Nisargopchar, Urli Kanchan, Pune
Review by Rupinder Kaur, Visit: May 2022
My first visit to Nisargopchar was in August 2019 and I knew then that I was coming back. So, March 2022, post pandemic was the second time I spent 10 days at this beautiful naturopathy facility.
It still surprises me, how little is known about this historic palace, not just given its place in history but also the fact that it might be the largest naturopathy facility that is available in India at affordable rates.
History tells us that Gandhiji wanted to popularise naturopathy not just in the cities but also the villages of India and asked some of his ardent followers to find such a place. That’s how Urli kanchan happened. Gandhiji founded Nisargopchar Gramsudhar Trust on 1st April 1946, with the help of kind donations in land by local people and got the facility started with the help of some prominent naturopathy practitioners: Manibhai Desai, Balkoba Bhave (Vinobha Bhave’s brother), and others. In fact, Gandhiji himself spent days at a stretch in Nisargopchar treating patients.
37 kms from Pune airport is Urli Kanchan, a rural township that houses Nisargopchar ashram, a large naturopathy facility spread over 30 acres of land. If you are like me, then do spend the first day just walking around the facility to get a sense of its expansiveness. From large yoga halls that can take 70 students at a time, to a 1 km walking path, one is struck by the vastness of the place.
Early morning walks, start as early as 4 am, among the fruit orchards; 6 am yoga and thrice a week evening trataka and yoga nidra classes were the highlights of the stay for me. The cobbled pathways, red stone decor and old architecture of some of the residential huts is what gives this place its old-world charm along with the quietude that one experiences.
Given that food is medicine in naturopathy, one gets to experience the range of what natural food: juices, raw salads, soups, lightly cooked vegetables, millet preparations can look like in the large kitchen /dining hall that is housed within the campus. The one thing that I found missing was the lack of seasoned or tenured doctors. The erstwhile director having retired, all the current Doctors are young BNYS graduates, with the current Director himself being in his early 30s. This to me was something that did not repose faith in the handling of serious conditions such as asthma or cancer, some of whom were refused treatment. Most people seem to be there for a general detox and weight loss. As one local woman, who was a teacher told me, it’s like going for a holiday and better than going to one’s in-laws!
Located on the outskirts of Pune , about 37 kms from the pune airport and 30 km from Pune railway station, Urli kanchan, a rural township, is easily accessible from any part of India. Cabs, buses and even local trains run smoothly between Pune city and Urli kanchan. Spread over almost 30 acres, the facility gives a feeling of expansiveness. A one km long scenic walking track inside the premises takes you along chikku (sapota) and other fruit trees and is a treat for birdwatchers.
It provides both residential or IPD (in-patient department) and OPD (out-patient department) facilities. Residential facilities can accommodate anywhere between 250-300 residents at a given time.
Rooms are mainly divided into 5 categories/price ranges and differ in sharing capacity (single, double, dormitory): attachment of bathrooms (some have them outside and shared) and in their layout: simple, to bungalow style to cottages.
March to mid-July and October to December are peak months and it is recommended to book online at least 2 months in advance during these times. You might have to wait your turn in the treatment areas and que up in the kitchen during these peak months.
Two large Yoga halls that can accommodate upto 70 at a time run 4 batches everyday of Yoga sessions, prayer, meditation and Trataka sessions daily. With qualified teachers mainly from Kaivalyadhama, these sessions are a must attend.
A large dining hall/Kitchen called Annapoorna is what you will visit at least 3-4 times a day. With a seating capacity of 110 at a given time, its staff of 16-17 ensures one of the best naturopathy foods anywhere in India. You will be surprised at the variety of juices, salads, soups, millet based rotis and lightly cooked vegetables that get served through this kitchen. Another highlight is the Sunday talk done by the Kitchen supervisor, where a lot of recipes are shared for anyone willing to learn.
For a student like me, the hidden jewel, is the library. It houses a rare collection of books on naturopathy, dietetics, and nutrition by both Indian and foreign authors. I was thrilled to find almost the entire collection of SJ Singh, an old, seasoned naturopath from the 1960s, whose books have all been out of print for many years. Sadly, books are under lock and key and were a nightmare to access and get issued. I wish someone would understand the potential of the books housed here and make them more accessible
Doctors and Staff
The facility has a team of 7-9 Naturopathy Doctors (BNYS graduates: a 5.5 year bachelor’s degree in naturopathy). At the time of my visits Dr Abhisekh Devikar was the Director and head of the medical staff. Given that this facility also serves as a training ground, a handful of BNYS interns can be seen accompanying the Doctors. The yoga teachers and physiotherapists are separate.
The BNYS Doctors see the patients almost every second day. You get assigned to a Doctor from the first day and they are then responsible for prescribing your treatments and diets. Doctors are available between 8 am and 5pm to attend to any patient query and do provide enough personal attention.
While, I found the yoga instructors fairly qualified and experienced, I can’t same about the Naturopathy Doctors. Most of them are in their early 30s and lack the tenure and experience to deal with serious conditions. I found out later that the facility had seasoned naturopathy doctors till about 5 years back, but they had since retired and moved away. Sadly, this for me was the biggest drawback, as I did not get a sense that Nisargopchar could treat serious medical conditions in its present state. Infact patients with serious conditions such as cancer, chronic asthma were being actively turned away.
The treatment staff is split between the men’s and women’s section. Most of them are well trained and some old timers having worked there for over 20 years. The staff maintained personal hygiene and administered the treatments with care and caution. The number of local women employed in this facility is another big highlight for me. I couldn’t get anyone to tell me the exact number, but it looked like atleast 80-100 local women are employed at any given time in the treatment sections, housekeeping, kitchen and across other duties. What a good model of rural employment!
Range of Treatment
The highlight of this facility is that it offers the full range of naturopathy and allied treatments. From hydrotherapy, mud therapy, physiotherapy, acupuncture, the facility is set up to offer all these with good condition equipment and trained staff.
Yoga in Nisargopchar is a must attend. Depending on your condition, you will get assigned to 1 of the 4 running batches. The batches range from body building yoga to slow-paced restorative yoga. There is a second afternoon session between 2:30-3:30, which I also got assigned too. This session is slow paced mainly aimed at those with heart, digestive issues and general sluggishness of the body. The yoga instructors are well versed with their craft, and most will see you outside sessions to answer or even teach some additional yoga techniques. I have specially become fond of Bhagwati, a seasoned yoga teacher who also would take trataka and yoga nidra classes in the evening.
Food thy medicine is something that can clearly be experienced at this facility. Annapoorna, the kitchen facility, is one of the best I have seen in any naturopathy centre. It truly imbibes the spirit of “let food be thy medicine”. The first thing that strikes one is just the variety of naturopathy diets being served: from a range of raw juices: ash gourd, bottle gourd, potato, neem, tulsi, gooseberry, carrot, muskmelon, papaya, sweet lime, pomegranate to lightly cooked variety of local vegetables and soups, to the unique ways in which traditional dishes like kadi, and idli can be made. For instance, kadi here is made of barley and idli of ragi/foxtail millet.
It was after my first visit here in 2019 that I learned to incorporate raw juices in my daily diet. Food timings are between 7 am -5:30 pm
Hygiene and sanitation
Hygiene and sanitation of the treatment areas, kitchen and residential complexes is well maintained. All the water treatment areas were well cleaned along with the equipment. The spaciousness of the facility allows for good ventilation and zero cramping in any area. There is adequate cleaning and housekeeping staff ensuring that everything is washed and cleaned constantly.
Room prices range from 250- 1400 per day, and are inclusive of some basic treatments: hip bath, mud bath, enema and yoga sessions. None of the rooms have AC, keeping with the naturopathy principles but coolers can be obtained at an extra price. Room rent excludes food, physiotherapy, neurotherapy, acupuncture, special treatments (like powder massage) and massage charges. However, these too are affordable and range from 100-350 per session.
Food charges likewise are very reasonable with juices between INR 40-80 and full meals costing around 100. Those prescribed additional fruits need to buy it at the local rates from vendors sitting inside the facility.
If you choose any accommodation above the INR 900/- per day category, you will likely end up with an overall expenditure of around INR 15,000/- for 10 days, which is what makes Nisargopchar a value for money naturopathy facility in India today.
Review of other naturopathy facilities across India:
Aarogya Mandir, Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh
Leave a Reply