India Day 6 : People, wonderful people

As I sit at the beautiful, wooden desk in my room this morning, on my last day at Ananda, I reflect on yesterday’s experiences and our stay in general. It is my memory of the people I have met in India, that I shall treasure most when I return to my normal sanctuary, my barge on the banks of the River Crouch in Essex.

From the moment we landed at Delhi airport, the Indian people’s warmth and politeness have overwhelmed me. Sanjeet, our driver in Delhi, was a very long way from his wife, baby daughter and wider family. He works incredibly long hours with a smile on his face, shouldering the responsibility as major breadwinner, for it seemed his whole community, with pride and gratitude. He was a treasure trove of information on his adopted city, engaging us with the sights and sounds around us as he wove us unharmed through the mayhem of trucks, cars, scooters, tuk-tuks, pedal rickshaws and cattle!

Moving roughly 200km north to the majestic tranquillity of Ananda, we found the staff to be so much more than just “good at their jobs”. From the turbaned drivers to the General Manager, who joined us for a chat yesterday, the ethos of this retreat cocoons you in its warm familial arms, nurturing your wellbeing and fulfilling your every need. Not forgetting the small army of groundsmen, who beetle about in the background, sweeping, watering and tending the garden backdrop.

As we have been so fortunate to have this taster of the wide range of healing treatments and activities available here, we have chatted to the therapists and tutors and learnt a little of their lives. Many of them are many miles from home and family, only returning to their loved ones once a year if they are lucky, taking days of travel on plane, bus or train to reach those they miss so much.

Ananda is at the top of the league for staff training and working conditions, so only the best are employed here and having gained invaluable experience, they are qualified to advance themselves in positions all over the world. Many live on site or in the nearby hamlet and have been employed here for some years. They work long hours, twelve hour shifts are nationally expected, yet they always appear unjaded, impeccably turned out and serve the guests unobtrusively and unhurriedly, with manners and style you would rarely, if ever, encounter in the UK.

As we are a chatty, and somewhat nosy, pair, we have managed to gradually chip away some of the mannerly reserve of the staff members that we have encountered most frequently. The restaurant staff in particular have been persuaded to pause to share a little of their lives, their preference in football teams, what they like to eat at home and a few words of Hindi simple enough for us to amuse them by practising. Here the chef Arun has been unexpectedly attentive, not just enquiring if our food is to our liking, but responding enthusiastically to our questions about the Ayurvedic cuisine and even offering to share his recipes!

Our solemn yoga teacher seems to have warmed to us as we wrestle with new postures and clumsily delve into meditation techniques under his guidance. Mm Shambuji, a man who rises at 4am to practise two hours of yoga before teaching relatively inept guests all day, has amazed us with his physical flexibility and honoured us by imparting a little of his vast yogic wisdom. We hope to repay this by putting it into practise once far away from his kindly, paternal eye. Of all the spa employees, I think he and his depth of knowledge of the Hindu way will stay with us longest, probably for the rest of our lives.

The therapists in the spa are mostly young girls, though yesterday’s unbelievable, healing Thai massage was performed by a young lad who has practised here for four years. The girls often face disapproval of their chosen career, from their families, as the prevailing culture sees such close personal contact as unfitting for a young woman. For some, this post is a stepping stone to train in differing ,more acceptable, work or even to travel using their skills on cruise liners.

For these lovely young people, we are probably just another couple who have come and gone. I like to think those in the restaurant might miss our cheeriness a little tomorrow morning, when we shall be headed for airports and the homeward journey. For us, however,they will remain in our photographs and memories long after we leave and they shall probably never realise how much gratitude we owe them for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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