IMAGINE having hot oil poured on your forehead in a continuous stream . Or being massaged by linen bags filled with steaming rice. Or, for that matter, having a heated liquid concoction blown into your nostrils.
Perish all fears. This is not a torture chamber. Its an Ayurveda centre where such treatments are a way of rejuvenating the body, infusing new life into tired limbs and banishing stress.
The line of treatment which traces its roots to the 3000-year-old Ayurveda practiced in Kerala, is today gaining immense popularity among executives suffering from the Yuppie Flu and foreigners wanting a break from their high-pressure lifestyles.
The Ancient Science of Life, as it is called, is no longer confined to locals in the backwaters of Kerala. It has today transformed into a booming trade and Ayurvedic health tourism accounts for almost 40 per cent of the states tourism revenue.
|It is not surprising that health spas have
sprung in the farms around Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram,
Palakkad, Calicut, Quilon and Kottayam offering exotic
oil massages, yoga, meditation and organically grown food
cooked in medicinal herbs and spices.
Since most treatments run into a fortnight, the accommodation at some of these leading resorts rivals that offered by the best five-star hotels. On offer are cottages, villas, presidential suites, equipped with air conditioners, televisions, refrigerators, telephones, fax machines and more. There are swimming pools, tennis courts, emphitheatres and cyber centres.
One look at the clientele and you know why these alternate medicine centres are being run like expensive European health spas. Heres a sampler of guests in January in a well known spa in Palakkad... Suresh Nayyar, a highly successful cardiologist from Michigan, USA, flies down to Palakkad every year for a 14-day-long rejuvenating massage.
Joel Schoenberg, a stockbroker from Vienna, says he comes here annually alongwith his wife Patty for what he terms as "two weeks of sanity". For Joyce and Arnold Smith, a retired London couple, it is a trip back to nature.
For Durban-based author Gerald Alda and girlfriend Jackie, a visit to the Palakkad spa means physical, mental and spiritual cleansing. For a host of Indian executives it is the best way to recuperate from the chronic fatigue syndrome, the result of their high-pressure jobs.
So what if the bill for stay and treatment can in some places run into half-a-lakh of rupees, most people who visit these resorts can afford such luxuries and one trip hooks them to this ancient science for life.
Most of these centres follow the Ayurvedic line of treatment which they say has no side-effects and is the worlds most nature-friendly system of medicine. Practitioners at these resorts claim to have a cure for a variety of physical and mental ailments ranging from stresses, strains and tensions to arthritis, spondylitis, paralysis, obesity, sinusitis, migraine and more.
The line of treatment called Panchkarma is based on the principle of Tridosha (three faults) which all humans are born with Vata Pita and Kapha. Through massage, therapies, yoga and meditation, these local healers strive to strike an equilibrium in the body and create a metabolic balance.
Ayurvedic massages with special herbal oils and medicines guarantee to get you back in shape, restore lost vitality, cure chronic diseases and detoxify and rejuvenate the whole body system within a matter of 14 days.
In many resorts the cost is for a 14-day therapy alone is between Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000. Board and lodging extra can range from Rs 2,500 to Rs 10,000 a day depending on the kind of accommodation you choose.
"People of all age groups come to our resort", says Gita Ramesh, managing director, Kairali Ayurvedic Health Resorts who, apart from having a resort in Palakkad, has set up health centres in Delhi and Khajuraho.
The villlas in Gita Rameshs Palakkad resort are named after zodiac signs and are Vastu-Shastra compliant. Herbal plants and trees matching the birth sign are planted around the villa. A Valambiri conch is put in every room to send positive vibrations to the body. There are personal priests on call to perform poojas, as well as resident astrologers and yoga teachers.
Some resorts also offer varying exotica. One puts you through an "orientation tour" once you reach Bangalore. A luxury car takes you to Mysore and on to coffee-growing Coorg, where you spend a day with a planters family. From Coorg to a days sight-seeing in Kochi and then to the Periyar wildlife sanctuary through the cardamom growing hills of Kerala.
"The idea is to totally relax the people who visit our resort", says Gita Ramesh. Once they are in the proper frame of mind they become more receptive to our treatment. We want to make the whole experience more like a memorable holiday".
Meals at these resorts are spartan, calorie-counted and vegetarian. Alcohol and smoking are usually banned. A regular meal would comprise organically cultivated rice, insecticide-free cereals, vegetables and fruits grown within the premises of the resort.
Therapies range from a general massage to Pizhichil where oil is squeezed from saturated cotton all over the body and from dhara to Sirovasti and Navarakhizi. According to most resort owners the massages, herbal medicines, yoga and meditation completely rejuvenate the body. They tone up the muscles and rid the mind of stresses and strains.
But there are more focused programmes as well, like the post-pregnancy health plan which guarantees to bring women back to perfect shape after childbirth by strengthening their muscles. Then there is special treatment for sinusitis and migraine as also special packages for arthritis, rheumatism and spondylitis.
Another popular 14-day package is aimed at the old who are young at heart. According to the healers this helps enhance youthful vigour and restores vitality for those who wish to lead a full life.
There are programmes to improve blood circulation, stop premature ageing, banish wrinkles and give a glow to the skin. Whats more, this treatment promises to protect you from ailments and illnesses and strengthen the bodys immune systems.
"Basically, through Ayurveda we activate the bodys inherent curative powers," says Pratibha Nair, a healer at Palakkads Nature Cure Centre.
Says beautician Shahnaz Hussain who too runs an Ayurvedic resort near Delhi, "One of the specialities at our resort is that we offer a skin rejuvenating mud bath. We also make extensive use of steam and hot showers which actually originated from Ayurveda many thousand years ago in India".
And her clientele? It mainly comprises rich Indians living abroad, foreigners and many senior Indian executives". There is no better way to reduce stress than Ayurvedic therapies," says the herbal queen.
Which perhaps explains the growing popularity of these resorts. Many of the upwardly mobile Indians now have an option. They no longer confine tehmselves just to fitness centres. the trendy ones go to herbal Ayurvedic spas as well.