Rejuvenating mind, body and soul while holidaying in the hinterlands

Premium waterfront villa at Niraamaya Retreats, Backwaters and Beyond, Kumarakom (Kerala)
Tanya Sharma was devastated when she got diagnosed with chronic kidney disease in 2010, and was told that she would ultimately have to go for a renal transplant. Her creatinine levels had shot up to 8.9 (normal: 0.5-1.4) and haemoglobin had plummeted to about 7.6 (normal: 12-15 for women). An AV fistula was fixed to her wrist and she was given a six-week window for it to heal before her dialysis would start sometime mid-November. 

That's when she discovered this place called Ananddham Nature Cure Centre in Kutch, which is strongly focused on liver and kidney diseases, apart from treating other ailments. Sharma was told she'd have to stay for minimum three weeks to realise the benefits of the treatment regimen. She and her husband stayed for 23 days and spent Rs 15,000-17,000 back in September-October 2010. The result: at the end of her stay, her creatinine halved to 4.5 and haemoglobin approached 9. Her nephrologist at Holy Family Hospital, Mumbai, was shocked as he had never seen anything like this before. Today she says she would certainly recommend Ananddham to anyone who suffers from hepatic or renal ailments. She recalls having met a few patients with liver cirrhosis who were managing their condition well with naturopathy. “We even met patients whose dialysis had been brought down from three sessions a week to just one,” says Sharma.

On subsequent visits to Anandham, the resort facilitated Sharma's sight-seeing trips to the Harappan-style ruins at Dholavera, the great salt desert and the viewing of immigrant flamingo colonies.

What's on offer

There's a new world of wellness resorts that look anything but “sick-cure hospitals,” as Sujaya Prabhu of Jindal Naturecure (also known as Jindal Farms), Bengaluru, puts it. Some of these come packaged as upmarket resorts, set on vast acres of lush property where you can do yoga on the beach, take nature cure treatment amid swaying palms, right in the lap of nature. According to a spokesperson from Goa-based Devaaya resort, which uses a combination of ayurveda, yoga and naturopathy to treat a variety of ailments, “Naturopathy is rooted in the belief that all healing powers are within the body itself. The treatment aims to remove the cause of the disease instead of just treating the symptoms as followed by other systems of medicine. This is done by removing toxins and other unwanted matter from the body that cause disease and physical discomfort.”

Wellness centres are thriving on the back of a near epidemic of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disorders, irritable bowel syndrome and such like. Some of the more popular ones include Jindal Farms in Bengaluru, Sharan outfit for diabetics in Karnataka, Kaivalyadham in Lonavla off Mumbai, Arya Vaidya Sala in Kottakkal, Kerala, among others. According to Daniel D'souza, President and Country Head (Leisure), SOTC Travel, “The top picks amongst SOTC travellers for their distinguished variety of treatments to relax and unwind are Ananda in the Himalayas, Uttarakhand and Atmantan Wellness Resort, Maharashtra. They cost in the range of Rs 30,000-35,000 per night for minimum 3-5 night stay programmes.” 

The minimum duration of stay for meaningful impact of the wellness programme is typically ten days but it really depends on the condition. According to Sanjay Singh, Director Swas Healthcare, which runs Ananddham Nature Cure Centre, “In several cases it is minimum 2-3 weeks. We do not take bookings for less than five days.”

While some of these wellness centres are essentially designed to treat chronic medical problems and lifestyle disease excluding infections, others simply offer basic detox and weight reduction, and even cater to the hale and hearty. Recently actor Akshay Kumar spent a fortnight at one such luxury wellness resorts where he says he was the only Indian. He says this is “unfortunate as that is the amount of focus we have on wellness, or the lack of it. Just as your car goes to the workshop once in six months for servicing, we as human beings definitely need a 'full-body servicing' once every few years.”  

People in the West have a great deal of interest in ancient Indian medicine. The global wellness tourism industry is pegged at $439 billion, representing 14 per cent of all tourism spending and there are many overseas visitors coming each year to India on wellness-based trips. However in the past few years, the luxury wellness resort segment has become increasingly popular even among Indian travellers. Data from Thomas Cook India shows an impressive YoY growth of 18 per cent in this segment. According to Abraham Alapatt, President & Group Head, Marketing, Thomas Cook, “While the luxury wellness segment was predominantly seen as an inbound driver, the domestic market is seeing a significant demand, across corporate India, Gen-S (seniors), young working millennials and women travelers. Given the increasing stress levels of everyday work lives, natural therapies are in vogue with a focus on ‘city dweller ailments’ such as lumbar strains and posture correction. What's more, they are now seen adding to the cool-quotient of India’s young millennials too.”

Some of the notable retreats are located in Goa, Karnataka, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The favourites for such alternative treatments among Indians include Kerala and Himalayas with spa brands like Jeeva, Saansha and Serena that match international standards. Resorts in Kerala and Karnataka offer Ayurvedic packages from anything between five and 21 days that include sessions of Yoga, Shirodhara, Abhayangam and a specialised diet for detoxifying. Ayurvedic packages start from Rs 30,000-40,000 onwards per night for a basic package. 

Kerala is at the forefront of high-end wellness tourism. According to Dhavalakeerthi M K, marketing head of Kerala-based Niraamaya Spa, “Kerala is probably the only state in India where Ayurveda is used as a mainstream medicine. Its favourable climate has been the source of a wide variety of plants and herbs with medicinal value. The reason behind it is abundant sunshine, fertile soil and rainfall. Thus, making Kerala a favorable destination for wellness retreats.” He adds that while intense 7 to 21-day ayurveda therapeutic wellness programmes are at the core of our offering, guests can also enjoy short interventional Ayurvedic experiences focused on relaxation and rejuvenation. The Ayurveda and Wellness programmes start from Rs one lakh onwards. These programmes are always under the guidance and consultation of our in-house Ayurveda Doctors for positive healing and wellbeing. A complete wellness programmes includes detox, cleansing treatments, Yoga and breathing exercises, meditation and mindfulness sessions, use of herbal remedies along with massages and other holistic practices.”

Which age group is targeted? According to Dhavalakeerthi, “The target age group is 35 and above. Needless to say, we cater to the needs of the crème-de-la-crème of discerning travellers all over the world. In the domestic circle we come highly recommended within the HNI network, celebrities and diplomats, thanks to our customised approach to hospitality services as well as the intimate vibes that our properties exude.”

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