• Published 13.10.17
Kalari Kovilakom, Kerala
 Ananda in the Himalayas, Uttarakhand 
Soukya, Bangalore
Quiet Healing Centre in Auroville, Pondicherry
KARE Yoga and Ayurveda Health Retreat in Pune

Well-being is a term used so loosely nowadays. What does it actually mean? To maintain good health?  Curing an ailment? Pampered with potions, lotions and massages? A rest and a bit of recreation? For most of us it’s a mixture of all of the above. I suppose the words “balance” or “health” would best describe well-being. Even the word “health” has different meanings, in India especially. A healthy baby is usually a plump one! So is health about fitness or is it about living well? I learnt in all my years working in Corporate F& B — never say the word ‘health’. In India it’s a dirty word implying that you’re sick or something is definitely wrong with you and nobody wants to be seen buying a product, which implies that. Being a vegetarian in India doesn’t imply a healthful way of living. Abroad, vegetarians are generally into a more holistic lifestyle who incorporate organic food and exercise as part of their daily ritual. Then we have vegans and Jains — some driven by ‘health’ and a need to safeguard the environment, most driven by religion.

Where then do you go for some “healthful” rest and recreation? There’s a whole brigade of Ayurvedic clinics and resorts in Kerala and Bangalore. Some really serious like Arya Vaidya Sala — a dreadful place I once had the misfortune of experiencing for longer than I care to remember. They do cure people of very serious injuries I was told, but for me, it was a disaster. No understanding of my problems or allergies, terrible food, terrible environment. No joy at all! On the other hand, the CGH property in Palakkad, to which we escaped after Arya Vaidya Sala, was a dream.

I read about Kalari Kovilakom in a DK book on India while suffering the tedium of Arya Vaidya Sala. They have all the Ayurvedic treatments you would expect with the added charm of beautiful rooms, a tranquil setting in a palace, peace, quiet and care. Food is quite simple; all vegetarian, cooked traditionally with great sensitivity in stone vessels called kalchettis. It is expensive but heals and rejuvenates. I have heard similar things about Shreyas Yoga Retreat, Soukya, International Holistic Health Centre in Bangalore, and on a lower budget but just as effective, KARE Yoga and Ayurveda Health Retreat in Pune and Quiet Healing Centre in Auroville, Pondicherry. Many of these cater primarily to well-heeled foreigners. The latter have more of an Indian following.

If you do have a generous budget and some time (at least a week), my all time favourite R&R retreat has to be Ananda in the Himalayas. It is magical and it isn’t surprising why. The location aside — nestled in the lower Himalayas, 45 minutes from Dehradun and 20 minutes from Rishikesh — it fits the bill on many ‘well-being’ fronts. Rooms are more five-star than ‘spa retreat’ and not overly spacious but the views are superb — either over the Himalayas or up into the hills overlooking the palace which is part of the estate. Like Kalari Kovilakom, you have two sets of kurta pyjama to wear during your stay which are laundered and replaced every day. This works. It’s not only an aesthetically nice touch but very practical. What I love about Ananda is that you can be as busy or as chilled as you want. Daily routine starts with a delicious jaggery ginger drink delivered to your room. Then, a fantastic breakfast spread which includes healthful versions of old favourites — vermicelli mixed seeds upma, multigrain crepes and quinoa pancakes, a buffet laden with fruit, organic hill honey, home-made cereal and so on.

Non-veg is not restricted if you are not on an Ayurvedic package although nobody is putting a gun to your head. And although you seem to veer towards a more vegetarian menu after a couple of days (since it’s so delicious), you do it more out of choice than compulsion. For those who don’t want to walk the straight and narrow, there is a normal a la carte menu too. All meals are included in the Ananda price tag including tea in the Palace — and if you do feel like indulging in an occasional glass of wine or whisky, that is not frowned upon at all. It’s about flexibility and choice here as much as giving you the opportunity to follow a sound and strict regime should you want that.

The second thing I love about Ananda is the spa — spread over 25,000sq ft, the treatments are bliss and the therapists all well-trained. There is a qualified Ayurvedic doctor too.

The third thing that sets Ananda apart from the others are visiting masters. There are always one or two throughout the year and many repeat guests book their trip according to their visits. Dr. Giovanni Megighian was there on my last two trips. He is Italian and now has quite a fan following at Ananda. His Mio Balance technique to relieve stress and restore balance in the body through a technique he has developed, works. Based on pure science, he employs kinesiology, an understanding of the trigeminal nerve and pressure points among other things. He has several impressive testimonials from guests who have shoulder, back and alignment problems for years. After a few sessions with him, these completely disappear! Dr. Giovanni Megighian is completely fluent in English, an ex Harley Street London doctor, professor at Florence  University and now a fellow of George Washington University so his credentials are impeccable and this builds the foundation of trust.

Other visiting masters are more ‘alternative’ in nature but no less sound or effective. The visiting masters are such a popular part of Ananda that general manager Nikhil Kapur is now housing them in a completely different section of the premises away from the spa where they previously were.

Ananda also has a glorious temperature-controlled pool, Vedanta classes, off-site activities like trekking and white water rafting and really important for me, very thoughtfully prepared food. The wellness menu is divided up into options for pitta / vata/ dishes or types with calorie counts for every course. Plus all desserts are sugar free. A typical pitta lunch could consist of a selection of salads, a main course of wild rice risotto and slice of sugar-free orange and almond cake. A total of under 500 calories!

Lastly — service and staff at Ananda is quite amazing. Although the ‘namaskar’ at every twist and turn can get tiring, it is an important USP. Nothing is too much for the team and that quiet calm efficiency seems to have become a trademark. 
Ananda ticks all my boxes. It doesn’t straightjacket you into conformity and allows you enough choice to ever so gently take the path to a healthier lifestyle, physically and mentally.

Which wellness centre have you tried and liked? Tell