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Kerala – God’s own country and home to Ayurveda On the second part of her yoga and wellbeing journey in southern India, Sarah Dawson visits the original Ayurveda retreat specialists in Kerala.  Every year the southern state of Kerala attracts a surge of Western tourists wishing to experience Ayurveda, the...

Kerala – God’s own country and home to Ayurveda

Kerala – God’s own country and home to Ayurveda 
On the second part of her yoga and wellbeing journey in southern India, Sarah Dawson visits the original Ayurveda retreat specialists in Kerala. 

Every year the southern state of Kerala attracts a surge of Western tourists wishing to experience Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old philosophy for life. Ayurveda is a complete system for maintaining good health and preventing disease. The word comes from the Indian Sanskrit language meaning Life (Ayur) and Science or knowledge (Veda). 

In Ayurveda, each of us is seen as a unity of body, mind and soul. At the core of Ayurveda’s philosophy are the three doshas or subtle energies; Vatha (air/ether elements), Pitta (fire) and Kapha (earth/water elements). These doshas control our physiological health, and must be in balance for us to enjoy good health, harmony and longevity. 

Some 20 years ago, the Somatheeram group opened the very first Ayurveda beach resort near to the popular resort of Kovalam. After winning several Ayurveda and green tourism awards and achieving certification from the European Audit Institute, the company is considered to be the leader in Ayurveda in this region of India, with a choice of properties including houseboats and lake-side retreats on the Kerala Backwaters, as well as the original best-selling beach-side tropical resorts. 

My visit was first to the Manaltheeram Ayurveda Beach Village, followed by its neighbouring sister retreat, the Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort, finishing at the Soma Palm Shore, all set beside the stunning stretch of sandy beach at Kovalam.

Tucked away at the bottom of a bustling side street, I entered the quiet, tropical calm of Manaltheeram, and was greeted with a garland of jasmine flowers and a refreshing coconut drink – the real thing, with a straw dipped inside. 

Built with eco-friendly materials and styled on traditional Keralan dwellings, the accommodation comprises standard and garden cottages, special cottages (with sea views), standard Kerala Houses (known as Arappura), built in line with Vastu Shastru architectural principles to benefit from the most profitable energetic position according to nature, and the fully air conditioned luxury heritage Kerala Houses. 

Perched high above the long stretch of sandy beach (although there is access to the beach few guests venture away from the beauty of the resort), Manaltheeram was a tranquil haven. My heritage Kerala House was a very spacious and comfortable room boasting a beautiful blend of traditional charm and modern day conveniences. 

All around the retreat were perfectly positioned hammocks or seats to enjoy tropical and ocean views in a beautiful, lush, eco-friendly environment that could not fail to uplift even the weariest of spirits. In the abundant gardens, dedicated staff worked around the clock tending to the plants and herbs used in the Ayurvedic treatments (the resort hand-makes all its medicines and oils under close observation of doctors and a research/development team who monitor quality control). 

The resort’s Ayurvedic Centre is a health clinic, rather than a spa, offering a complete range of authentic Indian therapies, including panchakarma (a complete cleansing process for rejuvenation and purification) as well as beauty care and stress management. Packages include the cost of accommodation, yoga and meditation, full-board Ayurvedic meals and therapies, along with transfers to/from the airport. Guests can also stay on a nightly basis and pay for individual treatments, but the recommended minimum stay is seven nights to allow the therapies to undo stress, remove impurities, and restore balance.

Ayurveda believes that disease is caused by a dosha in-balance and treatments are aimed at bringing equilibrium to the doshas (the energies controlling the body), the dhatus (the body’s functioning tissues), the malas (eliminative processes), and agni, our inner fire/metabolism, so that health can be restored. 

A pulse diagnosis and medical questionnaire determines a person’s predominant dosha and the most suitable treatments. Previously, I was diagnosed as a predominantly ‘Pitta’ type, relating to the element of fire but after my consultation and pulse diagnosis at Somatheeram, I was told that I’m now more Kapha than Pitta. The doctor explained that it is possible for these to alter during one’s lifetime.

Since yoga and meditation are seen as integral parts to the art of living in balance, daily classes are prescribed to almost all guests, outdoors at sunrise/sunset and overlooking the sea. Diet also plays a vital role, so an Ayurvedic menu, crafted by the doctors, is prescribed according to a person’s predominant dosha. 

Somatheeram is popular with guests from all over the globe and its team of male/female doctors and trained therapists speak a number of languages. In the waiting area I noticed German, Russian, Eastern European and French visitors, with a few Americans and Brits.

I was prescribed Abhyangam, a 45-minute full body massage, which is great for insomnia, fatigue and obesity, followed by Sirodhara, a continual flow of herbal oils (or sometimes medicated milk, or ghee) poured onto the forehead for 40 minutes to help with insomnia, memory loss, headaches and tension. Both treatments were excellent and I only wished I was staying longer as I could immediately feel just how effective and powerful these treatments are.

A strong smell of herbs and sesame oil mingled with wood and incense wafted about the centre – the oil is so thick and strong it repels even the hardiest of mosquitoes! There are 24 treatment rooms, and 90 trained therapists to deal with the growing demand for traditional Indian healing. 

The Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort is a short taxi transfer from the Manaltheeram, set in another idyllic location but with closer access to the beach and having a pool and yoga podium perfectly positioned on the cliff top for magnificent sunrise/sunset yoga. 

I was given a short tour of the resort and use of the pool before enjoying dinner and some evening entertainment, a sitar and tabla performance, beneath the stars. The resort offers three accommodation choices; the Sidhartha deluxe – a luxury villa with its own terrace, Kerala houses – based on the homes of India’s former aristocracy (some are 300 years old and have been restored from the original timber) and the stone/brick cottages with simple double rooms with bathrooms. 

My final visit was to the Soma Palm Shore, which was undergoing modernisation when I was there in 2012. Nevertheless, it was another superbly located palm tree haven close to Kovalam’s popular Lighthouse Beach, and with its own private beach enclave and a small pool.

My room was one of the six cottages overlooking the ocean and the sprawling gardens filled with palm trees, bursts of pink, white and red bougainvillea and abundant potted plants. It was simple, but clean and comfortable, with hot water, TV, and air con. 

The distant crashing of waves lulled me to sleep and the following morning I joined some other guests at sunrise (6.30am when I visited) to meditate on the lawns facing the sea/sunset, before a daily group yoga session at 7.30am in the Ayurvedic centre on the top floor of the main building. 

Later that day I had a consultation with the doctor in the Ayurvedic Centre, where the very basic and clinical feel didn’t undermine the quality of service and treatment. The female doctor was extremely thorough in her consultation, checking my medical history, taking my pulse, examining my tongue – all part of the process in establishing my predominant ‘dosha’ and appropriate treatment. 

She prescribed a rejuvenation massage, a two-hour treatment beginning with an Indian head massage then a full body massage, followed by another full body massage, with the therapist using her foot, known as Chavutti Thirumal.

A young Indian female therapist led me to a treatment room with a Neem wood bed (Neem is believed to be medicinal timber that helps the body retain its heat during treatment). It was a ‘let your inhibitions go’ moment as I was asked to sit naked on the wooden stool while she slavered me in oil (no spa knickers offered here!). She began massaging the top of my head, softly pulling my hair to relax the scalp, which was amazing, then she worked down towards my shoulders, face, arms, front of body and legs. 

Next, I lay on a towel on a padded mat on the floor while my therapist pulled herself along on a string attached to the ceiling and kneaded out knots in my back, legs and shoulders with her foot. I had the sensation of tension being ironed out of the body, and the massage was especially strong on my tummy, an area that often gets neglected in massages, but which needs stimulating particularly after a flight and a change in diet.

Just when I thought it was finished, I was instructed to lie on the wooden bed as she continued with more long loopy massage movements. Finally, a masque was applied to my face, cucumber to relax my eyes and she left me for 30 minutes for the masque to work its wonders on my complexion.

When she returned I was practically comatose, and had to be prised slowly from the wooden table, to walk zombie-like to a chair in the waiting area where I was given another refreshing coconut drink. After my treatment (I was told to wait at least an hour before showering) I ordered a masala tea to perk me up then settled down for a delicious dinner of prawn masala with naan bread and watched the sun go down over Lighthouse Beach.

The Soma Palm Shore is ideal for the budget to mid range traveller keen to experience Ayurveda in a beautiful location at an affordable price, while the Manaltheeram and the Ayurveda Resort are more upmarket. Whichever of the enchanting Somatheeram resorts you choose to visit, the Ayurveda treatments are sure to do wonders for your wellbeing. 

Sarah flew to India with Emirates. Return flights from London Gatwick to Trivandrum (via Dubai) from £432 including taxes. Visit .The Somatheeram Ayurveda Group currently runs six properties in Kerala, including houseboats. To make a reservation and for details of prices and packages visit
As a guide, a double standard room at Manaltheeram in the high season (20 Dec to 20 Jan) costs €92 per night (room only) and in the Kerala House Delux €242 (NB prices in Euros).
Low season (May to Oct) rates are €56 and €148 respectively. Service charge of 19.92% is added to all tariffs.
Visit to apply for an Indian tourist visa. To visit the states of Kerala vaccinations are required, for information and advice.
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