Namaste from the World Health Partners team! It’s been almost two weeks since Ken, Jason, Samantha, and I arrived in New Delhi, and we’re eager to share our adventures in this vibrant, diverse, and surprising country.
We arrived a few days early to take in some sights before diving head first into our project for a telemedicine NGO. Our client had warned us that India would be an assault on our senses, but we were still unprepared for the chaos and clamor that descended upon us as we walked out of the subway station into Old Delhi. The cacophony of auto rickshaw horns as drivers ducked around the cows in the road, the colorful saris of women balancing impossibly large bundles on their heads, the smell of fried street food mingling with the odor of sewers in the stifling heat – Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Berkeley any more.
Our ambitious plan of visiting all of the main attractions was quickly derailed after we got hopelessly lost among the maze of twisty streets lacking in signage and an auto rickshaw driver dropped us off in the wrong place. But all was well once we came across Moti Mahal, a famous restaurant chain credited with inventing butter chicken. Of course we ordered the signature dish, which was excellent, and got some Family Naan to go along with it.
At the end of the day, we finally made it to the majestic Lal Qila, also known as the Red Fort, constructed by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century. Many of the elegant buildings in this sprawling complex are slowly falling into disrepair, giving the place a haunting, nostalgic feel. But the calm of the gardens was a welcome respite from the bustling street life outside its massive walls.
Just as we were making our way back to the main gate, the skies opened up to a torrential downpour, and we rushed to join the rest of the visitors in a mad scramble for auto rickshaws. We got home that night drenched, exhausted, but newly exhilarated for more adventures to come.
And in fact our next adventure began at 3 am the next day, when we set out to Agra in the hopes of beating the midday heat and seeing the Taj Mahal bathed in early morning light. Along the way, we got our fist glimpse of rural life. From the windows of our climate-conrolled SUV, we saw villagers sleeping on wooden cots just off the highway, likely because it was too hot inside their small mud huts, then getting up with the first rays of the sun to pump water from the nearby well and toil in the dusty fields. It was a striking contrast to the posh neighborhood in South Delhi where we were staying and to our magnificent destination. We had expected the Taj to be beautiful from the many photos we had seen, but the timeless elegance of its spender and symmetry was simply breathtaking in person. Inspired by its quiet grace, we took a moment to find our inner om.
The following week our project work began in earnest. We met with the key leaders from World Health Partners to understand their need for a more efficient process in the telemedicine center and for a reliable way to collect diagnostic laboratory samples from remote rural villages. After months of Skype calls and research stateside, it was very rewarding to meet our contacts face to face and really get an insider’s view of the organization. We also observed doctors in the telemedicine center connecting with rural patients via webcam, even getting remote temperature and blood pressure readings.
After gaining a solid understanding of how the consultation process worked from the Delhi side, it was time to get into the field and see the patient’s perspective. We traveled east to Bihar, the poorest and most rural of the 28 Indian states, where WHP launched its telemedicine program just last year. We spent six days driving from village to village, experiencing first hand the terrible roads, traffic jams, electricity shortages, inconsistent Internet connectivity, and unbearable heat (45° C / 115° F) that make it so difficult to deliver healthcare to these “last mile” areas. Along the way, the WHP field team made sure that we got to sample all of the local delicacies: miniature bananas, curly cucumbers, green mangos, and sweet lychees. The rural telemedicine providers we visited welcomed us into their centers, offering chai and sweets, while we observed consultations from the other end of the webcam.
The week’s research yielded a lot of insights to analyze.
We also had a chance to visit Bodhgaya, where Gautama Buddha is said to have found enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.
Now that we’re back in Delhi, only one week in India remains, but there are still adventures to be had. Will I resist bringing home an adorable baby goat? Will Jason ever get enough mangos? Will Ken find some relief from the heat on our trip to the Himalayan foothills this weekend? Will Sam realize her dream of riding an elephant in Jaipur? Stay tuned to find out!