26 November 2022

Find inner Peace in Kerala
I find inner peace at Kerala
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y first visit to India was seven years ago. It was more dramatically alive than any other place I had ever been. Since then, yoga has become part of my daily life, so a return with a trip based around the practice seemed ideal. We flew to Bangalore and after a night at the marvellously calm Taj West End set off the next morning for the seven-hour drive to Madikeri. The traffic was anarchic, and the tooting of horns was constant.

But this is India. So the best thing to do is embrace the noise, colour and variety and put yourself in the hands of your driver and try to feel calm. We arrived at Vivanta by Taj in the hills above Madikeri. Guests stay in individual buildings set into the lush vegetation of the hillside, with a buggy to hand 24 hours a day to ferry you anywhere.
Elaborate costumes of the Theyyam dance festival
If you prefer to walk, there are trips that last for just a few hours with a guide or a few days into the national park with its elephants, tigers and leopards. This area, Coorg, has a vast amount of rain in the monsoon season – more than 240 inches a year – but with delightfully warm days and cool nights in spring, when we were there. But be warned – the midday mountain sun is still hot. I snoozed for just 15 minutes by the pool and managed to acquire a fierce slash of sunburn.

Coorg cuisine is exquisite, based on rice in many forms, coconut, yogurt and spices as well as an unusually high meat content for India. Locals eat pork, chicken and mutton as well as game and fish. Above all, this is the land of spices and cardamom, turmeric, cloves, cumin and the best pepper in the world. After just three days, we moved to the Malabar coast in Kerala, by another long road trip to our next lodgings, Neeleshwar Hermitage. The greeting here set the tone for the coming week: it was warm, professional, calm.
Neeleshwar is a series of 16 thatched cottages, with two restaurants, an Ayurvedic centre, shop (with resident tailor, who will make or copy clothes superbly in a couple of days), yoga hall and kitchens set on a long, undeveloped coastline with miles of palm fringed sandy beaches. It is small and intimate.

Although there are excursions to markets, temples and local events such as the Theyyam dance ritual, which took place while we were there, it is primarily – at least for me – a retreat. My day began at dawn with yoga on the verandah of our cottage, followed by a free 45-minute yoga class aimed at anybody of any age or experience. This took place in the yoga hall to the gentle sound of the waves breaking on the beach.
"It is beautiful, superbly run and the best place I have ever visited for recharging a weary body."
Neeleshwar Hermitage
Navigating the backwaters of Malabar
The famous Kathakali show
Then a delicious breakfast of lassi, fruit, the paper-thin rice crepes dosha marsala, and marsala chai – tea boiled with milk and spices – eaten beneath the shade of a coconut tree with one’s toes in the sand. After an hour’s rest by the pool, this was followed by a one-onone course – for six days – in transcendental meditation, which I found profoundly enriching. In the afternoons, we took a course of Ayurvedic treatment based on long massages with warm oils designed to detoxify and energise the entire body.

By the end of the week, I felt ten years younger. In the evenings, you could either dine in the huge open-sided Annapurna restaurant, which served authentic local cuisine with a menu that changed daily, or at the Meenakshi, where breakfast and lunch are served. By passing over the possibilities of exploring the neighbourhood, some good experiences were certainly lost – but it did mean that there was plenty of time for reading and relaxing by the large pool and immersing oneself in the meditative process.

Our last night was spent on Neeleshwar’s houseboat, The Lotus, which takes you gently up the wide backwaters of Malabar with fishing villages beneath the ubiquitous coco palms. There are just two (large) cabins that can be taken individually or together and a large sun deck. It was a wonderfully calm, luxurious way to end a magnificent journey. Neeleshwar is not easy to get to. It will almost certainly mean two flights and a long road journey. It is not for those that need constant entertainment. But it is beautiful, superbly run and the best place I have ever visited for recharging a weary body.

Original article published in Oct 2014. All info and prices correct at time of publication.
Monty Don not only slowed down on his yoga break in India, he went into reverse and ended up 10 years younger
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