Soak, relax and rejuvenate

Asian Age. Saturday, February 23, 2008 :: Travel :Gift yourself a trip to Arkansas By Sharoon Sunny
Imagine soaking in a tub of hot water, forgetting all the worries of the world. This heavenly treat followed by yet another one where the trained hands of a masseuse ply away the knots and kinks that come with a modern lifestyle. Sounds extravagant? Well, the good news is that you don ’ t have to pay a fortune to experience the relaxation and luxury of a spa getaway at Arkansas.

Check out one of the spas in Arkansas, and you ’ ll find both the bargain and the experience of a lifetime. Explore an old bathhouse by sitting in an old-fashioned galvanised tub where the water bubbles like a pot of rice. Take off your clothes and lift up your arms. Put your head back. Sit down. Stand up. Lie down. Roll over, and finally — drink the water. I willingly submitted to all this, and I waited 40 minutes, paid $40 and actually enjoyed the whole experience. This routine was all part of the “bathing package” at the Buckstaff, a traditional bathhouse in Hot Springs. Legend has it that the warring tribes would lay down their arms to bathe in the healing waters in the Valley of the Vapors. Until the advent of modern medicine in the late 1940s, visitors from around the world flocked to the natural hot springs to bathe in its healing thermal waters. In the town center, tourists jump out of vans with armload’s of empty plastic gallon jugs, jostling for an open spigot of free, steaming mineral water. Modern generations have carefully preserved the rich history of the springs and the bathing rituals that made the springs a world attraction. Located on Historic Bath House Row, in beautiful downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas, the Buckstaff is the only remaining operational bath house within the boundaries of the Hot Springs National Park and has been in operation since 1912. If new-age music, seaweed wraps and aromatherapy is what does it for you, then this is not quite the place. The Buckstaff bath house is a place to experience the old and the new. This bath house, like many of the others, and indeed many of the other buildings in town, is preserved the way they appeared in the 30s, when the town was frequented by, among others, Al Capone.

Once at the bath house the attendant signed me in, I was taken to the ladies floor (there is one for men on the first floor) where I changed into a Roman robe. The pure white robe, the steaming water and the warmth of the hot baths across the hall gives any sore muscle a reason to relax. The first of the many dips is in a whirlpool tub in bubbling mineral water, cooled to 100 degrees from the 143-degree temperature at which it emerges from the ground. While you are asked to drink two full glasses of hot mineral water, the attendant loofahs your arms and legs. As the muscles begin to relax, you can feel your body yielding to the temptation of a nap. Before you get to that dreamy state, you’re whisked into various pools of hot and cold water.

You are then made to lie down on a table with hot packs on your body to soothe any aches and pains. This is topped off by a needle shower and an excellent Swedish massage. I remember walking out of the bath house on liquid legs with no tensions or worries. It’s not just about baths, this quaint little town has many things to offer from shopping to outdoor adventure. Small little trinket shops and boutiques adorn the sidewalks of Central avenue with restaurants and coffee shops to tickle your taste buds. The Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum, The Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic and Pirates Cove Putt Putt are all popular family attractions that are right on Central Avenue. A few miles out of Hot Springs is the Degray Lake Resort and State Park. The country’s only resort park that is located in southwest Arkansas amidst the natural beauty of the state’s southernmost mountain range and is renowned for its crystal clear waters. This makes it ideal for scuba diving, snorkelling along with other water activities like water skiing, fishing and boating. The park’s full-service marina offers a wide variety of boat rentals including fishing boats and motors, party barges, fishing barges, personal watercraft, canoes, kayaks and water bikes. There are hiking trails for the nature enthusiast and also camping grounds right by the lake.

It’s “finders keepers” at the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas. The only public diamond mine in the world, Crater of Diamonds offers you a one-of-a-kind adventure — the opportunity to hunt for real diamonds and to keep any you find. For a few dollars you get to rent equipment, dig through dirt and find that perfect diamond. Whatever is your reason to visit this picturesque destination, it is a ritual that is gratifying and relaxing. The town and the bath houses are a vestige of history and also a reminder of what little it takes to relax.