A view of the spa pool villa.
A view of the spa pool villa.

Fire on the mountain

A new programme at the Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat and Spa, off the Mumbai-Pune highway, presents a roster of visiting experts

The highlight of the weekend with Ashtar Tashi at the Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat and Spa was most definitely the midnight bonfire on a full-moon night. Tashi, a Pune-based crystal-healing therapist, was the first guest teacher of the resort’s Visiting Masters programme that began in November. While the weekend had included a holistic cooking workshop, a forest walk, yoga sessions, an art workshop, Ayurvedic massages and sessions in an LED-light-studded meditation cave, the charms of sitting around a communal fire on a winter’s night—with blankets and stalks of rajnigandha as props—are hard to match. Plus, it involved saying nice things to each other instead of trying to touch our knees to our noses at 6am.

The new programme, in which the resort collaborates with experts in the field of wellness to craft workshops for guests, is an attempt by the four-year-old resort to re-establish its position as a luxury wellness destination. The only other time I’ve visited the resort was in 2013, when it had just opened, and the management then was keen to pitch for its inclusion in the prestigious Healing Hotels of the World list: a go-to guide for those looking for luxury wellness destinations globally. While the listing is still pending—to be fair, it is a long-drawn process that involves several checks for due diligence—the resort has over the last couple of years, morphed into a lush corporate retreat rather than the spa retreat it is designed and geared to be.

The Visiting Masters programme, among other initiatives, is part of newly-appointed general manager Abhijit Ghosh’s attempts to change that. There are also plans to cordon off the leisure and wellness zones so short-term guests coming for a break from the city can be hidden from the view of guests on more dedicated wellness goals.

Ashtar Tashi
Ashtar Tashi

While a two-week spa retreat might not be everyone’s idea of a vacation (Ghosh’s recommended minimum duration for an effective wellness retreat), Lounge spoke to Tashi for a beginner’s guide to meditation. Edited excerpts:

The resort’s Ayurveda Thali.
The resort’s Ayurveda Thali.

For those looking at including more quiet time and meditation in their lives, what would you suggest as a first step?

One thing that works well is writing a daily review. I have advised this to many clients over the years and it helps to actually write one’s daily observation of life at the end of each day. The reactions and responses to situations, the way one behaves with strangers and close ones...this works like an exercise in self-conscious awareness and that is exactly what we need to begin with. It’s the best form of meditation. Done with your eyes open.

Do props such as crystals and prayer beads help beginners? Does music and the right olfactory environment help?

Yes, paraphernalia like crystals and prayer beads are great for beginners and pros alike when it comes to meditation or any other spiritual practice. The same goes for incense, candles and soothing music, etc. What these “tools" do is basically create an environment conducive for creating a feeling of calmness. We associate these items with prayers and faith. Hence the use of these enhances the experience since we conceive them as instruments of peace and meditation.

The meditation cave
The meditation cave

You use adult colouring books in your workshops. Tell us when you started using these and how it helps your clients?

Colouring books allow you to free your mind and consciously follow patterns repeatedly. It’s like chanting a mantra or a prayer...it takes you deeper within yourself.

For beginners (and if you don’t have much experience with art), one must use pencil colours, which are more forgiving with their results, unlike colour pens that can get smudgy and untidy.

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