Looking out the car window, at any given moment I might spot monkeys scampering across roads lined with lazing cows, or glimpse the perfectly turquoise Ganges carving its way through Uttarakhand’s verdant foothills; at various points, men lug colourfully decorated buckets of water from that holiest of rivers. I’m just a few short flights away from Dubai and Delhi, but the contrast here in the Garhwal Himalayas is striking – and welcome after navigating those busy, dusty urban hubs. I’m on my way to the new Roseate Ganges Rishikesh, a little over an hour’s drive from Dehradun Airport – and a comfortable one at that in the resort’s plush SUV, loaded with finger sandwiches, chocolates, fresh fruit and Wi-Fi – in a destination renowned for its opportunities both for enlightenment as well as adventure. And Roseate, as I would discover, makes it easy to immerse yourself in all of it – both on and off property.
As I arrive, I’m greeted warmly by the team with a bouquet of roses and a necklace of fragrant jasmine. Clinging to the side of the mountain, the hotel comprises just 16 cosy villas, and with its clean lines and minimalistic décor, is one of the area’s most modern and stylish places to bunk. Greys, forest greens, white-and-grey marble and light woods allow the resort to blend into the foothills in which it’s nestled. The beds practically hug you to sleep, the cosy atmosphere enhanced even more with flames flickering in your fireplace as you’re tucked in for the night. The outdoors enhances the interiors at every opportunity, with large sliding glass doors overlooking trees and mountain ridges, a view that can be enjoyed from the bed and the work table (not that I’d recommend any of the latter; this is a place made for total relaxation), and a skylight in the bathroom means the crisp, clear sunlight pours in as you freshen up. For amenities, guests pick between two delicious scents, a lavender patchouli or mandarin vetiver, from India-based brand Kama Ayurveda.
Step outside and jazz tunes float through the air from speakers hidden around the grounds – though never so loud that you can’t hear the soft roar of the rapids from Mama Ganga below, at the base of the property. A walk down through the forest to the private beach along the river is a must. The path is steep and requires a bit more energy than your typical walk in a park – though the reward of being surrounded by greenery with pristine water lapping the shore in a truly serene setting is well worth the effort.
The “hub” of the resort is a two-level building where you’ll find the two current restaurants (a third on the rooftop, with a grill and an international menu, is slated to open in the months ahead, as is a bar), a heated infinity pool and terrace, two treatment rooms for the brand’s Aheli Spa, a sauna and a small gym. The wellness focus here is on Ayurveda and yoga, befitting a destination known as the “yoga capital of the world”. This means that the holistic wellness approach touches everything, including dining, which is ultra-fresh and manages to taste healthy and decadent at once, thanks to the skills of chef Chetan Singh Rana, who, after working in kitchens abroad, has returned to his Himalayan home. Whether at Roasted by Roseate, the laid-back ground-floor café for snacks and coffee, or Chidya Ghar, the upper-level restaurant with an organic, regionally influenced menu, expect the food to be a highlight. Produce is sourced from local farmers and includes ingredients like millet that fit into Ayurvedic guidelines for the menu, which also features flavourful local concoctions like the slow-cooked and unbelievably tender Garhwali bhuna mutton.
Luckily you can counteract any dining indulgences with the extensive programme at Aheli Spa (meaning “pure” in Sanskrit), which includes multi-day well-being packages, not just for yoga but also to detox or lose weight. Each is personally customised with follow-ups continuing after you check out to ensure lasting progress. Leading the wellness programme is Susmita Rakshit, who has been practising and studying yoga from the age of seven, and who guides me in meditation and yoga techniques, many of which are practised on the banks of the Ganges. The spa menu is expansive, covering a variety of wraps, scrubs and massages, as well as a full selection of Ayurvedic therapies. I opt for the podikizhi, which relieves pain through oils and massaging with heated herbal compresses, and 90 minutes later I leave feeling better and more refreshed than I have in a long time.
You don’t have to be a serious devotee of yoga or wellness, however, to appreciate the hotel or the destination. You can also find thrills – and Roseate encourages guests to make the most of the mountainous location. An adventure highlight here is river rafting on the Ganges. As it winds through the foothills toward Rishikesh, the holy river alternately roils with white-capped rapids and slinks along placidly. I soon find myself sitting on the edge of a raft clutching an oar and paddling my way toward the raging rapids, chill water pouring into the boat as we float along at the mercy of the river and its waves – every bit as fun as it sounds daunting.
After the excitement and to get a feel for the more spiritual side, one of the resort guides leads me around Rishikesh, to visit the famous Sivananda Ashram before exploring the town’s market and crossing the Lakshman Jhula bridge (keeping an eye out for monkeys, cows, motorbikes and selfie-takers along the way) to arrive at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram where the Ganga aarti is performed every evening at dusk – it’s one of just three cities in India you’ll find this ritual practised. Sitting by the riverside, all are welcomed as disciples chant mantras, beat drums and light flames, culminating in devotees floating candle-lit offerings down the river once the sun has set. Evocative and profound, if there is one spiritual activity you experience in Rishikesh, this should be it.
Seeing a tiger in India’s wilds is said to be a near-spiritual experience in itself, and a 90- to 120-minute drive away from the resort is the Rajaji Tiger Reserve. Spying one of the striped felines is a bucket-list experience, but don’t expect it to be easy. We came close – fresh paw prints over tyre tracks indicated a Bengal had crossed our path a mere 15 or 20 minutes earlier – but ultimately missed out on the sighting. The experience was still a fascinating one, driving though fields and into the forest, catching sight of langurs, deer, colourful hornbills and kingfishers, and even a family of elephants drinking at a waterhole and lazily munching on vegetation. Tiger or no, The Roseate Ganges Rishikesh has succeeded in creating something very special with its newest property.
This story was originally published in the April 2019 edition of Condé Nast Traveller Middle East, as seen below