Nasal cleansing, sleep yoga and naked massages are just some of the unusual but revitalising therapies on offer at the atmospheric Ananda in the Himalayas. Get ready to break out the magical chapati dough
Rishikesh, India, is the world’s yoga capital; its myriad ashrams, mesmeric Himalayan landscapes and bendy-limbed gurus a magnet for those seeking enlightenment. But when The Beatles visited this city on the banks of the Ganges in 1968 for a spot of transcendental meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Ringo Starr dismissed it as a “spiritual Butlins”.
Arriving at Ananda in the Himalayas (40 minutes’ drive from the wonderfully named Jolly Grant airport), it’s clear local accommodation has moved on since the Beatles’ visit. Red-coated staff, donkey rides and knobbly-knee competitions are all thin on the ground. But happy campers? They’re everywhere. Impossibly chilled guests pad around the manicured lawns of the ex-maharaja’s palace, their faces a beatific glow.
Sitars, gongs and distant humming fill the air and forested hills fill your eyes. The peacocks and monkeys scampering around seem straight out of Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Then there’s the sense of calm that can only be induced by inhaling clean, high-altitude Himalayan air. Spiritual, yes. Butlins? Not so much.
The trip came at the perfect time. I’d been in a bit of a health rut. An overwhelming feeling of burnout was all too evident: I had a foggy head, slipped disc in my back, and recurrence of eczema. Plus, with a wedding fast approaching, I was running a business alongside cumbersome ‘wedmin’. Whenever somebody mentioned table-seating plans or pew-end flowers, I cried inside.
Advocates of Ayurvedic medicine – which comprise many of the Ananda’s therapies – would argue they provide the perfect cure for my maladies.
Originating five millennia ago in India, Ayurveda fuses some 2,000 herbs into a treatment system that aims to heal and ward off illness. Believing poor health to be a result of an imbalance in the mind, body or soul, the Ananda’s Ayurvedic wellness programmes (which span weight loss, detox and stress management) each begin with a cleansing foot ritual and melodic prayer.
But first, I had a consultation with the spa doctor to identify my dosha (or body type). I was kapha dominant – heavy, slow and laidback. The treatments work to balance fire, water and energy channels with my kapha prescription, involving scrubs, massages, pranayama (deep yogic breathing) and mild exercise. I was put on a diet of fruit and veg, still water and no bananas.
Sense of renewal
The ascetic diet isn’t the only thing fainthearts might shrink from – being stark naked is a prerequisite for many treatments. Although cloth pants are available, teachers argue that only by stripping off can you truly experience its benefits.
Then there was the nasal cleansing. A neti pot, not unlike a gravy boat, is filled with lukewarm saltwater and poured into one nostril. The mixture sluices its way through your sinuses, before emerging out the other nostril. It worked wonders.
Yoga nidra, or ‘sleep yoga’, also worked. After choosing and focusing upon a goal (mine was health and happiness), before chanting “Om” interspersed with deep breaths, I drifted into a long, meditative slumber. Meanwhile, my back was treated using kati vasti, whereby hot oil was poured in a ring made from chapati dough, before being applied to the affected area.
After three days, I felt like a new person. The back pain and eczema were gone, I felt clear-headed, re-energised, and I’d lost five pounds.
For those not on a kapha diet, the Ananda’s food – lentil curries and beetroot salads – looked amazing. Through its cookery classes, I also learnt how to make curries, paneer and naan bread.
The Ananda décor is conducive for serenity – Raj-style furnishings, bedrooms with balconies (monkeys swoop by to visit), in-room aromatherapy and rose-petal baths. On one trip, we watched the sundown Ganga Aarti, a Hindu ceremony in Rishikesh where sadhus (spiritual men) and pilgrims set candles adrift on palm leaves down the Ganges as a gift to its goddess, Ganga. Rishikesh itself is storybook India, with dusty streets, sacred cows and saintly sadhus pressing red dots on your head. I also trekked 10 miles to the mountaintop Kunjapuri temple with its panoramic snow-capped views.
Back home, my glowing skin and relaxed demeanour were at odds with sallow-faced, angry-looking commuters around me. Although I was hardly chanting “Hare Krishna” on the tube, I’m still wearing the bracelet given to me during a blessing, while staff said I was kinder, less “shouty”. Altogether now: “Ommm.”
Getting to Ananda in the Himalayas
Virgin Atlantic flies daily to Delhi from Heathrow, with economy fares starting from around £600. There are frequent flights from Delhi to Dehradun’s Jolly Grant airport. From there, it’s a 45-minute drive to Ananda in the Himalayas. There is also a four-hour train journey from Delhi to Haridwar, followed by an hour’s drive to the resort.
Staying at Ananda in the Himalayas
A seven-night wellness package at Ananda in the Himalayas costs from $1,310 (£870) based on double occupancy of a Valley View room. Wellness packages include accommodation, a spa programme, Ayurvedic and fitness consultations, all meals and taxes.
To compare and contrast spas across the world, visit the-spa-spy.com
Lisa Stokes is a member of IoD London. Follow her on Twitter here