I was recently blessed with the opportunity to travel to India. A blissful yoga retreat, which I had booked almost a year ago with my Guru Devi; Heidi Pascual of Lotus Love Yoga whose own epic travels in India insprired me to tack on an extra week and see a little bit more of God's own country as a lone traveller. A number of small firsts for me - my first blog, my first trip to India and my first solo adventure - hashtag exciting.
It's March 15th, 2018 and after a seemingly interminable wait I am finally bound for the beautiful Malabar coast. But first a long plane journey to Mumbai from Heathrow and then a real test of my resolve -when I retell this tale I like to refer to this as shradda, a Sanskrit word meaning fortitude. Perhaps more accurately it reflects the sheer inability we all have to not crumble, break down and and cry when a plan goes awry. I discover,with an hour to spare that my connecting flight with Spice Jet (yes there is an actually an airline called this) departs from a different terminal - Santa Cruz, although the nice lady at the Jet Airlines check in tells me it's a different airport - helpful, not helpful. A breathless dash and an exciting ride in a tuk tuk with a non English speaking driver thankfully delivers me at the door in plenty of time. Breathe, believe, give thanks and then try not to panic as the captain announces our destination is Mangalaru even though all my paperwork which I am now, on the plane, frantically reading through, says Mangalore. I wonder if I should wake the slumbering gentleman next to me or distract the lady in seat C from her powerpoint presentation on genital mutiliation and confirm what I am already thinking is quite possibly a truly ridiculous question - where is Mangalaru? No I am determined to follow Tich Naht Han's advice and be in the moment - after all Mangalaru may be very nice and judging by the flight time well it can't be that far away from where I am supposed to be meeting up with my new Yoga retreat friends all of whom were just as perturbed as me when I discovered I wasn't on the same connecting flight! Needless to say it all worked out fine. Mangalaru is the new name for Mangalore. Despite my 2% phone battery and not having any of my new co-traveller's contact details I entered Mangalaru airport terminal to see all their beautiful beaming faces as they waited to collect their luggage from the baggage carousel :).
So on with the blog then....
Our home for the week was to be Neeleshwar Hermitage. situated in northern Kerala, nearest town Kahangad, nearest airport Mangalore/Mangalaru - ha ha ha how I laugh about this now.
A stunning oasis of tropical beauty the Hermitage offers peaceful rest and quintessential luxury and a not altogether disappointing view of the Arabian sea. It's enchanting colonial buildings create a sense of times gone by, when the pace was a little slower and there was time to savor each moment. Boasting exotic gardens, full of stunning butterflies, bird and other wildlife Neeleshwar's paradise cannot fail to both enchant and intoxicate.
The little garden paths invite you to wander aimlessly as you encounter colonial style thatched cottages each of which has it's own Sanskrit name related to a state of being perfectly aligned with the setting: Sukka - happiness, Bhavana - refinement, Moksha - liberation. Each one has a stately, shaded veranda and either a view of the garden, pool or ocean. The rooms are large and airy with high ceilings and enormous beds not to mention the essential fans and air conditioning. A few thoughtful touches have been added such as ipods, hairdryers and adaptor plugs in the rooms which show a lot of thought has gone into making guests feel as welcome and comforted as possible and there is of course the ubiquitous wifi. However, the real wow factor has to be the bathrooms. When you open the door to this inner/outer sanctum you instantly feel like you are stepping outside - which is actually what you are doing, part of the bathroom is open to the elements. Each one beautifully designed, has a large walk in shower, some have sumptuous sunken baths Oh and there is one with a truly decadent plunge pool.
Further peace and serenity offers itself as you meander along the pathways and glimpsethe endless pool; flanked by abundant palms and lined with inviting sun loungers and parasols it's vista makes it appear to flow right onto the beach and ocean beyond - it's a view that you cannot help but take photograph after photograph of in the faint hope of somehow capturing and keeping hold of it's memory. The water is comfortably warm and the pool big enough for those who want to do more than just wallow and soak in the ambience - although why you would want to do more than that is beyond me.
Nature and nourishment go together quite naturally here and they even seem to be echoed in the name Neeleshwar. Meenakshia (a form of the Goddess Lalita Tripura Sundari - she who is beautiful in the three worlds) and like a goddess the building rises on what seems to be the central axis of the resort. It's raised platform open on all 4 sides, to the north a small library and dotted along the eastern and southern edges comfortable seating - perfect for high tea. As with all the other communal areas it is beautifully decorated in dark smoking room colours with Hindu sculptures and art works all arranged around a central square opening to the sky so that you can glimpse a starlit night whilst dining. A buffet option offers the opportunity to sample superb quality local cuisine and the attentive staff are only too happy to make you feel like royalty - expect chairs to be pulled out upon your arrival, water to be topped up endlessly, plates to be cleared. Every member of staff greets you with a smile and literally nothing is too much trouble. The hotel manager Dr Jayan sets the bar high with his incredible attention towards every guest - in fact he will forever be known to the Lotus Love Yoga Retreat 2018 attendees as 'The Magical Marvellous Mr Jayan'.
Annapurna, (the Goddess of Nourishment) is the resort's beach side restaurant and provides the perfect setting for breakfast with the glorious ocean as it's backyard. Kick off your shoes and enjoy fresh fruit, porridge or yoghurt or perfectly cooked eggs while you feel the soft white sand trickle between your toes and listen to the waves break on the distant shore as you sip you Masala Chai. In the evening you can enjoy fresh fish accompanied by various vegetable and salad offerings. You can also enjoy a glass of beer or wine with your meal - yes they have some perfectly decent and drinkable Indian wines.
Nature also goes hand in hand with nurture too and hence the resort has it's own Ayurvedic spa - Priya. Tucked away in a quiet spot it offers Ayurvedic consultations with a qualified doctor and a range of treatments all carried out by experienced therapists. A sense of peace and calm pervades the reception area and continues throughout the authentically decorated building which has something of a temple feel about it. When you step out after your treatment it's almost like coming through an invisible portal back into the semi-real world.
Neeleshwar Hermitage offers on site yoga with a local teacher and there is a dedicated building - Patanjali's Yoga Shala - (the setting for our amazing retreat). Rise for your first sun salutation of the day and as you stand in Tadasana gazing through the open sides of the shala towards whispering palms, drinking in the hazy ocean view and feeling the gentle caress of the soft breeze on your skin you will quite probably find it almost impossible not to feel cloaked with a true sense of calm connected-ness to nature and everything and everybody around you.
coming up.... my best ever yoga retreat experience with Lotus Love Yoga; meeting the Goddess Chamundi; a festival of light...