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Soul vacation

It’s a vacation for the soul for spiritual junkies. At Swaswara by the impossibly beautiful Gokarna beaches in Karnataka, you can have a holiday with a difference. Start the day with a round of Yoga followed by an Ayurvedic massage and end it with a walk along the beach at sunset. In between, dine on fresh vegetables grown on the grounds of the resort and fish caught in the nearby sea. “Swaswara is a sanctuary for the self. Thus, it’s another way for holidaying. You take back from the holiday a renewed self,” says Jose Dominic, managing director and CEO, CGH Earth, which owns Swaswara.

Alternatively, stop off at Shreyas Retreat one of the most extravagant wellness retreats in Bangalore which offers customised Yoga programmes for a mix of Indians and foreigners in search of a soothing spiritual getaway. “A luxurious spiritual holiday is the only way to gently awaken newbies to the power of Indian wellness,” says Nidhi Sood, vice president, marketing and business development, Shreyas Retreat.

Do you return from your vacations more tired than when you set off on holiday? Perhaps it’s time to add a dose of spirituality and wellness treatments to the holiday mix.

Ananda offers a combination of Yoga, meditation and Ayurveda in an upscale setting
Swaswara has opulent Konkan-style villas; (below) the vegetables on offer are all grown on the resort itself
Ananda offers a combination of Yoga, meditation and Ayurveda in an upscale setting

That’s what’s on offer at a clutch of New Age retreats that promise restful and soothing ‘far from the madding crowd’ surroundings combined with health-giving Yoga, Ayurveda and even customised diets.

At Swaswara, for instance, everything has been designed to help the jaded and burnt out attain holiday nirvana. You can go for walks through the 26 acres of lush rolling hills, aromatic spice gardens, vegetable patches and emerald green paddy fields. Nestled amidst all this are 24 luxury villas designed in the Konkan style where you can indulge in some serious pranayam and meditation followed by relaxing de-stressing massages at the Ayurveda centre.

Putting Kerala on the wellness map is Neeleshwar Hermitage that’s been ranked among top 10 eco hotels by Vogue this year. Located on the Malabar Coast, there’s a choice of cottages that look out to the sea and others that look out onto the gardens of the resort.

“A wellness holiday needs a peaceful setting and beautiful surroundings to have the best results,” says Alistair Shearer, director, cultural programmes at Neeleshwar Hermitage.

These wellness holiday resorts do their best to create a cocoon of calmness, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Take, for instance, the 42-acre Oneness University, a lifestyle and relationship management outfit that’s located at Varadepaliah (80km north of Chennai). With the who’s who of Bollywood in attendance at the retreat, there are plush living arrangements against the backdrop of the Velikonda hills. The sumptuous interiors are appointed with luxury fittings and chic furniture.

Even Ananda in the Himalayas, an upscale resort that combines Yoga, meditation and Ayurveda, is located in the pristine surroundings of Tehri Garhwal district so that it can escape the stressful trappings of city life. The property is built around a Maharaja’s palace estate and includes a restored Viceroy’s palace too. More character is added by way of an amphitheatre, Yoga pavilions and a host of alfresco fine dining options.

At Shreyas Retreat, wellness buffs can swim in an infinity pool that’s temperature-controlled; (below) There are opportunities to engage in community service projects at this spiritual haunt

But get this straight. The new get-away-from-it-all holidaymakers may want to invigorate their mind but they aren’t ready to let their creature comforts slip away. Quite the contrary. They want luxury to be the name of the holiday game. So on offer at Shreyas Retreat are luxury garden cottages that come attached with a tented canopy or a poolside cottage, both of which lead to the chic open air Yoga pavilion.

At this lavish haunt, the spoilt wellness addict can swim in an infinity-edge lap pool where the temperature is always controlled between 25°C and 30°C. “The idea was to provide a space with access to authentic spiritual tradition but in a comfortable and stylish environment,” says Pawan Malik, a former investment banker who’s the man behind Shreyas.

At some places, cutting-edge architecture is also a part of the deal. Take the International Art of Living Centre in Bangalore which is wooing soul-seekers with its five-tiered, thousand-petalled lotus-shaped building called Vishalakshi Mantap. Art of Living Courses, satsangs (religious discourse sess-ions) and international conferences are hosted at this picturesque venue, conceived and designed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

Activities

Along with accommodation, a packed activity schedule spices up your wellness routine. Swaswara, for instance, helps you to get your spiritual act together at the crack of dawn with chanting and meditation followed by a host of customised therapies that address particular ailments. “People are beginning to travel for insights and not just for sights. They want to spend time on and for themselves. A holiday has become a pilgrimage for the self,” says Dominic.

The star attraction at the International Art of Living Centre is the thousand-petalled lotus-shaped Vishalakshi Mantap

There’s a mix of asanas and even a 14-day Panchakarma Package (five different procedures used in Ayurveda). “It’s all about rejuvenation and finding your inner self,” says Ginette Proust, a Frenchman who stayed at Swaswara and who’s now sold on Ayurveda as a way of life.

Neeleshwar too adds a dash of variety to its wellness programmes with naturopathic treatments like hydrotherapy, acupuncture, colour therapy, magnetotherapy and mud therapy. “Our 10 or 14 day stress-busting packages are currently the most popular,” says Shearer.

Also, some of the retreats have figured out, programmes on relationship management and personal growth are the need of the hour. Oneness University has a special foundation course titled Breakthrough that addresses these issues. “It is a place where you will get all your questions answered,” says actress Shilpa Shetty, one of the celebs who makes it a point to stop by at the resort. Other celebs who’ve taken a break here include Hrithik Roshan, Manisha Koirala, Rick Allen and Donna Karan.

As they devise new routines to keep their patrons hooked, the retreats are clear that every regimen has to be custom-made to maintain exclusivity. Shreyas has customised Hatha Yoga and Ashtanga Vinyasa sessions. “You can’t divorce pampering from wellness in this day and age,” says Babita Thakur, who heads an asset management company and is a spiritual retreat convert.

For those looking at a complete spiritual overhaul along with a bit of do-gooding, some resorts offer the opportunity to interact with and teach local village kids.

Alternatively, holidaymakers can spend their time serving local communities around the resorts. “A wellness holiday is about indulgence and letting your hair down. But it’s also so much more. Shreyas arranged this special programme with children that realigned my focus on life,” says Anna Louise Clegg, an Englishwoman who loved her wellness holiday in India.

Wellness and getting away from everything are all very well, but holidaymakers need good food to spice up their vacation. The high-end spiritual getaways are going strong on luxe food too — but with a twist of wellness. So, at the International Art of Living Centre’s Ashram Kitchen, Sattvic (vegetarian cuisine with no onion and garlic) is the way to go and most dishes are steamed. Only seasonal vegetables and homemade spices make the cut while briquettes (a mixture of sawdust, groundnut and coffee shells) are used as fuel.

Even Ananda has rustled a ‘rejuvenation cuisine’ that follows Ayurvedic dietary principles taking into account individual body types, personality, response to stress, weather and even factors in the time of the year and your age.

At Swaswara, the gastronomic experience is taken to the next level with Continental, Pan Asian cuisine and fusion fare. Innovation is key, and at the interactive kitchen, guests can even suggest recipes to the resident chefs.

The star attraction on your culinary trail at Neeleshwar Hermitage is the beachside restaurant Meenakshi where you can actually sample the fresh early morning catch of the local fishermen.

Prices

As expected, spirituality is steeply priced when it comes with a luxury wrapping. Swaswara has on offer seven-day packages priced at Rs 1.2 lakh excluding taxes for double occupancy. However, there are slightly reduced rates on offer till September 30 next year.

Rates at Neeleshwar Hermitage are even steeper and are around Rs 2.1 lakh for double occupancy in a deluxe sea-view cottage for a seven-day stress-busting package. For a garden or poolside cottage in Shreyas, the tariffs are Rs 13,000 and Rs 15,000 per day for single and double occupancy, respectively.

Ananda is definitely on the higher side of the price spectrum as the tariff for a two-bedroom villa with pool for both single and double occupancy at this retreat is priced at Rs 75,000 per day.

In this bouquet of spiritual bounty, Oneness University has its uniqueness going by charging just Rs 3,150 for special rooms per person per day but yes, donations are always welcome from well-wishers.

Evidently, there’s more on offer for the wellness junkie this season. So, go spiritual in style if you’re ready to pick up the tab.

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