The Pehlwan Malish Warrior Massage is inspired by the fierce mustard-oil rubdowns traditionally given to battered Indian wrestlers. You'll find it at the Taj Spa in Mumbai, India. For something kinder and gentler, you might try the Astroveda Treatment at the Hotel Ashok in New Delhi - that one involves spending some time in a "floatarium."
If you're in the market for exotic treatments of the semi-masochistic variety, India will happily provide. If you'd rather just loll around in an infinity pool on the grounds of an 18th-century palace with clear views of the Himalayas, that can also be arranged. The best spa destinations here are utterly unique experiences that combine ancient therapies with cutting-edge amenities.
Uniting all of them is the philosophy of Ayurveda. This 5,000-year-old school of thought has been practiced for generations, across thousands of ashrams. And it's still the lifeblood of the leading spas found across the Subcontinent.
"Very simply, Ayurveda is an understanding of the nature inside our body and outside, and how these are related and interact with each other," explains Ketaki Narain, director of corporate communications for The Oberoi Group, a collection of luxury hotels in India and other locations. "It gives one the knowledge of how to keep the balance of the inner nature and to get in tune with the outer nature."
Using all-natural herbs, milks, herbal teas and penetrating essential oils, Ayurvedic remedies are designed to provide holistic healing tailored to specific body types. Treatments range from Shirodhara, which involves dripping fragrant oils on the "third eye" of the forehead to promote healing, to Marma massage, which targets all manner of secret pressure points.
Naturally, the Ayurvedic experience is enhanced by the exceedingly well-honed skills of its practitioners. "Indian spas are very service-oriented," says Pushpa Nair, public relations director at Ananda, a lush destination spa found at the foot of the Himalayas. "In India, the welcome is warm and the service is exceptional. The Indian people are naturally caring and nurturing. This is transmuted into the service industry as caring for others, which begins at such a young age."
And of course, context is everything. Many of these spas are located in the former residences of rajas and generals. Nair notes that the Oberoi Spa at The Oberoi Rajvilas, Jaipur, "is housed in a restored 250-year-old mansion, resplendent with hand-painted frescos reminiscent of a royal era."
Other imperial escapes include Ananda, Wildflower Hall, Shimla, Taj Lake Palace and Devi Garh Resort, all of which are former royal retreats. Urban delinquents may want to investigate the Quan Spa at the Marriott in Mumbai, which also offers makeovers and photo shoots.