It’s an annoying fact of life that rich, famous people who can most afford to pay for things tend to be the people who get the most stuff for free. They’re always being showered with presents and getting offered free stays in resorts and having their bills waived at top-notch restaurants, while the rest of us grubby mortals are busy developing ugly stretch marks all over our budgets.
When they do shell out, however, they do it in style. Once in a while, a grubby mortal gets to stray into this platinum-plated world for free (it’s called ‘travel writing’), and see how the other half lives, and what they do with their untold wealth. Thus it was that last weekend I drove up a hill and into the cool, clean, white-clothed, incense-scented, soothing-music-filled precincts of the Top Class Number One Superduper Bestest destination spa in India, which is called Ananda in the Himalayas.
I think the rich probably have to close their eyes when they climb into the car at Haridwar, just as I had to, in order to better appreciate the unique geological composition of this part of the Himalayan foothills, which were created by the compression, over millennia, of layer upon layer of torn potato chips packets, crumpled plastic plates, empty soft drinks bottles and suppurating piles of other unidentifiable garbage.
But then you leave the big settlements and start to climb, and by the time you turn into the custard-coloured gates of the Maharaja’s hilltop palace, Rishikesh and Dehradun are merely scenic splashes in a painting far below, beside the champagne-coloured ribbon of the Ganga. There’s nothing here but lush rolling hills, mist, and the discreet gleam of Rolexes.
Ananda is a little like a Krishnamurti Foundation school (yoga, quietude, spiritual orientation) crossed with a Four Seasons. You can contemplate the vastness of the cosmos, the relative purity of your body and soul and the harmony of nature while doing yoga in the fresh air, losing weight, getting massaged, sleeping in your beautiful climate-controlled room looking over the valley, soaking in Dead Sea mud, and drinking excellent French wine. I’ve always had trouble deciding what to do with my life, but I was able to establish that this is much more my scene than is shambling around Delhi with my blood boiling and my hair standing on end.
They’re very serious about your health, at Ananda. An Ayurvedic menu is pointedly placed at your table in the restaurant and often gently recommended by the dining staff. But if you insist on indulging, you can choose from a menu of fine food and fine wine. This is important for people like me, who won’t do the difficult thing unless they feel they have a choice. You can eat healthily and spend all day in the spa, using the gym and getting ayurvedic treatments, hydrotherapy, body wraps and beauty treatments, or you can spend all day eating rich foods and sleeping in your room or by the pool—it’s your funeral, as they say, not to mention the funeral of your gigantic hills of cash.
As soon as you cross the line into the fabled land of the rich, of course, your grubby mortal friends turn on you. I told one that I had earlier soaked in a bath of milk, saffron, and rose petals, and that it was dinner time so I should probably head for a shower. “A milk shower?” he asked. “Or are you going to have to slum it with water?” Another said, “What’s in the toilet cistern—white rum?” That’s the problem with grubby mortals: by and large they’re a bitter lot.
With excellent reason.