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India's Ancient Beauty
By: Bryan Durocher
Posted: September 25, 2009, from the October 2009 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
Each room at the elegant Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra in Agra, India, offers a stunning view of the Taj Mahal.
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The cool, tranquil setting offers beautiful mountain views and lots of outdoor activities, including white-water rafting, biking and hiking. On the trails, it’s even possible to spot bears, deer, snow leopards and monkeys. The 85-room hotel combines traits of a Swiss chalet and British colonial décor, and with the Burmese teak floors, hand-knotted rugs, arched windows, fireplaces and rich furnishings, the result manages to be both elegant and cozy.
The hotel’s newly opened Oberoi Spa features private suites that open up to the outdoors, bringing the unique essence of Shimla’s mountainous environment into each treatment. While Denise went off on a guided hike, I chose to have another Balinese Massage Treatment, along with shirodhara, an ancient Indian treatment in which warm, medicated oils flow from a specially designed copper vessel. The oil is directed onto the “third eye” on the forehead and is purported to trigger healing, restore balanced health and calm the mind. I ended the treatment with a Cedar Wood Chip Bath, a luxurious soak in a tub full of fragrant cedar chips, followed by a steam and shower in my private suite. Between the treatments and the bracing mountain air, I felt completely energized and, if possible, several years younger.
Shimla has a long history as a destination for the British and well-off Indians who wanted a place to escape the summer heat, dust and crowds of the country’s lower elevations. Wildflower Hall, Shimla in the Himalayas preserves this genteel, colonial resort ambience by effectively combining the best of what the surrounding nature offers with a truly luxurious facility. Peaceful, pristine, green and gorgeous, this spa makes the most of the overwhelming scope of its spot in the Himalayas. One literally feels on top of the world.
I left India impressed by two things useful to U.S. spa owners. The first is how advantageous it is to source new and exotic treatments. As spas compete for fewer clients, they must be more creative than ever to come up with ways to stand out among other spas. Standard-issue Swedish massage and by-the-numbers facials aren’t enough these days—treatments, products and ingredients must be effective, and also must appeal to the senses and ignite guests’ imaginations.
Even more important, however, is to focus intensely on the clients’ experience. That means customer service is nothing less than five-star, regardless of whether yours is a high-end resort spa or a cozy, neighborhood day spa. From the initial phone call up until your client departs, your priority, as well as that of your entire staff, should be to anticipate every need, accommodate every request and then go above and beyond what’s expected, such as when the staff at The Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra, coordinated our stay to make sure we didn’t miss our Taj Mahal tour—without our even having to ask.