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The Good Life
Forest Retreat
Max India scion raises the stake in wellness business with a premium spa

It was on a whim that Analjit Singh and a friend ‘bribed’ the chowkidar of an old property on the fringes of Dehradun to allow them a peep into the estate. It’s not the kind of thing technocrats do and Analjt Singh is too stiff upper lip for this to be anything more than an accidental chance, so it was probably fate. Any way you look at it, the forested acres roused Singh into thinking about his retirement (even though it was years away) and in a swift deal, Malsi Estate switched hands.

Indians have always had a deep-rooted relationship with land. For several years, Malsi Estate was no more than a family orchard, until talks with the Oberoi group for a luxury resort on the property fell through. That was around 2007, but the idea stuck and in 2009, Max India scion and maverick Veer Singh came on board to develop the estate as a wellness retreat.

Family business: A Rs 300-crore kitty has been set aside for Veer Singh’s Vana chain

Ninety rooms, suites and villas have been completed so far at Vana, located on the fringes of Dehradun
It’s difficult to imagine Veer in a corporate environment. He wears a white kurta pyjama of organically grown and handspun khadi, but is sensualist enough to enjoy his music — Lionel Richie sang at his sister’s wedding. He plays a few instruments himself, loves architecture and art and enjoys the fine things in life. Besides, he’s level-headed — even ambitious — about his business plans. The spa business might appear simple, but is multi-layered and complex and could serve well as an alternate healing platform for his healthcare interests, even though the two remain independent businesses.

The inspiration for the spa came from the 21-acre estate itself. Its sal forests provide a healing environment, so to think of anything else here would have been anathema. Veer, a physicist from Imperial College, London, had no intention of serving time in the corporate corridors of power, and here lay an opportunity. The family brainstormed, and Vana was born — or, rather, is in a period of gestation.

A Rs 300-crore kitty has been set aside for the brand’s development. The first, flagship Vana is due to open later this year, and Veer is positioning it among the rarest in the world for its mix of treatments, hospitality, dining and environs. Properties that follow will be located in different regions of the world, and the rollout after Malsi Estate will definitely be overseas. For now, 90 rooms, suites and villas and 50 treatment and consultation rooms are under completion. And Veer, leading his team of 125, has been at hand to pick even the electricians and plumbers. You can’t get more personalised than that.


Healing Touch

  • Treatments: At the heart of any spa is the quality of its treatments. Veer insists his team has been trained to go back to the roots of ayurveda and yoga, to offer holistic solutions alongside oriental massages, aqua and fitness and meditation programmes. Vana won’t be the typical weekend getaway for the people of Delhi, with Veer adding that a sense of incorporating the wellness programme into that of hospitality will form an essential part of any package.
  • Ecology: The Doon valley and the dense sal forests and fruit orchards of Malsi have played an important role in the creation of the spa. Vana has been born from this environment, with rooms overlooking the lower foothills of the Himalayas. There is an emphasis on rainwater harvesting, herb and vegetable gardens and trained horticulturists — which will hopefully get it a LEED rating.
  • Design: Veer’s architects aren’t local, but their sensibility is traditional. The architecture is contemporary, using simple, clean designs and local materials. Art has already been commissioned for the property. The attempt is to use the architecture as a therapeutic element in the spa.
  • Cuisine: A glimpse of what will be on offer was the breakfast served at Analjit Singh’s residence, which combined local produce with contemporary dining trends. Vana’s chefs plan to incorporate elements such as quinoa as part of the food in the all-day dining and ayurveda fine-dining eateries.
  • People: If happiness had a measure, Veer would claim to be surrounded by the happiest people in the world. He’s training his team to have a sense of ownership of Vana that he hopes will be transmitted to the guests. Only trained experts and doctors will be in attendance at the spa, though the hospitality team is training locals to provide service that will be neither obsequious, nor patronising.

The author is a Delhi-based writer and curator

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