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Friday, Oct 29, 2004

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Well healed!

Gaurav Raghuvanshi

A spa in the Himalayas that promises to rejuvenate you with not only traditional healing systems but also breathtaking vistas.

The moment we entered our room at `Ananda in the Himalayas', my wife squealed in excitement and rushed to the bathroom. The rest of us could not resist our curiosity and trooped in after her. Soon four pairs of eyes were glued to the breathtaking view that the loo afforded — of the valley and the Ganga, flowing some thousand feet below. A knock at the open door by Kapil, the front-office executive who brought in our bags, made us realise that we were not exactly in the best place to be found in a group. We trooped out of the bathroom hastily, to explore other parts of the suite.

Next we headed for the balcony, which offers the same view, along with fresh breeze and the chirping of birds thrown in as bonus. The `Valley view' rooms, which come at a premium over the `Palace view' rooms, offer a panoramic view of Rishikesh town, as also the Ganga, as it emerges from the hills to begin its long journey to the Bay of Bengal.

The resort offers packages that range from $1,825 (for foreigners) or Rs 61,900 for three nights to $10,700 (Rs 3,48,900) for 21 nights for a valley-view room. The rates may appear steep, but don't forget, Ananda was ranked the second-best spa resort in the world by Conde Nast Traveller, the travel and tourism industry bible, in 2003.

Ananda has been built on the property of the former Maharaja of Tehri at Narendranagar. The palace has been restored and the 70-room resort built in an area that formerly consisted of orchards. While it takes about six hours to drive from Delhi, pick-up and drop facilities to Haridwar railway station and Jolly Grant airport at Dehradun are also available.

Meanwhile, the excitement in the balcony took about 15 minutes to die down and before long we got a call from Tanu at the restaurant, telling us that food was ready. After the drive from Delhi we were famished. The restaurant was nearly empty by the time we reported for lunch and we realised that 3 p.m. was perhaps not the best time to arrive for lunch at an ayurvedic spa.

The restaurant had one more surprise in store for us. Few guests prefer to sit in the closed confines of the octagonal restaurant. Not that its well-appointed interiors are not up to the mark, but outside the restaurant is a wooden deck, which gives you yet another fabulous view — this time of the thickly forested, steep slope.

We made ourselves comfortable on the treetop deck, complete with round wooden tables and white curtains. I made a mental note of a smaller deck extending out of the main deck. It was concealed by a tree and had space only for a small table for two. For sure, the mini-deck was where my wife and I would be found for our next meal!

At an Ayurvedic spa, you would expect draconian restrictions on your diet. Half expecting to find only `boiled vegetables' on the menu, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Ananda offers a reasonable fare of dishes you can sinfully indulge in.

Tanu explained to us that only fresh food was served at the restaurant and cooking starts after you place the order. That meant no buffets, except when there is a large group or delegation visiting the property. Naturally, the time taken to deliver the food was longer than at other restaurants. This resort serves only organically grown vegetables, and you can forget your Himalayan trout if the supplier has not gone fishing that day.

Having heard that even our former Prime Minister could not resist the trout, one asked for it and was in luck as the fisherman had indeed returned with a catch that day. When it was served, the former premier got full marks for his good taste. However, being a hard-core non-vegetarian, one was not too keen to try out a dish that looked like dark-green paste with corn floating in it. But tasting it after insistence from others, one could hardly stop eating it.

Chef Anup suddenly appeared at our table. We later found out that guests are encouraged to watch the `Ananda style of cooking' and can take home some of the resort's culinary secrets. So chef Anup had not, as we thought, come to admonish us for our hogging ways. He was there as part of Ananda's regular courtesy towards guests.

We asked him the recipe for the corn and spinach, which was gladly given. The preparation is the same as our regular Palak Paneer, but the colour comes from proper blanching — dip the spinach in boiling water, followed by a dip in ice water to retain the natural colour. And the taste, of course, comes from the organically grown ingredients.

We finally got down to business and made an appointment with the resort's Ayurvedic physician. The consultation was an education by itself. Even before we could exchange a `hello', the doctor had diagnosed my chronic backache. He was also bang on target with his diagnosis of my wife's ailment. Traditional Indian systems of medicine like Ayurveda believe in holistic treatment and the practitioners are taught to identify the root cause of ailments by simply looking at the patient, explained the doctor. I recalled stories about ancient Unani vaidjis (practitioners) who were able to tell what you had eaten the previous night by simply feeling your pulse. After meeting this doctor, one willingly believed that. On the advice of Yang Dale at the spa, we were scheduled to take two Ayurvedic treatments — Ananda Touch and aromatherapy — over the next two days. Each massage treatment is meant to tackle specific problems. While for the uninitiated like us, it was easier to go strictly by advice, for those who understand better, there is a wide range of Indian, Thai and Swedish treatments to choose from.

The resort offers several other attractions such as an adventure trek, morning yoga classes, surya namaskar and chandra namaskar, as also a trip to Rishikesh, 14 km away, for the evening aarti by the Ganga. We made trips to the main palace and to the sunset point. Soon, it was time to leave. Time flies here. It was as though we had arrived at the resort only moments ago, to be greeted in traditional style with a tilak and rudraksh garlands. Bottled water, sandwiches and fresh fruit had already been placed in the car and we appreciated this gesture.

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