Garden of Paradise
While most make the sojourn to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, those who stay at the award-winning Mughal, Agra can’t help but be awed by Asia’s largest spa to date. Spread out over an area encompassing 99,000 square feet, Kaya Kalp – The Royal Spa captures the flavor of the captivating Mughal dynasty, which was known for its opulence and grandeur.
Channels of running water, fountains, fragrant flowers, and fruit-bearing trees set the stage for the lavish spa and follow the example set by Babar, the first Mughal emperor, who introduced his Gardens of Paradise concept to India. A tranquil respite from India’s teeming streets, the outdoor lap pool is set in the midst of the gardens and serves as an ideal setting for relaxation and specialty poolside treatments.
According to spa director Davina Hassell, Kaya Kalp’s design is a harmonious blend of contemporary Mughal influences with features replicating those from the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, and Fatehpur Sikri, the abandoned city that once served as the capital of the Mughal Empire. “My favorite elements are the hand-carved stone latticework that can be seen at the spa reception and the attention to detail in the use of mother-of-pearl inlay, and mirror work throughout the spa,” says Hassell. She is also a fan of the Thai cabana in the pomegranate orchard and the water fountains in the channel that surrounds the spa.
Babar introduced the pomegranate tree to India from his native land of Afghanistan. It is for that reason that it was incorporated into both the spa’s design and signature treatments. A recurring theme throughout the spa, the ruby red fruit is used as an important design element and is represented on the walls, the ceiling, and on the white terrazzo flooring. In addition, ruby-hued fabrics adorn each of the treatment rooms. According to Hassell, the pomegranate’s antioxidant properties also make it a star ingredient in the spa’s signature treatments. For example, the Exotic Pomegranate Journey ($180, 2 hours) relies on a sublime blend of ginger, lime, organic brown sugar, and pomegranate to exfoliate the skin before a blend of traditional oils are rhythmically applied.
Fusing Indian and Western philosophies, the treatments incorporate ancient customs and rituals that make use of modern innovations. “The menu was created with the spa concept in mind of offering treatments that would relax and transform the body, mind, and soul, as kaya is a Sanskrit word meaning the physical self or skin, and kalp means to transform, reinvent, change, or rejuvenate,” says Hassell. According to her, the product lines also reflect the fusion of Indian and Western sensibilities. Comfort Zone was selected as the spa’s international range and is used in all of the spa’s facials. Forest Essentials, an Indian line, was chosen for its Ayurvedic ingredients. Wanting to offer an indigenous brand, the spa selected Vanya, created by a local vendor. It serves as the spa’s signature products and is offered exclusively at Kaya Kalp spas.
With eight other Kaya Kalp locations throughout the country and more on the horizon, ITC Hotels has launched its own spa academy to train young individuals with no prior spa experience to become future therapists. It also has a training program for therapists already working within the company and a training program for experienced employees who want to advance to an assistant spa manager level. According to Hassell, this is helpful in addressing a big challenge in India, which is finding experienced therapists and spa managers. With 24 full-time employees, the spa is able to accommodate approximately 60 guests a day. Those visiting the spa to take advantage of the pool or wet area can account for another 20 to 40 guests daily. “Operating a large spa comes with different challenges each day,” says Hassell. “Even after 20 years in the spa industry, no day is alike, so you have to stay flexible and maintain a good sense of humor.”
Recently, the hotel completed a new wing called Kwad Mahal, meaning palace of dreams. It includes 42 opulent rooms and suites. Of the five presidential suites named after Mughal queens, two of them, Mumtaz and Nur Jahan, both come complete with a spa treatment room, which includes a steam room with a Vichy shower and a plunge pool. An in-room treatment menu designed to offer the utmost in pampering makes any guest feel like a Mughal king or queen. “With this new addition to the existing spa, ITC Mughal has rebranded itself as a true spa destination,” says Hassell. “The future is looking very bright.”