Check out ... rejuvenated

Splendid view ... the swimming pool at the

Splendid view ... the swimming pool at the "Amarvilas", Agra. The Taj is in the background.  

For GUSTASP IRANI, it was an experience of a different kind in Jaipur and Agra.

THE steady stream of warm oil on my forehead had a soothing effect. Frayed nerves and tense muscles seemed to melt in the viscous liquid that poured out of the brass container suspended above me. At first the flow focussed on a single point, then slowly started to sweep across my forehead. The ayurvedic therapist-cum-masseur channelled the oil through my hair and down the back of my head and let it drain through a small hole in the wooden bed into a container below.

I hovered in a zone wedged between sleep and wakefulness. Images, thoughts, commitments and incidents from my past floated through my mind without stirring emotions, good or bad, or knotting my stomach or agitating sensitive nerves. Shirodhara, which literally translates to head stream oil drip massage, was possibly the closest I had got to nirvana.

And it was just the first of a series of rejuvenation treatments lined up for me at the two Oberoi hotel spas (run by Banyan Tree, Thailand) at Rajvilas, Jaipur and Amarvilas, Agra. Indeed, I was pampered and fussed over right through the duration of my stay at the two properties. A cold towel, a bottle of suntan lotion and a plate of chilled fruit, those welcome little offerings that seemed to materialise almost mysteriously each time I settled down by the swimming pool were all part of an overall scheme of grand indulgence.

Even their settings — Rajvilas, a replica of a Rajput fort, and Amarvilas, with every room overlooking the Taj Mahal — conspired to make me forget, for a while at least, the big bad world outside. The highlight of my day, however, was when I dropped in at the state-of-the-art spas — with well-equipped gyms, open-air Jacuzzis, saunas, private treatment rooms and more — managed and run by qualified therapists, including a qualified ayurvedic doctor.

Though run by the Banyan Tree, the spas have incorporated ancient Indian treatments like ayurvedic oil massages in their menus. More importantly, they are not clinics but rejuvenation centres where one can escape from the grind and knocks of the real world.

The menu included body massages (Thai, Balinese, Hawaiian, aromatic and Indian), concentrated massages (reflexology and Indian head massage), different body scrubs, body treatments (from natural mud and natural herbal wraps to Shirodhara) a variety of facials, hair and nail care as well as Mehendi, the Indian art of hand painting.

Shirodhara or the oil drip therapy, that comprises a fine stream of warm sesame oil (or milk) caressing the third eye on the forehead, I was informed, was undoubtedly the most popular treatment. It started with a back massage that loosened up my taut muscles and prepared me for the ultimate indulgence of letting go. And when it was over, the masseur cautioned me about getting up too quickly, for the rush of blood could make me feel dizzy. After helping me roll over on my side and gently helping me up from the bed, he advised me to avoid doing anything strenuous and enjoy the feeling of bliss.

I did exactly as told, easy to do at the Rajvilas where I could laze around in my luxurious room, stroll across sprawling lawns, sit on a park bench on the banks of lotus pools or meditate at the little temple within its premises. The following day, I submitted willingly to a synchronised full body oil massage that is the signature therapy of the Oberoi-Banyan Tree Spas. With the minimum of fuss, two masseurs, working in unison, applied hot medicated oils over my body and set about the task of coaxing the knots out of my protesting muscles.

Special brew ... the neem-tea dip at the "Rajvilas", Jaipur.

Special brew ... the neem-tea dip at the "Rajvilas", Jaipur.  

Cajoling fingers, moving at times in harmony and then in tandem, worked their magic on my back, shoulders, arms and legs. They rolled me over on my back and one rubbed down my thighs and legs while his partner massaged my head. Even as I surrendered to the rubdown I wondered how I would ever get all the oil off my body. It turned out to be far simpler than I had imagined.

At the end of the treatment they rubbed a paste of gram flour all over me. And when I had hosed myself down with a jet of water, the oil was gone, leaving me feeling fresh and tingling clean. And my skin soft as silk.

Next, I climbed into a bathtub of warm water mixed with 10 litres of tea made from neem leaves and as I soaked in this soothing brew the masseurs sprinkled neem leaves, believed to have many medicinal properties, on the surface. Yes, they have a number of dips including the favourite one of Mughal Empress Noor Jahan: milk and rose petals.

My spa adventure, a fusion of different treatments, continued at Amarvilas, Agra. The day, of course, started with an intimate breakfast with the Taj Mahal. Yes, I ordered room service so that I could have the meal in my room which, like every room in the hotel, overlooked the marble teardrop. Later, I checked into the spa and treated myself to the full-body Oberoi massage in a room... yes, you guessed it... that had a spectacular view of the Taj. The massage incorporated a little of everything: Indian, Thai and European techniques. Using blended oils, the masseur skilfully used his palms and fingertips to apply pressure in a series of flowing movements across my body.

Likewise the Oberoi facial, which I indulged in the following day, was all about applying pressure through palms and fingertips and the use of the purest of natural ingredients. A dash of yoghurt, a splash of honey, a mask of egg white and the kiss of other life giving substances left my skin glowing.

Yes, I could feel myself radiate with a feeling of wellbeing, for over the extended weekend, I had shed much of the excess baggage — stress and anxiety — with which I had checked in.

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