Archive for November, 2008


The Southernmost Tip of India – Kanyakumari

Nov 26, 2008 in Uncategorized

View off the "Land's End"This week I got some rare American interaction when fellow Fulbrighter, Henry, visited me in Madurai. His project is on the genetics of camel breeding, an easy topic to make conversation about! Henry’s Indian home is in Rajisthan, but he was visiting southern India to attend another friend’s wedding. As he was so far from home anyway, I guess he wanted to make it all the way to the southern tip of India, Kanyakumari, which is only four hours away for me. One can see both sunrise and sunset over the sea… three seas meet in Kanyakumari, the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal, and Arabian Sea.

So we met at the Land’s End of India; there are a few interesting things there, like the Thiruvalluvar statue, and the Vivekananda. We also enjoyed walking around town and checking out the shoreline. Unfortunately for us, the locals prefer to use the beach as a toilet rather than for sun bathing or picnicking! There is also a government museum in Kanyakumari, but after through examination, which took less than an hour, its probably not worth the 100 rupees they charge foreigners (5 rupees for Indians).


Rameshwaram Trip

Nov 18, 2008 in Uncategorized

Leaving RameshwaramThis weekend I made a trip to a famous Hindu pilgrimage site called Rameshwaram. It is a three hour drive from Madurai, so I took a bus early in the morning and returned in the evening of the same day. Since it is not an especially auspicious time to visit (i.e. no festivals, etc.) I had to travel alone this time; but as I had discovered early in my experience in India, making friends is easy here, and by the time our trip was over I had made several new ones, despite the fact that we could barely communicate in English or Tamil! On the other hand, my Tamil is slowly improving, and I am understood now when I say “How are you?” and some other basic phrases.

The most famous place in Rameshwaram is the Temple, of course! Of note, the temple has long corridors with pillars along the way, and wells of water that each has their own taste. With my medical background, and microbiology knowledge, I was skeptical about trying the water… so I will have to take their word for it!

The location of Rameshwaram is significant, as it is an island off the east coast of India that is very close to the Island of Sri Lanka (about 40 km). On a clear day, and from high points in Rameswharam, you can see Sri Lanka. Between the two islands is a coral reef which is shallow and believed by legend to have been made by Ram in his attempt make a bridge so as to rescue his wife (Sita) from kidnappers (Ravana) in Sri Lanka.

The beach is also famous, and there were many people on the beach having poojas and wading around. One other interesting thing about Ramesharam is that they have rocks which (for some reason lost in translation) float. They are kept under a metal grid, but you can stick your hand through and touch them, sure enough, they feel like real rocks. I was expecting Styrofoam! The scientist in me could not accept that these rocks were denser than water, but it was an interesting sight none the less.





Lab Friends I and spend weekend in Kodaikanal

Nov 14, 2008 in Uncategorized

The gangI’m happy to report that things with my research project are going well; I have had success isolating RNA and with my globe dissections. Soon enough I will have the probes for my in situ hybridization experiments ready and working. I am hopeful that a few small steps every day will eventually add up to big results… 

Perhaps more interesting was our trip last weekend to Kodaikanal. It is a four hour drive to the hill station, which is a great place to go to beat the heat of Madurai (it is 86 degrees Fahrenheit at 8 PM, as I am writing this). This is the off season though, as it starts to get very hot in late February and early March. I remember reading about the climate in Madurai before I left the States… “the summer can best be described as extremely hot, while the winter is slightly less hot.” How true that is. I guess that is why the hill stations in Southern India are so popular… 

Seven of us left work in the afternoon on Saturday for our trip up into the mountains. The road leading up to Kodaikanal is probably the most windy road I have ever been on, and almost half of our group was sick between the trip up and down the mountain! No worries though because the climate and views from the mountains were amazing and well worth the traveling we had to do to get there.

We stayed overnight at a hotel in Kodai, playing games, and making some up too. We got going early the next morning, but we really didn’t have much of a choice as there was only hot water from 7 to 9 AM. I am happy to report that I finally have a somewhat functional knowledge South Indian foods, and proudly made my own order of Dosa and Idli for breakfast. Most of the day we spent going from place to place via tour bus, visiting a 500 foot deep cave, suicide point, Kodai lake, waterfalls, etc. At the end of all that we went down near the lake where they have boating, cycling, and horseback riding too.

Eye Camp and Halloween in Tamil Nadu

Nov 06, 2008 in Uncategorized

Eye DissectionThis week I went to an Aravind eye camp, continued my research with some eye dissections, and celebrated Halloween by dressing up in a Vesti and Kurta. The eye camp was organized in a temple only about seven kilometers away from the hospital, in Thirupparankundram. There were hundreds of patients, and only three resident ophthalmologists, who managed to see every patient at twice (pre- and post- refraction, intra-ocular pressure test, etc.). Some of the patients had cataracts that were so advanced and opaque that you could almost see it from across the room. The doctors were good about showing me interesting cases, and in the end I learned how to diagnose several different types of eye pathology. I even got some practice with my ophthalmoscope. The problem of language still persists, as my Tamil is slooooowwwly progressing, and therefore I was only observing this time. The organization of the camp was impressive, the sisters (Tamil word for this is Thangachi) taking care of the basic tests like refraction, and was efficient in seeing and caring for many patients.

Things are going well in the lab. This week I dissected three globes (eyeballs) to begin the RNA extraction portion of my experiments. The eyes that were donated were useless for cornea transplantation because of poor endothelium, but fortunately still useful for research. From them I collected cells from the limbal area to continue my experiments in identifying stem cells, which I hope will lead to improved therapeutics in the future…

One of the highlights of this week was Halloween. I had to explain what it was to many of my labmates, but I think anyone can appreciate a celebration that involves sweets and interesting costumes! I also think they were impressed in the evening when I dressed up in traditional Indian garb, the top is northern Indian kurta, and the skirt on the bottom is formal wear from the south, a vesti (see below). I might have to pull this outfit back out at the next festival time!