We were an hour from Pune, driving along the Western Ghats to Mulshi Lake when my husband spotted a tiny snack shop and suddenly slammed the breaks. He jumped out of the car and returned with an 8-piece slab of Dairy Milk chocolate that he continued to chomp down as I stared at him in indignation (and perhaps a bit of envy). We were on our way to KARE Ayurveda retreat for a detox weekend to celebrate our 1st wedding anniversary. After a year of indulgent family dinners, travel centred around food and wine, and lots of parties with friends, we were bearing telltale signs of excessive merrymaking: the both of us had gained weight and were displaying poor levels of fitness. So I suggested we get back on the health track by checking into KARE. My dear husband however, couldn’t comprehend the idea of a holiday without chocolate and so was having his fill before the deprivation began.
KARE is located in a stunning corner of the Western Ghats, with views of the deep blue Mulshi Lake. As we checked in, the staff asked us to leave our phones in a safety deposit box and suggested we spend little time in our room. The no-phone rule, we were told, was in order to gain maximum benefit from KARE’s health program, which included doctors’ consultations, a strict diet, Iyengar yoga twice a day and various Ayurvedic treatments. We were underwhelmed by the basic décor of our room and the overall simplicity of the resort considering the fancy fee we were paying. But our natural surroundings were amazing and untouched; the lush green mountain landscape was accentuated by the shimmering turquoise lake in the distance.
Our health routine started with a check-up from an Ayurvedic doctor who was to diagnose our problems by reading our pulse. I was sceptical of his methods at first but was pleasantly surprised when he was able to gauge my physical habits and issues quite accurately. Both my husband and I were identified as “pitta doshas” (a mind-body type in Ayurveda with strong fire elements) so our food and treatments prescribed were based on this diagnosis.
We started the day with a cup of herbal tea at 6.30a.m. and yawned our way through the morning Iyengar yoga class while being reprimanded by the eccentric, aged yoga teacher who had devoted his entire life to the practice and expected nothing less of us. What seemed like simple asanas and movements were, in reality, exceeding hard to hold for more than a few seconds. But I found myself very drawn to this form of exercise, which used props like chairs, ropes, belts, blankets, and wooden bricks to help improve my posture and flexibility.
Soon it was time for lunch—our first big meal of the day. We sat in the restaurant eagerly awaiting our food but the attendant first brought out a white liquid in a small bowl as the first course. I took a sip and an unfamiliar taste settled on my tongue, neither sour not spicy nor sweet. On inquiring, I was told that Ayurvedic meals are perfectly balanced in nutrients as well as taste and all meals must start with an astringent-tasting soup to prep our bodies. I nodded with fake interest and as soon as the attendant walked out, I poured this liquid into a potted plant much to the horror of the Polish couple at the next table.
We had predicted that fried foods, sugar and processed goods would be eliminated from our diets when we signed up for the detox programme. But as I scanned the diagnosis sheet handed to me by the doctor, it appeared that most of the vegetables I regularly consumed were on the banned list too! I was to reduce consumption of hot peppers, tomatoes, carrots, beets, onions, garlic, radishes, and spinach to balance out the heat-y pitta dosha in my body. Most spices, alcohol and caffeine were out of the question. We were perplexed to say the least. How does one even cook Indian food without tomatoes, onions, garlic and spices? Turns out you can, as we discovered through the rest of our stay. The extremely healthy vegetarian cuisine we were fed (as prescribed by the doctor) probably did our bodies much good, but our taste buds suffered the consequences. My husband and I would leave the dinner table every night salivating for pizza and pad thai instead!
It was an eventful trip to say the least. One day, my husband played truant from the afternoon yoga class so a staff member went knocking on our room door to convince him to join in. But my cunning spouse muttered an excuse through the door and simply refused to open up until the staff member gave up and left! I, on the other hand, hated Shirodhara—an Ayurvedic ritual where copious amounts of oil is poured on to one’s forehead and scalp for “relaxation.” After spending an hour shampooing it out of my sticky tresses, I created a ruckus in the doctor’s office until he agreed to stop the daily treatment for me.
Eventually, it was the location and beauty of Mulshi Lake that made the experience palatable for us. We took evening walks every evening, huffing up and down the steep pathways to enjoy stellar views and fresh mountain air. On the last evening, we trekked down to the lake shore and the magical scenery reminded me of our honeymoon in New Zealand; I couldn’t believe this gorgeous destination lay undiscovered right in my backyard. We climbed back up to KARE and planted ourselves in hammocks to enjoy the multi-hued sunset but the experience felt incomplete without a celebratory beer in hand. It dawned on us then, that we needed moderation in daily life so we could indulge guilt-free on our travels. Detox, it turns out, is a bittersweet pill to swallow while on “holiday.”