The jury is in. Three years into the millennium we now know that despite the sophistry of artificial aids, nothing can replicate the beauty of a healthy glow.
The cry of "return to nature" is the not-so-new mantra on the lips of those who want to rediscover a more holistic approach. From ancient times we have known of nature's bountiful generosity to our well-being, but in an increasingly compartmentalised world, there's scarcely time to schedule a homework review with Junior, let alone grow and gather roots and berries to rustle up beauty potions or soothing herbal baths.
If anything, DIY would only compound the stress factor. Fortunately for us, the business of beauty can be left in the capable hands of our betters-the havens of health and beauty that specialise in beauty treatments the way nature intended, found right here in the Valley.
In a little garden oasis, pouches of neem, eucalyptus and other herbs steep in warm water baths, releasing a pleasant bouquet of aroma that soothes and refreshes. This is Royal Hana Garden (01-4416200): the stuff of deadline fantasies. The management guarantees it'll even heal summer skin irritations. The baths are emptied daily and the tubs scrubbed before fresh water boiled to 90 degrees is poured in. Fortunately you won't be lobstered because guests are welcome to sink themselves in only after it's a comfortable 45 degrees. Everything from towels to a bathing sarong or shorts are provided. The open-air stone baths are surrounded by a lush garden and as you sip a cup of Japanese tea surrounded by a mist of herb steam you will feel the knots unwind and the peace dropping slow as molasses.
If water isn't your element, surely a dose of pure oxygen will do the trick. The fad that took the world by storm a few years ago has been in operation in our fair city for two years. Ananta Basnet was so horrified to learn Kathmandu's air had twice the particulate concentrate acceptable by WHO standards that he opened the Oxygen Parlour (01-4474413) in Thamel. This therapy is said to flush out toxins, decrease stress, clear the mind and relieve headaches. It's even a great hangover buster for the post-Friday night alcoholic binge. At Ananta's, oxygen and aromatherapy come together in a delightful olfactory combination. The favourites are lemongrass to refresh, cleanse and stimulate, and peppermint, a summer special that cools and revitalises. The trend has yet to catch on, but taking into account the dismal quality of our air, there would be few better ways to counteract the noxious fumes-short of moving to the country-than by O2 piped straight to the lungs.
With the lungs taken care of, it's time to turn our attention to a rarely pampered body part. Tired, aching feet are in for a treat at the Oriental Anma Centre (01-4231940). Reflexology, long considered a fancy name for toe-tickling, is finally coming into it's own as an ancient Chinese healing system. It begins from the premise that the soles of our feet bear a map of our bodies, internal organs and all. Co-owners, Prabin Maharjan and Rosani Shrestha have treated clients at the Darbar Marg centre for the past few years. They specialise in acupressure to relieve muscle stress, acupuncture for more chronic conditions and also moxibustion-the use of mugwort (Moxa) with acupuncture to improve the flow of vital energy (Qi) and blood through the body.
Spa Avatar at the Fulbari Resort in Pokhara (Kathmandu: 01-4477305, Pokhara: 061-523451) offers treatments ranging from aromatherapy with exotic Himalayan herb scents to a combination of deep cleaning facials and massages. Indulge in a volcanic mud masque or bask in a floral jacuzzi. Could there be a more divine way to unwind after a rigorous trek around Annapurna? Well maybe one: Annapurna Adventure package, four and a half hours of pure pleasure. You start with an aromatic steam to soothe those tired aching bones. Re-energized, you're ready for a stimulating cleanses and anti-oxidant treatment with a Body Stimulating Polish. Next is the Energiser Body Masque using specially blended pure essential oils. A relaxing dip in the jacuzzi is in order before a deep-tissue sport's massage relieving sore muscles and easing tired joints. Finally, to restore the soft glow to your cheeks, a deep cleansing and purifying facial gently exfoliates to reveal healthy skin. Revived, rejuvenated and $130 lighter, you truly feel new.
In Caf? U, boywonder Tora Akita has set up his Massage Kendra (981054787). He combines the ancient healing art of acupressure (Shiatsu) with massage for a deeply relaxing therapy. Tora invites the sceptical to relieve themselves of pain related to muscle and bone. 'Shi' he explains means finger and 'atsu' is pressure. As you lay on the massage mat, the soft trills of classical music gently lulling, Tora's magic fingers go to work, and submission is easy. His thumbs press, releasing the tight muscles. Muscles on the opposite side compensate and are slightly raised he explains. "It probably hurts here?" His intuition is spot on. As it should be. Tora has been training with his father since he was 13.
The only Chinese beauty centre in the city, Right-Timing Beauty Centre, (01-4223500) has been in operation for six months and is gaining popularity especially among their Nepali clientele. When Gao Lei visited Nepal three years ago she tried out various parlours and found it very different to the treatments back home. Facials in China involve acupressure that improves skintone while relieving headaches and insomnia. All treatments are done using Lavette products, a Chinese herbal line containing aloe vera, gingko and extracts of vitamins A, C and E. Lei acknowledges the Levette products work slowly but she is confident they improve the condition of skin, hair and nails.
Somewhat closer to home, Ayurveda, the Indian science of healing, is gaining a following. At the Ayurveda Health Home (01-4358761), the pioneer Panca-Karma Centre of Nepal you can check in for a five-day session of 45 minutes each at their new centre in Dhapasi. You'll be at the receiving end of head and body massages and a downright spiritual experience of Siro Dhara-the gentle rhythmic flow of theraputic herbal oils from a suspended metal or clay vessel upon the Third Eye, that space in the vicinity between the eyebrows (see pic, above) . The treatment is testified to enhance memory, concentration and creativity while relaxing and relieving headaches or sleep disorders. The ultimate therapy for stress and anxiety.
In Dolly's Exquisite Creations (01-4445080), Dolly Singh is partial to a line of Spanish products and swears by the oxygen facial, which she claims directly nourishes the epidermis for noticeable results. The 30-minute treatment once a month fades scars and pigmentation but Dolly advocates prevention is better than cure: "Women everywhere who think they have good skin won't treat themselves to a facial, but once a problem starts it is very difficult to reverse. It's important to maintain what you have. Whenever you have time, go pamper yourself."
Indulgence is certainly good for the soul, but Shrijana Pradhan at Sipi Beauty Club (01-4244592) is somewhat more cautious. "If you have good skin why tamper with it?" she asks. Shrijana uses a topical brew she concocted: witch hazel, chamomile, herb extracts and distilled water that is sold as part of the Sipi line of products. A trained cosmetologist, she's often in her lab, perfecting 'grandma's traditional recipes'. Most of her ingredients may sound like the fixings of an exotic salad, but Shrijana knows they work. Just don't expect an immediate makeover. "People want instant results. Our bodies have an internal healing system but sometimes things have to get worse to get better."
It's too bad that Sworupaz Beauty Home (01-5550692) in Pulchowk is a 'Ladies Only' outfit. Sworupa Shrestha, who has an advanced training course in natural beauty therapy from Blossom Kochhar (India's queen of aromatherapy), insists beauty is a reflection of internal health. She picks up a lock of lacklustre hair on a regular customer and asks, "Stressed?" A client who snuck out for a facial during her lunch hour, said some of the facial masks smelled good enough to eat, especially the one with oranges in it. And for those who won't age gracefully without a fight, Sworupa offers Quantis non-surgical face-lifts. Stimulating acupressure points on the face, it strengthens and tightens facial muscles, while increasing blood flow that visibly softens wrinkles and banishes dark circles. The procedure is painless so all you need do is sit back, close your eyes and surrender to her blissful ministrations.