Leaving the Ashram was a little harder than what I had expected. But I was very ready to head out and experience the real India, with our first stop being the relaxed and very calm seadside village of Varkala.
An ashram friend had suggested Shiva garden guest house to us, and for the incredible price of Rs500 for 2 people sharing – this was an incredible steal (approximately R90/ $10 for the room). Not to mention the amazing breakfasts served and great hosts. The guest house also included free WIFI (or ‘wee-fee’ as a french guest called it – this completely cracked me up, small things I tell you).
The dish above is a dosa masala – which is basically a rice flour pancake filled with curry – an awesome breakies option!!
Varkala is a strange place though. The Lonely Planet was very correct when they said travelers plan on coming for a day but end up staying a week. This was exactly what happened to us. The town has a lingering energy about it and some great coffee shops which helped in keeping us there. I also met up with some ashram friends – so there really never was a dull moment.
The cliff was made up of a mixture of coffee shops, restaurants, shops (both travelers clothing and jewellery) and ‘wellness clinics’ offering ayurvedic treatments. It seems every man and his dog are able to perform Ayurveda in Kerala.
After a good post-ashram chill we signed up for a cooking course at the Bamboo House with Daniela and Jamie (2 ashram friends) and I’ve definitely decided to throw a few Indian dinner parties when I return. But for sake of not forgetting my favourite 2 – I thought I would jot them down here (and I highly recommend you trying to make them at home).
1. Paneer Mutter Masala (yes I fully intended on spelling it mutter – don’t ask me, ask India)
Heat the following in a wok:
2 Tbsp coconut oil, 8 Tbsp finely chopped onion, 4 Tbsp chopped tomato, 1 tsp salt, 1 pinch fenugreek leaves (I’m not totally sure what this is – but google says its similar to aniseed – as India would say ‘same, same – but different’).
Put the heated spices into a blender with 1/4 glass water.
Add the following to the wok:
1 Tbsp coconut oil,1 tsp cumin seeds, 2 tsp crushed garlic, 2 tsp crushed ginger, blended mixture above.
After a few minutes add:
3 tsp coriander powder, 1 tsp curcuma spice, 1.5 tsp cumin powder, 1 tsp garam masala spice, 1 tsp chaat masala, 1 glass milk, 1 Tbsp cashew paste (made fresh by liquidising 10 cashews with a little water).
In a separate pan fry 4 Tbsp paneer (an Indian cheese similar to hulumi (again “same same, but different” and its less chewy and squeaky) [alternatively use tofu].
Roughly chop up a green pepper, tomato and onion. Add these and the paneer to the wok and cook for 5 minutes. Allow to cool for 15 minutes, then add fresh coriander to season.
2. Kerala Paratha (one of my absolute FAVS)
400g wheat flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 Tbsp sugar,1 glass water (or as ‘kneaded’)
Knead ingredients into a dough, roll into a ball and coat with coconut oil. Set dough aside for about an hour.
Divid balls into smaller balls (roughly the size of a golf balls). On an oily surface, roll each ball out until it looks like a flat pita. This is where it gets tricky so I hope I can justify the process with my explanation. With both hands flip the flat pita like you would imagine an Italian would flip a pizza base. At this point it doesn’t matter whether the dough tears – in fact it is better if it does. Place dough back in the counter in a long rectangular shape and roll it up to look like a chelsea bun. Now flatten the chelsea looking roll out into a flat pita shape again and cook by frying in a pan.
Other greats in Varkala were the Coffee Temple, serving great carot cake and cappuccinos (which are surprisingly rare in India) and Maria’s Spa (a woman can never be pampered enough and her mani’s, pedi’s, waxes and massages were a treat). Both can be found in the Cliff.
Early one morning Daniela and I decided to take a walk to the black beach (called that due to the black sea sand on only this little beach). Our walk took us a little further and we ended up at the starting point of the Kerala backwaters. En route we meet a fair amount of locals, just going about their daily chores of fixing their fishing nets and cleaning their boats. One old man was standing next to 3 large trunks of wood that he had intended to turn into a boat – his only problem was that he needed to get the trunks closer to his home. Not being able to speak english, the man stopped us and with a few animated hand signals, asked us to help carry his trunks. With not very much else to do, we all picked up the trunks (moving one at a time) and moved them about 300 meters closer to the destination that he needed them. The strange thing was that once the final trunk had been moved, the old man stuck out his hand and said “now you give money”. Only in India… The ashram really has done me wonders – I simply laughed the old man off as a little crazy – I have never heard of the worker paying the boss to work. The hike was absolutely beautiful and Kerala is a paradise with the hundreds of palm trees and beautiful white sand beaches.
My all time favourite post ashram time however was spent lounging around the crystal blue pool at Ickhill Hotel (in my bikini getting some sun) with Liz and Daisy.
Namaste from beautiful India