A Time for Bliss
I arrive at Dehradun’s Jolly Grant Airport, looking forward to the extensive itinerary of treats that has been prepared for my weeklong sojourn at Ananda in the Himalayas. The iconic spa resort needs little introduction to Verve readers I’m sure, as it has established itself as the benchmark for a truly luxurious holistic experience that blends the best of Eastern and Western philosophies. I’m whisked away to the gorgeous property of the Maharajas of Garhwal by a quietly solicitous chauffeur who navigates the winding roads with a practised ease that keeps even delicate old me from falling prey to carsickness. I am greeted at the palace entrance by two ladies in saris that are draped in a manner distinctive to the spa hotel. Promptly garlanded with rudraksha beads, strands of which are draped across the mantle at the entrance, I partake of my last indulgent cup of chai before heading over to the spa complex to meet the man who will dictate my life for the next seven days.
Dr Chandan, an Ayurvedic practitioner, meets me at the spa reception and as we walk to his consulting room, we pass the water feature walls that bring forth an instant calmness to the mind. Further down the signature scented corridors we find a flautist playing his tunes amidst brass lamps. The good doctor and I spend a half hour figuring out my dosha and he explains how the three types work. I am a Pitta type, and am told I should try to avoid citrus. As my mind grapples with the idea of forgoing my daily glass of lemonade, he establishes the other dietary guidelines I should follow, and my requirements are communicated to the central kitchen. After joining a trainer for the body composition analysis at the gym, I am set loose upon the property in all my classic Ananda-issue kurta-pyjama-ed glory.
I whizz around to the spa complex again, eager for the first of the therapies on my Ananda Detox programme – a detoxifying salt scrub. A sauna session and a shower later, I’m face down in a softly lit chamber, having my limbs gently scrubbed with a mix of Himalayan salt and the signature Ananda massage oil of grapefruit, cypress and juniper. I’m advised to keep the oil on overnight and so I waft down to dinner in a perfumed daze. I approach the menu with some trepidation but even the healthy section sounds universally delightful. I’d have had a hard time making my selection if it weren’t for the perpetually smiling staff and their stellar recommendations. The chef joins me for a few minutes and takes notes on my preferences, assuring me that I won’t be forced to eat any of those unpleasantly textured vegetables that I associate with Ayurvedic diets.
And I don’t. Breakfasts of grain porridge or dosas and fruit, where I take absolute advantage of the mango season, are washed down with a glass of watermelon juice – happily prescribed for the Pitta type. Attractively plated lunches of vegetables in filo pastry and sugarfree desserts, dinner could involve succulent kebabs one day and continental fare the next – meals at Ananda thoroughly reinvent my perception of Ayurvedic food. My palate is never bored, and when I run into friends at dinner, I don’t watch their plates like a starving fool! The delicious little treats like coconut cake and chocolate with rice crisps left on my bedside table every evening definitely stave off desperation. Ananda cuisine is also demonstrated in a show kitchen and I attend a class where the chef recommends using clarified butter for cooking and shows us how to prepare a soy milk-based mayo substitute.
On my first morning I attend a personalised yoga session on the golf course with Deepti, a soft-spoken instructor who helps me develop a new understanding of the various poses with her gentle guidance. I’ve taken group classes at various times but I find that the one-on-one session really helps refine my yoga practice. I fall into a routine of reporting for the 7:15 a.m. group yoga class at the sun-dappled pavilion in the gardens of the main palace, dashing back for breakfast, then attending a stretching session at the gym before reporting to the spa for my first session of each day. On the third day, one of the receptionists at the spa remarks that I’ve fallen into the Ananda way of life, and I realise with a bit of a start that I really have. Every person I come across is smiling in a genial way, whether staff or guests, and as I go about my stay, my little frown lines ease out as my lips curve into a natural smile, and I can actually feel a glow emanating from me.
My packed schedule of massages and treatments keeps me from participating in a few of the regular activities, but I’m not complaining! From the stimulating shower blitz, a treatment that blasts your cellulite with a power hose, to the detoxifying hydrotherapy baths, contemporary international therapies are mixed in with Ayurvedic therapies like the Choornaswedana, a massage with herb buns, and the Abhyanga, the four-handed massage that has every guest here raving. As part of the detox, I also undergo Nasyam, a nasal cleansing with hot salted water, and the Sneha Vasti, which I’d rather not discuss in polite company. I love the detoxifying aromatherapy and the earth stone therapy that takes place in the Kama Suite, a couples’ suite. My favourite of the therapies is the aroma cocoon – an aromatherapy massage which ends with me being wrapped in hot blankets – I may have dozed off gently, to be woken by my own snores! My therapist tells me I’m one of the few people who haven’t complained about the heat. Between all these treatments and personal training sessions at the gym, and the showering and changing, I end each day exhausted, cosy in my bed by 9 p.m., my pillows liberally sprayed with lavender water. I take a mini power nap after lunch every day, retreating to my room with a view of the valley where the Ganges flows through the town of Rishikesh, waking up to peacocks prancing on the patio.
Each month at Ananda sees a different visiting master in residence, offering specialised therapies. I meet Sheila Green, a Buqi healer from the UK, and we take a pleasant walk around the palace as she introduces me to the idea. Each person experiences Buqi healing differently and you can move about or lie still depending on how you react to Sheila’s vibrations as she moves about and chants. Our session takes place in a room on the terrace, decorated with art deco sconces, and as we walk through the palace we discover that the palace is host to plenty of examples of this particular décor movement. Sheila and I find the ballroom particularly remarkable – the wooden flooring curves at the edges and we realise it is because the ballroom was designed to double up as a roller skating rink!
I feel the blues at the thought of returning to city life. I am convinced that the Ananda Detox is an essential process that I should undertake every year, for it helps recalibrate both the mind and the body. I may not have learnt the secrets to the universe, but I did finally learn how to enjoy bean sprouts – sautéed with onions and stuffed in a gram flour crepe!