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Absolute abandon: Ananda in the Himalayas, Rishikesh. Photo courtesy: Ananda in the Himalayas
Absolute abandon: Ananda in the Himalayas, Rishikesh. Photo courtesy: Ananda in the Himalayas

Not too long ago, wellness simply signified an absence of disease—no cold nor cough and you're as fit as an apple-eating doctor-hater. If you wanted the ‘steam and sauna' effect of sweating out negative energies, all you had to do was haul your mud-covered teammate in a strenuous game of sun-scorched kabbadi. Items like caviar, honey and chocolate were used solely for the purpose of consumption. Those were the good old days, 
of course, before ‘wellness' became the one-size-fits-all solution for every negative emotion (or as in spa-speak, energy) and you didn't have to cough up your bank balance to turn your muscles into marmalade in a kalari treatment.
Today, the Indian spa industry is growing at 20-25 per cent a year. According to a report by the International Monetary Fund, it generates revenue of around $400 million annually. From the concept of resort and destination spas and holistic wellness retreats, wellpitals that combine the qualities of a hospital, hotel and spa to spa cruises like the one offered by MSC cruise ships, it is an industry that's constantly evolving.
Body massages like Balinese, Shiatsu and deep tissue are old news. Innovation is also in the form of the signature treatments of each spa that are most often a fusion of Indian spirituality with western technology and sensibilities resulting in cross-pollinated therapies like feng-shui sauna or aquaveda, a combination of hydrotherapy and ayurveda.
Cloud 9 and Zero Bed are scintillating signature therapies of Mayfair Spa Resort and Casino in Sikkim, the first resort to combine a casino and a spa. In Cloud 9, a warm cloud of water descends on you to give you a sensation of weightlessness and jets of lukewarm water are sprayed to soothe the pressure points. Zero Bed simulates the conditions of a beach with your bed bobbing in a gentle wave-like motion while your therapist eases the knots in your body.
The concept of a spa has changed, too. You no longer go to a spa, slip into one of those lavender-smelling robes and, for an hour or two, go into a state of bliss. It's no longer about luxury but about longevity, holistic healing for the mind and the body. Ayurveda treatments like kayakalpa rasayana are specifically designed to cheat age. According to Dr Arun of Spa Niraamaya, Kovalam, even an old man can become young by undergoing this treatment rigorously for 41 days. By a process of near-alchemy, old leathery skin gives way to a youthful one, grey hair turns black, and, apparently, hearing and vision also improve.
For an enhanced experience, many spa resorts also customise treatments to suit body types. At Spa Niraamaya, for example, physical and behavioral characteristics are analysed to assess the levels of vata (air and space), pitta (fire and water) and kapha (earth and water) in your body. Every person is born with these elements in different compositions and to attain a state of absolute wellbeing, you need to rebalance the energies in your body to obtain optimum levels of each element.
Spa magazine Spa Mantra predicts customisation is going to be taken to a whole new level in the future. Gadgets, monitors, personal music players and game consoles will appear in spas to tailor treatments to personal preferences. Counselling sessions might be combined with spa treatments to enable mental as well as physical ablution and, thus, maximise the spa experience. Spas are also toying with the concept of dreamscapes, simulating fantasy situations to create an otherworldly experience.
So, if you thought breakfast menus masquerading as spa products were weird, wait, watch, and drink your herbal tea. You might be surprised.

Havens of bliss
A look at some uber luxurious spas across the country

By Sharmila Chand

Rajasthan desert sand scrub, sea salt oil massage, customised herbal oil treatment... all these and more define some of the country's world-class resort spas. While the signature therapies are their USPs, what sets these centres apart is their attention to detail when it comes to decor and ambience.

Royal legacy
Situated within the majestic Nizam Palace, Jiva Spa offers a heady combination of grandeur, mystique and understated opulence. The spa's luxurious signature treatment, Nawab-e-khaas, which is inspired by the city's princely heritage, uses the finest ingredients that were revered by the Nizams.
The therapist welcomes you with a soothing foot wash followed by an exfoliating body scrub of a blend of almonds, rose petals, vetiver, saffron and herbs. A light facial scrub with the choicest herbs soothes the mind, nourishes the skin and a gentle restorative massage with an exclusive hand-blended oil slowly ushers you into a state of bliss.
From Taj Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur to The Rambagh Palace in Jaipur to the Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad, Jiva Spa by Taj Hotels shares the rich cultural heritage of India through its magnificent décor. If you visit Udaipur, do not miss the Royal Jiva Spa Boat experience on the tranquil waters of lake Pichola that marries the splendour of the Taj Lake Palace and the royal traditions of the house of Mewar.

Jiva Spa at Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad
Signature therapy: Nawab-e-khaas
Duration: 2.5 hours
Price: Rs10,400

Salt oil and wellness class
ESPA is the country's first top-end luxury-tented spa that offers a world-class experience. The signature treatment starts with a salt oil scrub (a unique blend of sea salt and essential oils such as lavender) that refreshes and cleanses the skin. The carefully blended scrub helps remove dry skin and improve tonicity. Then starts the aromatherapy massage—a deeply therapeutic, holistic massage, which uses a blend of essential oils which can be customised to suit your needs. The facial that follows begins with a skin analysis by an experienced therapist to determine the ideal facial for each skin type.
If that's not enough, there are special compliments like luxury manicure and pedicure at ESPA Nail Finishing Studio by trained nail technicians who have good experience in nail art and foot reflexology. Your ESPA journey will not be complete without a private outdoor wellness class. Wellness is an integral element to achieving a balanced lifestyle, and the classes are offered on an individual basis to focus on your needs. All classes take place outdoors within the private spa tents. The treatment concludes with ESPA spa lunch or special blends of tea as desired.
The treatment starts with facial, shoulder and scalp massage to ease taut muscles. An advanced triple cleansing technique and hot towels are used to soothe the complexion and clear blocked pores. This is followed by a customised aromatherapy massage with a blend of essential oils.
There is also a special padabhyanga treatment, which uses a  specific blend of warm ayurvedic oils. It begins with foot bathing and exfoliation, followed by a therapeutic marma point massage. This foot and lower leg treatment revitalises tired muscles while easing aches and pains. Compliments with the Royal Knights of Rajasthan package include a luxury manicure at ESPA's Nail Finishing Studio, private outdoor wellness class and a special lunch.

ESPA at The Leela Palace, Udaipur
Signature therapy: Royal Princess of Rajasthan
Duration: 4 hours
Price: Rs15,300 including taxes

Signature therapy: Royal Knights of Rajasthan 
(for men)
Duration: 4 hours
Price: Rs16,250 
including taxes

Hot and cold
The Hamam experience consists of three chambers of varying temperatures, warm and cold plunge pools, a relaxation lounge and a marble massage plinth for treatments.
“To reap the healthiest benefits, we recommend taking it slow, beginning with five to ten minutes in each chamber, working up the intensity of heat until the final chamber with purifying herbal benefits,” says Sandie Johannessen, director of The Spa. “Open your pores, flush unwanted impurities, release toxins, clear the mind and bring the body back into it natural state of equilibrium.”

The Spa at Aman Hotel, New Delhi
therapy: Hamam
Duration: 1.5 hours
Price: Rs8,000

Focus on ayurveda
Set on a hill bordered by beaches, The Leela is a beach resort where you can unwind at the pretty Kovalam shoreline. Spread over 8,000 sq.ft, Divya Spa offers an out-of-this-world ayurvedic wellness experience. It offers thoughtfully designed integrated wellness packages and programmes that include holistic and ayurvedic spa treatments, spa cuisine, yoga and fitness.
Says Ashvin Kumar, executive assistant manager, The Leela, Kovalam: “The primary focus of the spa is on ayurveda treatments, with three doctors and 20 therapists ensuring that each guest receives a unique experience and the finest treatment prepared from the organic medicinal plants grown in our spa greenhouse. All ayurvedic treatments are strictly personalised following an in-depth consultation with the Divya Spa's resident doctor.” The signature treatment uses specialised oils blended with ashwagandha and bala root, and araku herbs to rejuvenate aching muscles and a tired mind. During this highly personalised treatment, a therapist spends time on specific areas of body based on the guest's needs and inclination.
The ayurvedic programmes offered at the spa can go up to 28 days. Guests spending a shorter time at The Leela Kovalam can indulge in:
* De-stress programme (one-day package)
*  Detox and de-stress programme (two-day package)
*  Refreshment programme (three-day package)

Divya Spa at The Leela, Kovalam
therapy: Indian Magic
Duration: 1.5 hours
Price: Rs4,500 plus taxes

Fusion recipes
Nestled in the Aravali ranges, the 18th century palace of Devi Garh offers a unique wellness experience. At the Devi Spa by L'Occitane you have bespoke treatments with exclusive products, local fruits and flowers. The spa's signature treatments include the exfoliating Rajasthan desert sand scrub followed by a wrap, infused with shea and sandalwood.
You will be encouraged to pluck fresh flowers and herbs which can be mixed with natural L'Occitane products to create fusion spa recipes for your treatment. Do not miss the outdoor Spa Cabanas's speciality—a basil infused sweet lime relaxing massage.

Heights of harmony
Once the residence of Maharaja of Tehri–Garhwal, Ananda located in Uttranchal offers an enriching experience designed to restore, renew and revitalise. The 24,000 sq.ft spa offers an extensive menu of some 79 body and beauty treatments, integrating the traditional Indian systems of ayurveda with the more contemporary western spa therapies.
It is a retreat dedicated to restoring balance and harmonising energy, through a holistic approach, incorporating the healing principles of the east and the west. The personalised therapies are designed to meet individual needs and health goals—de-stress, anti-ageing, weight loss and so on.

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