The incongruously pink Matha Amrithanandamayi Mission is the famous ashram of one of India’s few female gurus, Amrithanandamayi, also known as Amma (Mother) or ‘The Hugging Mother' because of the darshan (audience) she offers, often hugging thousands of people in marathon all-night sessions. The ashram runs official tours at 4pm and 5pm daily – check the website or download the Amma app for details.
It’s a huge complex, with about 3500 people living here permanently – monks, nuns, students and families, both Indian and foreign. It offers food, ayurvedic treatments, and a daily schedule of yoga, meditation and darshan. Amma travels around for much of the year, so you might be out of luck if in need of a cuddle (check her schedule online). A busy time of year at the ashram is around Amma's birthday on 27 September.
Visitors should dress conservatively and there is a strict code of behaviour. With prior arrangement – register online – you can stay at the ashram in a triple room for ₹250 per person, ₹500 for a single (including simple vegetarian meals).
Since the ashram is on the main canal between Kollam and Alleppey, many travellers break the ferry ride by getting off here, staying a day or two, then picking up another cruise. Alternatively, cross to the other side of the canal and grab a rickshaw 10km south to Karunagappally or 12km north to Kayankulam (around ₹200), from where you can catch onward buses or trains.
If you're not taking the cruise, catch a train to either Karunagappally or Kayankulam and take an autorickshaw (around ₹200) to Vallickavu and cross the pedestrian bridge from there. If you intend to stay a while, you can book online for an ashram taxi – they pick up from as far away as Kochi or Trivandrum.