Thursday, October 26, 2006

Soaking Up Soukya

If your daily poison is high pollution, heavy stress, and a huge workload, then Soukya is the perfect antidote. Situated on the outskirts of Bangalore, about 17kms from the airport, and at least an hour’s drive from ‘downtown,’ it is billed as “the world’s first holistic healing centre of its kind.” Simply put, it’s heaven on earth that has something for everyone, whether you’re looking for a cure for a serious complaint, or just a couple of days de-toxing after Christmas.

Soukya offers different systems of medicine such as Ayurveda and Homeopathy and a wide range of complementary therapies such as Yoga, Acupuncture, and Reflexology. It is owned and managed by world renowned holistic health consultant Dr. Issac Mathai and his wife, Suja Issac, a nutritionist. Among their guests and friends, they are proud to list Dr. Deepak Chopra, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, and ex-wife Sarah, Duchess of York, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu; quite a diverse bunch!

I arrived on Friday 13th with much trepidation; there’s a booze and cigarette ban, a lights out at 10pm policy, and no TV, so if you’re looking for a weekend of indulgence, better try newly opened Hotel Ista, which has a great poolside bar on the 4th floor and an international wine list to satisfy the most discerning palate.

Soukya is an unrivalled oasis of calm in Bangalore; the drive to the centre takes you through the over-crowded and polluted outer ring road (read: no lanes, no discipline, and often, no lights after dark), past the IT campuses of South Bangalore, through vibrant villages, and finally a barbed-wire-fenced factory. You know you’ve reached the 30-acre Soukya centre when flowering trees cascade over the outer fence and the sense of greenery and fresh air overwhelms you.

Centre-piece to Soukya is a wonderful lawned area complete with fountains, flowers, winding paths, and an azure-blue pool that would rival any 7-star hotel. The circular, open-sided yoga and meditation hall with its pointed thatched-roof is decorated with traditional mirror work, handcrafted tiles, and a giant sun motif that seems to be smiling down on you. The open-air dining hall, seating around 30 people, looks out across the beautiful lawns, and its wooden wind chimes tinkle from time to time, filling you with a sense of calm.

The centre has only 16 rooms, so there’s no chance of a scuffle over the sun-loungers, or melee over a yoga mat. The 12 deluxe rooms are well appointed with twin beds, functional bathrooms (if a little tired) and plenty of wardrobe space for those kaftans and Kurta. Each has a small private garden, with a couple of plastic chairs (sun-loungers would be lovely), and the pretty coconut tree in mine cast wonderful shadows on the lush grass as the sun went down. Bizarrely, grass is a rare commodity in ‘the garden city’, at least that you can call your own, so I certainly made the most of it.

A typical day at Soukya comprises an uplifting morning yoga session in the great hall at 7:30 a.m., followed by a hearty, well earned breakfast and the first of the day’s treatments. Depending on your schedule, you may have an afternoon of rest and relaxation or more treatments, a relaxing yoga session at 4.30pm, and a hearty evening meal.

The treatments at Soukya are plentiful, varied, and very professional. As I was booked on a package, my treatments were pre-set: On day-one, I was treated to a finely choreographed oil massage by two highly skilled therapists, who worked top to bottom and front to back (the front part being an anomaly for western guests – I only first encountered a frontal massage when I came to India; massaging of the stomach is said to be good for the digestion – not sure about the breasts!) This was followed by a quick personal sauna and a wonderful five-minute hydro-therapy treatment where seven large shower heads spraying water along my spine. Very relaxing. Day-two featured a reflexology session, an eye mask, and abdomen pack – the latter is applied to help digestion and flatulence; there seems to be a little ‘cause and effect’ situation going on at Soukya, given I had eaten cauliflower and beans at each meal the day before….

There is a wonderful list of ‘a la carte’ treatments which was only shared with me midway through day-two; it detailed every possible treatment, its benefits, and pricing, and would be a great idea for a little light reading when you’re tucked up in bed at 10pm. I splurged on a Rs.3800 75 minute hot stone massage. It was a wonderfully relaxing experience after which I could barely peel myself off the treatment bed.

The twice daily yoga sessions - relaxing in the afternoon and rejuvenating in the morning – are great for beginners. I tried ‘eye yoga’ which, for the uninitiated, literally means moving your eyes up and down, side to side, and round and round. Painful, but allegedly it strengthens the eye muscles; I am yet to be convinced, although combined with eye and nose washing, they may be onto something. While eye washing is quite straightforward using little eye-baths resembling egg-cups, nose washing is a less than graceful affair; a six-inch long mini-watering can filled with saline solution is tipped into one nostril and the contents flow out of the other. Breathing is done through the mouth – to avoid drowning, no doubt - and your head has to be carefully tipped to one side. After a couple of sessions at home, my sinuses felt very clear.

The food is Indian ovo-vegetarian (all grown organically on-site) and a typical meal comprised a deliciously thick carrot soup, cucumber salad, mushroom rice and four kinds of vegetable curries, finished off with fresh fruit, and washed down with lukewarm jeera (cumin) water which is an aid to digestion; try it, it tastes better than it sounds! The traditional Indian dosa’s at breakfast are delicious and, having had a little too much jeera water the day before, I tentatively inquired if they had tea with milk. Yes, they did, and, unlike 99 percent of Indian tea, it wasn’t pre-sweetened.

The staff is wonderfully attentive and nothing seems too much trouble; there’s always a smile on their face, whether they are therapists, doctors, gardeners, or wait staff. Even the animals are the best looking and happiest I’ve seen in India; there is a run of turkeys, ducks, chickens, and three cows, none of which will be eaten at Soukya! They have happy days ahead!

Sadly, running behind Soukya is a very-active train line. The railways in India are still very much alive and kicking, and it reminded me of a hotel in Modesto, CA, that actually placed a card in each room explaining, with no apology, that the heavy train traffic kept a wealth of businesses booming in the area. No such card at Soukya, so travel with ear-plugs, or, as I did, slip quickly into a deep slumber after a day of living well.

Soukya comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Soukyham’ which means ‘well being’ or ‘harmonious state of the mind, body, and spirit.’ In just two days, it certainly lived up to its name.

My two-day, one-night package at Soukya cost Rs.8900 (approx. US$200) and comprised all breakfast, lunch, and dinner, daily consultations with on-site doctors, two treatment sessions, two daily yoga classes, and use of all facilities, including pool and games room. Soukya is located at Soukya Road, Samethanahalli, Whitefield, Bangalore 560 067, India.

Tel: +91 (0) 80 7945 001/2;;