In Which I Keep Tasting Things

The three of us walked out of the Ayurvedic center and climbed into the car afraid to touch anything. We had all just spent nearly two hours getting Ayurvedic massages, during which we were drenched from head to toe in fragrant oils. Taking our seats for the ride to the hotel involved us all holding our head slightly forward so as not to leave greasy imprints on the headrests.

From USA Today, without permission

The massages themselves were great. We all found them to be incredibly relaxing, for the most part, especially the conclusion, during which they drizzled warm oil down our foreheads, and we fell into some sort of a lucid trance.

The percussion of my head to begin the massage was admittedly a bit unusual, however. In all seriousness, when he started hitting my head, I paused and thought, “what is this helping with?” Fortunately it all got easier from there.

We departed from Kochi this morning on an eastwardly heading, climbing up into the Western Ghat mountains. During school I managed to avoid geography class, so didn’t even really know these mountains were here before this trip, although if I had given it any real thought, I would have suspected the presence of some sort of mountains in Southern India.

As we picked our way, the roads grew less dense, the buildings more sparsely built, and the mountains taller. At some point I looked around at them, thinking back to my trip to Machu Picchu, and the bright green vegetation painting the mountainsides reminded me of my time on the Inca Trail. I suspected, and it was later confirmed, that these peaks are much older, and most of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the lowest point of my prior expedition, sits at a higher altitude than the tallest peak here.

Three hours into our journey Prema was ready for tea, so we made our first stop. Rather than tea, however, Roopa and I chose the coconut water being sold at the side of the road. With three precise whacks, a slice of the rind had been removed and a refreshing, sweet, and clear liquid was there waiting for me to drop in a straw.

A half hour later, we made another stop, this time at a spice shop. This included a tour of the grounds, with the guide, a botanist studying Ayurveda, pointing out not only various plants growing on the grounds, but also their uses.

I never imagined that cardamom pods came from these little shoots at the bottom of a much larger plant.

I’ve seen coffee before so that wasn’t really new. She pulled a fresh pod off of the plant. I don’t know if I was supposed to, but I ate it. In the end tasted a lot of the things that she plucked to show us. I was curious.

This is young nutmeg. If you can make out the sinuous line, there is a layer of mace covering the nutmeg pod. When ripe, both have culinary and therapeutic uses.

This miniature pineapple is grown exclusively for Ayurvedic purposes. She says it isn’t otherwise edible. I unfortunately didn’t get to taste it.

And this unassuming plant is grown for gynecologic problems. This is the only one of the non-culinary purposes that I remember.

It was a fascinating walk through the garden, with a great deal of back and forth between Roopa, Prema, and the guide. Finally she had led us back to the store where she sold us copious amounts of spices.

She tried to make a few unsuccessful sales, even encouraging me to buy hair darkener (I didn’t go for it). And although none of us remembers agreeing to purchase the intensely fragrant cocoa powder, we found it buried in our bag when we later unpacked and divided up the spoils.

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