Soothe your mind and rejuvenate your body at the Como Shambhala Estate in Bali. By Nilanjana Sengupta
The resort can arrange yoga lessons by the Ayung river. Photo: Como Hotels and Resorts
When was the last time I heard the sound of silence?
A sound devoid of distracting human voices, incessant buzzing of phones and noisiness of everyday life?
Imagine, instead, the acoustics of a storm approaching and then dying down, a hidden waterfall and even a croaking frog.
Imagine listening to this all 24 hours of the day. This is the soundscape of the Como Shambhala Estate, a wellness retreat near Ubud, Bali.
When I arrive with my shoulders tense from work stress and my eyes lacklustre from too little sleep, I do not expect to slip into relaxation mode easily.
The phone is still clutched tightly in my hand when I begin my three-day here and my overactive mind is still making umpteen to-do lists.
It is the “silence” that calms me first. I hear it in the bells rung by local village children who come by the retreat to sing and play music every Sunday.
And then the sight of a lush green valley; the scent of freshly fallen pink clove flowers from a tall spice tree in the estate; and the flavours of dishes designed to provide the body with balance – all these play on my senses.
Collectively, these sensory experiences lull me, so that I become more open to the peace and tranquillity, the silence and sounds of Bali.
I allow myself to immerse in my new world as if soaking in the oils of a relaxing Balinese massage with its long, nurturing strokes.
As my five senses get in tune with the environment, I begin to notice the merging of the traditional with the modern, and of man and nature, in small touches around the estate and in the design of the place.
The sarong-clad Indonesian who drives me to my villa on a golf cart points to a Balinese temple on one of the slopes of the retreat.
A few steps up from its fluttering prayer flags and burning incense sticks is the vitality pool, where guests can join a hydrotherapy programme and use multiple types of water jets to massage the body.
The roof of the vitality pool is thoughtfully crafted to go around the trunk of a large tree to let it grow unencumbered. It is a rare instance of man making way for nature and that image stays with me for a long time.
This pool shares space with the recreational pool and, together with the temple, the trio appear to be situated on three different steps of the property, akin to a rice terrace, which is synonymous with Bali.
This journey of discovery continues at lunch at the Glow restaurant, one of the two restaurants on the estate.
The contemporary-style open-on-all-sides Glow is a perfect contrast to the traditional Javanese design of the second restaurant, named Kudus House. Glow offers Como Shambhala’s nutritional menu, comprising unique and holistic recipes made with raw and cooked ingredients, while Indonesian food is served in Kudus House.
At Glow, I enjoy a crunchy Caesar salad where avocado and dehydrated cashew nut and seed chunks take the place of chicken and croutons.
And amid the well-stocked drinks list are refreshing blends such as one with pineapple, papaya, orange, fennel and mint to aid digestion. There is also a turmeric-tamarind-honey booster, a traditional drink found in Balinese homes.
Local traditions and people have a place of importance here.
This is evident in the presence of the temple on the grounds and the Sunday gathering of village children. The retreat is also home to one of the eight most sacred springs in Bali.
It is not unusual to see villagers making their way to this spring to conduct Balinese rituals and prayers.
People from surrounding villages also find employment here. My guide for a two-hour walk around the 9ha property is Mudra. His father owned a plot of land that was later bought, along with adjacent plots, to house the Como retreat.
Visitor walking in the rice fields of Ubud. Photo: Como Hotels and Resorts
Our walk is more like a mini-trek, taking me up and down slippery slopes, steep steps and along the 75km Ayung river, the longest in Bali.
On the way, guests can enjoy a picnic on the river bank and watch white-river rafters bob by. Or they can walk up to the cool spring pools for a refreshing swim under a waterfall and the sky, as I do.
The mineral-rich water from the holy spring, referred to as The Source by the retreat, is used to fill the resort’s pools.
Water and the other elements of fire, earth, wind and air are intertwined with the design of the estate. They form the theme of the five residences here, each housing four or five Como suites that share a pool, dining area and lounge area.
The master suite of each residence may have its own special feature such as a private tub, a separate plunge pool or a day bed.
Whether I am indoors enjoying breakfast on the balcony of the suite or outdoors lying on a pool chair wrapped in a warm bath towel after an energising water therapy session, I indulge in the luxury of having the time to stop, breathe and experience.
As I emerge from the short stay at the retreat and prepare to return to a world where such luxuries are hard to come by, I find myself wondering: How difficult can it be to stop and listen and appreciate nature and respect traditions around us?
After all, this is a world within our world and it is up to us to find it even within the humdrum of our daily lives. That thought probably helps me keep my smile en route to Singapore.
When a delayed flight sees me cooling my heels at Denpasar airport in Bali for seven hours, I count my blessings and reach out for that quiet world within my world.
Major airlines fly from Singapore to Denpasar in Bali, including Singapore Airlines, SilkAir, Jetstar and Tiger. Flying time is about 2 hours and 45 minutes. The Como Shambhala Estate (www.comohotels.com/comoshambhalaestate) is about an hour’s drive from the airport, although it may take longer if the roads are busy. Room rates start at US$650 (S$942) for a Garden Room during the non-peak period and from US$700 in peak season, excluding 21 per cent government tax and service charge.
The writer was hosted by Como Shambhala Estate in Bali. A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 01, 2017, with the headline ‘Gift of silence in Bali’.