TRAVEL: THE HINDU WEEKEND: MEANWHILE, IN GOKARNA….
This is Woman Central and I sense it the moment I arrive. The place has that vibe exclusive to spots where women congregate. A couple of women in white yoga gear are walking down a tree-laden path. There are women doing languid lengths in the blue waters of the pool beyond the reception area. A lone female ranger is chatting with a young woman staffer arranging flowers in an urli.
I`m at SwaSwara, in Gokarna, to experience their three-night Wellness Holiday Package, which is basically Ayurveda Level 1. Of course, there are men about. The staff consists of as many men as women; I spot two males with their eyes glued to their phone screens, in the only wired spot at the wellness resort, the library; in the Cocum restaurant one floor above, I hear a low masculine tenor. But the delightful thing is, men are clearly outnumbered by women here.
“This is like a girl’s resort,’’ I tell Mini Chandran, SwaSwara’s general manager, and she says they’ve seen a big spurt in women visitors in the last couple of years. They are coming to celebrate their Significant Birthdays with female kith and kin, and travel agents are now pitching the place to all-women groups. Celebrities like filmmaker Mira Nair and English actor Kristin Scott Thomas come and go quietly, discreetly. “They thrive on the anonymity, the peace and tranquillity we provide,” says Chandran.
Chandran has an interesting take on the feminine moxie: “A lot of women come here with a view to total relaxation and rejuvenation. The way I see it, SwaSwara has a very feminine energy, which both nurtures and cocoons.”
Rest, relaxation and seafood
I`m an Ayurvedic wellness resort veteran, both in my capacity of lifestyle journalist and a true-blue Malayali, who firmly believes in abhyangams, lehyams and kashayams. The tonier kind of Ayurvedic resort has always been hugely popular with women but you also find a fair amount of male clients around, signed up for treatments light or intense. Here, the ratio of men=women is noticeably and sharply skewed in favour of the latter.
The 13-year-old Ayurvedic wellness centre, which sits on 26 verdant acres, is located on Gokarna’s Om Beach, but far removed from the hippie-like ambience that prevails in other parts of that famous beachfront. SwaSwara contains 24 laterite brick cottages, manicured gardens — with a gorgeous banyan as the jewel in the crown — an open- air restaurant, a treatment centre and a coconut thatch- roofed meditation hall. It doesn’t accept children below 15, though.
My package offers two massages but first, I meet the doctors, a couple of affable young men who treat the gamut of ailments ranging from arthritis and sciatica, to skin disorders and rejuvenation after chemo. Given that I thankfully fall below the radar of serious concern, my massages are for relaxation and rejuvenation. The former leaves me drowsily inert, while the latter, the following day, gets me all energised.
“I came wondering how I’d stave off boredom,” Bangalore-based P Kalyani tells me. “Each day is so wrapped around treatments and recreational activities, I haven’t had time to watch the films I downloaded onto my laptop.” This turns out to be true for me as well. I manage to attend an interactive cooking class, a hatha yoga session, take a stab at pottery and painting and go for a dip in the pool but have to regretfully pass on the guided meditation and the nature walk, the bird-watching trek, the boat ride. This is simply because every time the weather turns a little less hot, I walk down the brick path to the beach, to sit and stare dreamily at the waves.
However, going into the quiet temple town six kilometres away is a must-do, entailing a meander past the ancient Kotitheerth tank, the snake shrine, the institutes dispensing Vedic learning, to the famous Shiva Mahableshwar temple.
The cooking class is a real revelation. The chef shows me how all the food is cooked with little or no oil, no refined sugar or flour. At SwaSwara, they conjure up the most delicious salads, koftas, and desserts like coriander laddoos and vegan cheesecake daily; since I’m on the basic programme with no stringent regulations, I get to savour freshly-caught seafood, too.
When women gather
“Every year, our groups of women head to SwaSwara and they say it’s like coming home,” says Sumitra Senapathy, founder of the hugely-popular WOW (Women On Wanderlust) Club. “The staff remember their individual preferences, there’s the freshly-cooked food and a lot of me-time.” Meital Rusdia, who works for the United Nations in India and visited the resort recently, says she picked up on the feminine vibe as soon as she got to the property. “Excellent yoga, a stunning setting, delicious healthy food…. and a group of middle-aged women who made for wonderful dinner companions! The feminine camaraderie was part of the experience,” she reminisces.
What is it that sets SwaSwara apart from other Ayurvedic wellness resorts, specially in attracting women from all over the world to it? I`d say it`s the amazing staff, helmed by Chandran. This place takes pampering to a whole new level and it`s all done with such genuineness. Also, such femme vibes are contagious.
On the last evening of my stay, dinner is served poolside under the trees, every table lit with gently glowing candles. As animated conversations in a myriad languages and gales of laughter waft along on the breeze, this point is driven home yet again: there are a whole lot of women here and, boy, are they having fun.
The 3-night Wellbeing Holiday programmes are priced at Rs 76,500 upwards. Curative programmes start from 7 nights onwards, with prices starting at Rs 2 lakh and onwards. Prices vary during season (November-March) and off-season (April-October), on single/double occupancy, depending on the level and duration of treatment, and are inclusive of pick- up and drop from Hubli or Goa airport.