Spiritual India is good for mind, body and soul

The lush green backwaters of Kerala, South India. Picture: PA Photo/Saga.
The lush green backwaters of Kerala, South India. Picture: PA Photo/Saga.

Travel writer Laura Harding finds a world far removed from the chaos of Slumdog Millionaire in the peaceful backwaters of Kerala.

Sprawled out on cushions on the bow of a houseboat, drifting along a river in glorious sunshine, I am a world away from the India I imagined.

The scenery is lush and green, palm trees line the banks and brightly coloured laundry flickers on washing lines.

I’m in Kerala, one of the smallest states, and dubbed God’s own country by proud locals.

Any of the chaos, noise, poverty and pollution you might expect from a visit to India don’t seem to exist here.

I’ve spent three lovely days on the MV Apsara, cruising around the famous backwaters, breaking briefly from sunbathing, sightseeing and supping on watermelon juice for an invigorating ayurvedic massage.

But it is on this houseboat that really convinces me of Kerala’s charms.

The only sound I can hear are children splashing in the water or a fisherman casting his net.

When I return to the mainland, I take a stroll through Puthanangadi, the village where the floating boutique hotel is moored.

There’s a festival going on and the children are lighting candles in front of the temple but they come running over when they see strange faces.

It’s hard to leave such a tranquil place but fresh from my watery adventures, I head east to the spice plantations of Thekkady.

Much of the resort is self-sufficient and the whole place aims to be as environmentally sustainable as possible.

My favourite feature is the open-air 50 Mile restaurant, where none of the produce has travelled more than that distance.

After feasting on basil quail kebabs and a huge selection of vegetarian curries, all washed down with Indian wine, I am ready to pledge never to eat food that has travelled in a plane ever again.

Exhausted from the strain of drinking cocktails, sniffing spices and watching somebody else cook for me, I zig-zag back across the country, making the five-hour journey to the Marari Beach Resort on the tropical Malabar coast.

It’s hard to sum up how blissful it is here but the luxury and thoughtfulness is probably best summarised by the set-up on the beach.

Huge comfy hammocks swing from palm trees and off to the side of each one is a big red flag.

Need a snack? A drink? A fresh towel? Just hoist the flag.

I’m spoilt for life and that’s before I’ve even set foot in the ayurvedic centre.

Ayurvedic massage uses plant-based treatments to maintain the health of mind and spirit and the treatment I have involves two women constantly pouring warm oil over me while massaging me from head to toe.

Kerala could do wonders for your mind, body and soul.