**This article was initially printed in British YOGA Magazine**
It's hard to put into words just how much this trip affected me and changed my life, if you ever get an opportunity to go to India - please take it
“Namaskar Miss Anstee,” says a young man wearing a pristine white uniform and a beautifully embroidered red turban, as he brings his hands together in prayer to greet me at Derahdun airport, Uttarakhand, India,
I’m staying at the Ananda, a luxury destination spa resort situated at the bottom of the Himalayas, and located within the Maharaja’s Palace Estate - and boasts guest such as Oprah Winfrey.
Ananda integrates traditional Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta with international wellness experiences, fitness and healthy organic food to ‘restore balance and harmonise energy’. I’m experiencing the yoga package which includes a range of private yoga classes (including meditation and pranayama), various energy and beauty treatments, and an ayurvedic consultation and menu plan.
As soon as I arrive, I have a grounding salt scrub at the spa. The therapist uses Himalayan rock salt, rose, and vetiver oils and it is a thoroughly calming experience as she exfoliates my whole body and then gives me a head massage, it’s exactly what I need after my long flight. The spa is beautiful, spacious, and airy, and has soft spiritual music playing in the background.
A breathtaking view
From the wooden balcony attached to my room, I look down into the bottom of the River Ganges Valley and see the small town of Rishikesh. Rishikesh is of great spiritual significance for many seekers and gained fame in the 60s when The Beatles came to stay with their guru, Maharshi Mahesh Yogi. There is said to be potent spiritual energy within the town and indeed in the rest of this area in the Himalayas.
I have my consultation with Dr Naresh Perumbuduri who is a senior Ayurvedic consultant. It involves an in-depth discussion about my lifestyle and personality, and he feels the pulse on my left arm - gently ‘listening’ at different points up and down my wrists; eventually, he diagnoses me as being of Vata Dosha.
An unusual prescription
He writes me an order of various herbs, to be taken as a tea, and accompanies me to meet the Culinary Director and Chef, Sandeep Biswas. We discuss my menu for the week, I’m vegan but this doesn’t phase him, and he surprises me all week with little vegan treats that he’s made especially for me - this is the kind of individual attention to detail that you can expect throughout the Ananda, and makes it stand out from the crowd.
The food is delicious, always three courses, but still light, and delicately fragranced with all sorts of unusual herb and spice combinations. The Ananda has also developed an app for recipes so that you can easily continue with the ayurvedic diet when you return home if you wish.
A new friend
Mr Shambhu Kumar, the Yoga Manager and also my teacher asks me what I’d like to get out of the week. I explain that I want to learn some simple asanas for daily home practice. He tells me I can wear my western yoga clothes for the yoga if I choose to, and I do - all the guests wear soft white kurta pyjamas, even in the restaurant, you’ll have a fresh pair delivered to your door each morning.
My first lesson is outside, so we get in a golf buggy and arrive at the bottom of some steps that have waterfalls flowing down either side, when we reach the top we are rewarded with a beautiful yoga pavilion next to a lake, and there’s just the two of us up there, it is spectacular. Shambhu is a man of vast knowledge, experience and dignity and throughout the week he shows me patience, kindness and respect. By the end of our sessions, I have a delightful regular yoga routine that I’m familiar with, that I can do every day no matter where I am.
Part of my package involves a trek to Kunjapuri Devi Temple, which is at 1676 metres above sea level and of vital importance within the Hindu religion. We start at 7 am to avoid the heat, and on our way to the trail, we see the army practising their daily yoga routine in the road.
We climb up through the jungle and remote villages. I ask one of the guides if there are any tigers likely to be around? “Oh no just leopards and black bears.” He said. I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not, he wasn’t, but there haven’t been any sightings for five years.
We reach the temple after a few hours and then climb 80 steps to reach the entrance. I buy an offering and take it to the priest, and we sit and chant together, he plants my forehead with red dye and ties a bracelet around my wrist.
The wellbeing treatments at the spa turn out to be exceptional, and I look forward to each one. The Reflexology is surprising; I was cautious at first as it was a male therapist and I’ve only ever been to a female. I needn’t have worried; nobody has ever touched my body in such a beautiful way, he treated my feet and legs as though they were the most precious gift that he had ever had in his care, that he loved, cherished and respected. This reflects how everyone treats me - there’s a four to one staff to guest ratio, and this means that you are waited on literally hand and foot and the staff team are warm, eager to please, and humble, and with a great sense of humour.
While I’m in the area I’m anxious to go and see Rishikesh - my dad lived here forty years ago, and I’m intrigued by what he has told me - meat and alcohol are both prohibited within the town, and there is a special spiritual ceremony held every evening on the Ganges.
The Ananda guide is happy to take me, and the Ganga Aarati ceremony is an unforgettable experience, I feel moved somewhat afterwards. It’s performed every evening at Parmarth Niketan Ashram, on the banks of the holy river and there is all kind of people taking part - locals, children, monks, tourists, we all sing, chant and offer fire to the river as the sun sets.
At Ananda, you are invited to step out of your comfort zone and experience a range of ancient Indian treatments and practices in the safest and most caring of hands, in a deeply luxurious setting.
For more information, please go to anandaspa.com
Have you ever been to India? Where did you go and what did you make of it? Please comment below.
Hannah Anstee is a former British Wellness Journalist turned Women’s Midlife & Wellbeing Coach.
You may know her from her work as Beauty Editor at YOGA Magazine or her contributions to The Independent or Psychologies Magazine.
Hannah uses a kind and candid approach to help women rewrite their stories.