Sal forests sweep down the hillside all the way to the River Ganga far below. On its banks, 17 kilometres downhill from the balcony of my valley-facing room at Ananda in the Himalayas, I can see the spiritual centre of Rishikesh. Splendidly located in a 100-acre forest on the edge of the Tehri-Garhwal mountains in Narendranagar, Uttarakhand, the property is secluded and verdant.
I’m due for a consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor in a few minutes. I’m not ill, but at Ananda, where I am on a short getaway, that session is mandatory. With my check-in that morning I was handed a sheet listing the week’s health-enhancing activities.
The first thrill of this trip started before I left home. My reservation confirmation slip suggested I travel light, as white kurta-pyjamas are provided for the duration of a guest’s stay. It took away the stress out of packing and planning. Frivolous as it may sound, for me it was great not to have to bother with what to wear to dinner, to sleep, or anywhere else for three days. Additionally, I won’t have to unpack or do laundry when I return.
Window boxes bursting with ferns line the hallway and staircase as I head to the hotel’s sprawling spa block. The doctor declares I am of pitta dosha and encourages me to consume the set pitta meals at the restaurant, to balance my energies. These turn out to be a combination of Indian and other cuisines: A meal could, for instance, have a small cup of lentil soup and a salad, beetroot risotto, and poached pear.
Then I get an Ananda Fusion massage. With 24 therapy rooms the spa is the hotel’s centrepiece and the highlight of any stay. This is where Dawa, a massage therapist with magical hands, sends me into a calm space where I begin to think about me. Thoughts about work and chores recede to my mental back burner. Looking at my health I see what needs to be fixed. By the end of the first day itself, I start listing what is wrong with my lifestyle, my body, my everyday routine. As she pampers me with a blend of massage techniques including deep tissue, Swedish and Thai, and applies hot poultices of sea salt alongside, I begin to understand why most of the guests I had met that morning said they were repeat customers.
However, Ananda isn’t your regulation spa where you pick from a menu of spa offerings based on what sounds good to you. Every stay package comes with pre-designed therapies that are formulated to suit the duration of stay and address the individual’s health objectives based on the Ayurvedic doctor’s assessment.
Ananda takes wellness seriously and while nothing is enforced, guests are encouraged to avoid non-vegetarian food (though it is available) and switch to a healthy lifestyle. The spa’s week-long detox programme is very popular, and if you join it, be prepared to be thoroughly detoxed. A gentleman on the table next to me at dinner was complaining profusely that he was still hungry after his set meal had been served, and that he craved things that just weren’t permitted. That said, on a getaway package no one forces you to toe the line, though temptations are kept out of sight. I didn’t, for instance, spot any butter at the breakfast counter that morning; it was lined with healthy options.
Even those who don’t like early morning yoga classes can make the session starting at a leisurely 8.30 a.m. And they should, not only because the location amidst woods is spectacular, but also because after an hour of yoga stretches I feel totally energised. Avoiding the golf carts that ferry guests around I decide to walk everywhere I need to go on the sprawling property for the rest of my stay.
A few days of this and tranquillity sets in. One of my favourite spots on the property is the wooden deck, surrounded by trees, attached to the restaurant. Even on a hot afternoon in May I find a shady seat under the umbrella where a light breeze keeps me cool. Although this is very much a luxury resort, Ananda is understated in its appearance and décor. Though the hotel does depend on water brought in from outside, I am happy to see that it has its own drinking water filtration system. Drinking water comes from beautiful glass bottles saving, I’m guessing, at least 500 disposable plastic bottles from coming up to this Himalayan idyll every day.
After a wild rose exfoliating salt scrub on day two, I check my schedule and head for a yoga nidra session. There, a gentle young man who practices the Bihar school of yoga, takes me through a routine that slows down the mental chatter even more.
For me the stay at Ananda was about focussing on myself. In our everyday lives, filled with lists of things to complete, our bodies regularly send out signals, telling us things we need to heed. At Ananda, after a long time, I stopped to listen. And what I heard wasn’t sweet or pleasant. Even though I was there for a getaway rather than a formal wellness programme, I felt the calm and the unwinding. The pervading wellness mantra put me in the mode to do something about improving my health, to attempt to fix and cleanse my system, and reclaim a sense of well-being.
Appeared in the September 2015 issue as “Slow Down, Get Ahead”. Updated in March 2016.
Accommodation Wellness programmes require a minimum stay of 7 days. Shorter getaway packages start at 2 nights. Packages from ₹31,000 per night for two, includes spa experiences, breakfast and dinner (www.anandaspa.com).
Getting there Dehradun is connected to Delhi by daily direct flights. Its Jolly Grant airport is a 45-minute drive from Ananda, in the village of Narendranagar, 17 km from Rishikesh.
’s idea of unwinding is to put on boots and meander through wilderness or the bylanes of a city, and to instill in her daughter a love for the outdoors. As Editor-In-Chief of National Geographic Traveller India her gig involves more of pummelling stories into shape than actually travelling.
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