The resurgence of Yoga - the ancient Indian mind-body wellness philosophy is unmistakable, especially in Scandinavian countries and if you are an Indian, there is every reason to feel proud of your ancestors. The soaring popularity of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi coupled with celebrity Yoga Gurus like Ramdev, Bikram Choudhury, Iyengar and others of their ilk have meant that today Yoga has become one of the hottest selling lifestyle brand.
A visit to the remote Swedish Ski Resort of Are, located in Jamtland County with a population of just 1,417 reveals a truly Indian phenomenon on the rise - it’s freezing outside, but you find groups of shirtless men absorbed in Yoga poses in the early morning snow. And if they come to know you are an Indian visitor, they greet and embrace you with - “Oh, you are from Modi’s land? Modi is great for the globe” kind of salutations, which even a decade back, was unthinkable for Indian visitors.
In the year 2008 Are was chosen as one of the ten best ski resorts of the world by Condé Nast Traveller and the best hotel in Are - Copperhill Mountain Lodge made its debut the same year. Renowned American architect Peter Bohlin was behind the designing of this fabulous hotel, which till date is the only “Design Hotel” in the whole of Scandinavia. However, with the growth of tourism as an industry many new hotels and resorts have sprung up not just in Are but also in adjoining Duved and Storlien.
The manner in which Scandinavia has blended Yoga into their lifestyle is nothing short of amazing as I was to discover for myself. The first thing that hits you in Are is the raw mountain energy and as you begin to spend a few days with the snow covered peaks for company, you begin to feel more profound. Add Yoga into your lifestyle, and you experience a paradigm shift in consciousness and connect to a higher realm.
I was exposed to the power of peaks and snow in my childhood, courtesy three consecutive years of being a resident of Tawang (8757 Feet) in India’s North Eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. My Nepalese mountaineer friend - Ang Tshering Lama (Everester) is of the opinion that - “As someone who shivers at just the thought of cold water, it just makes so much sense to introduce Yoga to a community of snow lovers, who physically challenge themselves every day. Plus, the issues affecting the mountain environments - be it Himalayan or Alpine, are something which every mountain aficionado should learn first hand.”
It was such a delight being stationed in the stunningly picturesque town of Are to get my fix of powder - Running snow specific yoga poses to the power of balance - actively resting as well as simulating dynamic movement for the slopes....it is indeed amazing how Yoga increases your riding capacity and technical competence at such rarefied heights.
Standard snow vacations are likely to centre around adrenalin pumping ski actions, coupled with loads of rich food, booze and late nights that can leave you strung out and fuzzy. However, if you chalk out your Alpine vacations with connoisseurs of “Wellness Vacation”, you not only ensure body-mind-soul nourishment and meditation but also allow your vacation to invigorate your spirit and tap into the energy of creation that connects you with a higher realm.
Here in icy Are, an Indian ownership vacation brand - the Mahindra Holidays & Resort has made its mark, courtesy their Holiday Club Are property that not just promotes vacationing in Scandinavia, but has carved a niche for itself as providers of India’s time-tested immortal Yoga philosophy. The buzzword at Holiday Club Are is “Activity Holidays” -the food is organic, guest diets are monitored and the in-house Yoga programme elevates you leisurely into the realms of heightened awareness and a profound mountain experience. A weeklong stay is ideal as you get exposed to the grandeur of the Scandinavian mountain environment indulging in Yoga poses, meditation and Pranayama.
The annual Yoga Mountain Festival from 15 - 17 November conducted by Holiday Club Are offers visitors with a once-in-a-lifetime transformative experience through the power of Yoga in a truly scintillating Scandinavian backdrop - ice and snow everywhere, sauna- and pool hangouts, spacious rooms with a view over the mountain or lake, options to indulge in SUP-board, in heat or along with live music... Price varies - 2897 SEK for part in a triple room or 3345 SEK for part in a double room which are inclusive of yoga sessions, lectures, outdoor workshops and accommodation as well as full board is included.
Many visitors also come to seize the opportunity to be guided by one of Sweden's foremost Ashtanga yoga trainer - Ann Svärdfelt, whose simple yet path-breaking philosophy of “Yoga for Everyone” has been lapped up by thousands of Yoga freaks worldwide, largely due to Ann’s marvellous ability and her compassionate approach.
Yoga aside, Are has evolved as a Tourist destination from right from the middle of 18th century and in the days of yore, Are used to be a resting place for pilgrims on their way to the grave of St Olav of Norway. Visitors still trudge on the path of St Olavsleden crisscrossing mountains, sparkling waters and Scandinavian forests.
Are’s first big move on its evolution as one the world’s most spectacular Ski Tourism destination began in the year 1910 with the introduction of “Åre Bergbana”- a funicular railway system that runs all of 790 metres at 398 metres above sea level to Hotel Fjällgården (556 metres). Even today, the Åre Bergbana is functional with a capacity to transport 600 people per hour.
Åre has been the venue for numerous Alpine World Championships - 1954, 2007 and the most recent one being February 2019. Try to coincide your trip to Are especially during the winter season, as Are hosts many glitzy events that bring together some of the world's best Skiiers to Åre.
However, as an Indian used to live in the midst of overpopulated cities and towns bursting at seams, Åre, with a population of less than 2000 people and 30 000 beds offers a huge change in terms of population density.
According to Yoga guru Ann Svärdfelt: “The summer tourism has grown in the past ten years. Cycling, hiking and fishing bring many visitors to Åre during the light summer days. Åre bike park is the largest of its kind in Sweden and has been listed as one of the best bike parks in the world. There are many events in Åre throughout the year, e.g. Åre extreme challenge is a multisport competition in early June and Västgård Game Fair is a fun weekend in late July. Regardless of when you visit, there will always be plenty to do and experience”.
One thing that first-time visitors should embark upon is the Mountain Lifts that takes you high over the Scandinavian peaks and offers you stunning views. Once you reach the summit, you can then choose your own trail and hiking path.
Drop-in at “SkiStar” - Skistarshop Kabinbanan, Skistarshop Åre square or Skistarshop Holiday Club to buy your pass. Having a meal at Stormköket, the highest restaurant in Sweden can indeed be a surreal experience.
Traveller’s Fact File
Reaching There: Åre is located to the northwest of Sweden (Jamtland), in close proximity to the Norwegian border and there are multiple options to travel.
By Air: Åre/Östersund airport located 90 km from Åre and Vaernas airport in Norway, 140 km away are two of the best options. SAS, Easy Jet and Norweigan offer routine flights to Åre/Östersund Airport. While LOT, Wizzair, KLM, SAS and Norweigan operates regular flights to Vaernas Airport. Rented taxis and buses are available that are connected in tandem with all flights touching down at both the airports.
By Road: The roads are safe but one must be careful with the occasional wildlife intruders on the highway (moose and reindeer). If you are up for the ride, the drive from Stockholm to Åre covering a distance of 650 km could be one of the most remarkable road trips you ever undertook.
Accommodation: Anytime in Are, rest assured of the presence of a wonderful mix of skiers, mountain connoisseurs and Yoga freaks - all in search of the Scandinavian elixir. Hotels are everywhere. How about living in a mountain lodge! Believe me, no hotel or a motel can offer the rustic ambience of passing days in mountain huts/lodges - fireplace crackling, home-cooked food, sipping your favourite tipple at your own pace, private sundecks/balconies and windowpanes opening up to the mountains where no other civilisation besides the Scandinavian nature exists. Le Ski Lodge and Storulvån, STF Mountain station are much preferred by visitors.