The incongruously salmon-pink Matha Amrithanandamayi Mission, 30km northwest of Kollam, 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 5pm daily (check details online or download the Amma app). Many travellers stay overnight or longer term.
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 herself travels for much of the year (her schedule is 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 or a single for ₹500 (including simple vegetarian meals).
Since the ashram is on the main canal between Kollam and Alleppey, many travellers break the popular ferry ride by getting off here, staying a day or two, then picking up another cruise. Alternatively, cross the canal via pedestrian bridge to Vallickavu and grab a rickshaw 10km south to Karunagappally or 12km north to Kayamkulam (around ₹200), from where you can catch onward buses or trains.
If you aren't taking the cruise, take a train to Karunagappally or Kayamkulam, then an autorickshaw to Vallickavu and the bridge.