Have you experienced a traditional South Indian massage? When I say “traditional” I mean authentic and unadulterated wellness treatment that was passed on to the practitioners of this generation by their teachers, who would have learned this art from their gurus without adding or deleting steps as prescribed in the ancient wellness books. If you ever visit a traditional South Indian wellness center, you’ll notice a noteworthy quality of a traditional masseuse – even in today’s time and age they still frown up the idea of tweaking therapies and ingredients, and no matter what happens, they stick to the ancient wisdom passed on to them by their teachers. Just so you know, you can’t tell them what needs to be done when you are on their table — they figure it out on their own and heal you accordingly after a brief consultation session.
A few weeks ago, while I was staying at the Chariot Beach Resorts in Mahabalipuram, I spent most of my time inside the pool or by the beach side (since I live in a land-locked city, I never miss a chance to be in close contact with a water body). Now, despite applying copious layers of sunscreen and lotions with enormous SPF factor, my skin gets tanned super quickly and I was literally looking like a human zebra – no regrets about the stripes I earned. Anyhow, while I was going through the tanned situation, my kind host Mr Anand booked me a spa appointment at the Resort to experience the traditional massage therapy and I was more than grateful to try it on.
The Ayurvedic spa was located by the seashore, and it was built like a wooden hut and had large windows opening with sea view. So while, you get your massage, you can look outside and marvel at the games of high and low sea waves beneath the clear blue skies – feeling like you are in the lap of nature, quite literally. Anyhow, before the description gets too poetic, here comes the fun part that left me with a hilarious spa story that I have to share with you – just in case you ever decide to try a traditional Kerala therapy.
As part of my work, I have been to numerous spa and resorts before, and never have I faced a language barrier as most of the time the spa director accompanied me for translations. However, at this particular spa, I had a pre-booked appointment and all I had to do was to be there on time. When I reached there, I realized that my therapist was a local lady and we didn’t speak the same language so all the communication that happened afterward was using hand gestures and some colloquial words that I picked during my stay – honestly, it didn’t work much but I tried.
So, I was booked for an evening slot and I think I was one of her last appointments. She asked me to change quickly and lie down for a deep-tissue massage that was meant to de-stress and rejuvenate my body. Now here comes the odd part, in any regular spa you get some garments to cover yourself before the treatment, but at a traditional South Indian therapy you are expected to be au natural or maybe with a loin cloth (langot) to cover your modesty and I was completely unaware about this fact. So when the lady indicated that I have to be in that tiny piece of clothing, I was shocked and said no. While she tried convincing me that it’s a normal step, I was not sure and I Googled what she is trying to explain. After a lot of back and forth I agreed with what she was saying and asked her what oil she is going to use – I usually ask about what’s coming on my way but all she could tell me that’s a medicated oil with herbs, so I took a leap of faith and let her do what she wanted to do.
To my surprise, my masseuse had an excellent grip and she could figure out all the stiff muscles on her own. Even though I was lying in the dark wooden room thinking about all kinds of things I wanted to get rid of, she almost read my mind and cured my stressed points just by using her anatomical knowledge (that’s something I couldn’t forget). The next thing she asked me that if I wanted a head massage, and I said no with a nod – and, I clearly blame it on the mischievous Indian head nod that she took it for a yes and poured the oil in my hair. Now, I was covered in oil from top to toe and even though she literally treated me like a baby, and completely fixed all my joints and muscles. Later, I had to get rid of the excess oil so I headed to the dim-lit bath area. All I did was lathered myself with the handmade cinnamon soap and washed at least three times to completely get oil-free.
When I came back, I couldn’t believe my stripes were almost gone and all the tiredness evaporated. I thanked her in my own way, and left the vicinity thinking about how despite a language barrier I just managed to get an experience like never before. And, maybe that’s why this particular memory will be etched in my mind for a long, long time. Although, next time I will go prepared with more useful terms to express myself and of course let the masseuse know my experience.
(The writer’s trip and stay was arranged by Chariot Beach Resorts, Mahabalipuram)