It’s been just over a week since I left my snowy NH home, trading it for the green tea plantations and eucalyptus forests of South India’s Nilgiri Mountains for the next month or so. From my cozy retreat bedroom, I look out the open door to tree tops blowing in the wind, bulbuls singing to me from the fence, and the bright blue sky sitting on top of the ridge across the way. I have already been steeped in herbalized oil for the past five days and created a community with the most wonderful people. Together we are on an Ayurvedic journey—each traveling our own unique path but also alongside each other. It will be a rich three weeks, and I am so grateful to share it with our retreat guests, the beautiful therapists, chefs, and the Ayurvedic doctor that make this piece of Heaven a home for me. I settle in to write my first post of the retreat and figure I’ll start with sunrise.
Our days begin in the violet-pink of pre-dawn with Sunny’s knock on the door. It’s time to take our morning herbs. Some of us meet at 6:15 to walk up to the top of the hill that puts us at over 6,000 feet elevation and a near 360 degree view of the mountain ranges that fan out in waves across the state of Tamil Nadu. East are the mountain ghats that eventually fall into the rice paddies and rivers of Kerala, and to the West are row after row after row of mountains and the deep valleys carved in between the iron-red ranges. It is so familiar to me now after coming to this place for five years, but it is magnificently new each time I crest the hill at sunrise to see the villages below.
The massive concrete steps that drop into the village of Bharatnagar are cracked, steep, and formidable whether walking down or hiking up, but the people who live here do it every day, often carrying heavy loads on their backs. It’s always a joy to turn the corner and see familiar faces who reach out to hold my hands in theirs. The people are so humble and sweet, often asking us in for tea or posing for a photo.
We wander the skinny dirt path back through the tea, and some days I pick lantana, straw flowers, ageratum, and daisies for my room.
The group slips into twos and threes as conversations arise. New friendships are nourished out here under the pink sky and among the lush rows of tea.
The path empties onto the main road for a hundred yards or so before it turns uphill and guides us back to where our walk began less than an hour ago. With just a few minutes to spare, I run to my room, swap sneakers for flip flops, grab some essential oil and my journal, and head straight up to the yoga hall where I unravel my mat and welcome students to practice. As the last echo of our chant is absorbed by the vaulted ceiling, a stream of yellow light pours into the windows and onto the floors (Photo courtesy of Lauren Spiro).
Savasana ends as the breakfast bell rings. We rise slowly and chant Om to close our practice. In the garden, a pile of papayas adorns every table, and bananas, pomegranates, and apples are free for the taking. And oh, the fresh juices! Pineapple, carrot, grape, and watermelon are just some in the weekly rotation. Fingers of light reach through the pines and arbor that surround the dining patio. We sip masala chai and ginger tea, peel clementines in the sunshine, and laugh as if we’ve known each other for years.
~Katie O’Connell 💕