Nº1:  THE WORLD’S FIRST AYURVEDA TOURIST RESORT 

BABY MATHEW, IN 1985 TOGETHER WITH HIS BROTHER DR. PAULY MATHEW, HAS FOUNDED THE WORLD’S FIRST AYURVEDA TOURIST RESORT SOMATHEERAM AND SPREAD THE MESSAGE OF AYURVEDA ACROSS THE GLOBE. HOW HAS THIS JOURNEY STARTED?

BABY MATHEW, the man behind the Somatheeram Ayurveda Group, has proved his skill in many capacities and has been in the forefront in promoting ayurveda and Indian tourism nationally as well as internationally. A charismatic organiser and an environmental conservative is a very active public figure and works with several government projects. He participated in many national and international health therapy and ayurveda seminars in India and abroad.

WHAT IS THE STORY BEHIND THE CREATION OF THE WORLD’S FIRST AYURVEDA TOURIST RESORT SOMATHEERM?

Ayurveda was the part of our family heritage. My grand grandfather and grandfather were ayurveda practitioners. But, my brother - Dr. Pauly Mathew, who was based in Germany - and me, we have initially started different business ventures.

In 1984, we had launched an agency to market cleaning solutions in India and export of antiques, cloths and bags from India to Germany. But our business was met with limited success. Probably it was God’s grace, which wanted to show us different way for our lives.

It was at that time my brother sent two of his German friends to Kerala for ayurvedic treatment. I did a small research about different ayurveda treatments and found a hospital in Kalamasserry to accommodate them. That time, there were not so many ayurveda hospitals and traditional ayurveda centers were usually small concrete buildings with not very nice ambience, basic services and only local people used to visiting them. But after ayurvedic treatment, the feedback from by brother’s friends was excellent. When we got a steady flow of clients we started thinking about a hospital of our own. 

Somatheeram, our first ayurveda project started in 1988 and Soma Manaltheeram started in 1990. In the course of time we started Soma Palm Shore, Soma Kerala Palace and Soma Birds Lagoon and we also have Soma houseboats. So that’s about the beginning of Somatheeram.  

SOMATHEERAM – WHAT DOES THE NAME MEAN?

We were scouting for a right name for some time. At that time a great ritual called Somayagam was conducted in Thrissur. That name struck me. Mythology says that 'Soma' is extracted from a plant called 'somaltha', drink of Gods that gives you eternity, and 'theeram' is the word for shore in Malayalam. Thus we ended up in the name Somatheeram, which means a place (or shore) where you will get long life.

SOMATHEERAM BECAME SYNONYM FOR AYUVEDA TOURISM IN THE WORLD, BUT BEFORE THAT IT WAS KOVALAM, WHERE TOURISM STARTED IN KERALA…

Yes, at that time, Kovalam was the place that was synonymous for Tourism in Kerala. So we started to look for a place in Kovalam to open an ayurveda resort, but the price of the land in that area was very high.  One day I hired a fisherman’s boat and passing Chowara beach, I saw from the sea, the place where the current resort is located – the lush green cliff, almost hundred meters above the sea level. It immediately caught my attention, but it was not easy to buy that land. It originally belonged to more than 200 people from different religion and cast groups. Luckily, I visited the local church, where the parish priest arranged a person to help me locally. 

Ayurveda was the part of our family heritage. My grand grandfather and grandfather were ayurveda practitioners. But, my brother and me, we have initially started different business ventures, which met with limited success. Probably it was God’s grace to show us different way for our lives...

KERALA IS PROMOTED AS GOD’S OWN COUNTRY. IS IT PARADISE LAND TO START AYURVEDA BUSINESS?  

Being honest, Kerala is probably one of the few places in the world where we have a varied geography like beaches, backwaters, plains and mountains all close together just within a span of 100 kilometer radius. Thanks to our history, we have rich culture and well-educated people, but still Kerala is a tricky place to do business. 

When we have opened Somatheeram, the infrastructure was very poor, we didn’t have proper roads or electricity. There was no single window clearing system for government approvals. Also the process for obtaining permission from several authorities to run an ayurveda resort was long and cumbersome. Today Kerala Tourism has elaborated ayurveda certification system, but that time it did not exist. 

Above all, every business, especially ayurveda, needs to contribute something back to the society. The social structure in Kerala is very intricate, that is why one of my primary tasks was to build a business that will give jobs to the local population and create very close relationship with local community.  

DID THE LOCAL COMMUNITY ACCEPTED TOURISM CONCEPT OF AYURVEDA?  

At the beginning, the tourist concept of ayurveda was not much accepted by local people. They did not think, that such a fancy ambiance is required for ayurveda hospital. 

The things have changed, when the first tourists from abroad (we prefer to call them the patients) arrived and Somatheeram got attention of local and foreign medias. It was both ways process – my brother and me, we have traveled abroad to promote ayurveda concept and foreign medias came to write and document ayurveda in Kerala. 

My brother Dr. Pauly Mathew was a main source of strength behind these projects. He was called the father of Ayurveda Tourism by peers in the ayurveda community. He passed away in 2015.

WHAT ARE THE FUTURE PLANS FOR SOMATHEERAM AYURVEDA?

End of this year, we are finalizing construction of new Ayurveda Hospital, built just under the cliff, where Somatheeram resort is situated. It will be offering high – end services. All the rooms have sea view, they are bigger and some of them have also private treatment rooms and private pool. The bath tubes are made from steel – it is important for certain types of herbal baths. As you can see, we have been considering many details, while we were planning it.

But long-term wise I wish to start an Ayurveda Medical college, a Yoga based Resort Centre and a Naturopathy Centre.

NOTE:  Some information were taken from the Bejoy George's interview with Baby Mathew for Europe Vartha - The Man Behind Somatheeram Ayurveda Group; The First & Finest Ayurveda Tourism Resorts. 

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FOUNDER & DIRECTOR OF SOMA GROUP

BABY MATHEW

In 1985 he has founded the world’s first ayurveda tourist resort Somatheeram and spread the message of Ayurveda across the globe.

INTERVIEWED BY

ZUZANA ZWIEBEL

Founder & Director of Ayurveda Trails, healing collection of (extra)ordinary people and their stories, whose experiences are transferred into various trails shared by travelers.

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