There is nothing quite as disturbing to a man approaching middle age as to learn that his girth has significantly increased- apparently overnight. Yet my trusty tailor had the evidence right there in his hand. There was no denying the truth of the measuring tape. One can cope with getting a year older, but having one’s waist decide to keep pace with one’s age can inspire even the most apathetic to action. Jogging in the city may be the latest trend for military youth, but it is not something I want to expose my respiratory system to, and with cycling on the streets of Kathmandu being virtual suicide, it was time to go to the gym!
Being reasonably fit while living in Kathmandu has more advantages than good health and well-being. Improving your cardio-vascular capacity can make that Saturday walk up Shivapuri or Kakani so much more enjoyable. There is definitely something deflating about being overtaken on a path by an octogenarian carrying three times his or her body weight, while you are puffing and wheezing under the strain of a backpack containing one litre of mineral water and half a Mars Bar!
In the past I have joined many a fitness center with the lofty aim of trimming down and beefing up. Its not that I wanted to look like Arnold Schwartznegger, just a little less like Danny Devito. However, it seemed I always ended up spending more time sweating it out in a steam room or on a massage table than in the section reserved for serious fitness work. This fairly much ensured that the results of a few too many barbecue nights at Dwarika’s and martinis at the Rox began to display themselves rather prominently even under the most fulsome dhaura.
In Kathmandu there are a plethora of gymnasiums, fitness centers, health clubs and spas. They range from those that offer a basic lift and grunt service to those that provide all sorts of less strenuous diversions. As the numbers are too great for any one person to survey, I started at the luxury end: gotta start somewhere, right?
For those of us with the ready cash (and perhaps less serious ambitions), there are the five star facilities of Kathmandu’s finest hotels. Not only do they offer ways to get fit, but one usually has the guarantee of clean water, hot showers and fresh towels which, lets face it, is more than many of us have in our own homes.
Starting at the south of the city, the Soaltee Crowne Plaza has a small but well equipped gymnasium with cardio machines and free and fixed weights. The staff are friendly, but not trained fitness specialists, and thus not able to put a program together to help you reach your goals. If you live at this end of the city, the Soaltee is almost certainly the most convenient choice. Memberships are available for Rs 38,500 per year. This includes access to tennis courts and one of the city’s most beautiful swimming pools. The Soaltee also has one of the best steam rooms in the city and the massage staff are excellent- but I digress.
In the center of town, the Yak & Yeti has a very well-equipped gym, Club Nirvana (although the day I went there, only a few of the cardio machines were in good working order). There is a large choice of free weights and some fixed weight equipment, but the staff aren’t of much help in setting up a weight loss or fitness program. Annual membership, which includes use of the tennis courts (closed during lunch hours for maintenance) and the swimming pool, is available from Rs. 40,000. They also offer a “daylight” discounted rate for those whose time is flexible enough to avoid the club’s peak times. Despite an impossibly small changing area, the club has spacious hot tub, steam room and sauna facilities, and there are a number of massage options available, contributing to the impression that this particular fitness center is more oriented to those seeking pampering that those serious about fitness. Hanging out in the spa with men who are in somewhat worse physical condition than oneself may be good for self-image, but it isn’t the best form of motivation.
A bit further north, in Lazimpat, the Clark Hatch Fitness Center at the Radisson Hotel is probably the most professional of the hotel-based centers in town. Under the expert guidance of Sanjeev, who many at first mistake for Denzel Washington, the staff are ready and willing to personalize a training program to help you reach your own goals and are always on hand to make sure you are doing a particular exercise, lift or stretch in a way that will maximize your effort. You can quickly develop a love-hate relationship with someone whose main aim in life is to see that you are constantly in at least a modicum of pain.
In a separate room there are five cardio machines, all in working order, with televisions and great music to distract you from your agony and enough space in the workout room for floor exercises and stretching, or that quick five-minute power nap between sets. Upstairs there is a steam room, sauna and hot tub, all of ample size, and access to the rooftop swimming pool with the handy Splash bar for that cool beer after a workout. Oh dear, digressing again!
Clark Hatch has found a great balance between fitness and relaxation, for Rs 40,800 per year. As an added bonus they offer a plan where if you are away for more than one month, you can put your membership “on hold”, potentially adding up to six weeks onto your membership very handy for those of us with annual holidays or home leave, or who just give up trying during the marriage season. There is also a discounted “sunshine” membership similar to Club Nirvana’s “daylight” rates and reciprocal arrangements with other Clark Hatch Fitness Centers around the world.
Unfortunately, as you leave the Radisson, you have to walk past their notorious bakery where one slice of deliciously rich carrot cake costs you exactly 35.5 minutes on the treadmill at a 7% incline (get thee behind me, Satan!).
At the northwestern end of town, the luxurious Hyatt Regency houses an equally luxurious fitness center, Club Oasis. Impossibly well-equipped, Club Oasis also has two personal trainers who can point you in the right direction and set you on your way to perfect abs and a heart as strong as a Mustang pony’s.
Of course, luxury comes at a price- at Club Oasis it is Rs 58,000 for a year, with no “on hold” or “sunshine” benefits. This lets you use the Hyatt’s huge swimming pool, well-manicured tennis courts and extensive spa as well as the gym. The only discouraging thing about Club Oasis is its location smack in the middle of the Hyatt Hotel. How on earth is one meant to concentrate on exercising when they have a menu of massage options as lengthy as Rox’s wine list, and just across the hall at Dolly’s there is a much less strenuous oxygen facial on offer, not to mention two great restaurants and the best bar in town. Obviously working out at Club Oasis tests one’s will as well as one’s body.
Will last year’s summer trousers ever see the light of day again? Will I be able to remain focused on my exercise regime? Will the lure of the stair-master win through over the allure of the carrot cake? Sure it will! ... maybe (I hope)...
oh dear ...
After crossing the passes of the eastern region, I finally bumped into some local people in the Solu Khumbu region....