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The Soul & Surf retreat sits on a mellow stretch of beach in Varkala, Kerala, decidedly set apart from the more touristy towns up the coast. The hotel is perched on a cliff top overlooking the Arabian Sea and surrounded by lush gardens and palm forests. If your little ones are aspiring surfers, this is the place to learn. Aside from the long shallow waves that are virtually devoid of tourists, Soul & Surf also is appealing because it has International Surfing Association-trained instructors. Lessons begin at sunrise and require varying levels of parental supervision depending on your child’s age and swimming ability. You might find some local kids riding the waves with you as part of the hotel’s “kids surf club.” After your kids wear themselves out in the water, retire to your scruffy-chic digs, a perfect combination of modern beach cool and eclectic antiques with excellent surfing photography. Ask for a room in the heritage building that is more than 150 years old. Parents can unwind with sunset yoga on the roof, meditation or massage, or arrange a consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor. Kids will appreciate the outdoor movie nights and wood-fired pizza oven.
WHEN TO GO: Surfing is on from October to May. Skill level may determine the specific month you go: drier weather from October to December prompts smaller swells, and the waves get larger from March to May.
FOR KIDS: Depending on your children’s experience level, you will want to adjust this activity accordingly, reserving surfing on bigger, faster waves for older, stronger, and more experienced little surfers who know how to swim well. When swimming in the ocean, always equip your child with a proper flotation device if he/she does not know how to swim.
Ayurveda is a holistic approach to health that originated thousands of years ago in the original texts — or Vedas — of the Hindu religion. Though rooted in Vedic philosophy, it is also a modern health system that helps us to develop balance and to thrive. Translated as “the science of life” in Sanskrit, Ayurveda is a sister science to the better-known physical practice of yoga; both help us transcend our day-to-day experiences and work with our bodies. Ayurveda takes a wider approach, however, focusing on specific actions around how we eat, move and rest that can help us live better lives now. In addition to creating a daily routine tailored to a person’s particular body type, Ayurvedic philosophy encourages us to occasionally take time away from our responsibilities to focus on rejuvenation, and to cleanse and reset the body through therapies like hot oil massage, herbal remedies, meditation and simple meals. Throughout India, Ayurvedic centers offer these therapeutic services, often in lush natural settings, where you can schedule a retreat led by skilled doctors who have attended rigorous medical university programs in India dedicated to Ayurveda. After a stay at an Ayurvedic clinic, most people leave feeling rejuvenated and ready to weave in some new techniques for bringing balance into their lives.
WHEN TO GO: While ayurvedic rejuvenation therapy is refreshing at any time of year, you can avoid the crowds by going during the monsoon months of June to September. The busiest season is winter.
While yoga has spread across the world, Mysore (Mysuru) in South India’s Karnataka state is considered hallowed ground for enthusiasts of this traditional Indian science, as it is where the respected Mysore-style Ashtanga practice was developed around 100 years ago. Ashtanga yoga involves doing a series of poses, or asanas, that build upon each other and are practiced in an identical way each day. The practice also focuses on the breath and can be seen as a kind of “movement meditation.”, Practitioners, referred to as “Ashtangis,” gather to move through their sequences together or at their own pace in silent, breath-filled rooms that can contain hundreds of people. Or it can be a solo experience. Much of Mysore-style Ashtanga as practiced today originates from the teachings of Krishnamacharya, who revived it as a science in the 1930s after reportedly using only yoga to heal the Maharaja of Mysore of a serious illness. He subsequently established the first yoga shala, or place of study, in Mysore with the Maharaja’s patronage. Krishnamacharya then taught Pattabhi Jois, who spread the discipline from India to Paris, New York and beyond. The lineage is now held by Jois’s grandson Sharath Jois. As a result, well-versed students come from all over the world to study in Mysore, and the city’s culture is cosmopolitan and vibrant. You can find many opportunities for home stays and month-long rentals. Hint: Come for a two-week- to month-long stay to get to know a teacher who will introduce you to the practice.
WHEN TO GO: Mysore is best to visit after monsoon season, so from October to March. Enjoy the weather at its best —after the calm of the storms but before the heat of summer.
Meditation is a practice that has long brought peace and calm to practitioners, and if it has ever had its moment, now is that time. For your trip to India, where is the best place to dive in? The Himalayas have for centuries been a prime location for studying meditation in India. In particular, Dharamsala (Dharamshala), in the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh, is a stronghold for this ancient wisdom: It serves as the home of the Tibetan government-in-exile. Head up the mountain where you can stay in either a simple ashram setting or a deluxe resort, surrounded by deodar cedars and rhododendrons with views of Kangra Valley tea terraces. Courses lasting five or more days are available for any budget in all types of techniques from vipassana to long periods of silent meditation, and many include yoga. Much of the Tibetan tradition is maintained in the suburb of McLeod Ganj, where you can (when you aren’t meditating) visit the Kalachakra Temple and learn more about the traditions and beliefs inherent to Tibetan Buddhism.
WHEN TO GO: March through June is Dharamasala’s busiest season, as the heat yields peaceful meditation. Book in advance, as it is a popular tourist destination.
Walking and trekking have been a part of the average Indian’s wellness routine for hundreds of years, whether as a spiritual pilgrimage or just to take in the splendor of some of the world’s most spectacular mountains. Hampta Pass, a mountain pass that connects the town of Manali to Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh, offers idyllic trekking terrain, with towering mountains on either side in one of the highest ranges in the world. Have no fear, however. This is an easy-to-moderate four- to five-day trek through a narrow valley with breathtaking scenery changes. Maple and birch forests open up to wildflower meadows and grassland before you reach the snow line at Balu Ka Ghera, and on the other side of the pass, you find Spiti, a brisk desert mountain valley where Gaddi sheep roam and goat herders usher their flocks. When roads are open, you also have the opportunity to visit the clear blue waters of Chandratal Lake. Note: You should book ahead with an experienced trekking agent who can pair you with a guide and team to set up camp and provide meals along the beautiful way.
WHEN TO GO: Hampta Pass is open for hiking from July until September. Dry weather is best for safety, and it’s closed during the winter due to heavy snowfall.
For centuries Indians have relied on astrological charts showing planetary alignments at the moment of their birth in order to make decisions about career, marriage and health. Most Indian towns have local astrologers willing to draw up a chart for you and read it based on any questions you have, so it is best to ask for recommendations at hotels or wellness centers. A specialized approach is found in Nadi astrology, practiced primarily around the Vaitheeswaran Koil, located about 15 kilometers from Chidambaram in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Nadi astrology holds that, before we were born, our lives were recorded on palm leaves revealing our path. Specialists who surround the temple can read and decode the leaves. Ask around town for the best astrologer at the temple, as locals will have favorites and will likely tell you an interesting story about what they learned about themselves. Once you’ve located one yourself, don’t be surprised if you hear things from these astrologers that you didn’t think anyone else knew about you! Go when the temple opens in the morning and don’t forget to pay your respects to the deity inside for a blessing.
WHEN TO GO: As the weather turns chilly, head indoors and explore the temples of Nadi Astrology.The best time to go is November to March.
Food in India is spiced for health and well-being according to Ayurveda, India’s traditional health system that dates back thousands of years. During that time, the southern state of Kerala has been the center of the spice trade, evident in a local cuisine that reflects the varied spices used across the subcontinent. Here, mustard seed, turmeric, curry leaf and other spices meet local ingredients like coconut and tamarind for an extraordinary range of flavor and heat. Many wellness centers and individual families across Kerala offer cooking classes to help you work with these ingredients to create your own healthy, delicious meals. From hour-long classes to week-long home stays, you can learn to make local fish curries, savory vegetable dishes served with rice on a plantain leaf, and palada payasam, a sweet cardamom-infused rice porridge. In Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram), you can participate in the sacred cooking ritual Attukal Pongala, which — with more than two million women participating — is the largest gathering of women in the world. The ritual begins with a ceremonial distribution of fire by the Attukal Temple to the cooking stations. Each woman brings her blessed offerings back home in the afternoon.
WHEN TO GO: Kerela is a popular tourist destination during all seasons, so book ahead and explore in the weather you love most.
River rafting, kayaking, jet-skiing and other water sports have become increasingly popular in India, and with more than 4,300 miles of coastline and water temperatures averaging between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, surfing has come into its own as a way to stay fit and enjoy the water. One of the best places to catch waves is on the west coast of Karnataka state. Just north of the coastal town of Mangalore (Mangaluru), you’ll find several beaches, including Kapu, Maravanthe, Cliffs and Murdeshwara, where you can regularly surf 10-foot waves under the watchful eye of the Hindu god Shiva (or at least a statue of him). Surfing culture is unique in India as it is seen as both a sport and a spiritual practice. Near the coastal village of Mulki at the mouth of the Shambhavi River and the Arabian Sea, you can sign up for an ashram surf retreat, which combines yoga, meditation and rides to and from a remote beach in a flat-bottomed aluminum boat. At Gokarna near Mahabaleshwar Temple, beginners can try the calmer breaks at Main Beach, where there is a school to teach newbies how to catch their first wave. While surfing is growing as a sport in India, you’ll often find uncrowded water, unspoiled beaches and professional surfers both Indian and foreign. Bring your own board or rent one to enjoy the high-quality surf.
WHEN TO GO: During monsoon season, the waves can reach 10 feet or higher. Book your surfing trip during the months of May to September if you are a high rider.