Story of a panchakarma in Coimbatore, India, Tamil Nadu

Day 1: Saturday, 3 July

shutterstock_83516281Departure at 11:15 am from Geneva airport, destination Abu Dhabi, 6 hours and 25 minutes of flight time. I felt perfectly content setting off on this new adventure after having experienced a period of serious physical and emotional fatigue. Indeed, I was really on my way to India to discover ayurveda in a specialised hospital where I was to undergo a thorough cleansing treatment: the panchakarma.

Right from the start, I connected with the woman sat next to me; an encounter I was not especially prone to welcome at first seeing my quest for calm and peace…. She started up a conversation and we clicked. We chatted away throughout the entire 6 hours and 25 minutes of flight; we discussed spiritual matters and by the end of the flight we were practically friends. She offered me a book – signed by her – which she hoped might encourage me in my career as well as in my spiritual journey. Not believing in coincidences, I was convinced that a journey of initiation had just announced itself … In Abu Dhabi, we said our goodbyes, but not before getting helped by a young cooperative Indian employee who gave us a ride in his little airport car. And yet again, we were pleasantly surprised by the spontaneity that we encountered at every turn as we were kindly offered 1st class seats. I was hoping to meet up with my new spiritual friend once more seeing as I had lots of lavish and original thoughts that I wanted to discuss.

Departure from Abu Dhabi in the direction of Chennai (Madras), and arrival at 4:10 am local time. I collected my baggage and checked-in in the domestic flights lounge. The local section of the airport was nothing in comparison to the international section. I was now in India with all its noises, colours, smells, hustle and bustle, and chaotic organisation that tends to worry a Westerner. A little stressed-out and very tired, I boarded the domestic flight for my final destination: Coimbatore, with its red soil … “Welcome to India!”

Day 2: Sunday, 4 July

Arrival at Coimbatore! A taxi from the Arya Vaidya Chikitsalayam (AVC), the ayurvedic hospital, took me directly to my ‘lodge’; a small apartment equipped with a TV lounge, a kitchen, bed room, bathroom and massage room. Everything was clean, but this was India…
It was especially the noise I had to get used to; everything was noisy, even the birds cawing in the hospital park, which on the other hand was, thankfully, very woody. I felt a bit blue and experienced a panic moment! I wondered how on earth I was going to cope being in this place, by myself, for more than three weeks. The fact that the person who was supposed to show me around wasn’t there (it was a Sunday!) didn’t help my state of mind.  Nevertheless, they found me several very pleasant people who were more then happy to help me out. One of them installed my internet cable, another one went to fetch me an adapter for 40 rupees, and some ladies put up curtains so the place wouldn’t feel so cold and impersonal. Phew, I was able to breath once again and I started to settle in and got organised.

694A young female ayurvedic doctor came to see me along with her assistants (and oh no, my pulse started racing!). I was a bit taken a back by her youth and felt a bit sceptical; I was under the impression that she couldn’t possibly have the required experience. I later learnt that she was 28 years old and that she was considered a senior doctor. My then nervous reaction is quite typical for an imbalanced Pitta according to Ayurveda. The pretty doctor smiled, kept her cool and examined my file. My tension was normal. The treatment was to focus on weight loss, body purification and restoring peace to my spirit. Throughout my stay, I was in contact with several doctors.

The breakfast I was offered came in the shape of a pancake called ‘dosa’, accompanied with various sauces, and some tea with milk. It was fine, and throughout the rest of the day I was fed light foods. Lunch was served at 12:30 and consisted of basmati rice, vegetable ‘talis’, chickpeas and spices. I had requested a non-spicy diet, knowing full well that even non-spicy would still be spicy to my pallet. I must point out that this was a vegetarian ayurvedic diet, meaning that due to its therapeutic purpose, the used flavours were specific for my case; they were particularly bitter and astringent for boosting detoxification! The following day, I saw the nutritionist who gave me additional explanations; even the cook stopped by to say a friendly ‘hello’. At 16 pm, I was entitled to a small dry cookie and a delightful ginger tea. At 16:30 pm I was given a 45 minute massage (on a hard wooden table with a loincloth over my buttocks), with therapeutic oils, by an elderly but experienced lady. Additionally, topsoil and plants were used for a skin peeling treatment. She then, using a basin of hot water, proceeded to clean me quite shamelessly (I was buck naked!) but with a sense of delicacy. I felt in great shape and fully reinvigorated despite my being very tired after the long trip there. Then, I was brought a bitter plant concoction that I had to drink (again, with the aim of cleansing my system). It was tough! I hated the drink even though I knew it was supposed to be good for me. Dinner was soup and rice.

The Swiss doctor who sent me here was on site and would probably come to see me later that evening if I didn’t feel too tired. Before going to bed I was going to have to drink another one of those very bitter potions … I realised that the whole therapeutic experience was going to be very purifying and that that’s what panchakarma was all about! It was only the start, but at that moment all was well….