I’m sitting on my balcony overlooking a turquoise pool that is suspended lasciviously above a lush mountain forest.
I can hear the faint cries of novice white water rafters navigating the rapids below, muffled only by the shrills of the cicadas and the subtle breeze that weaves its way through the frangipani trees.
I watch tiny squirrels scamper and feel the mist roll in, enveloping me like a soft, warm blanket.
I’m at the Como Shambhala in Bali, just 15 minutes drive from the bustling cultural hub of Ubud. I’ve found paradise.
It’s said that people make the place. There’s no denying that the Balinese are amongst the friendliest people I’ve met, but you can’t deny the impact of geography. The Como Shambhala is beyond beautiful, it commands respect.
The 23 hectare property offers a five-star wellness experience in a tropical jungle setting, perched on the banks of the River Ayung and holy springs of Begawan. It’s claimed to be the world’s first full-serve residential health retreat, offering healing programs to mend body, mind and spirit. In ancient Buddhist texts, 'Shambhala' means sacred place of bliss.
Lured by the promise of greater wellbeing, I have taken seven days away from work and parenting to reconnect with nature, dine on locally sourced, organic food and indulge in some hands-on healing.
The estate is scattered with five luxury residences offering 30 rooms and suits. I’m in the Wanakasa (Forest in the Mist) Terrace Suite which straddles the southeastern hillside.
It forms part of the larger Wanakasa residence that was designed and built around a Holy Tree - an incredible natural monument that merges three native species of frangipani, lychee and fiddle fig. With its teak floors, ironwood shingle roofs and interiors fashioned from tiger bamboo and 150-year old teak, Wanakasa is a luxury tree house like no other.
My suite has a contemporary Balinese feel with twin vanities made of half teak logs, a four poster black bamboo bed and sunken bath offering views to the Heliconia-sprayed jungle. I am only a few steps from a springwater pool that is fed from the holy springs and traces the edge of the river running one hundred metres below.
My seven-day ‘wellness’ program kicks off with a one hour consultation with nutritionist Eve Persak who recommends a ‘gentle cleanse’ incorporating a three-day fast, yoga, meditation, hydrotherapy, colonic hydrotherapy and daily body treatments. I’m also told to get plenty of sleep!
Choosing from a list of 20 Asian-inspired and Western holistic treatments is no easy task but I finally settle on an Indonesian massage, Dead Sea mud wrap, lymphatic massage and reflexology for muscle fatigue and tension. The spa menu also features Balinese-inspired body therapies using local medicines from the surrounding forests.
On call any hour of the night or day are my ‘personal assistants’ Karti and Tinton, who are delightful and incredibly accommodating - always on hand with a smile, whether changing my itinerary for the third time in less than an hour or helping me retrieve my phone from the jungle garden below my balcony.
I start most mornings with a steep walk to the base of the estate followed by a swim in the rock pools which are filled with water from the holy springs. As overwhelming as the beauty and tranquility of this place is the fact that I am always here alone - not another guest in sight.
Then there’s a daily program of activities - pilates, bike riding, yoga, scenic walks, martial arts and more. Hydrotherapy is top of my list. The Vitality Pool, which offers views to the mountains, is also supplied by mineral-rich water from holy springs. The warm water, gentle exercises and massage stations combine to offer the ultimate in relaxation and therapy.
Yoga classes provide a safe, nurturing environment for novices like me. The instructor, Mark Chaves, guides each class through a flow-based style of yoga, encouraging students of different abilities to stretch beyond their limitations. By the end of the week, I can sit cross-legged for 50 minutes, which is a truly remarkable feat for me.
Dining is one of my favourite past times at the Como, which is astounding given I’ve been put on a strict diet free of meat, poultry, fish, sugar, caffeine, gluten, egg or alcohol.
There is still plenty of choice, and each meal leaves my taste buds and stomach completely satiated. I can’t go past the quinoa porridge with almond milk, dried cranberries, black raisins, pear, cinnamon and almonds; Moroccan spiced braised vegetable and tempeh curry with quinoa, preserved lemon and almonds; Jicama, pine nut and marinated shitake maki roll with wasabi; and the pumpkin and macadamia nut pizza with tomato, carrot, sprouts and marinara sauce.
Fasting for three days isn’t as difficult as I’d anticipated thanks to the exquisite range of exotic juices, broths, elixirs and organic teas. Apple, celery and fennel is my new coffee, and coconut water is my substitute wine.
I mix up my dining experiences - breakfast on my balcony, lunch at the traditional Indonesian Kudus Restaurant and dinner at the contemporary Glow Restaurant. Each offers it’s own rewards; eating alone in my bathrobe, dining with a good book and a resident monkey frolicking nearby, or sharing food with a new friend.
Spiritual pursuits and cultural activities are also offered as a key ingredients for wellbeing at the Como Shambhala. Before leaving, Eve suggests I meet with a Balinese medicine man and participate in a Hindu water purification ceremony. It is on these two excursions that I experience the most profound sense of healing.
Wellness means different things to different people at the Como Shambhala. I meet a glamorous middle-aged Russian on a spiritual pilgrimage, young executives wanting some time out from the corporate rat race and a retired couple kick starting their new year with rigorous mountain bike riding and personal training.
Back in my real world of late night editing, three-hour roundtrips to the office and single parenting, I recall the words of a very sweet, very wise old man in the mountains:
“Look at yourself in the mirror each morning, reach for your smile and eat it. Eat your smile so that joy fills your entire being. Nothing else is important.”
And to the amusement of my six-year-old son, I do just that.
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