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India's Ancient Beauty

By: Bryan Durocher
Posted: September 25, 2009, from the October 2009 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
A room at the Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra, India

Each room at the elegant Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra in Agra, India, offers a stunning view of the Taj Mahal.

Experiencing India is like the old story of the blind men and the elephant—each of the sightless men experiences a different part of the enormous animal, and each comes away with a completely different impression.

India is unimaginably vast and varied. It offers so many terrains, climates, cultural influences, opportunities for shopping, dining and sightseeing, spiritual influences, sights, sounds, colors, flavors and smells—it simply cannot be boiled down into a nutshell. People’s experiences there are varied as the country itself. Some find it enchanting, some say it’s mystical, some characterize it as metropolitan and others find it completely overwhelming. During my visit, I found it to be all of these and more.

My overriding interest in visiting India, of course, was to explore its rich heritage of beauty and wellness. The Ganges River that flows through the country is revered by many as a holy body of water that bestows life, healing and beauty, and India is the original source of many beauty rituals, including ayurveda, vedic gemstone healing and shirodhara. Traditionally, these practices were performed privately in villages and homes throughout the country, but as the nation’s economy has boomed and tourism has exploded, India is now the site of a number of brand-new, world-class spas incorporating these treatments into their menus and combining them with luxurious amenities.

I decided to see for myself how these modern interpretations of ancient beauty rituals were presented to guests, as well as examine how my experiences in India might contribute to the success of spa businesses in the United States. And Denise, a client from Austin, Texas, accompanied me to research treatments and gather ideas for her new spa.

Urban oasis

Our first stop was New Delhi, the government center of India, which is located in the upper middle plains. The city is a study in contrasts—gleaming new buildings amidst remnants of ancient mosques, and upwardly mobile professionals and wealthy residents among millions of poor have-nots. There are more than 13 million people in New Delhi, plus thousands of holy cows allowed to wander untouched among them.