I wrote this having been at Matt India for about 10 days.
I feel as if I've been here a month, especially as my body is now more or less adjusted to the initial effects of the harsh therapies and unfamiliar medicines. The first Seven-Day phase is completed, and the treatments are now marginally less painful. Let me describe my typical morning session. After breakfast I settle on the verandah with my laptop, to see what's been happening to the family on Facebook, or write up an action list for the Cathedral Congregation Annual Barbecue, which I inevitably volunteered to organise, or I search out some photos for this blog. Mid-to-late morning, Arjay the masseur seeks me out and I nip back to my room to park my laptop and to strip down to a discreet wrap-around and walk down the corridor to the massage room. Any images of lush, decadent décor should be dispelled; this room looks more like a stock-room at the rear of a back-street garage than a specialist treatment room at a health clinic. To be fair, the painter/decorator is working his way round the building, and much of the facade is now gleaming white and the woodwork has adopted a vibrant shade of royal blue, and it's difficult to keep a place clean and tidy when you're sloshing around large quantities of massage oil. The massage bench is natural wood with an up-stand all round and a drain hole in one corner. The tiled floor of the room is engrained with years of massage oil and the walls carry the scars of splashes and smears. The therapists wear everyday clothes that also bear the stains of their trade. BUT they are superb at their job. They always work in pairs. If I am standing or sitting up, then one works on my front while another works on my back. If I am lying down then one works on my left and the other massages my right. They work in rhythmic harmony, which has a wonderful, relaxing effect. However, they have the ability to locate the precise, painful pressure points on the side of the thigh or the centre of the instep, and work on them until I am literally screaming for mercy. I have spent a whole week writhing in agony, pleading for respite and gasping for breath. Other guests give a knowing nod and smile, because they've all been through it in their first week. Now in my second week, the nature of the massage has changed and is in general less conventional and more gentle. I climb on the bench and lie face-down. At the foot of the bench is the boiling ring linked to the gas cylinder, and on the ring is a large pan of medicated oil, roughly the colour of engine-oil, but with a definite herbal aroma. The men scoop out oil and pour it into long-spouted jugs that look like small designer-watering-cans, but without the rose. They then start at my feet and pour the hot oil over me, working up and down and side to side. The effect is amazingly soothing, except when they pause on one spot and the heat builds up, forcing me to wriggle and squeal, trying to avoid the painful build-up of heat. After the best part of half-an-hour, I turn over – not an easy manoeuvre when you're totally laid-back, very slippery and dripping with heavy oil – and lie face-up. The process continues, and is almost hypnotic, though when they work around my lower waist, the sensation of a flow of warm oil, to and fro across my genitals, is unusual, – to say the least. The whole process lasts about 45 minutes, after which I sit on a chair to recover, while the masseurs clean up and boil the oil so it's sterilised and ready to use on the next patient. They then prepare the pommels of herbs which are used in the next treatment. These are squares of muslin that are tied tightly around a stuffing of herbs to form a pommel. They are put into a shallow dish of a different oil over the flame to heat, releasing a strong herbal fragrance. I then climb back up and lie down, to be pounded all over with these bundles of oil-warmed herbs. It is an exhilarating sensation, but very tiring, and by the end of the session I am dripping with a mix of sweat and massage oil. I stagger back to my room with strict instructions to sit quietly for half an hour, until my body temperature has normalised, then I can take a shower and think about lunch. The standard course at Matt India is 3 weeks. There are plenty of more luxurious places, but Matt India has its faithful aficionados because it is the real thing – though some people may find it unacceptably primitive. For more information, visit their website – or read the blog of my time in Kerala.