It was on a whim that Analjit Singh and a friend ‘bribed’ the chowkidar of an old property on the fringes of Dehradun to allow them a peep into the estate. It’s not the kind of thing technocrats do and Analjt Singh is too stiff upper lip for this to be anything more than an accidental chance, so it was probably fate. Any way you look at it, the forested acres roused Singh into thinking about his retirement (even though it was years away) and in a swift deal, Malsi Estate switched hands.
Indians have always had a deep-rooted relationship with land. For several years, Malsi Estate was no more than a family orchard, until talks with the Oberoi group for a luxury resort on the property fell through. That was around 2007, but the idea stuck and in 2009, Max India scion and maverick Veer Singh came on board to develop the estate as a wellness retreat.
It’s difficult to imagine Veer in a corporate environment. He wears a white kurta pyjama of organically grown and handspun khadi, but is sensualist enough to enjoy his music — Lionel Richie sang at his sister’s wedding. He plays a few instruments himself, loves architecture and art and enjoys the fine things in life. Besides, he’s level-headed — even ambitious — about his business plans. The spa business might appear simple, but is multi-layered and complex and could serve well as an alternate healing platform for his healthcare interests, even though the two remain independent businesses.
The inspiration for the spa came from the 21-acre estate itself. Its sal forests provide a healing environment, so to think of anything else here would have been anathema. Veer, a physicist from Imperial College, London, had no intention of serving time in the corporate corridors of power, and here lay an opportunity. The family brainstormed, and Vana was born — or, rather, is in a period of gestation.
A ₹300-crore kitty has been set aside for the brand’s development. The first, flagship Vana is due to open later this year, and Veer is positioning it among the rarest in the world for its mix of treatments, hospitality, dining and environs. Properties that follow will be located in different regions of the world, and the rollout after Malsi Estate will definitely be overseas. For now, 90 rooms, suites and villas and 50 treatment and consultation rooms are under completion. And Veer, leading his team of 125, has been at hand to pick even the electricians and plumbers. You can’t get more personalised than that.
—The author is a Delhi-based writer and curator