Kerala’s Ayurveda, Precursor to India’s Medical Tourism


With incessant fury of the Kerala monsoon raging all around me in its royal majesty, leading to the usual power outage, I sat in the semi darkness of our tiny office room in the ancient Aundal Building close to the Thiruvananthapuram Central Railway Station, planning the fourth issue of the three-month-old Destination Kerala, due for release on September 1.

By then, it was more or less clear that the pioneering venture to showcase Kerala in a Kerala-based English print journal would ‘make it’, and the confidence gave me the courage to announce that we plan to attend the World Travel Market (WTM) in London, come November, thus becoming the first-ever media banner from South India to participate in the prestigious expo.

Advertisements poured in, even a non-tourism PSU like KSIDC hiring space in our WTM Special.

Back to that rainy day in Aundal Building. A knock on the door, followed by the entry of a tall, middle-aged gentleman woke me up from deep thought. “My name is Varghese Franklin, I am an ayurvedic practitioner,” he self-introduced and sat down opposite me.

The story he then unveiled was both astonishing and bewildering in more than one sense. Franklin was, until just the other day, serving as the Chief Medical Officer of an ayurvedic treatment centre, attached to a luxury resort near Kovalam. Guests from Germany and other German-speaking countries were regulars at the resort. The word soon spread and there was a steady stream of tourists to the resort, seeking solace for infirmities caused by the extremely cold climate in northern Europe. However, Dr. Franklin wanted to practice Ayurveda outside the trappings of star hotel compulsions like non-vegetarian food and liquor. They soon parted company, with Dr. Franklin launching his own Panchakarma Institute close by, offering sustained and scientific remedies at reasonable cost.

“Ayurvedic tourism was my idea, and I have intellectual property right over it,’’ Dr. Franklin continued. ‘‘Now, I am in a fix, because I have no network to reach out to the world, and not much money on hand to mount a global campaign. Can you help me as you go to London for the WTM, carrying some copies of my pamphlets and distributing them at the event?” Though I would be overloaded with bundles of our magazine, I felt his cause to be genuine and worthy of support. I carried his leaflets to London, spreading them around.

To cut a long story short, in a couple of months, his Panchakarma Institute became a hit with tourists from the UK and The Continent.

Soon he appeared in my office in his newly bought gleaming sedan, this time with a fabulous, perennial advertisement contract and gift packs of his wonder potions.

To Dr. Varghese Franklin goes the credit for marrying tourism with ayurveda, and we of Destination Kerala were delighted to become the launch pad for the most ambitious tourism product ever from this ‘God’s Own Country.’  In 2000, we honoured the good doctor with the ‘Destination Kerala Tourism Man of the Year Award.’ Now in his twilight years, Dr. Franklin continues to practice his art and mentor his successors with hand-holding and guidance.

Modern Medical Tourism came to India much much later. Our ayurvedic tourism was, in fact, the precursor to all those multi-million dollar modern medical conglomerates that today dot the skylines of the  country’s megapolises, cities, towns and even villages serving tourists.

Big ideas most often spring forth from the meek, and being biblically blessed, they inherit the Earth. And that is precisely how it should be.