Traveller's Checks: Who's that pummelling your inner thigh?

Travellers need to learn a few new words and phrases. Pathra Podala Swedam, for example, Sirodhara, Nasya and Pizhichil - the language of Ayurvedic massage and treatment, which is sweeping the globe. The ancient healing arts of India are now the most fashionable extra service to be offered by the rapidly growing number of hotels and resorts that are in the grip of an obsession with "well-being". Warm medicated oil is the key here. It's dripped on to the forehead (Sirodhara), applied with herbal leaves (Pathra Podala Swedam), rubbed in rhythmically by two masseurs (Pizhichil) and introduced into the nostrils (Nasya). I tried it in a posh Indian hotel where the consultation before the treatment includes a discussion of mental clarity and self-confidence as well as the questions about lower back pain and gammy knee that you'd expect. I can't say that I felt that I'd paid to expand my brain power after half an hour of shoulder-to-toe action under a pint of warm ghee, but I did feel energised enough for the pro

Travellers need to learn a few new words and phrases. Pathra Podala Swedam, for example, Sirodhara, Nasya and Pizhichil - the language of Ayurvedic massage and treatment, which is sweeping the globe. The ancient healing arts of India are now the most fashionable extra service to be offered by the rapidly growing number of hotels and resorts that are in the grip of an obsession with "well-being". Warm medicated oil is the key here. It's dripped on to the forehead (Sirodhara), applied with herbal leaves (Pathra Podala Swedam), rubbed in rhythmically by two masseurs (Pizhichil) and introduced into the nostrils (Nasya). I tried it in a posh Indian hotel where the consultation before the treatment includes a discussion of mental clarity and self-confidence as well as the questions about lower back pain and gammy knee that you'd expect. I can't say that I felt that I'd paid to expand my brain power after half an hour of shoulder-to-toe action under a pint of warm ghee, but I did feel energised enough for the prolonged shower necessary to wash away the film of oil. My masseur had been trained at an Ayurveda hospital. Plenty haven't. As with other spa treatments there's a worry about who exactly is slapping, pounding and de-stressing, fiddling with the cellulite and applying that Sea Enzyme Body Firming Mask. Now that every little hotel with nothing else to recommend it has cottoned on to the idea of building a spa, there needs to be a bit of guidance to help us avoid the mountebanks and charlatans of the rejuvenation business. According to Susan Arnold of the British Spa Federation there are no acknowledged standards in the business. "If any hotel that wants to call itself a spa - even if it has none of the water and mineral therapies that we think are essential - it can just go ahead." Her advice - consult the website www.britishspas.co.uk or, for a foreign trip use a expert agency such as Erna Low or Thermalia Travel.

Welcome to the house of fun Civil servants, as we are now painfully aware, cannot organise a knees-up in a brewery. That is putting it politely. Entertainment, visitor attractions, having fun - it's just not their thing. Now, having made a pig's ear of the Dome, it seems that their deathly touch is being felt under another great architectural canopy, the Great Court of the British Museum. Last December this column celebrated the opening of the largest covered square in Europe - a magnificent space, spectacularly glazed by Sir Norman Foster, that gives London a piece of the Classical Mediterranean in the heart of Bloomsbury. It was to be open in the evenings - not just the hours when schoolchildren and museum workers are around. I had visions of locals and tourists enjoying the museum, taking in a temporary exhibition, meeting friends, having a drink and dinner in the Great Court. But when I visited at 8pm last Monday the place was empty save for a few security guards rocking on their heels and waiting to close the doors at nine. The café was closed. The restaurant was closed. The shop too. There was no exhibition (though we are told that museums can display only a fraction of what they own). This £100m addition to the public life was desolate. Later, I telephoned to see when the restaurant in the Great Court might be open. Directory enquiries could find no listing. The museum information line had a recorded message about the Great Court "project" that told me it was being opened by the Queen on 6 December 2000. The website made no mention of the restaurant or café. The Court Restaurant (the secret number is 020-7323 8990) is run by a company called Digby Trout, which has the concession on restaurants in several other museums. It closes the Court restaurant at 5pm early in the week and 9pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and confesses to being "not that busy" in the evenings. London is full of innovative, passionate restaurateurs who would die for such a venue. There may be a feeling that the museum-as-entertainment tendency has dumbed down our national collections far enough. But having a bar and café open in the evenings is hardly opening the doors to the forces of ignorance. It's just what people want. If the British Museum, with a worldwide reputation and that amazing Court, is attracting fewer customers than the Pizza Express across the road in Coptic Street, something must be wrong. So, this is my first rule of travel: whatever it is, if it is run by the Government, it probably sucks.

s.marling@independent.co.uk

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