The sound of silence greets you at Dharana at Shillim, an eco-retreat nestled deep in the Western Ghats. The Sahyadri range casts a shadow of green over the impressively peaceful retreat.
The 320-acre property is a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Mumbai, and 2.5 hours away from Pune. Those accustomed to travelling to Lake Pawna via rollercoaster-like roads will be pleasantly surprised by the route suggested by Hilton Shillim that took us through Kamshet. A cracked open car window signalled the arrival of a verdant landscape and freedom from the pollution and dust of Mumbai. As my travel companion and I reached the hotel, we were immediately whisked away in a small Nano to the Dharana spa reception to consult with Dr. Sudha Nair, Naturopathy Manager of Dharana at Shillim.
On the way to wellness
Dr. Nair was armed with an extensive questionnaire, to understand which therapies would work best for us. We were then introduced to nutritionist Dr. Gaurai Sule, who documented our eating habits and charted a diet plan for the duration of our 3-day stay. The Dharana Approach looks at five aspects of an individual’s health, Preventative Medicine including diagnostics like body composition analysis, energy patterns, Diet and Nutrition, Exercise and Physiology, encompassing body postural analysis, Spiritual and mental well-being via yoga and meditation. The final step is Psychology, a much-needed focus in a post-pandemic world, available for guests who book a wellness package of a longer duration.
A private retreat
We headed to our room after a consult, the Dharana Pool Villa. A private, heated pool awaited us, a rare luxury in the time of Covid. The suite was spread across 205 square metres, and featured a spacious bedroom, separate living area and a sunken bathtub. Slate grey tiles, cream furnishings and lounge chairs overlooking the bright blue pool made it an ideal space to relax. The villas are spaced apart to ensure complete privacy. The stillness, except for the sounds of nature that envelops the place is breathtaking. If you’re in the mood for luxury, the Dharana Presidential Villa is the way to go. It comes with three bedrooms, a private pool and 550 square metres of modern amenities.
The retreat is ensconced in the lap of the forest, and each facility, whether it’s the spa or restaurant, is located 10 minutes away by foot from the other buildings of the establishment. However, cars roam the property and are quick to appear to the rescue for those who prefer it.
Our stay kicked off with a Dharana Wellness Thaali, a power-packed plate of food, that featured an interesting watermelon-skin pickle, and delicious coconut milk kheer. A tailored dietary plan felt liberating. The idea of not choosing, but ending up with a healthy, well-balanced meal was infinitely appealing. As someone who loves to grab a bite every couple of hours, I was pleasantly surprised by the meal plan; where even evening snacks were accounted for. A hearty breakfast of fruit parfait and a pearl millet dosa accompanied by a delicious tomato basil chutney was followed by a three-course lunch of soup, quinoa salad, vegetables with soba noodles with a turmeric basil decoction rounding off the meal. An evening smoothie of orange and dates, and chocolate cookies sweetened with jaggery, was followed by another three-course affair, this time featuring a delicious lasagne and pea, broccoli and almond soup. Caffeine was omitted from our diet, thanks to which, we slept like the dead all through the night.
Everything prepared at the retreat is without refined sugar and white flour. Executive Chef Nitesh Kumar Singh is careful to use substitutes like ragi or nachni, known as finger millet, instead of maida (flour), and jaggery or dates in place of white sugar. The kitchen also stays away from iodized salt, and pink or sea salt is preferred. Chef Kumar stresses on local produce and shares that 70 per cent of it is sourced from a 50 km radius. Currently, only the Terrazzo restaurant, an all-day dining space and the Mountain Bar & Bistro, perfect to witness a magical sunset, is open to all guests. The Green Table, a farm-to-fork health-focused restaurant, and The Tea House, a casual zen-like spot near the spa, is set to reopen soon.
On arrival, guests at Dharana at Shillim are provided with a list of activities that are scheduled for the day. I opted to try out their Stream Walk. I set off with another couple and a guide to a nearby stream. Forced to leave my phone and bag in a locker, I felt unburdened and enjoyed my walk amidst nature. Armed with gumboots, we trudged through a shallow stream near the hotel, stopping at places to sit in a hot spring, inspect snakeskin, glide down a small stone ‘slide’, and lie under the shower of a mini waterfall whose force made it feel like my second massage of the day.
Yoga Nidra aka meditation guided by the knowledgeable yoga guru Ajinkya Deshpande, is also an activity worth trying. Guests can pick between Forest Walks, Therapeutic Yoga, Pranayama, Acupuncture, hikes in the Western Ghats and Wellness Talks.
The spa is an experience that Dharana is known for. Pabitra, my brilliant massage therapist, walked me from the reception to the standalone therapy rooms where the scent of oils and herbs lulled a guest to relaxation. During Dharana’s signature Vaanoushadi massage, Pabitra loosened knots, and massaged away aches, prompting a loose-limbed feeling that ensured a night of peaceful sleep. For those who love a more rigorous massage, the deep tissue one is highly recommended.
At the end of our 3-day stay, a concluding consultation with Dr. Nair proved helpful. Personalised solutions were given to promote a healthier lifestyle. She recommended simple changes like switching to cast-iron pans, drinking up to 3 litres of water daily, and spending at least 10 minutes in the early morning sun.
Being cooped up at home for the better part of two years, Dharana felt like a privilege. The never-ending space, the soothing green of the forest and the tailored relaxation plan, is truly worth experiencing.
Cost: Wellness packages start at Rs. 89,208, inclusive of single occupancy Dharana Villa for 3 nights, including daily yoga, meditation, retreat activities, a 60-minute spa treatment per day, and meals.
The author was invited to experience the property by Dharana at Shillim.