From ayurvedic retreats and wildlife watching, to an entire town devoted to yoga, these are our top spots for wellness in India – with an invigorating dose of adventure, too...
‘Wellness’ is many things to many people. For some, it’s all about spa sanctuaries and meditation; while for others, nature is the only tonic they need. India, of course, offers all of this – and much more – with its deep-rooted connection to holistic and spiritual practices, as well as a soul-soothing bounty of glorious landscapes and outdoor pursuits.
From ayurvedic retreats and wildlife watching, to an entire town devoted to yoga, these are our top spots for wellness in India – with an invigorating dose of adventure, too.
The Adiyogi Statue overlooks the foothills of the Velliangiri range with a cool, calm gaze. Even from afar, this bust of the Hindu deity Shiva is magnificent: with eyes closed in contemplation and hair seemingly swept back in the breeze, his presence is both awe-inspiring and calming. Up close, his 34-metre height dwarfs everything around him, aside from those misty-blue hills. It’s little wonder, then, that people come from all over the world to practise yoga and meditation in the Adiyogi’s company.
Nearby, the Isha Yoga Center offers residential programmes for ‘self-transformation’, following all four major paths of yoga: kriya (energy),gnana (knowledge), karma (action), and bhakti (devotion). Visitors can take part in various workshops, such as Linga Seva – a one-day silent retreat followed by eight days of seva, or selfless service.
Elsewhere in this beautiful region you’ll find Karamadai Range Forest – for wild hiking and river boat trips – and the thundering Monkey Falls waterfall. The pinnacle spot for wildlife, however, is the Anamalai Tiger Reserve (also known as the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park), which is home to Nilgiri langurs, panthers, elephants and, of course, magnificent Bengal tigers.
Said to be the ‘birthplace’ of yoga practice, Rishikesh offers everything you’d want from a mindfulness retreat – such as peaceful ashrams (including the one where The Beatles penned their White Album), expert-led yoga sessions, and spiritual rituals on the shores of the Ganges. As well as being graced by one of India’s most sacred rivers, the town is surrounded by the foothills of the Himalayas – ideal for mind-calming hiking – with Rajaji National Park’s big cats and elephants just a 90-minute drive away too.
You don’t have to be a dedicated yogi to enjoy Rishikesh, but the more you open your mind – and body – to the practice, the more you’ll get out of it. The ashrams (spiritual retreats) are all part of the experience: every day starts with sunrise yoga and meditation, with communal meals and workshops throughout the day. Each ashram offers a different experience, such as Parmarth Niketan’s lush-landscaped campus and twice-daily yoga lessons; or Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama Ashram, which is world-renowned for its meditation instruction.
Don’t leave without experiencing an aarti ceremony (fire ritual) on the banks of the Ganges, or taking part in a temple kirtan – a ‘call-and-response’ chanting session. The entire town is alcohol-free and vegetarian, too.
Ayurveda is one of the oldest holistic practices in the world, dating back as far as 6,000BC – and it still thrives throughout India today. It’s based on the principle that the body harbours five prime elements: fire, space, water, air and earth. Each person, it says, has a unique combination within them, and by understanding that combination you can boost everything from your energy levels to your immune system – and live a more stress-free, harmonious lifestyle.
Amid Kerala’s tranquil backwaters and tropical woodlands, Kumarakom is the ideal spot to explore this philosophy through massage, yoga and bespoke clean-eating plans. The Coconut Lagoon retreat, for example, offers herbal ayurvedic massage and daily yoga workshops – complete with swaying palm trees and Vembanad Lake views to get you into the mood. At Kumarakom Lake Resort, the Panchakarma programme promises further restorative results, yet requires a rather more dedicated spirit: its treatments include purging and enemas, administered by expert ayurveda practitioners.
Happily, the surrounding area promises a suitably gentle reprieve – with a 14-hectare bird sanctuary where herons, kingfishers and white ibis nest; and the village of Kallara, where you’ll find the Sree Sarada Temple (dedicated to the goddess of knowledge). And of course, the area is home to one of India’s most iconic experiences: cruising Kerala’s backwaters on a traditional kettuvallam houseboat.
Though Bengaluru is, of course, a busy metropolis (dubbed the ‘Silicon Valley of India’ for its thriving IT industry), it is surrounded by national parks, beautiful waterfalls, ancient temples and more. Indeed, the cut-and-thrust of the city makes its peaceful sanctuaries all the more soothing – and surprising.
Day trips from Bengaluru include Bannerghatta National Park, the Shivanasamudra waterfalls and Nandi Hills – all of which are hiking utopias, rich in both wildlife and woodlands. The city’s Lalbagh Gardens boast 240 acres of tropical plants from all over the world, and Bangalore Palace conceals a trove of Indian art behind its imposing facade.
Nearby, the temples of Belur and Krishnagiri offer spiritual wisdom, while Shreyas Yoga Retreat is an ashram with a boutique-hotel twist. Here, you’ll find mindful activities and yoga in abundance, while its themed retreats include sustained silence and detox. Every guest receives a personalised programme of mind-and-body treatments, such as herbal massages and trataka (candle-gazing meditation).
Kochi is another of Kerala’s laid-back gems and is renowned for its sandy beaches, glorious sunsets, and photogenic fishing nets (they’re an icon of southern India) – with an easygoing vibe that’s hard to resist.
Outside the city, Hinterland Village Eco Resort offers award-winning wellness retreats – specialising in expert-led yoga, ayurvedic massage, steam-bath treatments and home-grown cuisine. Most activities take place in its bamboo-shaded garden, where birds and butterflies flit between blooms.
Nearby, the magnificent Athirappilly waterfalls await, as does the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary – a forest-fringed wetland in the lower hills of the Western Ghats. Here, hunkered down quietly in its well-concealed bird hides, you can spy Malabar parakeets, white-bellied blue flycatchers, and many more colourful characters. Now that’s our kind of silent retreat.
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