Saturday, July 15, 2006

A lot to say about an incredible experience

Hey, I must apologize for taking so long to get this entry done and taken care of. It's been almost a month since I got back from India. The trip was incredible. Not only did we get to see a beautiful country but I was able to be a part of a group that saw and helped amost 2200 patients. I began by spending almost 24 hours on the plane to get to New Dehli. Once there I was able to sleep for about 3 hours before meeting the rest of the team in the morning for a 12 hour bus ride to northern India. We began our "real" trip in a city of about 500,000 called Shimla. It's a beautiful city set up on the mountainside. We spend the night in Shimla and set out the next morning on another 10-12 hour drive to the first clinic site: Kafnu. We had 3 days of clinic planned there and during that we saw 800+ patients. The people there were kind and it was a pleasure to help them with their health problems. Pretty much everyone in the village and the surrounding villages came to be seen. After Kafnu we had a rest day in a small Himalayan not far from the Chinese (Tibetan) border. We were able to do some trekking into a small village called Chitkul that had a sweet touch of Tibetan Buddhism and Indian Hinduism. Our trip took us next into the Spiti valley. Up to this point in the trip we had been in lush green valleys and in the "foothills" of the Himalayas. Now we were entering the Spiti valley, arid and spectacular. We spent 2 very busy days in Nako, a small charming village at 12,000 ft. Nako was probably my favorite village during the whole trip. The people there were amazing. Secluded at this altitude and pretty much self-sustaining. As a thank you gesture the village head arranged for 8 of the villages to perform traditional dancing for us on our last night after dinner. Leaving Nako was hard, we worked extremely hard but the people there were so grateful for having us there to help them. It was interesting to see the features of the locals change as we entered the Spiti valley. In Kafnu and the Sutlej river valley the people looked "Indian" but in Spiti the people were very Tibetan looking. This region actually used to be part of the Tibetan kingdom before India took it over. We are almost lucky they did because in doing so it preserved a lot of the Tibetan culture and religion from the Chinese take over. Our next stop was a cool village called Tabo. Tabo's coolest feature was a Buddhist monestary that was build in 996 A.D. The complex consists of the monestary and 9 temples. They were beautiful and we were able to attend the daily prayer sessions that the monks did. Listening to them chant is one of the most relaxing things I have ever done. We had 2 days of clinic in Tabo and also visited an incredible monestary in Danhkar. We had 2 more clinic sites in some reallly cool villages. Besides being able to treat and see almost 2200 people in 9 days I was able to experience this incredible culture first hand. I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of what Tibetan refugees have had to go through. It's utterly amazing how these people who are living at altitudes upwards of 14,000 ft live on a day to day basis. They are so strong, caring and honest. Being able to travel to the other side of the world I am grateful to the people that sponosored me financially to help me go on this trip. I am grateful for my always supporting wife who encouraged me to go on this trip. I am not sure if I can fully express how amazing this trip was. It imporved my skills as a student physician and planted a seed in me for future trips.