Discover a luxury spa resort situated at the Himalayan foothills of Northern India.
The waiter was very helpful. A modern meal plan swami. And gastro guru. More a marashi (Great Seer) than a maître d’.
Never have I been served by someone so mindful of my health
It was an evening of edible enlightenment.
Happiness is easy to find. In a former Indian vice-regal palace in Uttarkhand. Near Rishikesh where the Beatles studied “Transcendental Meditation” fifty years ago.
“The Ananda in the Himalayas”, is an hour flight from Delhi to Dehadrun and then a 45-minute drive up into the Sal forest foothills overlooking the Ganges. The source of the sacred river is 250kms away.
“Ananda” is one of the most luxurious Ayurvedic spa destinations in the world. The 1910 Maharaja’s palace has recently had a US$5m makeover and facelift.
The origins of Ayurveda (“knowledge of life”) are found in the sixth century “Atharvaveda” texts, containing a hundred hymns sung to cure disease.
The kitchen brigade wanted me to experience the ultimate “Sat-Chit Ananda”.
To experience a state of pure, unalloyed joy, absolute, ever-enduring and unchanging through three courses. I pressed my palms together and embraced the menu of Executive Chef and Culinary Director Sandeep Biswas who has attained mastery of the way of Mung (the supreme comprehension of yellow split lentils), is a convert to herbal blending and a devotee of spa cuisine (modern soul food). The son of an engineer who enjoyed cooking, 42-year old Biswas previously worked at Four Seasons, Maldives, London’s Renaissance Chancery Court , Verraswamy’s, Novotel Kolkata, Taj Palace , New Delhi and Mumbai’s Atmantan Wellness Resort. He specializes in “Sattvic” cooking, originally created for the development of higher/cosmic consciousness. He swears by black pepper, Yashtimadu (liquorice), wok tossed lady’s fingers and poison gooseberry!
Otherwise known as Indian ginseng, winter cherry or “Ashwagandha”. He is dedicated to pacifying the gastric juices. “I have always been interested in healing foods. Food is the medicine and medicine is thy food. Ayurvedic cooking is a saviour. “Sattvic foods are abundant in Prana: the life forces. Organic, fresh and ripe. They build brain tissue, develop “ojas” (more radiant lustre or aura), raise vibrational levels and refine the etheric body.
Continues Biswas: “Sattvic means pure essence. It’s the purest diet for a consciously spiritual and healthy life. True health is a serene mind in control of a fit body. I use soothing sun foods – sprouted whole grains, legumes, seed milk, fruit pulps and vegetable purees.”
Biswas has recently launched a Ayurvedic cookery app. “The body is made up of three elements – air, fire and earth. These must be in harmony. Every body and personality type has its own most therapeutic ingredient and most beneficial cooking style.”
“Happiness is easy to find. In a former Indian vice-regal palace in Uttarkhand! Close to Rishikesh where the Beatles studied “Transcendental Meditation” fifty years ago.”
Having deciphered my “dosha” and identified my “Kaptha” body type and recommended to consider some life-extending neem leaves, life-affirming legumes and plenty of fenugreek to control dandruff Chef left me in the hands of a waiter.
Who immediately confessed to be a body builder.
He executed a textbook Indian head wobble to imply chef wouldn’t hold back on Kaptha- friendly turmeric and hing (asafoetida). He made suggestions to best facilitate nutrient absorption and cosset my “agni” ( digestive powers). He advised against certain choices that would wreak havoc on my large intestine and may lead to bad sleep. He recommended I kick-start every day with the much-revered “thulsi” holy basil” tonic. And upgrade my body with Chef Biswas’s Masala goat with jasmine rice. He raved about the non-changing, eternal values of his black cod curry, crab chutneys and his signature millet dishes. Smiling serenely, at peace with himself and his intestinal tract, he told me that eggplant with cucumber would never bring grace into my bowels. He also recommended whitewater rafting and a game of golf on the hotel’s six-hole Par 3 course.
Rishikesh, once India’s yoga capital, now targets adventure tourists as well as transformative one. You can now bungee jump from above and zip-wire over the sacred jade green waters of the Ganges.
A full and contented life can become a living reality through a regimen of chickpea poultices, nostril washes, avoiding potatoes and eating more millet, regular and ruthless exfoliation, express pedicures, skull polishing, eyebrow threading and drinking more beetroot and watermelon juice.
As well as lying on your back and letting a stranger pour buttermilk over your forehead.
Modern PK ( Panchakarma) disciples and self- improvement disciples, having had their marigold petal garlands and loose cotton Kurta jim-jams fitted and personal Ayurvedic consultant and yogi assigned , are subjected to a “Prakturi” test to find out their Tridosha body type and what their doshas (humours) are vulnerable to and therefore what metabolically calamitous lifestyle choices are inhibiting self-realization and the attainment of all-round “moksha” and the ultimate transformative travel experience.
As well as the gourmet hyper-functional food the 70 room “Ananda in the Himalayas” offers wellness seekers resident and visiting wellness coaches, experts in rolfing, intuitive massage, sacro-cranial massage and somatic release. You can go on escorted runs, walks or treks. But it is eating properly, wisely and dynamically that’s the art.
“Use all your senses” said my personal, bulked-up waiter the next day. “Take time to appreciate the smell of your meal, the look of your plate, the texture of your food, the different flavors, and the sounds that you make when you eat.”
His complexion testified to frequent sesame oil facials and his teeth a testament to betel nut abstention. “Your digestive juices must be at peace. Your tummy must sing like the Upanishads!”
Ananda also offers guided meditation, daily Vedanta lectures to educate you into the eternities, four-handed synchronized massages, quality candle and fragrant joss stick staring time, induced vomiting classes, and other Shatkuriyas – body purifying techniques.
As well the chance to perfect “Bhujangasna” or yogic cobra pose to stimulate your adrenal glands and lessen troubling constipation issues.
You meet your fellow guests in the grounds or by the pool and discuss us how your “marma” energy points and bio-energies in general have been miraculously revivified, your sluggish bowels enlivened, your adult acne cured by curd face masks and herbal pastes.
I met one lady – a fellow Kaptha-dominant guest – who had successfully mortified her ego, annihilated the self and sweated out much intense Karmic sickness. She claimed to have transformed unilateral passion into universal adoration.
Thanks to Tibetan ila treatments, various body and mind healing sessions and the administration of miscellaneous very pricey decoctions via various routes, she said she had become more accepting. Even of sitar music.
And the lack of Wi-Fi.
Mr Biswas’s cooking had been productive. Her pathways had been cleansed. She had been converted to miscellaneous vegetarian chutneys.
And spelt chaff filled pillows.
My dosha is very happy.
For the time being. My poison gooseberry intake is still high.
Ananda in the Himalayas.
WORDS: KEVIN PILLEY.
IMAGES: ANANDA; ISTOCK & SHUTTERSTOCK.