I think people divide quite easily into camps – those who happily strip off in the gym changing room and those who don’t.
I am a fully signed up member of the latter. But today I found myself sitting on a plastic stool, with just my pants on, otherwise naked in front of a four foot something young Indian masseuse, who parted my legs so that she could stand in front of me to rub a lot of oil in my hair.
It could have been worse. (There is always a ‘Could have been worse.’) Thanks to three months on the road, my underwear is not at its best. One pair has a hole in the elastic, another has been stained by Red Tiger Balm (for an inconveniently placed mosquito bite). It looks like there has been a bad accident, something that Imodium could not hold back, if you see what I mean. Luckily, neither of those were present.
We are in a stark room, no soft music, no robes, no little glass of water. I’m all ready for an Ayurvedic massage. We have quite literally come in off the street after a walk in the hot early afternoon sun. It’s not something we planned this morning, and ideally I would like a shower, but it is not offered. It doesn’t matter. She may not have taken a shower today either.
As soon as she closes the door, she says ‘Change.’ And she waits while I take everything off. None of this leaving you for a few moments while you get face down on a massage table and cover yourself with a towel.
I close my eyes and try to relax while she tugs at my hair and digs in with her fingers (bliss). And then I lie face down on the massage bed. No hole for your face, just a tiny square brown cushion to put your head on. No towel on the massage table, or disposable paper cover. It’s just you and the black plastic and oil. Lots of body temperature warm oil.
Relax, I tell myself. Relax – but not too much. I have recently eaten a roast paneer curry, though I suppose the effect might be dissipated quite quickly by the fan overhead which is set on full blast.
And now I remember that she can probably see the mosquito bites on my cheeks and the associated pinpricks surrounding them where the bug clearly had many stabs at it before success.
The massage itself is very good, and is literally top to toe. A bit of slapping and chopping and a lot of rubbing. Heck, she even fingers my coccyx and circles my buttocks.
Then she flips me over. Nothing to hide now.
The second she finishes, she says ‘That’s it, done’. No small talk. No ‘lie there for a moment or two’. No dinging of a bell to bring you back into the room.
Oh but we’re not finished yet. She needs me to sit up, squelching in oil, and instead of handing me a towel, she insists on rubbing me down with a piece of cloth the size of a small scarf. It looks like a mechanic’s rag by the time she has accumulated the oil and a layer of Indian dust.
‘Nice time in Kerala, ma’am?’ as she lifts a boob to wipe underneath.
She even waits and watches as I get dressed.
And the strangest thing about the whole experience? When we went into an office to book the massage, the man knocked 800 rupees off the advertised price, without us even looking like we were dithering or likely to haggle. Now that’s weird.
Meanwhile, David was having a rub-down next door…
Nearly three months through our travels: one stone lighter, three months remaining. Kerala is a mostly dry state, i.e. no beer for the last two weeks.
Today we ‘treated’ ourselves to an Ayurvedic massage. The company front man gives you a menu with set prices though of course my first choice was not available. The first surprise/worry was that before Mrs Moo could flex her bartering skills he immediately offered us a very healthy discount. £20 for two two-hour massages.
Caroline’s masseuse was a lovely looking Indian woman, though she seemed to be only about 16, and mine, typically, was a scruffy young man in jeans and T-shirt. No spa uniform tunics here.
This is our third massage during our time in Asia. The first was the obligatory Thai massage (though not the ‘happy ending’ sort that we have been told about… Just as well as we were in a very public place. My masseuse was a lady with all the physical charm of Bernard Manning and the strength of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Brutal.
Then, on a beach in Sri Lanka, a man in beach shorts armed with two bottles of oil literally offered to ‘do’ Caroline on the beach for a very reasonable price. He ended doing us both and in all fairness was a very gifted masseur. Fabulous.
Today… was different again. Being told to strip off to pants (fortunately genuine Calvin Kleins as opposed to the fakes picked up in a Siem Reap market) by a youngster with no preamble, soft music, no drinks, no meal, was a bit abrupt. A pot of oil was bubbling on a gas stove in the corner of the room and this was applied liberally. There followed what can only be described as a good slapping. Not my thing to be honest but strangely relaxing until he got to my abdomen.
I ticked off the underlying viscera… stomach, safe enough, liver, no problem, no enlargement there, kidneys, spleen, all okay and then… perhaps not a good idea to percuss over my quite full bladder…
After an hour of being used as a tom-tom ,my massage was over but for a rub-down with an oily rag.
It wasn’t quite The Club Spa, or Hotel de France, or even Lilo Lil, but it was an experience.