BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (MainStreet) -- Once upon a time in travel, a great spa required little more than a few treatment rooms and moody music to lure those in search of rejuvenation. These days, however, a new brand of uber-spas define the ultimate holistic getaway for those that spare no expense when it comes to traveling to the remote edges of Earth seeking enlightenment with a good dose of glitz.
For those in search of a "save my soul" ashram experience without having to sleep in linens of less than 1,000 thread count, India's luxurious
in Bangalore admits 25 guests at a time to explore the spiritual dimensions of yoga, sacred Indian texts and meditation. Visitors arrive in a tropical resort setting of Asian architecture surrounding a main guest compound with a pool and outdoor pavilion. Wide lawns become the setting for late-night bonfires, and there is a selection of poolside tented cottages (minimally decorated with few lux distractions for soul searchers). There is exclusively vegetarian cuisine formulated individually for each guest.
The Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, on an island in the middle of Lake Pichola amid a backdrop of the Aravalli Mountains, has 66 rooms ready for the luxury traveler.
Most guests come from the U.S. and U.K. seeking enlightenment through a series of sunrise and sunset instructions interspersed with guided and lengthy meditations from lifetime practitioners. Its spa offers natural scrubs using flowers and herbs grown on the compound in addition to the not-so-spiritual pedicure or manicure for those who like to keep up their "outer shell."
Shreyas Retreat also offers a unique volunteerism component in which guests spend days working on an organic farm, helping cook and serve students at a village school or playing with visually impaired children at a local orphanage.
Those looking for even more luxury find no chicer spa getaway than
near Haridwar and Rishikesh in India's Himalayan foothills. U.S. visitors travel via Delhi to Dehradun and discover what was once the home of the maharajah of Tehri-Garhwal captured in one of the most romantic and inspiring setting sin the world. The reception is arranged with neoclassical antiques and oil paintings befitting the many foreign dignitaries hosted at the viceroy's palace during the time of the maharajah. Meals are taken in a grand dining room where personal nutritionists meld Indian, Asian and Western recipes with seasonal organic produce for a completely vegetarian menu.
Hardly monk quarters, accommodations at Ananda maintain a subdued elegance. There are 70 deluxe rooms offering views of the valley floor or historic palace complex from large, furnished balconies. Five more-upscale suites include a two-bedroom villa with dining room staffed with optional butler and chef as well as a private swimming pool and outdoor lounge that have never made soul searching more chic. Days are spent as a studious swami in the making with twice-daily sessions studying under senior disciples of an internationally acclaimed exponent of Vedanta as well as optional twice-daily yoga and even golf rounds followed by daylong safari visits to the Rajaji National Park (home to students' possible next incarnations, including tigers and leopards).
Those that like a bit more style in their spa escape find purity in India's Kerala at
, a boutique brand of ingenious spa-minded escapes on Vembanad Lake. Designed by German hotelier Joerg Drechsel, it mixes bohemian European styling with indigenous woodwork and native art for a stylish sanctuary that provides visual stimulation for those on their spiritual progression. The grand estate is home to just six rooms that mix pristine white plaster walls and spare decor with ornamental architectural details. A well-staffed spa offers Ayurveda spa treatments before and after in-depth yoga and meditation led by some of the area's top master teachers.
But perhaps the most visually dramatic spa hotel -- with a hedonist spirit obvious even before check-in -- is the
in Udaipur, on an island in the middle of Lake Pichola amid a backdrop of the Aravalli Mountains. Once the palace of Maharana Jagat Singh II, it was ultimately turned into a hotel by Maharana Bhagwat Singhji in 1963. A total of just 66 rooms and 17 suites prove why Taj is one of the fastest growing names in the luxury hotel market with grand spaces that please Western and Eastern design senses with architectural accents such as perfectly preserved original frescoes and decorative wood reliefs.
Taj's signature spa brand, Jiva Spa, finds its most opulent home on the Taj Lake Palace rooftop. Its treatments are rooted in Indian tradition, including the Mewar Khas, which re-creates a royal wedding day ritual in a one-day spa treatment. Spa facilities include an outdoor pool area as well as a series of marble soaking baths, steam showers and hot and cold whirlpools overlooking the lake. Those looking for even more exclusivity can book the Jiva Spa Boat, a working spa inside a former ceremonial barge that has its own spa suite with outdoor treatment rooms and deck with whirlpool. On it you feel like a modern-day maharajah.
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Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com, a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in InStyle, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine and on ITV and the BBC.