In India, it is the “science of life” that is practiced through ancient healing ways. The healing touch, the gently applied oils and scents, the absorbing of delectable aromas within a meditative steam or soaking session would not be considered pampering per se, but a way of life and a way of keeping the body in harmony with nature in common rituals handed down through the centuries.
This is the discipline of Ayurveda, possibly the oldest wisdom of the body and its healing ways. To experience a spa in India is to experience 5,000 years of Ayurveda practice.
The Sanskrit tradition purports that each person is made up of space, air, fire, water and earth and balancing these forces is the job of a practitioner. Each person thus falls into one of three possible body types or doshas: Kapha (earth/water), Pitta (fire/water) and Vata (air/space) and for each dosha, a system of treatments is devised to help the person detoxify, heal and thrive.
Whether at a resort spa in the southern backwaters of Kerala, an international hotel in the resort beachlands of Goa, a business property in Mumbai(formerly Bombay) or a day spa in New Delhi, the pampering a guest will receive will be influenced by these ancient traditions with herbal oil massages and plant-based medicines that will keep the body in line. It was the ancient Hindus that discovered the energizing properties of peppermint and eucalyptus oils, and the mood soothing elements of frankincense, rose, myrrh, sandalwood and patchouli oils. They used lemon, grapefruit and cypress as well as coconut, sesame tamarind, datura, ginger, dill and salt to detoxify, cleanse and boost circulation. Today, as then, these attars are put to work in such treatments as the “shiroabhyanga,” that massages the head while oils are carefully and slowly poured on the third eye; or the “abhyangam”—an hour-long oil massage administered in sync by two therapists; or the “pizichil”: an oil bath given in tandem by two therapists as the vaida or doctor orders precise movements. Each session might last an hour or might last four. Special teas and foods will be suggested and offered according to their heat properties and special prayers or mantras may be chanted. The oils will stick and feel uncomfortable, but the cleansing that results will feel indescribable.
Because Ayurveda is as much a part of the India experience as saris, curries and bicycles, these treatments will be found at the best hotels, including Oberoi, one of India’s top-tier hotel chains, which features spas by Banyan Tree, a world-renowned luxury spa company based in Singapore.
There are several such spas in India, including Oberoi New Delhi, Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra, Oberoi Rajvilas Jaipur, Oberoi Vanyavilas Ranthambore, Oberoi Udaivilas Udaipur and Wildflower Hall in the Himalayas in Shimla.
The Oberoi New Delhi is modern and centrally located, overlooking the immaculate greens of the Delhi Golf Club. In Agra, the Oberoi, Amarvilas is less than a half-mile from the Taj Mahal with unobstructed views of this wonder from nearly every room, including treatment rooms at the spa. “Noor-E-Jahan” a signature spa therapy at Amarvilas was created as a tribute to beauty traditions from the royal palace of the Mughals.
Meanwhile, Oberoi Rajvilas in Jaipur sits on 32-acres of gardens, pools and fountains. Signature spa experiences include “Royal Splendour” and the “Spirit of Ayurveda,” based on strict Ayurvedic formulas.
The Oberoi Vanyavilas in Ranthambore has a jungle locale where tiger safaris are the attraction. The resort combines exhilarating jungle experiences with the luxury of specially appointed spa suites and a range of exotic treatments and therapies, such as the signature “Tree of Life” and “Secrets of the Forest.” In Udaipur, Oberoi Udaivilas, is themed in the romance and splendor of a bygone era. The spa wing at The Oberoi Udaivilas overlooks Lake Pichola and includes five double spa suites, a separate Ayurvedic treatment room and a steam room. Specialties include daily yoga, meditation and Pranayam sessions in addition to an extensive menu of spa therapies. Finally, Oberoi Wildflower Hall in Shimla located high the Himalayas, is situated on a magnificent perch 8,350 feet into the Himalayan foothills. Two Spa Forest Pavilions on property’s 22 acres of thick cedar and pine forests. The indoor heated swimming pool and outdoor infinity pool provide majestic views of the Greater Himalayas.
Oberoi Wildflower Hall is running a four-night adventure/spa retreat package through March that includes premium lodging, daily breakfast, a white water rafting trip with guide, transport and picnic lunch, a one-hour biking trip with a guide or three-hour forest walk with a naturalist, daily yoga and meditation sessions, complimentary use of spa and fitness center and a 60-minute spa treatment. The inclusive rate per couple is $1,520.
Ananda in the Himalayas, a Preferred Hotel, is another treat for the senses. The mountain hideaway is dedicated to restoring balance and energy through a holistic approach that uses yoga, Ayurveda and aromatherapy, along with contemporary spa technology, all seeking to balance the five elements of nature and create harmony between the mind, body and spirit. Rates per couple range from $490 for a Deluxe Palace View Room to $1,225 for a night in the Vice Regal Suite and include scheduled aerobics, yoga, or meditation classes; scheduled hiking trips in the Himalayan foothills; use of spa areas such as the sauna, steam bath, and Jacuzzi; complimentary use of the gymnasium and swimming pool. Additional suite inclusions are breakfast for two served in the suite or restaurant; choice of two aromatic baths; and railway station or airport transfers. Guests staying for at least three nights receive a night on the house. All inclusive Wellness Packages packed with blissful healing treatments start at $2,090 for two people for three nights.
The resort, which opened in September 2000 and has been hot-listed by Conde Nast Traveller UK, Travel & Leisure and Gourmet magazines, is set within 100 acres of virgin forest in the Himalayas on a Maharaja’s palace estate just north of New Delhi. By air, Ananda is a 45-minute flight from New Delhi followed by a one-hour drive. By rail, it’s a four-hour journey from New Delhi to Haridwar railway station followed by a one-hour drive. The driving time between New Delhi and Narendra Nagar is approximately five and a half hours.