A Dose Of Vitamin Sea: Anahata Retreat

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Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat

Named after the heart chakra, Anahata is associated with balance, calmness and serenity: three things you’ll definitely find here. Ensconced by swaying palms to the east, the Arabian Sea to the west, and Mandrem and Morjim beaches to the north and south, it’s a hidden gem within walking distance of Goa’s most popular coastlines. But don’t be fooled by the rustic exteriors and laid-back vibe; owners Rishal and Angela play host to a list of chic clientele, from holidaying Londoners to weekenders from Mumbai.

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Sunset Views: Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat

The 17 beach cottages and suites are concealed amidst an acre of palm grove, the prime spot an Ibiza-style lounge area with perfect sunset views. Ideal for those wanting to connect with people rather than the internet, Anahata hosts a variety of classes and workshops from power yoga to tai chi; 5-rhythms dance to Qigong; as well as offering authentic Ayurvedic massages. Healthy living and eating is encouraged (though happily not enforced), and the L’Atelier restaurant serves fresh salads and delicious European flavours… along with potent cocktails. Everything in perfect balance!

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Sunset deck: Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat

The Rooms

The accommodation is split between various categories of cottage and suite, each with different views. The cottages have a luxurious desert-island feel, with exposed bamboo, thatched roofs, hanging lanterns and mirrors made from flotsam and jetsam. Light and airy, they open onto a private terrace area – book a Beachfront Cottage for uninterrupted sea views. Kingsize or twin beds have beautiful carved wooden headboards, and fans keep things cool. Walk-in wardrobes and open-plan shower bathrooms make good use of the curved space. If you value function over form, the suites, set in colourful Portuguese-style houses, are more practical. Air-conditioned and closest to the restaurant, they have charming terraces and simple white-on-white interiors.

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Sea View Cottage Interior: Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat
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Garden Suite Interior: Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat

The Food

The L’Atelier fusion restaurant is the heart of Anahata. Whitewashed tables are dotted around a sandy dining area, covered by the shade of palm trees by day and lit by twinkling lanterns by night. Insisting on an open-plan kitchen, Angela is pedantic about the food. Everything, from the sauces to the pickles, is made from scratch, and the meat and fish are sourced from the best local suppliers.

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Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat

Over cocktails as the sun went down, we chose from a dinner menu of simple, hearty dishes. My peri-peri kingfish was a succulent homage to Goa’s traditional Portuguese flavours. Breakfast showcases Anahata’s ethos of ‘balance’. I chose the healthy option – a tangy Bircher muesli with spirulina and toasted cashew nuts – but they’re just as happy to serve a Full English with all the trimmings.

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Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat

Best time to go: For the best weather, visit between November and February. The Christmas-New Year period can get very busy, but things quieten down a lot from mid-January to February. In keeping with the seasons, Anahata is closed from May through to October, during the monsoon.

Top tips: Goa’s northern coastline has a growing design scene. Just a 5-minute walk away, Morjim Beach is home to some great little independent shops, including Jade Jagger’s boutique and charming local offerings.

For direct bookings click here:

Rajasthan for Romantics: Tree of Life Resort & Spa, Jaipur

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Image courtesy of Tree of Life Resort & Spa

A world away from the frenetic Pink City and Jaipur’s modern metro city, The Tree Of Life exists in its own micro-climate of peace and tranquility. With a focus on Ayurveda, each of the rooms are named after a different tree, and their decor reflects its colour. We stayed in the Champa Villa, adorned from floor to ceiling with fuschia pink and splashes of lime green – synonymous with the shrub that shares its name. Whilst the decor borrows from traditional Rajasthani designs, especially in its vibrant colour palettes, interiors avoid the usual cliches. The private pool and in room spa area, plus indoor and outdoor showers and an outdoor bath are the height of romance.

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Image courtesy of Tree of Life Resort & Spa

In fact this property is made for couples. Even fully booked (which it is most weekends) you will barely see another soul. For making the forty minute drive outside of Jaipur guests are rewarded with complete privacy. Dinner can be arranged in room, a candle lit affair by the pool or a private setting at the sunset lookout. Whether in-room or at the spa, couples therapies are available. The Aravali bath, a rose petal filled affair with fragrant oils is an indulgent experience.

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Image courtesy of Tree of Life Resort & Spa

As with all Tree of Life properties, the food is superb. Chef will consult on a daily basis what you would like for dinner and create a menu tailored to you. The food, both Western and Indian, is superb, with many of the vegetables coming from the on site organic vegetable garden, and as much sourced locally and in-season.

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Image courtesy of Tree of Life Resort & Spa

Yoga and meditation are available in the ‘Ganesh Abode’ as well as guided village and nature walks. Plus you are only twenty minutes from Jaipur’s most famous (and must visit) attraction: Amer Fort. An utterly relaxing escape on the outskirts of a frenetic city.

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Image courtesy of Tree of Life Resort & Spa

Great for: A relaxing couples retreat. You can still tick all the Jaipur tourist boxes, Amer Fort is only twenty minutes drive and ‘The Pink City’ is a further twenty.

Best time to go: Between October – March is the best time to visit Jaipur, though it can be quite magical during the monsoon. Expect it to be chilly in the evening between December and January. In January the city plays host to The Jaipur Literary Festival, which sees literati from across the world descend upon Diggi Palace. A must visit for bookworms and Indophiles.

For direct bookings click here.

Vana: A Modern Approach to an Ancient Art

Vana: A Modern Approach to an Ancient Art

As you take the turning off the main Mussoorie Road towards the Vana, Malsi Estate you leave behind with it the distractions of every day life. Car horns are replaced by bird call as the fragrant smell of the neighbouring sal forest stimulates the senses. Only a month old Vana is but a baby and located just round the corner from Ananda, India’s most luxurious yoga retreat, it has some serious competition. However Vana’s emphasis is not on luxury, it is on wellbeing, meaning “physical, mental, emotional and spiritual”. Whether you treat it as a modern day ashram or (as they put it) a utopian “microcosm of everyday life”, you will leave feeling refreshed and revitalised and ready for whatever life has to throw at you.

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Upon arrival you will have a one-to-one analysis of what your personal goals are and a tailored wellness programme will be devised for the duration of your stay, incorporating everything from your treatments to your meals. There are two restaurants at Vana: Salana, offering cuisine based on wellness principles and Anayu, offering Indian cuisine based on the principles of ayurveda. All of the produce is organic, locally sourced and new menu is devised seasonally. And with all of its chefs being specially trained in wellness cooking no-one will be left feeling as though they are eating rabbit food! Nurture yourself from the inside-out whilst bringing the outside in with a panoramic view of the surrounding forests, which all rooms benefit from.

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Set amidst the sprawling 21 acre Malsi Estate, the property itself looks like a work of modern art and the architecture, with its emphasis on straight lines and earthy palettes, blends in with the local surroundings. Their ethos of simple, stripped back luxury is apparent in every aspect of life at Vana, from the living spaces to the treatments.

Treatments on offer: Guests can benefit from Ayurvedic, Tibetan and Natural healing techniques as well as regular yoga classes, aqua therapy, fitness improvement and full spa facilities. Treatments cater for anything from mindfulness to weight loss meaning there really is something for everyone! The Signature Vana massage is a must!

Detox specials: Until August 2014 book between 3-5 nights and receive a complimentary nights stay.

Pricing: Starts from R32,000 a night with a minimum three night stay.

Vana is the place for any serious yogi (with a few rupees to spare) to head this 2014!

 

Relaxing in Rishikesh: Not What You’d Expect

Relaxing in Rishikesh: Not What You’d Expect

“Beatles ashram?” we asked hopefully to the two small village boys that stood idly across the overgrown forest trail. Our enquiry was met with vacant expressions. Apparently they weren’t fans. Yet despite the lack of guidance we found what we were looking for but a hundred feet or so further down the trail. And it was shut – fabulous. Our ‘relaxing weekend of yoga and meditation’ in Rishikesh had not exactly gone to plan. Arriving in the early hours of the morning after another crippling overnight bus journey we were met by a friendly four-legged centenary, christened Oedipus (owing to his funny apparently webbed feet)! Most of the time nothing makes sense in India, so whether Oedipus led us or followed, we found our way to a guest house – and passed out. Awakening, what felt like a week later and unbolting the door our gaze fell upon the best view of Laxman Jula. Well done Oedipus.

After gathering our thoughts and belongings we decided to do what one does in Rishikesh: yoga. We arrived to find our yogi either asleep or in a state of deep, impenetrable meditation. Probably the former. Not to worry, this is Rishikesh after all – we’ll go for a spot of Ayurvedic healing and get our doshas diagnosed. A long and uncomfortable motorbike journey later we arrived at “the absolute best clinic of Ayurveda in Rishikesh, madams” *said in thick and undulating Indian accent. The doctor was out: Fuck. This. “To the Beatles ashram!” we cried, which now, no longer a functioning ashram, seemed not be much of a tourist destination, judging by the fact that NO-ONE KNEW WHERE IT WAS. But it meant a scenic walk through some of the more rural parts of Rishikesh and, upon discovering it was closed, we decided to make our way back to town along the banks of the river Ganges, which the ashram sits right next to. Oh, the Mother Ganga, she always brings good things and this time she did not fail to deliver. Tired, hungry and a little pissed off we scrambled over sand banks, hopped over sewage pipes until we finally came to a bit of a clearing. Who should we find relaxing under the shade of a little bridge beside the Ganga – the babas of course; the best people in India!

Welcomed with the humble hospitality only a real baba can give we were ushered into the make shift tent of Baba G. I am always amazed at how easily conversation flows and how much one laughs when spending time with babas – nothing to do with the chillum pipe being passed round like a conveyer belt. They are such kind and open people. We spoke of the Kumbh Mela, which my friend and I had attended (along with hundreds of thousands of other babas and a hundred million other Hindus) earlier that year, Hindu philosophy and life. After sharing a tasty meal of daal, chapati (with the biggest mountain of sugar on it! Still don’t really understand that?) and chai it was getting late. We made our way back to Rishikesh stomachs, minds and hearts full of food, thoughts and love. The afternoon spent with Baba G had obviously caused our planets to align because on our way back to we stumbled across the evening Ganga Aarti at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram. Unfortunately the huge statue of Lord Shiva was not present to oversee the evening’s festivities, having been destroyed in the devastating floods that swept through Rishikesh earlier this year. The young boys from the ashram performed bhajans and offerings were made to Agni, the fire god. There is something really hypnotic about this performance and it is easy to get swept away by the beautiful voices and the ever audible roar of the Ganga.

So, Rishikesh, you weren’t what we’d planned but then when does a good plan go to plan anyway? However next time I come I would like to do at least one of things we’d set out to do! If you’ll permit it that is?

Dharamsala: It Went With a Bang

Dharamsala: It Went With a Bang

“Car crash?” I enquired to our bus driver. “No, no: shooting” he replied nonchalantly. “Ohhhh, a shooting” I thought “naturally”. As we made our way through the multiplying clusters of inquisitive onlookers I had quite forgotten that but two nights ago I was 30,000 feet high somewhere over Central Asia. I imagined that on my first weekend as a fully fledged Delhi local I would be writing about well, Delhi; however my friend Natasha had other plans. After a quick “freshen up” stop at her apartment en-route from airport to bus station, I found myself heading north to the Himalayas for a back-to-basics weekend in Rakkar, Dharamsala.

As our aptly named ‘semi-sleeper’ bus began to ascend the mountains we were rudely roused from our sleeping tablet induced slumbers. Nothing to do with involuntary ‘head-banging on window routine’ incurred by the pot-hole ridden mountain passes. Groggily we rubbed our eyes. We were met by a valley still tucked away under its thick blanket of mist, just about to be thrown off before rising for the day. Oh, and Nasma our host and her driver.

The latter turned out to be a budding mountaineer and the following morning after a scripture worthy picnic under the “people tree” he took us to his favourite secluded spot. Our only accompaniment along the hike was a mummy cow and her calf, which in India is saying something! We marched to the beat of the slate miners across the other side of the valley, for which Dharamsala is famous for. But as we ascended the top of the hill their reassuring rhythm was drowned out by the roar of the river below, fat from the recent monsoon. This was eagle territory. As we scrambled from rock to rock, clutching cameras, rucksacks and water bottles, they glided majestically between the peaks, effortlessly making their way across the valley we had just taken hours to climb.

After another biblical feast we made our way back down, mirroring the ant-like donkey trail descending the opposite mountain. Mummy cow and her calf were back. Three young girls came running up to us: “Name? Country?” they asked excitedly, all anyone wants to know in India apparently. N, who used to work for the Jagori Rural Charitable Trust in the local village asked them why they were not in school. “But it’s Sunday?” the eldest replied, confused. So it was – clever one she was.

After a quick yoga session with ‘Yogi Nani’, N’s beautiful 75 year old mother, we were back on the ‘semi-sleeper’ and Delhi bound once more. Not before the ‘shoot out’ extended pit stop including several chais, much local gossip and a fainting. Oh and bunch of stoned Israelis singing their national anthem. Dharamsala: it’s been emotional.