Phase two of my Indian holiday, an eco-retreat. Arguably a few days in Mumbai plus a spa week don’t count as the real India. Perhaps I only glimpsed the country as a passenger peering out car windows on purposeful journeys first through multi-national, western-ish Mumbai then the remote rural villages and semi-towns in the south. Every so often I did pause to soak up local culture – shopping at a roadside vegetable market, learning to eat biryani (rice dish) with yogurt served on a coconut leaf with my hands, praying at a Shiva temple in the seaside village of Gokarna, watching ritual chanting at a Brahmin house, snacking on two plump veggie samosas and a masala dosa (savoury pancake) from Udupi Café for Rs 50.00 or roughly .64 pence – the real, incredible India.
My next trip I’ll discover more authentic-traditional-modern-day India, but for now on to SwaSwara. Having spent my time planning Mumbai, it didn’t occur to me to research the spa week other than to buy Lonely Planet Goa. Interesting oversight because I flew into Goa – an Indian state known as party central, Portuguese influenced, Roman Catholic dominated – and drove straight out of it. From Dabolim Airport the gated compound of SwaSwara is a 3-hour drive via motorway-of-sorts into the neighbouring state of Karnataka. An ayurvedic holistic spa in southern India, it’s a place of healing, wellness and peace – translated from Sanskrit SwaSwara means inner-rhythm or sound of Self. I began my soul-journey with the traditional greeting. Namaskara.
Here’s a taste of my surprisingly busy days. Wake up and head straight to the Yoga Shala (Yoga House) for early morning sun salutations. Daylight streams through large picture windows which overlook the lake, gardens and Arabian Sea on the horizon.
Time for breakfast – fresh fruit juices, herb-flavoured water, dried fruit, nuts, paratha bread with warm vegetables and masala tea. I linger enjoying chai and a chat with new friends until it’s time for my ayurvedic treatment. Ayurveda is an ancient Indian science of healing based on balancing bio-energies called doshas. Special oils and spices are blended and heated for my massage. By now I’m over the initial shock of going au naturale and after a Vedic prayer Sowmya and Sivathri start pouring hot oil over me. The four-hands of my two therapists know the full-length-front-back of my body better than some ex-boyfriends. I drift into deep relaxation with warm smells and gentle sounds of chanting monks swirling in the background. Afterward a quick talk with the Doctor, she offers a honeyed tea and tries to explain my Kapha-Vata-Pitta from my Chakras. It’s already noon and that means back to the Shala for Yoga Nidra or “yogic sleep.” This type of yoga is a state of conscious deep sleep that gently focuses the mind and aids in awareness, clarity and calm. The staff join us for this session and we tease each other that we’re not actually meant to fall asleep. Wake-up or rather come out of deep mediation in time for lunch. Today’s menu is luscious greens, curried vegetables and a sweet pudding. Relax and consider how to spend the warm, sunny afternoon. I may opt for quiet self-reflection on the yoga deck in my villa or under the 400-year old Banyan tree by the lake or maybe take a walk on Om Beach, shaped like the first sound of creation and thus named. Instead I visit the art studio where Jyothi, the artist in-residence, encourages me to explore my inner painter and unleash imagination on canvas. This week SwaSwara is hosting an art camp so we watch the artists work and feel creative energy pulsing through the gallery.
No time to nap because sunset yoga is about to begin in the Blue Dome followed by early evening mantra chanting or Tratak mediation – gazing at a candle flame for improved concentration and intuitiveness.
Tonight at dinner we discuss the international plight of women and generally put the world to right over four courses – cauliflower potato pathé, drumstick dry mango soup, Dum Aloo Kashmiri with mirchi dal and cumin chapattis and to finish an avocado ginger pannecotta. All the meals are locally produced, beautifully presented and mouth-wateringly delicious. An added bonus, the diet helps develop “prana” or vital energy, spiritual consciousness and encourages the development of peace, love and humility – so I indulge in a few more bites for the good of humanity. We eventually have to say goodnight and I stroll back to my villa gazing at the star-filled heavens in disbelief that the awe-inspiring sky, millions of floating stars have managed to escape my notice as of late. Back in my sanctuary I wish my little frog goodnight, I’ll see him tomorrow in the semi-open-air shower. Smiling. Exhausted. Sleep.
My days at SwaSwara felt rhythmic and routine. The surroundings are charmingly serene and the staff is brilliant, instantly welcoming, generous and fun. Guests regularly stay 2-to-3 weeks. I can see why. Unplugged, I restricted my internet and television intake, denied myself the daily stream of media downloaded directly into my synapses. Freedom. I felt sunbursts of contentment, waves of pleasure, glimmers of happiness, even joy-adjacent – emotions I hadn’t experienced in nearly a year since I suddenly, expectedly lost my father. Anyone who’s known loss understands the numbness, which evaporates into agonizing sorrow, chaos. Yet amazing, quietly and unannounced I started to feel well in my mind, body and soul, better than well in fact. I started to listen to myself and believe in my own powers to create and attract oneness with the universe. I started to remember there are no shortcuts to physical health and the Master Cleanser is not a lifestyle choice. How powerful to cultivate your own well-being and nourish your body-mind-soul. Chant away every worry and crease in your mind, listen to yourself and connect with a higher power. Maybe it’s not a holiday for everyone. It should be. I nearly extended my time, but alas a far more worthy endeavour is attempting to re-create that sense of bliss in my daily life. Not easy. I miss the delightfully healthy meals and Prince’s beaming smile, but I drink my water warm and keep up with yoga practice. It’s a start.
If by chance this world is powered with positive energy, kindness and laughter then we owe a debt of gratitude to SwaSwara’s tiny corner of the globe for keeping us going. Always looking for my next adventure, yet this place I’ll visit again. In the meantime, to my SwaSwara friends, Dhanyavad (thank you) – Om Tat Sat – see you soon.