A Wellness Retreat in India at Ananda in the Himalayas
January 8, 2019 by Allison Reiber DiLiegro
To call Ananda in the Himalayas a spa feels inadequate. It’s true, Ananda is an award-winning destination spa in the foothills of the Himalayas. Treatments are divine, but the goal here is grander. Ananda aims to holistically heal the mind, body and soul through Yoga, Ayurveda and Vedanta, an ancient Indian philosophy of life. Ananda sets you on a journey to wellbeing and you follow the path.
This December, my journey to wellbeing was off to a bumpy start. I had booked a car to Ananda from eastern Punjab. As the five-hour drive rocked its way into eight, I thought: you can’t get to the promised land without a little pain, right? (In fact, you can. Smarter travelers will fly from Delhi to Dehradun and make the 45-minute drive.)
People have been traveling to the Himalayas to heal the mind, body and soul for centuries. Rishikesh, just down the hill from Ananda, is the birthplace of Yoga. The sacred Ganges river runs through town. Rishikesh is the starting point to the Char Dham, a route of four famous pilgrimage centers: Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. Believers say that meditating here leads to salvation.
When Ananda finally came into view, it felt something like salvation. Set high on the hill, facade glowing in the night, the scene is cinematic. The lobby is housed in a palace that was built for the Viceroy of India on his hunting expeditions. (There were once leopards in these hills.) Stepping into the palace, I was welcomed with a string of sacred mala beads, surrounded by photos of Maharajas. I fell into bed, thankful to have one journey behind me and a far better one to come.
Guests come to Ananda for many reasons. Some visit for a short spa getaway. Others come for a five- to 21-day wellness program, like a Yoga retreat, detox program, weight management, Ayurvedic rejuvenation and more. Doctors recommend a minimum five-day stay to let the program to do its work.
Ananda’s wellness programs are crafted by an expert team of Ayurvedic doctors, nutritionists, therapists, yogis and chefs. The programs aren’t meant to be a quick fix – they’re designed to help you build sustainable practices that you can bring back home. Each program beings with a consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor, who customizes the program and the meal plan to suit your personal goals.
Don’t think of the Ayurvedic meal plan as skimping – dining is one of the great joys of a stay at Ananda. Meals are fresh, nourishing and delicious. Lunches are three-course tours of Indian, European or Asian cuisine (albeit with with modest portions) and dinners are a bit lighter. If you’d like to take a break from the meal plan, there’s a full menu of Indian and international choices (as well as a wine list).
A typical day looks something like this: Wake up to a cup of ginger lemon tea at your door. Put on the white Kurta Pajamas in the closet (the outfit is optional but very comfortable) and watch the sunrise from your balcony until it’s time for Yoga. After class, head to the spa for a scrub. Indulge in a long lunch on the terrace. Then, you’re free to swim some laps in the pool, take a private mediation class or book a specialty session with a visiting master. Head back to the spa for a steam and an Ayurvedic oil massage. Then, attend a talk on Vedanta philosophy before dinner. At the end of the day, retreat to your room and slide into a candlelit bath.
With a self care regime like that, of course, I felt relaxed, refreshed and my skin felt like a baby. But as the days passed and the noise fell away, I came to notice something new: I could hear what my body was telling me. I could tell what foods to eat, what time to go to bed, what Yoga pose felt wrong. Ayurveda is so empowering because it puts your health and happiness in your hands. It’s not about falling ill and treating symptoms; you’re learning to eat and behave in a way that keeps yourself healthy. Our bodies are always telling us these things – we just forget to listen.
When I went down the hill and back into the real world, I think I brought that understanding with me. When the world gets loud again – which it obviously will – I’ll know where to pick up the path. One thing’s for sure: when you’re on the right road, the ride feels a whole lot smoother.
The rooms, all of which are newly renovated, are set in a building across from the spa and restaurant. Valley View rooms are best, with the views getting better as you go up (these are called Premium Floors). Travelers looking for more space can opt for a suite. The Ananda Suite comes with a particularly dreamy garden terrace. For more privacy, the spacious one-bedroom and two-bedroom villas are farther from the spa and come with a private pool. For a heritage feel, go for the fabulous Viceregal Suite, the only room located in the old palace building. With an expansive terrace and antique furniture, you’ll feel like a Viceroy.
When to Go
November to March is a lovely time for a wellness retreat in India, as weather is cool and sunny. April to June is warmer, but the mountain locale keeps things bearable. Monsoon season runs from June to September, when rain comes in bursts and the weather is more humid. September to October is sunny and warm, though some humidity sticks around.
Take a 45-minute flight from Delhi International Airport to Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun, followed by a 40-minute drive. Or, take a two-hour helicopter from Delhi to the private helipad, just five minutes from Ananda.