Exploring the Spa Scene in India
It would be hard to write about the luxury spas of the world without positioning India’s at the top of the list. After all, India has a 5,000-year-old history of healing spas which practice the system called Ayurveda. It’s a Sanskrit word meaning “science of life.” The herbal remedies of the old pagan cultures when combined with the spiritual healing techniques of wise Indian sages combine to form a well-rounded system of treatment to help the body heal itself. Blend this with yoga, its sister science, add the luxury of a 5-star hotel and you have a sumptuous Indian spa destination. India has many types of spas: hotel spas; destination spas; resort spas and medispas.
There are allegedly more than 2,300 spas in India, but it’s the top end of this list that is the most intriguing for spa aficionados. In choosing a luxury spa in India, one must look far beyond the typical spa services of luxury Western hotels. Many luxury Indian spas utilize history, astrology, Mughal landscaping and architecture to remain in harmony with nature.
In case a person thought that wearing gold jewelry was the only way to make heads turn, how does having a gold facial sound? Silly or extravagant? Today, fruit scrubs, hot stones and even the hands of two attendants kneading your body sounds rather ordinary compared with the gold facials offered by many spas in India. Having its roots in Ayurveda, the gold facial is an anti-oxidant and combats free radicals, one of the major culprits in the aging process. Just as Cleopatra used gold to reduce her wrinkles, spas are offering the gold facial as the answer to the fountain of youth. If one wants to live like a queen and get a 24-karat gold treatment, book a gold facial at one of the many spas offering this health regimen in India.
The Hotel Spa
In the exclusive list of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, the Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra stands out year after year in the top ten lists of Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler magazines. The hotel’s Mughal palace architecture provides a bird’s eye view of the majestic Taj Mahal from the balcony of every suite. The hotel spa offers a unique experience that combines Ayurveda and Thai therapies with cutting-edge Western techniques and amenities. The signature treatment, Noor-e-Taj, is a three-hour experience that was created as a tribute to the beauty traditions from the royal palace of the Mughals. It includes everything from a honey citrus wrap to a lavender milk bath. Expect to pay about $80 to $180 for treatments listed in the spa menu.
The Resort Spa
The Radisson Resort and Spa in Alibaug (20 miles from Mumbai) is an example of an independent spa in a resort setting. This can be a good choice for couples when one person loves spas and the other loves to play tennis or hike. The Mandara Spa at the Radisson Resort not only has its roots in the Buddhist and Hindu traditions of Bali, but also in European traditional and classic techniques. The 20,000 square foot Mandara Spa has the distinction of being the largest in Asia. In contrast to the Oberoi Amarvilas spa, this resort spa is contemporary in design. In keeping with the theme of the spa, the Mandara Spa has developed unique and exotic spa treatments. The signature spa treatment, “a four hand massage” incorporates the skills of two therapists and has won the coveted Pevonia Asia Spa Award in 2008 in the best spa treatment category. This spa technique combines five different massage styles of Japanese Shiatsu, Thai Massage, Hawaiian Lomi Lomi, Swedish and Balinese. The therapists use their forearms and elbows to relax the muscle tissues. The cost for the one-hour signature treatment is $130. And finally, the dining facilities at the resort offer a delicious light menu to complete a day at the spa.
The Destination Spas
Ranked second in the World’s 100 Best Spas in 2008 by Condé Nast Traveler Magazine is the Ananda Spa located in the foothills of the Himalayas. Its sole purpose is to provide mind and body fitness, healthy eating, spa treatments and relaxation. The spa combines traditional Indian wellness regimes of Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta combined with the best of International Wellness Experiences. Deluxe rooms start at $350 per day excluding meals and spa treatments.
In a sub-list of destination spas, it is easy to include Aman-i-Khás, a Moghul-inspired luxury safari camp location on the edge of Rajasthan's Ranthambore Tiger Reserve National Park. There, guests venture out in jeeps in the early morning and late afternoon to spot tigers, leopards and marsh crocodiles. They return to camp for soothing massages in the spa tent fit for royalty. There are 10 air-conditioned tents. Within are screens that separate the tent into different areas for sleeping, dressing, bathing and living. Aman-i-Khás was second in the Best Resort in India and the Indian Ocean by the Gallivanter's Guide to Idyllic Places for Dedicated Travelers in 2008.
The treatments in the spa tent include massages, facials and scrubs. What is different at the Aman is the inclusion of the traditional body art of India. Guests can experience the decoration of their arms or hands with delicate henna art using local ingredients, herbs and spices. Expect to pay $1,000 per day including meals, but excluding spa services.
The medispas have similar traditional spa services but added to this is a complete Ayurveda Center under the supervision of a doctor or an ayurvedic practitioner. Guests come to this type of spa for better health and to fight illness. The spas offer holistic, organic elements in treatments, as well as an emphasis on mind-body-spirit connections while advocating eventual lifestyle changes. In some cases, these treatments will combine the elements of massage, meditation, yoga and energy manipulation like reiki.
As a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, the beautiful Kumarakom Lake Resort in the southern state of Kerala is an example of a great resort that features a top-rated medispa. Visitors come from around the world to receive holistic treatments and unique therapies at the Ayurmania, the first-class Ayurvedic Center while enjoying the luxury of a top rated resort. Ayurmania has received the Kerala Government's Green Leaf Certification, a prestigious award presented only to the best and most authentic practitioners of this healing art form.
From the first moment of entering the resort's gates, one immediately experiences the sensation of peace and tranquility. The entire village has been specifically designed and carefully rebuilt using authentic buildings called Illams from the surrounding Kerala countryside. These structures have been meticulously enhanced by the addition of traditional furnishings and décor. Because of the resort's unique design and authentic reproduction, it has been named the leading resort for the third year in India’s World Travel Awards.
Two hundred years ago, the Ayurmania was a beautiful Kerala Mansion in the style of the traditional "nalukettu" or four-sided mansion built around a courtyard. Guests staying at the resort meet Dr Liji Krishnan, the Ayurvedic Consultant. She can recommend specifically designed treatments.
The Rejuvenation Massage (Abhyangam) uses traditional techniques accompanied with medicated herbal oils to relax the entire body as well as special head and face massages. The large wooden massage table in the treatment room is raised in the middle so any surplus oils drain off into the small openings at each corner of the table. A large opening for the patient's face at the top end of the table is similar to the massage tables at most therapy resorts and spas.
A 30-minute massage of warm herbal oils begins with a procedure called the Sirodhara. While lying face up on the wooden massage table, a hanging brass pot containing the same warm oil begins to flow over the forehead for another 30 minutes. This is considered an excellent treatment for relaxation insofar as it stimulates tranquility of the mind and improves mental functions. Patients feel the intended results almost immediately.
Another procedure called Njavarakizi is the most unusual. The treatment involves a massage with medicinal Njavara rice cooked with milk and herbs. When dried, the rice is powdered and placed into a muslin cloth bag and massaged all over the body. The patient wears a protective covering over the nose and mouth to facilitate easier breathing from the dust of the powdered rice. Sometimes called a dry massage, this treatment helps to rejuvenate sore and tired muscles and eases stiffness in the joints.
The above treatments are just three of the many specialized procedures that are prescribed at the Ayurmania at the Kumarakom Lake Resort. The Ayurvedic physician determines the length and number of days of treatment. Ayurmania offers one week programs of rejuvenation or de-stress for $260, plus taxes per day with double occupancy.
The best time to visit India is between October and March but since this is also the high season it is advisable to have advance bookings for luxury accommodations. For the most comprehensive information pertaining to visas, travel taxes, medical, train and airlines, visit www.tourindia.com. Although Hindi is the official language of India, English is widely spoken in most Indian cities.
INDEBO Travel are the experts for travel and tours in India. As a destination management company for 29 years, they can fulfill all travel and itinerary needs. Visit www.indebo.com or call 888-546-3421.
Radisson Resort and Spa
Reservations: 800-395 7046
Michigan writer Carole Herdegen is Editor and Travel Consultant of TravelSite.com, the host site of her travel magazine, TravelQuest with Carole Herdegen. Her 20 years of traveling to India has made her a travel expert on India.