Trainee doctor from Leeds travels on horseback to treat poverty-stricken people on remote trip

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A MEDICAL student from Leeds has been travelling on horseback to reach sick people in remote areas of northern India, as part of training to be a doctor.

Christopher Pickles, 22, a 5th and final year medical student at the University of Leeds, spent four weeks in the Ladakh region of Kashmir, in the outer Himalayas, as part of his medical elective.

Medical student Christopher Pickles, of the University of Leeds. Photograph by Tony Johnson.

Medical student Christopher Pickles, of the University of Leeds. Photograph by Tony Johnson.

His work saw him travel through remote high altitude areas carrying medical supplies on horseback, lead by mountain sherpas over difficult terrain.

As well as taking some stunning photographs of the scenery, the keen bike racer and hockey player, helped to treat lots of people, who don't have any access the healthcare, including malnourished villagers, the Indian army and even Buddhist monks.

Christopher, who lives in Headingley, but originally comes from Blackpool, said: “It has been amazing, although it was a culture shock, as I’d only been to Europe before.

"We travelled on horseback as we set up clinics in remote areas at really high altitudes. We were limited with supplies and there was no blood testing or x-rays available.

Christopher Pickles, medical student from the University of Leeds, checking the blood pressure of a young Buddhist monk in Ladakh, Kashmir, Himalayas, north India. Photograph credit: Christopher Pickles.

Christopher Pickles, medical student from the University of Leeds, checking the blood pressure of a young Buddhist monk in Ladakh, Kashmir, Himalayas, north India. Photograph credit: Christopher Pickles.

“The best bit about the trip was the landscape we were trekking through. I went up 18,000ft+ passes, river canyons, desolate valleys, snow-capped peaks and more.

“Despite it’s challenging geo-political situation, Kashmir certainly is a beautiful place. A memorable moment was arriving at a village to set up a clinic and being greeted by each and every villager. They provided us all with tea and biscuits. Their gratefulness was so heart-warming.

“The area we were working in was extremely poor. There was no real infrastructure and no public services.

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Medical student Christopher Pickles, of the University of Leeds, travels on horseback in remote areas of the Outer Himalayas, to reach sick people, lead by sherpas.

Medical student Christopher Pickles, of the University of Leeds, travels on horseback in remote areas of the Outer Himalayas, to reach sick people, lead by sherpas.

“People are cut-off for seven months of the year due to snow, so families had five months to grow and harvest a crop to live off for the winter. The nearest secondary school was at least an eight hour drive, once you found a road.

“The first child in the family was heir to the property. The second child was sent to the monastery, and the others were left to fend for themselves.

“Despite the remoteness, children entertained themselves playing cricket, a national religion. We gave children Dr Seuss books and cars to play with.”

Christopher says the trip was run by the Himalayan Health Exchange, an organisation founded by a villager local to Laksah.

Medical student Christopher Pickles, of the University of Leeds, in Ladakh, Kashmir, northern India, during his trip as part of his studies.

Medical student Christopher Pickles, of the University of Leeds, in Ladakh, Kashmir, northern India, during his trip as part of his studies.

Each year British and American medical students and doctors are invited to join the trip to help with much needed medical treatment across the region.

Christopher said: “I funded the trip myself, but won a £500 award, The Thorp award for forensic medicine and Public Health from the University of Leeds, which I was very grateful for.

“We met a variety of people. The government was attempting to construct a road which would make the valley more accessible. In theory, this should improve the economy of the area and could exploit the potential for tourism.

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“However, it’s main function was to transport troops to the Chinese border should circumstances dictate. Therefore it was being constructed by the military run ‘Border Road Organisation’, who enjoy calling themselves BRO. The workers were Nepalese and heavily malnourished. We did treat and meet army generals. This was in contrast to the Buddhist Monks we also helped.”

Christopher is still deciding which branch of medicine to specialise in, but as a keen bike racer, says he would love to work in the world of sport: “It has always been a dream to pursue a medical career in the sporting world. An office isn’t my natural habitat. I am really looking forward to the World Road Race Championships being held in Yorkshire in a few weeks time.”

Medical student Christopher Pickles, of the University of Leeds, in Ladakh, Kashmir, northern India, during his trip as part of his studies.

Medical student Christopher Pickles, of the University of Leeds, in Ladakh, Kashmir, northern India, during his trip as part of his studies.