In Alleppey, you do not cross your bridge when you come to it. The whole brisk purposefulness of crossing bridges is out of place in the lazy winter-afternoon whistle that is Alleppey. Far better to just sail along in the boat of life, rowing to the other side with paddle-shaped oars, or propelling yourself forward with the help of long poles that push at the lake-bed. Dropping the grandchildren to school, conveying a catch of fish, dropping in for a chat at the neighbours, going to work with your bicycle perched on the boat with you… It all happens at the pace of lengthening shadows and melting ice-cubes.

The Ayurvedic resort of Keraleeyam in Alleppey, right beside a canal emerging from the Punnamada Lake, created by Alleppey’s famous backwaters, is one of the best places to thus lengthen and melt. To slow down and breathe, to sink into an armchair and never quite get up. Keraleeyam simultaneously offers one of the most pleasant Ayurvedic rejuvenation experiences and a rather glorious window into life on the backwaters. Given which watery context, it is fitting that I arrive at the resort by boat, immediately leave on a sunset canoe-cruise and then spend the three days of my Rejuvenation package gazing at the canal, which the resort has thoughtfully arranged, about 10ft from my cottage verandah. As you shall see, the Ayurvedic package itself had a lot to do with the gazing.

On the first day of my Keraleeyam visit – after the delight of reaching point B from point A by boat, and the pleasure of seeing the 75-year-old wooden building, and the thrill of inspecting my cottage on the lakeside and the positive ecstasy of contemplating the huge easy chair in the verandah – I met the resident doctor. She explained the standard Rejuvenation package offered at Keraleeyam: about an hour and a half of general body massage with Ayurvedic oils, steam bath in herb-laden steam, special herb massage and Dhara (pouring a rhythmic trickle of oil on to the head). But after asking some detailed questions on the state of my body, medical history and current complaints, decided to modify the treatment, bless her. And I went blithely for my first treatment session, oblivious of what scenarios were to unfold.

Vivek R Nair
A houseboat anchored near the resort
A houseboat anchored near the resort

The treatment rooms in Keraleeyam are built in the ethnic, thatched-roof style, equipped with oils and powders, tonics and medicines, loin-cloths and gowns, a gas to heat the oil when required, a rich wooden massage table, and a couple of amazingly good masseuses. Contrary to luxury-spa therapists, who are trained to give primacy to the customers’ sense of modesty, Ayurvedic masseuses are matronly women for whom the skin is primarily an excellent medium that absorbs therapeutic oils efficiently. (The ‘oil’ in Ayurvedic oils is essentially a vehicle to carry other healing formulations.) Not for them to cover and uncover you with sheets and towels, section by section, and apply gentle massage. You need to be nude, preferably even without the loin cloth, and you can then watch them perform their luminous arts in strong, rhythmic motions, reminiscent of determined aunts giving the greasy kitchen slab a ruthless scrub.

The treatment starts with me sitting and being given an astonishingly sublime head massage for 15 minutes. Strong and vigorous, the massage starts with the masseuse’s personal prayer, touching my hands and chest, and ends with her fingers on my head clicking away like so many Spanish castanets. What’s astonishing is that I, fresh and bathed in the morning, all ready to start my day, subjected to much rubbing and clicking, not even lying down but seated, nevertheless start falling asleep. In the next hour, oil is poured on me by people who clearly have no wish to economise. Two ladies massage me top to bottom on the back, and limbs, on the stomach and on either side. They are immensely warm, solicitous and very, very thorough; their hands feel knowledgeable and wise. They take great care of my joints, which the doctor has advised them about. They make sure I take my tonic twice a day.

Instead of the usual Dhara, I am treated to a lovely process described as Kizhi. In Kizhi treatments, the healing material – dry herbal powder in my case, but it could even be boiled rice, or even eggs – is kept in a linen bundle, which is repeatedly heated and applied all over like a hot compress. It’s a brilliant relief-giver for sore joints and leg muscles. The whole process ends with a 10-minute steam bath, followed by a hot water bath and shampoo. This heavenly tune is played on my tired self every morning.

Ayurvedic nasal drops
Ayurvedic nasal drops
Herbal poultices
Herbal poultices
Massage table
Massage table

A strange lethargy overtakes me. I find that I am sleeping almost all the time, my appetite seems diminished, I walk about in a heavy stupor and can only sit and gaze at the lake in front of my cottage all day. I read books and sleep. I trudge over to the dining hall, thankful that it is just a minute away, and sleep. I visit the Alleppey Beach, where I am gifted one of the special Arabian Sea sunsets, and return with a great desire to sleep. Every morning I go through my almost 2 hours of treatment and for the rest of the day, walk about in a somnolent daze. I think about cancelling plans for the rest of my vacation.

Clearly, something is happening, but is it rejuvenation? Dr Priya is completely unfazed. It’s the treatment, especially the head massage, she says. It’s good, you catch up on your sleep and make up for your tiredness.

So the armchair and the vista of the backwaters visible from my cottage balcony become my constant companions, entertainment and soul food. I learn the timings of children’s schools when they row past each morning and afternoon, the ululating sounds by which salesmen attract buyers, the sway of the palms on the distant bank, the tourists – as common as fish in these waters – who sail past in various kinds of canoes and houseboats. I take their photos, they take mine. At times, on a canoe-cruise, the world seems to dissolve into green and as trees meet above the canal to make a tunnel of green, I become a sleepy emerald. And so three days float by.

On the last evening of my stay, I make haste to say my goodbyes, gather information, and take that last precious photograph. It’s good that I’m fighting off the lethargy so well today, I think. Actually, I’m not all that lethargic today, I think again. Would be good to go for a long fast walk, I further think. Why is everyone so quiet, so slow, so sunk in their armchairs, I wonder. What’s the point of gazing at these lovely waters? I’m hungry! Let’s raise the roof!

Clearly, I’m rejuvenated, if that’s the word for this unprecedented energetic, bouncy, bubbly, downright volcanic, let’s-eat-everything-in-sight, do-every-activity-possible, stay-up-all-night new personality I’ve developed. What’s more, it’s not just an urge; I actually do these things! Thanks to Keraleeyam Ayurvedic Resort, I have not only a lovely, transformative vacation in Alleppey, but a far more enjoyable time in the rest of Kerala than I would have had otherwise. Rejuvenation package zindabad!

Restaurant at Keraleeyam resort
Restaurant at Keraleeyam resort

About Keraleeyam

Keraleeyam is run by a well-known name in Kerala Ayurveda circles – the SD Pharmacy, which is a 60-year-old Ayurvedic medicine manufacturing group that also runs its own hospital. Keraleeyam is housed in a 75-year-old Kerala structure.

The primary idea behind the resort, in operation for the last eight years, is that while many hotels/ resorts in Kerala offer Ayurveda as an ‘extra’, here Ayurveda is not a value addition but the main focus. It is as true to think of Keraleeyam as a resort as to think of it as a therapy centre with resort-like facilities. Alleppey does have luxury hotels and homestays, but Keraleeyam is the only Ayurvedic Resort of its kind here.

TREATMENTS AND TARIFFS

These costs include pick-up and drop from Kochi, accommodation, food, therapy and activities such as canoeing, a backwaters’ motor cruise, and visits to Alleppey and a Kerala village.

Rejuvenation package (single): 7D/6N €726; 14D/13N €1,403; 21D/ 20N €2,080

Body Purification package (single): 7D/6N €782; 14D/13N €1,582; 21D/20N €2,382

Slimming Therapy package (single): 7D/6N €799; 14D/13N €1,560; 21D/20N €2,323

Stress Management package (single): 7D/6N €847; 14D/13N €1,722; 21D/20N €2,597

Tip Indians can pay the Euro equivalent (currently ₹70) in INR

The Therapists

The very approachable and caring Dr Shridevi is in-charge here. The therapists at Keraleeyam are very experienced, mostly having trained and worked in the SD Pharmacy hospital. In my long Kerala trip, during which I tried massages in many different places, the Keraleeyam therapists stood out, for their skill and downright excellence.

A simple cottage with a thatched roof at Keraleeyam
A simple cottage with a thatched roof at Keraleeyam

Acccommodation at Keraleeyam

Keraleeyam offers nine lovely lakeside AC cottages (₹3,650). Besides, the main building has two AC rooms (₹3,650), which are not so airy. Your stay will be really worthwhile if you take one of the lakeside cottages. These offer spacious open-air bathrooms, scrupulously clean rooms and delightful verandahs. There are no televisions, and you may have to adjust to systems such as informing the staff 15 mins before you need running hot water. However, if you are a book addict or specifically looking for a quiet holiday, Keraleeyam is a very good choice.

Meals at Keraleeyam

Since Keraleeyam is not exclusively for people undergoing Ayurvedic treatments, it gets regular guests and offers regular fare as well. For instance, you can enjoy decent prawn masala, fish moily, chicken curry and also items like dal fry, paneer curry and aloo gobhi. It’s not gourmet food but it’s freshly made and is cooked to your specifications (less oil, no chillies and so on). They also serve Continental and Chinese dishes.

Soups, salads, fruits and fresh juices are also available here. Those undergoing therapy can consult the doctor about their diet and instruct the kitchen accordingly. The staff is helpful about special needs. Once they learnt I loved watermelon juice rather obsessively, I got it with every single meal. AROUND KERALEEYAM

Alleppey Beach (7km)

Alleppey or Alappuzha was once the busiest coast south of Mumbai, its canals and backwaters helping in the passage of cargo, be it tea, rubber or other produce from the hills, to the sea. Today the atmospheric storm-battered relics of this past are what you should visit the Alleppey Beach (called Vijaya Beach) for.

The 1,000-foot-long pier, built in 1862 by Captain Hugh Crawford, is a mere skeleton of its past, risky (but fun!) to walk on, exuding an unmistakably colonial air. A light-house adds to the aura.

However, the real pleasure of visiting the Alleppey Beach is in the ‘local’ flavour of the place. There are hardly any tourists, and you can lounge lazily amidst locals relaxing at the end of the day, merry children and fishermen pulling in their nets filled with the sea’s gifts for the day. The sunset is, predictably, glorious.

The Kettuvallom Experience

Alleppey offers a must-do experience in the shape of its houseboats, the ubiquitious kettuvalloms in which you can stay instead of a hotel. These are run by private operators and the government; you merely have to reach the Alleppy boat jetty to be deluged by offers. Usually, temples, resorts, museums, boat-making villages are a part of the itinerary.

Try the Alleppey Tourism Development Corporation (Tel: 0477- 224462; atdcalleppey.com) or District Tourism Promotion Council (Tel: 2253308, 2251796) to make bookings for this unique experience.

Inputs by Susan Visvanathan

FAST FACTS

Contact

Keraleeyam Ayurvedic Resort; Tel: 0477-2231468/ 6950; Reservations Tel: 0477-2237161; mail@keraleeyam.com; keraleeyam.com

GETTING THERE

Air Nearest airport: Kochi International Airport, Nedumbassery (90km/ 2hrs). Connected by flights from all metros and many big cities. Pre-paid taxi to Alappuzha costs ₹4000–4,500 approximately, although packages include pick-up and drop

Rail Nearest railhead: Alleppey Station (9km/ 30mins). Ernakulam Railway Station (70km/ 1.5hrs) is another option

Road Alleppey lies on NH47, which connects it to Kochi in the north, and Thiruvananthapuram in the south. The resort is about 2km from Pathirapally Junction in Alleppey after a left turn (if you are coming from Ernakulam/ Kochi). There are no clear signposts and it would be wise to ask repeatedly. Your car can go up to 200m before the resort on the Punnamada Road near a bridge over a canal. A Keraleeyam signpost here guides you down a narrow path to the resort

Boat The resort offers pick-ups from the Alleppey boat jetty for ₹300. You can hire a motorboat too for ₹300 for this 20-min ride