April 25, 2024

In a city saturated with spas,

and a young populace that seems intent on splurging,

how do spas differentiate themselves?

Ultimately, it comes down to the smell of the towels, I said when a Bangalore visitor asked why I had not given a spa guide to the city in this column.  After all, I had written about everything else.  This is odd because you see, I am that cliché. I am a spa junkie.

There are two types of people: those who love spas like me, and those who don’t, like my husband.  The third category is those folks who will have a “maalish-wali” or masseuse come home.  This article is not for them.  They see the massage as a utility, something that fosters health, which it does.  But for me, the spa is an experience that cocoons you.  It is a splurge.

Bangalore has many standalone spas including Bodycraft, Meraki, GlamsJo, and SPA.ce.  All of these will give you a perfectly serviceable massage for between Rs. 2500 and Rs. 3500.  But if you want the luxury experience, you have to go to a five-star hotel and shell out around Rs. 7000 for a 60-minute massage. That is my method.  I don’t do it often, but when I can, I prefer the splurge.

Over my 20 years of being in this city, I have tried pretty much every five-star hotel’s spa in Bengaluru. I tend to choose a newer hotel, because the towels smell better — or rather they don’t smell at all. I have pretty much given up on “Ayush-type” ayurveda places in the city because all the towels smell of oil. When in doubt, choose a newer hotel. That is my first tip.

Recently, I was at the Four Seasons Infuse spa.  It was heavenly.  The towels were fresh.  It was on a weekday morning and I was the only one there.  This too, is a strategy.  Business hotels tend to be empty during the weekday, so if you have flexibility—go at 10.30 AM on a Tuesday, not a Monday.  The masseuses work hard on weekends and so they are tired on Monday.  Tuesday morning is better.  I had the “Flower at Four Seasons” which uses aroma oils inspired by the gardens of this city.  As always, I took full advantage of the steam shower and the sauna before and after the treatment.  I left my phone in the locker during the course of the massage, which you should do.

For Indian spas, coming up with creative ways to stay rooted to place is tricky. We have ayurveda, but then the question becomes: should you stay true to ayurveda as the CGH Earth brand tries to do? Do you make it luxury ayurveda? The Taj group does this well with rituals that are authentic and indeed, moving.  Or do you go beyond ayurveda and choose new paradigms in the spa segment?

The Four Seasons did this by linking it to the city and its gardens.  The Shine spa at the Sheraton Grand Whitefield pays homage to Bangalore through its products–  using sandalwood wraps and coffee scrubs.  Frankly, I went to Shine because it is rated number one in spa and wellness in Bangalore’s Tripadvisor. It is a spa of choice for many of my friends in Whitefield but not for me because I live an hour away.  But here’s the thing: If you go to Whitefield from central Bangalore, there are two options: one is to rush in and out, the second is use the time to do things you’ve been wanting to do in that area.  I chose the second option.  I had a beer at Rogue Elephant round the corner, shopped a bit, and had the Shine’s signature massage which includes a variety of their techniques all of which induce deep sleep.

But mostly in Bangalore, people tend to stick to their own locations.  I live in Central Bangalore and so I only go to spas in this region. For value for money, nothing beats The Lalit.  It is an old style luxury hotel with lots of space right next to the golf course.  The Rejuve spa was my go-to before Covid.  Even now, you can get a 60-minute massage for Rs. 3,750.  I usually go for their njavara kizhi which is a straightforward ayurveda treatment that depends on the quality of the rice and medicinal herbs that are tied up into a poultice and applied on the body.  Luxury hotels have the wherewithal to order good ingredients. And so it is at the Lalit.  If you care about ingredients in a massage—good quality oils and herbs, then you need to choose spas that won’t take shortcuts.

This then is my case for splurging on spas.  There will be a flower floating on the ground when you look down from the massage table.  The linen will be fresh and clean, and not smell of anything.  The quality of the products will be good.  They will afford you privacy, which is rare in Bangalore.  And they will give you space and time to just luxuriate.  I tend to choose spending on experiences over objects so it is easy for me to choose spa treatments.  You may be the kind of person who believes that you can buy a dress for Rs. 7000 rather than a massage in which case, this entire article will not apply to you either.

Shoba Narayan

Shoba Narayan is Bangalore-based award-winning author. She is also a freelance contributor who writes about art, food, fashion and travel for a number of publications.

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