Ayurveda Yoga Villa is testament to the power of internet marketing and Tripadvisor. All of the guests with whom I spoke during my stay told me that their decision to stay here, like my own, had resulted from internet search, influenced by Tripadvisor reviews. The many reviews collectively present a fairly accurate picture though some superlatives, in my opinion, are simply not justified. This is an isolated and verdant corner of Kerala, but do not expect to land yourself in paradise or you might be in for a disappointment.
On arrival in Kerala a young, friendly, competent driver, Ashraf, was waiting for me among a crowd of greeters outside the arrivals hall of Kozhikode (Calicut) airport with a hand-held notice displaying my name. He seemed more relieved than I was when I raised my hand in acknowledgement from a distance. The drive to Wayanad District and Ayurveda Yoga Villa took 3 hours 45 minutes in a comfortable 4x4 vehicle. The single-lane national highway that we rode for most of the journey was well maintained, with no signs of flooding despite the heavy monsoon rain. The journey, through green countryside, punctuated by numerous similar nondescript small towns and villages, eventually took us up through a 1000-or-so metre climb of treacherous, mist-shrouded hairpin bends from which, I was informed, there were fabulous views on clear days. A 10 metre stretch of demolished thick stone retaining wall marked the spot where, earlier that morning, a lorry driver had sadly met his demise after failing to turn and plummeting the precipitous drop. To take one of the many busses that we passed along the way would have made for an indirect and arduous journey for an unacclimatised traveller.
On arrival at Ayurveda Yoga Villa at dusk, I was expected and welcomed by two staff armed with umbrellas who took my bags and led me along the narrow, overgrown driveway, to the reception area in the main facilities building. The heavy monsoon downpour was relentless, day and night, during this week in July. The temperature remained surprisingly cool, between 20-23 degrees celsius, requiring lightweight warm clothing.
The resort turned out to be smaller than the impression I had gained from the website. The grounds consist of a group of accommodation 'cottages', collectively offering 22 rooms, sited close together around a 'garden' (read shrubbery) and linked to the rambling facilities building by short pathways. The property is closely bordered by a wide and, at this time of year, deep, fast-flowing river. The predominance of buildings on the relatively small campus, together with the dense screen of tall trees along the river bank, and heavy dark sky, made for a rather claustrophobic, hemmed-in feeling: not at all the wide open spaces with views that I had expected. I couldn't reason the difference between the various cottages, since they were all so close to one another and offered a similar standard of accommodation, some admittedly marginally better-situated than others.
The main facilities building houses a ground-floor reception/lobby where there is a single, slow internet terminal for the free shared use of guests. There is no WIFI or alternative internet connection option in the resort. Separate sections of the ground floor are home to ayurveda consultation and therapy rooms, and a Kalari martial art training hall (which I did not visit).
On the upper-level of the facilities building there is a large wooden dining room with a roofed terrace offering a partial view to the river. The kitchen is clearly and reassuringly visible through a glass wall on one side of the dining room. Passageways link the restaurant to a yoga hall and a separate puja hall. All of these spaces would become familiar over the following days; the dining room especially, as a hub of conversation and information.
After completing lengthy registration paperwork, I was shown to my room in one of the back cottages and invited to go to the dining room for dinner after settling in.
The room, entered via its own tiny loggia terrace overlooking a tree-bordered pathway and other cottages, was exceptionally spacious with high ceilings, but depressingly dark, even when lit by several wall-mounted, naked fluorescent light bulbs. This was mainly due to the dark finish of palm-weave wall and ceiling panels, and dark-red painted floor. The furnishing was basic. The double bed was protected by a mosquito net. The bed linen and bath towels were laundered but very worn. The condition of the pillows was unmentionable. A heavy wooden sofa and armchair were protectively draped with yellow bath towels. The attached Indian-style wet-room had multiple shower options, a western toilet and hand basin. It was tidy and, no doubt, 'cleaned', but with tile grouting showing the long-term accumulation of grime. On no occasion during my stay did the shower or hand basin hot tap run hot. The water approached tepid at best.
I was disturbed in the room each day by the repeating background noise of Malayalam conversation, music, and workmen hammering away on the early stages of a new building going up close to my room, and at night by the occasional sound of a fairly substantial animal scampering loudly around the attic above my bedroom ceiling, though I have no idea what it was.
The centrally-opening double-door to the room was secured by large internal and external non-lockable bolts. The additional key lock was ineffectual. The door, when unbolted from outside, would simply open with a gentle pull, despite being additionally key-'locked'.
There was nowhere in the room to secure valuables apart from a flimsy lockable cupboard, so I asked the reception staff if it would be possible to leave valuables with them. They hesitantly agreed to this, but I got the impression that it was not a standard procedure, so decided instead to carry a bag with me whenever I left my room. All of the staff that I met appeared to be entirely trust-worthy, and the environment felt comfortably safe, but there were daily comings and goings, within the grounds, of local people whose purpose was not obvious, and I simply wanted to be as cautious with money, passport etc. as I would be in my own country, especially since the door to my room could not be fully secured from the outside.
After making my way to the dining room on the evening of arrival, I was introduced by the staff to a group of ten or so guests who were seated at a large table and who invited me to join them. I mistakenly presumed that they were all members of a single group because they appeared to be so comfortable with each other. In fact they were either single travellers, like myself, or in pairs, sitting together rather by chance. Meal times in the dining room were always like this. There was the option to sit separately, and some people did so, but the majority of guests seemed to be happy to turn up at meal times and join whoever was sitting at one of the larger tables. As guests left the resort, new ones arrived, almost daily; mainly European or Indian, and predominantly female. Every guest that I met was well-educated, well-travelled, and respectful of other people. Newcomers were welcomed by staff and existing residents alike. They joined-in effortlessly, and conversation flowed easily around the dining tables, but there was no pressure to make conversation if you just wanted to sit quietly. Everyone seemed to understand this and it generated a warmly supportive atmosphere which was every bit a reflection of the gentle, open, respectfully informal manner of the attentive serving staff, some of whom, incidentally, appeared to multi-task between preparing and serving food and dealing with administrative tasks.
At meal times there was not a huge difference in appearance between breakfast (sweeter, starting late at 8.30am), lunch and dinner. There was no choice, but the menu changed with every promptly delivered meal, and what was served was a healthy and reasonably appetising combination of vegetarian dishes; flavourful but without hot spices, and prepared, we were told, according to ayurvedic principles, though I was none the wiser. The quantities served were small by western standards, presented thali-style in small metallic bowls placed in a metallic dish. Additional food was always offered, and occasionally accepted, but personally I never felt hungry despite eating much less than usual.
Warmed organic milk from the owner's farm was offered with breakfast. Otherwise there was hot 'medicated' water or local herbal tea, or plain hot water to drink. All of these were innocuous enough but became monotonously dull after a week. Everyone was offered a metallic flask of hot water or herbal tea to take with them between meals. It was essential to take a flask of hot (boiled to sterilise) water to the room after dinner, since the tap water in the room was not potable.
One of the first things that I noticed after arriving at Ayurveda Yoga Villa was the absence of a manager or anyone obviously in charge to give direction. This was initially quite disconcerting. When I enquired about it on the second day, I was told that the manager-owner was in Finland. I could hardly believe that there was no stand-in replacement, someone running the place. Looking back, it felt very odd, like a ship drifting without a captain. Yet, after initial disbelief, in the absence of a formal induction, everything did just seem to fall into place, bizarrely due in no small part to other guests volunteering information. Fortunately, one member of staff, Keshor, with no air of superiority, seemed to be a natural, gentle leader. Always to be found in the dining room at meal times, he would check up on the well-being of each guest. He was very perceptive of and responsive to individual needs, whatever they might be, and appeared to be the reason behind a visibly harmonious team of staff. In my own case, his kindness made my stay, and I notice that his name is mentioned by other reviewers. I truly hope that Keshor's remarkable ability to care for people is recognised and rewarded by his employer.
A full schedule of fixed daily events starting at 5.45am, included peace-inducing, uplifting, early-morning and evening fire pujas in the Hindu tradition led by wonderful Shakti (who also offered me sound personal advice), morning and evening yoga classes alternately with Rashmi and one other teacher, afternoon guided meditation with Shakti, and 'Kalari' martial art training. This was complemented by a list of variable timings, posted each day in the dining room. These indicated the times of daily 30-minute individual consultations (including checks of pulse, blood pressure, tongue analysis, weight etc. on the first occasion) with lady Dr. Anu, and of one-hour treatment sessions (mainly massage, it seemed), for every guest, in the ayurveda wing.
Each guest could participate in as much or as little of the programme as they wished. There was no pressure to join in, though the staff seemed to discretely network with each other to ensure that the best options were made available to everyone. For example, I was interested in learning yoga as a beginner, but daunted by the prospect of joining a 90 minute session at 6.30am alongside experienced practitioners. After mentioning this to the doctor, one of the yoga teachers, Rashmi, quietly introduced himself to me the following day. After we had talked for a while, he offered to teach me individually. It meant that there was a nominal additional charge to add to the final bill, but there was no hard-sell. Over three days Rashmi taught me a series of basic stretching exercises which he wrote down for me so that I wouldn't forget. I left with a useful programme to practice back at home, and feel a debt of gratitude to him.
The ayurvedic treatment sessions, in my case, included full-body massage, synchronised by two excellent therapists, Nidish and Shareen (male therapists for male guests and female therapists for female guests - you don't wear a single stitch during the treatment), as well as shirodhara, where a stream of warm oil flows continuously onto the forehead. The sessions compared well with other ayurvedic treatments that I have received elsewhere. We were supplied with a keralan wrap to wear during the hour following treatment until showering to remove the residual therapeutic oil. Some of the guests were regular ayurveda devotees, though the seriousness with which the ayurveda practice was taken by the establishment was occasionally at odds with the lighter-hearted approach of some of the European guests, who found comparing experiences after emerging from the treatment rooms quite amusing. This is not to diminish the practice, which appeared professional and effective. Ayurveda Yoga Villa is officially classified by the Government of Kerala Department of Tourism. I'm no expert, but I certainly felt very well after six days of daily treatment. By the end of my stay my head and mind were unusually clear and focused, as though having received a week-long blast of alpine air, and the usual mild aches in my back had disappeared.
All-in-all it was quite a week. It began on a low as I came to terms with my disappointing room, the unexpectedly high volume of background noise and oppressively closed-in campus, though the weather may have influenced the latter. All of this gradually paled into relative insignificance due to the camaraderie of other guests and kindness and professionalism of a dedicated staff, too numerous to mention individually by name, but which was generously-spirited and attentive to the welfare, body and mind, of every guest. Whether at Ayurveda Yoga Villa it happens by accident or design, the staff make a world of difference.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Ayurveda yoga holistic research centre for Detoxification and rejuvenation programme designed to get optimum result by treating body,mind prana.The process primarily seeks to restore the vital strength of the body by eliminating the accumulated toxins and making the tissues pure.Our practices and exercises in the lessons at Yoga Spirit are developed by including self-acupressure, meditative or breathing exercises in order of the different sections of the lesson enables you to relax and purify your body through Ayurveda as well and we practise daily Asana, Pranayama and including Dharma and chanting in 90 minutes. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Ayurveda Yoga Villa Hotel Kalpetta
- Ayurveda Yoga Villa Kalpetta, Kerala, India