A latest research from consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimates the global wellness market at more than USD 1.5 trillion, with annual growth of 5 to 10 per cent. A rise in both consumer interest and purchasing power has led to this evolution. Not long ago, our contact with wellness was occasional and restricted to the gym or a massage. But that is changing now with a wellness mindset starting to permeate people’s consciousness. Interest in wellness food, getaways targeted at wellness and a focus on mental wellbeing and reducing stress is growing. The outbreak of the pandemic has added more fuel to fire. In the McKinsey survey, a large percentage of consumers indicated a preference for natural products and services over more effective ones. Wellness trips with healthy food and physical activity on the agenda are on the rise, again indicating a preference for a more natural approach to wellbeing. Zulal Wellness in Doha is no different.
It’s hard not to feel fresh and free as I enter Zulal Wellness swathed with a shimmery haze of the azure blue sea in the distance. The zen state of mind is further amplified as I enter the double height lobby wrapped in lilting music and serene art. The walk to my room is through a medicinal garden and numerous tranquil water bodies. But Vitamin Sea is not the only natural healer here. Zulal Wellness by Chiva-Som blends Traditional Arabic Islamic Medicines (TAIM) with other holistic health and well-being philosophies to help heal the mind and body.
The sound setting
Zulal which translates to pure water in Arabic is blissfully tucked away on the Arabian Gulf in the northernmost tip of Qatar. It’s in the middle of nowhere and far away from the bustling FIFA-gripped Doha. The retreat is split in two parts—Zulal Serenity dedicated to guests over 16 years, and Zulal Discovery for families on a wellness journey together.
The focus at this coastal retreat is on reaching a state of peace and health. Upon arrival, a Health and Wellness Advisor maps out a detailed itinerary for me based on my objectives. The plan includes diet, oriental massages, postural assessment, energy balancing rituals, stretch classes and spa treatments, all guided by TAIM philosophies and ingredients. Interestingly TAIM has never really been practiced formally in the Middle East the way Ayurveda and TCM are. And that sets Zulal apart which has brought in a team of TAIM specialists along with Ayurveda doctors, TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) specialists, and even a full medical team of internists, nurses, and dermatologists. Snaking through the retreat is a Koranic garden filled with herbs and plants that feature in the Quran and the Prophet’s sayings for their healing qualities.
TAIM route to wellness
TAIM is derived from the Canon of Medicine written by physician-philosopher Ibn Sina, or Avicenna, in 1025 and emphasises restoration and life balance through fitness, diet, mental and spiritual health. “TAIM is an amalgam of prophetic medicine (meaning the lifestyle practices of the prophet Mohammed), Islamic religious beliefs, Hippocrates’s humoral theory, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. TAIM works on mind and body, diet, spiritual practices and applied sciences,” explains TAIM Specialist Dr Bibi Lockhat. At Zulal this is done through traditional Qatari hamiz, a deeply relaxing massage using circular strokes, Zulal’s signature tadleek (massage) using oil infused with medicinal herbs and hot stones to re-energise the body and stimulate circulation and energy flow. There are also slimming body masks that use a combination of camel milk, neem, sidr leaves and essential oils to enhance metabolism while detoxifying and hydrating the skin. Hammam and cupping are also part of the Arabic therapies practiced at Zulal.
My personal haven
The crisply modern rooms at Zulal are designed for detox. Bathed in white, they are devoid of distractions (read no television, and WiFiis disabled in most areas). There is a mini pool in the verandah and healthy snacks such as goji berries and date bars in the minibar. But the piece-de-resistance is the large man-made lagoon filled with filtered seawater, just in case you feel the urge to swim in the sea but are too lazy to trek to the beach. But that would be an anomaly considering the sweltering Qatari heat of August. So, my days at Zulal are packed with indoor activities that centre around the exquisite women’s spa (they’re divided by gender). Built around a massive aqua therapy circuit, it features a salmon-pink salt room, a snow room that generates real snow, and glass bath cubicles that feel like you are showering in a rainforest complete with multi-sensory lights and sounds of waterfalls! It is all very tech-led but equally soothing.
Food is at Zulal’s heart and everything from delicious breads, smoothies, lobster ravioli wrapped in rice sheets, crème brulee with coconut cream, buttery-soft croissants, wild Alaskan crab salad, and detox chicken curry are on the wildly creative menu by executive chef Indrajit Saha. Portions are deliberately small, but seconds are not frowned upon. Each dish has a helpful calorie tally beside it as well as a breakdown of the protein, carb, and fat content. Those interested in taking the wellness sojourn home can also enroll for healthy cookery classes with the chef. At these lunchtime classes, taken in a sleek kitchen, you learn how to whip up a tasty pomelo salad or a delicious Thai curry before sitting down to tuck in. Though the food at Zulal has no gluten, refined sugar, and dairy it’s the one of the tastiest meals I have ever had.
Action and adventure packed days
Mornings at Zulal start with yoga sessions. The activities during the day range from the gentle to the more strenuous as I bounce off between super stretch classes, relaxing massages, Tai Chi, and even water aerobics. I even tried Hijama i.e. the cupping therapy.“ Cupping helps with pain, inflammation, blood flow, relaxation and well-being, and as a type of deep-tissue massage,” explained Rabia a TAIM Specialist and naturalist at Zulal.
My only exposure to cupping was seeing Olympian Michael Phelps’ red-and-purple spotted back on the Internet. Phelps along with fellow Team USA swimmer Natalie Coughlin hailed cupping as a secret weapon of sorts: reducing muscle tension, speeding recovery, and improving overall performance. My 50-minute session involved Rabia placing silicone cups on my oiled back and glutes and sucking my skin away from my body like a milkshake from a straw. She then moved the cups, dragging them toward the lymphatic system—the network of organs and tissues responsible for ridding our body of waste and toxins. Though, not painful it’s slightly uncomfortable and a bit itchy. Some areas, where I held the most tension, produced an intense, pinching sensation. After the session my shoulders which were stiff from pounding the keyboard of my laptop and back-to-back travels felt knot-free and moved freely while my notoriously achy lower back was at peace. I was advised to rest and take the day easy so I wandered around the property admiring Anish Kapoor’s sculpture in the lobby and antiques from Sheikha Moza’s personal collection. I also skipped some of the other sessions to sip tea at the gorgeous double-height library with books curated by the Qatar National Library.
It’s true that three days at a wellness retreat with mindful therapies and mouth-watering food isn't enough to reset and renew our lives. But Zulal, with its wellness-inducing rituals, certainly comes as a welcome escape. It’s a mind, body, and spirit cleanse that we all need in these tumultuous times. Just be ready to give your body for a week to get back your mind.
Qatar Airways and Indigo offer direct flights to Doha from major metros in India. We highly recommend booking the Al Maha Platinum service for your arrival at Hamad International Airport. The service includes settling in a lux lounge while a porter picks up your luggage from the carousel. Check out is through a private immigration desk.
Zulal wellness is a 1.5-hour drive from Hamad International Airport and one hour drive from the city centre.
The best time to visit is mid-November to mid-March when the weather is pleasant and suitable for all kinds of activities. Summer in Qatar is harsh.
Tariff: QAR 2,853 per person per day onwards (minimum length of stay is 3 nights)