Situated in the spiritual heartland of India, you’ll find Ananda, or ‘divine happiness’ as it’s poetically defined in Sanskrit. This world-renowned retreat centre is nestled within 100 acres of Sal forest, built on a royal palatial estate that overlooks the holy town of Rishikesh (the birthplace of yoga), and the eerily beautiful River Ganges.
There is unprecedented energy to the region that feels both enigmatic and calming, as though you’re being held by Mother Nature and the mighty Himalayas. Founder Ashok Khanna and his wife Neelam spent a decade searching for the location that proudly sits 3,000 feet above sea level – far removed from city pollution and the stresses of everyday life. It’s an incredible setting, ideal for anyone looking to reconnect with themselves and nature; and has drawn in high-profile guests from all over the world, including Elizabeth Hurley, Oprah Winfrey, Emilia Clarke and David Harbour.
Ananda’s ethos dates back over 5000 years with expertise in ancient ayurvedic principles, alongside yoga, meditation and Vedanta. Today, the wellness industry is looking to Eastern wisdom more than ever, and Ayurveda (which means ‘pursuit of the wisdom of life’) is one of the biggest current trends with celebrities such as Jasmine Hemsley and Christy Turlington endorsing its benefits. It’s a holistic healing system that focuses on balancing the mind, body and spirit – a state of being we’re all craving in this digital age.
Of the many holistic programmes on offer at Ananda, which vary from stress and weight management to detox and yoga, the signature Ayurvedic Rejuvenation plan is one of the most popular. It can be undertaken in 7, 14 or 21 days and is designed to revitalise the body and mind by eliminating toxins through a series of cleansing and rejuvenating Panchakarma treatments, complete with hatha yoga and a controlled diet. Rest assured, the latter tastes anything but restrictive; even on detox days the menu includes delicious buckwheat pancakes drizzled in honey, and light yet flavourful vegetable curries – all served with a smile by the wonderful staff who quickly learn your personal dietary requirements by heart.
Your journey will begin with a visit to one of the in-house doctors to gauge your dosha (one of the three body types identified by the ayurvedic system: vata, pitta and kapha). Once this is determined, the programme is then adjusted accordingly to ensure it’s tailored to the guest’s specific needs. This leads to many appointments in the incredible 24,000 square foot spa with key treatments including abhyanga, a full-body sesame oil massage; shirodhara, the gentle pouring of medicinal oil over the forehead to truly calm the mind; and sneha vasti, an oil enema designed to treat an array of digestive issues and lower backache.
For yogis, the Ayurvedic Rejuvenation programme offers several one-to-one classes, which also include pranayama (yogic breathing techniques) and meditation. The style here is classical, so expect to swap sweaty sun salutations for a more mindful and breath-aware experience that’s equally as challenging. “The practice should not be just a set of physical postures,” says Ananda’s Head of Yoga, Sandeep Agarwalla. “We need to work on mental awareness, relaxation and internalisation to connect with our inner self.”
Free time can be spent lounging by the pool, enjoying a sauna and steam in the spa, or trying one of many group activities, including gym workouts, cooking classes, Vedanta lectures or mastering your swing on the six-hole golf course in the company of monkeys and peacocks. There is also afternoon tea served daily in the majestic Viceregal Palace, plus white-water rafting and guided treks for the more adventurous.
When the moment comes to retire for the night (or perhaps afternoon if you’re mid detox), the recently refurbished rooms are the epitome of comfort. Guests with a valley view can indulge in a bathing experience to remember with a green marble tub that overlooks the sparkling city below; while those seeking pure luxury can opt for the Viceregal Suite in the palace, or one of three standalone villas complete with private butler, pool and sauna.
The attention to detail is what makes a visit to this magical place so unforgettable; from the soft cotton Kurta pyjamas that can be worn all day long to the delicious healthy snacks and inspirational quotes left on the bed each evening. One favourite is by philosopher Lao Tzu: “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
This quote sums up the essence of Ananda – but also, the Ayurvedic Rejuvenation programme. Both teach you to slow down, find balance and trust in your own wellness journey. And in today’s world, this has never been more necessary.
words by Charlene Barton
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