Dharana At Shillim©

The Ultimate Wellness Escape Unites The Power Of Nature And Ayurveda

As a 29-year-old, I was quick to dismiss that wellness retreats only cater to a health conscience audience or are suited to the older generation. I was always of the opinion that if I had the time and resources to take some time off, I was sure as hell going to exhaust myself making sure I was having the best time. However, when I got the chance to visit the Dharana at Shillim Wellness Retreat, it made me realise that I had been too quick to judge.

Let’s be real, living in the city already comes with its health hazards. From ever-rising AQIs to stressing about the traffic, there really never is a dull moment. With our calendars filled from the morning till the morning (no, that’s not a typo) with business and social commitments, there’s little time to devote towards really taking care of yourself. However, spending a weekend to experience the ‘Essence of Wellness’ program offered by Dharana at Shillim made me realise how much my lifestyle was taking a toll on me, because when I returned, I felt refreshed in a way that I haven’t felt since my early twenties.

It began with a simple welcome drink made with coconut water and some kind of spice. After driving off the Mumbai-Pune Express Way and travelling on a bumpy unmetalled road for what felt like forever, this concoction felt like nectar to my dry, sore throat—courtesy of the smog that always seems to envelope the city these days.

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With the check-in process in progress, I sunk into the couch and I felt my anxiety calm down too. I soaked in the sun setting amid the Sayadri Hills, painting the sky into a million shades of orange. The lush greenery encouraged me to take some deep breathes and the background score of tables and sitar helped too.

Quickly, I was loaded into a Tata Nano—an army of which act as the property’s taxi service—and sent off to the Dharana reception, where a team of Ayurvedic experts awaited. I was graciously welcomed with a traditional aarti, haldi kumkum and a mala made of tulsi seeds.

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And then, it was time for a private consult with an Ayurveda expert, Dr Abhy Jith Krishna. First, my body composition was analysed and then, I had to undertake a long and detailed questionnaire to establish my daily habits and lifestyle and then, another test to determine which ayurvedic dosha I fell under.

As per Ayurvedic philosophy, there are three doshas—vata, kapha and pitta—and the ratios of each of these three elements determines your personality and health. Ayurvedic and nutrition experts made me understand what my results determined, identify my strengths and weaknesses and then, built a road map to follow over the next couple of days.

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After learning a lot and also, questioning myself a lot, I was whisked off to indulge in my welcome meal at the Green Table. I was served a thali full of vegetarian delights that were mindfully made with organic vegetables, contained protein and other essential macros, less salt and oil, as well as swapped out unnecessary carbs with bajra bakhris and brown rice. While the fast-food-eating-coke-drinking gluton in me was having a hard time coming to terms with the menu for this holiday, soon after I left the dinner table, I realised that for the first time in a while, I was not feeling bloated, full to the point of nausea or had to deal with any acidity or gas issues post dinner.

However, the slightest cloud of demotivation disappeared once I checked into the opulent Dharana villas. With the property sprawling across 330 acres, each accomodation at the wellness retreat comes with complete privacy, serenity and panaromic views. The beautiful architecture and decor done with attention to detail truly add the “luxury” to this experience.

However, the Dharana Villas take it a notch above. With a private pool at your beck and call, these sustainable 1000-sq-ft piece of heaven comes with the cosiest holstered bed, your personal deck to practice yoga or meditation, a stone bathtub, an outdoor shower and even a lotus pond! Having explored the Villa to my heart’s content and laid on every soft surface in it, I decided it was time to give in and turn in for the night, and for the first time in over a decade, I slept before midnight rang.

With the power of good decisions in my favour, I woke up at 5am with little struggle to embark on my sunrise hike, where I met Harsh Tonde, a professional young rock climber with Olympic dreams. Having grown up in the area, he shared so many interesting details about the conserved forest that surrounds the property, pointing out the flora and fauna that was native to the area. We discussed everything from the hay used in the slash-and-burn method of farming commonly practiced in this region to how the plants in an area have comically titled to one side due to the wind flow.

The end of the hike was rewarded with cool breeze, the gorgeous views of the sunrise and the lake, and it was at that moment that you actually realise how large this property is—with an eco retreat sitting within a forest, that sits within a bowl-shaped valley between the mighty Sayadri Hills.

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The descend was quick, as was the breakfast—given the apetite that I had built. And after refreshing a bit, the next item on my itinerary was a Tibetian sound therapy session in the tranquil meditation cave called Dhyana with Mr Rajan. While in theory, I knew that the sounds are emerging from a series of glass and metal bowls, I couldn’t help but slip into a trance when the symphony of the bowls and acoustics of the cave combined to create magic. The feelings cannot be put into words, it can only be experienced.

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Free of all the fatigue of the morning, I then made my way towards the cooking school, where three chefs taught me to make a wholesome and healthy meal, comprising a kale and pumpkin salad, a lentil soup and quinoa and sweet potato patty dish.

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I’ll admit to eating more than I learnt, so I decided to ditch the nano and walk it to my villa and admire the beautifully manicured and maintained grounds of the property. However, with the natural landscape of the valley preserved and everything spaced far apart from one another, the walk, while pretty, wasn’t the easiest thing.

So, the next thing on the itinerary, a session at the spa, was just what the doctor ordered. With deep tissue massage techniques and ayurvedic oils with stress-relieving properties, I was transported to a realm of relaxation and peace.

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However, the post-massage Jell-O feeling of my limbs did little to contribute to control of movement needed to successfully partake in pottery, which was the final item . Thank god for the patient tutor Tejaswini, who helped create the cutest little souvenier, which would later arrive by mail.

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I then caught up with Mr Rajan at sunset, who had just concluded his daily pooja ritual to ward away evil, and promised to see him on time for the Iyengar yoga session with him the next morning.

Dharana At Shillim©HELLO! India

At 7.30am, I made my way to the scenic yogashala to partake in a type of yoga that I wasn’t familiar with. As a novice, taking the help of chairs, ropes and pillows helped me successful do asanas I could never do otherwise, and thus, stretch muscles that don’t get that much exercise.

A final dip in the private pool, a scrumptious breakfast and a final massage session later, it was time to check out. It almost felt as if we were being pampered one last time before venturing into the big, bad world. While the heart pinned to stay for a bit longer, I literally felt physically ready to take on the world for a change. And that in itself, makes this the ultimate wellness experience that everyone deserves to have!