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Mandarin Oriental Ananda

More-experienced yoga practitioners, who might be frustrated with the slow pace of group classes, can take one-on-one sessions (only $21 for an hour). I didn't see the need to book individual lessons because I was the only student at two of my six early-morning classes. (I attribute this to an Andersen Consulting conference being held at the resort. The businessmen spent their days crunching numbers in meeting rooms and showed no apparent interest in spiritual cleansing.)

After the harrowing trip to reach Ananda, I was reluctant to leave its luxurious confines. But an integral part of visiting India is, of course, seeing India. So before dawn one morning, we took a jeep to Kunjapuri, a mountaintop temple, where we watched the sun rise over the snowcapped Himalayas.

Another day we went white-water rafting on the Ganges, which in this region has challenging rapids. I was concerned about safety and sanitation, since Hindus scatter the ashes of their dead in the Ganges. But the guide assuaged my fears, saying, "The Ganges is the mother river, and a mother never hurts its children." His words were still ringing in my ears as we approached a trio of bumps called the Three Blind Mice, where a wave pitched me across our rubber raft.

The rafting trip ended near Lakshman Jhula, a narrow suspension bridge that crosses the Ganges at the holiest section of Rishikesh. This hippie-chic outpost wasn't the Rishikesh I'd seen when we arrived. We wandered into ashrams and lingered at open-air shops selling funky mirrored bangles and $20 pashmina shawls. At sunset, we headed to Rishikesh's clock tower, on the banks of the Ganges, where the Ganga Aarti ceremony is held nightly to worship the river. A choir of young boys in yellow robes chanted at the river's edge while elderly priests floated flickering candles on the water. These were pleasant diversions, but they weren't enough to distract us from the spa experience.

ONE AFTERNOON, WHILE I WAS TAKING A KILLER ABS-AND-BUTT SESSION AT THE GYM, Tom was chatting with guests by the pool. A man from Saratoga Springs, New York, who had come for a couple of days with his spa-junkie girlfriend, complained that they found Ananda's service irritatingly overattentive.

Tom and I couldn't have disagreed more. I enjoyed it when employees greeted me by name, opened every door, and answered each request with "As you wish." One evening, when we were late for dinner, the restaurant even phoned to ask whether we wanted our meals sent to our room.

Unlike many hotels of this caliber, Ananda hires people for their personalities and willingness to serve, rather than their experience. According to manager Rangan, it's easier to teach new habits than to dispel bad ones learned at hotel schools or other resorts. But this practice brings problems of its own.

The spa, in particular, was confronted with a catch-22: Dr. Khanzode wanted to employ Indians. But since massage isn't commonly practiced in the country, there were no Indian therapists available.

Anjona Musthafi, the masseuse who gave me a sublime papaya body polish one evening, explained that Indian mothers massage their babies until they're a year old—then the kneading stops. "Massage doesn't have a good image in India," she said. "For adults, it has sexual connotations."

To train his staff, Dr. Khanzode flew in specialists from around the world, including Minneapolis-based Aveda, which itself adopted its beauty-treatment theories from Ayurvedic medicine. (Ananda offers several Aveda regimens.) The spa's therapists studied massage and beauty techniques for a year before the opening, and all that training has paid off.

The Himalayan honey-and-rose facial left me with an ethereal glow. My brother felt transported during a Thai massage administered by a former employee of the Oriental Bangkok (she's the only non-Indian therapist on staff). Eastern philosophies of chakras and aura-cleansing are incorporated into all treatments. It's not every day that a masseuse administers energy rebalancing during a Swedish massage or a pedicurist describes his favorite Hindu goddess as he scrapes the calluses off your feet. Even the tea served in the relaxation rooms is specially formulated to help bring your doshas in order.

But not everything is perfect. Tom, who loves cycling, was disappointed to discover that the mountain bikes promised in Ananda's literature hadn't arrived. And the regular menu is loaded with Indian dishes that are too spicy for timid palates.

To be fair, all vegetables are organically grown on a nearby farm, and there are two spa choices—vegetarian or non-vegetarian—at every meal. These add up to a mere 1,200 to 1,400 calories a day and are a pleasant fusion of Asian, Indian, and Western flavors. One day's vegetarian spa lunch paired Thai curried eggplant soup and spaghetti with tandoori-roasted vegetables. But a couple of healthful alternatives hardly qualify as a stimulating spa menu.

Guests can also follow a third option: an Ayurvedic plan tailored to their doshas. Dr. Dubey offered to create one for me, and it seemed like a good idea until I was served the first night's dinner—a cup of basmati rice, a bowl of vegetable broth, and a small helping of spicy yogurt. Perhaps Dr. Dubey was trying to help me in the "stout" department, but I decided to cheat for the rest of my stay by sampling the high-calorie (and delicious) Indian fare. In true Ananda fashion, nobody said a word.


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