Everybody knows that spas originated in the cradle of civilization, that is, Rome. The Romans fought so many battles it was felt that the war weary soldiers needed something to rejuvenate them in double quick time so that they could return to yet another battle soon. And, so, they came up with spas. Spa is a Latin acronym for ‘sanus per aquam’ (health through water). Huge baths were built for the purpose. The routine went like this: begin with some heavy wrestling and boxing in a courtyard or in a palaestra (gym), then go into a tepidarium (warm room), where expert masseurs rubbed away the sweat and grit with a stimulating massage using different kinds of aromatic oils. Next, step into a heated pool, and having soaked away to glory, it’s into the steam room for some time. Finish up the routine by jumping into a plunge pool in the frigidarium (cold room). And, voila, you’re ready to fight again!
While that was what a spa experience meant in those days, it’s different today, even though the basic premise is the same. Step into any spa in Kathmandu and the most striking part will probably be the Jacuzzi, which is a bath with swirling water. However, that’s just a small part of the whole; it’s the massage that’s most important in any spa experience in Kathmandu today. There are quite a number of different types of massages, all of them with exotic names and mostly of Eastern origin. A massage means that you got to lie down on bed, and so, you’ll find all kinds of beds at spa parlors here. Although most such beds are quite simple in structure, one that stands out is a mahogany colored really exotic-looking one in a small room in the Midas Day Spa Salon in Durbar Marg.
But, no matter how great the bed is, what matters most is the quality of the massage you get while lying on it. Besides the technique, it is also the kind of oil used that can make a massage into a heavenly experience. At Spa Prana, also in Durbar Marg, they claim to use 30 different kinds of oils for their massages. Aside from the kind of massage being given, clients’ preferences are also a deciding factor on the choice of oils used. Most masseurs in such high-end spas are naturally highly skilled individuals, having a great deal of knowledge about things like herbs and aromas, as well as the effect of different oils on the body, more so, on the skin.
While coaxing muscles into a relaxed state through expert kneading is the goal of all massages, a glowing skin is also an important end result. In other words, ‘body polishing’, also known as body scrubbing. This is especially all the more important when there are no facilities for working up a sweat beforehand, as the Romans used to do. At the same time, many of the spas in high-end hotels (most of them have a spa) have sweat-inducing facilities like gyms and tennis courts. But, even if day spas may lack this, they more than make up by providing services bordering on the royal.
Since the environment is of utmost importance to endow clients with a sense of tranquility so that they begin to relax immediately on entering a spa, you can expect the interiors to be soothing, elegant, and very tasteful. Be it Hyatt Regency’s Club Oasis or Gokarna Resort’s Harmony Spa or Midas Day Spa or Spa Prana or Sparsh Spa or Healing Hands; and Chaityana or Tranquility Spa at Hotel Shanker, the ambience is pleasant and relaxing. A soothing décor, dim lighting, stylish furniture, high quality equipment: these are all a given when talking about spas in Kathmandu. But, all these would come to naught if the personal touch were missing. So, what you have are smartly dressed staff with impeccable manners. A body scrub may be the beginning of a spa experience, but even before that, it’s the welcoming smile and the courteous behavior of the staff that makes you feel really good about yourself.
You’ll get this kind of welcome at all spas, and Tranquility Spa is no exception, in fact, it has a spa training center in Lazimpat, so its staff at its various branches around the city are top-of-the-line regarding this. And, while facilities might vary among different spas, you can expect most spas to provide, at the least, indigenous treatment methods for an all-round wellbeing experience. This means using locally available herbal ingredients and traditional ayurvedic massages. Anyway, whatever may be the ingredients or the method, a typical spa package could include a body scrub (body polish), a bath, a body wrap, a massage (the focal point of the whole experience), and a facial, manicure, and pedicure. All in all, the aim of all spa packages is a truly holistic experience that will leave a person relaxed, refreshed, and rejuvenated both in body and mind.
To go into this in a bit more detail, a body scrub’s goal is to make your skin smooth and soft through use of an exfoliant (an abrasive material like salt, rice bran, coffee grounds); oil (some oils like sweet almond oil and macadamia oil can be pretty expensive); and fragrance, emanating from essential oils such as spearmint and rosemary. A shower, later, is followed by application of a body lotion. Next comes the body wrap, in which your body is covered with mud or algae or seaweed, and then a thermal blanket is wrapped around you. This is a detoxifying treatment, the aim of which is to stimulate your metabolic system. If cream or lotion is used instead, then it’s called hydrating. Some herbs, yogurt, honey, etc. may also be used.
The bath is also special, in that it could be an aromatic, herbal, floral, or a milk bath. Apparently, the last one is the most popular. A few teaspoons of honey may also be added to the bath. Depending on the kind of essential oil used, an aromatherapy bath can be muscle-relaxing, hydrating, detoxifying, or even aphrodisiacal. Five drops each of sandalwood, lavender, and rose essential oils in the bath is supposed to raise your libido. Sometimes, ginger and clove are used in aphrodisiacal baths, as they raise body temperature.
The massage can last from 30 to 90 minutes, and can include techniques like gliding, kneading, and cross-fiber friction strokes. Massage oils are an integral part of the process, which increases circulation and releases tension. Massages can be of many different kinds, viz. deep tissue massage, hot stone massage, aromatherapy, lymphatic drainage, myo-facial release, cranio-sacral therapy, trigger point therapy, neuromuscular therapy, and so on. Ayurvedic massage, Thai massage, Swedish massage, reflexology, Shiatsu, Watsu, Rolfing…the list goes on. Because of the therapeutic factor central to all massages, the practitioners are referred to as therapists instead of merely masseurs.
All spas offer facial, manicure, and pedicure facilities, the culmination of the spa experience. Facials consist of different treatments: steam, exfoliation, extraction, masks, peels, and massage, in that order. A facial massage, using toners and protective creams, stimulates the facial muscles. Facial masks have vitamins, minerals, and fruit extracts, and they can be deep cleansing to get rid of acne scars and other blemishes or for enhancing skin tone. ‘Age defense’ facial’, ‘oxygen facial’, ‘photo facial’, and ‘collagen facial’ are some special types of facials that spas also provide.
A spa experience is something that will make you feel on top of the world. You’ll come out of it with a feeling if deep relaxation and wellbeing. So, the next time you are in Kathmandu, make sure you visit one of the many beautiful spa parlors around town and in the better hotels, because it’s going to add another memorable page to your Nepal adventure.