A Shangri-la for spa-goers, yet more than a simple wellness retreat, Ananda's high-end Himalayan hideaway merits its hype (regularly ranking among the world's best destination spas). It's here that I stopped to reboot from the midst of an epic—and exhausting—14-month trip around the globe, likening my visit to this mountain sanctuary to the scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and the gang finally gain entry to Oz and its Emerald City beauty salon.
After four exquisite days of breathing in fresh mountain air, toggling between yoga and meditation sessions, dining on healthful spa cuisine, and indulging in pampering, I continued on from Ananda feeling very much like the freshly re-stuffed Scarecrow or the gleamingly polished Tin Man. (Or maybe even a little bit like Julia Roberts in the second half of Eat, Pray, Love. There I said it.)
Nestled in the foothills of the mighty mountain range, Ananda in the Himalayas offers spellbinding views over verdant virgin forests, the meandering Ganges River, and the ashram and meditation haven of Rishikesh (put in the international spotlight when The Beatles studied here in the '60s). This peaceful neck of the Himalayan woods has long beckoned travelers, seekers in search of ancient wisdom, or out on a yatra (or pilgrimage), and Ananda answers this call as a luxury ashram of sorts, where visitors are rewarded with a holistic approach to soothing the mind, energizing the body, and invigorating the spirit. Experienced spa therapists and masters of yoga and ancient Indian philosophies are on hand, in a region credited as being a fountainhead for the traditions of Ayurveda, yoga, and meditation.
Set on the grounds of a working maharaja's palace (who still owns part of the property and occasionally summers here), Ananda delivers an R&R-rich wellness regime with a side of Indian history and culture. Be transported to an era of Indian royalty in the main palace, now the main reception area (once host to VIPs like Mahatama Gandhi), where you can sip Darjeeling tea in the Viceregal Tea Lounge or get in a game on one of the oldest billiards tables in India.
Meticulously manicured grounds provide a haven for roaming peacocks and mischievous monkeys, while guests flock to the terraced restaurant, heated outdoor lap pool, fitness center, and jogging track. The topnotch kitchen doles out inspired organic cuisine, highlighting traditional Indian, Western, Asian, and Ayurvedic fare. Daily wellness programming includes yoga and Vedanta classes, guided meditation, and a rotating roster of specialty workshops, hosted by visiting masters and on-staff teachers and therapists.
Half-day hikes to the nearby Kunjapuri Temple, and excursions to the ancient spiritual centers of Rishikesh and Haridwar (don't miss the daily sunset aarti ceremony on the Ganges), or to the Rajaji National Park (home to wild elephants, tigers, and more), can easily be arranged.
Of course, the 24,000-square-foot onsite spa takes central billing, with an extensive spa menu of rejuvenating and restorative traditional Indian and international treatments. Try the signature Ananda Fusion Massage, fusing reflexology, aromatherapy, deep-tissue, Thai, Tibetan, and Swedish massage techniques; or the Abhyanga Massage, a synchronized Ayurveda-inspired four-handed massage (courtesy of two therapists). A separate men's and women's hydrotherapy area touts a sauna, steam room, reflexology footbath, and cold plunge pool. Bespoke wellness programs can also be developed with focuses on weight management, Ayurveda, detoxification, stress management, and more.
Seventy spacious guestrooms, along with a handful of suites, villas (with private pools and butler service), and the Viceregal Suite (set in the palace proper, with a rooftop Jacuzzi), tout harmonious earth tone color schemes, satellite TV and complimentary Wi-Fi, and private outdoor spaces (upgrade to a valley-view unit for some really dramatic scenery). Slip into the provided white-cotton Kurta pajamas for the ultimate onsite comfort. Sunken bathtubs come fronted by scenic bay windows; pillow menus offer a custom-tailored night's sleep; and wake-up calls come courtesy of a delivery of the resort's signature ginger, honey, and lemon tea.
A few days spent on this Himalayan perch, and you'll feel on top of the world in more ways than one—all, conveniently set just an hour's flight (or four-hour train ride) from Delhi.
Rates start from $450/night based on double occupancy, including daily scheduled wellness programming (book à la carte spa treatments well in advance). Three-night wellness packages, inclusive of breakfast and dinner, select spa experiences, ground transfers, and daily programming, start from $740, based on double occupancy.
Modern-day explorer, perpetual seeker, and diligent travel scribe Elissa Richard has set out circumnavigating the globe on an ambitious 14-month adventure. Tag along on her travels through Europe, Asia, the South Pacific, and Latin America—and on the high seas in between—as she reports back to Fodors.com on captivating cruises, hot hotels, and timely travel trends.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Ananda in the Himalayas and John Garay