The backwaters of Payyoli, Kerala a wellness retreat

The backwaters of Payyoli, Kerala a wellness retreat

I had heard a lot about Kerala as a wellness retreat for many! Wanted to  witness the same. My curiosity finally took me to God’s own country, this time as – Kerala a wellness retreat!

My first stop over was Karipur literally meaning a place of black. I was actually expecting some theme of black all around. But, what? In total contrast to my understanding of the name Karipur, this place was a lush green hilly area with backwaters and fishing opportunities.

Kerala being in the Tropical zone boasts off its beautiful greens and herbs leading to prevalence of an ancient medical treatment Ayurveda!

This time, my motive of travel being exploration of Kerala a wellness retreat was being satiated by visits to distinctive three locations of Pre Independence India- Malabar, Kochi and Travancore.

Malabar, a scenic destination

Ahead of clibs of Western Ghats, a sexagenarian tribesman – N Vellan who is an expert on natural herbal treatments has got medicinal herbs all around his Vellarachal house. He has taken this legacy of knoweledge from his forefathers who are adivasi Vaidyas. N. Vellan believes that today’s world is totally off natural treatments and his natural treatments may even sound heavenly to us. As per him, he was able to cure a lady with colon and great cancer in 2007. She was certified as cancer free by Manipal hospital. He has cures for diseases like migraine and spondylitis.

Totally impressed by this true tale, I wanted to meet a large scale quality trusted grower of medicinal herbs- PJ Chackochan. PJ Chackochan runs an NGO Vanamoolika across a 15 acre cultivation with 2000 farmers taking care of 700 herbs and medicinal plants plus fruits and vegetables.. The quality of the produce is what they can be trusted for.

Parassinikkadavu, Kerala a wellness retreat

Down the hills, in the plains of neighbouring Kannur district, there is a village that occupies a special place in Kerala’s tourism map. The river-side Parassinikkadavu has given a fresh lease of life to no less than 1.10 lakh people in the past 50 years. All because of a pioneering organisation’s acumen to improvise upon one segment of the grand old medical treatment system — and effectively counter snakebite. The Pappinissery Visha Chikitsa Society (PVCS) has fascinated the medical fraternity across the globe as the only institution that blends the wisdom of ancient Ayurveda with new-age allopathy.

What’s more, the PVCS also runs a 30 year old snake park housing numerous poisonous and non-poisonous snakes — an incredible concept luring 3 lakh visitors pee year. Experts say the state’s grand Ayurveda lineage gifts Kerala with the advantage of being a destination for studies on Agadatantra — the ancient science’s toxicology branch — and allied research.

So much for Ayurvedic treatment for snakebite. Okay, these are cure for bodily matters.

Manjeri for mental wellness

Is Kerala offering support for mental wellness? Of course! The pursuit brought me to a mansion near Manjeri in adjoining Malappuram district. There, in the front corridor of a sprawling mansion sits Vasudevan Namboothiri.

“The mode of treatment we at Poonkudil Mana follow has a practising history of over five centuries. We go by prescriptions from traditional Indian psychology based on tips from Ayurveda,” he reveals. “Also, there are nuggets of knowledge scattered in the Upanishads and the Vedas.”

Rolling tea gardens of Wayanad, Kerala a wellness retreat

Rolling tea gardens of Wayanad, Kerala a wellness retreat

According to the expert, the disease is all a matter of Heenasatwa, which is a worsened condition of the mind. “The treatment ends only if the patient shows no tendency to repeat the symptoms,” he notes. “We would prepare the medicines ourselves for the outpatients.”

It’s only outpatients these days because Poonkudil Mana gave up a decade ago the practice of admitting patients. Reason: “We found that the families of inpatients increasingly began abandoning them — even after cure,” reveals Namboothiri, the chief physician.

Ayurveda is being practised for generations by practitioners. High Life Ayurveda Hospital offers treatment in neurology and orthopedics and has world wide visitors.

Abdulla Gurukkal, who runs the establishment along with his wife, notes that Kerala’s traditional martial art of Kalarippayattu is one reason behind the evolution of marma chikitsa. “Constant use of weapons succumb to accidedntal injuries leasing to invention of Marma Chikitsa. Marmas are pressure points within the body usually close to the skin surface, where important nerves form junctures with muscles fibers, veins, bones and joints. “

Sports Ayurveda at Kerala a wellness retreat

On a whole, the Kalari uzhichil (massage) is done using medicated oils (tailams) and paste specially prepared by Kalari masters after studying the nature of sickness and the physique of the patient. “All ayurvedic medicines are prepared from specially selected herbal extract, herbal oil and naturally occurring minerals,” adds Gurukkal.

Clearly, taking a cue from this discipline functions Kerala’s three major ‘Sports Ayurveda’ facilities. In an east central pocket of Thodupuzha in Idukki district is one such advanced establishment with half-a-dozen doctors (two of them specialists in Marma Chiktsa and Pancha Karma), two nurses and four therapists.

Luxurious amenities are attracting athletes India winds to Sports Ayurveda research Cell. Otherwise too, the trip is worth doing owing to beautiful landscaping and tea gardens of Munnar.

Not very far, Ernakulam’s eastern belt of Koothattukulam houses Sreedhareeyam, which specialises in eye-care. Till 1999, it was known as Nellikkattu Mana, which was basically another Namboodiri household known for its Ayurveda physicians.

Wellness resorts @Kerala a wellness retreat

Up in south Malabar, besides Poonkudil there is the famed Poomully Mana near Pattambi in central Kerala’s Palakkad district. With its heritage rooms do not confine to just treatment techniques such as dhara, kashaya vasti, shwedanam, pizhichil and vamanam, the updated version of the mansion has a private herbal garden, yoga room, traditional bathing pond, kaavu (sacred groves), a library of books on the subject, and a collection of related antiques in a museum. “We also provide training in the martial art of kalarippayattu,” reveals Neelakandan Poomully, president of the Ayurveda mana.

Farther east, in Kollengode, is Kalari Kovilakom, which is now run by Casino Group of Hotels as a wellness centre. Once the abode of the Vengunad kings, the 1890-built mansion in the scenic Vadamala’s foothills is now a grand hospitality joint oiled by ethnic-genre wellness therapy. Similarly, a little far from the pilgrim town of Guruvayur, there is the Perumbayil Mana in Pavaratti.

Overall, quite a few feudal-era joint families have reinvented themselves as Ayurveda resorts. Lately, a dozen km south of Thrissur is Vaidyarathnam Oushadhasala, run by a branch of the traditional Thaikkatt Mooss family, which has opened a pioneering Ayurveda museum.

Books on Kerala Herbs

The entrance of the Vaidyaratnam Ayurveda Museum at Thaikkattussery near Thrissur

The entrance of the Vaidyaratnam Ayurveda Museum at Thaikkattussery near Thrissur

Amid the newly-found prosperity of certain families basking in the glory of Ayurveda, I thought I should trace a bit of the literary works on Kerala’s herbs. That is how I reached a bright sandy land in coastal Alappuzha district. Kadakkarappally is a quiet and green village, off Cherthala — a town known for his age-old tryst with Buddhism, which has been a source of dissemination of Ayurvedic knowledge in several parts of India. In the sleepy compound of a non-Brahmin household lies a small wooden structure that is closely linked to the compilation of a grand treatise on the medicinal plants of 17th-century Kerala.

“These days, we distribute medicinal plants to people far and near,” reveals L P Harikrishnan, a young member of the family. “At annual functions, we disburse the kits free of cost after collecting them from a local nursery. It is a tribute of sorts to our legendary forefather.”

All in all, a perfect destination , Kerala a wellness retreat!

Article and photo credits T.K. Sreevalsan