When we first met over dinner at the Global Spa & Wellness Summit in Aspen, Veer Singh, a young entrepreneur from New Delhi, was thick in the midst of creating a one-of-a-kind wellness retreat in India. His goal was to give the guest an authentic holistic and personalized experience unlike any other. What struck me about Veer was his keen focus, his curiosity, and most of all, his kindness.
Born in India and educated at Imperial College in London, Veer shared with me that some of the most transformative moments of his life were spent on an organic farm in Spain. He hoped that his love of art, agriculture, design—and being of service—would all be expressed in the creation of his new retreat.
This past January, after a total of five arduous years and $55 million, Veer swung open the doors to Vana, Malsi Estate. The result is spectacular.
On defining wellness.
For me, it’s wellbeing—the end state, the goal to work toward—physical, mental, spiritual. The approach to wellness at Vana is all-encompassing and includes art, cuisine, music, outdoor activities, relaxation, discourses, and discussion.
A retreat versus a spa.
Vana is first and foremost a place to be on retreat, and within it is a myriad of modalities one may experience [including Ayurveda, yoga, Tibetan healing, Traditional Chinese Medicine, classic spa treatments, state-of-the-art fitness offerings, and aqua therapies, among others.] I want Vana to be a global wellness experience.
It is my hope that Vana becomes the most iconic wellness retreat in the world. You can play around with words and what you want to be. I chose the word ‘iconic’ because when you think of a wellness retreat, I want you to think of Vana.
We’re creating our own self-sustained food network. Our focus is on food that is as local, seasonal, and organic as possible. In five years, I plan on cutting out the middle man. We’re sensitive to sound ecological practices, and are not only aiming to achieve an ambitious LEED rating, but to run an operation that carefully manages its energy and waste. Our bottling plant helps us save up to 100,000 plastic bottles a year.
Allowing the spirit to unfold.
The spiritual component of Vana continues to evolve. As Tibetan Buddhism is an important part of Tibetan Healing (Sowa Rigpa) and Hindu philosophy a part of Ayurveda, it is only natural for us to bring in these two realms of thinking into Vana. Our Tibetan Healing Center has its own shrine room, where daily respects to the Buddha are performed. We have also started our ‘pujas,’ which are carried out by a Hindu priest between two to four times a month, depending on the Hindu calendar.
And slowly the intellectual and philosophical dimensions of spirituality will come in via teachers and evolved souls that will hopefully give us the privilege of their time. But I have learnt that these are not things that can be contrived beyond a point, one has to also let them happen, and still make the best efforts to make them happen. Therefore those who come to Vana, will experience it [spirituality] differently each time. That is just the nature of evolution.
And slowly the intellectual and philosophical dimensions of spirituality will come in via teachers and evolved souls that will hopefully give us the privilege of their time. But I have learnt that these are not things that can be contrived beyond a point, one has to also let them happen…
Deep in nature, but not lost in nature.
There’s so much mention of the forest here that people think we’re in the boonies—we’re not. We’re in Dehradun, a bustling town. Vana is perched on a small plateau, with Sal forest to the west, the hills of Mussoorie to the north, and Dehradun to the east.
The quest for purity.
I wasn’t convinced about the purity of ingredients in many of the skin-care brands I looked at, and I found that I couldn’t work with an outside [amenities] company. So I spent $60,000 to build a lab in my office in Delhi, where I work with a doctor who’s the head of integrative health and wellbeing at Vana, along with a cosmetologist. We created the VanaVeda brand, crafted from the best herbs and oils, and organic whenever possible. We’ve completed the guest amenities’ range in the three doshas, as well as essential oils and soy candles.
On spa treatments.
Every spa treatment at Vana must have therapeutic value. We have a broad range of guests who come—purists and people who want to try different modalities. I encourage the wellness team to recommend that guests stay within their specific program. I’m a bit of a control freak, and I believe you must accrue value from one treatment to the next. It is not a buffet. This makes us very unique.
The guest is not always right.
I don’t believe the guest is always right. We’ve hired the best practitioners, and we want our guests to follow our advice. This may not be the best for business, but I believe ‘it’s all or nothing.’ One must convey that with elegance and beauty.
The Last Word
Vana is a place of sincerity—and a place with a higher purpose.