The pre-travel rush, the queues at check-in, immigration, security, the prospect of a long international flight, the wait – all adding up to the stress – and then I found Ishana, the Spa cum souvenir shop cum several other things. Tucked away in a corner of Delhi’s IGI Airport T3 terminal’s departure zone, past the other airport regulars like Burberry, Dior, Hermés et al, just across from The Body Shop store, Ishana’s wide open entrances are hard to miss – and harder to walk past.
The façade is impressive with tall Kerala style wooden pillars, metal leaf screen embossed with Indian motifs, a huge wooden sculpture of Krishna looking out, colourful displays of brass idols, jewellery, and the signage promising meditation and a nature spa too! I gasped incredulously as I stepped up closer and spotted this ankle-deep healing pool bang in the middle of this ‘retail store’, rose petals and all. In the centre of the pool is a silver coloured lingam. I am cheerily greeted with a ‘Namaskaram’ by a member of the Ishana team. I am informed that the water of the pool are ‘energized by this lingam created through a process of yogic alchemy and consecrated by Sadhguru – Spiritual Master and founder of Isha Foundation, Coimbatore’. You are encouraged to wade into it or simply soak your feet and ‘feel the energized water remove pranic energy blocks’. Little towels in attractive wicker baskets sit on the stone borders thathave spiritual messages inscribed in the Telugu script; dozens of brass temple bells of assorted sizes hang above, and at the head of the pool sit musicians playing classical Indian instruments, which could be a flute or Sarod or Sitar or Sarangi etc, depending on the day. It is an experience to behold – and no there are no charges for this. Other complimentary services include an astrologer, seated in his own dedicated spot near the entrance, reading palms and horoscopes. I am told that so popular are Panditji’s predictions that several people remain in touch with him and keep up their consultations long distance. To further enrich the ‘Indian’ experience of the visitor, Ishana at times invites henna artists or weavers with their looms to showcase their special weaves.
The next thing to do after the foot-soak, or even before, is to head to the Ishana Nature Spa so conveniently located at the back of the Ishana Experience Center. (This is a more appropriate name for this very unusual retail outlet). The setting overlooks the runway, quite belying the exotic oriental setting of the Nature Spa. The masseurs are trained in the famous Kerala style massage, along with other techniques like foot reflexology etc. I tried the foot massage. Heavenly – the only word to describe it. Other massage options were equally convenient too, including gel-massages, all lasting under an hour. The price points are affordable too.
Hugely refreshed and ready to shop I checked out the amazing range of Ayurvedic beauty and bath products, teas in quaint containers, Indian spices, popular healthy digestives or ‘churans’, sweets and snacks and what-have-you, all neatly packaged and attractively displayed on rows of racks. Indian artefacts showcasing marble inlay, stoneware, silverware, ethnic jewellery, brass idols, apparel are there aplenty, all in good taste. Those wishing to make large purchases that are inconvenient to carry, the store offers to ship it. There is also a huge collection of CDs of spiritual chants and classical music. Yes, there is also a Regal Café in-house offering the best masala chai in T3, brewed just right like home. The Café menu was yet a work in progress, which will be worth trying on my next transit through T3.
The Ishana Experience Center is a two year old initiative by the Spa Group, which is already associated with foreign luxury brands such as Lladro, Rosenthal, BoConcept as their Master Franchisee for India. The Spa Group was formed in 1998, headed by Amar Agrawal, whence they tied up with Swarovski. Subsequently there were associations with more brands like Christofle, Villeroy & Boch etc. With the insight gained from running with the global luxury brands all these years, matched with his astute business skills, Amar Agrawal has successfully created an Indian luxury brand for the International markets. The Ishana Experience Center does fit the bill as the luxury retail destination, offering the shopper a one-of-a-kind experience with aesthetically designed interiors, high quality goods, encapsulating an ancient heritage in a soothing leisurely ambience, most importantly a friendly and informed staff that is not too pushy.
Accolades are pouring in with the Ishana Experience Center already having won various awards such as the “Store design of the year-Multi Brand” awarded by ET Retail Awards in Feb 2013 and “Customer service excellence in Specialty Retail” awarded by Retail customer service awards 2013. But the bigger award that thrills Agrawal most are the more-than-100 inquiries from people around the world wanting to become franchises of the Ishana Experience Center.
As a business model, the store turned profitable within 3-4 months of opening. Naturally, expansion plans are already afoot and the first city store in New Delhi is being readied for a launch by middle of 2014. This will be a pilot project, post which Spa Group will take the leap into International and Indian market, become visible in more airports.
With the Ishana Experience Center, the Spa Group has raised the bar for a luxury store in a busy international airport.