Winston Aldworth checks into Svatma, Thanjavur in Southern India.


The little town of Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu.

Check-in experience: There's a floral garland, of course, because we're in India. But this one, rather sweetly, goes around the wrist, not the neck. Our hosts aren't done with us yet — over our shoulders goes a khata or scarf. After the noise and chaos of our Indian journey, arrival at Svatma was peaceful release.


The room: They're all different — and all kitted-out with random, beautiful old furniture. The bed was big and comfy. But it's the common spaces, where artworks, musical instruments and books are on display that really make Svatma a fabulous environment.

What's in the neighbourhood? The stunning 11th-century Brihadeeswarar Temple is a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride away.

Pampering: In the spa centre, I'm laid out on a wooden table for an hour-long session of Svaram sound healing. There's no massage involved and the wooden table isn't particularly comfortable, but I'm up for anything, so I lie back and close my eyes as the therapist moves around the room playing chimes, bells, rattles and all manner of percussive and gentle string instruments. The deep tone of the heavy gong vibrates up the wooden table and wobbles through my body. Each sound, it's claimed, will have an effect on the cells of the body and the harmony of the mind.

Here's what they reckon: "Tuned sound, brings the receptive person into deeper, dreamlike, relaxing alpha states, which stimulate the inherent self-healing powers, aligns the body and its subtler layers, brings the system into deeper coherence and offers the opportunity to harmonise, refresh and rebalance the organism."

Pseudo-science? Probably, but by the time the final gong sounded, I felt refreshed, relaxed and nicely pampered. In short: It felt nice. I'd never heard of sound therapy before, but I can now say that it rings a bell.

Exercise: The creaking and groaning of my body going through a 7am yoga class could probably be heard back in New Zealand. Others in my group took part in a session of chanting, which sounded naff on paper but looked terrific when I popped my head around the corner. If you get the chance, do it.

Food and drink: We had a superb set menu for lunch — you can read about it in an upcoming issue of the Herald's Monday magazine, BeWell. In the evening, the rooftop bar, looking over coconut trees and the edges of the town of Thanjavur, was an exquisite setting for dinner and drinks.

Service: Everywhere, yet chill.


Contact: You can reach them at, and Svatma features in Adventure World tours of Tamil Nadu.

Final word: After a long career in hotels around the world, proprietor Sanjay Umashankar joined his cousins in this venture, returning to the town where their grandmother was raised. They have plans for a new, bigger wellness-focused retreat called Svatma Ramnivas Mayavaram, in Asikkadu, about 70km east of this one. I've seen video of it; it looks amazing.