Somatheeram: Ayurvedic Rejuvenation in India




They say no trip to southern India is complete without a stay at an Ayurvedic retreat.

The south-western state of Kerala is famous for its Ayurvedic resorts, where tourists come to experience India’s ancient science of healing, using natural remedies and massage.


Image courtesy Somatheeram


A place called Somatheeram Ayurvedic Health Resort, on the Malabar Coast, had caught our eye while trawling the internet months earlier. It had won awards and the online videos showed happy, healthy people.

Why not give it a whirl? We booked a Stress Management and a Rejuvenation package. Both included daily massages and other inviting treatments.



It was a long drive to get there from whence we came. Aside from the traffic, our driver got lost several times. We arrived late afternoon, frazzled and exhausted.

At reception, staff greeted us with jasmine leis but were keen to move us along to waiting therapists.



Soon, we we were being whisked, not to our room, but to a building with the words “hospital” emblazoned on it.

I started feeling slightly nervous. I was here for the veggo food, the massages and the yoga. But hospital? Sounded a little heavy; I hadn’t noticed anything about this online.

“Hello, I’m Dr Mollie,” an elegant woman in a sari greeted me. She had warm eyes and an authoritative air.

I was handed a detailed form to fill in, with questions covering my sleep and digestive patterns, and more. Dr Mollie and her colleague took my blood pressure and scrutinized me closely.



After some animated discussion in the local language, the two women turned to me and said I had a Vata imbalance. (In the ayurvedic world, we’re all categorized as Vata, Pitta or Kapha, or a combination.)

They gave me some herbal potions which they said, would help me to relax and sleep well.



Then it was time for the fun stuff: I was led along a pathway through beautiful tropical gardens, to the treatment area.

“Clothes off,” said one Indian lady, handing me some paper panties. Soon she and her colleague were massaging me from top to toe. Suddenly I felt million miles away from the trucks and chaos of India’s frenetic highways.

“See you tomorrow,” beamed my therapist, handing me a maroon cotton bathrobe, the retreat’s uniform.

Afterwards, feeling exceedingly slothful, I finally got to check into our digs, a cliff-top, circular cottage with thatched roof, looking down to the Arabian Sea. Dozens of large black kites were circling over the beach, scanning for morsels from fishermen hauling in their nets.



Peter materialized at last, sporting an identical maroon gown. “How was it?” I asked him. “OK,” was all he said, his hair glistening with mysterious oils.

We still felt mildly disoriented.



Time for dinner. We wandered back up through the garden, past an inviting pool, to the open plan dining hall – an area we would come to know well in the next 10 days. An enticing smorgasbord of rice, curries, vegetables and fruits awaited. I’d been told I had to pick dishes labeled “Vata.”



Thankfully, most of the dishes I felt like fell in the Vata category.

Attentive staff would serve us a warm herbal tea with every meal. It’s apparently the ayurvedic way to have a warm drink, not a cold one. This didn’t always suit me, considering we were in the tropics, but, well, when in Kerala.



Meal times were a chance to look around and check out all the other guests, mostly European. Some looked exceedingly grim. Perhaps they’d come here because they had health issues or personal crises to overcome. Or perhaps they just saw improving their health as no laughing matter. Many would wear their maroon robes to meals. Others were in short skirts and absurdly high heels, perhaps on the lookout for a dashing old admirer.



Sometimes, there’d be  performances from visiting musicians and dancers to liven up our quiet evenings. After dinner, I’d get in the habit of going downstairs to the reading room, which sported an extensive library of books, and daily papers like The Times Of India.

“Hi, I’m Natalie,” a slender French woman in her 60s greeted us there one evening. She explained she’d come to Somatheeram after friends who were yearly visitors had recommended it.



“One friend had a serous auto-immune problem and she said her health really improved after coming here.”

Was she enjoying herself, I asked. “Yes, though I’ve been fasting today so I feel quite weak.”

Thankfully, my 10-day package didn’t include fasting.



Gradually, Peter and I fell into a routine.

Each day, we’d call into the hospital to be assessed, where staff would check our blood pressure and general health, before sending us off with our therapists for body treatments. Along with massages, we’d also have oils and locally grown herbs administered onto our heads and body.

In their spare time, guests had the option of attending yoga and meditation classes. It was great to learn new techniques from seasoned Indian yogis.



The meals, if somewhat repetitive at times, were mostly very tasty. Many dishes were enhanced with cumin, coriander, ginger and other herbs, and were a highlight of the day.

We ran into our new French friend Natalie a few times in the dining area. No longer fasting, she was now a bundle of energy and said she felt great.

The rooms didn’t have TV and the use of internet was discouraged. Unable to see the nightly diet of TV battles was not only restful in itself, there was also more time to read, and reflect.

By the third day of our stay, I began to feel body and mind were unwinding. Pete certainly looked healthier. Perhaps because we were now feeling better within ourselves, we suddenly noticed plenty of smiling faces around us. The other guests weren’t so grim after all; they were enjoying themselves. A 60-something Dutch man at the next table told us he’d come to Somatheeram to overcome some minor health problems and felt much better. “I’ve also lost some weight,” he smiled, patting his belly. Like us, he hadn’t heard about the retreat; he’d found it online. “I will probably return.” In particular, he said, he was now going to incorporate yoga into his lifestyle back in Holland.  “Doing it during my stay has really helped my back injuries.”



Occasionally, schedules permitting, we’d venture off the property, down to the beach, to watch the fishermen collecting their early morning catch, chanting loudly as they hauled in their nets.

“Water,” one young man, who’d clearly been out in the sea for hours, beseeched me, pointing to my bottle. I handed it over and he gratefully downed it.

Strolling along the sand, I got chatting with a fellow tourist, a Palestinian woman. We even touched on the middle eastern horrors; I heard her perspective with interest.

On the other side of the retreat, is a street full of hawkers selling pashminas, silks, and trinkets. While there were some great bargains to be had, it was also sometimes a hassle to have to keep deflecting the overtures of bellowing and beaming salesmen.



Time at the resort passed quickly. We’d often wake early to hear carols blaring from loudspeakers outside the church below. Other times we’d hear music from a nearby mosque.

Kerala has a large Christian and Muslim population living in harmony alongside its Hindu majority.



Finally, our stay was over. I stood on the scales; to my surprise, I’d also lost a couple of kilos. The tasty, healthy smorgasbord had worked its magic. I felt healthier and more relaxed;  so did Peter. The male therapists who’d been pummeling at him daily had worked wonders dissipating the knots in his back. His blood pressure had also improved.



At times, our stay had been confronting. It wasn’t quite a holiday because every single thing everyone there did every day was just about health, health, health. But the end result means when you leave, you’re feeling fitter and better than when you arrived.

“Hopefully we’ll see you again,” Dr Mollie took my hand. “And next time, stay for at least two weeks!”





Images: Peter Rigby & Jacqui Lang

One thought on “Somatheeram: Ayurvedic Rejuvenation in India

  1. I loved my stay here and could not believe the attachment I felt for my therapist. The Yoga with Mr James was so good also. I would love to do it all again one day

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