Thursday, 29 April 2010


I have been home from my travels for three weeks. I collected Ellie who had been back at the breeder's for five weeks. She had grown to almost adult size. She's now nearly 6 months old. She's a very good quiet puppy, quite clean and has done no damage in the house (touch wood). She's trouble free as I hoped she would be and leaves no hair all over, but I have to say I do miss not having a labrador. I have to remind myself daily why I took such a small dog!

Ellie at the beach before I left for India

Today is the first day it has rained since I've been back! Quite something for Brittany. It's been really hot, just like summer in fact, with people sunbathing and even swimming at the beach. But today it's grey and wet, my plants will love it. I've been replacing some of the pots that cracked into a thousand pieces with last winter's frosts and I bought a few herbs yesterday, just two varieties of mint, some parsley, basil, a couple of tomato plants and a tiny flat rosemary plant, hope the slugs don't get it all.

I went to my pottery class yesterday too for the first time in two months, when I got back from India, the class had broken up for the Easter holidays. I finished a sort of hollow sitting chicken shape to keep salt in in my kitchen (it's called a main de sel in French), and another of my weird shapeless plant pots.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

ENGLAND, 1st - 6th APRIL

When I got back from India, I had one day to empty my suitcase, wash clothes, and pack another suitcase ready to take the plane from Brest to Southampton on 1st April. It was Easter Thursday but there were not many people on the plane. It's a very quick way of getting over to the south-west, the trip to Brest is quickly done, the flight takes just an hour, and the drive from Southampton home to Dorset takes an hour and a half roughly. My kind brother Michael met me at the airport. Without him I wouldn't be able to do it that way.

Grama in front of a plate of oysters!

We didn't have  very good weather over Easter weekend in Dorset. Nicholas came down from London on Saturday morning, and it was lovely to have a weekend to chat. Grama was on good form, she had had her 93rd birthday the weekend before. My brother Steve was quite free. So we all had plenty of time to get together. I opened oysters for everybody and did moules marinières at another meal. It's so handy having Steve on hand with all sorts of good food! And on Easter Sunday, the only day with any sunshine, we had lunch up at Michael's, lamb and roast potatoes.  After lunch we went for a walk with Steve, Nicholas and the dogs. Monday Nicholas took the train back up to London, and Tuesday morning I flew back to Brest. Uneventful, but a good family weekend.

Monday, 26 April 2010


I get to Calicut airport at 10h00 for my flight at 12h20, only to find that Oman Air have changed the time of the flight again. It's now at 15h20, so I have a really long wait. Timetables don't seem to figure in that company's modus operandi. There is no real food at the airport, only packets of snacks so I go without and get very hungry. I'm the only non Indian (can I say white, is that politically correct?) (there are some Omanis too) in the whole airport, and until I leave I don't see another tourist. I get stared at a good deal, but at least this time it's not because of scanty clothing. The advantage is that when things do get moving and we start luggage checks and so on, which are free for alls at this airport, I am waved through and go first, a very unfair advantage but one I take with pleasure. So I go through first, and get my bags registered right through to Paris, and also get a boarding pass for the next day, a distinct advantage, I shan't have to queue again. I go through emigration in the first class line, which is empty and have a whole system all to myself. I am the only white person on the plane again, but there are quite a few women this time. We get quite a good lunch on board.

When I arrive in Muscat, I'm apprehensive about being taken in charge for the night. I go to the desk that was indicated to me when passing through a month ago. The young man looks doubtful and scans his lists for several painful minutes before finding my name. There is another young Indian waiting, he's on his way back to work in London. We are taken into town by two very nice, talkative Omanis in a luxury vehicle. I have been told that Oman is not difficult for women tourists. But I don't see many women about. The men are very elegant. I don't know the name for the costume their wear, is it a djellaba? White robes, and either long white head-dresses secured with a black band, or little embroidered hats. The place is impeccable, not a bit of litter in sight, the motorway into town is bordered by lawns with sprinklers sprinkling and palm trees and lots of flowers. The temperature is meciless. The cars are all new and gleaming. They drive slowly and carefully. A different country altogether.

We pass the Sultan's mosque which is quite beautiful. I don't have my camera available. Just before our hotel is the Suntan's father's mosque, which is impressive too but much smaller than the new one.

As we landed, we got a good view of the countryside, which apart from a band along the coast is barren and lunar. Enormous dry bare mountains. The two men who take us into town say what a lovely country Oman is to visit and recommend a longer stay. They confirm that women can circulate freely and that dress is not much of a problem.                                                                                                                        

The hotel is smallish, but really quite nice. My room is in fact an apartment, a bedroom with a large bed and TV, a sitting room with kitchenette and TV, a bathroom with - oh joy, at last - a bath.  It is early evening. I take a bath and go down to a buffet supper. The hotel seems full of people who have not managed their connection. The buffet is rather Lebanese in style, rather good. Unfortunately the hotel is not situated in the heart of anything very interesting. Looks more like a business sector. So there is no change to get out and see anything. And it's dark now anyway. So I go to bed and watch television and revel in the comfort of a large bed with lovely bedding.

Breakfast is another buffet. After which we are collected and taken back to the airport. I board uneventfully and have a comfortable and uneventful journey back to Paris. It's quite a good idea to break the journey, it seems much easier. I get to Paris too late to take the TGV back to Quimper and have to spend the night at the airport Ibis hotel. The next day's journey back up to Quimper takes all day, it's a 6 hour ride even in a TGV with a change at Rennes and three quarters of an hour's wait. I struggle with my extra bag, difficult to carry three. There is a bomb alert at the TGV station in Roissy airport, the army and police are there blocking everything and waving machine guns around.

So there we are, my Indian holiday is over, I've lost so much weight that my jeans are falling down, I have just one day to turn myself round and leave for England to celebrate Easter and, a little late, Grama's 93rd birthday.

Sunday, 25 April 2010


Tuesday 23rd March

I leave YogaVilla with no problem – except a fight with the manager about a reduction for having had little water during my stay; my bill includes 135€ luxury tax ! ha ha ha (this is a 15% Kerala tax, which was never mentioned on the website); and 80€ for transport to and from the airport (said on the website to be included). To cut a long story short, they agree to waive the luxury tax and transport. So 775€ for 22 nights. 42€ a night all inclusive. Not so bad I suppose. (But when I get home, I find the exchange rate they have used means that in fact they have taken 825€ out of my bank account.)

The verdict on AyurvedaYogaVilla is mixed. The situation is perfectly idyllic, wonderful, in the middle of one of the most beautiful regions of India, yet off the beaten track, with no tourists whatsoever, no noise, no pollution, no industrialisation, no mosquitoes, less hot than other regions,  a haven with a river running through it, lots of wildlife, lots of greenery... I could go on and on. The ayurvedic treatment is not for the faint hearted, unless you ruse and say you are only there for two weeks or less, in which case you follow a "Wellness" programme which is far easier. And it works. I think everybody who stuck it out came away with the result they had been looking for. How easy it is to stick to a programme once you are not a prisoner in the hills of India is maybe another matter. Because prisoners we were, or rather we were treated as if we were at boarding school.  There were so many rules. And I suppose without this atmosphere it would have been easier to cheat. As it was, we had no choice. So if you want to do a course of ayurvedic treatment, this is the place to go because of the above, and because it is extremely reasonable compared to other places doing the same thing. The staff were on the whole very amiable, the kitchen staff couldn't do enough for us, the food was good, not spicy enough for me, although it is a bit difficult to judge when one has been on a weight loss programme. The massage was simply fantastic.

The downside is that it is rural, things don't always work. Electricity and water for instance, which are fairly important. And when I was there, there was no proper system of generators. The row of bungalows I was in seemed to be the worst off where water was concerned. Room cleaning was sporadic. The manager was incapable of taking any management decisions. And the main downside is that if you are not prepared for what ayurveda entails, you will wish for part of the time that you had  never come.

I forgot to tell you about the woodwasp. She came back and built new nests on my suitcase (which I had to destroy before leaving), and I managed to get a photo of her building with wet mud.

It is 4 hours drive to the coast. I see a large snake crossing the road just up the road from YogaVilla. It is the only one I have seen during the whole time here. The drive down is interesting, as it is all in daylight. We go through tea and coffee plantations. We have a puncture on the hairpin bends coming down from the hills.

I arrive in Kappad in the afternoon. Kappad is just north of Calicut, where I shall fly from in a few days. The hotel, Kappad Beach Resort, is quite classy. Air conditioning luckily as it is very, very hot, room service, laundry, pool. I booked a sea view room,  which in fact I think is not as good as beach view. Beach view is a floor above me, with a balcony and a good view. My sea view is hidden by a wall, so that I do in fact see the sea, which is 20m away, but not the beach.

The beach is in a Muslim area. There is no swimming, at least not for women. Men go into the water partially clothed, women walk along the beach fully covered. One can do what one likes at the hotel swimming pool, but there is little shade and the water is really too warm to swim in. I noticed beautifully shaped boats pulled up on the beach, and camels.

I unpack, even though I shall change my room tomorrow. I order fish and chips from room serviice, not a good idea but couldn’t resist the fact that I had a choice; with salted lime. It's too hot to go outside, my terrace is in full sunshine, I feel rather full!

There are only three guests, I’ve found out. So  there is only one restaurant on limited service.

I go for a walk on the beach after 17h00 but it is still very hot. There are some men bathing and couples walking. I sit on a rock and watch the sun and the tide go down. The sea is grey green, the same colour as the Channel, but I realize that it's because the sky is so hazy grey, there is no brilliant blue reflection.

I have supper at 7h30. Grilled fish and salad. The fish is frozen, shame, but one can understand with so few guests. The helping is enormous, or is it me that decidedly eats less? I can't finish it. I only eat half which is what I must get used to doing. And I have a large Kingfisher beer, which heats up very quickly. I only drink half of that too.

I go to bed at 9pm. The sound of the sea is very loud. Wonderful to hear it again. And it’s still very hot.

Wednesday 24th March
I get up at 6h45 and go for a walk up the road from the hotel. I thought to go for an hour, but it is much too hot. I came back in a complete sweat. But I walked for 40mns just the same! Lots of people are waking up, drawing water from wells, babies, men arriving for work. There is a photo a minute to be taken but I can’t, it's too sensitive, people don't like it very much. . Even scenery you can’t take because someone is dressing, or washing in a corner of the picture. Coming back I go down to the beach for five minutes and photograph a few birds, some of the same darting little seabirds I see on the shore in Brittany. There are no seagulls. There are several sort of fishing eagles but can’t photograph them.

There is wifi in the hotel, I just discovered. They forgot to tell me it is not free, but 60Rs an hour is not too bad (1€). I have asked to change rooms and go to an upstairs one. Slightly more expensive. But even so, with the off season reduction it is not much more expensive than YogaVilla.

I have a good Indian breakfast (this is included in the room price) of watermelon juice, dosh masala (rice pancake filled with potato and veg mixture, with coconut and chili chutney and a kind of vegetable stew like the one that goes with couscous but hot) and masala chai.

I read on my terrace in the hanging wicker chair for a couple of hours. There is a breeze coming off the sea which makes the heat bearable. Then I pack up my things for a room change, and go to do an hour of internet. It is much easier on my own computer. I manage to catch up with Cécile’s blog and Nicholas" pictures!

I go back to my new room, which is much nicer, with a good view and a good shady and private balcony. I’m happy with that. I order lunch in my room. Dal with plain paratha and salted lime juice. 125Rs. 2€. There was about 15 times as much dal as I’m used to eating and 2 parathas. I ate about half the dal, and both parathas, they were so good, And I digested well. It is going to be more difficult than I thought to judge quantities and keep this up, especially when I get home.

Thursday 25th March
Life is pretty monotonous.  But it's nice not to have a programme for a change.  I get up early, but have given up walking, it's just too hot; I did 45 mins yoga and breathing practice in my air conditioned room. Breakfast of a couple of aloo parathas (potato and spice filled) a couple of glasses of pineapple juice, and some watermelon. I read and do tapestry on my balcony, and watch the birds and the people on he beach. It's so lovely to be so near the sea. Clients of the hotel all order their food in their rooms, so I now do the same, except for supper, when it's cooler to go out. I have a couple of minutes walk to the restaurant without shade, and that is enough to keep me from going there! So I order hot and sour soup and parathas in my room. This evening I have to go into Calicut by taxi to buy an extra bag to take my stuff back in. 550Rs. = 9€ for the round trip which takes us just over an hour. Rush hour traffic. There are no rules. Might is right. But no one drives too fast so are able to avoid the worst. But I see women in floating saris on the back of motor bikes and scooters, hardly anybody wears helmets, how they survive I don’t know. Busses are in a hurry and come head on flashing lights. Pedestrians along the road sides and trying to cross. It’s murder. The driver took me to a supermarket to get spices, which meant I could only get tiny packets, so I didn’t get too many, but it was not expensive. Then to a discount baggage store, where I bought a samsonite foldaway tough nylon duffle bag for 1400Rs = 22€. It’s a good one and quite roomy. I shall try to check in some of my bags straight for Paris. I am spending the night in Muscat because Oman Air changed the time of my flight and I miss the connection. I hope the hotel they use is in the centre of Muscat. It’s a shame to spend a night in a country you don’t know and see nothing.

The taxi gets me back home after nightfall. He offered to come and fetch me to take me to the airport Sunday morning, I accepted, he drives well.

At supper, still no fresh fish, though I’d seen a lot for sale along the roadside going into town, and fishing boats are out all day. I have ordered a small fish grilled for my dinner tomorrow night.

Indian television is awful (isn't all television awful?) and there are adverts every five minutes. There are few channels in English. I watched a bit of golf before going to sleep!
Friday 26th March

I’ve been watching men on the beach loading and carrying sand. Not very good for the beach. One older man digs sand into a bamboo basket, and smooths it all round into a cone shape. Another younger one goes back and forth, carrying the basket on his head. It takes the two of them to hoist the full basket onto his head, it must weigh at least 30kg. You can see his spine sink as the basket goes on his head. He has a sort of carrying pad on his head between his headcloth and the basket. Sometimes he only goes as far as the sea wall and transfers it to another’s head. Sometimes the other is not there, he goes all the way. They've been doing it for hours.

I have lunch in my room. I've finished my book, and have gone on to tapestry, which is not progressing very fast.. I look at the sea, meditate on it’s attraction.The sea is greeny gry today, the sky less hazy. It is Friday, a Muslim holiday, and a lot of people are walking on the beach. A school group in uniform with teachers in saris. The boys play in the waves, the girls, some of them completely veiled, walk at the water's edge and get their trousers wet. Even the teacher goes in ankle deep in her sari. I can't get over the unfairness of being a woman in a Muslim society such as it is here. Do the boys realise how lucky they are just to have been born boys? At what age do the girls despair at having been born girls? Or are they resigned? Do they consider their lot to be normal?

Indian families have arrived at the hotel for the weekend. Extra mattresses are delivered for the children. I go to the dining room for supper thinking there will be a bit more animation, but people still have their meals sent to their room. I am alone in the dining room, with an ageing Indian hippy who settles down to play music as soon as I arrive. An electronic sound system, backing and keyboard, and an electric guitar. He plays excruciatingly throughout my wait for the fish I had ordered, it took more than half an hour, and all through my meal. Luckily I have my back to him so I don’t have to invent an expression. My fish arrives, a poor thin headless thing. The first mouthful must have contained 15 bones. I felt I had to do honour to the fish I had requested, so I worked at it. This creature from the deep seems to have spent the last three years putting on bone instead of flesh just to embarrass me when it appeared on my plate. Do they not have other types of fish with more flesh and less bone? Luckily it was not expensive, 190Rs. 3€. That is a lot actually. How often does one find, over the world, that they take no advantage of the sea and seafood? Thailand definitely has the edge on India in that department. I suppose I'm spoilt, living in Brittany, where fish and seafood figure prominently in our lives.

Saturday 27th March
My last full day in India. Evy is due to arrive early afternoon. The only reasonably “cool” time is before 7 am. That is, the heat doesn’t hit you. I've just ordered American pancakes, juice and hot chocolate in my room. Running out of things to try on the menu.

A jackdaw just landed right by me on my balcony, a foot away, on the rail. I don’t know who was more surprised, me or him. He studied me for a minute, then flew off. The sea eagles, which may be kites, are chestnut colour on top of their wings, buff on the underside of body, apricot under wings with black wingtips. The tips are not spread much. The tail is black, mostly T shaped, but I saw one with the tail in a V. Their head is off white. Their wingspan averages a metre I should say. They have a falcon’s beak. I saw a jackdaw attacking one yesterday. Not very successfully. There can be up to a couple of dozen at a time circling, mostly late afternoon.

I've been watching an Indian family who are staying at the hotel go down to the beach. It is interesting to see the way they behave. The women hardly wet their feet most of the time. The childen are afraid of the water. The men play with the waves like children, jumping into them, lying down in them, never swimming.

I can’t decide how to pack my bags for my stopover in Oman tomorrow. I have to cover up that’s sure. It’s going to be hot, that’s also sure. And I need fresh clothes for the next day.

There is little difference here between high tide and low tide. A few metres. I wonder why?

Evy arrives in the middle of the afternoon. We go for a walk up the beach, further than I've been, and coming back get caught by the tide and have to scramble up rocks to the path above the beach. We have a Ricard or two on my balcony with some peanuts before going to supper. There are more people in the dining room and no music. We have a good supper because we can share the enormous portions in two. My bags are packed, I leave after breakfast tomorrow.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010


Wednesday 17th  March

Only ten days to go. I’m in a hurry to leave now and see something else. I've done what I came for.  I went for the uphill walk this morning. Everything is quite fresh after the rain. For the first time, people say good morning before I do. A woman even shakes my hand. There is more water noise from the river this morning after the rain. It was getting very low. I manage to photograph a wagtail, and I see a sort of moorhen.

I pick up a chip of green rock from a pile that is going to be used to make up the road before the monsoon. Emerald green, a bit of white, sparkly.

I  have permission from the doctor (!) go into town on Saturday. I shall get spices and a few clothes as presents. I have a constitution consultation with him after my massage this morning. He explains how to continue my progress. I have lost weight undoubtedly, but his suggestions are not very helpful, food items I shall not be able to get in France, and mealtimes that are not realistic. For my kapha constitution, I'm meant to sleep at least 10 hours a  night (I wish). Breakfast at 10h00. Lunch at 13h30 and supper at 17h30! Wheat rather than rice. Olive oil rather than ghee. Meat once a week. Fish twice. I can have a glass of wine with my meal and two shots of whisky in the evening! I never drink whisky, let alone two shots! He says it's to speed up my digestion.

Thursday 18 March
It is very misty. I go for a slow walk up river, this is the first time I've been this way. I see the fishing dog in the river, he catches fish, I've seen him do it, I even have a photo but from such a distance you can't really see what he's doing. I have some closer ones of him coming out of the water, but he is very wary.

I continue on through the rice fields and up to a banana plantation where I take lots of pictures of textures and colours. Palm trees too, coconut palms. It is really difficult to walk along the raised paths between rice fields. They are very narrow and there is water either side! There are no sounds this morning except the river and birds.

The cook has changed. Food is much more tasty.

We have power cuts all day. Power cuts mean no electricity of course, but no pump for water, and no water heater. When you see the state of the electricity supply, it's not surprising.

Friday 19th
The sun burnt through the mist earlier today and the sky is very blue. It was chilly when I first went out for my walk, but warming up when I got back. Lots of photos of banana leaves again, and the fishing dog, who bucked up enough courage to investigate me close enough for a photo.

I turn up for my massage in ordinary clothes to find that I have gone on to another treatment cycle. I am pummelled with dark brown, grainy oil and boiling hot herbal packages. Quite pleasant once you get past the first shock of the hot oil. You can feel the circulation picking up. Then dry face massage. Then nose drops. Pungent oil up the nose, which goes into the sinuses and down the throat.
There is an orange crescent moon.

Saturday 20th
A day off from walking. I go on an outing at 10h00 with four others to Manantavadi with the assistant manager as driver. It's the first time I've left YogaVilla since I arrived! 17km, but an hour’s drive via mostly paved but very narrow and potholed roads, but also a lot of track through stunning countryside. What an area. Green everywhere. Lots of building going on. Brilliant colours on houses. Quite a lot of Catholic churches. A couple of monkeys.

Manantavadi is a very busy little town. A couple of our group nearly get mown down just after getting out of the car by a man backing into them and just not stopping. To cross the road is to take your life in your hands. The driver was very helpful and takes me to a money machine and finally gets it to work for at least one of my bank cards, which turned out to be enough. Then he took me to a little spice stall, where I got a kilo of vanilla and a kilo of the most pungent black pepper for 1600Rs = 26€50 which I consider a good deal. Then to clothes shops where I buy an oufit for Cécile, a salwar kameez, in white, embroidered with pearls, not too kitsch, one for Marlena in black and white, another in olive, with a pale yellow trousers for the lady who is keeping Ellie, trousers in print on white for me, but can’t find a top to fit me. I get a length of material, for me,  a really lovely mix of old rose, with embroidery and a sequined panel, meant to be made up into something. And a “nighty”, pale pink top and trousers, too small for me, maybe for Cécile. All that for 46€.
Then we go on to another shop, where I buy 4 scarf/shawls, for one euro each, really nice.

On to lunch. The driver doesn’t want us to lunch in town, he tries to take us back, but we refuse. You see how regimented we are all the time. We give him 100Rs to go off and feed himself (about five times what he needed) and we go to a “bakery” that Diana, our Canadian lady, had found on another trip. Really nice little place. Smelt of bakery. We go through the front with counters of prepared savoury food on one side, and cakes and sweets on the other, to tables in the back, filled with Indian families on a Saturday outing with their children. Really very clean, inviting, and a good smell. So we get the last table, and return up front to choose what we want to eat. I had (a little too much!) a veggie burger, a samosa, some onion  and a nimbu pani (lime juice, stiff with sugar). All excellent and spicy. I take a picture of my veggie burger with a glacé cherry on top, typical Indian decoration! We then go back to the cake and sweet side to choose dessert, I took a small square (about an inch square) of white and brown chocolatey stuff, really good. Some of the others bought assorted boxes to take back for massage girls. The lunch (with our participation in the driver’s lunch) comes to the princely sum of 70Rs = 1€10 each. This included two bottles of water between us.

Sunday 21st
The doctor has left for four days leave, a young man is in his place. I’ve decided to leave on Tuesday. Not because the doctor is not here, but I've had enough. But I suppose there will be less fuss if he is absent. Evy, my Norwegian friend has a good place to stay up her sleeve. We are going to book this evening. I'll prepare my things tomorrow.

Monday 22nd
I have booked 5 nights in the Kappad Beach Resort, 15 km from the airport. It is off season so the price is good. It looks lovely. Evy is going to join me for the last two nights. Pool, good food, sea, beach. I leave tomorrow morning at 10 am.

We went on a wildlife drive last night, drove back and forth for hours without seeing anything. Then after 22h we saw a deer, five wild elephants and a wild boar. The elephants are impressive by their size, and because one knows they are dangerous and mortally irritable at this time of year. But they are very discreet, quiet and camouflaged. Hard to see in the lights of the jeep.

Quite a business getting out of this place. Everyone is trying to get me to change my mind.  The doctor is sulking nd has refused to give me medicines to take away with me!

No water or electricity all day again. I’m going to ask for a reduction.

My yoga class was very good. Nice simple effective stuff, he’s understood me well.

It's impossible to get a bill, the manager has taken off and no one else can OK a reduction.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

MORE INDIA, 12 - 16 MARCH (don't give up, I'll soon be finished!)

Friday 12th March

Up at 6h45, out for a walk at 7. I take the flat road through the rice fields. It's very cool when I set out. I get lots of photos, the light is different. Animals today, and different greens of palm trees, banana trees and rice. Lots of cattle around. This place is quite extraordinary simply because it is so ordinary! No Taj Mahal, palaces or ruined temples. Just simple rural life, devoid of tourists. We are very privileged.

Days are becoming quiet and routine. My massage time is now 11am. Can’t wash afterwards, they put special slimming oil on me at the end that I have to keep on two hours. So I go to lunch all greasy!
The group changes daily. People leave, more arrive. I have met such interesting women, we have really good discussions over meals, which we take at large tables on an open balcony in front of the kitchen, overlooking the river. It is an idyllic spot. And so quiet, the only sounds are birds and cattle, and women whacking clothes on rocks in the river.

We had a cookery lesson at 18h00. The recipes were not much of a surprise, to me anyway, but it was fun. They don’t put pepper or chili in our food, which makes it a bit boring. Akil, one of the "receptionists", has just graduated from hotel school. He did the cooking and explaining, under the watchful eye of the chef, and was obviously in his element.

Saturday 13th
It would have been Daddy's 96th birthday. I get up at 6h30; and am out for my walk at 6h50. Lots of mist. I prefer to be alone, but it is difficult because we all walk the same routes at roughly the same time. Lots of photos of rice, rice fields, cows, a child… same old thing, different light. A lovely old tree with a face and marvellous bark.

They give me a kerala style head dress after massage today to keep my hair out of the way. Fourth out of five days of eye treatment. I expect it’ll be the nose drops next now that my throat is better.

The kitchen relents and gives me some chili at lunchtime. Makes all the difference. Food is good today, except breakfast, just a plate of cucumber carrot and onion, no fruit. But I managed to get half a banana wrapped rice cake.

I've got sciatica now. I take two nurofen before going to bed and sleep well once I find the right position.

Sunday 14th
Up at 6h30, out by 6h50. Heavy mist which at 8h30 still hasn’t risen. It even wets my hair. I see a man on a bicycle with earmuffs. They wear them when it is cold! (This morning it must be 20° instead of 30°.) I  another man on a bicycle that I see often, with St Joseph mudguards, and I thought he was probably on his way to Mass… but I see later he has stopped and is selling scratch lottery tickets to a woman, who buys three, scratches them and chucks them on the grass in front of her house. Littering is not a problem.

I go into a plantation of rubber trees, nicked, with little rubber cups to catch the sap.Photograph lots of birds, not very well, they are all very shy, there are large pied wagtails but it is impossible to get a photo they are so flighty. I have discovered functions on my camera that I didn’t know existed. Nice green when you photograph trees for instance.

It’s Sunday so everything is very quiet. We have a special breakfast, lentils, potato dal, spinach, fruit, and two rice pancakes, just like American pancakes but a bit sour, with honey.

I had all my treatments this morning, last yellow oil, last eye treatment, last ear treatment, last gargle. The staff are all off to an engagement party this afternoon.

Lunch is very quiet too, most guests seem to be out. I don’t want to go out, I don’t know where they find the energy; And it’s sort of satisfying not spending money! We had potato curry, I managed to get chili again. And a poppadum. A treat. And fruit.

After lunch I take photos of the massage girls dressed up to go to the party. They are quite beautiful. With long strands of jasmine in their hair. When one takes a photo they all stand to attention and no one smiles.

I’ve been doing tapestry all afternoon, watching the changing greens across the river and reflecting on things. It is strange that we are as many as 22 women at a time, 15 nationalities we counted the other day. One man at the beginning who left my first day, Barry and Lucy in the middle for a week, a really nice young English couple. And we all get on. There are some who are very loud when they arrive, but they seem to quieten very quickly. On the whole everyone fits in, we talk about all sorts of things, we feel genuinely concerned about the problems and health of the others. Not everyone is here to lose weight. They are here for chronic asthma, skin problems, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome... but everyone seems to benefit from the treatment.

Today being Sunday whole families have come down to the river to play. Some people never seem to have a day off. The gardener has been here all day. He is the only one to join his hands in namasté when he says good morning. This morning he gave me a namaskaram, good morning in Malayalam. He’s a lovely old chap. The cook was not here this morning. He just arrived, surprisingly, on a shiny motorbike. He’s fairly elderly, and doesn’t look the type.

My massage girl says she gives her salary to her father. She did a year’s training in Hyderabad, must have cost a fortune. Will she continue working after she gets married? Depends on the husband. But, I said, surely, your father has invested in your education, he’s not going to choose a husband who will not let you work. She agreed  tentatively. She wants to continue.

I’ve had a curious experience with a sort of wood wasp. I saw one coming in and out of my room and thought she was probably laying eggs in the woodwork somewhere. By chance I caught her next to my suitcase, and found that she was building a little mud nest on the outside of my case. It was wet, so I destroyed it, sprayed my case with insect repellent and thought she’d go away. Next afternoon, I found a finished nest, all dry, next to the first. I took it off gently and found two sort of mud pellets inside and a grub. I got rid of those and wanted to keep the little mud nest. It was a work of art. Completely smooth on the inside, oval, with a little opening in the front with a decoration of mud as if the opening was peeled back. I wanted to bring it back to show people. But the following afternoon, the girls came to clean my room, a rare enough occurrence, and although they don’t take away essential things, like the trash bin for instance, they removed the little nest which was sitting on my third bed. I’m really quite upset, and am almost hoping the insect will come back and do another!

The three who went out for the day came back at supper time. They’d seen a lone bull elephant, and apparently the driver was not at ease at all, and villagers were studying the beast to see which way it would go. They destroy crops massively, especially at this time of year, the end of the dry season when there is little left to eat. It appears they are especially fractious at this time of year too.

Monday 15th

No walk this morning, just didn’t feel like it.

I have a new massage cycle, buttermilk poured on my forehead for half an hour, with a sort of bandana tied above my eyebrows. It goes into your hair and is meant to be good for the hair, thyroid and especially the brain! I could do with that!  But they don’t rinse it afterwards. Then I have a face mask for 15mns. No body massage. It's very pleasant, but I'm meant to keep the butter milk in my hair for an hour and when the time is up,  I have no water.

When I finally got my water fixed, I have a hell of a job getting my matted tangled hair back into shape.

It is getting hotter and hotter and even locals agree that this is a heat wave. I’d kill for a cold beer…

Tuesday 16th
6h30, 1 walk for an hour and a half. It's frightfully hot already, and I have no water to wash with. In the afternoon there is a big thunderstorm and the temperature drops by 20°. There are only ten of us left.

Monday, 19 April 2010


Sunday 7th March
I take quite a long walk up the road. The disadvantage is that it is uphill all the way, quite rough track to start with. But then the road is tarred, so although it is steadily uphill the going is easier. And it's downhill all the way back! Different environment. Lots of houses, strung out, a couple of shops. Paths leading off into the forest, and down to the rice fields.

The head gardener, such a nice man!
And Narayan, one of the kitchen boys cum waiter; from Nepal, fetching the milk.

Everyone at the Villa seems a bit exploited. Or rather, they earn the wage for the job here in India. I have been told that the woman who endlessly sweeps the garden earns 50 Rs a day, 0,50€, the head gardener 60 Rs, 0,60€ and the masseuses 100 Rs (about 1€60). I have verified this since by asking them outright. They work an awfully long day for that amount, and the treatment rests upon their competence. They have attended school for a whole year to qualify. We are not paying very much compared to other places, notably on the coast,, but when you think that the thirty-odd people that look after us (kitchen, dining room, “reception”, doctor, massage, garden, etc) are not earning for the most part more than 2€ a day, and there are about 25 guests at the moment, that makes a healthy profit. And  a lot of us are not eating much either!

I've had a really good morning in spite of bronchitis, and managed to cadge a bit of apple at lunchtime. I didn’t feel sleepy so I did a bit of tapestry after lunch, much to the delight of the cleaning and gardening ladies who have spent a lot of time admiring my work! But it has been a hot day, the locals consider it a heat wave. The temperature rises to above 40°C at midday.

16h30 and time for my massage and steam bath. I feel distinctly fragile again. The doctor catches up with me, declares I have a temperature, gives me more medicine, which this time doesn't seem to work a charm, and two of his blue pills which I spit out as soon as he has his back turned. Better tomorrow maybe.

Monday 8th
What a night! Terrible cough, infected chest. Luckily I have a pharmacy in my suitcase. I took an antibiotic before going to bed last night and two ibuprofen. The difference between ayurvedic and western medicine, one of the differences, is that here the doctor couldn't care less about your present state of comfort, his only concern is rebalancing your system. Whereas in the west we are used to being given something for instant comfort, and a doctor will sometimes only look at the real root of the problem if he has time. So I'm following my own treatment. When I get up, I find I have no voice. I skip my rice porridge, I'd rather go hungry. One of the Swedish ladies brings me tiger balm from an expedition into town to do an inhalation.

The doctor briefed me on tomorrow’s events, vomiting, which start at 5h15 sharp. He told me how difficult it would be. But I think I just want to get it over now. I get oatmeal porridge with milk and sugar tonight at least. A distinct improvement. All these details must seem disgusting to people outside. But life here revolves around them, as do our conversations! It is not a gastronomic adventure. It’s doesn't even feel like a holiday for the moment. The end result has to be clearly borne in mind at all times otherwise one would leave.

There is a sprinkler playing outside my balcony. A very English sound in the middle of India. It’s so hot, yet we are in the mountains and in one of the cooler parts of India. What the poor people elsewhere must suffer, having to work in such heat. The children bathe in the river after school. I thought it was only boys. They take their clothes off down to their underpants, pile them on a rock and wrap themselves in dhotis to swim. Today I saw girls bathing with the boys. Little children, 6 to 8 roughly. The girls bathe fully clothed, in little dresses with sleeves and trousers underneath. Not practical, but better than not bathing I suppose. They seem to be having good fun.

There is a bird that sings ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo. In very muted tones. I saw it today, about the size of a cuckoo, chestnut brown on its back, but I couldn’t see the underside. Is it a hoopoe?

The woman who sweeps the leaves must be very low in the caste hierarchy. I thought naïvely that caste didn’t exist in India any longer. But evidently it does. She looks very sad and resigned. She sits and eats apart from everyone else. I read in Arundhati Roy that fifty years ago untouchables had to walk backwards, bent over a broom with which they swept their footsteps, lest they pollute the footsteps of someone else. What a life.

I still haven’t got my voice back. “No sound” they say here, as if someone has switched my sound off! I’m so tired I’m not really worrying about tomorrow. One step at a time…

I think I hear monkeys calling in the forest opposite.

It is Women's Day today. Evi, my Norwegian neighbour, gave a wonderful little talk. She it was that was partly responsible for initiating the programme in 1975 at the ILO.

Tuesday 9th March
Very bad night coughing again, but I don't feel apprehensive. I wake at 5am; wash a bit and dress and go to the treatment rooms. Massage, steam, drink four half pint mugs of warm milk, then one of a terrible gritty pungent medicine that takes the skin off the back of my throat. Then more cows milk and decoction of bitter herbs. Then more of the thick stuff. A very unpleasant experience. Headache, raw throat. To cut a long and rather disgusting story short, it works only partially, so they give up.

I make the firm decision to talk to the doctor and refuse any further treatment except yoga and diet. And to leave a week early to experience something else of India. I catch him at 16h00. He listens carefully, and tries to convince me that I should change nothing. But when I insist, we go to his surgery to look at my file. The long and the short of it is that he doesn’t want to shorten my stay. No nose treatment till my throat is better (very pungent stuff they drop in your nose to clear your sinuses); no enemas. That convinces me to give it another try. And I weigh myself and I have lost 6 kg in a week, which is amazing, I can’t quite see where the weight is missing!

Everyone has been kind and concerned about my health, and complimentary about the weight I have lost.

It has been even hotter today. But there is a strong northerly wind. Lots of little bats at sundown.

Wednesday 10th March
First real food even if it is diet proportions. For breakfast I have watermelon juice, and a plate of cucumber slices and carrot in small pieces and a slice of red onion. The carrot is so tasty. After all the fasting, food tastes quite different. Then a few bits of fruit, grapes, banana, watermelon. With lemon juice to drink. I feel quite full! I’m coughing less.

Today I start a new programme, full body massage with yellow oil which smells of fruit, then eye treatment. Weird. They put a clay cup, like an eye bath cup but bigger, around the eye and fix it with wet clay. Then they pour warm ghee into the cup, and one has to open and shut the eye 100 times! Vaguely unpleasant but not painful. Then the other eye. The oil is meant to stay on the body and hair for an hour. The girls wrap my head in a towel and I go straight to lunch. Tastes like heaven. A sort of coconut cake, okra with a little chili and onions, a salad with onion tomato carrot, a dal of some kind and a chapatti.  A banana. And lemon juice.

I've got through the first week, everything is looking better. You can't believe, well maybe you can for having listened to me moan and groan, how difficult, demoralising and tiring it all is during that first week. Then the sun comes out. The  treatment is no longer nasty, the food is simple but good. And the weight is coming off.

My massage girl has been called back home by her father for the night. I asked her if it was to meet a husband, she said no, they would choose for her next year. She’s tiny and so pretty and cheerful. She told me her mother is 47 and her father 75. Her mother works as a coolie and her father is retired. She is 20.

I went to yoga at 5pm. There are so many people who are really good at it,  I felt clumsy and gauche and very tired still. The teacher is going to give me a private lesson with a private programme.

Thursday 11th March
It is in the early morning that I sleep the best. But I have to wake up and go for my walk. I slept till 7 this morning. Out by 7h07. Walked up the road, farther than I’ve gone yet. I met one of the kitchen ladies, she picked me a branch of bougainvillea. Lots of children, in school uniform and on their way to take the bus, want to talk in the morning. The conversation is always the same: What is your name, where is your home. I speak to one little boy of about 12 who tells me he is taking exams today. He asks me if I have come alone, and I say yes, that in Europe women do lots of things alone, that I live alone, and he says “That is funny”. I take a photo of two girls, their mother comes out to see the photo in my camera, so I take another of her and her daughters. They love seeing the result of the photo immediately. She gives me her address so that I can send the photo. They are delighted. I take another of a man leading a small cow. I show him and he has a good laugh.

On my way back down I meet the kitchen waiter coming to work. He is so nice and polite, he walks with me and tries to make conversation. I keep telling him that I can’t walk as fast as him, but he insists on accompanying me. But when we come to a side turning, he says “Short cut, I shall be late” and tears off through the forest! Poor thing I hope he doesn’t get into trouble for his gentlemanly behaviour.

Ear and throat treatment, then massage and eye treatment. When I get back I have no water at all, let alone hot water, so I can’t get much of the yellow oil out of my hair with just cold water from the bucket. That is the worst thing here, the state of bathrooms. In our three bungalows at any rate, we seem to be the least well off.  My shower has not worked from the beginning. I have to use the jug and bucket method. I took a week to understand how to get a trickle of hot water. And most of the time there is no water at all, so it’s best to keep the bucket full when there is. The floor becomes quite slippery with oil, because there is no hot water to dissolve it.

Above are photos of my massage girls. They wear aprons to work with, but are in the most beautiful clothes and manage never to get them dirty with oil and herbs and such. You strip and sit on a chair for hair and head massage. Then onto the table, which is quite high, with a raised edge to contain the oil and handles to grip on to. One slides around quite a lot. They do the face and neck first. Then the stand at your feet and chant a little prayer. Then up and down your body extremely energetically, using a lot of warm oil. Then you turn on one side, then on your stomach, then the other side, then front again.  They do feet and ankles at the end. Wipe you off and let you go. An hour in all. I go last in the evening. My appointment is 16h30, I’m out at 17h45. Time to wash and read a bit before supper.

The weather has been hot, but there were clouds this afternoon. At one stage they even covered the sun, which is the first time it's done that since I’ve been here.