Today we woke up to our last morning on the houseboat. Sajesh picked us up and we drove south to Kollam to our next home for two nights, Amma’s Ashram. Pictures are not allowed so the below are from outside of the ashram. The ashram’s pink modern skyscrapers, used for housing, are easy to spot from far away and stand out against the green blanket of palm and coconut trees. The ashram is located at Amritapuri on an island with a river to the east and the Arabian Sea to the west where Amma, the ashrams guru, was born and raised.The Arabian Sea was very rough in this part of Kerala so it wasn’t swimmable but mesmerizing to look at as the waves crashed on the manmade seawall. The river was calm and lined with boats and fishing nets as far as the eye could see.Amma is know for her hugs/doshan and relief efforts around natural disasters. She was traveling abroad during our visit but the ashram is covered with her images and the residents are very keen to share their Amma stories. We learned a lot about her story and work on the official tour. The accommodations are super basic with bed mats and bedding for four people, cold showers and the occasional power outage. For $5 UDS per night, including three meals, it was a bargain and overall interesting experience. We arrived late in the morning, checked in and got settled in our room, making our beds and exploring the grounds which included a several eating options, a beach for meditation, a recycling center, a temple, internet room, convenience store and clothing bazaar. By the time we got our bearings it was time for lunch. We queued up for our free lunch of dal, rice and roti and ate with our hands like the locals and Ashram residents.
In the evening we attended a 2 ½ hour ladies’ chanting session in the temple and listened to their beautiful songs in Sanskrit. Even though I don’t understand Sanskrit I found the singing and music of the harmonium, tabala and bells very moving.
For dinner we opted to pay a little extra for variety and went to the ashram’s Indian café for dosa. They are a south Indian staple of delicious rice pancakes usually served with a vegetable side. Ours were Masala Dosa and stuffed with potato and came with 3 vegetable sides for 26 rupees or $.52 USD. After dinner we retreated to our room on the 13th floor which was very breezy and the best way to escape the heat of the night. We spent our first night reading recalling our day which included the official tour of the Ashram and documentary on Amma, watching the waves at the beach and signing up to volunteer in the ashram’s eco shop the next day.
Our second day at the ashrams started off early. The chanting and prayers kicked off at 5AM. Around 730 Suze and I went to find the morning yoga class. We learned the ashram’s yoga classes ended on March 31st so we had to improvise. Between the two of us, and some inspiration from our neighbors also practicing yoga on nearby rooftops, we held our own session outdoors on our floor’s balcony with a sick view of the sun rising on Amritapuri.
We visited the ashram’s western cafe for breakfast where they had familiar favorites like iced coffees and french toast. We spent the morning volunteering for two hours at the eco shop which sells natural food and beauty products to the ashram’s visitors and residents. We had chosen to volunteer at the eco shop because it seemed cooler than the other options like washing dishes and composting. We thought we’d maybe help run the shop but we were so wrong. Instead, we moved cinderblocks, arranged furniture, mopped floors and took trash from the garden to the composting center at the beach. It felt great to volunteer but we had a laugh as it was much harder work than we had anticipated. The ladies of the eco shop were very happy to have us. One of the ladies was from Indiana and had been at the Ashram for 10 years. She had a really positive spirit and loved her work at the eco shop and explained what they made. It was a great place to shop for natural sweetners, home remedies and cleaning products.
After volunteering in the hot Kerala sun we enjoyed some ice cream and cooled off by the beach, reading and enjoying the mist from the sea. At sunset Suze and I went for a wander off the Ashram and watched the sunset from the river.Before dinner we also squeezed in another yoga session and listened to the ladies’ chanting session from our room. Tonight we opted for more dosa from the Indian cafe. For 70 rupees ($1.40) we bought two tomato dosas, rice, two veggie sides and two drinks.
Our last evening was spent packing our bags and reading before lights out. I found the Ashram beds very firm and a bit hard to sleep on so was looking forward to our next destination, Varkala, where we would be able to get some proper beach time and take my first swim in the Arabian Sea.