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Destination detox

An unusual feast is laid out by detox practitioner and gourmet cook Dr Soorya Kaur at her studio in South Delhi. Every single item on the table is uncooked — with unusual offerings like dehydrated onion crackers, non-flour bread and even non-dairy cheese.

Yes, it is an exquisite raw food menu that is part of Dr Kaur’s detox programmes. And the icing — metaphorically — on her menu is the fit-for-a-banquet array of low-calorie chocolate goodies made from raw cacao. Nibble on everything from mint cookies, to a parfait of vanilla cream, strawberries and chocolate, macaroons and chocolate brownies. And surprisingly enough, yummy.

Kaur’s is an interesting take on detoxification with raw foods. But there are a host of other detox programmes that offer a return to health and well-being by cleansing the system of toxins (read: insecticides, chemicals from cosmetic and personal-care products, lead and industrial pollutants).

Welcome to the concept of austere detox retreats. The wonderful bit is that today you are spoilt for choice when it comes to detox retreats. “Ashrams, health farms, spas have all come up with their versions of detoxification,” says diet management consultant Dr Karun Makhija.

Retiring to the retreats

Austerity is a key part of the detox world. Be warned, it’s rigorous training time. So leave behind all expectations of a relaxed spa holiday. The focus is on a strict diet along with treatments and exercise.

At Kalari Kovilakom in Palakkad, Kerala, you are asked to ‘Leave Your World Behind’ (they hand out pyjamas and flip-flops for your stay). Other retreats send out information packs to potential visitors listing a long string of must-haves and must-not haves. Some allow you to carry books and movies but no heavy-duty stuff please (they do not want you to be disturbed in any way).

The detox programme at The Beach House, Goa, involves a juice and broth fast combined with meditation and Yoga

If you are prepared to undergo tough routines, head south to ashrams that are synonymous with Ayurveda. There’s Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram District. Alternatively there’s the Kottakal Arya Vaidya Sala in the state’s Malappuram district.

Also, offering a stringent routine is Bangalore’s famous Institute of Naturopathy and Yogic Sciences, better known as Jindal’s Health Farm.

Meanwhile, beach lovers, can combine their detox regime with a soothing time by the sea. Make a beeline for Goa that offers places to detox like The Beach House, a boutique wellness retreat on the secluded Sernabatim Beach. There’s also the Ayurvedic Natural Health Centre, an ayurvedic centre specialising in holistic healing in Saligao village in north Goa.

Now if a touch of luxury makes the thought of a detox programme more palatable, there’s hope in the form of retreats like Kalari Kovilakom that combine the comforts of a luxurious heritage resort with a monastic detox routine. Alternatively head up north to the opulent Ananda spa in the Himalayas.

“You need time on your hands. The body needs to be prepared for the treatments through consumption of medicated ghee and oil massages,” advises Dr Rekha Raman, senior physician at Kottakal Arya Vaida Sala’s (www.aryavaidyasala.com ) Delhi centre.

Cleansing bootcamp

But let’s put in a disclaimer. A detox programme is not about weight loss. The key factor is: They offer a change of lifestyle to give the body a rest or just a change of pace.

Ashrams like the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram in Thiruvananthapuram and the Kottakal Arya Vaidya Sala (below picture by Jagan Negi) strictly follow Ayurveda principles for cleansing

“Detox retreats work on a physical level by giving you healthy food and exercises. On a psychological level, they relax you through massages, an early-to-bed-no-mobile-phone-no-television routine,” says Dr Makhija.

The programmes could last from anywhere from three days to a fortnight — and in extreme cases, for a couple of months.

But be warned — all promises of rejuvenation come with a hefty price-tag. They are usually inclusive of consultations, treatments, massages, oils, meals, Yoga, meditation and accommodation.

Ayurveda is the mainstay for the bulk of the retreats in the country. And every aspect of the detox treatment — food, massages, et al — is personalised with a battalion of wellness consultants, doctors and nutritional therapists on call.

Expect a wide range of Ayurvedic treatments. The highly popular Shirodhara apart, there’s Navarakizhi that involves a massage with a pers- piration-triggering body scrub of rice. Or Uzhichil, a type of herbal oil massage to rejuvenate the nervous and muscular systems of the body, among others.

The Kottakal Ayur Vaidya Sala has a frugal set-up with basic amenities, and a sound ayurvedic treatment system with a 110-year-old tradition to fall back on. It offers a minimum 7-day stay that can be extended to 28 days. A fortnight’s stay in a modest air-conditioned room at this old Ayurvedic centre comes at Rs 77,000.

On a slightly different level, some retreats offer juice detox programmes in conjunction with Yoga sessions and Ayurvedic treatments. The detox programme at the Goa-based wellness boutique, The Beach House, involves a juice and broth fast. During meals you get fruit juices in various combinations such as pear, apple and lime juice or watermelon and mint. “No juice is repeated for seven days. Herbs and spices are added for a flavoursome twist,” says nutritional therapist Francine White.

Meals at the beautiful Kalari Kovilakom retreat are served in brass thalis lined with banana leaves

“The idea is to promote alkalinity in the body and slow down the system by allowing only juices to be consumed,” says Liesl De Silva, a wellness consultant at the retreat, where you can stay for a minimum of three days and stretch it up to 14 days.

The highlight at The Beach House (www.thebeachhousegoa.com), unsurprisingly, is that you are free to step out onto the beach during your free time. Prices here start from Rs 45,000 for single occupancy for a three-day detox.

Similarly, within the eco-friendly precincts of the 100-acre Jindal’s Health Farms (www.jindalnaturecure.org), where to get admission you have to have the right contacts, it’s a liquid diet involving a host of organic veggie juices from ashgourd to bitter gourd and tulsi to raw beetroot.

“A typical day at the farm includes bhajans, Yogic kriyas of Panchakarma (involving therapies like vomiting, purgation, enema, bloodletting and nasal therapy), laughter and Yoga. Following which one can go for various prescribed massages and mud baths,” says Tara Doshi, a 30-year-old entrepreneur, who goes for a detox programme every year.

Or step into the forested surroundings of Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram (www.sivananda.org), which sprawls across 12 acres at the foothills of Kerala’s Western Ghats. The juice programme here lasts two weeks.

Meanwhile, along with raw food detox at Kaur’s studio, a juice cleanse is an intricate part of her three-, five- and seven-day programmes. “You receive 10 drinks a day with the time for consumption labelled on them,” says Kaur (www.sooryakaur.com). Hers is essentially a non-residential programme (the prices are per request) but at Anandpur Sahib, near Chandigarh, she conducts residential programmes.

But the petite lady in her chic ensemble and white turban is not only a detox expert specialising in raw foods, she’s a certified Kundalini Yoga practitioner, a clinical hynotherapist and a doctor of acupuncture — all of which she uses in sync with her detox programmes. Along with her assistant, Kat Young, a Jivanmukti Hatha Yoga practitioner from British Columbia — Kaur prepares raw food dishes for her clients using food dehydrators (a device to dry food), mandoline slicers and juicer-grinders.

In exotic locales

Some detox clinics offer a healing touch just by virtue of their naturally beautiful surroundings.

The diet at Dr Soorya Kaurís Detox Cleanse Programmes is all about juices and raw food.
Pic by Jagan Negi

Nestled in the midst of eight acres of green paddy fields and with the hills as a backdrop, Kalari Kovilakom in Kollengode is one ashram that eschews the Spartan touch. Instead it brings together the 21st century comfort of a modern resort within a 19th century historical palace that was built by a queen.

Exotic touches are not unusual therefore in its 14-, 21- and 28-day programmes. A faint scent of lemon oil wafts through the halls while the food is strictly cooked in brass, iron or clay vessels. And in its pillar-framed dining area, communal meals are served in brass thalis lined with banana leaves. The menu? It might include a raw sprout and onion salad along with a dish of the local bitter gourd one day or red rice accompanied by lentils and a dish of dry jackfruit on another.

The plus is that they make sure you don’t chew your nails off in boredom. “We keep people busy with Yoga, meditation and Ayurvedic cooking sessions,” says Dr Jouhar Kanhirala, the resident doctor. The idea at Kalari Kovilakom is to make you feel that you’ve been reborn. Hold your breath, a 14-day stay in the Kovilakom Suites a single person is pegged at Rs 4.01 lakh.

For more untrammelled luxury, look at Ananda in the Himalayas (www.anandaspa.com). This high profile spa is famous for its Hollywood clients like Uma Thurman and Hilary Swank.

“Our Yogic Detox Programme uses Hatha Yoga techniques apart from a diet that stresses on two days free of salt and spices to rid one of water retention,” says Luis Guillermo Molina Guisado, spa manager. If you opt for a five-night stay in Ananda’s premium Valley View room, get ready to shell out Rs 24,900 for a night on a single occupancy basis.

The sky-high prices apart, the other catch: there are no half-measures when you walk in to a detox retreat.

So the key question is, are you in?