As wellness tourism in India grows, so does the hunt for an environmentally conscious wellness retreat in India. Raising the bar for wellness resorts in India, SwaSwara – on the shores of Om Beach in Karnataka – is not just ideal for yoga, meditation, hiking and detoxing, but also offers sustainable, mindful luxury.
Over several months of seeking refuge from the pandemic in Goa, I gradually made peace with the indefinite pause on my travelling life. Bit by bit, I explored more of my own backyard, discovering secret waterfalls, incredible hikes, timeless Goan villages and still pristine parts of the otherwise Instagrammed coast.
I was pretty unsure of how I felt about longer distance travel, but when CGH Earth reached out to me with an invitation to drive down 4 hours to SwaSwara – a wellness retreat in India naturally set up for social distancing, on the shores of Om Beach in Gokarna, I got tempted.
Masked up, hands constantly sanitized and windows open for ventilation, we drove under the warm blue skies, along rice paddies and coconut plantations, and felt a forgotten travel high crossing over into Karnataka!
A wellness retreat in India to feel intimate with nature
As we settled into our partially open air Konkan-style cottage, built with traditional laterite and thatched roof, with bulbuls fluttering about the young guava tree within, I suddenly realized how much I needed a detox retreat in India to recharge my batteries from the chaos, shock and anxiety of the past year.
Sunrise and pranayama on “meditation hill”
At 6:00 am, I followed the light of my phone torch up a narrow path through the wilderness, to a deck perched on the hill – for a guided pranayama (breath control) session. When I began, I could hear the waves in my ears but see nothing in the dark. Halfway through, I could feel the first rays of the sun on my face. By the time I opened my eyes, now feeling wide awake, the sun was peeking above the mountain, filling the sky and the sea with a warm, magical orange glow.
I woke up before sunrise on all four mornings to make the most of my mindfulness retreat in India, and slowly began to experience the deep peace and soulful beauty of the world around me – feelings that have evaded me since the pandemic began in 2020.
I vividly remember that March evening in 2020, when India’s first lockdown was announced. My dad had the television volume turned up, while I continued working in my room. The words boomed out of the speakers and blasted in my ears: lockdown, 21 days, no public transport, stay home.
As my world, like that of everyone I know, began to catapult, I suddenly had only one image in my mind. A forest, the scattered rays of the sun, deep breaths, silence. Every night for the first few weeks, I dreamt of shinrin-yoku, the Japanese tradition of “forest bathing”.
The image gradually faded away from my mind, until I found myself standing by a 400-year-old banyan tree at the far end of SwaSwara, its spectacular roots spread out like the many arms of a superhuman being! I joined a naturalist to explore the forested acres, learn about the symbiotic relationship between wild ants and wild fig trees, spot the rare yellow headed bulbul and Tickell’s blue flycatcher, hear hornbill stories and identify wild geranium berries.
Healthy, gourmet, vegan-friendly delights (who knew you could find such a health retreat in India?!)
Having indulged my tastebuds as a vegan across India for over 5 years, I couldn’t quite believe the kind of wellness food on offer at SwaSwara. It’s an innovative mix of traditional and fusion food, but also oil-free, refined sugar-free, gluten-free and dairy-free on request!
The set menu for each meal was accompanied by a wellness menu, featuring delights like amaranth smoothies, millet dosa, seeds bread with herbed cashew cheese, steamed Korean baos, pineapple pancakes, broccoli and sunflower seeds steak, beetroot brownies, chocolate mousse and traditional thalis inspired by Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
I later learnt that SHARAN, founded by Dr Nandita Shah, holds two 21-day luxury wellness India retreats at SwaSwara annually! No wonder it often ranks among the best wellness resorts in India.
I left with the inspiration to pursue the healthier whole food plant-based path myself – and can already feel a physical difference in my body.
Hiking to hidden beaches
On an early morning, as the waves of the Arabian Sea roared, we hiked up the hill beyond our doorstep, walked through the forest and scrambled up boulders to reach the pristine “Half moon” and “Paradise” beaches. This is where the hippies once lived, but unfortunately parts of the trail are now littered with trash and the tiny Paradise Beach overrun with too many shacks and camping paraphernalia.
Still, as the sun rose from behind the hill on Half Moon beach, bathing the water in its warm morning light, I could see the magic of giving up everything and living in nature’s embrace for a while…
Wellness yoga and meditation (the best yoga retreat in India I’ve experienced so far!)
Even though I’ve been practising yoga regularly over the past year with the help of YouTube videos, I was quite amazed how much of a difference in-person classes with a brilliant instructor made! In an airy studio at SwaSwara, to the sweet chirping of birds, we practiced (an improvised form of) ashtanga yoga twice a day, with posture variations I’ve never experienced in past yoga classes – perfect for both an advanced or beginners yoga retreat in India.
I’ve been procrastinating the pursuit of meditation all through this long pause, but finally found the mental conviction to try some basic mediation and Yoga Nidra (lying down meditation) while at SwaSwara.
I don’t know about you, but at this time of uncertainty, a deep inner journey sounds like the only viable one – and those few days at SwaSwara were the push I desperately needed to enroll in a meditation retreat in India someday.
Working from home
As a travel writer and digital nomad, I’ve been working from “home” for over a decade. But it took me a pandemic to realise that it was the constantly changing horizons that kept my creative juices flowing. In the past few months, I’ve sorely missed my outdoor offices and struggled with long bouts of writers block.
I didn’t intend to work over the four days we spent at SwaSwara, but as I sat on the balcony, gazing out at a large lake where mongoose and paradise flycatchers occasionally popped by for a sip or catch, words began to flow through my veins again!
Back in the day, offering wellness holidays in India, SwaSwara used to restrict the use of WiFi to the library. But recognizing the need to enable ‘work from home’ staycations in the new “normal”, they currently offer Airtel dongles, and Airtel 4G connectivity is available throughout the retreat.
Wellness clinic and Ayurvedic spa
SwaSwara is home to what is believed to be one of the best wellness clinics in India, where consultation with an Ayurveda doctor precedes any Ayurvedic therapy. I chose to sit it out to be extra cautious on my trip, but hope to try it next time!
As someone scarred for life by the incessant discouragement of her art teacher in school, I was hesitant to try art therapy offered by the resident artist at SwaSwara. But I’m so glad I fought my inhibitions.
I might still be terrible at drawing, painting and related pursuits, but meditating on an image and expressing it on paper with oil pastel crayons offered a release I didn’t know I needed. I left the session feeling determined to express in colors more often.
Low environmental footprint – raising the bar for the best wellness retreats in India
I suppose this long pause has given all of us time to reflect on the many ways we’re consciously or ignorantly assaulting nature. Travelling can have a high transport, electricity, food and water footprint, but SwaSwara, despite the luxuries it offers, is designed to minimize it, giving wellness in India a new dimension.
Besides its protected wilderness, this rejuvenation retreat in India is home to three large manmade lakes – part of a rainwater harvesting project which caters to 100% of its water needs! All waste water is filtered and recycled for irrigation, used to grow seasonal vegetables, herbs, leafy greens and even rice, and all food waste is segregated and composted. This is a no single-use plastic zone, where drinking water is served in glass bottles from their in-house RO plant and natural toiletries are provided in cute ceramic containers. Meals are prepared fresh to order, with no meat and plenty of vegan options, ensuring a low environmental footprint on the food front too!
If you ask me, every wellness resort in India must follow these responsible tourism practices. A wellness destination in India should focus as much on our personal well-being as travellers as the well-being of the natural beauty that surrounds us.
Also read: Can Luxury Travel be Sustainable?
After four days of living not just close to but in inspiring harmony with nature at SwaSwara – embarking on a unique inner, physical and culinary journey – I felt a renewed sense of mental peace, creativity and hope. That no matter what the months ahead have in store for us, we’ll be okay.
Have you considered wellness tourism in India or experienced any wellness resorts in India? Do you dream of visiting SwaSwara someday?
*Note: I wrote this post as part of my collaboration with CGH Earth to promote wellness travel in India. As you know, opinions on this blog are always my own.
*Precautions being taken at SwaSwara: Spread out over many acres of wilderness, the independent cottages are naturally geared towards social distancing. Rooms are partially open air, while the lobby and two restaurants on site are well-ventilated. All shared areas are thoroughly sanitized and the staff encouraged to wear masks indoors. Safety protocols laid out by WHO, industry experts and the government are being followed closely.