Silently then, I climb to the Viceregal Palace. So called, because it was built to house the British Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, when he came visiting the Maharajah of Garwhal. There, I will join the others'beginners in yoga, if not in life'and in various stages of disrepair. Soon, the lilting Indian English of our gentle-souled yoga guru floats over our mutated cobra positions, "Drop your body, drop your body. Hold it, hold it. You can do it. Relax, relax." As we lay on the ballroom's Persian rugs in our corpse positions, our guru opens the French doors to let the Himalayan mists drift over us.
Winding back down through gardens of jasmine and roses, temples and waterways, it's off to breakfast among the trees. Far below in the valley, the towns of Rishikesh and Haridwar bustle on the banks of the Ganges. Rishikesh is where the Beatles came in the 60's to find their guru. It's called the yoga capital of the world and along one whole side of the river is all temples and ashrams. Haridwar, known as "gateway to the Gods" is one of India's most sacred cities, both destination and beginning of many pilgrimages. Its ashrams cater to the more orthodox yoga practitioners maintaining strict rules on silence and prayer.
This misty, mystical place is home to Ananda-in the Himalayas, a 'holistic healing sanctuary' that could easily be mistaken for a top-notch resort, romantic destination or historic property. It's about four and a half hours by train north of Delhi and an hour's ride from the train station, climbing and winding up the lower Himalayas to 4000 feet. It's on the Maharajah of Garhwal's estate. He's the area's current Member of Parliament and lives mostly in Delhi, but continues to maintain his palace. Ananda leases land and the Viceregal Palace from him.
This palace, restored to its former glory, is now given over to reception, afternoon tea accompanied by Indian musicians, billiards on the oldest table in India, lingering among the Maharajah's paintings and books and, on chilly mornings, yoga. A Viceregal Suite'a sure winner for an extraordinary honeymoon'is up a staircase of hand-carved Burma Teak. Its marble bathrooms, three fireplaces'including one in a bathroom'a large private terrace and jacuzzi all have views.
Ananda's sanctuary spreads down the mountain from the Viceregal Palace through manicured lawns and small temples that are havens for outdoor yoga, meditation and teas. Mountains and streams, faraway towns and gathering clouds fill the views from Ananda's spa, restaurant and rooms. Even a swim in the pool feels like a glide through the wild.
The five-story building which houses the guest rooms steps down a ridge in such a way that only the top few stories are visible. The balconies of many rooms hang above the valley. Subtle and sensuous, the rooms are of polished wood and lush fabrics in sea-foam and putty, granting this vista its due. If it's cool on the balcony, the view from the warmth of the deep green marble bath is sublime.
Ayurveda, a 5000 year old Indian system of healing and health, is at the heart of Ananda. While full western spa facilities and treatments are available, most of the guests this week are following an Ayurvedic program starting with a private health evaluation by an Ayurvedic doctor. We each learned which body type (dosha) we had and received suggestions about getting and staying healthy. The doctor then sent his recommendations to the spa and kitchen staffs who planned our treatments and meals based on them.
Thus, I wander through slowly-structured spa days. Massages start with elixirs prepared just for me and end with warm oil tickling my forehead. Yoga's at dawn and meditation's at sunset. In between are treks around the Maharajah's estate to discover its nature and history, elegant spa meals to nourish both body and spirit and many quiet moments to take it all in.
Four days at Ananda has rested my soul, unkinked my body and expanded my mind'small wonders, perhaps, in the sacred Himalayas, but treasured no less.