U.S. Yoga Craze Boosts India's Tourism
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
When yoga becomes more popular in the United States, it's an opportunity for a city in southern India to cash in.
Lucy Craft has the story.
LUCY CRAFT: Mysore, a landlocked city of six million in southern India, doesn't have a Taj Mahal or a picturesque beach. The main signs of life are ambling cows and ubiquitous three-wheeled taxis, a noisy entrance cutting through the early morning calm.
But for a growing number of Americans and other foreigners, Mysore has gained uber-landmark status. Especially in winter, in that perfect climate interval between the summer and monsoon seasons, Mysore hosts hundreds of foreign tourists - yoga tourists.
Unidentified Man: Inhale, palms up. Inhale...
CRAFT: Every day at 6:00 a.m., a dozen students drag their mats into the living room of a private home, one of hundreds of yoga schools that have sprouted in Mysore. Among the pre-dawn faithful is Dana Ginella(ph), a 30-year-old fashion designer from New York.
Ms. DINA GINELLA: I was very nervous and scared, like, wouldn't be able - like I would get sick and - knock on wood - I have not gotten sick. Easy to find clean food (unintelligible) Westerners, but the great thing is a lot of people from other different countries to. I'm hanging out with the girl from Spain, met a girl from Korea.
CRAFT: Down the street, a dozen ex-pat yoga students settle into a homespun cafe. Instead of the sugary coffee and spicy pancakes normally served at this hour, the cafe specializes in oatmeal, fried eggs and muesli. One of the regulars is a woman from Glastonbury, England who calls herself Feather. She's on her fourth yoga tour of India.
FEATHER(ph) (Yoga Tourist): The numbers have increased to the extent that there's a whole suburb and town dedicated to supporting the yoga students. And that's kind of filtered out through the city in general. And other yoga teachers have realized that there's money to be made.
CRAFT: The cafe and adjoining yoga center belong to entrepreneur Haresh Bimya(ph), who also serves as real state broker, travel agent, cooking lesson fixer, and just about anything else his clients ask for.
Just a few years ago, Bimya was struggling to make ends meet selling irrigation systems to farmers.
Mr. HARESH BIMYA(ph) (Entrepreneur): Farmers are always in the doldrums, always in the problem. So only to go with them is very difficult and a lot of tension also, so some peaceful side of (unintelligible) business I have to find.
CRAFT: Bimya's luck turned in 2001. In fact, it's not a stretch to say the collective fortunes of Mysore turned that year when resident yoga master Pattabhi Jois began doing road shows overseas.
Now 92 and something of a rock star in the world yoga scene, Joyce has single-handedly put Mysore on the map. India attracts a remarkably puny number of tourists, given its vast size, and until this century only a handful of foreigners ever bothered to visit Mysore.
Now, thanks to the surging popularity of Ashtanga yoga, Mysore's tourist department reckons the city has drawn about a thousand yoga students in each of the last five years.
Most Indians like venture capitalist Sanjay Anandaram welcome the yoga pilgrims.
Mr. SANJAY ANANDARAM(ph) (Venture Capitalist): Certainly I think it's very positive. I think it's bringing yoga back into the consciousness of a lot of Indians, especially urban middle-class and upper-middle Indians who had sort of given up yoga as a way of, you know, healthy living.
CRAFT: He says it's made it cool for Indians to once again practice this ancient custom in the nation of its birth.
For NPR, this is Lucy Craft.
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