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Rail addict doctor is remote patients' hope
Feb 4, 2007 - 8:22:20 AM
'Generally, the residents or militants do not bother foreigners engaged in humanitarian work,' he said.

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[RxPG] Chicago, Feb 4 - Distance has never conquered this stethoscope man who loves to traverse across the globe on rails and is equally passionate to serve people who are deprived of medical care in the world's remotest corners.

Indian American physician C.M. Modi, who recently treated patients at an altitude of 15,000 feet in Ladakh, has also remained a passenger of every luxury train in the world.

From the icy Siberian heights to the European kaleidoscope and South Africa's picturesque nature, the doctor has covered all, rolling on the iron wheels.

Modi, an internist and pathologist, grew up in Karnataka, and came to the US in 1967. He imbibed a love of trains as a child accompanying his parents on pilgrimages.

'I loved to travel,' Modi said, 'and very soon the noise of trains had become addictive. I love the smell of steam engines.'

He has travelled on the Trans-Siberian Express from Eastern Siberia to Moscow, a journey that the tourist train covers in two weeks.

Modi has also experienced the Rovosrail, the most luxurious train in South Africa, as well as on the famed Orient Express, from Paris to Istanbul.

On these luxury tourist trains, time travels slowly, he said. But Modi does not fret.

'You sit in the lounge, have a drink and talk with fellow passengers.'

The travellers on the 'tourist trains' are a unique group, almost obsessed with the hobby of train travelling.

'Many have an enviable knowledge of trains and are conversant with the history of each train, even its minor details,' he said.

Not all journeys have been entirely trouble free.

While travelling on the Trans-Siberian Express in 1992, his train met villagers who pelted it with stones.

'The state had just stopped subsidies and they were expressing their anger and outrage, breaking every window in the train. In the last car, the authorities had kept spare windows, which were used to replace the broken ones. But the damage was so extensive that they ran out of new windows,' Modi said.

On another occasion, travelling on the Blue Train from Cape Town to Dar-es-Salaam, Modi and his fellow passengers had to disembark and were transported by an old Dakota plane through a part of the route.

'There was political unrest in parts of the country, and this was done for the safety of the passengers,' he added.

Meant for leisure travel, the trains epitomise luxury, with elaborate accommodation, complete with a separate shower.

'It is a five-star hotel on wheels. In Rovosrail, the engine is fitted with a camera. Each bogie has a screen through which you can see the landscape as the engine operator would see it,' Modi said.

In addition to meeting interesting people, the trips also exposed Modi to exotic locales.

'In Siberia the train passes through areas where the Czar had his wineries. In Eastern Europe, you get to admire old buildings, which are surprisingly well preserved,' he said.

Modi was also a passenger on the Indian Palace on Wheels.

'It comes pretty close to international standards,' he said.

Modi added that most tourist trains in Russia and South Africa go to great lengths to offer the best in service, food, comfort and cleanliness.

'Some time back, the food on Russian trains was pretty bad. But now it is in the gourmet class,' he said.

Modi is a member of the Society of International Railway Travellers, which also makes arrangements for travel anywhere in the world. His one great ambition now is to travel on the newly introduced Beijing-Lhasa train, which runs at an altitude of over 16,000 feet.

He also volunteers as a physician with the Flying Doctors of America, Medical Expedition International and Sewa -.

'I travel usually to very remote areas of the world, which have no medical facility,' Modi said.

He spent 15 days in Ladakh, at an altitude of 15,000 feet, suffering initially from altitude sickness.

'We perform minor surgeries and treat infectious diseases in these camps,' Modi said. Patients requiring long-term care are referred to local hospitals, he added.

The predominant affliction varies by geographical location.

'In Ladakh, most of them had dental problems, because of a poor diet. In Ecuador, malaria was rampant,' Modi said.

Reaching Ecuador presented its own logistical problems. 'The place had no airstrip, and the local residents had to fell trees so that our craft could land,' he said.

Modi has even worked in violence prone areas in Afghanistan.

'Generally, the residents or militants do not bother foreigners engaged in humanitarian work,' he said.

'In any event the fear of possible violence has never deterred me from going to these places for relief work,' said the brave doctor.

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