It’s an oft-heard refrain that a tour through India is an assault on the senses. While it happens to be an assault I happily subject myself to at any opportunity, on my last trip I was enticed to slow down the pace by two unique resorts. Each offers a peaceful respite from the non-stop stimuli of a typical tour, as well as the possibility of a wake-up call via peacock.
A lush oasis in the rocky desert landscape of Rajasthan, Amanbagh was built to resemble a Mughal Palace, and lies in the greenery of a walled compound once the domain of the Maharajah of Alwar. Here you can do as little or as much as you want, without worry of missing out on must-see monuments. This is an ideal place to curl up and read a book, as the classical Indian palatial design transports you back to a pre-digital age before scrolling replaced page-turning.
For some pampering fit for royalty, visit the spa for a private meditation or yoga session, an Ayurvedic massage with organic oils, or adorn your hands and feet with traditional henna art. If you can bear to leave the property for a few hours, take a “cow dust” tour through the local village just before sunset, when villagers are returning from the fields, goats and cows are being led home for the night, and curious children step out to show off their English, with an enthusiastic “hello!” for visitors. Other than the telecom ads, you get the feeling that not much has changed in this village over past fifty years.
Another worthy diversion is a visit to the ruins of the mysterious medieval town called Bhangarh. Legend has it that this once-booming community was hastily abandoned in the 1700s, following a curse cast by a vengeful magician who had been spurned by the queen. Locals still talk of ghosts dwelling in the crumbling storefronts, homes, and temples after dark, a situation exploited by the packs of macaque monkeys and a party of peacocks I saw moving in to use the grounds as their personal playground as visitors left for the day. If you like (and aren’t afraid of ghosts), a sunrise yoga session can be arranged here.
My next idyll was the spa resort Ananda in the Himalayas, overlooking the valley town of Rishikesh, along the river Ganges. Many guests come here for a 7 or 10 day program to detox, distress or rejuvenate, following a regime prescribed by an onsite Ayurvedic doctor. However, it’s also a wonderful place just to stay a few nights to enjoy the spa, pool, organic cuisine, and fresh mountain air. While the heritage Viceregal Suite is housed in the original Majaraha’s palace, the rest of the rooms, suites, and villas are in more contemporary buildings, with spectacular valley views.
Every morning, yoga classes are held in an open air amphitheater, and daily activity options include meditation sessions in the Maharaja’s palace, sunrise hikes to a mountain top temple, and philosophy lectures. You can also practice putting on the 6-hole golf course. The outstanding spa is known for its array of Ayurvedic treatments, but also offers a world of services such as Swedish and Thai massage, reflexology, hydrotherapy, Tai Chi, Reiki, a Finnish Sauna, and a Turkish Steam room. Plus, there is a gym, squash court, heated lap pool, and billiards table.
I spent a day in nearby Rishikesh, a small town known as the center for yoga studies, which became internationally known in 1968 when the Beatles traveled here to learn transcendental meditation. The highlight of my visit was the Ganga Aarti ceremony, held nightly at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram along the banks of the Ganges. All are welcome to take a seat on the ghat to participate. Musicians and singers lead devotional chants as worshipers sing and clap along, all while a mesmerizing purifying fire ritual is performed as the sun sets.
India never ceases to amaze and delight me. I recommend a stay in either (or both) of these special retreats on your next trip!
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