What happens when a solo woman traveler from Canada visits South India in search of relaxation and wellness
It was on my first trip to India, back in 2005, that I discovered the charm of the southern regions of India. Travelling solo, I landed in Delhi but once winter set in, I flew southwards, in the search of a warmer clime, to Kovalam in Kerala. There began my relationship with southern India, yoga, Ayurvedic massages and traditional detoxification; an association that continues till date.
In god’s own country
Kerala is known as the home of Ayurveda, an ancient curative healing science from India. Ayurveda – which can be loosely translated into the science of life – helps restore health and wellness using natural methods such as massages, diets, and herbal medicines. I spent two weeks immersed in all that Kerala and Ayurveda have to offer at the Shinshiva Ayurveda Resort near Kovalam: a sun-drenched beach, tropical breezes, fresh local food, the healing hands of my massage therapists, and the knowledge and wisdom of the in-house Ayurvedic doctor.
It was a great introduction to the sunny south of India. After I left the Ayurveda resort, I hired a car and driver and drove north to Kochi or Cochin, as it is popularly called. I stopped at the lush Sivananda Ashram near Neyyar Damn outside of Thiruvananthapuram or Trivandrum, and at the Amritapuri Ashram of Mata Amritanandamayi, who is otherwise known as “Amma, the hugging saint.”
At the end of my trip, I had in my mind formed an image of Kerala as a very special destination, where yoga, Ayurveda and wellness meet. As a solo female traveller, I also felt completely safe and cared for. Today I often describe Kerala as a “soft landing” to travel in India.
When Goa heals
On another trip to India, I again felt drawn to the sun-soaked southern parts of the country, but this time I chose to explore Goa. The tiny state on the Arabian Sea is of course known for beaches, vibrant sundowner parties and lively shacks by the water, but I decided to discover a not-so-known side of Goa on a wellness trail. First I headed north to Ashiyana Yoga Retreat near Mandrem beach. I was so pleasantly surprised to discover a yoga centre that seemed to have it all – a great location near a good beach, a beautiful property with a wide range of rooms, a spa, delicious vegetarian food and a genuine commitment to practice yoga traditionally. At Ashiyana, I discovered a community of people dedicated to living a healthy lifestyle and concerned about their impact on the environment.
Throughout my trip to Goa, I continued to discover people and places that demonstrated this attitude of health, wellness, and environmental awareness. While in Goa, I also visited an Ayurveda centre on Divar island near old Goa. This rural region is located in the interior of the state and has a laid-back, rustic charm, which is itself very relaxing and healing. Slowly, I made my way down to south Goa, with a stop at Panjim, the capital city. I stayed at a lovely property at Fontainhas, one of Asia’s few Latin quarters. I wandered alone through the lively streets lined by quaint heritage buildings on balmy evenings, soaking up the unique atmosphere of the neighbourhood that seems suspended in time. The combination of the old world charm and tropical climate acted like a magical elixir on my soul.
That magic followed me to Agonda beach, where it was love at first sight. A crescent-shaped swathe of sand, lined with small beach resorts and shacks, and a very peaceful, natural vibe, Agoda is heavenly. I started to make friends immediately as there were many other solo female travellers there, who all shared an interest in adventure, spirituality, and following a healthy lifestyle. I made memories for life!
The call of Karnataka
More recently, my travels to South India have taken me to Karnataka. The state’s coastline is not as well-known as the one in Goa and Kerala, but with places like Gokarna and Udupi, it’s well worth visiting. Udupi is the home of an ancient Krishna temple, and it is also gaining a reputation as an Ayurveda and health centre. I have visited Udupi twice for Ayurvedic treatments, always making time to enjoying the expansive sand bars of the nearby Malpe beach.
After my second treatment finished – three weeks of bland food, oil massages, and internal cleansing procedures – I rewarded myself with a trip to Gokarna and the famous Om beach. The latter is the most well-known of Gokarna’s beaches, which run along the entire coastline in this area. It’s fun to meander among the backroads of Gokarna, discovering tiny hamlets and charming, simple resorts.
I took the train from the picturesque railway station in Udupi and stayed at a cliff top resort with sweeping views of the ocean, the rugged coastline, and the – yes – om-symbol shaped Om beach. Om or Aum is a sacred syllable in Hinduism that is chanted before or after prayers. As I had learnt during my previous trips, meditating and reciting “om” along with every deep breath can be one of the most serene experiences in life, and can make a person feel in tune with the universe. Sitting on that cliff, listening to the ocean waves crash on the rocks below, I too felt in harmony with the natural beauty and healing energy I had discovered in South India.
Inland, Karnataka also has a lot to offer to soulful travellers in search of nature and peace. Mysuru or Mysore is a small city with a glorious past and heritage site like the grand Mysore Palace, and it’s currently one of the leading yoga hubs in India.
In southern India, I have found peace, nature, and healing atmospheres. It’s a land that keeps calling me back again and again.