Monthly Archives: April 2014

Pampered in Bombay

Friday afternoon we flew SpiceJet from Trivandrum to Bombay, so it hasn’t even been 48 hours in this charming city and already we have done so much!BombayStraight from the airport, still carrying sand from the Indian Ocean in our shoes, we were taken to meet an art collector. Afterwards we were treated to amazing homemade parsi food (google parsis if you have never heard about them!). On Saturday we went on a shopping spree: Anokhi and FabIndia, and afterwards tasted super delicious Gujarati thali at Golden Star. In the evening drinks at one of the most exclusive private clubs of Bombay and a fabulous, mouthwatering kebab dinner at Neel, enjoyed with excellent Indian sparkling rosé Chandon and most perfect company… I don’t think even Louis Vuitton City Guide could do better!!

Let’s see what today brings to us! 

CHANDON: (launched by Moët Hennessy)


Fishermen of the Indian Ocean

We have not had courage to get up at the dawn but this morning we walked to the beach just after 8 o’clock. It was already humid but a bit misty so we were not exposed to direct sun light (even without sun light it feels about 39C). Fishermen in Chowara, KeralaI love the Chowara beach for fishermen watching. At night you can see hundreds of boats lit and out in the sea, and in the morning the fishermen pull nets back to the shore. In fact the fishing nets are so big and heavy that it takes almost twenty men on both ends of the net to bring it to the shore. Hard work! And beautiful to watch. Chowara beach, Kerala

Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort:

Fabulous Ayurvedic Treatments

Ever since we decided to return to India for one month it was clear that one of the main destinations would have to be Kerala, because Kerala equals Ayurveda. I truly believe that if there is one type of massage therapy that suits us, it is the ancient healing medicine called Ayurveda. Even when we are in Paris we dream about Ayurvedic massage.

As many of you already know, we have been enjoying ourself at Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort since last Friday. Upon arrival we chose a full package (private cottage, three meals and two hours of Ayurvedic treatments per day) and started the therapy immediately. Today we completed the fourth session and we have three more days to go. It has been amazing so far!

Moreover, it has been interesting to observe daily changes of body and mind. For example, this morning my husband said that he feels our bodies look more toned and muscled. We are eating a lot but not gaining weight. Secondly, in the beginning of our stay we were very tired and it took us three full days to feel totally relaxed. I guess this is typical and this is why I am happy we stay seven nights.Ayurveda at SomatheeramThere are two therapists, young local girls, who take care of me. They are gentle but strong, sometimes they giggle (especially at my attempts to wear Indian clothes I think) and often they whisper to each other in their own dialect. By now they are used to seeing me naked, I am familiar with their hands and feet, and they have splashed tens of liters of oil on my body including head. It has been a fascinating encounter.

Today I had a treatment that was new to me, and it is the most curious therapy I have received so far: during fifteen minutes about one liter of hot herbal cow milk was poured on my forehead. Wow. How did it feel? Relaxing. How did it smell? Like some Indian sweets!

This stay has been fabulous and I will miss the herbal oils, the hot milk and the girls. And incredible India that never ceases to impress me.

Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort:

Healthy, gluten-free Kerala style breakfast

I have never seen a country where a simple breakfast varies as much as it does in India. Generally speaking North Indian breakfast that tourists most commonly come across with is about masala omelette or puri (bread made of wheat) served with curry stew, whereas South Indian breakfast is more about eating things cooked with rice flower and coconut.

I have now had two breakfasts at Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort and it has been a great pleasure to sample typical Kerala delicacies while watching the enormous Indian Ocean in front of me. Yesterday I had herbal tea, banana lassi and coffee as drinks. To eat I had curry leaf idly (the round thing in the photo) with sambar, rice puttu (rice flour dough layered with grated coconut) with kadala curry and sweet rice ada (Kerala delicacy cooked in banana leaf).Kerala breakfastThis morning there were some variations so I had green pea curry, tattu dosa (again, made of rice flour) with sambar and chutneys, and steamed banana. Rice ada was the same as yesterday.Kerala breakfastI am neither a big wheat eater nor a great fan of eggs, so I am very happy eating idlies and dosas for breakfast. In fact I like South Indian breakfast so much that I could eat them for breakfast even in Paris –all I would need is a live in South Indian cook!

Note: As Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort welcomes guests that are serious about feeling better by eating well and by following special treatments, there are specific diets available for all sorts of people and illnesses. For example, when I told my Ayurveda doctor during the initial consultation that I don’t stand wheat and eggs very well he directed me towards a gluten-free diet (he printed out a list of items that are good for me to eat!). 

Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort:

Good morning Kerala!

morning in KeralaThe first morning in Kerala. It was nice to sleep windows open, without AC. It is humid and hot, but only around 33C (not 40C as it was in Rajasthan and Varanasi). The only sounds entering our cottage are coming from strong waves that crash on the shore of the Indian Ocean, insects (yes, this is tropics) and birds. Lovely.Somatheeram resort in KeralaWe are staying at Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort, the highly-awarded first Ayurveda resort in the world where we spent a few night in 2010. This time we wanted to return because the treatments had been very efficient and the location on a cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean is absolutely stunning, not forgetting the chef’s sublime Kerala food. Somatheeram Ayurveda ResortSo, here I am, resting my body, but also my ears and eyes. Southern drivers don’t seem to use the horn as much as they do in the north. Roads are quieter. Kerala is very lush and green –no wonder it is called God’s Own Country. There are palm and banana trees all over and in addition, there is the vast sea in front of one’s eyes. Pampering and rejuvenation can begin!

Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort:

City hopping in India

Yesterday morning we said good bye to Varanasi by placing a floating candle in the Ganges, rode a taxi to the airport and checked into a flight to Calcutta. There had been two options regarding flying to the south –via Delhi or via Calcutta– and since we have never been to Calcutta, we chose the latter option. The second reason was that we were really eager to taste Bengali food.CalcuttaOur time in Calcutta was limited to fourteen hours but it was enough to fall in love with this former capital of India. It seemed very colorful, lively and culturally vivid, and yes, the food was out of this world. At 4.30 in the morning when we got into a taxi, the city was preparing itself for a new day. Market vendors were getting thousands of chicken out to the street and the yellow cabs were moving fast as ants. It was indeed a very memorable departure from Calcutta, and we will without any doubt return to experience more as soon as we can!Calcutta New MarketFrom Calcultta we flew to Bombay, changed into a different Jet Airways plane, flew over the house of our Bombay friends that we are going to see in one week, and some two hours later landed in Trivandrum, Kerala.

Almost every time I move from one place to another in India I fall in love with the new place. The Indian continent is extremely diversified and I absolutely love the fact the every new destination reveals something new to me, be it textiles, clothes, style, food, art, culture, religion or architecture.

Moreover, thinking about being in Varanasi, the holy Hindu city, yesterday morning, spending the night in the British-influenced Calcutta and writing this post from my bed in Kerala where I am surrounded by coconut trees, Ayurveda doctors and the Indian Ocean is mind blowing. Apart from incredible India, in which other country one can in less than 48 hours so easily travel between such culturally diversified places?

Blessing and curse of travelling without a plan

This trip in India is sort of divided into phases: few days in Delhi, ten days in Rajasthan, several days in Varanasi, precious Ayurveda time in the south and quality time with friends in Bombay. I planned to do more destinations but gave up. Gwalior, Orchha and Khajuraho will have to wait. I will be back sooner or later.

Together with my parents I did Delhi-Agra-the Ranthambore Park-Jaipur-Pushkar-Neemrana-Delhi. As most of the places were familiar to me, I didn’t need to do a lot of research but it was still very time- and energy-consuming. I like making hotel reservations myself, I book tickets as I desire and when I like, etc. I very rarely use a travel agency. I like being free and for example to be able to change a hotel upon arrival if I don’t like it. I believe that I accumulate some valuable experiences by practicing this “philosophy” but at the same I acknowledge that this “freedom” takes a toll on me. I have been in Varanasi since Sunday and I am totally drained.JaipurFor example, what happened last Sunday, the day when my parents flew from Delhi to Dubai? The adventure begun!

In the morning all of us drove from Neemrana Fort-Palace: the magnificent 15th century palace to the Delhi airport. After saying good bye to my parents outside their terminal (only valid ticket holders are allowed in) I asked my husband a question “what are we going to do now?”. I was feeling very weak, had a cold and some stomach problem, and all I wanted was to find a bed with nice soft cotton sheets. But we had no reservations and no Internet connection!

Our only reasonable option seemed to be to spend some time at the airport and make calls, so we purchased tickets to enter the arrivals terminal (100 INR per person), ordered some drinks and sat down. I made some phone calls to a car company I had had contact with, but the idea of a road trip from Delhi to Varanasi (via Gwalior, Orchha and Khajuraho) seemed very expensive in comparison to what we had had in Rajasthan, and I was not sure that I could handle any more of Indian roads at least during some days.Indian roadAfter abandoning the road trip idea we went to an airplane ticket seller and asked for available tickets to Khajuraho and Varanasi. There were affordable tickets left but at this point I was feeling so sick that all I wanted was a bed to sleep in, so I told my husband to get a hotel somewhere near the airport. My idea was to have a good nap, eat some dahl and rice, sleep a good twelve hours and then return to the airport next day fresh to continue the journey. Well, this is what I thought was going to happen.

Upon arrival at an appalling Hotel Lohias about 4km from the Delhi airport I drunk a coke and took a shower. My husband checked the bed and the room, and called me to get out of the shower. You are not sleeping here, we were leaving… He didn’t think that the room was clean enough and the more I looked the more I agreed with him.Hotel LohiasWe did a bit of Internet search and found a flight leaving Delhi to Varanasi at 18h05 the same day (at the time of googling it was already 16h and we could not purchase tickets because it was too last minute).

We rushed to the reception (we had already paid the room by a voucher), gave 30 INR for the coke, ordered the taxi and run to the SpiceJet counter. The service was very smooth and we paid 11,590 INR (around 145€) for two Delhi-Varanasi tickets and by 16h30 we had tickets in hand.

See, most of the time things work out even if you leave it last minute and without a plan…Spicejet Delhi-VaranasiNext we found a KFC (yeah, when you are sick you are excused!) and ordered a sandwich with a coke. Thirty minutes later we were inside an airplane flying from Delhi to Varanasi and the world was looking much brighter (well, we did not know what was waiting for us in Varanasi but that is another story!). Anyhow, I LOVE SPICEJET!!

Purpose of Varanasi

I think that I understand why millions of Hindus come to Varanasi.

I also understand the curiosity of tourists.

But why I am here? Why did I have to come here now? Why do I keep returning to the burning ghats? Is the Ganges beautiful or simply filthy? Is Varanasi as big as Mark Twain said? What is Varanasi?VaranasiAll I know is that it is no longer about the purpose of my life but about the raison dêtre of Varanasi.

Second part of the trip begins in Varanasi

I took my parents to Delhi airport yesterday afternoon and after some to-be-told-later-on mishap () my husband and I finally arrived in Varanasi in the evening of the same day. The second part of the India tour started.

It has been quite a journey so far. Ten days in Rajasthan totally wore me out. Waking up before 6 o’clock (only way to tolerate the unbearable heat), sitting long hours (and about two thousand kilometers) in a rather uncomfortable car and trying to stand the sun (temperatures reaching 40C plus) totally wore me out. I am exhausted. Bone-tired. In addition, I have a cold (must be the dramatic difference between the AC and outside temperature) and I had some stomach problem. All I want is to sleep, so this post will be short.VaranasiMoreover, I have witnessed and experienced so much that I think I have come to the point where I just need to take a step back and let my brain relax. I am not sure I can absorb much more. For example, how do you write about the burning ghat where bodies that look like mummies are burnt? How do you write about eating at a restaurant by the Ganges while the smoke from the burning bodies enters your nose? I will try in a few days’ time but cannot right now. India is very enriching but it drains you out too. Physically but also emotionally. VaranasiAs I would not be able to say anything more intelligent or accurate about Varanasi, the holy Hindu site, my only option remains to quote Mark Twain:

Varanasi is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together”.

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