oooooh! for a good treatment......

Thursday, 10 August 2017


Ive seen Aashyana Lakhanpal grow from its inception to this beautiful sprawling property that is cared for, yet looks uncared for. That is the unique magic of this place. Owner Ajai Lakhanpal has been a dear friend over the years and has often invited me to enjoy his home -turned -resort on one of Goa's most popular beaches, Candolim. He is a man of good taste and little fuss. He wisely decided that instead of having a manicured garden he would allow the garden to be natural and grow organically. The concept has worked incredibly well and hidden amongst the grounds are his commitments to the environment in the form of rainwater harvesting, composting, organic garden etc.

Firstly, the entrance to the property is archaically narrow, and requires us to switch over to smaller cars at a certain point, in order navigate through the lanes. After a short drive the majestic gate suddenly appears and as we drive in to the property, we are greeted with tall coconut palms and a beautiful entrance hall with a grand spiral staircase.

I am here this time, to shoot my second Indian healthy cookbook with my co author Nandini Gulati, our stylist Vidhi Jain and two photographers. Our book is whole plant based and uses no oil, sugar, gluten or animal products!

We arrived in Goa with bags and bags of styling crockery and food ingredients which we knew we would not find easily if Goa.

We were here to cook, style and shoot 118 recipes in 10 days. It was going to be intense work and I was sure I would need some good relaxing spa treatments!

Ajai very kindly opened up his property for us to capture some of the magic of his gardens and incorporate it into our book. And so it was. Every leaf, every corner, every wall, provided us with unique surfaces to place our dishes on.

We would start early in the morning to capture the light.

But wait!

My morning doesn't start until Ive done my practice! The beach was only a stones throw away.

A good morning walk allowing the wet sand to massage the soles of my feet is a great therapy.

I believe its now also been given the name "earthing" and often included as a spa therapy!! It certainly helps to ground me and absorb the energy of the earth! We had spectacular sunrises as it was the monsoon season . I dragged Nandini out to do some Yoga and meditation on the beach.

Our cottages were set amidst a lot of greenery and the birds made sure they woke us up in the morning. I also noticed a new resident here- the peacock. But was not able to capture him in my camera. These cottages have been gradually added to the property and they are soooooo close to the beach that you can hear the ocean as you sleep.

After a hearty and healthy breakfast of fruit, smoothies, brown rice poha and badam milk we set to work.

We scouted the property for interesting spaces to photograph our dishes on. So while I paid attention to producing the dishes,Vidhi and the photographers went hunting for surfaces. We did so want to capture the cottages and villas of the property but with food shots we needed to have close ups. Nevertheless, what we found was amazing.

Sometimes some moss..........

Sometimes a Buddha Statue

sometimes on the rooftop

and sometimes in the pond!

Day after day we worked non stop for 12 hours a day taking breaks to review the work. Sitting out in the verandah of our cottages till dusk dawned and the mosquitoes decided to descend upon us. The cottages inside were very comfortable, fully air conditioned and a great tea making service!

We even went to Mapusa vegetable market to get fresh veggies for the book. (Yes, it was avocado season!!)

And got to taste our own haul from Mapusa!

 But most of all, I would be on my feet all day. My tired soles were aching. I tried to relax in the picturesque pool.

Nothing worked. My feet needed a workout.

I finally decided that the only remedy would be to take a walk down to the spa.

Shobha and Biju are a husband wife couple that take care of the spa at Aashyana. The spa, if I remeber right, was once an exclusive Ayurvedic spa but has now been converted to a general spa with both Ayurvedic and Western therapies.  The couple are from Kerala and are able to handle both forms of therapies. I opted to have a deep tissue on the first day for my aching body (after so much hard work!!)

It was Shobha who took care of me, gently digging into my muscles and soles. 
The spa was very simple and basic. No frills and no fuss (just like the owner likes it). It has a feel of au naturalle about it. I asked for a deep tissue massage and she did a good job using her lower arm and elbow to dig deep into my back and soles as required. They use mainly Ayurvedic oils at the spa and dont give you much information unless you ask. I think what she used on me had a sesame base.

After a weeks gap I chose to have the Ayurvedic rejuvenation therapy as well, on the wooden massage table.
I dont know about you but I always have a fear that Ill slip down from the table!! I usually hold on tight when I need to turn over. The two hands Abhyanga treatment was given using a Tridoshic oil combination call the Dhanwanthaila (the Hindu God of Health Dhanwantari and Thaila meaning oil). Shobha is an experienced therapist and explained to me thats its a myth to say that Ayurvedic massages are given only under the instruction of doctors. I think what she meant was there is a difference between massages with tridoshic oils (which would be suitable to all dosha types) and those that are prescribed by doctors as Ayurvedic treatments with specific dosha oils.

And so be it.

I would say then that this could only be considered a "massage" rather than an Ayurvedic treatment! Still it was nice and relaxing. I bathed after, with the home-made moong dal paste that she had made.

I left the spa feeling rejuvenated and ready for another days work!

Our time in Aashyana seemed to have gone my very fast. We wrapped up the shooting by taking some portrait pictures for the book. Aashyana Lakhanpal is the kind of place that grows and grows on you. You just dont want to leave it. However we celebrated by having a nice meal made by Jagat Singh and Lakhan, our two chefs and eventually we had to say byeeeee!!

Recommendation: I would definitely recommend improving the aesthetics of the spa and also work on spa etiquette. It could be much more charming set in those beautiful grounds.

I'd like to thank Ajai Lakhanpal, Priya Shaikh. Pradeep Sethi and Rajendra Tiwari for the support they gave me and my team during our stay at Aashyana Lakhanpal. It was memorable.

Saturday, 25 July 2015


Jai Gurudev!

Boys at the Gurukul

When you visit Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living International Center in  Bangalore, India, you cant miss the many good looking young Jesus looking boys mystically floating around in their white kurta pyjamas with their long locks draping over their shoulders. This is the trademark look of the Guru and his disciples. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (or Gurudev as he is fondly called) is one of India's foremost Gurus with probably the largest span of international devotees. I first experienced him in Singapore in 1997 when he stayed with my friends Rafiq and Lubu Jhumabhoy. He was lesser known then.

Vishalakshmi Mandap the main Hall

Since then I visited this Ashram/Centre in 2007 to do his basic Happiness course which was then called the Sudarshan Kriya. The Centre has now grown a multiple times. The course is basically a set of breathing techniques to simulate a high with calming effects which in turn prepares you for meditation. The classes are now systematically conducted within the Ashram and also by a large number of trained teachers all over the world. In Delhi itself there are several Art of Living teachers mushrooming in every community backyard. The basic course that I did, now has several levels of progression from Silence Retreats to physically and mentally challenging courses on personal development.

Daily discourse

Guruji's intention for the Ahsram was to preserve the spiritual heritage of India. He started Yoga and Pranayama classes, Satsangs (spiritual discourses) and Seva (service) which all rolled into one, came to be his USP. His simple teachings of oneness, joy, service, authenticity and love have pierced the hearts of a huge number of youngsters across the globe. They have flocked towards him expanding the activities of the Ashram to organic farming, raising sacred cows, an old style "Gurukul" for spiritual teaching, an Ayurveda Centre and International spa and much much more that I could not unravel in just one trip of 4 days!!

The famous Gir cows. Note the beautiful long ears.

It has therefore been a great honor for me to be invited to consult at the Sri Sri Ayurveda Panchakarma Spa and the Panchamrut Restaurant by my friend Neha Ahuja.

I wasnt sure what to expect, but LOVE flows out of everyone in the Ashram. They all have a great sense of Seva, a sense that they are doing every and anything for the benefit of others. Gurujis presence permeates every action and every thought in the environment. Its hard to explain the energy without physically experiencing. HE IS OMNIPRESENT.

My friend Seema who accompanied me, gorgeous Aman who was deputed to take care of me in the Ashram and Poornashree from the spa, made sure my work and stay in the Ashram was smooth and without any hitches. We were given the VIP rooms (thats a luxury in an ashram!)  and had a car available to us for easier access to certain areas of the expansive ashram.

Aman Seema and Poornashree, my companions at the Ashram
Incredibly calm and charming Mr Sreejith BS, the CEO of the spa welcomed me graciously into their fold. I had already sent them the Be Free menus that I wanted to implement and we chatted on how we could improve the operating system of the entire wellness centre.

My work unfolded from the kitchen to the service centre to the ayurvedic spa and then to the International spa. The spa had grown very fast as international clientele were beginning to come in big numbers and Sreejith was keen to keep up with their demands.

I spent 3 days training the chefs in Be Free oil free, sugar free and gluten free vegan cooking. It was very interesting to intertwine my cooking with Sattvic (ie no onion and no garlic, both being "rajasic" and therefore high emotion producing foods) and Ayurvedic principles according to the doshas. I thought Be Free cooking was pure enough but when I combined other traditions it took it one notch higher. For example I created a gluten free unbaked pizza and instead of a tomato base I gave it an avocado base. Avocados, rare in other parts of India , is abundant in the South! And I got the thumbs up from the Directors!!! Those who know me well, know that I never intended to be a Vegan Chef but I like creating food as colours and combinations come easily to me ( probably because of my design background). Besides, it falls beautifully under the umbrella of Wellness that I am so committed to!
Briefing the team

the favourite beetroot and orange sald

Chef Indira and me

Setting the lasagne
Thumbs up from Chef Srinivasan

Krishna Kutir
In the afternoons I was invited to try out some of the interesting spa treatments that the Centre had to offer.  Krishna Kutir, the spa centre is a serene block of treatment rooms. Everyone was excited for me to try their exotic Japanese Rakkenho. It seems Japanese Zen monk Yugen Yamannauchi, wrote the Rakkenho Sutra to describe a sacred  way of giving and receiving  a massage.When Gurudev visited Japan and taught the Sudarshan Kriya in Togochi Temple in Nara Japan, the head priest was so touched that he offered to share this ancient knowledge for the first time outside Japan. Consequently two teams arrived in Bangalore to train the staff here, on synchronised breathing, giving and taking the massage, how to open up the hearts in the exchange of this massage and rid ourselves of aches pains and accumulated fatigue. It is said that the feet shine bright after this exchange of love. Those who practice Rakkenho are called "Shining Rakken Bodhisattvas"!

Shining Rakken Bodhisattva!


Kitchen team

My therapist Shama, was from the  Himachal, North India and she used her feet skillfully on my body to give me a thorough kneading on all my pressure points. This is a no-oil treatment. All my muscles and bones were accessed from all sides with full body pressure coming in from the soles of her feet.  The pressure was applied systematically along my limbs ( inner, outer and middle). Traditionally giver and receiver exchange places so that both get both roles . It is therefore also called Altruistic Yoga or Yoga for Two (not sure what Yoga has to do with this, but never mind!) Thus by massaging my tightened muscles and accumulated fatigue, after 90 mins of bliss I came out of the treatment room shining like a Bodhisattva! (And I was not asked to exchange roles with Shama either!)

Therapist Shama sharing her light through her feet.
The next day Sreejith recommended that I try another exotic treatment called the Hilot. Again Gurudevs visit to The Farm  (see my short blog on The Farm) in the Philippines, a great wellness and detox centre located just outside Manila, was appreciated so much that the owners offered to train and share a traditional Philippino massage with the Centre. My therapist this time was a young girl from Arunachal called Anam.

Anam and me
We connected immediately, of course because I am also from the North East. We spoke in Assamese making each other comfortable and she shared with me that she was most grateful to Guruji for bringing her and about 14 of her friends to train in spa treatments thus giving them a career for the future.

The Hilot treatment works in 12 steps starting with cleaning of the feet, a thumb technique on my back, moving on to pressure points, and long effleurage strokes across my whole body. The whole procedure was geared to stimulate the nerves, increase lung activity, soothe the nervous system, as well as break up deposits found in the joints. It took 120 minutes and after my hard work in the kitchen I really appreciated this great relaxing treatment. The oil they used was pure almond oil.

Sreejith then drove me around and showed Meera Vanam, the Ayurveda Centre's residential accomodation, which is open not only to Ashramites but also to outsiders wanting to come in for the treatments, and the cream of their suites, The Maharaja Villa, for VVIPS where treatments are brought to the villa (oh how Indians LOVE to be spoilt like this)!!!!!

Meditating in Meera Vanam
The Maharaja Villa

Yes always remember to smile
The next day I tried the Haritakalepam. The base of this chlorophyll wrap is the Moringa Oleifera leaf of newly discovered superfood, our own grown drumsticks. Moringa is used for "tired" blood (anemia), arthiritis/rheumatism. asthma, cancer, constipation,diabetes, diarrhea, epilepsy, intestinal ulcers, heart problems, high blood pressure, kidney stones, fluid retention, thyroid disorders and bacterial, fungal, viral and parasitic infections!!!! Whew, no wonder its a superfood.

Today I had two therapists working on my body. Anam from yesterday and another sweet girl from Arunachal called Thutan Lhamu. They started with a prayer to Dhanwantari, the God of Health, and proceeded to clean my feet and set me up for a four hands synchronised Abhyanga massage. 

I must admit, that I usually find four hand massages distracting because most of the time the difference in each therapists pressure and speed can cause me disturbance energetically. Here, however, I found the synchronisation very thorough.  This wrap includes a five step process so the massage was followed by an application of "chana"(chickpea) paste over my entire body. For the first time in my spa experience history I was then asked to lie down inside this gorgeous wooden steam box and allow my body to absorb the oil and the nutrients of the chana paste. It was most relaxing. 

Steaming the Ayurveda way

After 10 mins of steaming my body was cleaned of the paste and I was asked to lie down while the chlorophyll wrap was gently applied to my body. I was delighted to know that the leaves for this wrap were handpicked from the Ashrams organic garden and freshly ground with pavitra sukhoshan jal into an aromatic paste. With a rich array of vitamins, protiens and minerals. Haritakalepa delivers powerful antioxidants to the skin cells as well as moisturises, nourishes and cleanses the skin. After the application my body was warmly wrapped around and I was asked to relax for another 15 mins with the lights dimmed and soothing music to keep me company.

It was hard to get up after such pampering but the wrap HAD to be washed down and the final step of this beautiful treatment involved a gentle massage on my facial muscles with my favourite Kumkumadi oil. This oil is a concoction of highly valuable herbs including saffron and I absolutely love the smell as it takes me into my own journey of the vast number of Ayurvedic treatments I have experienced in some of the most beautiful resorts of the wolrd, amongst coconut palms, monsoon rain, outdooor showers, oceanside treatment rooms, humidity of South India, surrendering to the oily body and hair, listening to the sweet voices of the therapists singing the prayer to Dhanwantari. and, usually, birds chirping in the trees in this commonly outdoor experience.

The girls topped the treatment off with some small rubbings of herbs on my head and forehead to prevent me from catching a cold!

Id like to thank Neha Ahuja, Sreejith BS and Poornashree for this great experience at the SSAP.

krishna radha art murals in the spa

Rudra Puja on Monday

Recommendation: Some open windows and balconies to bring in the sounds and light of nature would definitely enhance the experience.