Meandering conversations, real birds tweeting, stories of travel and a time gone by, and of course, some yoga… a short escape from Bangalore to a yoga retreat

The picture of a turquoise blue infinity pool, the ever-recognisable logo of Lonely Planet firmly embossed on it, and a call to join them on a “short escape” to a yoga retreat on the outskirts of Bangalore definitely sounded inviting. Added to it was the itinerary that read wellness cooking class, soul food, hands-on experience at the organic farm, yoga at the pavilion, mantra chanting, alfresco dinner…

And so on a surprisingly cool March morning, under the generous shade of clouds that bring out the best of Bangalore weather, the Shreyas Retreat in Nelamangala opens its doors to us, with a burst of bougainvillea, cool breeze, sounds of bird chirping, and quietude. Of course, there’s the mandatory arti-kumkum-garland welcome; the eucalyptus-essence wipes and tender coconut water set the tone of things to come our way.

The roomy tents come with airy rock-garden bathrooms all set amidst a grove brimming with coconut, and fruit trees.

But what’s a lazy vacation without a lunch first? On the way to the tent that is the dining room, we pick on gooseberries from trees and bite into their sharp tanginess. Under the cream-coloured high-ceiling tent, with a fan spinning overhead steeped in a Raj hangover, we settle down at a long dining table set formally for lunch.

Flowers are the dots that connect everything at Shreyas. Little button roses and hibiscus run amok — on the bed, on the table, on the towels, on the bathrobe, on the flush tank in a golden bowl, in little stone pools in the rock garden, by the poolside, on the menu, on the dining table….

By now, everyone knows everyone else, and the gooseberries have been great conversation starters. It leads to talk of gardens, fruit trees, old Bangalore with its bungalows and gardens —all this as we sup on roasted tomato and lemongrass soup, a crisp salad is being served, and brown rice risotto steams in.

From the bungalows come memories of avocados (which is in our salad) and how it’s often called “butterfruit” in our part of the world and eaten with sugar. “Sugar? How awful!” someone screws up her nose, so the conversation meanders to snakes in the house and snake-catchers contesting elections, life in Bihar’s unheard-of nooks, animals in Australia’s backyards… two people at the table discover they’ve lived in the same colony; I find in the retreat a college senior and beauty queen! Small planet! After a rather leisurely four-course lunch rounded off with dessert, the conversation and people refuse to budge out of the tent, till we’re gently reminded it’s time for a short nap before we set off on a walk.

The itinerary has changed much already; the hands-on organic farm experience is turned into a walkabout, and post lunch, no one’s complaining. We walk through the farm ooohing and aahing at the rosemary and thyme, the huge leaves of cauliflower, and guessing if another plant-bed is capsicum or potatoes! Bala, the yoga instructor also points out various seeds and plants used in ayurvedic medication.

Next on the cards is the yoga session. Slap on the Odomos, bring out the yoga mats into the pillared yoga pavilion and we all make hushed attempts to sit still. Difficult. We are taken through the basics of pranayama, try to feel our breath as it enters and leaves us, attempt the Surya Namaskara rather clumsily, and try to follow some of the basic asanas till we give in, rather heartily, to the shavasana or resting pose. The next morning’s yoga nidra introduction seems more agreeable — it’s in fact even more enticing when you know that about half an hour of yoga nidra is equivalent to four hours of sleep!

While the whole idea is to relax, we seem to be going from one relaxation ‘activity’ to another… I find myself lazily into a cooking class where I’ve missed the lemon cheesecake, but the simple red capsicum and pears salad has my attention, especially when it’s drizzled with roasted poppy seeds.

The promising clouds bring in a thin drizzle but it can’t deter us from sitting down for a dinner, all candlelit and overflowing with warm food and warm conversation in the garden, with colourful paper lanterns hanging from frangipani trees.

When the drizzle grows stronger, we huddle up in the enclosed lobby for an impromptu exchange of our travel tales, of building special bonds with people without knowing the language in faraway lands, and even sing ‘road’ songs. The traveller in everyone surfaces and you realise what makes your holiday a memorable one, ultimately, are the people, the conversations, and the stories you bring back.

(The author was at Shreyas Retreat on invitation from Lonely Planet.)