So, here I am, riding on the back of a motorcycle. Swami Siddarth is taking me from the ashram into Rajpipla to catch the bus to Vadodara. My pack is on my back. I’m wearing shorts, a t-shirt and thongs. No helmet but I am wearing my sunnies for protection. We are riding on Indian roads in Indian driving conditions. Some rose coloured glasses foreigners call the Indian way of driving “intuitive”. Me, I just count my imaginary rosary and chant, “I’ll never do this again, I’ll never do this again…”
Baba will be away from the ashram for a month, so, I decided to have a weeks Ayurvedic treatment in Vadodara. I had been considering going to one of two very good places in Kerala on my way out of India as I’ll be flying Air Asia out of Cochin. However, that would mean having to leave the ashram early and after my few days with Baba, I suspect that I won’t want to leave any earlier than I have to.
It’s 80 kms from Rajpipla to Vadodara and takes two hours. That’s a driving speed of 40 kms/hr. That gives you some idea of the condition of the highway much of the way. Traffic is not that heavy. I was driven out here in a car. The bus journey in is not my preferred mode of transport but that’s how the cookie has crumbled.
After fifteen minutes waiting, the empty bus arrived. As it began backing into it’s spot, still four metres away and moving, people began to jump on. I wanted an aisle seat close to the front, so, I joined the game. Not only were we jumping on a moving bus but we were jostling for position at the same time! We all survived and I got an aisle seat half way back on the two seat side of the bus. My backpack managed to fit above and I was set to go. As it turned out, the ride was ok. The seat was padded and I could just barely fit my knees behind the next seat, so, I wasn’t too sore by the time we reached Vadodara two hours later. A lady at the front of the bus read the address for the health centre that Anand had written in Hindi and Siddarth in Gujarati. I got down at a large round about, found a rickshaw and had him ring the clinic. The phone number was below the address. A little negotiation and we were on the way for 130 rupees. The bus only cost me 60 rupees. The location of the clinic was well outside the city ten years ago. Now, it is on the edge of the city. We turned at the sign for the Emu farm and we were there.
My first glimpse was of a two story building with a nice sized garden along one side. When I entered, I found myself in an open airy lounge area looking through to a small inner court garden. The doctor was phoned and after the hellos, I was shown to my room for a shower before my initial consultation.
Room nice. The bed was long enough for me. Most Indian beds are six feet long. Being six, two, I find myself sleeping diagonally a lot. The ashram has an extra long bed for me. I’m going to take it with me when I leave. Walking down the road with my bed strapped to my back!
Back to my clinic room. There was a TV! Soap and shampoo ordinary commercial brand, not herbal. Glad I brought my own shampoo. A bucket shower and fresh clothes and I was ready.
I knew from the website that this was a family business with the father, son and daughter all MDs. Only the father had an Ayurvedic degree. Their principle degrees were in western medicine. I wondered about that but was open to this complementary medicine thing. My interview was with the son. After a brief medical history, he explained a little about Ayurveda. The three elements that need to be in balance. If you have too much ‘pita’, then, this happens, etc. He, then, took out a sheet of questions that he asked me to determine which of the three I leaned towards. Just as we finished, the father showed up and began by saying that he had practiced in Indianapolis. A little chit-chat and some talk about the origins of Ayurveda and it’s relation to meditation. I was told that my first treatment would be at four that afternoon and I was on my way to lunch. Later, I realised that I never did find out what my diagnosis was. Am I ‘pita’ or bagette or what?
Lunch- Food same as ‘except less oil, ghee, sugar and salt’. Not what I was hoping for. Did have pawpaw with afternoon tea. Nutra sugar substitute! At four thirty, I went looking for the guy who gives the treatments. He rang the doctor on his mobile and I was told that I would just have Shirodhara that day. (The family lives in rooms on the top floor of the clinic, but, even though they are that close, the help always rang them on their mobile phones.)
So, first treatment- turns out that I was handed to a younger guy who did the actual treatment. The shirodhara was only ten minutes. (That’s the slow pouring of oil on your forehead. It is said to do all sorts of great things.) Fan too high. Not that exciting. Just starting to relax when it was over and I was getting a head rub. Found out that they don’t do the treatments with the hot ghee and bags of herbs. Very disappointed! Full treatment tomorrow at 7am. We’ll see how it goes. So far… not too impressed.
A little history: Four years ago, I had a series of treatments at an Ayuvedic hospital in Pondicherri. They were great. I was wearing this T strip of cloth around my special parts and stretched out on this wooden table with a trough around the inside edge and high sides. The practitioners dipped muslin bags of herbs in hot ghee (clarified butter) and pounded me all over. It was delicious. My muscles melted. Some of the sessions there were two men pounding me at the same time. The first two session were just one man. The third session another guy showed up. It turned out that he was the advanced practitioner. I mentioned a place on my spine, upper back, that was giving me trouble. (a couple times a year my spine would slip out of alignment and cause all the muscles of my chest to contract. Not a pleasant experience. I carry some muscle relaxant at all times to relieve the intense pain.) So, this new guy reaches around and feels beside my spine. He does this little motion that I hardly feel and I’m better. It was a year and a half before I had a recurrence. This is the kind of treatment that I am looking for.
After another shower and shampoo, it was dinner time. Returning to my room after my meal, which included drinking two tablespoons of liquid Ghee, I went to open my window. Well, I immediately closed said window as there was tremendous amounts of smoke from cooking fires waiting to enter. I had to resort to the air con until ten that night to have fresh air. As I sat there, over the sound of the air con, I heard some loud pounding. I traced it to the family’s apartments upstairs. The one other guest had mentioned renovations taking place for a visiting brother. The demolition continued until 11:30 that night.
Next morning, I was up and ready at seven o’clock. We began with the Shirodhara again. Again, only starting to relax when told to sit up for head rub. Then, right into a massage that was a brisk rubdown that lasted maybe twenty minutes. After that, take two herbal tablets and drink two glasses of water and into a steam cabinet for fifteen minutes. Another shower and shampoo and I was out the door. Oh,yeh, no little T strip of cloth. Ended with oil on my own boxer shorts.
Back in my room, I picked up my bags that I had packed that morning and headed out to the reception lounge. A cleaner was dispatched to find the doctor whom I told, “Your treatment does not include what I was wanting. The massage with the herbal bags and hot ghee.” (I know, I’m too nice.) To my delight, there was no objection to my leaving. No suggestions. We settled the bill at one treatment and a night’s lodging. The doctor even rang a rickshaw driver and instructed him to take me to the bus station and make sure I got on the correct bus.
I have to say that what these people are doing would probably be of help to a lot of people. How much? Is it Ayurveda? From my experience, only on the most basic level and I don’t foresee them going into any real depth in their training and experience.
I had the rickshaw driver stop for fresh coconut milk on the way to the station. I treated him to one as well. We were forty-five minutes early. I told him to leave. I would be fine. He insisted on waiting. After five minutes of fidgeting, he passed me off to an older couple who had arrived. I must tell you about this couple. As they approached, the man had this very strange walk. His legs were very stiff and he moved them mostly through an awkward rotation of his hips. I was wondering if this was a medical condition, some degenerative disease, or from some accident. Then, I saw his wife walking behind him. She had the exact same awkward gate! This was a real first for me. I could only imagine that over the years she had imitated his gate for some reason that was even weirder than the gait.
The bus arrived and I headed out, leaving the couple behind. The crowd was forming. There were passengers that needed to disembark this time, so, the boarding crowd was very large before the squeeze through the door began. I noticed that some people were pushing bags through the windows to cadge seats. Using my backpack as a battering ram, I surged forward cutting off a well padded matron. A late departing passenger had to make way for this determined foreigner at the door well. It was not a pretty scene. I was not embarrassed.
The bus left on time and took exactly two hours to reach Rajpipla. I got off at the entry to town and found a young man to loan me the use of him mobile phone. Anand had not received the email that I had sent him the night before. It took a few moments for him to understand that I was in Rajpipla and not Vadodara. He said that he would send Siddarth for me.
Twenty minutes later and I was sitting on the back of a motorcycle. My pack on my back. Wearing shorts, t-shirt and thongs, with my sunnies for protection and counting my imaginary beads…”I swear that I will never do this again, I swear that I will never do this again….”