Sat. Jan 28th, 2023

You get a sense of serenity from Ananda in the Himalayas even before you enter the grounds. High on a hill above the spiritual center of Rishikesh, the birthplace of yoga made famous when the Beatles settled into an ashram there in search of enlightenment, and the holy river Ganges; the surroundings are soothing, the air clear and crisp. A sense of majesty comes in when you go through the gates to the former Maharaja’s palace to start your regimen of healing. The last time I was there, though, a few years ago, the interiors were showing that they needed a bit of healing themselves. They have it now after a three year renovation along with new programs just unveiled.

On the design front, the look, especially in the most recently refreshed one and two bedroom pool villas, is much livelier than it was before, incorporating vibrant colors reflecting the flora of the surrounding forest and Himalayan crafts as details. So is the restaurant, now including elements of traditional gond and yantric art with colorful tapestries inspired by the ancient Himalayan hill kingdoms. There’s also a new show kitchen in which to demonstrate the international dishes served which are guided by Ayurvedic principles and are absolutely delicious. After their initial consultations, guests are prescribed dishes for their dosha, or body type, and wellness goal. But they’re not rigid; you can also choose dishes that appeal to you off the a la carte menu; all are low fat, utilize fruits and vegetables from the garden and avoid artificial salts and preservatives. Menus change every four months. I wanted to eat everything.

Long known for its wellness/detox/rejuvenation/stress management programs grounded in Ayurveda, yoga and meditation, the retreat features a team of 60 Ayurvedic physicians, yogis, therapists, emotional healers, physiotherapists along with chefs. This year, in response to the stresses of the past few years, other programs are coming online. Among them: Asian therapies to counter hormonal imbalances; immunity boosting through Ayurvedic treatments, yoga and diet; and chronic pain management through Ayurvedic therapies, physiotherapy, yoga and an anti-inflammation diet. Particularly relevant is a new post covid rejuvenation program for long covid sufferers incorporating Ayurvedic therapies, diet, herbal medicines and supplements, yoga, pranayama and meditation to build immunity and revitalize the system.

Also in the area, about an hour and a half north, the wellness retreat Vana opened in 2014 as a comprehensive retreat utilizing a spread of international therapies within a natural, forest setting. Spacious and contemporary, it was designed visually to be a complete change from the riot of colors usually on view throughout India: neutral toned rooms and suites, high ceilinged common rooms with water features provide the soothing environment for guests to undergo their wellness journeys. I wish I could say more about the individual treatments but due to a raging seasonal flu, I spent more time in the ultra-modern, well-staffed and shockingly affordable hospital next door. My companions on the trip, though, raved about the treatments. They will invariably become even more impressive this fall when Vana becomes Six Senses Vana, part of the internationally famous wellness group. Trademark features such as the mindful, gastronomic, local ingredient focused program Eat With Six Senses and the better sleep inducing Sleep With Six Senses will be added along with the group’s key therapies. It should be a good fit. As Neil Jacobs, CEO of Six Senses, explains: “This marriage made in the Himalayas allows us to build on what exists with some of our signature experiences. With its ancient healing traditions and spiritual practices, India has long been heralded as the ultimate wellness gateway and, in a gentle but intentional way, this plays to who we are too.”

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