Wellness Resorts in the Cradle of Ayurveda
By Buzzy Gordon
Eight years ago, I had my first exposure to Ayurveda, India’s ancient system of holistic medicine, which is enjoying a remarkable – and well-deserved – global renaissance. My experience with Panchakarma, Ayurveda’s detoxification regimen, was no less than transformational; after its five stages of cleansing, it was like being reborn: my mood was elevated, along with a new-found physical energy. The measurable results spoke for themselves: I was off medications for diabetes and high cholesterol, I had lost 22 pounds and never felt better.
I also learned a great deal about Ayurveda (literally, the science of life). I observed Dr. Pankaj Naram as he saw hundreds of patients a day, needing only a few seconds to diagnose their ills using pulse reading, an art practiced throughout the Orient, yet mastered by few. He prescribed herbal medicines that, while effective, carried none of the side effects that we are constantly warned about in allopathic (Western) medicine. I also saw him minister to patients with chronic illnesses, treating them with marma, the technology of pressure point medicine. Pulse diagnosis and marma were techniques that spread throughout Asia along with the expansion of Buddhism, which, of course, also originated in India; in China, marma became acupuncture.
Since 2004, I have returned to India every two years for Panchakarma – my way of balancing some of the excesses to which I am prone as a temptation-bombarded American. The results have invariably been satisfactory, if not always dramatic. The process of finding the right Ayurvedic center can sometimes be daunting, however. (For example, treating a serious, even life-threatening, disease is a different proposition from seeking general wellness.) Enter Trawell India, a new company that offers health and wellness packages to many of that country’s leading Ayurvedic resorts and in-patient clinics.
Trawell India has put together several standard packages – anti-aging, stress reduction, weight loss, etc. – tailored to fit within the time constraints of usual vacation parameters. But they will also customize wellness packages and refer people to Ayurvedic centers specializing in different ailments.
One of the centers used by Trawell India is the Poovar Island Resort in Kerala, the southwestern state that is home to the majority of Ayurvedic resorts catering to foreigners. Poovar Island is a mixed resort, catering to regular holidaymakers as well as Ayurveda patients, who stay in a separate “village” where they receive their daily treatments – massages with medicated oils – and take their meals; diets are prescribed as strictly as the herbal potions taken religiously twice daily.
It is impossible not to relax at Poovar Island, which is accessible only by boat – small passenger launches that travel leisurely through the tranquil backwaters and lagoons for which Kerala is famous. With its separate dining areas, the Poovar Island Resort is a good option for patients and non-patients traveling together.
The Poovar Island Resort is managed by Aitken Spence, an international hotel management company headquartered in Sri Lanka, another country that has a centuries-old Ayurvedic tradition. Better known for its Heritance Hotels chain — which includes the unique Tea Factory, a popular boutique property in stunning tea plantation country — Aitken Spence recently invested millions to transform one of its standard properties into a leading Ayurvedic resort.
Located on a beautiful white sand beach halfway between the capital city of Colombo and the fort city of Galle (a UNESCO World Heritage site), the Heritance Ayurveda Maha Gedara is a former beach resort now entirely devoted to providing its guests with a comprehensive wellness experience. It has recruited one of the country’s leading Ayurvedic physicians to oversee the treatment center, which more closely resembles a spa than a medical facility. The open-air dining room serves three opulent buffet meals a day – yet all dishes have been prepared in accordance with strict dietary guidelines, each one clearly coded for its suitability to a guest’s individually prescribed meal plan.
Accommodations in the latest incarnation of the Maha Gedara range from single rooms designed for just one guest (and priced accordingly) to spacious doubles and more elaborate suites. Fittingly for a resort located in a part of the island known for its artistic tradition, the gift shop is actually a showroom of local craftsmanship, where artisans demonstrate their skills at weaving fabrics, making paper and carving masks. The Maha Gedara is also committed to sustainability, even building the most advanced solar and water recycling systems of any hotel in the country.
As Ayurveda grows in popularity (thanks in part to advocates like Deepak Chopra) and gains new respectability and recognition from its collaborations with institutions such as the NIH, demand has grown for facilities that can provide world-class levels of comfort along with medical care supervised by professionals with experience in treating patients coming from all parts of the world. Fortunately, supply is also growing to meet that demand.
Over the course of a 35-year career that has spanned more than 80 countries, award-winning journalist Buzzy Gordon has been a reporter, editor, and travel writer on five continents. His work has appeared in USA Today (where he was a regular travel columnist), National Geographic Traveler, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, among other leading publications. Buzzy is the author of Frommer’s Jerusalem Day by Day Guide, a contributing editor at Jax Fax Magazine, and a regular contributor to LuxuryLatinAmerica.com and TotallyJewishTravel.com.