Travel roadtest: hotel pillows

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This column originally appeared in Lonely Planet Magazine India.

A few years ago, I found myself a palm-tree-shaded cottage so close to the beach that, from my balcony, I could almost dip my toes in the warm waters of the Arabian Sea. Everything was blissfully perfect… except the pillows, which were quite frankly almost as hard as the coconuts dangling outside my bedroom window!

Five nights later, I arrived in Agra, checked into an über-swish hotel, and did what I always do upon entering a luxurious room – dived onto the bed. There was a knock at the door. It was the butler, who presented me with two menus: one for breakfast and, to my surprised delight, one for pillows. After much deliberation, I opted for lavender, not because of its soporific fragrance, but because – ridiculous as it sounds – the child within me playfully wondered: would sleeping on lavender make me dream in purple that night?

Having now 'sleep-tested' many pillows, here’s the low-down on what to lie down on. Sweet dreams!

Goose and duck down: Dubbed the Rolls-Royce of soft pillows, the low resilience of goose down lends itself to those who like sleeping on their tummy or back, while duck down is said to favour side sleepers. Both, however, may be too soft for people with neck ailments.

Horsehair: If you like your pillow springy yet firm, give this a try. Filled with coarse (mane) horsehair, this pillow’s dry quality also makes it congenial for those suffering night sweats.

Buckwheat: Buckwheat hulls promote air circulation, making this distinctly firm pillow good for summer. The hulls - which slide and adjust to your contour as you move - purportedly diminish muscle pain and headaches.

Lavender: Non-elastic, sturdy, wonderfully fragrant - and with a curiously crunchy texture - lavender has long been championed for alleviating insomnia and anxiety.

Tempurpaedic: Tempur 'memory foam' was first devised by NASA in 1971 to boost the shock-resistance of shuttle seats. Orthopaedic tempurpaedic pillows comfortably contour the shape of your head and neck, as well as position the head to counter blocked nasal passages - perfect for your snoring bed buddy!

Kapok: Filled with fibre harvested from the seed pods of the tropical kapok tree (ceiba pentandra), this pillow is light, resilient and firm-to-very-firm. Kapok fibre has been likened to silk.

Latex: Latex is derived from the processed sap of the 'rubber' tree, which originated in the Amazon rainforest. It’s a buoyant yet robust pillow that offers orthopaedically conducive head and neck support. Another plus point is its anti-bacterial and dust-proof properties, making it ideal for allergy sufferers.

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