Going Niche

This article originally appeared in the 2012 India Travel Planner. It has been extracted from its original format. To read the full travel guide, visit the digital edition.

Yoga is a must-try when visiting India.

Wellness & Spiritual Travel

Wellness, medical and spiritual tourism are among the most rapidly growing segments in India and for those who sell this type of travel. Whether they’re spurred by their love of yoga, appreciation of ancient healing practices or the “Eat, Pray, Love” effect, where the main character jets off to India for spiritual healing, travelers are increasingly looking East for mind-and-body betterment.

Yet wellness options in India extend far beyond spiritual relief. In addition to its highly regarded traditional practices, India is a leading player in the medical tourism arena. This is not new to India. Thanks to highly trained, English-speaking physicians well versed in the latest treatments, cutting-edge facilities and services available at a mere fraction of the cost of their U.S. counterparts, this industry has seen steady growth in recent years. Not only do patients receive service from qualified physicians and nurses, but also benefit from top-tier medical and diagnostic equipment. Another factor: a reputation for world-class expertise in fields such as cardiac care, neurology, orthopedics, dentistry and joint replacements. Moreover, hospitals and healthcare chains continue to win endorsement in globally recognized bodies of international healthcare guidelines, such as the Joint Commission International (JCI) Accreditation. And these, in turn, are well versed in receiving and treating patients from other countries. Apollo Hospitals Group, for instance, sees tens of thousands of international patients each year in its facilities throughout India, which include heart, transplant and gastro-science institutes. They have an “international patients division” that helps organize patients’ stay before and after the procedure, with services including flights, hotel stays and post-op care provided by established healthcare facilitators such as MediTravels. This St. Louis-based company connects patients with international hospitals and top healthcare options, still allowing for huge savings despite the added cost of flying and staying in another country. According to MediTravels, an angioplasty that could well reach more than $35,000 stateside could cost around $11,000 in India.

With its vast wealth of resources in this field—not to mention a wide variety of beautiful beach-, desert- and jungle-like landscapes in which to convalesce—medical services in India don’t just extend to primary care needs. Many are choosing to undergo cosmetic surgeries here, as well as fertility treatments—both pricey segments within the medical realm that can be significantly less expensive in India. The country, in fact, is among the important medical tourism markets mentioned in Specialty Tourism: A Global Outlook, a report issued by Global Industry Analysts, which predicts great potential for medical tourism worldwide. The country has even introduced new categories to its visa system for this purpose: a Medical Visa is given to foreign tourists who are visiting to receive medical treatments, while Medical Attendant Visas are granted to up to two people who accompany the patient.

The other side to wellness options in India comes in the form of the nation’s traditional medicine, much of which harks back millennia and can be used in conjunction with modern techniques. Wellness is such an important part of Indian culture, in fact, that travels to accredited centers focusing on these modalities and a better connection between the mind, body and spirit are also on the rise. This increase in popularity has led the Government of Kerala’s Department of Tourism to classify Ayurveda centers in the state as “Green Leaf” or “Olive Leaf” according to their quality standards.

One of India’s most famous wellness retreats is Soukya, a center of just 25 rooms that focuses on holistic healing and integrative medical services through Ayurveda, naturopathy, homeopathy, acupuncture, reflexology and more, with the likes of the Duchess of Cornwall and Andrew Weil singing its praises. The Bangalore-based center tackles everything from detoxification to de-stressing, as well as a wide array of chronic or specific diseases, through a comprehensive menu of individualized programs—including some for life management—that all begin with a detailed holistic evaluation and continue through follow-ups long after visitors leave. At Soukya they make their own Ayurvedic medicines and oils with herbs from their gardens, and also have an organic vegetable and fruit farm used for meals. Visitors can also enjoy walking and biking tracks along with a library and pool for added relaxation.

Many have sought physical betterment at Nilayoram Resorts just outside of Thrissur, by the banks of the Bharathapuzha River. Touting a “pollution-free” environment and pristine surroundings, this retreat provides different health care programs to clients through Ayurvedic practices, along with a peaceful and beautiful stay. Treatments and massages are tailored to both harmonize body and spirit and provide amelioration or cure of particular ailments, with a group of Ayurveda physicians providing diagnoses and regimens. During their stay, visitors can also sign up for yoga and meditation sessions, enjoy cultural performances by local artists on site or visit the Chimmani Wildlife Sanctuary.