Despite the constant buzz of cellphones, endless video meetings, and binging on OTT entertainment, the sound of silence was unnerving through lockdown. As cities begin to open their borders, travellers are looking for ways to rest, relax and reconnect with their families: as a result wellness holidays are rising in popularity around the country.
Vana, a retreat in Dehradun, did not expect much when it opened its doors in October 2020, post-lockdown.
“We even shortened the minimum duration of stay to three days, from five. But by November we were overwhelmed with the response,” says Jaspreet Singh, executive director of the property.
Clients of all age groups came in, and soon there were repeat customers. “These were people who just wanted to get out of the city and enjoy the outdoors. Some after staying for three days even extended their stay,” says Singh. Given its proximity to Delhi, Vana expected a large clientèle from the capital but was pleasantly surprised to get bookings from Kolkata, Mumbai and Bengaluru as well.
In previous years, 70% of Vana’s clientèle were international guests. As of the last quarter of 2020 and early 2021, it is the domestic travellers who are thronging this destination.
A similar story continues at SwaSwara in Gokarna, which reopened in August, after a hiatus of five months. Seeing the increase in domestic travellers seeking holistic holidays, they brought down their minimum stay to five nights from seven, and now also accommodate children below 15, making it possible for more Indian families to partake in this experience.
Other hardcore wellness destinations like Ananda in the Himalayas in Rishikesh, Atmantan in Pune and Ayurvedagram Wellness Centre in Bengaluru, once primarily the bastion of affluent foreign tourists, are now garnering interest from a wider domestic audience. The awareness has increased too, with more people reading about holistic wellbeing after a year dominated by news on COVID-19, vaccines and immunity boosters.
Seated on Gokarna’s Om Beach, nestled amidst greenery and overlooking a calm water body, SwaSwara repackaged itself as a wellness-oriented sanctuary in 2009, three years after its inception. It shifted to an organic menu, replacing fried food with tawa -grilled meals. They offer yoga, art therapy and pottery, as well as Ayurvedic massages that are prescribed after a consultation with their in-house doctor.
A resident artist asks clients to meditate and interpret the emotions that come up during the process. “Many of us tend to bury our trauma. Here, you can release them through colour,” says Mini Chandran, general manager, adding that sometimes a few clients even cry after a session.
Meanwhile, a section of travellers are looking for active holidays after a year on the couch, resulting in a surge in fitness activities like running, kayaking, cycling, standup paddling and trekking. Delhi-based Harsha Verma, who has just mustered up courage to venture out again, says, “The last year felt like it was spent in a gilded prison. In a regular year, we would just pack up, hop on a flight and head to just about anywhere, from Singapore to Sri Lanka. This year was spent researching safe holiday destinations. Luckily, one day I came across charming places within India, which I had no idea about,” says Harsha.
While these vacations are not exactly easy on the pocket, after a year of saving (with barely anyone travelling through 2020 because of the pandemic), many clients are willing to experiment, and loosen their purse strings. Prices can range from ₹12,500 for one-night stays, to extensive packages that cross the ₹1 lakh mark, depending on duration, consultations, activities and amenities.
The common concern, for most travellers is safety and sanitisation of the place they are visiting. There are precautions and safety checks in place. At Vana, the vanavasis (that is what the guests here are referred to as) are required to produce a COVID RT-PCR negative report issued 96 hours before travel.
Naad Wellness in Sonipat, Haryana had initially restricted entry to people arriving by flights, but is now open to all and does thermal checks for all its guests. However, a majority of their clients are still road trippers from Delhi-NCR, Meerut, Jaipur, Chandigarh and “places within a 200-kilometre radius,” says Manoj Khetan, co-founder of Naad Wellness.
Free to head out
For Chandran, it delights her to see quite a few solo women travellers driving alone from Bengaluru (covering about 489 kilometres), in a bid to put themselves first. Vana continues to see a 75% dominance by women guests.
With the pandemic scenario constantly changing, these properties have to continuously pivot. While the focus of many has traditionally been on digital detoxing, this year they are offering WiFi in certain rooms to attract the Work-From-Home brigade.
“We have a few couples who are dividing their time between their office work and our wellbeing services. We understand what the current situation is like, and work on their schedule,” says Manoj.
For corporates, this is yet another novel off-site option. They use time between meetings for yoga, Ayurveda, reflexology, acupressure and the myriad services that Vana has to offer. “For many people, sitting at home all these months has led to fear psychosis. They need to get out. In the last four-five months we have seen a lot of guests who have relocated here and work out of here,” says Singh.
Representatives of these properties are quick to state that they are not a generic spa resort. “It must be understood that wellness is not just about detox or a massage. It involves the five senses,” says Khetan.
He is hopeful that more people will get to experience this. There has been a surge in enquiries and bookings ever since the vaccines rolled out, so he only expects things to get busier.