On a miserable, rainy day, I was only half looking forward to going to Jiva Spa at the Taj hotel in Cape Town for a massage treat - staying in bed was more enticing than climbing into a car and negotiating city traffic but my good-girl sensibilities had me up and in the car in no time.
On arriving at the Taj, I spent some time trying to figure out where to park until one of the doormen assisted me, offering to take my car and the problem of parking off my hands while I enjoyed my time at the hotel. "Thank you very much," I said, handing over my keys gratefully.
I was greeted by the receptionist and two other ladies with a "Namaste" which is a warm and graceful Indian greeting used while placing hands together in a prayer-like position. The receptionist asked me to fill in a short form and then checked the treatment I was booked for and explained what it would entail - a small but welcome detail.
Just as we were finishing up, Dr Hermanth Kumar introduced himself as the spa manager and ayurvedic physician and offered some background to the spa and its philosophies. He explained that ayurvedic therapy is acknowledged as the traditional healing system of India, covering all aspects of lifestyle – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and environmental.
After a short chat, he left me in the capable hands of my therapist Esther, who showed me to the change rooms and explained that all materials that come into contact with their guests bodies are fully organic - made of natural cottons and linens, sun bleached and dyed using herbs.
Just before she gave me some privacy to change, Esther showed me that there is a small change room (with a door) within the room we are in for guests who are serious about their privacy. A clever detail.
After disrobing, I expected to be taken to the treatment room, but instead, I was led to a tranquil relaxation room. Dr Kumar recommends that all spa guests arrive 30 minutes prior to their scheduled time to make use of the sauna and steam facilities. It makes a lot of sense – the spa is in the city centre, so there’s a good chance you negotiated your way through some stress-inducing traffic to get there.
I quietly pulled up my nose as I was offered a herbal tea, the description of which sounded horrible, but I was pleasantly surprised to find I enjoyed the tea which was made of holy basil, fresh lemon and jaggery (a wholesome sugar rich in minerals).
After I had finished my tea in the relaxation room, Esther fetched me and led me to the treatment room. Vishrama, the treat of my choice, is a two-hours of combined massage, stretching and hot pouches, and it costs R1000.
Every little detail in the treatment room is adjusted to your liking and is in your control. You can choose the music or even bring your own iPod, adjust the volume, have the blinds open or closed, adjust the room temperature and the level of pressure preferred for the massage.
Before your treatment, expect to receive a foot bathing ritual where your feet are washed. Esther explained that the ritual, called "Atithi Devo Bhava," means "The guest is like a god, hence we wash your feet." This left me a little uncomfortable, though it is a lovely gesture.
The massage started, and it didn't take me long to realise I was in good hands. The Vishrama massage is simultaneously intensely relaxing and revitalising. The massage oil containes ginger, eucalyptus and peppermint, and the stretching is phenomenal. Some of the areas treated are difficult to stretch by yourself, so it's good to stretch these parts and Esther carefully made sure I wasn't suffering any discomfort.
If you’re not particularly agile, bear in mind that the stretching might not be enjoyable and you may benefit from one of the other massage treatments on offer. Between stretching and just-deep-enough massaging, heated linen pouches (filled with rock salt and aromatic herbs) were placed on tense muscles. I loved that the massage offered some variety, breaking from the usual massage treatment and offering an overall experience that made me wonder what was going to happen next.
After the treatment I was relaxed as can be, but not sleepy at all, in fact, I felt energised. My guess is that this is due to the different herbs and oils used. My very sore computer shoulder was also a thing of the past. I even forgot that I’m not really royalty and got the spa ladies to summon the porter who parked my car to bring up a bag I needed from the back seat. Nobody even blinked at my request.
I definitely recommend a treatment at the Taj Hotel's Jiva Spa if you need to switch off for a few hours – stepping into Jiva spa is like stepping into an alternate reality, especially if you like it if people make a bit of a fuss over you. Next on my list is most certainly dinner at the Tai, it can only be magical.