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retreat

Contemporary in design, the retreat has 69 rooms, 17 suites and four villas—gorgeous personal spaces that are really more like private sanctuaries. There are lots of indoor and outdoor spaces where one may stop to rest, reflect or re-energize. A very special room, the Bodhi Tree, has a beautiful tree sculpture made of scrap metal. People gather here for evening discourses to absorb, to learn, to debate. “It is our ode to the Bodhi Tree under which Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment,” Singh explains. The spiritual aspect, so poorly executed at most spas and wellness retreats, is refreshing and real here. “The spiritual component of Vana continues to evolve,” says Singh. “As Tibetan Buddhism is an important part of Tibetan healing and Hindu philosophy a part of Ayurveda, it is only natural for us to bring these two realms of thinking into Vana. Our Tibetan Healing Center has its own shrine room, where daily respects to the Buddha are performed. We have also started our pujas, which are carried out by a Hindu priest between two to four times a month, depending on the Hindu calendar.” Dehradun is home to a large Tibetan community. Singh felt a “deep duty” to bring in Tibetan healing, called Sowa Rigpa. This is the traditional form of medicine in Tibet, as Ayurveda is to India and as traditional Chinese medicine is to China. The therapists come trained from the Men-Tsee-Khang, the Tibetan Medical and Astrology Institute in Dharamsala, set up by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In an extraordinary twist, the Tibetan therapists at Vana are the very first batch out of the Institute. This is powerful stuff.

One visits Vana to explore every pillar of wellbeing, be that emotional, mental, physical or spiritual. The menu is a beautiful compilation of Ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, spa, fitness, aqua therapies and, my favorite, the aforementioned Tibetan healing. Each wellness offering has its own dedicated space and its own team of specialists, and Vana is also in the midst of creating its own self-sustained food network. The cuisine is excellent and the epitome of healthy, thanks to Chef Kuntal Kumar (who previously worked with Gordon Ramsay), with a focus on food that is local, seasonal and as organic as possible. In addition to all of this, the property carefully manages its energy and waste and even has its own bottling plant that helps save up to 100,000 plastic bottles a year. Singh is aiming to achieve an ambitious LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) rating in the near future. Designed by Spanish architects, Esteva i Esteva Arquitectura, Vana does not compete with nature, but instead works in harmony with it. The result is a series of clean and contemporary spaces where a neutral palette of colors and materials are accented with a thoughtful use of color. At every turn, one finds a tremendous attention to detail, and the use of natural and sustainable materials—lots of wood (FSC-certified American ashwood and bamboo) and stone (Indian dholpur, khareda and Spanish crema marfil)—are evident throughout the property.

One of my favorite design details is the Vana logo, named the Vana Tree. It depicts seven elements representing the seven threads that weave through Vana: the dove for contemporary luxury; the leaf for ecology; the mango for who we are; the bee for design; the lotus for wellness; the bud for service; and the butterfly for nature. I’d say Vana has all the bases covered—and then some.

Healthy cuisine

Photos courtesy of Vana

The neutral materials and their matte finishes blend in perfectly with the surrounding forest, plants and trees. Local river stone and boulders were also used in the numerous pathways and walls. Antonio Esteva of the design firm says, “Vana, Malsi Estate is a complete departure from anything in India. It is an homage to nature itself and is yet in many senses romantic.”

QUEST Magazine Issue 3  

Explore France, Italy, China, Maldives and some of the best places to travel this summer in Ker & Downey's Summer issue of QUEST magazine.