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.
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.
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.
just around the corner...
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.
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...
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.
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
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