Ayurveda helps Kerala emerge as tourism hub

Thiruvananthapuram:  The centuries-old tradition of ancient Indian Ayurveda is fast turning Kerala into a global medical tourism destination, attracting tourists as well as International celebrities to the state.

When British super model Naomi Campbell landed in Kerala last year for an Ayurvedic massage session at Leela Kovalam Beach hotel, she was only affirming the efficacy of the Indian healing system with God's Own Country as its torch-bearer in modern times.

According to sources in Kerala Tourism department, those who visited the state in recent times included Italian film director Bernardo Bertolucci, known for his global hits like Last Tango in Paris and The Last Emperor, who came to the state for Ayurvedic treatment for a nagging ailment.

German TV and film actress Ingeborg Schoener (77) has been trooping into the state for the last eight years for Ayurveda treatment.

Completely cured of her painful knee problem, she told the tourism officials that she had stopped allopathic treatments.

"Thanks to Ayurveda, I feel fantastic. I make ghee at home and have stopped using oil to fry food. I do my yoga, drink a glass of hot water first thing in the morning and buy one-year worth of Ayurvedic medicines," a spokesperson for the department quoted her as saying.

Pop star Madonna, Hollywood actress Demi Moore and Cherie Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, have also used Ayurveda for their well-being.

Back home, former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee is an ardent believer in the healing properties of Ayurveda's Panchakarma therapy.

After his visit to Kumarakom lake-side resort, from where he famously "mused" on the state of the affair of the nation in 2000, Mr Vajpayee told people around him that he felt very relaxed after Ayurveda therapy in Kerala.

The list of celebrities from the showbiz world, sports and politics, fascinated by Ayurvedas power to rejuvenate, detoxify and cure, is a never ending one.

Former President Pratibha Patil, spouses of Vice-President Mohammad Hamid Ansari, Kerala Governor Nikhil Kumar, German soccer legend Gerard Mueller's parents, Union Ministers Shashi Tharoor and A K Antony, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Tata Motors MD Karl Slym have all experienced the curative and wellness power of Ayurveda.

"Ayurveda, practised in Kerala in its traditional and authentic form, has been a major attraction for tourists.

We are now planning to leverage its healing and curative aspects, along with its wellness system, to woo tourists during the monsoon season", Kerala Tourism Secretary Suman Billa told PTI.

"It can help Kerala become a 365-day destination and ensure repeat visits by overcoming the element of seasonality," Billa said.

Binod Sydney, Chief Physician at Travancore Heritage, said the Malayalam month of "Karkitakam" (roughly July during the monsoon season) is important because the body absorbs more medical effects of Ayurvedic treatment.

"Symptoms of a large number of diseases, like arthritis, nervous system disorders, Parkinsons, asthma and skin ailment, flare up during monsoon but the treatment is also the most effective during this period as the atmosphere becomes dust-free and cool," he elaborates.

From autism to Alzheimer's, from pregnancy to weight loss, from migraine to diabetes, from sexual disability to slip disc - there is not a single problem that Ayurveda does not have an answer for.

K B Bhadran, DGM, Quality Assurance Department, Santhigiri Ashram, said "We are sticking to the traditional form of Ayurveda. We are not acting as a massage parlour but as a genuine healthcare provider round the year with wellness and recreation only a part of it."

In view of the growing fascination for Ayurveda, the private sector has entered in the wellness sector in a big way, as is evident from the number of spas, hotels and resorts coming up in Kerala.

Pankajakasthuri, Kottakkal, Kairali, Shanthigiri and Vaidyaratnam are among the major private players in the Ayurveda sector.

Kerala Tourism has introduced the "Green Leaf" and "Olive Leaf" grading for Ayurvedic institutions in order to ensure quality service.

"Green Leaf is given to those Ayurvedic centres which provide 'five star' facilities while Olive Leaf is for the 'three star' category. These classifications ensure the credibility of service providers and the quality.

"It will help tourists to identify appropriate centres for their requirements," says Billa.

According Nischita NJ, doctor at Santhigiri Ashram on the outskirts of the state capital, Ayurveda medicines are given to patients with prayers. Even before making medicines, as the tradition goes, permission from the plants are sought.

Thrissur-based Care Keralam, a confederation of Ayurvedic industries, says if properly branded, the wellness industry in Kerala can become a Rs 2,000-crore industry.

According to state tourism director Rani George, Ayurveda has resulted in the average stay back period of tourists in Kerala going up from 14. 1 to 18 days now, the highest in the country.

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