Ahilya Fort overlooks the slow-flowing, super-sacred Narmada River which sits between the Vindhya and Satpura hills of Central India. When the goddess Ganga is exhausted, she leaves India's most sacred river to come here for r&r. What better recommendation for a wellness retreat?
The Narmada is a constant calming presence for all who stay in Ahilya’s 19 exquisite rooms set around the shaded courtyards, all painstakingly restored by Richard Holkar and his craftsmen. However long you stay, it’s not long enough. Design is restrained, detail paramount, farm-to-table food delicious, personal care understated yet always to hand.
Ahilya has the gentle rhythm of a well-run house party. No rules, but whatever you decide to do will be a beautiful, fulfilling experience. The day begins with sunrise over the Narmada, when guests in their pajamas can wander up to the top terrace and muse over a cup of tea. Later, breakfast is also here, when the day's outings and adventures are planned - perhaps meditate in one of the fort's own temples, stroll the riverbank or enjoy a boat ride. Cocktails on the top terrace are fairytale. Lunch and dinner are staged in special spots – perhaps the garden, a lower terrace, poolside, the battlements.
It's well worth tearing yourself away from the mesmerising Narmada to see Maheshwar's famous weaving. For adventure, top of Ahilya’s thoughtfully curated list is medieval Mandu.
Must-do wellness experience: spend a whole day with the Narmada River!
Ahilya buzzwords: informal house party, serenity
Ideas for unpacking your kind of slow-down wellness at Ahilya Fort
Queen Ahilya Bai, who built the fort, was a devout Shaivite. You can meditate each morning with family priests who chant beside their mandalas made of tiny Shiv lingums which they create each morning from the Narmada's sacred mud. Plenty more temples await you beside the river.
Maheshwar's renowned weaving now thrives, adding innovation to make it irresistible. Visit the weavers at Rehwa Society inside the fort, and Women Weave on the town fringes which collaborates with art colleges across the world. Tempting to buy the fabric and have Ahilya's tailor whip up a chic garment overnight ...
Mandu makes a great day out. Enjoy clambering about its magnificent 15th century public buildings - this swirling stone water-channel in a palace floor gives you an idea of the quality. The discerning Mughals came here, loved it, even restored it!
Before you depart, simply arrange for a picnic to be at an agreed spot on your route. Everything the imagination craves is possible in India!
Episode 6 visits two Niraamaya Retreats in Kerala, one at Thekkady in the forested Cardamom Hills, the other on a Kumarakom backwater.