Are you the mind-body-soul type? Then the Dune Eco-village and Spa in Puducherry may be what you are looking for.
Sea and sand... the sound of waves crashing against the shore, expanses of sky are some of the first impressions of the Dune Eco-village and Spa, Puducherry. Walking around the small paths of the red earth that lead to cottages and houses nestling amid clumps of greenery, I scan the landscape with its slashes of red earth and gently undulating lawns. The place holds out the promise of an exciting time ahead. Knackered after a long journey, we, my hosts and I, decide that food should be a priority.
So lunch it is. First, at the Fun Restaurant. Carrot and lentil soup, Dal Makhni with parathas...Surveying the continental side of the menu, I decide on lasagna without pasta. The flavours seem fuller, richer than usual. I turn with an inquiring look a t my host and he explains, “The food here is all organic”. Started as rehabilitation for tsunami-affected farmers, all the food has been grown here organically. I can taste all the flavours of a classic lasagna, but it's lighter on the belly!
Organic farming has a history here. The rehabilitation of tsunami-affected farmers between Chennai and Puducherry went to an extent of 500 acres benefiting around 4000 farmers. This was the start of Dune organic vegetable, dairy and fruit farm.
Post-lunch, we stroll around the tree-lined paths; though I am tempted to cycle around the place as I see many guests do. The paths are lined with coconut trees, giving the resort a plantation-like feel. I wonder why there aren't any bigger trees, like neem, or peepul. As if in answer to my thoughts, my host says, “These trees provide shade and grow quickly; other trees take time to grow.” That's when I realise the place is young, ideas and innovations continue to come in. As we walk past the dairy farm, I am tutored on dairy farming, vermiculture... the cows and calves look happy and content, winking companionably to each other as we pass. We take a turn and, suddenly, the sea sounds closer with the unmistakable smell of salt in the air. The resort's gates open out into the beach, and we see a handful of guests returning to their rooms. Twilight is beginning to fall and the orange earth glows luminously. Above, the stars are beginning to flicker. A warm breeze is stirring and I feel fatigue slip away.
Once inside my room, a very different sense takes over. Apart from the modern furnishings and lighting, there's a curious sense of sleeping in a temple hall. Mahabalipuram-style pillars with carvings of gods and goddesses provide support to a high ceiling. Vastu principles have gone into the design of the room.
It's not just “Granite House”, where I stay, that has an intriguing concept behind it. Each room is unique, designed mainly in collaboration with a Chennai-based architecture company named “Mancini” and managed by Niels Schonfelder. All along, there has never been a master plan for the resort; it has been built using reclaimed material from colonial houses, Chettinad palaces, or Kerala wood mansions from the plantations. Interior decoration has been done in collaboration with several Indian and foreign designers. This way of working has reduced their carbon footprint by 70 per cent, quite dramatic compared to the average of the hospitality industry.
“Tonight you will sleep soundly,” my host had said. And I drift off, visions of Chettinad palaces and Ayurvedic massage in my dreams. It is a brisk start the next morning with an Ayurvedic massage at the Paradise spa. I am greeted with a customary brew of tulsi tea; a very welcome drink. Ayurvedic massage is something that, in the past, I have approached with some trepidation. And so, I plead that I may be treated gently. When the first handful of oil is slicked over, I resist the urge to scream, Eliza Doolittle style, “let go of me! I'm a good girl, I am!” But there was no need to have worried so much. The abhyanga treatment is gentle and unobtrusive, the masseuse attentive and considerate. There are a number of ayurvedic treatments to choose from; packages that combine the benefits of this holistic approach to health and wellness. There is also a garden where ayurvedic herbs are cultivated. I am tempted to try other services in the Ayurveda section such as shirodara, Ayurvedic refloxology, but there are other spa experiences waiting to be explored.
“Do not miss the Magic Water treatment for anything,” says almost everybody I meet at the Dune Eco-village and Spa. Spas have traditionally been associated with water treatment, although its role has diminished over time. Here, there's an attempt to recapture the magic of water and its potential as a healing element. The pool is inside a Kerala style mansion, partly shaded by the large roofing, and partly exposed to sunshine, set in a courtyard-like area. Veronique, the therapist, is already waiting for me. Being in the water and not swimming is, at first, disconcerting. But soon the sensations of the water and its currents take over, and I begin to appreciate its qualities in a subtle way. It has a womb-like quality and learning to trust it is the key to feeling its healing effects. Veronique goes through the movements slowly and gently, and she tells me, “All you have to do is let go, to the water, and relax, feel its energies, its weight and support.” With the aid of meditative music that is chant-like, it is easy to do this. Veronique applies shiatsu techniques, at the right moments, to enhance the sense of floating. She says, “Water is a medium where people can release their tensions, even traumas. People keep coming back; one session is not enough to feel the full benefits.” An hour of water shiatsu is equivalent to four hours of sleep ... and I am enveloped by a sense of calm.
I am told that I can also practise yoga in my room with a teacher. But, the time to leave is approaching, and there is only time for the demonstration of a few asanas. And I am reluctant not to take advantage of this service. At the end of the day, driving off back home, I am convinced that this is a true “Mind, Body and Spirit” buff's retreat!
By road: Along the East Coast Road, around 2.5 hours from Chennai Airport. The Dune is 9 km after the Puducherry ECR toll gate. The Dune sign board is visible at the road crossing on the left side. From Puducherry, take the ECR road to Chennai. Dune is 12 km away from the city. The sign board is visible at the crossing on the right side.
Nearest Airport: Chennai
Wood house: Nestled amidst greenery, the interiors of the wood houses are almost entirely wooden, with low ceilings and alcoves for comfy double beds. Wooden furnishings in different shades complete the cosy intimate feel of the houses. The natural light in the bathing areas is amazing. Rate: Rs. 7,950 per day; double bed, A/C
Tower house: At the height of fifty feet, atop a winding staircase is the tower house with a scenic view of the beach and surrounding landscape. Large windows add to the light and fresh air streaming in. Jacuzzi is centrally located and easy to access. Rs. 18,250 for double occupancy, A/C. ( Not recommended for children)
Karaikudi suite: Sprawling house with stone and wood elements in the architecture. The wooden features are from old Chettinad palaces and represent some of the finest art of the region. Outside, green lawns and lounge areas. Rs. 11,950; double bed, A/C
Dome house: Secluded and surrounded by trees, structure of the dome house is inspired by ancient temples. The stained glass windows and art deco furniture make for an interesting contrast. Rs. 7950 for double occupancy; A/C.
For packages: Check www.thedunehotel.com