Indian Massage. NOT What I Expected
I’m game to try any kind of massage. Remedial, Thai, Lomi Lomi, Shiatsu, man or woman therapist, I don’t care. I’m not shy. I made peace with my body a few years ago and I don’t intend to go back.
So when I went to get an Ayurvedic massage in Rishikesh on the advice of a trusted friend, I was totally comfortable. After several long cramped journeys on trains and buses, and many days of walking around and exploring on foot, I really needed one. Go to Ram Jula for a cheap massage, he said. Righto!
I looked at their treatment menu and everything looked expensive except for the top one, 45-60 mins for 200 rupees ($4 AU). Wow, that IS cheap!
We have no woman therapist today, said the man at the desk. That’s fine, I said, I don’t mind. He leads me into the treatment “room” which is basically disconnected from reception with only a thin curtain. Cue apprehension.
Take off clothes, he said, and handed me a towel and a flimsy, almost see-through papery pair of those horrid single-use underwear that I’ve only ever had to use during surgery. Okaaayyy...
At least he left the “room” to let me change, although he poked his head back in when I almost had my dress up at an exposing angle, to say: start sitting on stool.
I stripped, put on the questionable garment and wrapped the towel around myself. He returned and began to work on my scalp. Oil? He asked... um.. ok... and I’m thinking I hope this doesn’t fuck up my dreads. Dammit I’ll have to wear a hat for the rest of the day because I’m miles away from my hostel and a shower.
But the scalp treatment was amazing. It felt like brushing your teeth but on your head, if that makes sense? He was squeezing all the pressure points, and the neck and shoulder rub was exquisite. Then he moved me to the massage table.
What came next was Totally. Un. Expected. The towel was wrapped around me but he asked me to remove it. Okaaayy I thought, I’m on my stomach so he won’t see anything and then he’ll put the towel over me.
No. No he did NOT put the towel over me. What he DID do, was PULL THE UNDERWEAR DOWN. Almost to my knees. My eyes popped open, my body froze, and I barely suppressed a wild piglet “squeeeaaaal!!!!!”.
So now I’m feeling... just a LITTLE exposed and vulnerable. And then what did he do? He left to the other side of the curtain and started speaking to someone outside.
Alert! Alert! My brain is flashing red. Something isn’t right! I half expected to be gang raped in the next 30 seconds. Just get up off this table, get dressed, and make a run for it, I thought. The seconds are ticking, my heart is racing, I’m starting to sweat. But what if he comes back in while I’m dressing and sees me naked? Liz- he’s already seen you naked you idiot, just go!
Shit, he’s back. Too late. Ok well he is alone so, let’s just see where this is going. Then he climbed up onto the table above my head, facing me, and leaned over my head to start massaging my back. I tried to ignore the fact that his bits and pieces were directly over my head, separated only by the clothes he was wearing. At least HE had clothes on.
Ok, but the massage was really good, despite the fact that the long strokes down the length of my backside included the full width of my arse, and when he circled back upwards there was a noticeable separation of my cheeks and I’m pretty sure that my anus was exposed. Please god, no one come in here. My feet are pointed towards the curtain, so...
Once the back massage was gratefully over I thought we’d be done. Nope. Not done. Not done at all. He got down off the table and started to pull the garment back up. ALL the way up. I am mortified.
I thought too soon.
Again, without ANY kind of warning, the security of my butt was brutally compromised, when he pulled the fabric UP- and flossed it INTO. MY. BUTT.
I have no words to describe how I felt in that moment. I can only tell you that it was mildly better than I felt in the following moment, when he separated my legs to the width of the table. Squelch- Please God, give me the strength...
He began to work on my right foot. Oh no, he’s going to massage my legs. I am SO ticklish that leg massages are excruciating for me. You would think that after 15 odd years of enjoying massage, I would have learned to tell them this before they start. Because once it’s happening, I can’t say it. It’s unbelievable, a woman as strong willed and outspoken as myself, turns into a mouse in this situation. I don’t want to hurt their feelings and tell them I don’t like it. Pathetic.
As I predicted, complete and total leg torture. Especially because of how tight my muscles are from all the walking. I tried to exhale, but I only kept sputtering a combination of held breath and giggles. A sound that reminded me of the time when I was 12 and my cousin made me laugh so hard I shot ice cream out of my nose.
Amidst my gargling breaths, I could hear him chuckle softly. Ok, so he can clearly tell how uncomfortable I am. If not from the noises, certainly from my leg flinching and jumping on the table.
Finally it was over. I breathed a sigh of relief just beside another intake of fearful breath when he began on the left. Repeat. Leg. Torture.
Once the now second assault on my backside was complete (or was it the third? I’ve lost count), I was SURE it was over. It had to be at LEAST 60 minutes by now. Why isn’t there a clock in here!? But he gestured for me to turn over so I pointed to the towel, which he gratefully used to shield his eyes from my front, and then draped over me.
Then he pulled the lower half of the towel up, exposing the underwear again. And AGAIN... no, he didn’t pull them down, THAT would have been insane, right?! No, AGAIN he left the room to talk to someone on the other side. He came back in and adjusted the curtain to make sure there were no gaps (but there were) and when he started on my thighs (shudder), someone walked past the curtain to the other room or something. Ignorance is bliss, I thought. Just close your eyes and go to your happy place, happy place, happy place, Om shanti Om....
I endured another two doses of leg torture. He bent my left knee and dropped my leg outward, like in half butterfly pose, and tried to massage my inner thigh! No no no! I said. I’m too ticklish (aka fucking uncomfortable).
Ok ok he says and finishes with the legs, not a goddamn minute too soon. Then he says, face? And I hesitated, again, too embarrassed to say no, and smiled my consent through clenched teeth.
I had an out! I had a fucking out and this could have been over! He climbed back up onto the table and proceeded to try to drown me with dual methods of an inch of oil and full palm face mashing. So this is it, I think. The massage was the torture episode and this is the final act. I am going to meet my maker by the hands of an oil slicked Hindu.
I realise now that I have been in here for so long, that he surely misheard me and is giving me one of the longer, more expensive treatments. There goes my daily budget on top of my dignity.
Once that was finally over and I regained my breath, I was pleased to find that I was still alive, albeit in a less than desirable situation and state of mind. He sat me up and helped me off the table. Just leave the room already so I can dress and get the fuck outta here already, I’m thinking.
Then he said a word that I couldn’t quite distinguish. Huh? I question. Steam, he repeated. Oh, there must be a steam room. Well if I must, I’m probably paying an arm and abused legs for it. At least I’ll be able to relax in there alone and try to recover myself a little before I enter the world again. And then he led me over to a box in the corner with a hole in the top. It reminded me of some kind of medieval torture device. He opened the door and motioned me towards the seat. I took a deep breath, and clutched the towel around me like it was my life support.
I sat down and he put his hand out for the towel. Close the door please, I said. I covered myself with my hands and poked the towel through the small gap before he closed the door around my neck, with my head sticking out like a whak-a-mole. He wrapped the towel around my neck so the steam wouldn’t escape, and left the room. I closed my eyes... and relaxed… a little. Almost. over.
I opened my eyes and was startled to see him standing there in front of me. Remember full serve petrol stations? I was the vehicle, he was the pump man.
So, you learning yoga? He asked in his thick Indian accent. Oh… My… God…. He wants to chit-chat? Please God just fucking kill me already. I mumbled an mmhmm, hoping that would be enough to halt the questions. I looked away awkwardly. The seconds were performing like hours.
Ok? He says. Ok enough, I clarify, just in case he took my “ok” as a “yes, this is ok”. He unwrapped the towel from my neck and squeezed it through the one inch door gap to let me cover myself. He’s learning. Slower than an Indian street dog it would seem, but he’s learning.
He led me back over to the table area where my clothes were and grabbed another towel. I thought he was going to hand it to me and leave the room so I could wipe the sweat off my body and dress. Nope.... nope...
He took the towel and proceeded to DRY ME OFF.
Ok! I have had enough of this! I broke through my embarrassment and said NOPE! I am NOT comfortable with this! Stop.
He was totally startled He had no idea why I would feel ucomfortable. He stood up, handed me the towel, gave me a namaste prayer gesture and thankfully, finally, left me to dress.
When it came time to pay, he said 1200. I glance at the menu again, and of course, I had misread it. 1200, not 200. I knew it was too cheap to be true.
I couldn’t get out of there fast enough, but I didn’t have enough cash so I had to go to a bank machine and return. The bank only gave me large notes and he didn’t have change... so I had to wait, while he sent someone for change. Agony.
In the end, I managed to have a laugh about it with him. He said he’s never had anyone react that way, wanting to be covered. He didn’t realise it was my first time.
First and last bucko. Now I know why he told me there was no female therapist.
At least the laughter helped to relieve some of my anxiety, but I still left there feeling like HE should have paid ME.