I had always suspected that Photoshop had a big role to play in those electric images where the sky was wonderfully blue and regions looked like glittering gems. That was until I stood amongst the brightly coloured flowers and sparkling blue-green water lakes of Uttarakhand. One look and I was convinced that some destinations can indeed beat postcard-induced fantasies.
What’s more was that I was finally there to tick off the destination spa Ananda in the Himalayas off my bucket list! Needless to say that Ananda that is located in the quaint Narendra Nagar has been the destination where the fit and the famous have holidayed. It has regularly been ranked as one of the best spas in the world and has hosted everyone from Lord Mountbatten to Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall and Bollywood A-listers like Aamir Khan, Anushka Sharma among others.
The palace life
Beauty comes in all guises, and Ananda is one right out of a dream! Such is the history of the stunning property that it was once a royal palace of the Maharaja of Tehri Garhwal. Right from the time I was whisked off to the property by my polite and efficient chauffeur Vijendra, I knew I was in for a treat. And then there we were, with the door of the palace opening dramatically along with a traditional Aarti welcome, we are promptly garlanded with rudraksha beeds. All of it punctuated with friendly smiles and swoon-worthy interiors!
At the reception, luxurious international décor theme marries Indian sensibilities. Think colonial-inspired Viceregal Tea Lounge in a 1910 built edifice, orange frames crackling in the fire place and an English high-tea spread. Also there is a flautist sitting and playing captivating tunes. Everything that will transport you to the royal era All of this royalty immediately surrounded me with a comfortable air of luxury.
The show around of the 24,000 sq ft recreation facility overlooking Rishikesh and the Ganges river valley was mesmerizing. With vistas overlooking Sal trees and monkeys swinging right outside my room window, everything felt like secluded serenity that city-slackers must experience atleast once in a lifetime. My expansive room with wooden floors and low-key yet classy brown and white interiors opened out on a private patio with a lovely view of the valley.
With marshmallow-soft double beds, walk-in wardrobes and marble ensuite bathrooms, a stay here is sure to be well-cushioned. Bathing in freestanding bath tubs by large windows you can drift off in a reverie of your own! Guests staying at the property are provided with white kurtas throughout the stay. I thought to myself that which other palace would let guests roam freely in comfy white kurta pyjamas?
I feel every moment swathed in palpable silence, broken only by birdsong and the rustle of the Sal trees. Back on the veranda outside our room in the hotel, we settle down with a delightful cup of the ginger lemon honey tea to witness a ceaseless, rhythmic noise that lulls me into sleep later during night. “You can come to ananda for Ananda,” General Manager Nikhil Kapur’s words echo in my head.
The week’s wellness offerings included a spate of yoga, meditation, fitness and spa sessions. Just two days into my detox programme and I saw the lazy girl in me transform into someone who didn’t miss a single meditation and fitness session. Yoga outdoors was one of the best experiences as we took every breath at the place that took our breath away!
My fitness instructor Abhishek and Chef Sandeep Biswas showed constant involvement and made the wellness journey an experience I’d vowed to take back home. Chefs always made a conversation on my cuisine preferences and whipped substantially portioned meals like a scrumptious Himalayan Beetroot And Goat Cheese Salad or a tantalising Coconut Flavoured Vegetable Stew that were both healthy and irresistible. You’ll see that discreet yet determined: Ananda’s staff achieves the tricky balance of being invisible yet always on hand when you need something!
Spoiling me silly
Being a spa junkie and having been to the best spas all over, I was looking forward to the spa treats. Window boxes bursting with ferns line the hallway and staircase greeted me as I headed to the hotel’s sprawling spa block. Imposing a central piece of Ananda with a central atrium flush with jars of orange, yellow and red powders, the spa as expected was love at first sight!
Greeted by the wafts of the signature fragrance that always had a mysteriously calming effect on me every time I walked in. I had seven days and upto 14 spa therapies to try. That spells indulgence at its best, doesn’t it? My favourite of therapies is the Kerala-orignated Abhyanga administered by two therapists who pummel your body in a synchronized motion. Their co-ordination like stage performers and I drift into a slumber filled with visions of tropical wellness. A special shout out to my therapists Simi, Dawa, Chandra and others, in whose hands the massages turned into a soothing and recuperative caress.
A week of being doused in delicious scrubs and wraps and my skin felt pampered like never before! It was here that I was had the best head massage experience of my life by my therapist Naina who worked her magic on my overstressed nerves during my detoxifying Hydrotherapy Bath Experience. Floating in water while receiving the best head massage of my life, I was lulled in a trance of sorts. Walking out of the spa to see peacocks preening and you know nothing beats that experience!
Knots that I never knew existed were unravelled, aches and pains that bothered me on the regular…didn’t exist anymore…. I pondered over how soft the linen was, how silken the touch of water in the shower was, how intuitive the touch of hands on my skin were…And I feel perfectly at ease: unrestrained, unembarrassed, chaote… I think to myself that this is what makes Ananda one of the ultimate spa destinations to luxuriate into, doesn’t it?
One last time
Before I know it, a week passes by and the feeling of departing from the gracious staff and breathtaking destination sends me jitters. The final royal touch is the Mountain Dew Freshener Facial, a pampering fit for the queens and my face glows its way to glory. An hour before I leave, I thank the staff who became family. I reflect on how I do not own a pair of duff lungs anymore and have a spring in my gait. As I depart from this backdrop over which peacocks pranced and pink lesser flamingos roam freely, my senses feel aligned and my body, spirit and mind feel nourished in equal measure. After seven days of regal indulgence, I feel completely reborn and spoilt to the core. Back at home, I sit back and stare at the happy and relaxed person staring back from the mirror in front of me.
Where: Ananda–In the Himalayas
The Palace Estate, Narendra Nagar Tehri – Garhwal,
Narendra Nagar, Uttarakhand 249175
Phone: 01378 227 500
Price: Starts from Rs 1.3 lakhs for a 3-night detox package to Rs 1 million for a 21-day package