Dr. Jamil and Dr. Idries wrap up their final day in India by touring New Delhi and by getting semi-nude massages before flying back home to Chicago.
Having already toured Old Delhi immediately after our arrival to the Indian capital city; our fourth and final day in India started with a tour of the more contemporary New Delhi. And so, after taking quick showers and getting a bite to eat at the hotel’s breakfast buffet, we checked out of the hotel bright eyed and bushy tailed; with our booties clean, our bellies full and our luggage in tow. And for those of you who read the end of our last blog entry “The Taj and Agra’s Mighty Sheroes”, you may be wondering whether or not the following day’s breakfast buffet was either frustrating or disappointing? Well, we are glad to report that the breakfast buffet was neither frustrating or disappointing. Instead, the breakfast buffet was one of those universally recognizable “all-you-can-eat” buffet’s that we portly Americans know and love. There was none of the sacrilege from the night before. There was no perversion of the principle “all-you-can-eat”, and there was no artsy interpretation of how food at a buffet should be presented. No, instead there were just pre-warmed plates, piles of food sitting and waiting to be plucked from beneath smoldering heat lamps and pre-poured drinks. Drinks, that would not be long for this world if we had anything to say about it. And, as these two unashamed, unabashed, self-deprecating greedy pigs made up for the farce that was the previous night’s “buffet”, all again was well in our world.
After breakfast, we met our driver in the hotel lobby. It was the same tall Kashmiri in the tan Khaki uniform with the chiseled face that had driven us to Agra the day before. And then, just like de ja vu all over again, as the three of us made our way out from the hotel to his waiting Toyota Corolla, we came upon the same dark skinned young India boy also from the day before. He was of course wearing the same beanie hat with the same ball and string attached to it. And just as he had done the day before, upon seeing us exit the hotel, he again began to gyrate and gesticulate like a court jester. He again made funny faces while he danced, all the while making sure to call attention to the rotating ball atop his head. And then like magic once more, poof, he was doing a handstand and that rotating ball atop his beanie hat hadn’t so much as skipped a beat. What can we say folks? More early morning roadside entertainment provided, more rupees out of our pockets given, and thusly, our last day in India was under way.
New Delhi and the India Gate
Before our driver pulled away from the Radisson Blu Hotel for the last time, our tour guide for the morning jogged up to our vehicle. He stuck his head in through the open front passenger side window, announced himself, and then jumped in. With this, we quickly pulled off. Thankfully, the early Sunday morning traffic was light. Navigating the capital city’s streets quickly, we found ourselves at New Delhi’s India Gate in no time at all.
Approaching the India Gate, we couldn’t shake the feeling that the gate and the area surrounding the gate all somehow looked very familiar. This was of course our first time visiting Delhi, and so it was initially very difficult for us to figure out why the India Gate and the surrounding area looked so familiar. That was of course until our guide for the morning asked us if we had ever been to Paris before? With the question we both thought “Ooohhh…..Paris”! “That’s right, the Arc de Triomphe, that’s it”! The India Gate, and the area surrounding the India Gate (including the boulevard that leads to the gate), was designed to resemble the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees in Paris. Oui Oui and tres Bon.
The India Gate, originally called the All India War Memorial, was dedicated in 1931; some ten years after the visiting British Duke of Connaught laid the first stone of the structure’s foundation. The gate was built to commemorate the more than 83,000 solders of primarily Indian descent who lost their lives fighting for the British Army in World War One. The gate was also built to commemorate those Indian soldiers who also lost their lives fighting in the third Anglo-Afghan war. The India Gate memorial is a massive structure that towers over the grounds that surround it. It stands at 138 feet (42 meters) tall. Composed of a pale sandstone and granite, and built upon a base of red Bharatpur stone; in most lights the India Gate takes on a yellowish white appearance. The 13,218 names of the Indian war dead honored by the memorial are inscribed on the gate. Additional inscriptions include two imperial suns, the nationalistic proclamation “INDIA” and the years “1914” and “1919”. 1914 is the year that World War 1 started while 1919 is the year that World War 1 and the Anglo-Afghan war ended. In addition, perched atop the India Gate is a large shallow bowl. This bowl was intended to house a perpetually burning eternal flame to further lionize the war dead commemorated by the gate, though today a flame rarely burns there.
Located beneath the India Gate is the Amar Jawan Jyoti; or the Flame of the Immortal Soldier. The Flame of the Immortal Soldier consists of a heavy black marble support base upon which stands an upside down rifle that is then topped by a soldier’s helmet. Surrounding the rifle and helmet are four bronze urns, each of which contain a perpetually burning eternal flame. The gate’s Amar Jawan Jyoti memorial was erected in 1971 to commemorate Indian soldiers that lost their life’s during India’s 1971 liberation of Bangladesh. The entire Indian Gate memorial is open to the public 24 hours a day. And thanks to strategically placed lighting that is used to illuminate the structure every evening, its sandstone and granite façade assumes a beautiful and inviting multi-colored appearance each night.
Adjacent to the India Gate is a large sandstone canopy under which once stood a statue of England’s King George the Fifth. There the former monarch once stood, proudly donning his ceremonial coronation robes. However, after Britain’s rule in India came to an end, the statue of King George, ceremonial robes and all, was quite ironically enough quite unceremoniously removed. The sandstone canopy that covered his status was allowed to remain however. Now empty, there has been some talk of placing a statue of Mahatma Gandhi under that canopy.
The India Gate, and the now vacant sandstone canopy are both located along Delhi’s Rajpath. The Rajpath is a ceremonial boulevard that runs between the Presidential Residence of India’s democratically elected leader and India’s National Stadium. The same national stadium that once served as the location for the first ever Asian Games in 1951. Rajpath, which translated into English means the “King’s Way”, is a large boulevard that is surrounded on both sides by well-maintained lawns, rows of lush green trees and numerous small canals. The urban green space surrounding the Rajpath is frequented by both locals and visitors alike; with many of them coming to the oasis to picnic, exercise or to just engage in a little bit of good old fashion urban R&R. Though located in the center of Delhi, the expansive Rajpath and its surrounding green space look and feel like a picturesque scene that jumps right off of the canvas of an old Victorian painting.
In keeping with the theme of being an ideal place for some good old fashion urban R&R, we arrived to the India Gate grounds to find that the grounds, the Rajpath and the picturesque urban green space surrounding the Rajpath were all packed with thousands of Indian men and women. Many of them were dressed in ceremonial white robes; and they had come to the space surrounding the India Gate to participate in a gathering that was called the “Collective Rajyoga for Universal Peace”. The Collective Rajyoga for Universal Peace was a gathering of more than 50,000 devotees of Raj yoga, an ancient form of yoga that promotes personal and communal wellness through the act of yoga and meditation. The goal of the Collective Rajyoga for Universal Peace was to promote global religious tolerance and harmony through the act of group yoga and meditation. And as the Rajyoga devotees that we encountered at the India Gate grounds were engaging in their group meditation and yoga session, so too were devotees of Raj Yoga similarly engaged in sessions of solitary meditation and yoga in over 146 countries.
As we walked the grounds among the devotees, many of whom looked elderly, but most of whom were still quite spry and energetic; the slight but nevertheless persistent sweet smell of incense hung in the air. And as the Delhi sun began to climb higher and higher into the daytime sky, and as the morning mist began to dissipate; the peaceful crowd of meditating devotees, along with the subtle smell of incense together combined to create a tranquil early morning environment. Good morning New Delhi and Namaste indeed!
After leaving the India Gate we made our way by car up the exquisitely manicured Rajpath to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, India’s Presidential Palace. The Presidential Palace is a cozy little 340 room abode that is surrounded by a sprawling green campus. In addition to the Presidential Palace, the campus that houses the palace also features two Secretariat Buildings. The two Secretariat Buildings (one being called the North Block and the other being called the South Block) are where some of the most important ministries in India’s governing cabinet conduct their business. Each of the two buildings, which were both built in 1910 using a combination of redstone and sandstone, are identical in appearance. Being located on opposite sides of the Rajpath, these Secretariat Buildings mirror one and other as they flank the Presidential Palace. When visiting the governmental campus, you can walk largely unrestricted among the Secretariat Buildings. For obvious security reasons however, it is difficult to get very close to the Presidential Palace. Because of the sheer enormity of the palace however, and because views of the palace are largely unobstructed, visitors both on foot and in cars can still get fairly nice photos of the residence. An interesting little tit bit that we learned while visiting the capital’s governmental campus was that Indian Prime Minister Modi, when in residence, sleeps in a different room of the palace every night. As extravagant and excessive as this practice of musical beds might initially sound, we were told that it is observed as part of the extreme security measures taken by Prime Minister Modi’s security team to keep him safe. Ultimately, because only the Prime Minister and his closet advisors know where he will be sleeping on any given night, anyone who might attack the Presidential Palace is very unlikely to actually be able to locate and target the Prime Minister.
After leaving the Presidential Palace we next made our way to Humayun’s Tomb. Humayun’s Tomb is located in the Nizamuddin East area of New Delhi, and it is the first garden-tomb that was ever constructed on the Indian Subcontinent. Humayun’s Tomb was commissioned by Bega Begum, the first wife of the second Mughal Emperor Humayun. Humayun, a man widely revered for his peaceful disposition, even temper and penchant for fairness, was referred to by his subjects as “The Perfect Man”. This “perfect man” would ultimately serve as the Mughal Emperor two times; from 1531 to 1540 and then again from 1555 to 1556. His second tenure as Emperor of the Mughal Empire came to a premature end however when he died on the 27th of January in the year 1556. His death came after he fell down a flight of stairs in his home. He reportedly fell down these stairs after hearing the Azan, or the Muslim call to prayer. Prior to each of the five daily Muslim prayers, the Azan is sung loudly from every Muslim house of worship. This is so that all Muslims living in the area surrounding the house of worship will know that it is time for prayer. It was Humayun’s custom that whenever he heard the call to prayer, no matter where he was or what he was doing, that he would immediately drop to his knees in reverence to God. Legend has it that as Humayun was making his way down the stairs from his personal library, upon hearing the call to prayer, he immediately fell to his knees. While dropping to his knees however, Humayun reportedly lost his balance and then tumbled down his library stairs. During this fall, he struck his head. This led to a traumatic brain injury that resulted in his death 3 days later.
Some 9 years after Humayun’s death, with his first gravesite having come under threat, Bega Begum enlisted the help of a famous Persian architect (Mirak Mirza Ghiyas) to design and oversee the construction of an alternative grave site. What ultimately resulted was a grand and picturesque garden-tomb site, 30-acres in total size, that eventually would serve as the inspiration for India’s world famous Taj Mahal. Today, following extensive renovations that were carried out after Humayun’s Tomb was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, the tomb and its surrounding garden complex have come to represent the very best of restored early Mughal architecture.
The domicile that houses Humayun’s grave is the centerpiece of the immaculate garden-tomb complex. This grand marble and sandstone mausoleum not only houses the grave of Humayun, it also houses the graves of Bega Begum (Humayun’s first wife), Hamida Begam (Humayun’s second wife), as well as the grave of Dara Shikoh (Humayun’s great-great grandson and the son of the great Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan). A number of other Mughal Emperors are also interred in the complex’s main mausoleum building; while the surrounding garden-tomb complex is host to a number of Mughal monuments and smaller mausoleums that house another 150 graves of past Mughal rulers and dignitaries.
When entering the 30-acre garden-tomb complex, one immediately notices that the grounds of the complex are kept in spectacular condition. The grasses are green and evenly trimmed, and the stone walkways are clean and free of litter. Additionally, like something straight out of a Bollywood film, betrothed young Indian couples in colorful traditional dress can be seen dotting the landscape as they engage in romantic poses while taking photos for engagement and wedding announcements. As our guide was quick to share with us, Humayun’s garden-tomb complex is a favorite location for professional wedding photographers. This is in large part because of the rich and elegant canvas that the robust colors of this timeless UNESCO backdrop provide.
After watching the traditionally dressed young Indian couples strike their best Bollywood poses at the behest of their caffeine addled, infectiously energetic and nauseatingly enthusiastic photographers; we continued to walk the grounds of the garden-tomb complex for some time. While walking the grounds, we came upon what looked to be four identical appearing channels of water. Each of these channels of water, situated along walking pathways that led towards Humayun’s mausoleum building, appeared to be flowing towards the building from different directions. One channel appeared to be flowing towards the building from the east; while another appeared to be flowing towards the building from the west; still another appeared to be flowing towards the building from the north; while the final channel appeared to be flowing towards the building from the south. When viewed from an aerial perspective, it appears as though these four channels of water, channels that together are meant to resemble two perpendicular flowing rivers, are flowing up to and then below the mausoleum that houses Humayun’s grave before then coming back out on the other side. The channels were in fact designed in this manner to reflect a verse in the Quran, the Muslim holy book, that references rivers flowing beneath the gardens of heaven or paradise.
Upon nearing the grand mausoleum that houses the grave of Humayun, the similarities between this structure and the Taj Mahal become readily apparent. Both monuments were built on a grand scale using angles, shapes, pillars, spires, balconies, domes and decorative geometric etchings that are carved into the sandstone and marble facades. Together, both with the Taj Mahal and with Humayun’s mausoleum building, these features are employed in a manner that creates a perfect marriage between form and function that is frankly brilliant in its repetitive simplicity. Unlike the grounds of the Taj Mahal however, the garden-tomb complex that features Humayun’s grave is far more expansive and far less crowded. In fact, when entering the mausoleum building, the cenotaphs of those buried there can be easily viewed and even touched. There are little to no crowds that you have to compete with, and this fact adds to the overall sense of peace, beauty and stillness that encompasses the entire complexes’ grounds.
In the grand central chamber of Humayun’s mausoleum building, the cenotaph of the Mughal’s “Perfect Man” sits alone. During our visit to his mausoleum, there was in fact only one security guard overseeing Humayun’s tomb. And because crowds were sparse, even he was just quietly seated in a corner, largely preoccupied with his cellphone. In smaller rooms adjacent to the centrally located room that houses Humayun’s cenotaph, the cenotaphs of Bega Begum, Hamida Begum and Dara Shikoh can all also be found and easily accessed. After spending time commiserating with Humayun and with the many others who are also laid to rest on the grounds of Humayun’s garden tomb complex, we next made our way by car to a location that boasts what some might refer to as India’s “Perfect Little Flower”; the visually stunning Lotus Temple.
Delhi’s Lotus Temple, a Baha’i house of worship, is likely one of modern day Delhi’s most recognizable structures. Despite being a relatively new addition to the Delhi tourist scene, the Lotus Temple, which was built in 1986, recently overtook the Taj Mahal as India’s most frequently visited tourist attraction. Last year in fact the Lotus Temple saw 4.5 million visitors, and judging from the busy parking lot that we encountered after arriving at the temple’s gates, we can certainly believe that figure!!!
The Baha’i faith was founded in ancient Persia (now modern day Iran) in the 19th century by a man named Bahá’u’lláh. Bahaism is a monotheistic faith that is built upon three core principals. The principal of “Unity of God”; the principal of “Unity of Religion”; and the principal of “Unity of Mankind”. The principal of “Unity of God” very simply states that there is only one God, and that this God, who may be called many different names by many different people, is still the one and only creator of everything. The principal of “Unity of Religion” simply states that all of the world’s religions come from the same spiritual source. As such, they all share a common thread. While the principal of “Unity of Humanity” states that all human beings have been created by the one and only God, and that they have all been created to be equal.
The appearance of the Baha’i Lotus Temple, so called because of the sanctuary’s lotus flower shape, is somewhat reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House. Before visitors to the temple can view it however, they must first pass through a security checkpoint at the entrance to the temple grounds. From this checkpoint, visitors are then required to walk along a somewhat narrow, but paved pathway. This pathway then leads to a second, much larger and perpendicularly aligned pathway. And it is where these two pathways meet that visitors to the temple grounds are first afforded an unobstructed view of the Lotus Temple.
The Lotus Temple is composed of multiple free standing marble “flower pedals”. These pedals are arranged together into groups that, when combined, give the overall structure an appearance that looks like the head of a lotus flower. While visually stunning by day, word is that the Lotus Temple, with its strategically placed perimeter lighting, is an absolutely immaculate sight to behold by night. The popularity of the Lotus Temple was obvious to us from the moment that we arrived. Not only did we encounter large crowds of people there, but we encountered people of all colors and faiths. In the 30 or so minutes that we spent on the temple grounds, we heard people speaking English, French, Italian, Farsi, German and multiple Indian dialects. And while the temple grounds were in deed fairly crowded, they were surprisingly also very peaceful and very picturesque.
The temple’s chapel is open to anyone who wishes to visit, and fortunately, we were able to spend a few minutes there before leaving the grounds. Lines to enter the chapel were relatively short, and after receiving a brief introduction to Bahaism and to the principles that govern the faith, we were allowed to enter the chapel in groups of 12. Anyone wishing to enter the chapel was required to remove their shoes, but thankfully, there was an efficiently managed shoe check area that was stationed along the path that leads to the chapel. Attendants at the shoe check area collect and care for visitor’s footwear free of charge. Once inside of the chapel, visitors, regardless of their personal faith, are welcomed to silently pray or simply to quietly meditate. Unfortunately, visitors to the chapel are not allowed to take pictures within the actual sanctuary. But in reality, while the exterior of the temple is stunning, the interior is actually pretty plain and ordinary appearing. After a few moments spent in the sanctuary silently reflecting, we made our way back out of the building and to our waiting car. From there, we left one of Delhi’s newest attractions and made our way to one of Delhi’s oldest attractions; the UNESCO World Heritage site known as the Qutab Minar and the Qutab complex.
Qutab Minar/Qutab Complex
The Qutab Minar is the center piece structure of the Qutab complex, a collection of medieval buildings and monuments located in New Delhi’s Mehrauli neighborhood. The construction of the Qutab Minar was commissioned in the year 1199 by Qutbu-Din-Aibak, the founder of the Delhi Sultanate. The Delhi Sultanate was a Muslim kingdom based out of medieval Delhi; and the Delhi Sultanate ruled over large swaths of the Indian subcontinent including Delhi from as early as 1192. The sultanate’s rule continued for over 300 years until the year 1526. Sultanate founder Qutbu-Din-Aibak commissioned the construction of the Qutab Minar. The Qutab Minar was built to celebrate the Sultanate’s defeat of Delhi’s last Hindu ruler. A defeat that ushered in a new era of Islamic rule in Delhi. Today, the celebrated Qutab Minar is the world’s tallest stone minaret, standing at an impressive 240 feet (74 meter) tall. A minaret is a structure built next to a masjid, or a Muslim house of worship. It is from a masjid’s minaret that the Muslim call to prayer is announced 5 times a day prior to the beginning of Muslim prayer services. The Muslim call to prayer serves to notify all Muslims in the vicinity of a Muslim house of worship, much like church bells do for Christians, that the time for prayer at that house of worship is near. The worshippers can then make their way to the house of worship where they may participate in the prayer service.
The Qutab Minar, which was built using red sandstone and marble, stands next to the Quwwatul Masjid. The visually stunning Qutab Minar is a tapered tower of increasingly smaller diameter. It is composed of 5 separate sections. Each successive section is narrower than the last section, and each section is separated from the preceding and proceeding sections by ornate balconies that exhibit a unique reticulated honeycombing architecture.
While the Qutab Minar is certainly the centerpiece of the Qutab complex, the complex itself does also boast a wide variety of archeologically significant monuments and ruins. Many of these monuments and ruins in fact were built many hundreds of years before the complex came under the control of the Delhi Sultanate. In simple terms, this means that many of them are really really old. Today, forty such monuments and ruins have been restored by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage. While visiting the complex, it does indeed seem in fact that at every turn, there is something remarkably old yet remarkably well restored to see and appreciate. And walking the grounds of the Qutab complex felt very much like walking the grounds of an ancient Greek ruin, with stone pillars, columns and partially standing building facades projecting mightily up towards the sky.
Unfortunately, the day of our visit to the Qutab complex did not coincide with the annual Qutab Festival, a 3-day event that is held at the end of November and into the beginning of December every year. The annual art festival features the work of dancers, musicians and visual artists of various types. The day of our visit to the Qutab complex did however find the site to be quite busy. In addition to the usual throng of khaki shorts wearing, Canon camera toting tourists that can be found normally meandering around the complex (typically 3 million or more people visit the complex annually), we arrived to the Qutab complex to also find tons and tons of school children. They were all dressed in their school uniforms, running about the complex while playfully enjoying themselves. Full of youthful energy and exuberance, the children’s laughter and full throated shrieks permeated the air surrounding the ancient ruins. And as we walked the grounds of the complex, mingling with many things old and many things young, it was then that we first truly appreciated the absolutely wonderful dichotomy that is India. India, a country with a rich and storied history that is to be celebrated. India, a country with a bright and limitless future that is to be anticipated and championed.
As the sun slowly began to retreat from its zenith in the day time Delhi sky, and as day slowly began to cede its dominion to night; we both knew that there was an Air India A320 at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport just waiting for us. Ready to take us back to Mumbai before we then begin our return journey home. We’ve said it before and we will say it again. We are Travel Bloggers who love to travel. We are Travel Bloggers who also live to travel! We love to travel and live to travel so much in fact that we MAKE the time to travel. Not because it is our job, but rather because it is our passion. But as full-time Physicians, and as Husbands and Fathers with bills to pay, children to raise and patients to care for; we travel and we blog much like we live. Going full throttle at every turn. We hit our destinations fast, we hit em’ hard and we squeeze the most out of every single minute on the road. And while living and traveling like this gives us so much more than it could ever take away from us, it does still take a little something out us at times. And so we figured what better way to replace some of what our fast and furious 5 days in India had taken out of us than to make a quick visit to an Ayurvedic medical spa before then dashing off to the airport?
The discipline of Ayurvedic medicine is focused more on the prevention of disease rather than the treatment of disease. Ayurvedic medicine is a holistic approach to health and wellness that is centered around the belief that disease results, when there is an imbalance between a person’s mind, their body, their spirit and the universe at large. Ayurvedic theory therefore advances that the prevention of disease is accomplished through promoting activities that create the necessary balance between the mind, the body, the spirit and the universe. A balance that ultimately results in good physical and mental health. Ayurveda however is an ancient health and wellness tradition, and it has been practiced in India for well over 5000 years. During this time, Ayurveda’s uses and applications have evolved. Part of this evolution involves not only the prevention of disease, but also the treatment of disease. Thusly in India today, many practioners of conventional Western medicine include aspects of Ayurveda into their daily treatment of patients.
The word Ayurveda is derived from the Sanskrit words “ayur” which means “life” and “veda” which means “knowledge”. Ayurvedic principles hold that every person is made up of five basic elements. These elements are space, air, fire, water and earth. Together, these five elements combine to form what are called our “doshas”, or our life forces. Ayurvedic principles maintain that each person’s doshas are individual and unique, and that it is by keeping the five elements that combine to create our doshas in balance with one and other, and in harmony with the universe, that we ultimately attain optimal health and wellness. In search of a better understanding of Ayurvedic principles, we excitedly made a quick stop at New Delhi’s Kairali Ayurvedic Treatment Center.
Kairali Ayurvedic Treatment Center
The Kairali Ayurvedic Treatment Center is located in New Delhi’s Chhatarpur Village neighborhood. Reaching the treatment center is a bit of an interesting journey, as it requires you to do a little 21st century urban off-roading. With the Kairali Ayurvedic Treatment Center not being located along a heavily traveled main thoroughfare, access to the facility can only be gained by travelling through a maze of unpaved dirt roads and back alleyways. While the remoteness of the location certainly lends an air of exclusivity, we as first time visitors to the center also found the remoteness, and the rough ride required to reach the center to be slightly off-putting. That being said, once we arrived at the treatment center, any reservations that we may have had as we negotiated the backstreets and alleyways leading to the center were quickly dispelled.
After passing through the bamboo gate that leads up the center’s driveway and to the main entrance, we entered the building to find the reception area surprisingly uncrowded. Able to walk right up to the reception desk without waiting, and with the staff expecting us, we were immediately greeted and checked in. After completing our check-in, we were then taken down a small flight of red stone stairs that then led us to a red brick lined hallway. This hallway then opened to a small receiving area where two slightly portly mustachioed Indian men were waiting for us. These two gentleman, after warmly greeting us, then directed us to a small locker room where we were then asked to completely undress. After undressing we were then given traditional Indian waist frocks to wear. We were encouraged to wear these waist frocks commando style. We were also given a pair of slippers to wear. Once changed, we were each then led to separate treatment rooms. In my room, I was due to receive a traditional “Abhyangam” treatment, while in Idries’ room he was due to receive a traditional “Dhanyamla Dhara” treatment.
Now, I’m a massage kind of guy. This is no doubt something that you can tell just by looking at the excited expression on my face right before I was to receive my treatment. The word “Abhyangam” in Sanskrit literally means “to apply oil all over the body”; and after having learned more about the Abhyangam treatment from the Ayurvedic practioner whose care I would be under for the next hour, well let’s just say that I was ready to feel like one oiled up slick and slippery Maharaja!!! Prior to my treatment, I was told by my therapist that there are many forms of Abhyangam therapy that are commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine. The first form that he told me about involves a person applying certain specifically prescribed oils to their own body, and then using these oils to carry out a targeted self-massage. This form of Abhyangam treatment I was told however is used more for the promotion of good health and for disease prevention, and less for the treatment of specific diseases. A second form of Abhyangam therapy though is used more for therapeutic purposes, and it involves a properly trained Ayurvedic medical practioner applying specific oils to all, or to portions of an affected person’s body. The practioner then performs either a targeted massage or a generalized massage, using various techniques that are chosen by the practioner based upon the aliment or ailments that they are attempting to treat.
This form of therapeutic Abhyangam manipulation starts with a head massage while the patient is in a seated position. Oftentimes, different therapeutic oils are applied to different parts of the body during a treatment, and so the oil that is applied to the head at the beginning of the massage is frequently different from the oil(s) that will be applied to other parts of the body. While the patient is still in the seated position, once the head has been massaged, the upper back, then followed by portions of the lower back are massaged. Once most of the back has been completely massaged, the patient is then asked to lie back down/face up on a traditional wooden table that is called a Droni. Droni tables are frequently made with wood from the Neem tree.
Neem trees are frequently also referred to as Indian Lilacs, and they belong in the Mahogany family of trees. Neem trees are native to India and to other parts of the Indian Subcontinent (i.e. Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka). They typically grow in both tropical and subtropical areas. Multiple chemicals produced by the Neem tree, including Azadirachtin A and Salannin, have been found to have antimicrobial properties that promote the destruction of certain bacteria and fungi. Therefore, the use of Droni tables made from the antimicrobial Neem wood is viewed by many as being an integral part of the Ayurvedic therapy that is being given during an Ayurvedic massage.
After the patient’s head and back has been treated with therapeutic oil and massaged, and after they’ve laid down on the Droni table in the back down/face up position, the patient’s hands, arms and shoulders are next massaged. During the shoulder massage, great care is taken to ensure that the shoulder joints are rotated both clockwise and counterclockwise. After the shoulders, arms and hands have been massaged, the patient’s navel is then filled with therapeutic oil. The oil is then allowed to spread across the patient’s entire abdomen before the abdomen is then massaged in a circular clockwise and counterclockwise manner.
During Abhyangam massage, four classic massage strokes may be used. Ultimately, the strokes used by the therapist are largely dictated by the condition(s) that the massage is meant to treat. The amount of oil applied to each area of the body that is massaged is largely a function of how quickly the oil applied to the skin is then absorbed by the skin. The Ayurvedic therapist conducting a massage will typically continue to apply oil to each part of the body being massaged until the skin on that part of the body no longer absorbs the oil. When the skin no longer absorbs the oil that is being applied, this is considered to be an indication that that area of the body has been adequately treated with the therapeutic oil and thusly requires no more of it. Typically, because the Abhyangam massage occurs on the Neem Droni table, most patients find lying stomach and face down on the hard table to be too uncomfortable, and so the portion of the massage conducted while a patient is lying down is frequently only done with the patient lying on his or her back.
Dhanyamla Dhara, the Ayurvedic therapeutic massage that Idries was to receive, is a unique form of Ayurvedic massage that involves the patient again lying down flat on their backs on a Neem Droni table. Prior to initiating the treatment, the patient’s body is covered with a thin cotton gauze cloth. A large vessel filled with an herbal oil mixture that is prepared using grains and heated liquids obtained from citrus fruit trees is then hung above the patient. This vessel is then slowly tipped, and the heated liquid contents contained within the vessel are then allowed to slowly cover the patient’s body. While this herbal grain and citrus oil mixture is being slowly poured over the patient’s body, the Ayurvedic therapist caring for the patient performs a therapeutic massage. During the massage, care is taken to ensure that the cotton gauze covering the patient’s body is not displaced. This is because the primary purpose of this gauze is to help the patient’s body to retain the heat that is being applied to it by the warmed therapeutic oils.
After undressing and donning our traditional Indian waist frocks, we were each then led to our individual treatment rooms. The treatment rooms, which featured red brick walls, simple brown stone floors and a Droni table, were fairly small and simple. They were at the same time still very inviting and comfortable. When I was led to my room by my therapist, I arrived to find 3 more male staff members in the treatment room waiting for me. After entering the room, each of these men acknowledged my arrival in a very traditional India manner, by placing their hands together in front of their faces and then slightly bowing their heads. The therapist who had led me into the room then slightly raised his hand in the direction of the Droni table, nodded his head as if to say “please get onto the table” and then asked me to remove my robe. Now mind you, I was as naked as a Jay Bird underneath the traditional waist frock that until that time had been providing me with some coverage from the waist down, and so I initially felt a little bit uncomfortable with the thought of completely undressing in front of the four fully clothed men standing in the room around me. But then I figured hey, when travelling you have to be up for just about anything, and surely I wouldn’t be showing these guys anything that they hadn’t seen before anyway, right? And so without so much as a second thought, I let my robe drop to the floor like a Boss.
After removing my robe, I found myself standing in front of the Droni table butt naked, with the exception of course of the slippers that were still covering my feet. “What’s next” I thought as I stood there with four fully clothed men staring at me. Well, what was next was that the therapist who had moments earlier instructed me to remove my waist frock slowly approached towards me. And then, while standing directly in front of me he unfurled a small white triangle shaped cloth that he had previously had folded in his pocket. The cloth that he removed had three strings attached to it at each of its three corners. After unfurling it, he then moved to my side, knelled down slightly and with one of his hands pressed firmly against my backside, and with the other hand floating freely just in front of little friend; he quickly placed the fabric, which was going to function basically as a loin cloth, around my waist. Once he tied two of the cloth’s three strings around my waist, much like a belt, the triangular portion of the cloth was then left to dangle in such a way that it covered my little friend, while still leaving my saggy middle aged bottom out and on full display. Before I could register any disapproval however, the lead therapist then quickly took the third and final dangling string, brought it up between my legs and then tied it to the other two strings that had already been tied around my waist. This action though, while carried out quickly, basically did nothing to cover my saggy middle aged butt. Instead, it just created a G-string that gave me the mother of all wedgies. Nevertheless, with my honor at least partially restored, the therapist then instructed me to sit down on the Droni with my feet dangling off of the side of the table.
After being seated on the Droni table, the lead therapist stood behind me and poured hot citrus oil all over my head. He then commenced to start massaging my head like a man on a mission. For a moment I wanted to turn around to see if he had morphed into some mythological Indian Deity with multiple arms and hands, because it sure felt like his hands and fingers were massaging every single inch of my head. How could one man who led me to believe that he was only in possession of two hands and 10 fingers be doing that I wondered? He then moved down to my neck and shoulders, again pouring hot oil across my neck and shoulders before massaging them. At this point, I had completely forgotten about the fact that I was sitting on a Droni table, wearing what amounted to a G-string loin cloth, in the middle of a room surrounded by four clothed men. In fact, I was so under the spell of the Ayurvedic therapist with six arms, six hands and 30 fingers, that those 4 guys could have had me sitting on that Droni table wearing a miniskirt and 10 inch stilettos, and I still wouldn’t have cared.
After the massage of my neck and shoulders had been completed, I was next instructed to lie down on my back. After doing so, the lead therapist moved to my right while a second therapist moved to my left. The third and fourth gentleman then moved to the foot of the Droni table. The two at the foot of the table then started a small fire, and they used this fire to heat multiple brass containers that contained a number of different therapeutic oils or water. One of the men at the foot of the Droni then began to pour warm oil over my chest and stomach, while the two therapists at my sides began in unison, to massage the areas where the oil had been spilled. While massaging, they used multiple different hand motions. These motions included both gentle and deep circular massage, along with an occasional kneading action. When the oil being continuously poured over the part of the body being massaged saturated my skin, one of the men at the foot of the bed would then pour warm water over the oil saturated skin to gently wash that oil away. This routine of pouring oil over an area while simultaneously massaging that area, and then washing the oil away from that area after the skin had become saturated with it was continued. It was continued until the entire front of my body had been massaged from head to toe. At times during the massage, given that I was wearing nothing more than what amounted to a G-string loin cloth, the hands of the therapists would sometimes get uncomfortably close to some unmentionable areas, but ever mindful, the therapists never did anything that even made me feel even remotely uncomfortable.
The best part of the Ayurvedic therapeutic massage had to have been when the masters of therapeutic muscle manipulation massaged my sore and aching feet in tandem. I hadn’t even realized up until those maestros of muscle manipulation massaged my feet, that all of that walking around Mumbai, Agra, Old Delhi and New Delhi had made them as sore as I quickly found out that they were once massaged. All too quickly however, the therapeutic massage was done. At the conclusion of the massage, the lead therapist again motioned for me to come off of the table and to stand on a stool that he had been placed next to the table. He then removed my loin cloth and returned my traditional waist robe and slippers back to me. He next led me to a small room adjacent to the therapy room. This room, also lined with red bricks, contained an old fashion wooden steam box. The therapist then opened the steam box doors and motioned for me to approach the box. After I approached the box, he placed his hands around my waist once more, removed my robe again, and then motioned for me to enter the steam box. After I entered the steam box, I sat down and the therapist then closed the box’s doors. When the box’s doors had been closed, all that was left was a small hole through which my head and neck could escape. The therapist then turned a knob on a cylindrical tin container that was located next to and attached to the steam box, and the box quickly began to fill with warm steam. As the box filled with this warm steam, not surprisingly, the inside of it became warmer and warmer. And as the inside of the box became warmer and warmer, so too did I. In no time in fact, I found that I had broken into what surprisingly felt like a really relaxing and cleansing sweat. Enjoying the steam, I ultimately stayed in the box for about 10 minutes before the therapist then discontinued the steam supply. After discontinuing the steam supply, he then opened the doors of the box and motioned for me to stand up and exit the box. I did as he requested, and as I stood there again naked, I waited for him to hand me my traditional waist robe. But much to my surprise, no robe was forth coming. Instead, while still standing there completely naked, he next led me to an adjoining bathroom.
After entering the bathroom, the therapist, still right there by my side like my new Indian shadow, opened up a jar of a medicated cleansing soap. Much to my surprise, he then commenced to rubbing this medicated cleansing soap all over my body. “Whaaattt” I thought, “is he really going to bathe me now”??? I know that I said that I wanted the Maharaja treatment, but as he began to apply soap to my body, I found myself having second thoughts about whether or not I really wanted the royal treatment. Well folks let me tell, he really was going to bathe me. In fact, not only did Mr. Ayurvedic Therapist Man bathe me, he actually put the medicated cleansing soap all over my body. And when I say that he put that medicated cleansing soap all over my body people, I mean that he put that medicated cleansing soap all over my body. He was in fact very through in his application, seeming to go that extra mile in ensuring that he scrubbed every inch, crack, crevice and appendage. With my entire body then covered in the medicated cleansing soap, he finally left the bathroom and allowed me to rinse myself off by myself. He did however stay around long enough to temperature test my water for me before leaving me in peace. After he left, and as I rinsed myself down, I found myself reflecting on how “different” some aspects of the entire Ayurvedic massage experience were for me as a semi-puritanical westerner. But the entire treatment was, from start to finish, a genuine Indian therapeutic Ayurvedic session. And we both left the spa feeling like real life black Maharajas.
Ayurvedic medical massages done, and 2 newly minted black maharajas pleased as punch, we made our way out of the Kairali Ayurvedic Center and back one final time to our waiting off white early model Toyota Corolla. As our driver navigated through the streets of India’s capital city en route to Indira Gandhi International Airport, we reflected on our fun, fabulous and fantastically fulfilling five days in incredible India. After arriving at the airport and checking in for our Air India flight back to Mumbai, we found that we had a few hours left to spare. Needing to charge our electronic devices, to fill our tummies and to park our uber-relaxed hindquarters for a bit, we made our way to the Air India lounge. And there we stayed, even finding a few moments to catch quick naps before we were finally called to board Air India flight 810 for an on-time 6:00PM departure back to Mumbai.
After a quick 1 hour and 57-minute flight aboard a quarter full Air India Airbus A321, we landed at a moonlit Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. After deplaning, which didn’t take long given the light passenger load, we each rechecked for our respective onward flights back home. Again Idries was travelling via Newark on United Airlines and I was travelling via London on British Airways. With the United flight to Newark leaving just after midnight and the British Airways flight to London leaving just after 2AM, we both had a few more hours to kill in Mumbai before boarding our respective flights. The time passed quickly however, aided in large part by some overpriced airport shopping. And before we each knew it, we had each boarded our flights and were off, again roaring back into the moonlit Mumbai sky. India was awesome guy!!! So thanks for taking this journey with us. And remember, always keep your bags packed, your passport in hand and your sense of adventure alive. Live for a living, don’t work for a living. Until next time friends, Alvida (Hindi for “we shall meet again”)!!!