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Kalari Kovilakom

An Indian Retreat

Kalari Kovilakom, the beautiful former palace of Queen Valiya Thampuratti of Kollengode, nestles in 8 acres of gardens with lily strewn tanks (ponds) and a small Temple.

Outside main building in the monsoon

The Palace has been sensitively restored by the cghearth group and is now India's premier pure Ayurvedic retreat. Kalari Kovilakom is a 5* hotel with a difference: it's a registered Ayurvedic Hospital with fully qualified doctors and therapists. Each guest is totally unique and treated as such with personalized food and therapy programs. 'Leave your world behind' - harmonizing the body, mind and soul, based on 5,000-year-old Ayurvedic practices, is the aim of Kalari Kovilakom.

The 18 en suite rooms, fragrant with lemon oil, are very spacious, with polished wooden floors, some with four poster teak beds and lovely old window shutters. Sitting out areas are all around the property - shaded leafy corners, a seat with a splendid view of the resident cormorant spreading his wings to dry in the sun or quiet corners inside the elegant main building.

My time, my view...

Kalari Kovilakom is a very special destination: it's a place where you leave the cares of the modern world at the front door: a simple gesture by removing your shoes upon arrival (you're given a pair of flip flops in return!) is a seal: a closing of one door and the opening of another. Changing into the simple 'uniform' of white baggy trousers and loose sleeved tops, again takes away the needs and pressures of life - you no longer have to worry about your choice of clothes - am I in the right outfit, should I wear my trainers or killer heels? Again, a simple thing helps pull away the veils of your previous life - it's like a school uniform, we all blend invisibly into the scene...

Dining room

The philosophy here is uncomplicated - life is stripped back to the basics. Hence our erstwhile clothes and footwear become superfluous - unnecessary - the plain clothes provided set the tone for the days and weeks ahead - simplicity. Even a carry bag is provided, again unadorned, made from jute so essentials can be carried (contact lens cases, for example).

You feel you're living in an Ashram or a boarding school where every step of the path is prescribed for you. All that's required is your committed, unwavering mindset to restore your body by energizing your spiritual essence with yoga and meditation: and to rejuvenate the body by following a course of massages and food prescribed by the doctors: according to the Ayurvedic principles of your body type. Food cheating is virtually impossible - exact portions are controlled by the Chef, who prepares precisely what the Doctor ordered! There are no fridges of freezers here - each day the ingredients are bought fresh and prepared to order. Laughingly I tried to bribe staff to get me a coke (no outside visits are allowed whilst staying at Kalari) they gently smiled back and answered - 'Sorry, but our jobs are too valuable to lose!'

Yoga opens the day - a perfect peaceful start, followed by the daily consultation with the Doctor. After breakfast a massage, purgation or specific therapy is followed by Yoga Nidra - the psychic sleep - totally infusing the mind with pure relaxation. No one speaks after the session and the lunch is quiet. The afternoon follows with more therapy and a chance to rest in the bedroom or garden. Finally the supper gong clangs at 6.30, and is followed by the evening's entertainment, perhaps a classical musical recital, a talk on Yoga or Ayurveda - then early to bed as it's early to rise.

Musical entertainment

The only concession to modernity is the wi-fi provided in the bedrooms. Many guests, whilst I was there, were high profile figures of industry and politics and, even in this haven, needed to keep in touch. I had expected to see a majority of lady guests, but in fact, it was a fifty- fifty split between the sexes and ages ranged from 20 to 70 plus. Most were solo travellers - it's a selfish place to be honest - you have to concentrate on yourself - room sharing could be difficult as each person, having their own programme, has highs and lows as different times...

As time goes by days begins to blur into one another - amusingly, lavatorial conversation is high on the agenda - we are keen to learn from others the effects of the various treatments - how long did you take Ghee? How many times did you purge? Did you have to have an internal enema? Conversations normally taboo at the dinner table became the norm!

Guests meet one another on their daily walks around the lovely grounds - an unspoken commandment is 'thou shalt walk and walk and walk...' I walked in the cool of the morning before yoga and loved to watch the cormorant languidly drying his feathers after raiding the tanks for his morning's breakfast. Wind chimes tinkle in the soft breeze, and seats, strategically placed under the leafy trees, are perfect for contemplation.

Entrance hall to main building

On the far side of the lake, cordoned off from the property, I could see locals washing their clothes, small children gambolling like spring lambs in the waters, and cows, ploughing through the shallows, reaching for tender shoots sprouting from the waters. There was life outside I mused!

As the days passed I felt life slowly unravel itself, I calmed down, became quieter and relaxed. It was a very deep and meaningful experience. Outcomes were amazing: my blood pressured dropped (it's still down) my weight dropped by 5 kilos and I felt invigorated and so stress-free.

The end comes with a rush of euphoria - at last - no more ginger water, no more purgation. Instead the hustle of life hits you firmly between the eyes. It's hard to adjust for the first few days - even my precious coke was sidelined as I really didn't want it! Slowly though the old vices returned - but not, for me, as excessive. I had learned a little self control - an awareness about my body and the need to pamper it with the good things of life: a fresh slice of papaya, a few minutes of Yoga after a heavy session on the laptop, and relaxing before bed - clearing my mind of all its rubbish before I slept. Now, a few months later I feel far more vital, more alive and certainly more relaxed.

Kalari Kovilakom


-- Deborah Radcliffe

Winter 2011-12