Ananda in the Himalayas review
Palatial Ayurvedic spa in India
The Quick Read: Literally palatial, this mammoth complex on the foothills of the Himalaya lords over thousands of km of plains below. You are treated like royalty – staff bow when they pass you, and say prayers whilst washing your feet. Everyone floats around in fine white pyjamas but there’s no asceticism here. Instead there’s marble, personalized yoga teaching, a phenomenal array of topnotch treatments in fastidiously comfortable private rooms, and often four hands working on you simultaneously. The restaurant is far too good to obey the ayurvedic doctors’ guidance. Visiting speakers teach non-materialistic Indian spiritual concepts nightly, yet the overall feeling is of a grand, indulgent hotel. Find out all about Ayurveda.
More on the spa: The spa is at the heart of Ananda. It has an efficient reception of its own, 24 private treatment rooms that are continuously busy, and an enormous staff to usher you to and from each blissful treatment. The separate mens’ and womens’ hydrotherapy spas incorporate sauna and steam rooms, reflexology pool, spacious locker-room and comfy chillout zones, all spotless and well serviced. People don’t chat, except around the generous swimming pool outdoors. Read a word from the queen on our stay here.
More on the treatments: The core treatments are Ayurvedic with international, fusion and beauty offerings too. Ayurvedic treatments here use age-old powders; oils, copper vessels, wooden beds, and treatment rituals which look and feel really exotic. Each treatment starts with prayers in the warm, candlelit room ends with the luxury of a shower overseen by the therapists, who wrap you in fresh towels before you step out into the world. Unusual and brilliantly delivered treatments include Choornaswedana (£50, powerful pattering with detoxifying herbs in a cloth bag), Abhyanga (£50, four synchronised hands!) Mukhlepa (£40 facial with cranial massage) and Kathi Vashthi (£25, hot oils continually administered into a sacral dam).
More on the therapists: The hordes of young, strong therapists are trained in traditional Ayurvedic schools and since most work in pairs, are phenomenally highly attuned. Few speak English, so they get on with their work silently. We recommend (for womens’ treatments) therapists Semi and Lincy.
More on the ayurveda: The young doctors ask surprisingly diverse enjoyable questions for diagnosis, and are happy to take on briefs at the meeting point of mind and body (like libido, sleep, deranged hormones or focus) as well as medical concerns. They prescribe nourishing supplement tablets, recommend which dosha to follow on the restaurant menu to balance your system, and give you a guide for sleep, exercise and nutrition back at home. If you bring a severe illness or come for a more intensive detox, they oversee the treatments closely too.
More on the wellbeing activities: Group yoga classes are available twice daily, but the focus is on excellent private or couple tuition. Twice-daily Vedanta lectures share ancient wisdoms; paradoxically for such a luxury venue, they dwell on the inverse relationship between material prosperity and mental peace. There’s billiards, a Lifefitness gym, and golf too. Outside, Ananda will organize rafting trips on the spectacular Ganges, day walks in the Himalayan foothills and the multisensory evening experience of the stirring prayer rituals at a Rishikesh ashram.
More on the yoga: There are two open classes per day – sometimes held on the palace terraces with vast views, and sometimes in the dramatic but drafty ballroom. The teaching is good, but the truly transformative yoga (at least for reasonably experienced practitioners) is the individual tuition. We (and many others) recommend Deepti, who in a few gentle yet precise sessions, teaches new ways to move into familiar poses, revealing their therapeutic, opening power.
More on the property: The original Tehri Garhwal maharajah’s palace frontage makes for a romantic, exotic entrance. Three of its stately, paneled rooms – the sitting room, billiards room and library – are open for use. Otherwise the old palace is mysteriously boarded up, and people spend most time in the architecturally blander accommodation blocks and impressive 24,000 square-foot purpose built spa, downhill.
These buildings are grand, somewhat masculine in aesthetic, with dark green marble walls, inbuilt water features, sparsely geometric Yantric paintings, internal courtyards and flowers at every turn.
A 6 hole golf-course weaves through the grounds, so private yoga lessons happen on smooth lawns, birds overhead. A few shady pavilions and benches encourage wandering on the sloping park-like grounds.
More on the bedrooms: There are seventy identical rooms and five classes of accommodation. All bedrooms offer your standard five-star comforts – fridge,tea station, TV, armchairs, dressing room, excellent bedding. All Valley View rooms are blessed with glass walled bathrooms, and a balcony, so you gaze constantly to infinity over the snaking Ganges river below. Well worth the extra. You could be anywhere in the same rooms on the other side. A few self-contained cottages and suites offer mini plungepool and greater uniqueness, further up the hill, at hugely increased rates.
Food and drink: A circular restaurant falls out onto wonderful decks with a panoramic outlook. The central buffet is part of a sculptural installation, and you eat at window banquettes or outside. The mood around food is celebratory. There’s a cheerful hubbub of conversation at mealtimes, and often live classical indian music at night. Waiters are so attentive that they drop onto one knee when taking orders, and remember your preferences.
The menus offer incredible choice with daily specials tailored to each Ayurvedic bodytype, weightloss options and raw, Oriental, Indian and European dishes. It might be a health retreat, but there are exquisite puddings and outstanding savouries. Unusually the chefs achieve wonderful flavour, textures and balanced complexity across all these cooking styles, and willingly make special versions to work around intolerances. It’s tempting to forget the Ayurvedic doctors’ advice and just enjoy the virtuoso cooking. There’s tea, coffee and delicious masala chai and a wine menu if needs be.
Fellow guests: Ananda attracts well heeled people from all over the world (though most people don the white pyjamas, so there’s no fashion parade). Russian magnates treating their lovers and mothers; indian families having special occasions together; wealthy Europeans using Ayurveda to cleanse their chemotherapy after cancer. People generally keep themselves to themselves except in conversations after spiritual teachings, or in group activities outside the Estate.
What’s queenly: Everyone floating around in crisp white pyjama suits and soft pashminas – it feels both filmic and comfortable. Two young masseurs singing a lengthy prayer for you, full voice, whilst they wash your feet. Tea and tiffin under original portraits of the maharajahs.
What’s lowly: Being an expensive taxi ride away from the lively, colourful, spiritual action of nearby Rishikesh. Standards so Western that you can forget you’re in India. Being bowed to and called ‘maam’ by every staff-member who passes may be too hierarchical for some.
Getting there: There are frequent flights from Delhi and Mumbai to Dehradun followed by a 40 min drive. It’s about an 8 hour drive from Delhi. By train it is a 4 hour journey from Delhi to Haridwar, followed by a one-hour drive. If you are seeking relaxation, then its probably best to fly there, and take the train homewards.
Costs: A 7 night wellness package starts at $800 per night off season (approx £512) for a person staying alone in a Palace or Garden view room, including transfers, 3 meals per day, use of the hydrotherapy spas and pool and a timetable of yoga, Pranayama, meditation, Vedanta and fitness classes, cooking demonstrations, workshops and excursions.
Reviewed by Rosie Watford
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