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[back] 7th APPDA and the Land of Elephants, Maharajahs and Taj Mahal Ir. Sivaraman Kannan - 3 September 2009

7th APPDA and the Land of Elephants, Maharajahs and Taj Mahal

This year, the 7th Asia Pacific Parkinson's Association Symposium (APPDA) was held at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, India on the 15th and 16th February 2009. When December 2008 was fast disappearing and January 2009 rapidly approaching, I began to get worried as to whether I would be able to make it for the symposium, as I was the only person registered at that point in time. Fortunately, with the blessings of all the angels on earth and in heaven, we managed to get a group of the Magnificent Seven comprising Gary and Theresa Prior, Sara Lew, Lisa Yap, Chew Bee Peng, Sosamma Mathews and myself to represent the Malaysian Parkinson's Disease Association at the Symposium. Since we had to go that far to New Delhi, and with Agra and Jaipur beckoning, we decided to dig deep into our pockets to continue our desert safari journey to that part of golden triangle after the symposium. It was a golden opportunity too good to be missed. We spent a total of 10 days in India.

We were also fortunate that our national airline, Malaysian Airlines (MAS), had answered our call for a special rate for our air tickets. For that, we would like to thank the management and staff of MAS for their kind support and generosity towards our association.

This symposium which was first organized by MPDA in 1997 in Kuala Lumpur, is a biennial symposium whose primary objectives are to create awareness of Parkinson's Disease in the community, and to disseminate information on the latest development of Parkinson's Disease. This year's theme in New Delhi is "Bringing Rhythm To Movements". It aim is to improve the quality of life among people with Parkinson's through knowledge, research and information. The 7th APPDA which was held simultaneously with the 2nd Asia and Oceanian Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Congress, was organized by the Neurosciences Centre of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi. It was officiated by the Minister of Health & Family Welfare cum Government of NCT of Delhi, Mrs. Kiran Walia.

We arrived at the Indira Ghandi International Airport at around noon on 13th February 2009. Once out of the airport, amidst the road works, noise and fumes emanating from the vehicles passing by, we waited for our tour agent to pick us up to the hotel. It was quite a long wait though, which our tour guide later explained that it was due to the notorious traffic in New Delhi. Anyway, as we waited, Theresa settled herself on the seat of her 4 wheeled rollator while Sara grabbed a seat on the luggage trolley. When our tour van arrived, we had to hurry into the van, as waiting was not permitted in that area. Once comfortably seated on board the tour van, we were garlanded with flowers, Indian-style. It was really nice to be greeted in this manner.

Upon reaching our hotel in Karol Bagh, we quickly checked in and then headed off for our lunch We had heard so much about North Indian cuisines, and couldn't wait to savor the Tandoori Chicken, Nan, etc. We were also told to be careful with the food, as our stomach might not withstand the might of street food. So food at the restaurants became our preferred choice.

Karol Bagh is located in the heart of New Delhi. Just a walking distance away, is the Karol Bagh market, one of the oldest shopping areas in New Delhi. We had to walk through narrow alleys to traditional shops and stalls selling a variety of goods: trinkets, jewellery, saris, shoes, bags, etc. We had to put in some bargaining power for our purchases, especially from street vendors.

Have rollater will travel, and that was precisely what Theresa did. With the 4-wheeled rollater, she braved through crowds, busy roads, uneven grounds, and the length and breath of places we went.

Delhi is an overcrowded city with a population of over 18 million residents, and you are likely to meet all types of people in the streets. There are a lot of eager vendors trying to peddle their goods to us. Lisa even had her shoes polished by one of the shoe-shine boys on the streets.

There were many places that we visited in Delhi. We started the grand assault by making the Red Fort, a marvel built on red sandstone, as our first stop. To ensure victory, we put Theresa in front with her secret weapon disguised as a 4-wheeled rollater. The mighty Red Fort was explored in details in spite of Theresa and my limitations, being persons with Parkinson's. How else to see these wonders except on foot? This meant frequent rest breaks whenever we had got a chance before our knees buckled! Other places that we visited were the Humayun's Tomb, Old Delhi, Mahatma Gandhi Memorial, Qutab Minar, Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, and many more.

The next day after our arrival in New Delhi, we headed off to the Habitat Center after breakfast, to attend the opening of the 7th APPDA. We had to leave early to avoid the morning traffic jam. Looking at the traffic in the busy part of Delhi, we were amazed at how close the vehicles drove next to each other, and yet got away unscathed. It appears that within the chaos lies some order.

We were among the early ones who arrived at the venue. About 300 comprising patients, caregivers, health professionals, doctors, nurses, students, and other allied workers attended the opening ceremony. We met up with old friends, and shared experiences with new found friends who are in the same situation as we are.

The topics that were delivered by the speakers were very informative, and helped the participants kept abreast with the latest development on Parkinson's disease. The response from the floor during the Q & A sessions was very animated with some amusing moments as well. The symposium also provided the opportunity for patient advocacy/support groups in the Asia Pacific region to meet and learn from each other on how to carry out activities for the benefits of their members.

We were happy that our meals at the symposium were served outdoor, at a beautiful lawn within the compound of the building. The weather was cool, the skies were blue, and the tables and chairs were beautifully covered with white cloths. A wide spread of food was served under equally beautiful white canopies. Just as we were about to sit down and eat our food, we noticed that the white table cloths were quickly dotted with tiny drops of yellow stuff. When we looked up above, we saw hundreds of birds flying above us, raining down mercilessly, showers of blessings onto us! There was really nowhere to run, so the diners continued eating nonchalant. I guess it provided us an opportunity to be at one with nature!

The Welcome Dinner on the first night was superb. It was held at the same venue, and all participants were given a taste of India. The place was transformed into a potpourri of lights, colours and sound. Truly India. Magical and unforgettable. Great theme and kudos to the organizers.

The next day after the symposium, we left New Delhi san Bee Peng who had to return to Kuala Lumpur. We hit the road to Agra, stopping along the way for our meals. The Lassi drink was our favourite, and we had it almost every meal. Soon Lassi drinks and fiery curries began to take their toll on some of us. Sara got knocked out with diarrhea before she reached Agra. Two days later, it was Theresa's turn. Fortunately, we were well-prepared with medications brought from home, and it didn't take long for them to recover.

We visited the Tomb of Mughai Emperor Akbar, Agra Fort, and Taj Mahal, etc. Taj Mahal is spectacular, deserving its place among the seven wonders of the world.

Once upon time, in Rajasthan, the maharajahs rode on elephants to move within and outside their huge palaces. To get a taste of the experience, we made a trip to Amber Fort, situated just outside the city of Jaipur, to enjoy the experience of riding on an elephant back. Riding an elephant isn't as easy as it looks. Lisa and Sosamma can hold testimony to that. They were horrified, and clung on to dear life when their rider turned Elephant Schumacher and put on "speed" overtaking one elephant after another. When they reached their destination, the rider asked from them extra tips because he had reached there faster than others who started off the same time as he did. Lisa paid and both scrambled down the elephant as quickly as they could, wondering when did they ever ask the rider to do a race in the first place!

Indeed the architecture in Jaipur is magnificent. Many of the structures have a blend of Rajasthani and Mughal influence. Shopping is great too. Sosamma had a gala time visiting sari shops, looking for good buys.

By the end of our trip, we were very thrilled with the places we visited. On the last day in India, Gary treated all of us to a scrumptious lunch at a lovely hotel for a change.

Thus ended our trip to India with a high note. The company was good and merry with a beautiful cool weather to boot. I hope that all of us will make it together again to the 8th APPA symposium in Taiwan in March 2011. I would like to thank everyone who went in the trip with me. Without them, I would not have gone on this trip.