Shillim is set in the momentous Sahyadris. This is a mountain range thatʼs older than the Himalayas, and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Sahyadris are one of the worldʼs eight hottest hotspots. It is both ecologically unique and biologically diverse.
These high mountain forest ecosystems of the Western Ghats govern Indiaʼs monsoon. They also moderate the regionʼs tropical climate.
The Shillim Eco-Wellness Retreat is a three-hour drive from Mumbai. The estate overlooks the placid and serene Pawana Lake. The estate comprises lush rice fields, fertile valleys, breathtaking forests, and clean and crisp air. All the ingredients to warm and lift your mind, body, and spirit.
The landscape is majestic. It includes mountain forested ridges, butte, and open grasslands. Plus, a remarkable views of Tungi and Tikona forts.
You get to soak in an ambiance which is unique. You immerse yourself in nature, conservation, and healing.
You get to experience Wellness and Family Breaks, which are holistic, and healing.
The Stay, Eat, Get Fit, and Learn opportunities afford you an opportunity to grow from within.
When you stay at the Shillim Retreat you contribute to the local sustenance. You take part in the upkeep of a precious mountain ecosystem comprising reforested land.
You also contribute to local employment and reforestation. You help with the guarding of a delicate ecosystem, in the Sahyadris.
Shillim sits in the very lap of nature, three-hours from Mumbai. The estate overlooks the placid and serene Pawana Lake.
It has all the ingredients to lift your mind, body, and spirit - lush rice fields, fertile valleys, breathtaking forests, clean and crisp air.
Brothers William and Denzil fell in love with a serene tract of land. Nestled in the Sahyadris, in 1992, Shillim was a beautiful, surreal property.
It comprised a high ridge, butte, forest benches, to rice fields and plateaus. 28 water tributaries enriched the land before ending up in the water course in the valley.
The forest comprised mature trees considered as sacred groves. It was home to a range of animal species and plants, singular to the Sahyadris.
In the valley, rice was grown by the locals. The soil here contained rich alluvial deposits washed down from the mountains. The only issue was that during monsoons floods took over the valley.
Post the harvest, the settlers burnt the fields. It was a practice that was quick and cheap. They believed that it would make the soil more fertile. Bu this had huge environmental costs.
The plateaus, once covered with grass and wildflower, stood denuded. It resembled a desert in summer. Overgrazing for many generations by the local, nomadic settlers, had killed the vegetation.
The rains conspired to wash large quantities of soil down into the water course and the Pawna Lake. There was just not enough vegetation to hold the soil together along the way down.
The forest slopes were a pale shadow of what it once was because of the slash and burn practices of the locals. Soil erosion compounded this during the rains.
How do they bring the land back to its former glory? How do they get the locals to give up their unsustainable practices?
They evolved a simple set of principles: Conserve, Sustain, and Heal.
These principles guide every action at the Shillim Eco-Wellness Retreat.
Radha Veach, a horticulturist, grew plants that were native to the region.
She committed to live on the site. She scoured the forest for native seeds. She nurtured these in a nursery, on the banks of Pawna Lake. And she restored the land to its original glory.
The men of the village were given jobs - guard the property, put out forest fires, prevent slash and burn, and curb wildlife hunting.
The women were employed in the nursery. Plus, in the large, annual pre-monsoon plantation program.
Today, Shillim conserves more than a million trees. It provides a safe zone for diverse flora and fauna in the Sahyadris.
The reforestation program succeeded. The next question was how to sustain the land and the forest, so that it would be a place to reconnect with nature tomorrow.
How do you keep the locals employed in a sustainable manner?
The idea of building an 'off the grid' Eco Retreat was born.
In 1997, the owners put together a special team of engineers, horticulturists, and landscape designers. They were tasked to build the Shillim Eco-Wellness Retreat.
Conserve and maintain the habitat and natural environment at Shillim. This had to be environmentally-friendly and sustainable.
Respect the biodiversity of the Shillim landscape. Live in harmony with it.
Create a reflective environment which integrates the philosophical, spiritual, and artistic wisdom of ancient India. Weave this with contemporary life enhancing practices, and knowledge.
Combine wellness practices and nature activities in a comfortable retreat atmosphere. Wrap this in a superb wilderness setting so as to integrate the body, mind, and spirit healing.
Enable guests in their everyday lives to be deeply refreshed. Re-inspire them at the Shillim Eco-Wellness Retreat.
They brainstormed and came up with an actionable plan.
The rice fields and the eroded forest slopes were the first on the agenda for renewal. Aerial photography identified the existing land forms, vegetation, and massing of land forms.
They declared the forest a no-go zone for development, in the true spirit of Conserve, Sustain & Heal.
100 villas, a wellness centre, a spa, a club, a yoga pavilion, and a riding centre were planned. This would become the centre of a spiritual Eco-Wellness Retreat in 350 acres of forest land.
The goal here was to ensure that the land looked better than before the work on it started.
Construction work started with building over 1000 meters of contour trenches and gulley plugs. This slowed down the water flow, encouraged vegetation around the waterways, and recharged the ground water.
The individual components of the landscape design were created. It factored both the geography and microclimates. Very few trees were cut to make way for new construction as per the founders’ mandate.
The original landscape and the wilder landscape of the revegetated slopes work together visually. There is no bounded garden space at Shillim. The natural surrounds create the context for the villas.
The locals were roped in as they were a mother lode of knowledge on the forest and the native plants.
People from the village were also employed as forest guards, guides to the planning team, as help at the nursery, and as staff at the site office.
It was a team-building experience that worked with the villagers and made them understand that they had a role to play in this new landscape.
This effort went way more than what the usual community outreach meetings would have entailed.
The guiding principles would be Conserve, Sustain, & Heal.
In keeping with the philosophy, they decided to keep the building materials non-toxic. They tested different models of architecture that would blend with the landscape.
Finally, they came up with a system of faceted roofs that would flow into the surrounds. Their idea was inspired by the roofing system in the neighbouring Botchilwadi village.
The design signature for the wellness centre was thus created.
The design team then took off from this system to develop the Gatehouse, the Shillim Institute, and the Villas. Their translation of the project vision creatively blended and balanced colour, proportion and style, in the buildings.
The buildings were strategically placed in areas where the ecosystem would not be effected.
The Eco-Retreat today boasts of wastewater treatment, composting of organic materials, soil bio-treatment, solar energy, variable refrigerant flow control for room air conditioning, natural ventilation, and water efficient appliances.
The landscape uses sustainable plants with wild grasses. An organic farm grows vegetables and supplies the retreat’s food.
Margie Ruddick has been recognized for her pioneering work in the landscape for years now.
Margieʼs international projects include the Shillim Institute and Retreat in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra, India; she has remained with the project as a member of the Instituteʼs board. She has traveled to Chengdu, Sichuan, China in 1996 to lead a team designing the Living Water Park, the first ecological park in China, which cleans polluted river water biologically.
Winner of the 2013 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award in landscape architecture, Margie has forged a design language that integrates ecology and culture. Her transformative design for New Yorkʼs Queens Plaza has won awards for promoting a new idea of nature in the city, where storm water, the wind, the sun, and natural habitat, merge within an urban infrastructure to create a more sustainable vision of urban life.
The new waterfront at Stapleton, in New York City, brings the harbor and city together in a park with a cove and tidal wetlands - catalyzing the revitalization of this historic Staten Island district. Trenton Capital Park restores the connection between the city and the Delaware.
I had booked my room in advance as it can be tricky to get a room during season as weekends can be full. The room was perfect with a great view. I would recommend to get a prior spa appointment though. Otherwise, I was completely rejuvenated and recharged over that weekend stay. Will definitely come back.
©Shillim.in All Rights Reserved.
How to get here?....