Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Massage, manicure and masala

Today I decided to treat myself. Having heard a lot about traditional Ayurvedic treatments in India (primarily to cure pain), I decided on a full body massage. Now massage, as many of you will know, is not really my cup of tea, but having had a Thai massage in Thailand, a Turkish massage in Turkey and a massage in an original Roman spa on an island off the coast of Naples, I decided to carry on the trend.

I rocked up at the small house-like clinic and was greeted by an older woman who was the doctor in charge. I was introduced to a younger lady who was to be my masseuse and taken into the massage room where a large, smooth wooden massage table took up much of the space. My masseuse told me to undress so, in true Western style, I stripped down to my bikini, only to be told I needed to take off ALL my clothes. I looked around hopefully for a towel of any description only to be sorely disappointed. I suddenly felt very naked and more than a little self-conscious; it’s not often you find yourself totally butt-naked in front of a complete stranger. She noticed how uncomfortable I was and gave me a small piece of string, which she tied around my waist and from which she draped the tiniest piece of white material to cover my most sacred of areas. I was then told to sit on a plastic stool where I had oil rubbed into my scalp as she massaged my head.

After 5 minutes of a pretty good head massage, I was told to climb onto the wooden massage table and lie on my back. I managed to manoevre myself rather awkwardly onto the already oily table before the little piece of material - my final shred of decency - was duly ripped away and I found myself slip-sliding, utterly naked about the table like frantic beached whale.

For the next hour every bit of my body was pummeled from head to toe; even my eyelids got a massage. My boobs got the full works as did each of my finger and toe joints as each finger and toe was clicked in sequence, much to my dislike. It felt like I was swimming in a sea of oil as the masseuse manoevred me around the table to get me into the right position whilst simultaneously telling me to relax.

After a good 45 minute massage, I was then told that it was time for my steam bath. I was led out of the massage room completely naked with no towel, to the room next door. In this very rustic of rooms was what can only be described as a giant wooden box with a hole through the top. The front was opened up and inside was a plastic stool that I was told to sit on. The only problem was that I was slightly taller than the average Indian so the stool was a little too high and the box slightly too short for me, thus when positioned on my stool I was rather uncomfortably hunched over as my shoulders pressed against the top of the box.

At the back of the box was some sort of mini coal furnace that boiled water, the steam of which was piped into the box. The final effect is a rather uncomfortable steam box in which you sit locked up for a good 15-20minutes.

From the box I was led into a mosquito-infested cold shower to hose myself down. Unfortunately, given the amount of oil used and the number of mosquitoes sharing my shower, a quick wash down with a bit of soap was not enough to remove all the oil so it was soon back to Prem’s for my third shower of the day.

The experience was about as traditional as you can get but was worth every rupee; I left the clinic with a big grin across my face and feeling pretty damn good. That afternoon I decided to continue the pampering process with a pedicure and manicure. It cost me 200 rupees for a luxury pedicure and basic manicure…all of about £3. As someone who hates having to fanny around with nail files etc., having the opportunity to get my nails done at this price was well worth it.

Finally, to complete my day, I’d signed up to do a Keralan cooking course along with my new aussie buddies. Leelu is a veritable institution in Fort Cochin and her cookery classes come well recommended. They are held each day between 10am and 12 and 6pm and 8. You turn up at her home, take your shoes off then take a seat in her kitchen where you are given a board, paper and a pen. Leelu then begins to show you how to cook traditional Keralan dishes. She has a very good set up with a kitchen help who chops and peels the veg and keeps an eye on the dishes that are cooking whilst Leelu prepares others. That evening we were taught how to make a fish masala, a couple of veggie dishes and chapatti. It was a really interesting evening and Leelu certainly knew her stuff: one guy asked how to make mango chutney and she just recounted an exact recipe from the top of her head. As someone who can only really cook to recipe, I was amazed by her ability to recount exact weights and measurements of ingredients of various dishes.

The best part of the evening was the chance to eat what we had cooked. It was truly delicious! Not too hot or spicy, just brimming with flavor. What’s more, I got to eat fish which meant chucking my veggie diet to one side for an evening…it made me realize how much I missed fish and meat and confirmed that I could never be a full-time veggie!

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