Hindustan Times - Brunch - - News - By Sid­dharth Dhan­vant Shanghvi

AFRIEND TRAV­ELS for ad­ven­ture-themed breaks, in the hope that a paraglid­ing ac­ci­dent might re­lieve her mar­riage of the hus­band. An­other buddy, who crosses con­ti­nents for wine-tast­ing hol­i­days, con­fessed a per­fect trip meant be­ing sloshed ‘by or around break­fast’. Spe­cial­ist travel – in­clud­ing to mas­sage par­lours in Pat­taya – changed the way we look at travel: in lieu of aim­less drift­ing, there had to be a fo­cus, a peg, a point-to-point se­ries of at­trac­tions. In­ter­na­tion­ally, spa cir­cuits are pop­u­lar. Re­cently, as I met my mid­dle age with a mood dis­or­der, I de­cided to check into a few spas to see if they might save me from de­volv­ing into an ‘Un­cle’ − which is what the neigh­bour­hood kids call me lov­ingly (I can­not tell you what they call me other­wise).

I’d flown from Chiva Som, my favourite well­ness cen­tre in Thai­land, to its chief ri­val, Ananda, in the Hi­malayas. They’re a bit like spar­ring sis­ters at the ball, both dif­fer­ently gifted but equally pow­er­ful, with ex­cep­tional strengths. Ananda’s fine ther­a­pists have been poached by spas in­ter­na­tion­ally. When I met one of their for­mer man­agers abroad, I joked about how many of the Ananda team were now with him. “That’s not poach­ing,” he qui­etly coun­tered. “That’s smart hir­ing.” If this Hi­malayan re­sort en­joys life­long loy­al­ists, it’s thanks to its tal­ented, tire­less ther­a­pists – they’re among the best in the world. On my first day, af­ter a jas­mine salt scrub and an aro­mather­apy treat­ment, my Tin­der pro­file, with spank­ing new pho­tos in moun­tain light, landed an ap­pcrash­ing boost (ev­ery­one was a good 150kms away prov­ing that dis­tance does, in­deed, add en­chant­ment to the dad bod). My yoga class in their hand­some pav­il­ion was a study in per­fec­tion; my in­struc­tor was the solid, silent type whose sin­cer­ity al­lowed me to ig­nore a vis­it­ing

min­is­ter’s han­dlers wait­ing around me as I per­formed surya na­maskars (I was, for the record, ex­tremely flat­tered when one body­guard snapped a pho­to­graph, per­haps to show his chil­dren that mid­dle-aged men can still stretch). I per­se­vered, tak­ing in the mar­vel­lous views of the hills, the clean, crisp air and the thrill of be­ing treated like a so­cial me­dia star from outer Rishikesh.


Guests visit this re­sort year af­ter year be­cause it’s nailed clas­sic Ayurvedic treat­ments, such as Nasyam (it did won­ders to as­suage my citi­fied lungs, as did the Urovasti, which in­volved a black gram pow­der paste on the chest fol­lowed by an ap­pli­ca­tion of Dhan­wan­taram oil). My most mem­o­rable treat­ment was Njavarak­izhi: Njavara rice boiled in the de­coc­tion of the herb bala with milk. This cooked rice is later bun­dled up and used for ther­apy. Your skin − and your vi­tals − feels re­newed; I was quiet for a long spell af­ter this treat­ment, some­thing on the level of my con­scious­ness had shifted, I had en­coun­tered some­thing sage and po­tent. What dis­tin­guishes this spa from oth­ers − which are priv­i­leged by swankier rooms − is that it’s a fun­da­men­tally se­ri­ous place for sort­ing your­self out. Yes, their treat­ments for body re­newal − such as the gen­tle eye re­ju­ve­na­tor − are ster­ling, but I’d go back for their au­then­tic in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Choor­nasweda or their Pizhichil (and I’d def­i­nitely an­gle for one of their gor­geous pri­vate vil­las over the rooms).


An In­dian wed­ding is where two peo­ple come to­gether while ev­ery­one else falls apart. When 2,000 folks, en masse, are ap­pointed cheer­lead­ers for two peo­ple’s fu­ture in­fi­deli­ties, they want des­per­ately to not look like ex­tras on the sets of Di­vorce Ke Pehle. Fre­quently, wed­dings hap­pen in Goa, where I live. The best stylist in town is Bina Pun­jani, who ra­di­ates calm, wit and tal­ent as she takes years off your mug at her salon (where you can also get a splen­did head mas­sage from her team). I’d watch for the home com­forts of a mas­sage on the beach; shacks like Ana­hata in Mor­jim of­fer treat­ments out in the win­ter sun. If you want lux­ury, skedad­dle over to the spank­ing new Clar­ins spa at the W in Va­ga­tor where I prepped up for a wed­ding in Goa. Skin, they say, holds touch mem­ory; in my case, the mem­o­ries must have been horrific, for dur­ing my treat­ment I ex­fo­li­ated like a snake in sum­mer; ev­i­dently, my skin was in earnest to for­get demons of sea­sons past. Be­fore my body wrap, I paused for lunch – be­cause let’s face it, if the en­tire beauty game is tire­some for Sonam Kapoor, then it was down­right ex­haust­ing for me. The re­sort has a ge­nius chef in Tan­veer Kwa­tra, who whipped me up a cap­puc­cino of pump­kin, goat cheese dumpling and gin­ger milk soup. My melting honey deep touch mas­sage and foot re­flex­ol­ogy was so re­lax­ing in the spa’s glammed up en­vi­rons (read: James Bond-like foun­tains) that I fell sleep and missed the wed­ding: the most sen­si­ble way to deal with such events.


As I was about to get my first acupunc­ture treat­ment at At­man­tan, a sparkling new spa near Pune, I was re­minded of my mother’s first nee­dle treat­ment. The ther­a­pist, she said, had put her out of her joint pain and, com­forted, she had ex­claimed: “Ev­ery prick was worth it!” I’ve lived by her sage words ever since, and I gladly vol­un­teered to the as­ton­ish­ingly sen­si­tive treat­ment by the hands of my doc­tor at this spa, which I pre­dict will be the go-to well­ness des­ti­na­tion in In­dia. Carved into the moun­tains, over­look­ing Mul­shi dam, the cen­tre is ev­i­dence of charis­matic own­ers Nikhil and Sharmilee Ka­pur’s vi­sion, ad­ven­ture, ex­per­tise and pas­sion. The re­sort ap­pears in the mid­dle of nowhere, im­mured by hills. To have crafted beau­ti­ful rooms over­look­ing the wa­ter with top-notch treat­ment rooms tes­ti­fies this is a labour of love. Not only was the acupunc­ture ex­cep­tional, the Chi­nese mas­sage panned out as a rev­e­la­tion of pain (strong, blunt pres­sure) that led up to relief (two days later, my mus­cles eased up from the treat­ment as I felt en­ergy around my navel rerouted through its nat­u­ral chan­nels).

At At­man­tan, renowned Bri­tish medium and healer Jac­que­line Bour­bon − a vis­it­ing ther­a­pist, exChiva Som − gave a read­ing into my past. As she chan­nelled into vi­sions of all the peo­ple I’d dated, she might have been hor­ri­fied; I know I am. Dur­ing the guided med­i­ta­tion, Bour­bon alerted me that some­one in my life − a tryst of re­cent vin­tage per­haps − had had to leave. I rose from the med­i­ta­tion think­ing this mat­ter was over. This per­son, for their brio and tal­ent, dis­solved into a kind of mem­ory ash. I’d never be­lieved a spa would grant me such a shift on a deep, psy­cho­log­i­cal level; truly a gift. At the re­sort’s ex­cel­lent test­ing cen­tre, I checked for al­ler­gies. While I’d as­sumed this would have been limited to my for­mer mother-in­law, it ex­panded out to tur dal and other dals (as a re­sult, I’ve re­solved to con­sume only mut­ton biryani). I asked the spa man­ager if I might avail re­ju­ve­nat­ing treat­ments be­fore re­turn­ing to Goa. She sug­gested a body wrap and their glo­ri­ous sig­na­ture mas­sage (in equal parts guided me­di­a­tion and re­lax­ation work­out). I came back from my stay look­ing at least 10 years younger than my age. “But,” my sis­ter re­minded me when I reached home, “you went in look­ing, maybe, twenty years older than your age.”

In any event, I said to her, this has been a good start.

If the en­tire beauty game is tire­some for Sonam Kapoor, then it was down­right ex­haust­ing for me.

1 3 SOUL SOOTHERS 1, 2 & 4. Snapshots from At­man­tan, Pune’s new­est spa 3. Whole­some com­fort food is part of the ex­pe­ri­ence at ev­ery good well­ness fa­cil­ity



SPA SO­JOURNS 5, 6 7 & 8. Snapshots of the views, ac­tiv­i­ties and food from Ananda in the Hi­malayas 9 & 10. The back­yard view at the W in Va­ga­tor, Goa and the Wow villa 7





The writer is the au­thor of the best-sell­ing book, The Last Song Of Dusk, and has also writ­ten some of the most pop­u­lar, much Googled ar­ti­cles for HT Brunch.


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