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The Scent of Heaven on an Island

Photograph: Preeti Verma Lal

It happens to all of us, we all get bushed by ennui – there are days when the urban jungle seems closing in on us, there are moments when deadlines look like demons, there are countless wistful sighs to put that weary feet up and watch the sun go down the elm lazily… So much ennui. So many wishes.  It happens to all of us. And when it happened to me, I knew what to do – like always to escape to the sea where I can stick my toes in the silken sand and forget the woes of the world. This time I knew not where to go. I gambled, I threw a dart on the world map and it fell on Ko Samui, Thailand’s third largest island that sits snugly by the gulf.

I looked up the brochures; they rattled off mere facts – the first settlers, the fishermen, came to the island some 1,500 years ago, olden maps of the Chinese Ming dynasty have references to Ko Samui; in an island-economy driven by fishing and coconuts, monkeys are trained to scamper up trees to pluck coconuts, where a rock formation seems on a permanent dose of Viagra and where a benevolent tree blesses women to “get married to a foreigner”. Yes, there the bronzed women in G-strings gyrating the night away and the spectacular Six Senses Hideaway where urban malice is sloughed off with essential oils and warm stones, where jasmine tea is served with scrumptious sun-dried plantain wafers. Brochures can be bland, they just rattle off facts. What they slyly veil is the metaphor - Ko Samui is not merely an island, it is the closest approximation to heaven. But that I would discover myself.

A glimpse of that heaven fell my way 20,000 ft above in the skies - inside the Thai Airways aircraft the crew in purple outfits looked like orchids with dazzling pink bracts and far below was the endless expanse of the Gulf of Thailand bathed in the burnished orange of the morning sun. Ko Samui seemed like a blur hundreds of inches beneath, the blue of the sea broken by wanton white waves that were visible even from the aircraft. I could not count the islands that make Thailand; neither could I recognize the contours of the 3,219 km coastline of a 770-year old country that was never colonised. But the closer it got the more the picturesque postcard was coming to life, inch by inch. And when I touched the tarmac, Ko Samui looked prettier than the postcards. Not many destinations do. 

But much before I could stick that toe in the sand, I saw the Big Buddha shimmering in the sun and lording over an island. This 12-metre high Buddha is ubiquitous, you can see him from anywhere, whether you are miles away sailing in the gulf or feeding fishes to appease the gods or standing under the Na Muang Waterfall feeling like a Liril girl. You never miss the Big Buddha in the island. But he is the not the only Buddha in Ko Samui, there is one at every curve, a colossal Laughing Buddha by the Chinese Temple, a tall Buddha by another pagoda, hundreds of reclining Buddhas in wood, brass, iron, carved on leather, etched in stone, painted on canvas, stained on glass… There is also a Buddha footprint on which you stand barefoot and make a wish. And they say, in Ko Samui the Buddha never disappoints. Perhaps he does not.

But he is not only benevolent one, the Buddha has a rival. No, not the gods of the Hindu pantheon who exist in harmony with the Buddhist tenets. The challenger is a statuesque tree that blesses Thai women “to get married to foreigners”. Ask anyone around and they would tell you about hundreds of Thai women living happily ever after with foreigners; they owe marital bliss to, who else, but the kind tree. If the offerings of silk and brocade are any measure, this tree surely is magnanimous.

If the tree is the unfailing match-maker, Nature is the sex guru. Don’t believe me? Look at Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks at the southern end of Hat Lamai. The unusual rock formation looks like a man’s sexual organ in eternal erection. The Rock is the most photographed feature of the island; I stand there and marvel at Nature’s sexual innuendo; it surely has a funny bone the size of an ocean. How else could it have carved an ordinary rock to such erect perfection?

Two days in Ko Samui and I had eaten mounds of Thai curry, pigged on crunchy dragon apples and succulent mangoes, had the world’s best spaghetti in Prego and shopped for twig-like pencils and artifacts for a lark…But I still had not sloughed off urban malice, I could not have gone back with a load on my soul. For that I walked into the Six Senses spa set in a verdant patch, the windows opening into the sea and the birds twittering a lullaby.   

Spread over 22 acres, Six Senses Hideaway, owned by an Indian-born Eton-Oxford educated entrepreneur called Sonu Shivadasani, has 66 split-level villas where the rooms are wood-panelled, the bathroom open-style and the bed four-poster with yards of batiste hanging from the high ceiling. Private butlers pamper you to death. Is it any surprise that Tatler UK has included Six Senses in the World’s Best Spas for Pampering list? They sure know how to pamper! Having offloaded the burden of the body and the soul, I sat in the resort’s Dinner on the Rocks restaurant that is rated the best in the island for its fusion cuisine and an eclectic wine collection in the cellar. The food was delectable but the joy of sitting under a canopy of stars with the sea whispering and the breeze flirting with my hair, it was that that felt like heaven.   
Albert Einstein once said, “How I wish that somewhere there existed an island for those who are wise and of good will”. Unlike the genius, I am neither wise nor was I in search of goodwill; when I stepped into Ko Samui all I was looking for was a little peace and a handful of sky. At the Six Senses spa, my jaded body perked up and on the island I met Life again.
Next time I misplace Life by the urban sidewalk, I know where to look for it. In Ko Samui. Where else?

Published in The Economic Times, 2008


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