Far from the madding crowd

Architecture

Far from the madding crowd

Oasis of calm: The yoga retreat design incorporates minimalism. Photo by the author

From urban chaos to meditative calm was just an hour’s drive. We reached Shreyas Yoga Retreat in Nelamangala on Bangalore’s outskirts after about a 65-minute journey, the end part of which ran past clusters of small rural-dwellings and shops, and sprawling farmhouses. As the car turned in, we got a sense of the serenity and calm of the place, a refreshing change from the din and pollution of the city. |

This place was opened to the public as a yoga-based life-coaching retreat in 2004. Classical, traditional Hatha-yoga is taught here with Mysore-style Asthanga Yoga also included. Later, a rejuvenation centre was added as an extension of the concept of wellness.

The architecture and interiors are the result of collaboration among Pratap Malik Associates with inputs from managing director and promoter Pawan Malik and his wife Leesha Captain, a London-trained interior-designer. The landscape was initially done by Delhi-based Akshay Kaul and later completed by Sunil Desouza of  Greenpiece.

The idea was to create a serene sanctuary outside the city. Hence, the operative words were tranquility, Zen, minimalism, subdued appearance, and closeness to nature all wrapped in elegant design and offered with creature comforts.

Removed from cacophony
And Shreyas succeeds greatly in creating the look and feel of a calm oasis removed from big-city cacophony, heat and dust.

Because the promoters believed that yoga and soul-searching need not mean self-denial and austerity, all creature comforts are provided for. Of course, as mandatory at yoga centres, Shreyas has a strict, no-alcohol, no-smoking and only-vegetarian-food policy. Otherwise, it is a very upmarket place, sleek, elegant and fitted with modern amenities. It is an ashram with the trappings which the well-heeled traveller looks for in a high-end hotel. But the luxury is subdued, not in your face, and the place exudes a quiet elegance. In order to keep the retreat as close-to-nature  as possible, constructions were kept to a minimum and only  14 cottages/tents besides a few halls (for yoga, dining, etc.) are spread over a 25-acre site.

The builders avoided cutting down trees and bushes and built rooms wherever they found sufficient empty space between two trees onsite. This also helped turn the accommodation into small green havens.

Amid mango trees...
The rejuvenation centre was made amid mango-trees and bushes. Small gardens were  created in some places including tulsi, fennel plants, etc.. Wherever cutting was inevitable, more trees were planted as a compensation. Also, many areas are left as open as possible––for eg. part of the tent’s bathroom and massage-rooms are left open while the spa-bathing area  has four walls but is roofless.

Eco-consciousness is growing worldwide and many travellers nowadays want to know how eco-friendly a hotel or resort is before they make a booking. This retreat has many ecofriendly features and waste-management is taken seriously. Best of all, Shreyas is immaculately clean.  Water-bodies and artificial cascades are almost fixtures in spas and meditation-oriented retreats given the association of water with healing benefits in many cultures.

Shreyas too has many water-bodies.  Like the swimming pool which is centrally located amid the dining-room, lobby, and a few cottages.

This water body revels in its smooth blue by day and acquires a magical look at night with rows of paper lanterns lining its sides and more colourful lights hanging from bushes that grow alongside. This is one reason why the poolside becomes a favoured spot for candlelight dinners. Besides, there is a water-lily pond, and the amphitheatre has a mini-cascade around the dais. And oh, yes, the Buddha sculptures and paintings––a fixture at most spas, are there too.

Bamboo accessories
The closeness-to-nature theme is taken forward to include many elements at Shreyas. Napkin rings and table décor use coconut-palm leaf, lemongrass, and citronella, etc. Tableware is made up of––besides ceramic and glass––plenty of wood, glass, beads and bamboo. The coasters are of natural fibres, bamboo, cane and natural beads.  
Platters and table-mats are made from fig-tree leaves and the leaves of water lilies. Even the guestbook is made of wood and recycled paper. The manhole-covers are camouflaged with coconut-leaf mats made inhouse.

In continuation of the nature theme, the rangolis drawn during festivals here eschew chemicals and synthetic powders. These colourful floor patterns are made using kumkum, haldi (turmeric powder), pulses, rice grains/powder.

The only things missing at Shreyas are the garlands of fresh mango leaves strung above the thresholds of doors and a typical tulsi corner with the plant growing in a pretty, painted container. These would have reinforced the traditional look.

Unobtrusive lighting
Chandeliers are now passé and with eco-friendliness being a strong element in many constructions, many properties today sport CFLs, often camouflaged in elegant light fixtures. At Shreyas too, with its minimalist look, there is an absence of chandeliers or any heavy-looking lighting.

There are local hurricane lanterns, and many unobtrusive, regular-style light fixtures in subdued colours. The lighting is adequate without being overdone.

And it is innovative too.  Like the brown paper-bag lanterns. The usual brown paper-bags––the standard ones you encounter while shopping––are filled with sand, placed on the floor and a small candle placed in the middle. Sometimes, the paper bag is perforated with the help of an incense stick, so this throws pretty light patterns around.

  The idea of Shreyas was to encourage looking inwards and achieving inner calm through quiet introspection, yoga, ayurveda and satvik cuisine, so besides this overall design theme, there are many areas made specifically to cater to this need. 

Yoga and meditation pavilions, machans, elegant sitouts, besides natural-stone benches alongside the pathways all encourage the guest to sit down for quiet time with oneself. Besides, one can pick up a yoga-mat and book (and some water and a bite too maybe) and go and settle down anywhere in Shreyas––under a tree or beside a water-pond for meditation.

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