The air is thick with the trilling of crickets. Gossamer thin strands of cobwebs glisten with dew as the winter sun falls gently on the tall sal trees, ubiquitous to the region. Bushy-tailed monkeys playfully scurry about and there’s a pack of them near the reception area, like they are the welcome committee themselves. “But that is how it is at Vana… the 20acre property has a thick sal forest embracing it on one side and it’s we who have made a home in their territory. So trees, birds, animals and man coexist in peace at Vana. It’s an unsaid rule that we do not disturb any creature,” says Saurabh of team Vana, as we arrive at the reception area. Since these are COVID-19 times and Vana is going the mile to ensure that its guests are doubly safe and secure within its sanctuary, a rapid COVID-19 test is mandatory upon arrival. Greeted with a tikah and warm smiles, we are escorted to our residences. The room is a sanctuary in itself and there’s a personalised welcome note along with a detailed itinerary for the five-day retreat that we’re here for. A crisp off-white Abraham & Thakore kurta-pyjama lies on the bed (Vana provides this service to all its vanavasis, but it’s purely optional) and voila, I’m now a vanavasi!

Spirituality and wellness are topics that are slowly but surely gaining prominence in my life. Vana, which at its very core, sustains on the philosophy of awareness, discovery and well-being was just the perfect antidote to the effect the lockdown has had on all of us. I’m scheduled for a personalised consultation with doctor Jayachandran, head clinician. An expert at Ayurveda and with years of experience in the wellness arena, Dr. Jaya, after a detailed insight into my daily routine and lifestyle, charts a personalised food and wellness regime for my stay at Vana. Both traditional Ayurvedic principles of vata-pitta-kapha and a modern Allopathic full-body analysis are followed and to my surprise, Dr. Jaya’s analysis fully corroborates with the modern gadget that analyses the various compositions of my body. Back in the room, a complete lowdown on my body type (kapha and pitta prominent, I’m told) has been made and printed out for me, setting the tone of the wellness routine that has been carefully curated for me for the course of the retreat.

I make my way for the first of the sessions of which is kai uzhichil. Prashanti, the therapist greets me at the door and explains, “we use firm hand pressure to work on the energy channels and use medicated oils to restore energy levels, elasticity and flexibility.” All those endless hours spent hunched over a laptop are hard to miss as Prashanti goes about kneading hard and tense muscles under her soft, expert hands. The remnants of the aromatic oil is washed off with divine-smelling Ayurvedic lépa made in-house by Vana’s body and skin care wing, Vanaveda.

There’s also a nadi pareeksha session with Dr. Ajit. In a half-an-hour consultation, my pulse points, I realise, have conveyed far more than words could about the life I follow and what’s more, my emotional highs and lows even. An expert nadi vaidya, Dr. Ajit tells me that the pulsation of blood through the vessels carries the vibrations produced in the cells of one’s body due to the action of the mind. “These vibrations and information sent to the different parts of the body gets stored in the cells, resulting in symptoms. A nadi vaidya is able to diagnose the well-being of a person through the simple touch of the wrist,” explains Dr. Ajit.

This session was followed by Ku Nye, a traditional Tibetan medicated oil massage done with hot fermentation in specific energy points on the body with mini poultice dipped in medicated oils. This therapy, I’m told, initiates proper balancing of the subtle bio energies in the body and induces removal of stagnated energy. It worked like a charm for I was softly snoring away by the end of it.

For someone who has a phobia of needles, I was a tad unprepared for the Acupuncture session I was penciled in for. I really needn’t have worried. One look at the smiling face of Dr. Dimple was enough to put me at ease. “In fact, you’d be surprised to know that most people tend to get pleasantly addicted to it; there’s much natural healing that occurs after these sessions,” shares Dr Dimple, a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine. I didn’t even flinch when those 30 needles made their way to the pressure points on my body, such was her skill. My metabolism and digestion has been so much better since that therapy.

Foot reflexology was also part of the programme and my feet were literally thanking me at the end of the 60-minute session. The body felt absolutely light and supple at the end of it all.

The last of the therapies was the classic Ayurvedic abhyanga. A full body massage later, I can vouch that it’s by far one of the most relaxing and rejuvenating massages that I’ve ever had.

Mindfulness is the core philosophy at Vana and this translates into its cuisine, too. Fresh, local, seasonal and organic is the touchstone of its food at the two in-house restaurants Anayu and Salana. With well-being being the mainstay, Vana steers clear of refined sugars, grains and oils. There’s an in-house organic vegetable and herb garden that rules out airfreighting of any kind of food. Their whole grain flours are freshly ground in a stone mill and all breads are baked every day. Guests can choose vegetarian or non-vegetarian dishes and a vegan menu is also available. And their portion size is just perfect.

My menu for the stay was based on my dosha type, so being kapha-pitta heavy, it was designed to get all the elements back in alignment. So my plate was usually leaning towards brown rice and vegetables, millet khichdi with seasonal vegetables, ragi dosas, warm soups, fresh fruits and wholesome nuts, sabudana kheer and warm herbal concoctions. I was advised to steer clear of breads, dairy products and cold substances. This has worked well for me and as someone who has had hypothyroid for a decade; my body is now showing signs of losing weight long past my stay at Vana. Less spice, less oil and desi ghee has worked well and Ayurveda has effectively set the path ahead in wellness for me.

Designed by the Spanish father-son duo Esteva i Esteva Arquitectura, Vana is counted amongst the top wellness retreats in the world. And rightfully so, for it brings together contemporary aesthetics, local materials and top-of-the-line comfort. The 66 rooms, 16 suites and four casas on the property offer sweeping views of the sal forest and the fruit orchards. Colours at Vana are all muted, aiding an instant sense of calm and wellbeing. The retreat’s commitment to ecology is praiseworthy: you notice it in thoughtful details like how the linen is changed once every three days, unless of course you choose otherwise.

All their water is made available in glass bottles, thus doing away with the mindless dispensing of plastic mineral water bottles. The retreat also follows a strict no mobile, no photography policy except in the privacy of your rooms. But at the heart of it all is Vana’s staff who make your stay utterly pleasant. Discreet yet efficient, from thoughtfully sending you chamomile tea for a good night’s sleep to fetching you a rare book that you had mentioned in passing or even packing you food for your flight back home, Vana’s staff always goes the extra mile.

Group activities are an integral part of a vanavasi’s daily routine. Along with private treatments, each day is further highlighted by group sessions that include yoga, at least one form of meditation, raga therapy and musical offerings. During my stay, there was a flute recital by the pool that we witnessed with the full moon watching over us. It was surreal to say the least. Cuisine lessons, mindful walking, a talk on Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine were other activities that were organised during our stay. These apart, Vana also has a vast tennis court, an indoor water therapy centre, swimming pools, yoga centres, an enviable library, a well-appointed media room, an ultra-modern gym, a fitness centre and most importantly, meditative spaces that help you switch off from the outside world. Evenings especially are absolutely soulful with lamps that flicker subtly all over the property (lighting is tuned according to the time of the day as is the music). Everyone speaks in mellow tones and quiet hours are observed twice a day.

Anybody who has been to Vana will vouch that saying goodbye isn’t easy. The place grows on you and so do its people. It’s the small attention detail perhaps. Like how everything is done for you before you even ask for it. They packed a gluten-free mocha shortbread for my return trip because they were aware I had a sweet tooth and my diet hadn’t allowed much scope in this regard. They also thoughtfully packed a Vanaveda goodie bag filled with body care and it has set the template for my love for natural personal care products. From the moment they tie a crimson thread with a tiny silver bell and a rudraksh (that grows on the property) as a symbol of protection for your journey home, you know a bond has been set. The team at Vana believes that theirs is a sacred land. That once a guest sets foot on it, they always come back for more. I hope it is so. The beauty and largesse of Vana is way beyond that to be experienced in one trip. As for my life after, mindfulness is now at the core of my life. As is the food. And the living. Just like Vana meant it to be.

Vana is located on Mussoorie Road, Dehradun in India’s northern Uttarakhand State, around a one-hour drive from Dehradun’s Jolly Grant airport and approximately a 45-minute drive from Dehradun railway station. Vana, which translates into ‘forest,’ is a luxury destination spa hotel created by the young and dynamic visionary, Veer Singh.

Contact: (+91)135 3511111 / (+91)80060 00945
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