In many respects I like to think that I'm not typically British but there's one area where my roots show through very clearly and that's massage. I have German colleagues who merrily book a week at a spa and let strangers pummel and prod them for hours each day but the very idea fills me with dread because – like many Brits – I'd really rather not be touched by people I don't know. Yep, I know that multitudes of readers will now be thinking that I'm a bit weird but the idea of stripping off and getting basted in weird oils leaves me a lot less than thrilled.
There is therefore no way on earth that I'd have chosen to go for a full body massage in a little back street massage place in Munnar if I hadn't been almost forced to. My husband wasn't keen either but our driver was absolutely determined that whether we wanted to or not, we would be getting an Ayurvedic massage from the salon whose brochure he had in the back of the car. We tried to evade, hoped he might forget but it was not to be. We were marched in and with an imaginary gun pointed at our heads, forced to make a booking for the following evening. I managed to escape from the head and neck massage knowing it would take forever to get all that icky gunk out of my long hair, but grudgingly agreed to having the rest of me attacked. My husband, ever inclined to go with the flow also booked. The brochure had reassured me that I wasn't going to get rubbed down by a man so I figured the potential for utter humiliation and embarrassment couldn't be all that great.
The next day we set off to a tea plantation and then to a wildlife park. We watched the clock as we got horribly delayed in search of mountain goats, crossing our fingers that maybe, if we were really lucky, we might get out of the massage. It wasn't to be. After a long day of sightseeing our driver delivered us to the salon, telling us we would feel "very very good madame". I wasn't convinced.
I was led to the top floor by a muscular looking lady in a salwar kameez. She took me into a small room and I felt as I imagine a young man visiting a prostitute for the first time might feel. What was going to happen to me, what was the etiquette, would I get out alive or at least uninjured? A large plastic table filled the centre of the room and the masseuse lay a thin cloth over the hard black plastic. A channel ran around the edge for the oil to gather. At the head of the table the dreaded head massage oil container loomed ominously and was soon dismantled and put away.
I was directed towards some pegs on the wall where I could hang up my clothes. I stripped to my underwear and the masseuse shook her head at me. My bra came off and she shook her head again, taking out a small roll of cotton to tie around me like Mowgli's loincloth. I felt like an utter ninny standing almost starkers in my little cotton nappy. I climbed onto the bed, lying on my front and the attack began.
I don't know if all ayurvedic massage is as vigorous as what I received. If my poor old chakras were misaligned this lady was soon going to whip them energetically and violently back into shape. The technique consisted of a lot of oil and hard, long strokes. Lying on a hard plastic bed meant that some parts of me were getting pummelled into the bed quite violently and whilst my muscles weren't too fussed about what was happening some of my joints were objecting quite strongly. If my ankles could have spoken they'd have begged for mercy. My poor knees, long abused by too much past sport would have been on their knees pleading for her to stop. My feet quite enjoyed it though but most of me was just lying there thinking "Please God, let this not last TOO long".
A slap on the buttock told me it was time to roll over. I kept my eyes closed as the attack recommenced. I was relieved that the woman spoke very little English as this just wasn't the time for small talk. "Are you out this evening? Have you had your holidays yet?" and all that hairdresser chatter just doesn't seem right when someone is slapping your flab around and you're just praying she stops soon.
They say you should feel fabulously relaxed and rejuvenated after a massage; I just felt immensely relieved that the experience was over and I could attempt to rub off some of the oil and get dressed again. I did smell lovely for a few hours and my skin felt very soft but I'm sure I could have achieved that with a liberal dose of body butter in the privacy of my own room. My husband by contrast seemed to have a lovely time and spent most of his time chattering away to his masseur who had a lot more vocabulary.
We paid, I headed back up to hand over a quite generous tip (based on a sense of 'apology for being such a terrified wimp') and then we headed back to the hotel where I told my husband that if he ever spotted me considering such a thing again, he had my permission to take me out and shoot me. I believe we paid about 500-600 rupees each – I'd happily pay ten times that to not have to do it again.