A modern interpretation of the classic ashram rises in the Himalayas.
The Himalayas have long attracted travelers in search of enlightenment, from Hindus making their annual pilgrimage to Kashmir’s Amarnath cave to yogis flocking to the ashrams of Rishikesh and Mysore. When I arrived in the Himalayan foothills last October for an exclusive first look at Vana, Malsi Estate—a 21-acre wellness retreat that opened in Dehradun in January—I had completed a pilgrimage of another sort: an arduous 30-hour trek from New York to New Delhi to the region’s tiny Jolly Grant Airport. But standing at last at the property’s pavilion entrance, as an attendant in flowing linens anointed my forehead with fragrant sandalwood paste, I felt my woes begin to recede, opening the way for an uplifting experience in the world’s most fabled mountain range.
Vana itself is the result of a long journey, one that began roughly five years ago when its founder, Veer Singh, first envisioned the destination. “I wanted to create a place for people seeking equilibrium with themselves, others, and nature—and a place that would provoke and inspire people,” he says.
Singh’s realization of Vana is an evolution of the ashram, blending such prototypical elements as yoga and meditation with modern amenities that include 55 spa-treatment rooms, three yoga studios, indoor and outdoor pools, and a lounge. Guests embark on targeted programs (priced from $530 per night, all inclusive) that begin with an assessment by one of Vana’s doctors. Itineraries based on individuals’ body types, preferences, and abilities may include nutritional consultations, fitness classes, and cooking seminars, along with such therapies as acupuncture, four-handed Tibetan massages, and Watsu. In the restaurants, organic meals prepared by the spa chef Kuntal Kumar are free of refined flours and sugars, but remain filling and flavorful—and are regularly served with wine.
Pleasantly missing from Singh’s temple of wellness is the austere aesthetic of the average ashram. Designed by the Spanish firm Esteva i Esteva Arquitectura, Vana is by contrast sleek and contemporary, eschewing typical colonial style for clean lines, bespoke furnishings, and modern artworks. The 86 rooms, suites, and villas feature organic linens, hardwood floors, and large balconies that look out onto a sal forest.
Checking in to my room on my first day, I slipped into Vana’s custom attire and slippers before heading to the ayurvedic building for an Abhyanga massage. Intended to improve my circulation and soothe my muscles, the treatment paired heaping quantities of warm herbal oils with powerhouse push-pull massage strokes. The combination left me in a fog—and drenched in rich oil—but following a shower and therapist-prescribed “quiet time,” I headed to dinner feeling focused and energized, a small first step on my journey to enlightenment.
Vana, Malsi Estate, +91.11.4060.0000, www.vanaretreats.com