It was perhaps fitting that I fell ill with a bad bout of gastro on my way to visit the nation’s newest wellness retreat: Vana, Malsi Estate. This way, I could truly test the waters. Would the food here be as organic, healing and delicious as it claims to be? Would the treatments be truly restorative? Would the setting really be an oasis of calm to soothe frayed city nerves? Only time would tell.
All that met the eye on the road to the 21-acre, Rs325-crore behemoth from Dehradun’s Jolly Grant Airport (an hour’s drive from the property) were miles and miles of lush sal trees—and Vana itself is set amid mango and litchi orchards around a reserve sal forest. Cars aren’t allowed inside the actual retreat, so once your luggage is dropped off at the reception, it, and you, are transported via golf carts to your room.
Vana’s founder Veer Singh (of the Max India Group) believes that a wellness retreat requires you to stay there for a few days in order to get an all-round, therapeutic experience—which is why Vana has a minimum-three-night-stay policy. “Our resort is aimed at health-oriented individuals looking for a holistic wellness experience, so we establish guests’ goals before they arrive and advise them on the routine to follow even after they’ve left.”
Designed by Spanish studio, Esteva i Esteva Arquitectura, Vana’s 69 rooms, 17 suites and four villas are done up in soothing shades of cream and brown, with most facing the forest. One of Singh’s core beliefs is in preserving the environment, and his passion for this is evident: the property is aiming for a LEED rating; uses only certified organic bed and bath linen; and has its own bottling plant that it claims will save up to one lakh plastic bottles a year.
But Vana’s true pièce de résistance is its wellness retreat. The contemporary structure houses an ayurvedic centre, a Chinese wellness section, a ritual spa, four yoga and meditation pavilions, more than 50 treatment rooms, an indoor and outdoor pool, watsu and a state-of-the-art gymnasium. Guests will be offered a customised consultation, based on which all their treatments will be tailored.
Although the wellness centre wasn’t completely ready when I visited, I did sample a foot-reflexology session. The 60-minute treatment was soothing and relaxing, with the therapist, Arun (who formerly worked at Ananda), confirming what I knew: I was fraught with city stress and needed to meditate to restore my balance. He also identified my stomach issues and offered tangible solutions for it.
Vana’s staff is an eclectic mix of characters, all with unique experiences of their own. General manager Martijn Brouwer spent eight years working with Richard Branson on Necker Island; wellness director Christina Watson worked at a retreat in Atlanta; chief vaidya Avilochan Singh is a well-known ayurvedic practitioner from New Delhi; and chef Kuntal Kumar was previously at Gibb’s Farm in Ngorongoro, Tanzania.
Kumar is a master chef, which has contributed to the fact that food at Vana is a highlight. The two restaurants serve both local and Western dishes in keeping with wellness principles. Throughout my stay, I was spoilt with dishes such as mountain potato tossed with amaranth, sautéed colocasia, pahadi chicken curry, jamungranita and a delectable dessert of poached apple, jhangora and lemon grass pudding with caramelised lotus seeds.
With its vast range of wellness facilities, delicious food and luxurious accommodation, Vana seems to have everything right. What’s remarkable is that, so far, it has appropriately delivered it all. As for me, it was the crisp Himalayan air coupled with Vana’s healthy comfort food that did it—I was up and running in two days.
Vana, Malsi Estate, Mussoorie Road, Dehradun (www.vanaretreats.com) Doubles from US$650 (about Rs40,500) per night for a minimum three-night stay, including transfers, accommodation, meals, arrival/departure consultation and one spa treatment
Getting there Fly to Dehradun with Jet Airways (www.jetairways.com) or SpiceJet (www.spicejet.com) from New Delhi, which is well-connected with major Indian cities. Vana, Malsi Estate is an hour’s drive away.