Unlike most spas, Ananda doesn't monitor every physical move and calorie. "We call it the 'soft approach,' not regimented or disciplined," says manager Jayanth Rangan. Arriving guests are invited to meet with the spa director and the Ayurvedic doctor to plan a menu of treatments and exercise. (If someone would rather breeze in for a few days, have an aromatherapy massage, lounge by the pool, and indulge in endless helpings of tandoori chicken and Kingfisher beer, that person would be a lot like my brother—and would be welcomed, too.)
But the elements of rejuvenation are here. In place of a jarring wake-up call is a gentle knock on your door, along with a pot of detoxifying tea with lemon, ginger, and honey. Every evening, a note is delivered with details about the next day's complimentary yoga, aerobics, and meditation sessions. Spa treatments are startlingly cheap: a honey-and-rose facial is just $32; a half-hour of reflexology, only $19.
I WISH I'D DRESSED UP—OR AT LEAST WORN SOMETHING MORE SLIMMING—for my appointment with Suraj Dubey, the Ayurvedic doctor. But not thinking, I took a dip in the pool beforehand, then threw on a man's shirt and a sarong.
First I met with the spa director, Dr. Sanjay Khanzode, who trained in London and helped set up the spa at the Oberoi Rajvilas in Jaipur. I told him I wanted to do it all—a decadent mix of massages, hydrotherapy, facials and body wraps. But Dr. Khanzode limited me to three sessions a day. "More than that and your body burns out," he warned.
I already knew a bit about Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient Hindu system of holistic health care, so I was eager to meet with Dr. Dubey to learn which doshas, or constitutions, ruled my body. A person can have any combination of kapha (water and earth), pitta (fire), and vata (air), but ideally all three are in balance. If they're uneven, Ayurveda uses food, yoga, and lifestyle changes to improve mental and physical well-being.
Dr. Dubey took me into his dimly lit office and started running down a list of questions: Do you sleep through the night?Are you generally sweaty?Do you have a high sex drive?Then came the zinger: Do you consider yourself thin, moderate, or stout?Easy answer: moderate. But the doctor took one look at me in my blousy, unflattering outfit and proclaimed: "Stout."
After an in-the-buff full-body exam (Ayurveda is serious stuff), Dr. Dubey diagnosed me as kapha-pitta, which means I'm strong but have a tendency to be sluggish. He prescribed three days of treatments. Day one sounded delicious: First, I'd have a synchronized abhyanga massage, in which two therapists would rub specially mixed, medicated oils over my entire body to balance my doshas. Then I'd undergo thakradhara—warm buttermilk gently poured onto my forehead for 45 minutes—to relieve stress. Day two sounded even better: udwarthanam, a dry herbal massage meant to produce an overall slimming effect, paired with another round of thakradhara. (Having a weight-loss treatment followed by a dose of buttermilk seemed like ordering a diet Coke with a Big Mac, but maybe that's just me.)
The third day's treatment, kashaya vasthy, wasn't as easy to stomach. It involved an enema, which is very popular with Indian guests. Dr. Dubey explained this as a detoxifying procedure, ideal for people with a kapha-pitta constitution. I'm a big believer in spas and holistic medicine, but this was a bit too radical for my Western ways. I took a rain check.
STILL SUFFERING FROM JET LAG, Tom and I barely roused ourselves for yoga at 9:15 a.m. in the Music Pavilion, a dramatic open-air structure supported by white columns and surrounded by reflecting pools. Beneath its grand ceiling, painted with images of lotus petals, we were joined by just one guest, even though 69 of Ananda's 75 rooms were filled. Rishi, the instructor, quizzed us on our knowledge, then adjusted the session accordingly. (I know a fair amount about yoga; Tom and the other woman didn't.)
Unlike some aerobic versions I've encountered in the States, yoga in India is slow, measured, and all about holding your asanas, or postures, in order to achieve unparalleled relaxation. We started with pranayama breathing techniques before doing the vrikshasana, or tree pose, standing on one leg. Rishi had us try the pose with our eyes open and closed to demonstrate the concentration it takes to balance without sight, using the exercise to illustrate the connection between our minds and bodies.
We practiced a few other asanas, learning the theories behind each, then meditated in the shavasana, or dead man's pose. I became fixated on the scent of the wild ginger oil that Rishi was burning, and through the haze of my meditative state made a note to buy some at the gift shop. Tom soldiered through the session but never returned. He said his idea of unparalleled relaxation involved a bed, not balancing on a single leg.