Journey Woman


Her Spa Shangri-La in the Himalayas

A spa aficionado, Maureen Littlejohn has tried everything from a chocolate body wrap to a wasabi facial. When she's not journeying around the world, Maureen divides her time between Toronto and New York City. She writes...


Everyone I knew who had visited India had gotten sick. "It was an ice cube in a drink at a hotel. I was stuck in the bathroom for three days," recalled one friend. "My system couldn't handle all that curry," explained another. Needless to say, I made sure my toiletry kit was equipped with Imodium and Pepto-Bismol, along with the requisite malaria pills as I prepared for a spa retreat in the Himalayas.

First stop Delhi...

I flew to Delhi and stayed overnight before catching a train north to Haridwar, in the state of Uttaranchal. I was heading to Ananda Spa in the Himalayas, named one of the top 10 spas in the world by Conde Nast Traveler magazine. Opened in 2000, it's situated on a Maharaja's former estate and specializes in a combination of Western and Ayurvedic treatments. It looked magical in the pamphlets, surrounded by misty foothills and overlooking the Ganges River valley.

During the five-hour train trip (first class for 900 Rupees/US$19), I chatted with my neighbour, named Sodha, an elegant woman in a burgundy sari. She was going to visit her daughter who was due to have a baby and our female-to-female conversation made the time simply fly by.


Shangri-La just around the corner...

In Haridwar, I waited patiently for the driver from Ananda who would pick me up for the 45-minute journey into the Himalayan foothills. Soon we were winding up the mountain, passing sacred temples and troops of Rhesus monkeys foraging by the road. As the car rounded the last corner, what I saw erased all traces of traveller's fatigue.

Dappled with lemony sunlight, the spa housed within the 100-year-old summer getaway of Maharaja Narenda Shah beckoned like a vision from Shangri-La. Wrought iron gates swung open to reveal the manicured garden bursting with exotic blooms and filled with the sounds of the lightly splashing fountain. Dusty and rumpled, I felt like a troll in fairy land.


A room with a view...

Accommodations were superb! The bathroom, which I like to explore first, was a jaw-dropper. Beside the sunken tub was a wall-to-ceiling window with stunning views of the river valley. The room was Zen-like -- a pristine white cotton spread on the Queen-size bed and a balcony looking out on the same vista. On the bed sat a tray sprinkled with flower petals and a scroll, outlining activity options including yoga, spa orientation, a rejuvenation cuisine class, and meditation. In the walk-in closet hung a pair of white, polished cotton Khurta pajamas. "For you to wear while you're at Ananda," the bell man informed me. In Hindu, Ananda means bliss. Absolutely nothing was lost in the translation.


5,000 years old health practice...

Ayurveda dates back at least 5,000 years and is a health practice based on balancing the bioenergetic forces within and outside the body. In Ayurvedic philosophy, everything in the universe is composed of five elements or panchabhutas. They are air, fire, space, water and earth. The doshas, or three principle bio-energies that govern our bodies are called Vata, Pitta and Kapha, and are composed of different combinations of the five elements. Dr. Gupta had me fill in a questionnaire, asking about sleep patterns, food likes and dislikes, circulation and dreams. Then he shone a light in my eyes, checked my tongue, ears and nose and pronounced me a Kapha with some Vata.

"I'm here to help you keep your balance through lifestyle, diet and treatment," explained Dr. Gupta who recommended daily yoga, an Ayurvedic diet, a sinus treatment as well as some massage. I decided to throw in a honey sandalwood body rub and an Aveda pedicure as well.

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