There is only one disease-accumulation of toxic waste in the body. And there is only one cure-helping the body to remove the toxins. This is the radical approach of naturopathy which banks on fasting, diet control, hydrotherapy and other non-drug treatments
Nature Cure (Nisargopchar) Ashram, UrlikanchanKeeping Mahatma Gandhi's vision aliveAs I alight from the bus from Pune, at what appears to be a decrepit small town in India, I am disappointed. Having passed some spectacular pastoral scenery on my way, this place seems unsuitable for the site of the country’s most illustrious nature cure sanitarium set up by Mahatma Gandhi himself.
However, once inside the ashram, there is enough greenery to satisfy even my city-starved senses. The spacious compound has the capacity to accommodate 180 people. But Chief Medical Co-ordinator Dr R.V. Nisal tells me that they prefer to take in no more than 150.
Signs of the nature cure philosophy are present at the front gate itself, where a row of fruit vendors sit. I notice bananas are conspicuously absent. A vendor explains: ‘‘Yahan sab jada log ate hain’’ (only fat people come here). The time is around 5.30 p.m. and I can see many people walking briskly round the large square lawn and garden.
After the humid, gritty Mumbai weather, this place is refreshingly pleasant with a lovely breeze blowing through the trees. I walk to the office which has arranged for me to stay overnight at the ashram. Mrs Mokashi, the affable PRO, looks worried. ‘‘The kitchen closes at 6.30 p.m. You had better hurry.’’
And I do indeed when I find that the summons is not for a cup of tea but for dinner. Cottages and dormitories are scattered all around the grounds and I am led to a small dwelling with a porch, a bedroom and an attached bathroom.
With a bed, a table, two chairs and a cupboard, it is adequately furnished and squeaky clean. At the dining hall, I line up with other patients and help myself to a formidably bland fare of vegetable or mung soup, a large bajra roti, (khichadi is the other option), some salad of grated carrot, beetroot and radish, a vegetable dish of boiled dudhi, chaas and chutney.
None of the dishes save the chutney have spices, oil or even salt! I learn to my relief that salt is available on demand, but nature cure philosophy maintains that salt must be used sparingly. Breakfast? I am told there isn’t any, only kada (what on earth was that?) at 7 a.m., carrot juice at 8 and lunch at 10.30.
The ashram offered only two meals a day. Considering it judicious to fortify myself with emergency rations, I pick up some guavas and papaya from the fruit vendors before setting out to explore the place. The ashram is obviously well-tended. Caring and commitment pervades the air and one can feel the Mahatma’s spirit hovering close.
Urlikanchan is the product of Gandhi’s unflagging commitment to naturopathy and to rural uplit. Having been introduced to naturopathy through Dr Adolf Just’s book on nature cure, it became his preferred mode of treatment, particularly mud and water therapy and natural food.
On his return from South Africa, he included naturopathy and village sanitation to his list of 14 constructive activities. While staying with Sardar Patel at Dr Dinshaw Mehta’s clinic in Pune, he learnt that nature cure was most needed in villages that lacked medical facilities and forthwith announced his intention to start a sanitarium in a village nearby.
Urli, Dr Nisal informs me, was selected on account of its excellent weather through the year. The ashram was set up in 1946 by Gandhi’s close friends and associates including Balkoba Bhave (brother to Vinobha Bhave), social reformer Manubhai Desai and Dr Dinshaw Mehta.
The portraits of these luminaries are everywhere in the ashram, even in the new Prerna Mandir, where they are bowed to before the commencement of the evening prayer. In keeping with Gandhi’s commitment to the poor, Urlikanchan consciously caters to the middle and lower-middle sections of society.
Room rents, treatment and food costs are kept low. Answering to the criticism that they are not making use of modern equipment such as saunas and jet massages, Dr Nisal says: ‘‘We do not want to take any measures that will make the place unaffordable to the poor.’’
OPD treatment to villagers was once free but is now at a nominal Rs 10. Within the premises is a large library, which includes a stall selling brown rice, organic jaggery, etc. Dr Nisal reiterates naturopathy’s basic philosophy: ‘‘The cause of all illness is one—the presence of toxins in the system. Therefore we aim at purification at the physical, mental and spiritual level through self-restraint, nature cure diets, etc.’’
Dr V.P. Goel, who runs the Healer’s Club in Mumbai, was cured of a mysterious stomach ailment by the consumption of juices and milk for a whole month. He claims to have liked it so much that since then he subsists only on grapes for four months of the year, mango for the next four and bananas for the rest of the year.
I am now on my way to Prerna Mandir for the evening prayer. The presiding priest sings beautiful bhajans including Gandhiji’s favourite, Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram. The prayer winds up at 8 p.m. and I return to my cosy room and keep the light out time of 9.30 p.m.
The next day, the cheerful outcry of the birds forces me out of bed for an early morning walk at 5 a.m. The walkers are there in full cry and I savour the almost chill morning air and breathe in its freshness hungrily. At 5.30 a.m. the morning’s programme starts with yoga. I catch the later yoga class at 6.15 a.m.
Later, time for kada which turns out to be delicious herbal tea made of a mixture of lemon grass, tulsi and ginger with milk and jaggery water. After this comes a battery of therapies including massage, enema, hydro therapies and mud baths.
The range of treatments includes foot/arm bath, woollen pack, sunbath, spinal bath, acupressure, neurotherapy and tub bath. I am fired with a desire to experience some of these treatments and start off with the enema.
One cannot expand on the experience without running the risk of being indelicate but suffice it to say that it was far from traumatic and brought much-needed relief. I then submit myself to the magical hands of one of the women masseurs and for the next half hour I am kneaded, pummeled, pounded, etc. until all the tension within my body melts away.
I lie down for 20 minutes on the terrace of one of the dormitories while cool wet mud is spread on my stomach and my eyes. This is followed by the last of my treatments, the steam bath. I enter the wooden box which envelopes all of me save my head and for 20 minutes the steam sends rivulets of sweat running down my body, as cells unclog and detoxify.
I am hungry by now and tuck eagerly into the bajra roti and vegetable. I notice there is some sweet rice too, so the food is not as austere as I had imagined. Most people here are out to lose weight. Mayuri, a 21-year-old student from Mumbai, has been here for 15 days and has shed 5 kg.
Rajan Dalal, 40, has lost 6½ kg in 10 days by subsisting on coconut water and three litres of water a day. Prabhakar Sathe, the former mayor of Pimpri Chinchwad, has had his diabetes count brought down from 300 to 171.
Reshma Shah, 24, a software engineer from Pune, is here to accompany her mother, 53-year-old Naina Shah, suffering from osteo-arthritis and lingering depression. Naina has shed 4½ kg in seven days and has overcome her depression.
As I wait outside Dr Nisal’s clinic for an interview, I notice that most people have withdrawn to their quarters after lunch. The time between 12.30 and 2.30 p.m. is for some rest with cool wet pads against their eyes. As the afternoon progresses, there will be time for a juice, some treatments, a lecture by Dr Nisal and others on naturopathy and yoga.
At four there is a drink of kada and finally at 5.30 it’s dinner-time. The minimum period to stay there is a week, going up in multiples of seven. For most cases the ashram recommends a stay of 15 to 30 days, though skin diseases may take as much as two to three months.
My mini-stay has rejuvenated me. My body feels throughly pampered and taken care of. The lovely greenery, cool breeze and peaceful setting have wrought a similar miracle on my mind and soul.
CONTACT: NATURE CURE ASHRAM (NISARGOPCHAR ASHRAM)
Ph: (020) 6926298, 6926230
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