Travelling from bitterly cold Delhi in December to an even-colder mountain getaway may seem bizarre, but I made this trip to Sitla Estate, near Mukhteshwar, for the fourth time because I wanted to pause before I embark on a new year. I spent three days soaking in the glorious mountain sunshine with snowcapped Himalayan peak views, going for forest walks where the only sound is your feet crunching through the leaves. There was no television or room service; instead, we enjoyed sit-down dinners where you actually chat with your family and friends, and a cosy living room where you share in drink, conversation and perhaps a game with fellow guests. For me, this is wellness. Forging a connection with others and myself, abundant natural beauty, little digital distraction, and an environment for idleness, where you can just be and do nothing.
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I am not alone in prioritising a holiday that caters to mind, body and soul. Many Indians are making time for health and wellness breaks, recognizing the importance of pausing to heal and rejuvenate. There has been a gradual shift in the last few years with an increased focus on health and wellness; a pandemic-induced interest in holistic health and improving immunity; and increasing stress and burnout. According to the Agoda Travel Trends Survey 2023, wellness was one of the four top motivations to travel, with 20% of travellers looking to unwind from their busy routines.
Manoj Lulla (50) is one of them. He has been regularly doing annual wellness breaks, completing seven so far. Prakriti Shakti, a natural medicine retreat in Kerala, is one of his favourite destinations. Lulla, the owner of Shraddha Lulla Gourmet Desserts in Chennai, began detoxification breaks because of his hectic schedule and high blood pressure. “I’ve done programs from 12 to 24 days, but the beautiful space and variety in the schedule never bores me,” he says. A usual day at Prakriti Shakti includes early morning surya namaskars overlooking the mountains, Ayurvedic massages, yoga, health and nutrition discussions, beautifully presented raw vegan meals and limited internet and mobile use. “I have tried more basic retreats, but because the process is challenging, a scenic and comfortable place make it easier.”
The concept of wellness holidays has evolved in the last few years in India. Loveleen Multani, founder of Panache World, a boutique travel company in Bengaluru, explains the earlier definition and options being limited to a hotel spa or budget-friendly ashrams, the latter with basic and sometimes unhygienic facilities, and only a few focused wellness retreats like Ananda in the Himalayas. “This began to change about five years ago. Apart from covid, there is pollution, high-stress jobs, erratic hours and poor eating habits fueling the need to take care of ourselves. Hotels realised that just a spa is not enough, which led to more wellness-focused hotels. While luxury retreats can cost approximately ₹40,000 per night, there are now more options for different budgets with good hygiene standards and comfort,” says Multani.
Ayurveda and naturopathy remain popular choices for health and wellness breaks. Some opt for them to manage existing health conditions, while others choose them as a preventative measure. Delhi-based luxury fashion consultant Rajika Narain does an annual panchkarma detox at the Sri Sri Tattva Ayurveda Centre Bengaluru and did a two-week ayurvedic eye treatment twice in 2011. “I had a power of .75 and my eyesight was normal by the end of the treatment. It’s only now that I need to repeat the treatment in 2023,” she says, adding that complete wellness is her priority and she now visits mainly for preventive care.
Lulla has also benefitted from his annual visits, though he admits that it is difficult to maintain the same habits and regime when back to his routine. “At least this annual detox recharges my system. I have incorporated some of the dietary changes in my daily routine.”
Unlike leisure trips, many people are comfortable taking wellness breaks alone. Gurugram-based Interior designer Shagun Singh (43) visited Ananda for a ten-day detox programme in 2022, her first solo and wellness-focused trip. “While some aspects were challenging like the dietary changes, spending time with myself, and meditation sessions, the overall program with daily massages, various healing treatments and discussions with your instructors, who help you release mental blocks, left me feeling liberated. I appreciated the value of silence and being with myself.”
It was curiosity that led Delhi-based Ankit Arora to a 10-day vipassana retreat in Jaipur in December 2022. He had long wanted to try it, but having no contact with the outside world during its duration took some planning for the 32-year-old investment fund manager. “The Dhamma Thali Vipassana Centre is beautiful, the accommodation basic but adequate, and there are a variety of participants, from businesspeople to students,” he says. Along with a vow of silence and no devices, there are meditation sessions and recorded video discourses. “While I thought eating less food or not talking would be difficult, it was the focus required for the technique which was tough. I feel I came out of it calmer, more articulate and more helpful towards others” he says. While he hopes to return for a 3-day course intermittently, Arora highlights the paucity of time we have, which may deter some from indulging only in a wellness break and opt for a leisure one instead. Because it is difficult to take multiple long breaks from work, Arora is inclined towards options like trekking or scuba diving, which combine both.
Beyond hotels or clinics, there is more variety and options for wellness holidays. For instance, farm stays like Hideout Farm in Vikramgadh, Maharashtra, host various expert-led wellness retreats ranging from yoga to qi gong, an ancient Chinese healing technique. “Our space is usually integrated within these workshops, where participants can explore and participate in farm life, visit the sacred fruit forest and surrounding lake and waterfalls,” says the owner, Hemant Chhabra.
There are other innovative retreats catering to emotional wellness and healing, like Meher Malik and Rahul Goswami’s healing retreats at their residency space, Moksha in the Mountains, near Dharamshala. Delhi-based Malik incorporates her own skill as a professional belly dancer, along with her interest in various healing treatments and art forms from different cultures into these programmes. “This year we have contact improvisation, breathwork, womb healing work, contemporary dance, and sacred movement, among other workshops and retreats,” she says. “Our space in the mountains is in a pristine, lush location with mountain views and the river running by. You can have these retreats in the city, but these spaces enhance or support the participants’ journey.” Their retreats range from a week to a month, some gender-specific, with more relaxed evening activities for the participants to unwind from the sometimes-intense daytime practices of breathwork, asanas, trauma healing work, chakra balancing and more.
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This growing variety of options for wellness breaks is significant. “While many wellness retreats may not be cheap, people realize that they need to invest in themselves,” says Multani. “Even without any health problems, people want to indulge in these as a preventive measure. Like an annual recharge.”