Are you a spa junkie? I am. One of the great pleasures in my life is going to spas and getting a massage. I like being touched. Ayurveda says it is because I am a Vata type. Vatas respond to touch and smell.
Hard-charging pitta types—which would be most of the readership of this paper—prefer to surround themselves with beautiful objects. Pittas respond to visual beauty, order and harmony. But that is neither here nor there, and this piece is about spas.
The six-in-one: The true luxury of a spa visit lies in getting many treatments at one go.
Now there are people who actually detest spas. I know someone who dislikes the whole business of getting naked before strangers and being smothered in oils, lotions and unguents. The vast majority, however, enjoys this very sensation.
Although my political leanings are socialist, I tend to get very bourgeois when it comes to spas. I don’t see the point of going somewhere and getting slathered with stuff of dubious origin if the place isn’t soothing, if not stunningly beautiful. Spa treatments also happily fit my notion of gifts without tangible leftovers, so I indulge in them with only half of the usual guilt I feel most of the time.
Singapore has great spas. I did a round-up of spas there and ended up trying every one. The Waterfloor at the M Hotel looks very clinical. The attendants wear white lab coats: a look which I have come to detest. But I had a superlative hot stone massage there. One Chinese therapist with the softest hands simply massaged away the frown lines on my forehead. It was botox without needles. Spa Estheva has a nice central location and very good therapists. I usually stock up on spa products from Aromatherapy Associates, a UK firm I love, which, sadly, doesn’t retail in India.
Espa is a good second choice, and their products are available in India. Ayurveda is an acquired taste (all that oil being poured on), but in order to truly experience it, you have to go to Kerala, where the monsoon humidity and heat lull you into a state of somnolence. I once had a treatment at Coconut Lagoon in Kumarakom where about six women massaged me at the same time: one at the head, one at the foot, and two each on either side. It was simply divine. The ayurvedic leg massages at Somatheeram are a treat as well. You lie on the floor and a therapist runs her leg over the contours of your body. This is a good option for those who like firm massages because legs are stronger than hands.
Now, Ayurveda is everywhere and is getting a bad name because people don’t know how to do it right. In Bangalore, I tend to go to The Leela a lot. That, and the Decleor Spa in Hatworks Boulevard whose aromatherapy products are nice. Plus, it is a stand-alone spa, so it is easy to duck in and out. The Rejuve at the Grand Ashok gives good massages, but suffers from the minimalism that is plaguing every decorator. The spa is positively cold. I am waiting for the time when spas and restaurants go back to being cozy spaces rather than being minimalistic simply because it is the décor trend of the decade.
Of late, I am forcing spas to cater to the one thing that is a supreme luxury these days: time. Whenever I book an appointment, I pile on treatments. Can they give me a facial, manicure, and pedicure at the same time? For some reason, there is always hesitation on the other end.
At Devi Garh (near Udaipur in Rajasthan), I tried to preach my ideas to the spa manager. Listen, I said earnestly, everyone is busy these days. They don’t want to spend endless hours in the spa. Why don’t you allot four or five therapists to one person (as long as they pay) and pile on the treatments? At first, she didn’t understand. But the therapists are busy, she said. That’s only because they are booked for multiple people, I replied. How much will it cost for you to allot, say, six therapists to just me for one hour? To do what? she asked. From her gaze, I could tell that she by now viewed me as a weirdo. And that was the most charitable of her thoughts. Oh, I don’t know, I replied airily. Buff, shuff, mani-pedi, facial, head massage, whatever. But you can do that one after another, madam, she explained with a relieved smile. That’s not the point. I threw up my hands.
You know, I am actually tired of requesting multiple treatments wherever I go and then being regarded as an imbecile child. I thought spas would capitalize on this trend. Restaurants and shops do. “While you are here buying a blouse, madam, would you like to try on our newly arrived trousers as well? And how about a nice scarf to go with it?” You go into a shop for one item and walk out with 10. Spas, on the other hand, always hesitate to combine treatments. Maybe they don’t have the personnel.
Last week, when I told the Leela Spa that I wanted to pile on as many treatments as possible into one hour, the therapist looked at me dubiously. “Are you in a hurry, madam?” she asked. No shit.
I think a savvy spa entrepreneur should market this lack of “pile-ons”, for lack of a better word. My dream is to get into a spa where each limb is taken charge of by a different person, my face by the fifth. Perhaps a sixth could do some abdominal chakra healing or whatever. The weird part is that I am happy to shell out bucks for all this. But there is nobody offering this six-in-one approach.
Shoba Narayan is a socialist spa hedonist. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org