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Oil Change in the Paradise for Body and Spirit – Ayurveda and Biodiversity in Sri Lanka

BadTagblattStill on bord it can not be sparkling and spicy enough. Cheefully I order ice-cold Coke-Light and tomato juice refined with pepper and salt and relish a hot spicy chicken curry with rice and vegetables. At least the last ingredients will be my frequent companions at least three times a day for the next days. Not so sparkling on my tongue will be the bitter herbal elixirs.

Some hours after my arrival at the airport in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, I am sitting together with my travel group in the air-conditioned restaurant of the Sidhalepa Ayurveda Health Resort in Waduwwa, at the western coast of the country, stir my hot ayurvedic tea and observe the ayurvedic buffet: Numerous steaming clay pots are standing invitingly row by row, waiting to be opened. Small signs explain their content in English, but with all those strange kinds of curry and vegetables, we are still in need of explanations. Additionally, in ayurveda, the right combination of food is as important as the composition and the mood while eating.

Ayurveda is said to be the mother of medicine and worldwide oldest science of living and health. It has its heritage in the Vedic culture of ancient India and literally means science of life. Target of the whole exercise is a healthy way of living, in which body, spirit and soul are always balanced, as this balance is decisive for the own well-being. To find the individual balance is a pure case of type – and it is exactly about finding this out.

Dr. Sudarma is small and tiny. She is greeting me with a shy smile. Only the regular rotation of the roof fan interrupts the sobriety in the small examination room with Spartan equipment. After some questions on my general condition, my nourishment and digestion, the trained ayurveda-doctor intensively covers my stretched-out tongue, my blood pressure, my eyes and finally my pulse. She closes her eyes, turns down her head, and I watch her questioningly. Maybe I should have found out more about all this beforehand. When Dr. Sudarma interrupts my thoughts, her smile has something omniscient, and I really ask myself what she has found out about me. In order to verify my pulse diagnosis, we work our way through a questionnaire to find out what she knows already anyway – my Doshas.

The Doshas are the three life energies in ayurveda: Vata (wind, air, ether), Pitta (fire, water) and Kapha (earth, water). They pre-define the constitution of every single person and from birth stand in a very special balance. Actually one or two Doshas are dominating, and seldom all three are equally strong. Regularly Vata-Types are creative and communicative, but usually have problems in digestion and sleeping. They are usually petite, have dry skin and are freezing easily. Pitta is controlling the power of seeing and intellect and defines the charisma. Those types have a medium-strong build of the body and warm skin, are enterprising, capable of rhetoric, impatient and fiery. Kapha on the other hand is a donor of energy and gives endurance, power of resistance and inner sobriety. According to Dr. Sudarma I am at home in the Pitta-Kapha-world, and there an even more relaxed inhabitant. But you can't be relaxed enough – so off to the massage!

Maria, my therapist, with whom I will spend many hours from now on, leads me to a darkened room. What follows the next four hours is hard to describe: Warm oil pours, forceful acupressure,, soft massages, hot steam baths and relaxing herbal baths as well as rich care masques. From Swedhana (sweating in a wooden, in which herbs are boiling) via Shirovasthi (extended oil treatment of the head), Kativasthi (oil treatment of the back), Udvartana (oil massage with skin peeling) to face massages and foot, herbal and eye baths I relish the full programme.

The efforts done with ayurveda are enormous. As every herbal oil, every tincture and every oh so small pill is adjusted to the single constitutional type, Maria has all the ingredients for the massages mixed in the local apothecary. In this context, the name Siddhapela not only stands in Sri Lanka for hotels, ayurveda-hospitals and spas, but also for a rich offer of ayurvedic medicine, cosmetics and care products. For 200 years the knowledge of the Hettigoda family, the founders of the company, has been passed on from generation to generation.

Four hours with Maria are passing by like a flight. When I leave the treatment centre, massaged, deeply relaxed, a bit oily, but with baby-soft skin, I feel like in paradies in the garden of the resort, in which more than 800 medical herbs and plants are growing. A soft breeze, the sound of the sea and exotically twittering birds are receiving me.

But not only relaxing massages, but also a special science of nourishment are part of ayurvedic healing. In this context, the Doshas are also playing an important role, as for every type there are other recommendations. Generally all six ayurvedic kinds of tastes should be part of every meal – sweet, sour, salty, hot, bitter and herb.

Real Panchakarma-treatment, as can be done in the Siddhalepa Ayurveda Health Resort, have not much to do with wellness vacation. Fasting, bathes, enemas, bloodletting, massages, yoga and breathing exercises as well as ayurveda are on the programme. More and more persons damaged by civilization decide to go on such a health trip – and Sri Lanka is the perfect place for it.

As besides ayurveda the former Ceylon offers numerous reasons for a visit. As one of the smallest countries of Asia, the island nation in the Indian Ocean belongs to the 54 official "hot spots" worldwide for biodiversity. The Sinharaja Forest Reserve, the last piece of tropical rain forest in the country, is part of global cultural heritage – altogether Sri Lanka has eight of those Unesco-sites.

The biodiversity of the country is almost breathtaking: sperm whales, orcas, blue whales, pilot whales, dolphins, leopards, elephants, numerous kinds of monkeys, sea turtles, jungle bears, ant bears, porcupines, red dear, crocodiles, civet cats and more than 233 different kinds of birds are at home there. The numerous national parks scattered across the country offer safe living space for the partially rare animals.

Hippie-flair is offered by Unawatuna – a really special beach approximately 120 kilometres away from Colombo, at which there is a whole lot of small bars and cafes with relaxed reggae-music. Not far away from this beach idyll, there is the historical capital of Galle with the fort erected in 1663 by the Dutch. It is said to be the biggest remaining European fortress in South Asia and mirrors a mix of European and Asian architecture.

At some places it is still visible that in 2004 hell broke loose in the island nation with a tsunami. Galle was also hit by the tsunami. There the disaster demanded 3900 lives. Altogether the authorities calculate 58 000 victims. The East and the South of the island were especially affected.

The Siddhalepa Ayurveda Health Resort had more luck than many adjoining buildings. It survived the giant wave largely unaffected instead of its position directly at the beach. But numerous monuments along the coast still remind of the losses of many families.

In the resort you are far away from this sad reality. Almost like a small arch, it receives travellers stressed by their everyday life and offers a framework for something you could never reach at home – absolute relaxation.

After six days I feel nicely soft-washed. The morning yoga releases me to the day in a positive and thoughtless way. The ayurvedic tea, elixirs and pills have found their way into the course of my days like usual. When we take the air-conditioned airport shuttle on the street in the direction of Colombo, which we share with many cows, colourful-adorned tuk-tuks and many hooting cars, I feel sad – but at the same time happy with the thought of further time-outs with Ayurveda and most of all looking forward to a ice-cold sparkling Coke in the plane.

By Kathrin Maurer, Badisches Tagblatt, 17th August 2013