India’s Ananda and Six Senses Vana Reopen Transformed in the Himalayan Foothills

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You get a sense of serenity from Ananda in the Himalayas even before you enter the grounds. High on a hill above the spiritual center of Rishikesh, the birthplace of yoga that became famous when the Beatles settled there in an ashram in search of enlightenment, and the holy river Ganges; the environment is soothing, the air clear and bright. A sense of majesty sets in as you pass through the gates to the Maharaja’s former palace to start your healing regimen. But the last time I was there, a few years ago, the interior showed they needed a little healing themselves. They now have it after a three year renovation along with new programs just unveiled.

On the design front, especially in the most recently refreshed one and two bedroom villas, the look is much more vibrant than before, with vibrant colors reflecting the flora of the surrounding forest and Himalayan crafts as details. So is the restaurant, now incorporating elements of traditional gond and yantric art with colorful tapestries inspired by the ancient Himalayan hill kingdoms. There is also a new show kitchen to showcase the international dishes served according to Ayurvedic principles and absolutely delicious. After their initial consultation, guests are prescribed dishes for their dosha, or body type, and wellness goal. But they are not rigid; you can also choose dishes that appeal to you from the a la carte menu; they are all low in fat, use vegetables and fruits from the garden and avoid artificial salts and preservatives. Menus change every four months. I wanted to eat everything.

The retreat has long been known for its wellness/detox/rejuvenation/stress management programs based on Ayurveda, yoga and meditation. This year, in response to the stress of recent years, other programs are coming online. Among them: Asian therapies to counteract hormonal imbalances; immunity boosting through Ayurvedic treatments, yoga and diet; and chronic pain management through Ayurvedic therapies, physical therapy, yoga, and an anti-inflammatory diet. Of particular relevance is a new post-covid rejuvenation program for long-term covid patients that includes ayurvedic therapies, nutrition, herbal medicines and supplements, yoga, pranayama and meditation to build immunity and revive the system.

Also in the area, about an hour and a half to the north, the Vana wellness retreat opened in 2014 as a comprehensive retreat that took advantage of a spread of international therapies in a natural, wooded setting. Spacious and contemporary, it has been visually designed to be a complete change from the pops of color commonly seen across India: neutral-toned rooms and suites, high-ceilinged common areas and water features provide the soothing environment for guests to their wellness journeys. I wish I could say more about the individual treatments, but a severe seasonal flu meant I spent more time at the state-of-the-art, well-staffed and shockingly affordable hospital next door. However, my travel companions raved about the treatments. They’re bound to get even more impressive this fall when Vana becomes Six Senses Vana, part of the internationally renowned wellness group. Trademark features such as the mindful, gourmet, locally-sourced program Eat With Six Senses and the enhanced sleep-inducing Sleep With Six Senses will be added along with the group’s key therapies. It must fit well. As Neil Jacobs, CEO of Six Senses, explains: “This marriage made in the Himalayas allows us to build on what exists with some of our signature experiences. With its ancient healing traditions and spiritual practices, India has long been heralded as the ultimate wellness gateway and, in a gentle yet deliberate way, it plays into who we are.