1 January 2008 by Pete Mathers
Indian luxury - just what the doctor ordered. Ayurveda is the earliest and most comprehensive system of healthcare known to man, an ancient practice of Indian medicine stretching back over 4,000 years. On a luxury tour of southern India, Nathan Philpot unravels its mysteries.
Ayurveda is not some kind of cranky alternative medicine. During a tour of Goa’s churches, Felix my guide, without prompting, was evangelical about its benefits. He had suffered for years from terrible psoriasis that ‘modern’ medicine couldn’t clear, yet after just one visit to an Ayurvedic doctor he was pulling back his shirt sleeves to show all who’d look how clear his skin was.
Ayurveda is a holistic health science that diagnoses and cures ailments, restoring imbalances in the individual that cause physical and psychological ill-health. Its translation from Sanskrit is a combination of ayus, meaning ‘life’, and veda, meaning ‘science’ – quite literally the ‘science of life’. Ayurveda promotes a life of balance in harmony with Mother Nature. It emphasises prevention of disease, rejuvenation of our body systems and longevity of life. Not only does it claim to thwart coronary disorders and make our migraines disappear, but its spiritual benefits can help us fulfil the potential of our inner selves (or so say the likes of Sting, Madonna and Christy Turlington – just some of its celebrity exponents).
Its origins lie in Kerala – a state dedicated to the science – and there’s no better hotel in the region than the Leela Kovalam. A luxury resort, the Leela caters for those who want to detox, lose weight, or who suffer from lethargy and similar ailments. Ayurveda views you as a unique individual – your mind, body, constitution and life circumstances must all be considered before prescribing treatment.
The first stage of an Ayurvedic holiday will therefore be a personal consultation. Ayurveda is the earliest and most comprehensive system of healthcare known to man, an ancient practice of Indian medicine stretching back over 4,000 years. On a luxury tour of southern India, Nathan Philpot unravels its mysteries.
This will determine your body type or prakruthi, made up of three doshas (vata, pitta and kapha). Doshas are essentially life forces, a combination of the ‘five great elements’ that make up the universe: earth, water, fire, air and space. Each person has one or two dominant doshas, but all three are in a combination as unique as a fingerprint; they determine your body type, character and constitution. Vata people are characteristically thin, creative and restless. Pittas are of medium build, very intelligent but critical and prone to anger. Kaphas tend to put on weight and are stable, caring but inactive. The key to your Ayurvedic treatment will be restoring imbalances between your doshas, most commonly through a course of diet and exercise. Though let’s not forget the importance of massage.
The dedicated spa at the Leela Kovalam, with its eight treatment rooms and yoga hall, is very popular – note the sound of the sea all around you. Ayurvedic full body massages traditionally involve two masseurs and litres of warm herbal oils. I experienced a technique called Sihodhara, where a continuous flow of warm oil comes out of a slow swinging pot, massaging your forehead from above.
For me, relaxation and rejuvenation come just from staying at the Leela, perched as it is on a rock face, with panoramic views of the Kovalam coastline. The Club rooms, which together form virtually a private hotel, offer balconied rooms with sensational views of the Arabian Sea. Rooms are contemporary in style with flatscreen tvs and all the trimmings. There’s even a personal butler available on your floor, so don’t forget to hand over your ironing as soon as you unpack – it’s complimentary.
The Club complex has 49 rooms, six suites and two presidential suites. It has two beautiful living rooms filled with a wide range of books and traditional pastimes, including an ornate chessboard. There’s a private gym for Club guests with – and this was a first for me – a retractable sunroof, allowing you to work out in the sunshine.
THE CLUB AT LEELA KOVALAM
The ocean-view infinity pool has the most amazing vista, and the outdoor Sky Bar and The Café restaurant are both in keeping with the contemporary style, though if you’re looking for a cocktail at sundown, I’d recommend the former.
The service is also outstanding, a fact not lost on Sir Richard Branson, who stayed here with his family and whose comments you can read in the visitors’ book. At breakfast, I was met by no less than three waiting staff who eagerly combined to bring me coffee, orange juice and the two most perfect eggs: sunny side up – to match my flourishing doshas. In every way equal to the Leela Kovalam is its sister resort in Goa. Popular travel snobbery has tried to label Goa as an ageing hippie hangout and cheap charter beach resort. Don’t be fooled is all I’ll say. The Leela Kempinski at Goa is as refined and luxurious as anything you’ll find in the Indian Ocean. I wasn’t in the least surprised to hear that the General Manager, Pascal, had chosen the Leela above Le Touessrok in Mauritius. Miles from any tourist traps, it sits on a 75-acre estate with its own private beach, 12-hole golf course and dedicated Ayurvedic spa.
Again, The Club – the hotel within the hotel – offers a pool for its guests, a restaurant, a beach bar and 15 outstanding rooms and suites. My top tip would be to travel with friends and club together for the Presidential Suite. What you’ll find are three double bedrooms (great value for a party of six), your own cook, butler, private pool and plunge pool.
“A word of warning, though,” whispered Pascal as he showed me around. “So beautiful is the setting, so enchanting the atmosphere that life can change before you know it.” Intrigued I begged him continue. “Before you arrived two business colleagues had stayed at The Club,” continued Pascal. “Goa worked its magic, and two weeks later the pair were married.”
Perhaps it was the Ayurveda, the realisation of their inner selves. Then again, it may have been the cocktails and the mesmerising sunsets. Either way, I could see how romance could flourish. Southern India is a peaceful and spiritual place, the perfect antidote to the stresses of home. If there’s ever a place to balance your life forces, then surely it is here.
Tailormade holidays: To book your place at a Leela hotel, call an India specialist on 020 78385969 or email your enquiry to [email protected].