A funny thing happened at the Ayurveda spa in Sri Lanka

Receiving an Ayurveda treatment is a life-changing experience for the body, mind and soul – but be prepared to have your Western sensitivities challenged, as I discovered on a recent trip to an Ayurveda spa in Sri Lanka.

Deemed the science of life, the ancient tradition of Ayurveda is believed to be a contributing factor to Sri Lankans having the longest life expectancy in southeast Asia. Any Ayurveda spa in Sri Lanka aims to restore good health through a range of holistic and indigenous herbal therapies such as nutrition, baths, massage, cleansing, yoga and meditation.

I’ve visited several Ayurveda spas in Sri Lanka, ranging from high-end retreats to rustic affairs in rural areas. At an Ayurvedic centre in the hilltop town of Ella, I’m kneaded into submission and basted in a mix of oils and herbs during my massage. I’m then led into a room best described as a saffron-coloured tagine – like one you’d find in Morocco holding tagine. Kind of apt, given the national dish in Sri Lanka is rice and curry. My belongings have been shoved into a plastic shopping bag likened to a stiff tote bag and my slippery body is wrapped in a tiny towel, barely covering my modesty, despite my petite stature. My lack of attire and fair skin attracts plenty of attention from the many staff members milling around.

The journey to the tagine is via an open passageway with views into the surrounding homes and businesses, rewarding several unsuspecting locals with a glimpse of a greasy white woman in a towel with a shopping bag being led by the hand by a local female therapist.

With my hazy journey over, the door to the tagine opens to reveal two attractive and amused Swedish girls who are as surprised to see me as I am them. As I settle onto the stone bench, I can’t help but think this scenario is the making of many a man’s fantasy, until we all make eye contact and burst into hysterics. Enter Kat, aka the Travelling Greek, also clad in a teeny towel, her shopping bag and a confused WTF expression.

The door shuts behind us, creating a seal much like an oven door, except mercifully, there’s no additional heat source in the humidity, just four oily and bewildered women. There’s an assortment of herbs on the ground – perhaps that’s what they meant when they offered me an “aromatic shower,” except there’s no water either apart from our tears of laughter mingling with oil down our pitiful faces. Maybe those herbs had hallucinogenic qualities, like the ones I learned about at an Ayurveda factory tour.

Our laughter subsides after a while as we ponder how long they will leave us. Perhaps they’ve forgotten about us? Where are the cameras? Does the door only open from the outside? These are all questions thrown around until the brief silence invites another eruption of laughter, escalating to the point where several curious therapists suddenly appear at the door.

They too start laughing, mostly likely at our ridiculousness. The general consensus is that we have marinated long enough and we’re individually escorted out of the tagine clutching our shopping bags and what’s left of our dignity.

I follow the same open pathway back to the massage room in hysterics while the therapist attempts to keep my towel and modesty intact. Her attempts are futile, but finally, my walk of shame is over and I pray for the opportunity to wipe away some of the oil and dress in privacy. Given my wobbly state, she decides I’m not fit to be left alone and proceeds to dress me before delivering me to Kat, who is waiting for me in an equally deplorable state. There’s no sign of the Swedish girls, just the faint echoes of their laughter following us into the surreal daylight.

If you enjoyed this story, you might also like reading about more Sri Lankan adventures.

In 2023, I was a guest of Destination Sri Lanka and for more information go to www.destinationsrilanka.travel 

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