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VANA – The Wellness of Being
By Sandhya Chipalkatti

Tucked away in the shadow of the Himalayas, set in the Sal forests covered foothills near Dehradoon is Vana, a unique wellness retreat shaped by the vision, commitment and passion of its founder Veer Singh. The Retreat’s very name promises a destination of serene natural beauty, far from the madding crowd, surrounded by peace and serenity. 

The drive from Dehradun’s Jolly Grant airport takes me through a beautifuldense forest reserve, which sets the tone for my visit to this brand new wellness destination. The foothills of the Himalayas abound with dense evergreen forests of teak, deodar and sal, the mighty Ganges River and a myriad of waterfalls and streams that come to life in the monsoon season. But I am visiting in early October, and am surrounded by crisp cool mountain air, which heralds the beginning of winter. 

 

The Vana Retreat, Malsi Estate is the brainchild of Veer Singh, Founder and CEO, who envisaged an exceptional destination for holistic wellbeing, surrounded by the abundance of nature, offering personalized wellness experiences. His commitment to offer traditional Ayurveda, as well as other wellness disciplines in their purest form delivered in a contemporary environment promises to make it a destination for the global traveler.

Spread over a luxurious 21 acres, Vana is built around fruit orchards and herb gardens. Surrounded by a dense reserve Sal forest, the undulating property is planted with indigenous flowering and fruiting plants and bamboo. Views of the Himalayan foothills allow for a panoramic vista the year around. Intelligent design by acclaimed Spanish design studio Esteva i Esteva Arquitectura, ensures that every part of the retreat is in harmony with nature.
Clean minimalistic architecture, earth tones and open design, allow the outside in almost anywhere you are. 69 rooms, 17 suites and four villas make up the living spaces, while a sprawling central facility, the Kila with a striking waterbody houses two wellness based restaurants, a juice bar, the library lounge, the stunning Meditation Room and the boutique. It is also here that the Wellness Concierge books client appointments. But the centerpiece of the Kila is the musician’s corner where the resident flautist enchants guests every evening.
With 50 treatment and consulting rooms, outdoor and indoor pools and a Watsu facility, three Yoga studios and a state-of-the-art gymnasium, Vana offers a vast and comprehensive facility for anyone seeking wellness

 

A Labour of Love 

Vana is a labour of love. Singh and his team worked five years to put a shape to his dream. 
The project was certainly a diversification from Veer Singh’s family business, the Max Group, which focuses on health care among other things. He recounts to me howhe, a physics major from Imperial College, London came to create this wellness destination. The property was acquired by his father 15 years ago, who decided to build a resort of 128 rooms, spa and gym. “Those days, my passion was farming, and I was doing farming in Spain. I decided to join the project and turned it around completely to create Vana! I guess my interest in ecology, nature, life, history, equilibrium…. inspired the way this property was built. ”

That Singh was involved in every decision onsite is obvious. The influence of nature and ecoconsciousness infuses the artistic footprint of Vana. “From the lights and lamps, to the stones and pebbles, everything has been a journey,” he says. Every piece of art on the property – murals, sculptures and paintings are especially and exclusively designed and created for it by Indian artist Siraj Saxena and his team, as well as studios from different parts of the world. The various lamps in the lobby are custom made, crafted from silkworm cocoons, rattan or water-based polymer. Equally, almost everything a
guest would use, from cutlery and bed linen to the rugs, is bespoke and made in India. And designers Abraham & Thakore and Spanish designer, Cortana teamed up to create the staff attire.  

Customised and measurable wellbeing with tangible benefits for each and every client is the objective, basis their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. – Veer Singh, Founder & CEO, VANA 

Singh is committed to sustainability and Vana is planning to achieve a LEED Platinum rating for the retreat. All the wood used in the build is sustainable bamboo – on the floor and as well as veneer, while FAC certified Ashwood is used for door frames and veneer. Similarly, local Dholpur stone has been used for floorings. But the biggest step is the water bottling plant that Vana has, allowing it to offer pure drinking still and sparkling water for its guests in their own glass bottles, doing away with 100,000 plastic bottles a year. 

 

The Wellness of Being 

 

Vana aims to be one of the most comprehensive wellness offering in the world according to Veer Singh. “Customised and measurable wellbeing with tangible benefits for each and every client is the objective, basis their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.” So don’t expect a standardised Menu on arrival. In fact a pre-arrival consultation can happen as much as two weeks before arrival so as to understand client  expectations, and an on-arrival consultation with your Wellness Concierge will help plan the wellness journey. Clients can choose either an Involved retreat or an Immersed one. While minimum stay is for three nights, clients can plan a 14-21 night stay depending on their wellness goals.

 The Retreat offers as many as seven wellness pathways available as per client needs and choice, under the overall guidance of Wellness Director, Christina Watson. This includes Ayurveda; Natural Healing comprising of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Reiki and Energy; Yoga; Spa comprising Western Therapies and Treatments; Tibetan Healing; Fitness and Aqua Therapies. Presently, a team of six Doctors, three Managers and 16 Therapists manage the entire wellness offering under Watson’s guidance. 

Spread out across the retreat, the different wellness spaces offer maximum privacy and space to clients. These are connected by winding stone clad pathways bordered with flowering shrubs, which can be used as walking or jogging trails too. The mango and lychee groves offer quiet spaces to meditate in, while the rooftop Infinity Pool overlooks the Sal forest reserve and offers stunning mountain views. 

Ayurveda is offered at the two-floor Ayurveda Centre with one floor each, dedicated to the male and female guests. Headed by Dr. Avilochan Singh, a fourth generation Ayurveda specialist, Vana offers Ayurveda in its purest form, complemented by Ayurvedic cuisine. Uniquely, all oils, and toiletries used in the rooms have been painstakingly formulated by Dr. Deepika Gunavant, Head, Integrative Health and Wellbeing, to suit the three doshas – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha under a brand name VanaVeda. Eventually an exclusive line of products for skin, hair and teeth for each guest’s specific dosha is on the anvil.  

We want to be recognised as a serious wellness retreat, and for Ayurveda amongst all our offerings. – Martijn Brouwer, General Manager, Vana 

TCM and Tibetan Medicine headed by Dr. Sonam Oshoe will be offered at the Wellness Centre, and the Spa will offer a comprehensive Western menu with therapeutic benefits. A beautiful outdoor Yoga temple offers an opportunity of personalized or group Yoga and a serene indoor Meditation Room with a scrap metal Bodhi Tree offers a space for guided meditation. A separate Aqua and Fitness centre houses the Watsu pool, and an indoor pool along with a 158 sq.m. state-of-the-art gym and changing rooms with steam and Helo sauna facilities.  

“Integrity in all therapies and treatments is critical” says Watson, who has been able to source her therapists from specialized institutes in Kerala for Ayurveda, and the Men Tsee Khang Institute patronized by the Dalai Lama for specialists in Tibetan medicine. 

 

The Wellness Cuisine

Vana’s commitment to ecology directly impacts where and when it gets its food from. Ayurvedic food principles too, dictate that food should be organicand seasonal. So both of Vana’srestaurants source from local farmers and cooperatives. Salana, meaningwhere the Buddhist monks gather forfood, offers contemporary cuisine for the International or Indian traveler,and An Ayu is dedicated to Ayurvedic cuisine, especially for guests on Ayurveda treatments.

Besides complete abstinence from canned items, white flour, rice, sugar,and cream, and preservatives Chef Kuntal Kumar tries to use soy milk as far as possible. “Seasonality is very important and we don’t offer anything that is not regional or local because we don’t want to increase our carbon footprint.”Fresh cow’s milk is delivered to Vana twice a day and they make their own butter and ghee. 

The menu at the Salana and An Ayu are changed every day, and the Ayurveda cuisine is traditional, yet contemporary to appeal to all palates. Both restaurants use farm fresh vegetables, fruits as well as herbs from Vana’s herb garden. While alcoholic beverages are not allowed, wines and champagne are served. 

 

Team Vana 

Impressively, everyone you meet at Vana is deeply committed to Veer’s cause and vision. Headed by G.M. Martijn Brouwer, they aim to make each guests stay as comfortable and fruitful a possible.
Veer’s commitment to his team is seen in the unique facilities that they enjoy. The back-of-house is called the ‘Village’ and the entire team lives as a community.
There’s a gym, recreation room with table tennis and board games, and other facilities. “If you are a part of Vana, we want you to become a better person,” says Watson who has a special meditation room set aside in the Spa, which allows therapists prepare themselves by meditating every morning. “It’s a personal space, just for them” she explains.

 

Distinctive Wellness 

Veer Singh’s passion for creating a global wellness destination is well and truly fulfilled at Vana, in its every aspect – the architecture, the wellness philosophy, the music, the art, and the cuisine. So what next, going forward? “Well, Vana will take about one and a half years to reach its potential…. till then I and my team are going to be busy! But our next two projects are overseas, and the concepts are clear in my mind. We would like to make a global offering with India in our heart, and a great sense of respect and desire to learn, wherever we go.”

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