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Explore the world on your yoga mat this year as a mix of asanas, sightseeing  and shopping make for a holistic itinerary.

While purists might cry foul, yoga is evolving into a practice that is more than mere well-being of the body and soul. With variants trending like hot yoga, paddle-boat yoga and aqua yoga among others, it is time to pack your mat into a backpack as the yogis in the city get smitten by the travel bug. Envision yourself sprawled across the neverending sands of the Negev Desert or  striking a pose on the white  beaches of the Andamans or doing a headstand along the banks of  the holy River Ganges. All that  and more is promised at these  upcoming getaway packages  that boast an eclectic itinerary  comprising myriad activities like scuba diving, souvenir hunting  and exploring ancient cities— besides yoga sessions.

The Negev Desert

For a week-long immersion in yoga, music and more, head to the Ezuz Desert Lodge this year—hidden in a dry river mouth, it is one of the strongest desert landscapes in Israel, according to Yotam Agam, co-director of the city-based Surf Festival and the IndieEarth Festival. “Negev is a melting pot of culture in a tiny little space, a brilliant mix of people, landscapes and food. Be open-minded, leave the news behind and enjoy the fact that it is so small and that you can achieve so much,” says Yotam, who was born in “the desert between Israel and Egypt” and has been living in Chennai since 2004. If you’re lucky, you might get to taste Yotam’s signature dish, shakshouka, along with some local Kadesh Barnea red wine. Besides, you could also go exploring ancient Nabatic cities, attempt Biblical treks or visit the Dead Sea. This package was created by Dogood Yoga, an initiative by Yotam and his partner, Sandra Schultze. Both of them practice yoga around the world, and have led retreats at Negev Desert, France and in the country in the past. Follow their website for early bird offers.

Krabi Island

Hari Krishnan of the 136.1 Yoga Centre is convinced that yoga by the beach “is a whole new experience when the location as pristine and quiet as Krabi.”
With plans of heading to Cambodia next, the yoga instructor shares that he picked this destination as it is less crowded and offered a “stillness” that was perfect for the morning and evening Hatha yoga sessions. With the rest of the day free for sightseeing and shopping, Hari shares that those who love to hunt for antiques will find interesting buys here. Others who would like some TLC, the itinerary includes herbal Ayurvedic massages, and a dip in the hot Emerald pools. For some added adventure, don’t miss the snorkeling, white water rafting and kayaking, besides long city walks, and a visit to the Tiger Cave Temple.

Singapore (cruise)

Start your day with surya namaskaras on the deck of a swank liner at sunrise with Sarvesh Shashi, founder of the three-year-old Zorba – A Rennaissance Studio. And for the next session, you could also jump into one of the swimming pools and try aqua yoga, while enjoying the cruise from Singapore to Penang and back. Sarvesh — who has been practicing yoga since the age of six, and also drew attention when his brand got valued at `100 crores — has carefully designed this three-nights and four-days cruise yoga package that includes water aerobics, sky diving and rock climbing. “Expect a gamut of fitness programmes to refresh your body and mind,” says the 23-year-old, who is constantly initiating new yoga trends in the city, like aerial, paddle-boat and others, and promises that there will also be ample time for a visit to the Universal Studios Singapore.

Bali
This one is for those who want to design their own yoga getaway and itinerary. Nestled in the highlands of Bali is the Being Sattvaa resort that has played host to the likes of the Ubud Writer’s festival, the Ubud Jazz Band, and coming up is a unique Carnatic music-based retreat. “We have local yoga teachers who will lead the classes— they are all trained yoga instructors,” informs Renuka Vaidyanathan, who has conceptualised and created this resort. With accommodation available for up to 22 guests, “it blends Eastern wisdom and sensibilities with modern teachings to create a unique, contemporary experience for the mind and body. It is an exclusive setting of 11 Balinese garden villas, where one can reconnect with oneself, family and a group of intimate friends,” she says. Bali has beaches, volcanoes, rivers, lakes, temples and cultural activities galore. A paradise also for the bargain hunter, this scenic Indonesian Island is famous for teak wood carved furniture, handicrafts,
paintings and stone carvings – “all available at good prices and impeccable quality,” assures Renuka. Their package includes breakfast, welcome drink, fruit basket, afternoon tea, shuttle drop, yoga classes, paddy field/village trek, airport transfer, all meals and two spa treatments.

The Andaman Islands
City-based Mansi Gandhi from Rutland Gate Studio, and Bengaluru-based Natasha Mahindra from Anam Cara Retreats, team up to lead the yoga classes at this retreat in Havelock. Besides the yoga, the retreat also offers diving certification, snorkelling, kayaking through the mangroves and nature walks in and around the archipelago of the Andamans. “The beautiful beaches offer the best panacea for a stress-filled life,” says Mansi, adding that the view from her yoga mat promises exquisite sunrises, crystal clear water and white sandy beaches. Throw in some remarkable diving sessions in the mix, and this getaway ticks the surreal box. Their package includes open water scuba diving for the adventurous. Go exploring the small hamlets through paddy fields and forests, while enjoying a slice of the local life, sipping on copious amounts of sweet tender coconut water. Expect simple and delicious island cuisine that often features fresh catch from the sea.

Rishikesh

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From the iconic aarti ceremony at the banks of the River Ganges, to enjoying this colourful city that is replete with a rich mythological history and scenic locales – Rishikesh is always a sought-after destination in the country. With your accommodation perched on the banks of the river, the retreat co-ordinator, Shantanu Saha of 136.1 Yoga Studio, tells us the obvious — that the experience is breathtaking. Expect interesting shopping at the local craft markets besides the popular street food options and river rafting. Next, travel to the nearby temples and the gorgeous foothills of the Himalayas, before heading off to spend time at The Bihar School of Yoga. In the ancient past, this ashram was the seat of King Karna from the Mahabharata, informs Shantanu.

Chiang Mai

Sprawling landscapes punctuated with cherry blossom trees will be a familiar sight by the end of this month, as Shanthala T Medappa of Rutland Gate puts you in the middle of that pretty picture with her latest yoga getaway. The six-day-five-night retreat to this quaint hilly Thai city promises 24-hour Vipasana Yoga sessions, visit to a 700-year-old Buddhist temple, therapeutic waterfall-side yoga sessions and local shopping getaways. Also bring back some Thai culinary expertise with a three-hour cooking class by the local chefs. Says Shanthala, freelance yoga trainer and retreat leader, “The idea is to do what the locals do, be it stay, shopping or cuisine. The itinerary is flexible. You can make your own detours if need be.” If you are a person of the streets, then the food and indigenous crafts and wares at the Sunday Evening Market are something you can’t miss. With  a penchant for lesser frequented scenic spots, Shanthala has plans of heading to Sikkim and Ireland, later this year.

By Sabrina Rajan

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