The diplomacy that blunt New Yorkers like myself learn with training seems to be a god given birthright of Californians. So, when Sandy, one of two Los Angeles travel companions gave me a poke in the gut, I knew that I had said something wrong. “Don’t give me a male massage therapist, or I won’t be hopping on that table”, was not appropriate for the social constructs of Bundi, India.
I had made my preference clear when scheduling, but the receptionist ignored me thinking that since I was the “beefiest”, I would appreciate the supposedly stronger hand of a masseur. However, inappropriate things have happened to me before and I was in no mood to take any chances. We had done some intense travel and I wanted to be able to relax without concern. I stuck to my guns and my friend Antoinette graciously substituted herself in my stead.
Antoinette and I disagree a lot, which means I rarely make a move with out consulting her first. In fact, we arrived at this particular spa after much debate. The town launderette had offered to give us massages for $2 each, and my friend thought we should sign up with her instead of paying the $15 spa fee. I cited the “you get what you pay for” principle. Sandy chimed in as the deal breaker and that’s how we wound up at the reception desk of a spa in Bundi, India debating who takes who for the session.
The three of us were ushered down a dark hallway toward what we thought would be separate massage rooms with piped in music. Instead, our guide opened a door and led us into a single hotel room bright enough for sunglasses. The walls were concrete. The floors were a cold, white marble. The only furniture were two beds: one twin and one queen.
This was not normal and the hair stood up on the back of my neck. Sandy thought we had been led into an interrogation room. Antoinette was thinking we should have signed up with the launderette who offered us the smokin’ hot rate earlier in the day.
We stared at each other, and our guide left.
Our shocked silence was broken by the entrance and warm greeting of two beautiful women in saris. Everything about them was a sensory treat. The rich teal and rust colors of their silk garments jumped out in contrast to the bland decor surrounding us. The bangles stacked six inches high on their arms chimed while chatting with us, and the rustle of their garments echoed against the hard surface of concrete and stone.
The women instructed us to strip naked and lay face down on top of the two beds (Note: three people & two beds). They hung around while we did so, and then left. After the women left the room, we realized that there was nothing to cover our nudity. No sheet nor blanket could be found. Sandy told me later that she thought we were being set up for some nefarious sexual stuff, and my mind went to organ theft. Antoinette figured they thought we were perhaps Scandinavian and perfectly comfortable with nudity.
The whole set up was so bizarre by American standards that we didn’t know how to react. It was still the early part of our month long trip. We had experienced enough Indian culture to realize that they are a good natured and moral people, but we did not have enough time traveling there yet to trust that it’s often best to go with the flow and not worry too much.
In the end, we scratched our heads figuring it was all part of the adventure and lay patiently on the hotel beds. Sandy and I awaited our treatments side by side on the queen sized one and Antoinette hopped on the twin at the opposite side of the room.
Let the massage begin.
The room was cold. The lights were bright. I had no cover. My friend Sandy was naked about 2 inches away from me. The whole thing felt awkward.
Almost silently the two masseuses Amra, Pryia and Hitesh the masseur came in and began to work on us.
My massage therapist’s hands were really warm, and skilled. I could not identify the oils she used, and there were several. Sometimes I caught whiffs of cardamon, cinnamon and nutmeg, other times it smelled more like basil or mint. The herbal infusions left behind trails of hot and cold. She stretched, kneaded and plied and in about 15 minutes all the angst was forgotten. Care was conveyed through the universal language of touch. Pure bliss.
The room remained silent for almost an hour and a half while we collectively floated in and out of consciousness. Once in a while the occasional rustle of silk from the women’s saris or their whispered exchanges would tug us out of alpha state, but then we would slip back in.
85 minutes into our 90 minute session, I sensed the approaching end and forced myself to start the climb to alertness.
The question came to mind: “Was my insistence on a female masseuse perhaps misplaced in this instance?” After all, my friend Antoinette lay face up less than a few yards away and she seemed content as Hitesh her masseur was working on her. I directed a drowsy eye in their direction. I was curious as to what he looked like, since I had not see him when he came in the room. He was handsome, probably in his 60’s and draped in white fabrics. I started to think that I had over reacted. Maybe Antoinette had a point when she told me to give him the benefit of the doubt.
I was soon to be validated. Hitesh started to talk and something about his tone that made me instantly suspicious. There were claims of owning a massage school and coming out of retirement to help Amra and Pryia take care of three Americans who came to Bundi for a massage. Maybe to someone else listening it would have seemed like he randomly talked to Antoinette for the last few minutes of her session for no good reason, but for me, I knew something was “off”.
Our sessions drew to a close. We got dressed, paid, thanked our therapists and left.
As we lazily sauntered down the street back to our hotel, my friend Antoinette turned to me and Sandy and said: “Hey, what did you girls think of that nipple tweaking technique they did for the last few minutes at the end?” Sandy and I didn’t need to say a thing. Antoinette read our faces, realized she’d been had by “Handy Hitesh”, and we all broke out into laughter. We looped our arms into one another’s and giggled our way through the dusty streets of Bundi, India too relaxed to worry about a thing.
Addendum: Antoinette’s take on “Handy Hitesh’s” retirement story was that he was angling for a big tip and that the Punjab nipple tweaking massage technique was his way of sealing the deal.
This is us after getting massages in Kerala, India. Different town, different day, but same relaxed vibe.
Have a wild massage travel story? Tell us about it in the comments section below!