Vana is an exquisite, exclusive wellness retreat in northern India. We take a glimpse behind its golden bamboo curtain.
“My dad grew up in the foothills of the Himalayas,” says Bridget McCarney. “My grandfather was in the British army in India and because it was too hot in Delhi they sent the English children to the foothills. For as long as my dad was alive, he spoke about the Himalayas. So that’s one of the reasons why I went,” she pauses, smiles, then adds, “and also because I was knackered.”
Bridget was knackered because for the past 10 years she had been the managing director of a growing media agency. She first heard of Vana – the luxurious wellness retreat in Dehradun, near the Himalayan foothills – from two fellow high-powered executives. One was a jet-setting airline executive; the other worked for an international hotel group. High praise, indeed.
The experience begins before you even reach the retreat – your transfer from the airport is a luxury vehicle in the resort’s signature cream colouring. The retreat is beautifully decorated, with a minimalist aesthetic intended to induce the simplicity and clarity of lifestyle in which its customers are there to immerse themselves.
Upon arrival, Vanavasis (“To take refuge in the forest”) as its guests are called, are given an ayurvedic medical appraisal and are then prescribed an itinerary of treatments, which they can combine with their choice of activities including meditation, yoga or hiking during their stay. So it’s a six-star experience but it has an overriding purpose: physical, emotional and spiritual wellness.
“It’s all a bit overwhelming at first,” says Bridget, “because you don’t know what’s going on, but everything – everything – is about you. The food is amazing, the staff is incredible, and as for the treatments: imagine the best massage you’ve ever had in your life and multiply that by 20. It’s perfect peace.”
The philosophy here is one of intimate seclusion, alignment with nature, and equality. All guests wear a simple white kurta outfit for the duration of their stay. This might sound unimportant but the calibre of guests at Vana sometimes requires this anonymity to achieve the desired effect.
Reconnecting with oneself at a luxury wellness retreat is a contemporary travel trend, and the combination of relaxation and healing is growing in popularity among the jet set. Perhaps the best endorsement for Vana is the fact that it has one of the highest return rates of any retreat of its sort in the world.
Towards the end of her stay, Bridget did a hike further up into the foothills of the Himalayas. “I actually had with me one of my dad’s mouth organs and at the end of the hike, I dug it into a little hole with that view of the Himalayas so that he could see the mountains and the prayer flags and I just thought: if this is what wellness is, I feel well.”
Vana is expensive, and with good reason, but its ultimate effect is literally priceless.
COSTS From R6 340 to R24 300 per person per night, depending on the room or suite. There’s a minimum retreat duration of seven nights.
FLY SAA codeshare partner Emirates offers daily flights from Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban to Dubai. Connect to Delhi, via Dubai, with Emirates. Visit: flysaa.com
There are daily flights to Dehradun from Delhi on IndiGo and SpiceJet airlines.
TRANSFER A personal transfer from Dehradun’s Jolly Grant airport is included in the retreat price.
By Ami Kapilevich