heaven on earth

2010 February 18
by admin
This morning I was awakened by someone saying my name very loudly and clearly. It was 3:32 am, the time I usually wake up for no good reason! It was strange. I did have to get up at shortly after that. Our ride (and guide) arrived promptly at 5:20 am He was driving a Jeep with the 2 elevated seats in the back and other seats that faced each other. It was pitch black, and I was just as glad I could not see anything because I had no seat belt and I felt like a milkshake when I arrived at the preserve!

india3-606On the way the he stopped at a tea house- a stone shack on the side of the road with a simple wooden table and benches. The man there made us wonderful tea with cardamom. It was frothy at the top like the coffee I had in Hyderabad, but it was an art to make it! He boiled the water, and had a long filter bag that he poured the water through, over the tea. Then he held 2 glasses, one at arm height, one stretched out, and poured the tea from glass to glass then it became frothy and he added pinch of cardamom. An Indian latte! We sat in the dark morning with another couple on Jeep safari from Paris! As the day became lighter, we arrived at the entrance to the sanctuary. There are many requirements, papers to be filled out, and if you carry a camera you are charged an extra fee.

The preserve is a mix of evergreens, deciduous trees, palms, ferns, flat areas, ravines and hills. At times I felt like I was in Bucks county, and other times like no where else I have ever seen! The driver took the roof down and we sat, ready to see elephants, tigers and monkeys! Do not get too excited-there is only a 10% chance of seeing a tiger. There are between 40-50 tigers in the preserve, and only 1800 in all of India.

He said maybe we will be half lucky to see an elephant. As we drove into the preserve, it was quite chilly. I was sorry I did not have a jacket. In the distance we could see jeeps pulled over, everyone looking in the distance. High on the hill, surrounded by a mist was a family of elephants- about 6, including a baby! Through the binoculars I could see them eating and the mother gently prodding her baby every once in a while. As the sun began to rise they became clearer. They were so serene in their own environment. We stayed, watching them peacefully for quite awhile.india3-784-mediumindia3-6541

I loved our guide. He seemed to have a reverence for the forest, stopping as often as he could to turn off the engine and just listen to the sounds. He would stop and so, “One of my two favorite places!“ and then just walk quietly, lifting an eyebrow every so often, or describing a sound to me. Monkeys calling, many different birds, the sound of seeds dropping and hitting the ground. The sounds of the jungle are from this exact spot. We saw monkeys high up jumping from tree to tree with pure abandon and much agility, birds that imitated our voices and black squirrels with tails like our black cat Jasper, but bigger than he is, with soft brown faces.

Once we arrived at the bungalow, we were treated to a Kerala breakfast (delicious) and then began our 3 hour trek. Our group consisted of the couple from Paris, Patricia and Etienne, and a husband and wife, Jason and Maristella from Lancaster, PA -of all places! The trek took us through 7 miles of jungle. We saw amazing trees with huge roots, a section where cicada like insects were having an extremely loud concert, and elephant dung along the paths. So we were trekking elephant trails! Sometimes the elephants take a shortcut to the water and you can see their path as they come through the palms and bamboo and their huge footprints. The place is magical, with every step you realize you are walking on the Indian earth, and it is amazing. As you walk, it is truly easy to be in the moment. You are completely mindful. The sounds of the jungle, the trees roots that creates steps in the path, the constant sounds. There is a coolness under the canopy of the trees and then the suns rays streaming through the branches like a blessing to the earth. I do not think, there is any other place like this. What a joy to be able to experience it. It is like heaven on earth.india3-689-medium

Tired and happy ,we ended the trek with a great lunch and a delicious dessert made of noodles, tapioca, raisins and cashews. We` exchanged emails with our new friends and began our way home.

Immediately after we arrived back at the hotel, around 4 pm, we were whisked away for our ayurvedic massages. If you do not want to read all the details of my massage, you should stop here!

My body was aching for some TLC, and I was looking forward to it. After being lucky enough to be spoiled by massage therapists who are students at the studio, I was wondering what this would be like. An ayurvedic massage is very therapeutic, and in Kerala it is their specialty. I chose a royal hot oil massage including the head and neck. Here is my experience:

First, meet with the therapist -a tiny , beautiful young girl in a sari. She takes me into a room with no windows, a table clad with vinyl and bowls of oil set up. No room for modesty here! She demands my clothes and hangs them up 1 by 1 as I hand them to her-I could tell she would not take no for an answer so I complied, eventually standing naked in front of her. She then inquires as to how old I am, looks me up and down (!) nods her approval (to my relief)and then ties a disposable loin cloth around me. (very strange) Next, I sit on the table and she stands in front of me, oil in her hand, and prays. The she puts the oil in different places in my hair, and I lay down. For the next hour I am massaged with long strokes from head to toe- she is following the meridian lines. There is a beautiful rhythm to the strokes, and this tiny girl is very strong. She presses, massages, pummels, and then flips me over for more massaging and thumping and puts enough oil on me to deep fry me. Hence the vinyl table. I am lucky I did not slide right off! This is a full body massage, so she also did my whole body, which made me feel very healthy and I could visualize toxins leaving with every stroke. I am pretty modest, so it was a leap of faith for me to just let go and be in this moment as well! My face was massaged with about a gallon of cream that smelled like roses. I am sure I look at least 20 years younger. I had to time her movements so I could breathe here and there. Cream up my nose, in my eyes, over my mouth!

Next she made me sit on a chair, still naked (loincloth intact)( I do not even care now, I am like a bowlful of jelly) and she did an Indian head massage. She massages the medicated oil (smelled like sesame but probably had other oils in it) all through my hair. Then she says, “Miss, please follow me”. Luckily I get a towel for this to wrap myself in, and she leads me to a room for a steam bath. This is a wooden container you sit in with a hole for your head. I do not have a picture, but I wish I did. In the box is a container of water that boiled continuously and emit’s a wonderful aroma. I sit on the chair, she closes the doors to the box, top and bottom. I rest my chin on the top of the box on a towel she has placed there for me. I beg her not to forget about me, and again, I am totally in the moment. I could not be anywhere else obviously! It felt amazing! After 15 minutes of bliss and sweat, , I am led to a shower with jasmine shampoo and shower off as much of the oil as I can. She expertly ties a towel around my head, hands me my clothes back, one at a time, and I am done. I stagger back to my room. I am happy (and no longer very modest!)

Tomorrow we leave for the backwaters, an Ayurvedic spice plantation tour and to buy some of that wonderful masala tea. See you then.

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