Twenty years ago, Ashok Khanna went looking for a serene location to create a destination spa and wellness retreat to counter the rising stress levels in the world. In 2000, he founded Ananda in the Himalayas at a 100-acre palace estate surrounded by forests and hills, overlooking Rishikesh and the Ganges River.
Back then, they were one of the few luxury wellness resorts in the country, and, this year they are celebrating their 20th year. Apart from the spectacular location, the degree of personalisation that the resort offers and the practice of traditional yogic philosophies has made them one of the top yoga retreats in the country for locals and international guests.
As the lockdown eases, Ananda plans to reopen on August 1. Their focus will be to provide a completely safe haven for those looking to rejuvenate after these most challenging months of lockdown. They will offer immunity-boosting programmes.
Ashok Khanna, Founder & Managing Director, Ananda in the Himalayas, talks to LuxeBook about what it takes to retain their leadership position in the luxury wellness industry.
Ananda in the Himalayas started 20 years ago. How has yoga’s popularity grown in the same period?
Ananda has had an incredible journey over the past two decades throughout which we have tried to maintain our ethos of authentic traditional wellness and caring service at the highest standards. There has been a huge rise in the popularity of yoga, but most of the world understands yoga to be a form of exercise for the body, when, in fact, it is much more. And this is something that we strongly advocate at Ananda — the holistic aspects of yoga via our wellness programmes.
How has people’s approach to going to a yoga retreat changed in the last two decades?
Increasingly, people have realised the importance of investing in wellness-oriented holidays. As the focus on health and wellbeing has increased, guests are more particular about their personal health objectives. Some want to focus more on their physical practice, while others want to focus on their meditation practices. For our signature Dhyana Meditation programme, we often have people staying at Ananda for 3 weeks to get deep into the teachings of classical yoga and meditation.
When Ananda started, there were very few luxury yoga retreats, now there are many more. How has increased competition impacted business?
People definitely have more choices today, but wellness is a very personal journey. It’s about developing a connection with a place, its people and trusting the wellness practices. We are thankful to our guests who come back for their wellness holidays, year after year. So, while our repeat business grows steadily, we have also been able to attract wellbeing enthusiasts from across the world for our reputation as the best destination spa and wellness retreat.
What does yoga in a luxurious surrounding entail?
At the Ananda, the three main luxuries come from the expertise, the personalisation and the location. The yogis at Ananda come from a very traditional background of classical yoga, following the Bihar school. Many teachers have lived in ashrams, which provides a completely different perspective to the holistic philosophy, which they are able to impart to our guests.
The second luxury is the degree of personalisation. Every guest on a wellness programme gets individual guidance from our yoga teachers so that a completely personalised practice is created for them based on their health history, current status and future needs.
Finally, the location itself. Guests learning yoga at Ananda find themself in the magical surrounding of a 100 acre-palace estate surrounded by forests and hills where yogis have meditated for millennia, creating a spiritually charged atmosphere and the ideal place to undergo a holistic transformation
What are the challenges that you face while running a wellness resort?
The service at a wellness resort like ours is always more personal, more intimate than one gets at any hotel. It is not Ayurveda or yoga or healthy cuisine which helps guests achieve the desired wellness results, but a seamless integration of all our wellbeing expertise along with hospitality service. Every guest has a completely tailor-made programme to achieve his or her goals. Our healthy cuisine is completely based on Ayurvedic principles while being adaptive to gourmet cuisines from across the world. Each guest receives a completely personalised menu daily, which is customised to their body type as well as curated to suit the specific wellness programme being followed with options for vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, etc. And we source our fresh produce locally from the region.
There are complexities involved on a daily basis. But this is our DNA, and the expertise we have been able to establish over 20 years. To be able to continue to do this across the board is challenging, yet fruitful when done right.
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Have you ever done yoga with our yoga teachers? Or are interested in starting a practice of traditional Hatha yoga? Join our teachers as they take you on a progressive Yogic journey that will help you harmonise your mind, body and soul. For more details, or to sign up, click on the link in the bio! #yoga #hathayoga #anandawayoflife
What is the biggest lesson you have learnt while managing Ananda in the Himalayas?
Be true to what you stand for…that is our most important learning over time. There may be new fads in this wellness space, new cutting-edge technologies, which are emerging and all of them are welcome across the world. However. our focus has always been traditional Indian wellbeing practices and we have been unwavering in our offerings. Even the therapies that we have integrated from across the world into our offering are all done with the traditional techniques and with a focus on the end results.
The second big lesson is that while we have developed such strong expertise, we are ultimately as good as our team. To be the world’s leading wellness retreat, each member of the team has to passionately believe in what he/she is doing. Even today, every client who returns leaves Ananda with a determination to follow a healthy lifestyle with our teachings, is a huge cause of celebration across our teams, and this feeling cannot be taught, it has to come from within.
What is the most successful programme at the retreat?
In the last decade, it was mostly the Detox and Weight-Loss programmes. However, in the past 4-5 years, we are seeing a big shift. There is an increased interest in traditional wellness systems for long-term wellbeing and immunity-boosting, and therefore people are seeking our Ayurvedic Rejuvenation and Panchakarma programmes. Others are looking for mental balance and spiritual growth. As a result, the Dhyana Meditation programme has become very popular.
In addition, guests are also visiting us to treat chronic ailments such as back pain, spondylitis, shoulder pain and other bone and muscle-related problems. We have started a Physiotherapy department to provide effective and immediate solutions to these issues. Our Ananda Active programme, which focusses on physical fitness training, both, indoors as well as with high-intensity outdoor workouts in the natural setting of the Himalayan foothills has also become popular.
How did you engage with your clients in the lockdown?
We made a switch to offer our services online, and all of our past guests and new audiences across the world really appreciated this. We conduct a 90- minute yoga and meditation session daily, twice a day that people subscribed to. Guests can also book personalised yoga/meditation sessions.
We also offer other services like Ayurvedic consultations, physiotherapy, customised meal plans, which have helped people continue their wellness journey while they are at home.
All of the above online services can be booked on their website.