Madras Week Chennai

A bike trail through Chennai’s medical heritage sites

Shortly after the second wave of the pandemic abated, cyclist Ramanujar Moulana spent his days riding to the city’s hospitals, clinics, dispensaries and medical colleges. Born out of these rides in those two months is his fourth book, Madras By Cycle: Medical Heritage Trails of Chennai.

The guide booklet offers cyclists trails to ride on, in order to learn about the history of Chennai’s medical institutions (like the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital established as early as 1664 for British soldiers, making it just a decade younger than the Taj Mahal), and understand why the city has grown to be a hub for medical tourism. It is accompanied by QR codes for cyclists to map the locations mentioned.

The trails include the Madras Medical College (MMC) and its hockey ground which is currently undergoing a facelift; The King Institute of Preventive Medicine in Guindy, which played an important role in supplying smallpox vaccines; and native medicine centres such as the Amrutanjan building and the Dubba Chetty Shop in Mylapore.

A bike trail through Chennai’s medical heritage sites

A special section is dedicated to four pioneer doctors who also had an interest in cycling. This includes Dr Charles Donovan, the first Medical Superintendent of the Government Royapettah Hospital, and Dr Ida Scudder, founder of CMC Vellore, who is said to have cycled all the way from Philadelphia to New York to attend the Cornell Medical School in 1898.

Mapping the city

The booklet is in continuation of Ramanujar’s series of trails exploring OMR/ECR, George Town, and North Chennai, that he releases every Madras Day.

For this year, he had planned one on the city’s iconic food joints. And then the second wave of the pandemic began. “We (his group, the Cycling Yogis) had completed most of the food guide before the second wave. But then so many eateries shut down permanently,” he says, explaining why he turned to the medical heritage trail instead. Sankar Nethralaya is the youngest building mentioned in the book, and Ramanujar says the organisation holds a special place in his heart, for helping with his mother’s cataract surgery. “It was there that I realised how many people come to Chennai from all over India for treatment,” he says.

Referring to media reports, historian columns, and hospital websites, Ramanujar discovered pieces of history as he charted the rides.

“At Stanley Hospital campus, I found an obelisk that mentions the names of Assistant Surgeons of the Presidency who died during the First World War,” he says. “I had also always wanted to visit the Red Fort which is what they call the MMC Museum (owing to its brick facade).”

A bike trail through Chennai’s medical heritage sites

While Ramanujar will start working on remapping the food joints that are still surviving despite the pandemic, he has another idea for a guide book. “I want to focus more on institutions and Government bodies, instead of places, like I did before,” he says. “Some of our cyclists are part of the police administration, so I thought it would be nice to document the city’s police heritage. Some of our police stations are over a hundred years old.”

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Printable version | Oct 24, 2021 4:05:49 PM |

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