Jackie Butler finds peace and inspiration on the Walk Your Talk Retreat, run by a Cornish former teacher in a coastal paradise in northern Kerala
The water is a warm, salty bath, wrapping around my body like a silk cocoon. Behind me the Arabian Sea stretches to a far horizon and the sinking sun slips gently down to meet it, casting a reflection like liquid gold on the inky surface. It’s one of the most exquisite sunsets I have ever witnessed, yet I turn my back on it to survey the scene back on shore, a few short strides away.
Here, on this idyllic, secret stretch of India’s Malabar coastline, red and white kites are circling above the coconut palms against an evening sky of clear azure blue.
The pale sandy beach ambles for miles, but is entirely deserted; three primary-coloured fishing boats lie tucked into the shadows, ready for their early morning outing; nearby a fisherman’s checked shirt flutters in the gentle breeze on a makeshift washing line strung between two tree trunks.
Each wave lifts me momentarily out of my depth. As my body rises with the tide I catch a glimpse of Ali Singh beginning his nightly ritual, lighting the candles and filling up the water jugs for the dining table beneath the romantic glow of an emerging moon.
Directly behind him is the door to the seafront room I have called home for the past seven days… seven days during which I have been wholly nurtured; encouraged to let go of all disabling tensions and worries and, instead, focus on the essence that lies beneath.
I’ve been coaxed to take care of myself, acknowledge the things that bring me joy, and discover a universal spirituality, my own powers of healing and the key to unlocking my dreams. Three times a day I have eaten with my hands delicious and nutritious home-cooked food, I have revelled in congenial company, basked in picturesque surroundings and soaked up the intriguing and enticing local culture.
I can’t remember the last time I felt so calm, healthy, relaxed and clear-minded. Even the certain knowledge that I must leave this haven when morning comes cannot spoil this sheer bliss, out here in the waves, floating beneath the dusk light.
This magical moment can find its perspective if I backtrack to the beginning of my journey. I left a frost-bitten, snowbound England a few days earlier to travel, with hope, into the unknown, armed with a plane ticket to Kerala – the state that stretches down India’s most southerly-westerly coastline – and a booking for the week-long Walk Your Talk Retreat created by Cornish lass Vanessa Tucker and her partner Mano Guillemot.
I’d never been on a retreat before. The idea had secretly appealed for years, but I’d never come close to justifying or affording something that could be considered so self-indulgent while my, now adult, children were growing up. Besides, there was that niggling doubt that going to India to “find yourself” was something for self-absorbed crackpots, a la Edina Monsoon in Absolutely Fabulous.
But, as a single, independent, middle-aged – and over-tired – woman, the opportunity to ditch that unfounded and outmoded prejudice and open my mind suddenly landed in my lap with a modest windfall (thank you PPI insurance claim!) and a personal recommendation from a friend. What I felt I needed was to recharge my batteries and redefine my place and purpose, buoyed by the promise of guidance and support, and the bonus of warmth and beautiful surroundings.
The last part I was absolutely certain about, having first fallen in love with the lush scenery and the welcoming people of Kerala on a trip to the Backwaters around Cochin and Alleppey, and the hills of Munnar a couple of years ago.
I’d also checked out the retreat venue online and found only glowing reports from visitors and photographs that could have been captioned “paradise”. And so it came to pass, two medium-haul flights later from London’s Heathrow, via Qatar, I was met by a smiling taxi driver waving a big white sign bearing my name in black marker. I emerged into a pleasantly hot and humid early morning at Calicut for the trip north.
En route I feasted my eyes on the green and pleasant landscapes – this isn’t dubbed God’s Own Country (like Cornwall) without reason. And I quickly re acclimatised to the scary Indian driving. Here beeping your horn loudly is a courtesy and swinging into the oncoming traffic to pass a family of four perched on a motorcycle, overtaking a tuk-tuk, is considered careful.
If you haven’t been to India before, you get used to it, I promise, and Kerala is a gentle introduction to the country as a whole – a bit like being a tourist in England and coming to the Westcountry rather than Birmingham.
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