India and its cacophony of sights, sounds, tastes, and smells can be an assault to the senses, often overwhelming for some. Others like the challenge of navigating its mind-boggling diversity, and many seek—and find—balms for a tired soul.
And then there are those who visit to heal their bodies. As one of the top medical tourism destinations today, India offers state-of-the-art medical technology combined with low treatment costs (60 to 90 percent lower compared to the US). Nearly half a billion medical visas were issued in 2017. By 2020, the medical tourism industry is set to touch the $9 billion mark. In response, India’s Ministry of Tourism has developed the National Medical and Wellness Tourism Board to look into visa approvals, accreditations, allied services, and the marketing and promotion of medical and wellness tourism.
In addition to conventional (allopathic) treatments, medical tourists can choose from accredited traditional forms of medicine, including South Asian systems like Ayurveda, yoga, Siddha, and Unani, as well as Western ones like homeopathy and naturopathy. Doctors of allopathy in Bengaluru are largely supportive of alternative treatments, and many of these are available side by side in major hospitals. In addition, there are also centers that specialize in holistic healing and general wellness. Soukya, in Bengaluru, Karnataka, is one of them.
What is Soukya
A serene 30-acre property on the edge of a large and boisterous city, Soukya can offer an offbeat and relaxing experience at the tail end of a medical trip. However, it can also be a treatment destination itself. Soukya offers focused therapies for various ailments and conditions, including cancer, with a nod to clean eating and living.
Most traditional forms of medicine, in India and the rest of the world, consider healing to be a lot more than symptomatic or targeted relief, whether it’s for a headache or a chronic ailment.
Before You Go
Most medical tourists to India are from the immediate South Asian region, the Middle East, and Africa, followed by a growing number from Europe and the United States. But the long lines of treatment seekers at the immigration counters don’t reflect one particularly important reality about India: The world-class medical services international tourists seek are only accessible to the most affluent of Indians. The state has a public health care responsibility, but the reality is different. Given the high proportion of out-of-pocket expenditures and low insurance coverage, only the relatively wealthy are able to access the nation’s best health services.
Bengaluru has one great advantage: year-round good weather. February to April can get a bit hot (the temperature can go up to 95 F), but early mornings and evenings usually stay cool. Ensconced in the unspoiled environs of Soukya, however, this is unlikely to be much of a bother as the greenery keeps the place at least a few degrees cooler than the city.
Traffic in Bengaluru is notorious so any trips into the city are best taken outside of rush hour. Otherwise, it’s a warm, friendly city. Most people speak at least some English and there are plenty of out-of-town getaways if you need a break from the crowds.
Resources at Soukya
Dr. Issac Mathai’s International Holistic Healing Centre promises the healing of the mind, body, and spirit with a combination of contemporary medical know-how and traditional medicine from around the world, administered by trained practitioners and therapists. Patients are required to undergo a “holistic health evaluation,” which includes their physical, psychological, social, nutritional, environmental, and, if required, spiritual needs, following which a customized care package is developed. As a full-service residential facility, visitors are not required to arrange for any extra support services, special diets, or transportation to appointments.
Most traditional forms of medicine, in India and the rest of the world, consider healing to be a lot more than symptomatic or targeted relief, whether it’s for a headache or a chronic ailment. Soukya’s approach is similar, and use a combination of treatments in Ayurveda, naturopathy, homeopathy, yoga, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, and more.
Accomodations at Soukya
Patients are required to stay on the premises for the duration of their treatment. Wellness tourists, on the other hand, can opt for a weekend package, day trips, or customized stays. Whatever you’re here for, the space is a balm for the soul, with its sprawling lawns and flowerbeds surrounding the treatment areas, offices, and residential complexes as well as vegetable gardens and orchards. Explorers can make use of the convenient mile-long walking track around the property.
Accommodation is in cottage-like private rooms with lawns, outdoor showers, and natural, organic toiletries. Two-bedroom cottages are also available, with local, handmade furniture, cotton furnishings, a personal garden, and outdoor showers in the midst of banana groves. Meals are served in the open-air dining area, surrounded by lush lawns. Dishes are simple but delicious ovo-vegetarian South Indian fare, using home-grown organic vegetables and usually accompanied with unpolished red rice. The excellent staff will accommodate any dietary requirements.
With a bouquet of therapies and massages, a pool, reading room, and games, you won’t have time to miss a television, and in some areas even a mobile phone signal. Soukya is a quintessentially Indian experience, but away from the madding crowd. That said, having come all the way here, an exploration of this historic city is definitely warranted.
Sights and Sounds
Once famously known as the Garden City of India, uncontrolled urbanization—driven primarily by the tech industry—has now made Bengaluru a garden of the concrete sort. However, there are still pockets, especially in the older parts, where you can experience its green splendor. One of these is the historic Cubbon Park, central Bengaluru’s green lung. This 100-acre park was built in 1870, and houses a number of colonial-era buildings and sculptures, not to mention a wide range of wildlife. Explore on foot or by bike, and don’t forget a picnic lunch.
Lalbagh Botanical Garden is another well-loved green landmark, commissioned in the latter half of the 18th century by Hyder Ali, the sultan of Mysuru. Today, it contains one of South Asia’s largest collections of rare tropical plants; it’s also a birding destination. If you visit during January or August, you might be lucky enough to witness Lalbagh’s spectacular flower show in the Glass House. Another monument of interest is the Kempe Gowda Tower situated on a hillock of 3,000 million-year-old peninsular gneissic rocks.
Soukya is a quintessentially Indian experience, but away from the madding crowd. That said, having come all the way here, an exploration of this historic city is definitely warranted.
Relatively new, the Indian Music Experience (IME) is the first interactive museum of music in India. It features exhibits tracing the origins of Indian music, interconnections between various music genres, influences from around the world (and influences to music from other regions), an instrument gallery, and much more. Plus, there are games to play to learn about ragas (patterns of notes in Indian classical music), a mixing station, a recording studio to record your own voice, and an interactive outdoor sound garden. A small but satisfying cafe is located within the premises, as well as a gift shop to pick up some IME merchandise.
There are numerous short trips around Bengaluru—both day excursions and overnight getaways. Since this region produces some of India’s best wines, a vineyard tour makes for a great day out. The Grover Zampa Wine Tour in Nandi Hills includes lunch, a visit to the winery, and wine tastings in their cellar, surrounded by oak barrels where their premium wines are aged. Visitors are acquainted with the wine-making process, from crushing to filtering, processing, fermentation, storing, bottling, labelling, and packaging.
Chikmagalur, India’s coffee capital, is a three-hour drive from Bengaluru. Here, you will find coffee plantations, beautiful views of the Western Ghats mountain range, and some heritage temples and historical sites to take in. Best explored over a couple of days, you also have the option of staying right inside a coffee plantation, with guided tours to learn about how coffee is grown and processed and how Indian coffee is different, both in the way it is grown (in shade instead of direct sunlight) and served (in the traditional copper or stainless steel tumbler-and-bowl set).
Want to take home something local? How about products of a 200-year-old woodcraft tradition? Colourful wooden toys from the town of Channapatna, known as the region’s “toy town,” and other ethically sourced handicrafts can be bought at one of Varnam Collective’s showrooms in Bengaluru. They also offer clothes, jewelry, and home essentials.
Saris are quintessentially Indian, and Bengaluru is one of the best places to buy the authentic silk masterpieces. Visit Vimor, a 40-year-old family-owned boutique that specializes in reviving heritage handloom saris in both silk and cotton, including those worn by the former prime minister, Indira Gandhi.
To eat what the locals eat, the way they eat, and for the prices they pay, a trip to Mavalli Tiffin Room (MTR) should be worked into the itinerary. They are famous for the rava idli, steamed semolina cakes that are traditionally made of fermented rice. MTR is said to have “invented” the semolina version when there was a shortage of rice during World War II. The best way to eat at MTR is to opt for a set-menu meal (served during lunch and dinner). The food is simple, the service runs like clockwork, and you are expected to get up and leave as soon as you finish, to make room for the next lot of eaters. (For under $2 USD per person, that’s quite fair.) It’s best to reserve a spot unless you want to stand in line.
For similar local fare but in a bubble-wrapped experience, head over to Oota Bangalore in Whitefield (oota means “meal” in Kannada, the regional language of Karnataka). The restaurant is located on the premises of Windmills Craftworks, both a microbrewery and cultural experience rolled into one. They serve their own beers, offer an al-fresco dining menu, and host live jazz acts. Seafood lovers might want to stop by Karavalli at the Gateway Hotel. They are known for serving authentic coastal dishes of southwest India (Mangalorean, Konkani, Kerala, and others). If you’d like to stick to the city’s iconic culinary haunts, The Only Place, tucked away on Church Street in central Bengaluru, and Koshy’s on St Mark’s Road, are options.