Two chic and remote retreats offer an ancient prescription for perfect health.
On the outskirts of the vibrant town of Dehradun, India, among acres of lychee and mango orchards in the foothills of the Himalayas, the newly opened Vana, Malsi Estate offers a contemporary and authentic wellness experience with a focus on Ayurveda.
An hour’s flight from New Delhi, Vana is the ambitious creation of Veer Singh, the 30-year-old founder whose desire to live a sustainable and conscious life—in the most elegant and aesthetically pleasing way possible—is evident throughout this palace of vitality. Singh’s family purchased the land 15 years ago, and Veer, who had spent considerable time immersed in organic farming in Spain, had a vision of creating “the most iconic wellness retreat in the world,” as he says. After five years and $55 million, Vana opened its doors in January.
The resort prides itself on offering Ayurveda, India’s traditional form of medicine and healing, in its purest form. Translating to “the science of life,” Ayurveda is rooted in the premise that understanding oneself and living a balanced lifestyle are the key ingredients to a healthy life. Ayurveda, explains Singh, looks at a person holistically, and considers his or her physical, mental, and spiritual self, in addition to the environment. For Singh, it boils down to well-being. “Well-being is the end state, the goal to work toward, physically, mentally, and spiritually,” he says.
Tapping into centuries-old knowledge to understand each person individually, the onsite Ayurvedic physicians determine each guest’s dosha, or constitution. Once determined, the physicians prescribe a physical course as well as a diet for patients to follow while at the resort and once they return home.
The sought-after Spanish design studio Esteva i Esteva Arquitectura succeeded in creating a soothing contemporary design that melds with the surrounding natural environment. The 69 rooms, 17 suites, and four villas are situated to maximize the soothing views of a sal forest. Each suite, peacefully neutral in tone, has its own meditation room featuring a hand-painted bodhisattva, as well as intoxicating handmade incense, created by monks from Dharamsala. An exquisite attention to detail is evident in everything from the retreat’s own beautifully formulated product line, Vanaveda (tailored for the three doshas), to the organic cotton bed and bath linens to the light, cotton designer Abraham & Thakore robes to the custom-made bamboo combs. At turndown, a hot-water bottle is placed beneath your duvet.
Public spaces aplenty beg for one to slow down, stop, and reflect. They include the Ayurvedic center; a contemporary spa with a steam room, a sauna, and a whirlpool; and a modern wellness center where treatments and consultations take place with Vana’s team of consultants, each one a doctor of traditional or complementary medicine. More than 50 well-appointed treatment rooms make up the spa, as well as three yoga studios and pavilions, an indoor and outdoor pool, a Watsu pool, tennis courts, and a 1,500-square-foot fitness center outfitted with top-of-the-line Technogym equipment.
There are two restaurants, one with an open kitchen, Salana, which features international gastronomy, and the other, Ánayu, dedicated to Ayurvedic cuisine. Noted chef Kuntal Kumar (who has worked with Gordon Ramsay) creates nutritious and mindful cuisine based on the retreat’s wellness principles. The food is delicious, creative, and locally sourced, much of it from the organic herb and vegetable gardens on property. Alcohol is not encouraged, although wine and champagne are available in the evenings. A private dining space is reserved for those guests who choose to participate in the panchakarma program, an intense detoxification therapy lasting from 14 to 35 days.
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Vana’s unique approach to wellness is most noticeable in its personalized programs, which are created after a wellness consultation upon arrival. (Guests are contacted prior to their arrival to set their goals.) The wellness team comprises Ayurvedic doctors, a Tibetan doctor, and a traditional Chinese medicine doctor, as well as naturopaths, nutritionists, yoga practitioners, and fitness experts. The spa’s treatment menu includes more than 56 Ayurvedic choices, including abhyanga, the traditional Ayurvedic massage using oils and herbs customized to one’s constitution. There are also some excellent Tibetan healing treatments here, including ku nye, a traditional Tibetan medicinal massage performed by two therapists, which uses therapeutic oil, herbal paste, or dry massage techniques. The Tibetan physician and her team of therapists hail from the Men-Tsee-Khang—the Tibetan Medical and Astrology Institute in Dharamsala, set up by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Music therapy is currently on the menu, and art therapy may be added in the future. One may also opt for the detox diet retreat (five to 21 days), or a weight management retreat (seven to 21 days).
A journey to Vana is both a prudent and imaginative step toward improved wellness. A three-night minimum stay is required, with rates beginning around $560 per day (depending on the current value of the rupee). Airport transfers, daily treatments according the guest’s retreat package, arrival and departure consultations, meals, nonalcoholic beverages, group wellness and retreat activities, gratuities, and all taxes are included. www.vanaretreats.com
Those who desire an Ayurvedic approach in a remote locale yet closer to a more familiar experience may book an all-inclusive Ayurvedic Immersion at the Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru—44 acres of wilderness in the ultra-secluded Baa Atoll, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, located just 40 minutes via seaplane from Male in the Maldives. The resort’s 2.5 acre spa and Ayurvedic retreat area stretches from the center of the island to the middle of one of the Maldives’ largest natural lagoons. It has 10 vast treatment pavilions, with four on stilts over the turquoise lagoon, and six—three of which are dedicated specifically to Ayurveda—nestled in a lush tropical garden setting.
The Retreat program enables guests to escape to the sanctuary of the spa to rest, relax, and undertake a personalized program, typically made up of spa treatments, yoga, nutrition, and activities. Immersions, on the other hand, is the collective term used for the property’s all-inclusive, seven-day (Explore), 14-day (Absorb), and 21-day (Commit) Ayurvedic programs. No matter the Immersion, one must fill out a brief consultation form pre-arrival. Guests are encouraged to opt for vegetarian fare and abstain from alcohol. Those who book the Absorb and Commit Immersions may choose from various elements of the panchakarma detoxification plan.
The Spa and Ayurvedic Retreat launched in 2006, while the panchakarma option is new to the menu of offerings. Explains Lucy Kennington, the spa’s director, “The popularity of our Ayurvedic body massages and treatments prompted the development of the Immersions, through which guests could experience a more in-depth experience of Ayurveda, encompassing lifestyle, diet, yoga, and treatments.” The Maldives, says Kennington, has perfect year-round weather in which to conduct panchakarma—high humidity and consistent temperatures, which are optimum detoxifying conditions for the body, she says. Two Ayurvedic doctors oversee the program. Visitors may choose from a dosha-specific menu in each restaurant. In addition, the resort offers nine different forms of yoga—with each class held on the peaceful over-water yoga deck.
As soon as reservations for the Ayurvedic programs are made, the Ayurvedic doctors contact guests and a preliminary plan is compiled. As at Vana, upon arrival, the doctor meets with guests to help them settle in and then begins a consultation.
Designed by Sri Lankan architect Murad Ismail, the design blends traditional Maldivian and Sri Lankan forms with an airy, contemporary style. A nice touch: the Four Seasons gained approval from the Maldivian government to recycle coral from a redevelopment project. With that, they painstakingly revived ancient Maldivian building techniques on the external walls of the 103 bungalows and villas.
If guests prefer to escape the resort for a few days, they can secure the Four Seasons Explorer, the three-deck luxury liveaboard that can hold 22 guests on an unforgettable marine odyssey.
For the adventuresome of another sort, Tantric Traditions is on the menu here, possibly making this the first spa to offer three Siddha Tantric rituals for men, women, and couples. Performed by a pair of devout and practicing tantrikas trained in both tantric philosophy and the science of Ayurveda, this elaborate course involves a 90-minute tantric massage and herbal steam and bath. Each distinctive ritual is designed to nurture and invigorate the body, awaken the senses, and place the recipient on the path to wholeness.
A seven-day program begins at $11,832 for single occupancy and $15,960 for double, plus a service charge and taxes. www.fourseasons.com/maldives
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An Ayurvedic Primer
Ayurveda is based on an individual’s dosha, or bio-energy, which reflects a balance of five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether, according to Vana’s Dr. Avilochan Singh. The types of doshas are classified into three major types: vata (a combination of air and ether elements), pitta (a blend of either air and fire or fire and water), and kapha (a mix of water and earth elements). “Every individual has a specific proportion of the doshas that gives one a unique physical appearance, physiological strengths and weaknesses, and intellectual and emotional traits, thus governing the overall personality,” Singh says. Most people have one or two strong doshas; very few are pure vata, pitta, or kapha. Even rarer are those who are tridoshic, when all three doshas are equally as strong.
Ayurvedic doctors spend six years at an Ayurvedic university studying eight branches of medicine: internal; pediatrics; psychiatry; eye, ear, nose and throat; surgery; toxicology; geriatrics; and fertility. In assessing patients, they follow an ancient and comprehensive 10-point checklist across three broad spectrums: darshana, a visual examination of physical characteristics; sparsana, a physical evaluation of an individual to understand the physiological functioning; and prasana, specific questions or dialogue to analyze the psychological characteristics of the person. Assessments include everything from complexion and weight to appetite and digestion to mental outlook and preference for hot or cold temperatures.
The three dosha types could be described, very generally, as below:
Light build, thin. Dry, cool skin. Quick, active thinkers with a disposition for worry. They dislike cold weather. Vata’s digestion and eating habits are irregular, and they tend toward constipation. Sleep is light and interrupted.
Moderate build with strong appetite and good digestion. These
hard-working perfectionist types tend to have a reddish complexion. Tendency to be quick-tempered and irritable. Inclined to love cold
foods and beverages. They dislike hot weather.
Solid, heavy body type. Great endurance, but slow and methodical.
Demeanor is calm and steady. Skin tends to be oily and smooth, hair thick and dark. Slow digestion, heavy sleeper.