vythiri Resort’s Spa provided all the pampering expected of a luxury spa facility. This included exclusive use of a private courtyard with an outdoor shower and plunge pool and a herbal steam room. Treatments included aromatherapy massage, herbal body scrubs, facials and skin fitness, honey sesame body glow and use of hot stones anointed with aromatic oil. For the many romantics or honeymooners who were staying at the resort, the Adam & Eve serenity massage could be experienced, where couples are massaged simultaneously by two therapists accompanied by soothing music and sandalwood incense.
Apart from the Vythiri Resort itself, an alternative and unusual place to stay within hiking distance was The Green Magic Treehouse Resort . The star attraction of this hotel was a tree-house room perched in branches 30 meters above the ground. Complete with plumbing and a lift operated by a running water pulley system, the room provided a 360 degree view of the rainforest and its wildlife inhabitants such as monkeys, woodpeckers, herons, malabar giant squirrels and the odd snake.
Edakkul Caves, 45 minutes drive from the resort, were worth a visit. Two giant slabs of mountain leaning up against each other form a cave-like hollow in which pre-historic tribes once lived. These tribes left their drawings and inscriptions on the walls of the caves which lay undiscovered until the 19th century. The summit of the steep mountain above the caves provided a magnificent view over 3 states, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
Other nearby beauty spots include Pookot Lake and Soochippari Waterfall.
The closest city to Vythiri is Calicut, or Kozhikode as it is now known and guide books find little of interest to say about it. This is surprising for a city of close to a million people and the first place in India to be visited by Europeans. Vasco da Gama and 170 of his shipmates came ashore in 1498. That must have been the last time so many Europeans visited Calicut. In my one week stay in this part of Kerala I only saw 2 other Europeans.
How to Get There
The resort is 65 km from Calicut airport which is only a 3 hour daily flight away from Dubai on Air India. I arranged for the Vythiri Resort’s car and driver to meet me at Calicut airport, which incidentally had some of the friendliest and most welcoming officials I have found anywhere. The car-ride took two hours. I had forgotten how bad the roads and driving were in India. My driver, like everyone else, seemed to have an amazing ability to see around hairpin bends and to have supreme confidence that a gap among the crowds, cyclists, trucks and buses would miraculously open up simply by sounding the horn, which is the most heavily used part of any vehicle’s equipment in India.
This is not a place to come if you need your home luxuries or are squeamish about bugs. If however you are keen to reduce your stress levels in a jungle setting and enjoy some Ayurvedic treatment or spa pampering then this could be for you. You can visit the website: www.vythiriresort.com .