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Add zing to your holiday

You open your eyes and see a clear blue sky. A dream-induced utopia, perhaps? And then while you are wrapped in honey, sprayed with water jets or scrubbed down with a blend of exotic spices, the nearby ocean provides a liquid lullaby ... SUMITRA SENAPATY looks at a range of `wellness' destinations.


ONCE upon a time we went on holiday to meet new people but now we do our best to avoid them. A break from real life was all about fantasy, cocktails in garish colours, long evenings of debauchery — and, most of all, making new friends in new places. How times have changed. Today, "I want to be alone" is the mantra of all those seeking the perfect rejuvenating holiday. Holiday brochures promise exotic isolation: villas hidden from sight, deserted beaches, and intimate massages for two on lonely sandbars.

More and more of us are in search of wellness and serenity. To cater to this burgeoning market of stressed-out urbanites, a host of wellness destinations now offer the Robinson Crusoe experience — with frills. Their mission statement is to provide the ultimate in the 21st Century — R&R (rest and relaxation). The more secluded and barefoot the experience, the more expensive it will be.

In case passports and visa procedures put you off, there is Goa, whose golden sands had their moment of glory during the hippy invasion. Goa, a stop on the hippie trail in the 1960s, then a winter destination for discount charter jets filled with Europeans, still attracts about 10 per cent of the 2.5 million people who visit our country annually. But now, in a new twist for a land long associated with sin and sand, this coconut tree dotted state on India's southwest coast is becoming a well-behaved family destination, attracting India's expanding middle class, now increasingly talking about spa experiences.

Swaying palms and uninterrupted tracts of sun-kissed beaches are the images that come to mind when one thinks of Arossim Beach, South Goa, where Park Hyatt has just opened an oceanfront resort and spa, sitting on 45 acres along the coast and with a breathtaking nearness to the Arabian Sea. Located 15 kilometres south of Dabolim airport, the resort looks like an Indo-Portuguese-Spanish village, complete with gardens that keep its restaurants stocked with organic produce. It even sports a chapel, library, cinema, food plaza, wine bar and India's largest lagoon style swimming pool leading to the Sereno Spa, the resort's pampering outlet. A considerable number of Goan artifacts decorate the nooks and corners. "Miranda", the main bar is named after Goa's well-known artist, Mario Miranda.


Getting down to spa basics, you'll feel like you're in somewhere far more exotic than Goa as you're massaged in an intimate all glass cabana just a few feet away from the waves. The clientele: Bollywood types who love the spacious buffet spread and wine lounge, and parents who are wowed by Hyatt's kids' club, with its endless array of activities — even separate screens for children's movies, away from the parents! Oh, my. For spa freaks, the signature therapy is (not surprisingly) the 90-minute Yoga Massage. It's also worth checking out the relaxing and detoxifying 45-minute Marine-Mud wrap, the lymphatic drainage — great to get right upon arrival, because it helps reduce urban stress — and the 60-minute Marma facial, during which vital energy points of the body and face are stimulated, affecting the mind and soul to bring about inner transformation, going way beyond a conventional facial. Later you can head up to the sun deck in your robe for a spa brunch and an ocean view.

People on a wellness binge have serious health goals, but the cuisine at Park Hyatt Goa is not exactly spartan — check out the Rava Fried Kingfish and the Bebinca, traditionally layered Goan dessert made with coconut milk and served with vanilla ice cream. While gorging on seafood and Goan delicacies, remember to acknowledge that it's ridiculous to think one can "get healthy" on a spa getaway ... we all know that good health results from a well-balanced diet, regular exercise and a big dose of luck, not from the things you do (or don't) for one week or weekend a year.

Which is not to say there are no good reasons to visit a spa. At its best, a spa getaway can remind you about the part of your body located below your collarbone. It can open your pores and release sweat and toxins. You can eat food you don't have to lie about. If you work at it, you can make any excess disappear completely ... .

* * *

A STEP beyond Goa in exoticism and isolation is the Maldives with its tradition of private huts built on stilts above the ocean. What you see from the plane is an extraordinary tapestry of blues: dark in some places, but sprinkled with green/blue patches shading to the palest turquoise where the coral reef is near the surface, often in a circle surrounding an island. The Maldives are more than 1,000 small coral islands, 600 kilometres south west of Sri Lanka; 74 of them have been turned into resort islands devoted to pretending that Robinson Crusoe had an easy life.

When the plane bumps down on the ocean, it is hard to imagine a more remote scene — the sea touches the horizon on every side. From the island, a boat chugs out to meet the plane. The handful of people arriving with you on the seaplane will be led away down sandy, heavily-shaded paths into the woods, mostly never to be seen again. The Maldives is the ultimate in hotels, offering complete privacy; no chintz sofas, and no visible guests.

If the Moors ever had access to modern building materials, they might have built something like the Hilton in the Rangali Islands. Here, the Sunset Water bungalows stand in a private area of the lagoon and have their very own jet boat shuttle and exclusive walkway. Built on stilts with traditional thatch roofs and the fresh and airy feeling of glass and fine marble, they are meant to last. If the polar ice caps melt and the Maldives go under, all that will be left will be these water bungalows standing on their own in an empty ocean.

But you are not really in the Maldives: this is fantasyland. At night, the sea beneath your bungalow is floodlit, and you can lie in your vast bed watching the fish. Beyond your balcony, is the sparkling water, where in the early morning, large manta rays bask in the sunshine and electric-blue fish dart in frenzy. Hilton's Over the Water Spa on Rangali Island is designed to let the mind and body unwind in harmony with the beauty of the natural environment. It boasts a full glass floor, which gives guests stunning views of the beautiful marine life while being pampered by expert therapists. All treatment rooms have air-conditioning or glass sliding windows to provide the ultimate tropical island experience.

While you are wrapped in honey, sprayed with water jets like a warm tropical rainstorm, scrubbed down with a blend of exotic spices or enjoying a massage, the nearby ocean provides a liquid lullaby. It's like being allowed to crawl back into the womb for a couple of hours a day. A good wellness holiday works every time. It offers the chance for a thoughtful assessment of the year's experiences and, most nourishing of all, a chance to just stare at the sea and drift into a reverie. You open your eyes and see a clear blue sky; not a cloud contaminates it. Your hands can feel warm soft sand. A dream-induced utopia, perhaps? In the Maldives, the sea is the focal attraction — a perfect narrow crescent of a beach lapped by the lagoon-like Indian Ocean. Here, you can laze on a beach lounger attended to by courteous, but discreet, staff, or paddle or swim in the tepid turquoise water. If you tire of the sea and sand, there is a glorious pool. What else is there to do once you have achieved inner harmony and peace? The last day arrives too quickly and departing guests are whisked to the airport, two by two, like animals heading for the Ark. It is only at the airport that you finally exchange greetings with your fellow guests, "Didn't we see you in the restaurant last night?" is a favourite question — from a couple you would have dined next to virtually every night! Then you nearly bond with the couple who sat next to your seat, spent a week in your hotel and are now returning on the same flight. Thankfully you escape with just a nod and a smile. All in all, a perfect wellness vacation: pampered to pieces, wonderful food and wine, no calls (except for room service), no television and, best of all, no new friends.

Renew yourself ...

HERE are a few basics to guide the way.

1. A wellness break is like getting your body "serviced". There's nothing new or fun about scheduled maintenance for your car or your body. But what a difference in performance when your body, like your vehicle, is finely tuned and "adjusted".

TAJ GROUP

2. Take some time off to schedule any necessary medical tests (When was the last time you had your cholesterol checked? Or have your eyes examined and your prescription checked, or have your teeth cleaned and get started on routine, but necessary, dental work? Meet with a personal trainer and get suggestions on how to improve your fitness level or consult a nutritionist to get ideas on healthier food options.

3. Feeling listless and lifeless? Have a list of unresolved physical ailments? Consider acupuncture and get needled. Even those who fear needles will find a session with a trained and experienced acupuncturist a painless way to energise.

4. Hit the steam room and the jacuzzi — Who needs unhealthy stimulants when there's hot, whirling water to swirl your body into nirvana? A few minutes in a jacuzzi can unwind the most tightly wound and aching urbanite.

5. Sore? Congested? Have sinus problems? A brief spell in a eucalyptus oil-infused steam room can leave you feeling like you want to rejoin the world now that you can breathe, move, and think again. And keep looking on the bright side of life.

A pick of eight

IF you're considering a wellness vacation, where do you start?

A few recommendations.

1. Bangalore — Angsana Resort and Spa — Angsana prides itself on its oriental spa, which offers an indulgent menu of holistic treatments — with lavender, rosemary, jasmine and frangipani perfuming the air. Just stepping in here is enough to ease tension. The Angsana Spa is also located at Palm Cove, Queensland, Australia.

2. Goa — Sereno Spa at Park Hyatt on Arrosim Beach

Dr. Sanjay Khanzode, Spa Director, recommends the yoga massage with its focus on deep tissue, marma points, and gently assisted Yoga postures, that help to realign, release tensions and reawaken energy flow. Take the case of the cobra pose — Passive stretching of the upper back and spine, which strengthens the relevant muscles and thus helps to improve the posture and personality.

3. Near Rishikesh — Ananda-in-the-Himalayas

4. Kochi (Cochin) — Tamara Spa, managed by the Ayurveda Pharmacy, Coimbatore.

5. Kozhikode (Calicut) — Taj Ayurveda Centre

6. Thailand — Banyan Tree Spas

7. The Maldives — Hilton Resort and Spa at Rangali Island offers great opportunities for water sports and sea-based treatments at its "Over the Water" spa facility.

8. Somewhere in the Ocean — Celebrity Cruises presents the world's first "Acupuncture at Sea" — The programme will include lectures on acupuncture, feng shui, nutrition and healing with herbs, in addition to the acupuncture treatments themselves. "Acupuncture is not only effective for many of today's ailments, but is also entertaining, interesting and exotic, which makes it an ideal fit within the environment of a Celebrity ship," says Dr. Philippe Manicom, acupuncturist and among the professionals offering the service onboard. Proven acupuncture results include enhanced immune and mental functions and energy level, appetite control, weight loss, relaxation, and pain management. For more information contact E-mail: GChadha@tirun.com

* * *

  • Angsana, Bangalore, had an interesting package for 3 days/2 nights, in 2003 for Rs. 8,000 per person. The package included a two-night accommodation in an executive resort room, with daily breakfast, one "Taste of Heaven" spa package per person and return airport transfers. The "Taste of Heaven" was a 1.5-hour session and you could choose from these options: 7 Aroma Salt Scrub & Sensual Massage; 7 Blended Brush Scrub & Body Soothing Massage; 7 Honey and Sesame Scrub and Maui Massage. For more details, contact: Angsana Oasis Spa and Resort Bangalore, Northwest Country, Main Doddaballapur Road, Rajankunte, Bangalore — 560064, India. Tel: +91 80 846 8893; Fax: +91 80 846 8897; E-mail: bangalore@angsana.com

  • Taj Ayurvedic Centre at Kozhikode (Calicut) has a seven-day programme geared towards revitalising an individual. Any prevalent weariness and fatigue can be cured by administering medicated herbal oils during the daily sessions of oil therapy. Internal medication as well as the prescribed yoga postures lead to a feeling of vitality and well-being.You awake from a restful, undisturbed nights sleep. Your day begins with an hour of yoga and meditation under the eagle eyes of trained instructors. This is followed by a specially prescribed breakfast after which guests enjoy long therapeutic sessions with therapists and masseurs. These sessions are punctuated only by lunch with a period of rest. The aim is to hope to make the individual more aware and bring the mind to a state of equilibrium with soothing Indian classical music and lectures on Ayurveda, yoga, astrology and spirituality.

    The centre also has 14, 21 and 35 days rejuvenation programme. For the seven-day programme, the tariff is Rs. 3,750 for single occupancy per day. The rate includes room charges, all meals (vegetarian), treatments and taxes. For more details contact: raman.kaul@tajhotels.com

    S.S

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