I spent eleven days in Kochin at The Health Village (THV), a Kerala Ayurveda health retreat center and training site on the banks of the River Periyar. Each day began with morning yoga and breakfast, followed by shadowing doctors at clinical sites, training in body-therapy tools and techniques, or touring the herbal garden or factory. Although our clinical internship schedule was full, my nine fellow students and I still managed to squeeze in jaunts to sites and shopping. 

A serene sunrise boat ride at Lake Cherai just a quarter mile from a toes-dip in the Arabian Sea.


Another sunrise visit, this time to a Dhanwantari temple to honor this Hindu deity of medicine, or Ayurveda.


Seemingly endless shopping for fresh Ayurvedic herbs and textbooks, kurtis and saris, sweets, jewelry, and Ayurvedic cooking vessels.


And a blazingly hot afternoon stroll through bustling roads and back alleys, soothed only by sweet water sipped from green coconuts hacked open by a street vendor.


In the time-off from daily outings and focused study, THV was a welcome refuge. The intimate premises were replete with a rainbow of hibiscus and plumeria bushes, trees of jaw-droppingly large jackfruit, green mango, and sandalwood, and the Kerala state kanikonna or golden shower tree (cassia fistula).


The sincerity and service of the staff was excellent, including the endlessly patient teaching faculty, the demure and joyful housekeepers, and the most pleasant and modest restaurant host. The latter not only accommodated our myriad requests for food comfort in the form of milk tea, limeade, and extra coriander leaves, but also served up the chef’s menu of tasty south indian dishes, like idli (soft, savory fermented rice cakes) with tomato sambar and coconut chutney laden with mustard seeds and curry leaves.


Situated in the state of Kerala, THV is just one example of the rich and revived Ayurvedic tradition in this area despite nearly a century of decimation by colonialism. Today many Kerala families nonchalantly use Ayurvedic methods in their daily cooking and chores. Others enjoy a lineage of diligent Vedic study and medical practice from generation to generation. For targeted Ayurvedic treatment, Kerala boasts not only wellness centers like THV, but also in- and out-patient clinics and hospitals. As a clinical student of Kerala Ayurveda Academy based in Milpitas, CA (USA), I was fortunate to visit local affiliated clinics and observe Vaidyas, or Ayurvedic doctors, keeping the tradition (and patients!) alive.

While on-site at clinics, my colleagues and I attended many Vaidya-patient walk-in appointments, ninety-five percent of which were conducted in the local language, Malayalam. Nonetheless, I sat leaning forward on the edge of my chair with streams of sweat rolling down my skin, focused on interpreting body language and the occasional  Sanskrit and English words, and took notes on the patient’s appearance and behavior. Fortunately, after appointments we engaged in lively discussion with our teaching faculty and the clinic Vaidyas about the patients’ symptomatology, natural constitution, pathogenesis, and prescriptions. 

Although I couldn’t always cover my laundry list of questions in between appointments, my keen ethnographic lens and zeal to glean and grow kept me focused and contemplative. And it wasn’t just the rich Ayurvedic content that interested me, it was also the techniques and approaches of these Vaidyas that had me fervently scribbling notes in jumbled English and Sanskrit. Indeed, numerous “ah-ha” moments brought me an abundance of insights into how I might strengthen my own clinical and educational practice at home. I truly didn’t want to miss a drop of the wisdom nectar these Ayurvedic doctors embodied and shared with us. 


After a week and a half at THV, my colleagues and I stuffed our newly acquired wares into overweight suitcases and left Kerala for the next leg of our learning journey. Surviving typical Indian airport snafus of excess baggage charges, woefully long credit card transactions, and misplaced electronics in security, we eventually arrived in Bangalore, Karnataka. From the airport we would travel another 90 minutes by bus to AyurvedaGram, a luxury Ayurvedic retreat center, where we would immerse in cleansing and rejuvenation treatments.

Stay tuned for more musings on adventures in India!