As thousands of tourists arrive here this September, the start of the tourist season, so will Rajan and Parul. But this couple from Delhi will have on their minds things other than just exploring this city of lakes, often called Venice of the East.
While on their weeklong vacation, the childless couple, in their 30s, will be undergoing a session for a test-tube baby at a medical centre in Udaipur, about 400 km from the state capital Jaipur.
Mixing vacation with a purpose didn't occur to them on their own. "This was suggested to me by a cousin," said Rajan Wadhwa, a resident of Paschim Vihar in west Delhi.
"My cousin was blessed with a child after undergoing treatment in Udaipur and he suggested the same to me as going to another city helps stay away from the probing eyes of relatives," the computer science graduate told IANS.
Rajan and Parul, who work in MNCs, are not the only ones opting for a vacation-cum-fertility work-up at Udaipur. In an emerging trend, more and more couples are opting for holiday destinations such as this to explore the idea away from prying eyes back home and to reduce costs.
An IVF procedure in Rajasthan costs about Rs.40,000-50,000 as compared to Rs.80,000-100,000 in a metro like Delhi or Mumbai. In the west, costs could go up to about $12,000 (over Rs.650,000).
"We have people coming from as far as Tamil Nadu, Goa, Jharkhand and Mumbai for test tube babies," said Ajay Murdia, their doctor and chief of the Indira Infertility Clinic & Test Tube Baby Centre.
The fertility expert of over three decades' experience called it the domestic version of the medical tourism that attracts foreigners to India.
"We help some of our patients undergo initial counselling and tests while holidaying in the city."
According to Murdia, whose paper on male infertility was published in medical journal Lancet, Delhi had around 50 infertility clinics but people from the national capital region (NCR), which includes Gurgaon and Noida, preferred coming to him for treatment.
"Apart from the low cost, we have achieved a high success rate of 95 percent in the first attempt of IVF and other procedures," said Murdia, who treats about 600 infertility patients every year. Most of these are outsiders.
Hoping to attract more clients, Kshitij Kumar, another IVF specialist from Udaipur, held a workshop for childless couples in Delhi last month.
"Some busy couples specifically wanted to know the duration of the procedure. They said a two-week process would fit into their vacation calender," he said.
This Rajasthan city of 450,000 people has four centres offering infertility solutions.
This trend has spread to other tourist destinations like Jaipur and Jodhpur.
Upwan Pandia, an anaesthetist, shuttles between all three cities. "However, the Udaipur centres score over others in the state in terms of modern technology and high success rate," he said.
Perhaps because Udaipur is also more organised. The trend of doctors or clinics in Udaipur offering travel desk facilities to patients is fast catching on.
"We give brochures on tourist destinations in and around Udaipur to patients. Once they decide on their itinerary, we get down to chalking out the schedule for the fertility procedure," said Murdia.
Till about three-four years ago, the demand for travel desk services was not as much, he added.
Patients from abroad also inquire about travel facilities when they make the initial inquiries, he said.
"We keep getting queries from African countries, Russia, France and the US," said Murdia.
According to travel industry estimates, medical tourism involving foreigners in India would be worth $2 billion by 2015. On an average, 150,000 medical tourists travel to the country annually.
IVF is a procedure where a woman's eggs are fertilised outside her body. The eggs are removed from her ovaries and then placed in a petri dish with sperm for fertilisation to occur.
Once the fertilised egg starts dividing, it's considered an embryo. After a few days of dividing in the lab (usually three-five), the fertilised egg can either be transferred to a woman's uterus or frozen and transplanted at a later date.
(Rahul Chhabra can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)