Spirituality, more often than not, when offered up in today’s spa realm, is yet another entrée on the scrumptious spa buffet. I’ll take a little bit of that sustainable salt scrub, combine it with a downward dog, add a dash of laughter therapy, and a pinch of Thai massage, blend that all together with a drizzle of hot oil on my third eye, and I’m good to go …
But go where?
Instead, I went to Vana, Malsi Estate, far, far away in the foothills of the Himalayas, in the city of Dehradun, about an hour’s flight from New Delhi. Was I searching for spirituality? Not exactly. I was going to find out if this new wellness retreat was everything that its founder, Veer Singh, had envisioned. Singh, a young entrepreneur with a good head on his shoulders and a powerful family behind him, had decided that he would create “the most iconic wellness retreat in the world.”
Singh’s family had purchased the land, idyllically surrounded by an ancient Sal forest to the west, the foothills of the Himalayas to the north, and the lively town of Dehradun to the east, about 20 years ago. Initial plans were for a large, super-luxe hotel, until Singh, who had spent considerable time working on an organic farm in Spain, had his vision. After five years and $55 million, Singh swung open the doors this past January.
Vana has a unique approach to wellness that is customized to each guest during a wellness consultation on arrival. The excellent wellness team includes Ayurvedic doctors (Vana offers Ayurveda in its most complete form, with a panchakarma program that lasts 21 days), Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctors, and a Tibetan doctor. There are also naturopaths, nutritionists, yoga practitioners, fitness experts, massage therapists, and an exquisite chef who culls from organic gardens to make sure that your experience is as authentic, pure, and beneficial as possible.
I’m happy to say that the spiritual aspect, so poorly executed at so many spas and wellness retreats, feels refreshing and real here—in part because Dehradun is home to a very large Tibetan community. Singh felt a “deep duty” to bring in Tibetan Healing, called Sowa Rigpa (this loosely translates to “the knowledge and science of healing”). Influenced by both Ayurveda and TCM, it has similarities with both. The literature of Vana describes Tibetan Healing as: “a science because its principles are enumerated in a systematic and logical framework based on an understanding of the body and its relationship to the environment; an art because it uses diagnostic techniques based on the creativity, insight, and compassion of the medical practitioner; and a philosophy because it embraces the key Buddhist principles of altruism, karma, and ethics.”
My experience with two of the Tibetan therapists, Dolma and Dhadon, was simply wonderful. Both were among the first spa therapists to graduate from the Men-Tsee-Khang, the Tibetan Medical and Astrology Institute in Dharamshala, set up by his Holiness the Dalai Lama, and it was refreshing to receive treatments from these two young women whose contentment was contagious and who were not in the least bit jaded. During my stay, I had Ku-Nye, the traditional Tibetan massage that’s a combination of long strokes, rubbing, and kneading or acupressure, with a therapeutic oil (a blend of nutmeg, caraway, and sesame in my case). The massage is meant to ease stress, fatigue, and to promote a sense of calm and well-being. (Ku means to apply oil, while Nye means to apply pressure using a variety of movements.) I also had the Synchronized Dhugs. Performed by both therapists, this is a wonderful compression treatment that uses warm bundles of Tibetan medicinal herbs that are dabbed onto the body using mild pressure and consistent speed. This is said to help improve physiological functions, release blockages, ease indigestion, strengthen muscles, and reduce pain. All I know is that it felt like kittens were walking on my back.
Dr. Sonam Oshoe is the Tibetan doctor at Vana who, after an initial consult, recommends the ideal treatments, supplements, and meditation for you. A soft-spoken woman whose father is a traditional Tibetan artist and whose mother is a social worker, she was touched by the concept of Vana upon learning of it. When she’s dealing with guests at Vana, she told me, she’s not trying to treat them—she’s trying to make them realize the importance of their life.
Visit the Vana, Malse Estate at vanaretreats.com.