A few days ago, in Delhi, a textile vendor responded to my request with the phrase “you are in India now ma’am, anything is possible”. This phrase has come back to my mind several times since, but no more so than when I heard the unexpected sound of bagpipes coming from the hillside yesterday.
Our scheduled activities were to start a little later, so we took the opportunity to explore the palace grounds in the morning sunshine. We paused here and there to admire the flowers and birds, trying to identify both from some similarities to British species. The beautifully manicured grounds are cared for by a discreet army of groundsmen and have been designed with strategically interwoven pavilions and viewing points.
It is from one such viewing point that a lone piper plays at intervals and, having heard him during our daily yoga practice, we discovered him later in the day when we returned to this spot to watch a misty sunset over the western mountain ridge. This ex-Army gentleman chatted to us amiably, responding to our enquiries and asking for our requests. As we watched the sun disappear behind the western ridge, many miles across the valley from our lofty platform, he piped familiar tunes such as *Amazing Grace* and *Johnny Goodfellow.*
This charming gent is not the only musician at Ananda. In the spa the haunting melodies of a traditional flute drift down the corridors from where the player sits cross-legged on a floor cushion. In the evening two more musicians peacefully entertain diners with native fiddle, flute and drums, evoking the spiritual mood of the surrounding mountains.
Exploring the grounds sparked my curiosity about the history of this mythical place, so I turned to our “In Room Compendium” to learn more. Ananda sits in the Himalayan foothills, in the Garhwal district of the state of Utterakhand. This area has been known for its spirituality and meditative qualities since ancient times and has been home to many sages and saints.
The purity and divine energy of the region is praised in the early historical Vedas and Mahabharata, dated around 1000bc, when pilgrimage up these slopes was referred to as the “Ascent to Heaven”. Waves of migration took place during times such as that of the Macedonian March and Turkish onslaught have shaped the traditions of meditation and worship and feed today’s mythical chronicles.
The palace sits in the small hamlet of Narenda Nagar, both of which came into existence in 1895 when the Maharajah Narendra Shah decided it would be a picturesque site for his capital. The palace is a building of much grandeur and looks down into the Doon Valley 3500 feet below, through which the Mother Ganges flows majestically.
The palace has been a destination for many distinguished guests over the years since then, including prime ministers, royalty and spiritual leaders. The current, 61st Maharajah still visits from Delhi once a year and keeps some private quarters for his personal use. The area was no doubt chosen for its mild climate, and advantageous position from which to survey the plains below, and continues today to attract those seeking spiritual enlightenment and peace.
This spirituality is almost inescapable here. Our second full day included not only yoga practice but lessons in Pranayam ( yogic breathing) and meditation. Our physical well-being was also attended to with a session of reflexology, when our skilled practitioners once again weeded out the painful crystals being harboured by our bodies, leaving us relaxed, refreshed and, once again, ready for dinner! Yes indeed, it seems in India anything is possible.