Voyage to the centre of self

At this Indian resort Paul MacInnes goes looking and finds his inner polar bear.

The art yoga class is held in Swaswara's gallery, opposite the banyan tree. It starts at 2.15pm and the process is simple: take off your shoes and sit down amid a spread of brushes, oil paints and crayons. Then you relax and meditate. At a point specified by your teacher you stop, capture the first image that comes into your mind and paint it. In my case, that turned out to be a polar bear looking for a hug.

Looking back, I'm not sure the painting really represented the bear in my mind. The paws were quite good, I have to say, and I'm proud of the canary yellow and pink background. But, ultimately, my bear looked too scared to hug.

I stuck the picture on the wall of my villa. That's not something I'd normally do but, then, I don't normally draw much, or meditate, dance for 30 minutes non-stop, swim before breakfast or breathe deeply and calmly without being prompted.

All of these things I did at Swaswara, a resort with 24 self-contained villas spread across 10 hectares on India's Karnataka coast, a state often overlooked in favour of Goa to the north and Kerala to the south.

Surrounded by woodland and arable fields, the resort overlooks Om Beach, named for its resemblance to the Hindi symbol, the mythical sound from which the universe was created. Pass over the beach's bays and through a stretch of farmland and you reach Gokarna, a town swarming with sacred cattle and famed for its temples .

The spiritual elements of the beach play into the ethos of the resort itself. Now entering its fourth year of business, bookings start at five nights and visitors are encouraged to fully engage with a program of yoga and ayurvedic treatments designed to help uncover your "own rhythm". In Kannada, the local language, that translates handily as Swaswara.

Alongside the emphasis on personal balance there's a focus on global sustainability. It's common nowadays for hotel owners to make a passing nod about helping to save the planet but not only is the sales pitch at Swaswara more thorough, it's necessary. The supply of electricity and water is never guaranteed on the subcontinent – in recent years it has become more unreliable still.

The solutions Swaswara employs to accommodate these limitations are exquisitely done. Each of the villas are a mixture of indoor and outdoor space – the bedroom behind glass, the shower under the stars. Next to the shower is advice on how to save water (for example, lather up with the water off). There's no television and only low-energy lighting. A reservoir at the back of the property holds the resort's water, while all solid waste is recycled, partly to fertilise the vegetable gardens.


The food – largely southern Indian, with the odd Mediterranean dish thrown in – also aspires to a mantra of sustainability and is sourced locally. Every meal I ate was fresh, flavoursome and, I noted gratefully, served in substantial portions: tuna stuffed in a snake-gourd ring with pickled cocum, prawns sauteed in capsicum and onion with sweet tomato paste, side dishes of cumin potatoes, mushrooms in pea sauce – and a pudding to follow. Staff seek to play down the luxury elements, which I thought a clever ploy, as it made me feel more of a true voyager to the centre of my self. But, by the same token, most bling-sporting holidaymakers are hardly likely to head to a place that offers stretches instead of cocktails (there's no alcohol available on site) and is a three-hour drive from the airport.

As with the yoga, the aim at Swaswara is to develop a week-long program of ayurvedic treatment (the 4000-year-old form of Indian medicine), which requires massage and diet. I was encouraged to eat more sweet foods, including sugar and pasta, and to make sure natural urges such as flatulence and sleeping should "neither be withheld or provoked".

As for the massage, I can tell you that I spent a happy hour naked in the company of two men buffing my muscles in perfect unison.

The only disconcerting aspect of this treatment was the medicinal oil they used. Apparently concocted from a variety of secret ingredients to fit my physical requirements, it smelt so strongly of the same spices that make the food so great I thought I was destined for the grill.

Swaswara's ethos may have been manufactured in a boardroom some years ago – I don't know. All I can say is I was thoroughly inclined to embrace it during my stay. I was also inclined to quit my job and take up full-time polar bear painting. Sadly, that desire has now passed.



Singapore Airlines flies to Mumbai via Singapore, from $1286 return. Phone 131 011, see Air India and Jet Airways both fly between Mumbai and Goa's Dabolim Airport, the nearest one to Swaswara at 170 kilometres away. See and The nearest rail station is Gokarna Road, on the Konkan Railway.


Swaswara, OM Beach, Gokarna and Karnataka. Seven-day "discover yourself" packages start from rupees 120,000 ($2800) a person, twin share. Phone +91 484 2668221, see