Oil slick
selling fish at sunset on the middle cliff in Varkala

Oil slick

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Yesterday afternoon I met a guy and a few hours later he was pouring four liters of scented oil over me as he slowly ran his fingers through my hair.

No, it’s not a scene that wouldn’t clear the Indian film commission’s censorship standards; I was going in for a little ayurveda.

Dig out your atlases (atlasii?), I’m in Varkala.

With its dramatic seaside cliffs, white-skinned populace with tribal tats and yoga-altera-centric culture, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was California and not India.  The tourist draw is fairly obvious because, aside from the scenery (which makes for really nice sunsets over the Arabian Sea), the state of Kerala is the capital of ayurveda and Varkala may be its center with nearly 60 clinics.

In fact this was my second (and less intimate) run-in with ayurveda.  Last week I did a full body oil massage that was supposed to “rejuvenate the nervous system and impart youthfulness and vigor.”  Hey, if you’ve been following along you know that after the week I had I could have used a little rejuvenation.  That massage was basically the orientation massage; real ayurveda treatments can last weeks in an effort to fix one’s internal flows.

Having gotten the flavor of what it’s like to have some dude (most massage places here in India are “gents for gents only and ladies for ladies) smother you with herbal oil, I figured I’d back up and start “at the top” so to speak.  I felt like I couldn’t miss the head massage which is, after all, the hallmark of this 5000-year old some-say-it-is-some-say-it-isn’t-medical practice.  What can I say, I finally succumbed to the advertising maxim that if you promote something enough – no matter how silly or crazy it seems at first – people will buy into it and there are signs up all over the place here in Kerala (most using the same stock photography) showing people enraptured by this particular treatment.  So, I figured how could I miss out on an hour of having warm oil poured over my third eye?

I did relax a bit over the course of my hour of treatment but for the first five minutes or so I felt like I was either going to cry or my head would explode because of the continuous warm, wet feeling just over my eyes which seemed to activate something that isn’t usually activated just above my eyebrows.  When the doctor asked me how I felt at the end of the session I had to tell him honestly that rather than “refreshed” or “rejuvenated” I felt “oily.”  Clearly this wasn’t the answer he was looking for which prompted him to admit that I didn’t seem tuned in to what he was doing.  However, on the plus side, the session was really good for one thing: my hair.

After a few weeks of travel filled with desert air, pollution and hard water, my hair wasn’t exactly looking like the star of a Pantene ad.  But, it’s amazing how shiny and smooth it gets after an hour-long oil massage.  Granted, some of that luster dulled a bit when the doc’s assistant rubbed what I think was cedar powder into my scalp as a capstone to the treatment to – and I’m paraphrasing here – close up the hole they made in my head chakra so I wouldn’t catch a cold.