G&J (Great Journeys): Sublime indulgence at spas around the world
Today, spas strive to be more than just a rejuvenating massage; they seek to help guests embrace the environment by using natural and local produce. Here are some of our more memorable spa experiences over the years.
No pain. The manager of a spa resort in Mysore informed us that an important element of a good massage, aside from its other benefits, is that it should be relaxing and free of pain. Apparently, someone forgot to mention this to a masseur plying his trade at a swanky spa on a dreamy island resort. One of us had the misfortune of having him pummel our body, which we had surrendered to his care, with a vengeance. We complained that he was hurting us and he replied: “Not my fault. You are too tense and stiff.”
Ananda in the Himalayas - decoration in flower petals
Wasn’t that the reason we stretched ourselves out on his massage table: to relax? We fumed inwardly. Sadly, that just did not happen and we were relieved when we were finally released from the clutches of the fiend masquerading as a masseur! Meanwhile, in the adjoining room, the therapy was a breeze – relaxing and pain-free. The only problem was that we ended up as the proud owners of a varicose veins brush that set us back US$35. (The masseuse had advised us to lightly brush our varicose veins with it every day to make them disappear!) The prized acquisition was never used; for the more we looked at it, the more it suspiciously began to resemble a toilet brush!
Chikmagalur - The Serai - Oma spa - treatment oils
That spa was, of course, an exception. On the whole, barring one hair-pulling misadventure masquerading as a head massage, and a thumping ‘pahadi’ rub-down in the Himalayas which left us limp with fatigue and aching bodies, the spas we have experienced in the course of our travels have delivered what they promised. They have been welcome, relaxing, and well-deserved breaks from our hectic travel schedules. Of these, a few really stand out.
A vine-draped door at Les Sources de Caudalie, near Bordeaux
One of our most unforgettable experiences happened at the Royal Livingstone Victoria Falls tented spa on the banks of the Zambezi River in Zambia, which offered authentic African therapies and Western treatments. At most spas, an urn filled with flowers is placed below the slot in a massage table, in which you may rest your face while sleeping on your stomach. At the Royal Livingstone spa, the flowers were replaced with a mirror that fielded the reflection of the jade-green river. Right away we knew we were in for something truly unique. Tibetan chants did not ride the soft evening air but the song of nature did: grunts emanating from a pod of hippos wallowing in the river; the screeching call of a fish eagle; the smoking thunder of Victoria Falls downstream; the murmur of the river; the rustle of leaves… This was one time we made sure that the fingers dancing over our bodies did not lull us to sleep. Every moment had to be savoured.
Al fresco massage at Les Sources de Caudalie. Photo credit: Les Sources de Caudalie
Many moons ago, at the Jiva Spa at Taj Usha Kiran Palace Hotel in Gwalior, we revelled in a saffron-infused royal mangalsnan from the House of Gwalior, accompanied by a live tabla and sitar musical recital. (The two musicians sat behind a delicate fretted marble screen) while we revelled in a royal dip that followed an exfoliation and massage with perfumed herbs and oils. It was a fitting tribute to the city’s fabled musician, Tansen, one of the Nine Gems (Navratna) in Mughal Emperor Akbar’s court, whose recitals, it was whispered, could draw rain down to parched land and make flowers bloom.
Floral touches at the Taj Usha Kiran Palace, Gwalior
Today, spas strive to be more than just a rejuvenating massage; they seek to help guests embrace the environment by using natural and local produce. Hence, we opted for the signature coffee cure at Oma Spa at The Serai Chikmagalur, snuggled amidst a coffee plantation in Chikmagalur, Karnataka, the cradle of Indian coffee. The feel of coffee beans grating into our backs and feet made us tingle all over, leaving us with seal-smooth skins.
A gentle rub-down at the spa at Beniya Mukayu, Japan
One of our more dramatic spa experiences happened at Beniya Mukayu, a 17-room ryokan or traditional inn, located outside the historic town of Kanazawa in Japan. It was a place that seemed to have tiptoed out of the earth, so gentle was its impact on the environment. And that, too, in a region where onsen or hot springs bubble and hiss fiercely from the innards of the earth.
A therapy room with a view at Beniya Mukayu
We couldn’t resist a luxurious soak in a tub placed on the balcony of our room which was fed by the healing waters of the Yamashiro hot springs nearby even as snowflakes fluttered outside. This was topped off with a rub down with herbal poultices in the minimalist spa, followed by a foot bath spiked with curative herbs from the sacred Haksan Mountains. Ah! Such bliss!
Tranquil reflections at Kalari Kovilakom, Kerala
We are suckers for quick fixes and a luxury resort-cum-wine spa, Les Sources de Caudalie, located amidst glistening green vineyards, a 20-minute drive from the French red-wine town of Bordeaux, seemed to promise just that! We obsessed about whether we would opt for a soak in a barrel of spring water mixed with zesty red wine or a four-handed massage with grape seeds. Perhaps we would try the honey and wine wrap or maybe the Merlot friction scrub… Yes, the grape and its age-reversing powers is the prima donna at Les Sources de Caudalie and its therapies did make us feel like we had recovered some of our lost youth!
Kalari Kovilakom - welcome sign in the lobby
The concept of a de-tox was taken to another level at Kalari Kovilakom, in Kollangode, in the Palghar district of north Kerala. Dubbed a Palace for Ayurveda, Kalari Kovilakom is housed in a 200-year-old palace and turned out to be a heady cocktail of traditional healing amidst an alluring landscape. Our first stop after settling into our room was at the resident Ayurveda doctor’s clinic. After checking our pulse and other physical parameters, the doctor prescribed a regimented diet and treatment for the length of our brief stay. The therapies were divine and we would look forward to them with the fervour of spa addicts. The diet, healthy and wholesome, however, left us craving caffeine and sinful fats and oils. Thankfully, we had smuggled in a few packets of biscuits and snacks which we would gorge on furtively in the privacy of our room.
A healthy well-balanced Ayurvedic meal
At the end of our 7-day stay, the aches and pains we had checked in with were a distant memory. However, we were driven nearly to desperation with caffeine cravings, and the first stop we made as we drove away from Kalari Kovilakom was at a roadside tea stall where milky tea was being brewed along with fistfuls of ginger slivers. Aah!
Tented spa at Royal Livingstone Victoria Falls, Zambia
View of the Victoria Falls from the Zambia side
Sometimes, indulgence comes in small sips!
Unless otherwise specified, all photos courtesy of Gustasp and Jeroo Irani
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