Guest Blog: Q & A with the world’s most traveled psychiatrist

As part of PRMS’ ongoing commitment to mental health, we are pleased to feature Tarak Vasavada, MD, President-Elect of the Indo-American Psychiatric Association, as a guest blogger this month. Dr. Vasavada interviewed his colleague and fellow IAPA member, Jagannathan Srinivasaraghavan, MD, Medical Director at Chester Mental Health Center, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, and a practicing psychiatrist, on his extensive travel experiences.

Dr. Jagannathan Srinivasaraghavan, better known as “Dr. Van,” has traveled to all 193 United Nations countries and 327 of the 330 countries and territories listed in the Travelers’ Century Club (travelerscenturyclub.org). Dr. Van is ranked #6 among the Most Traveled People (MTP.travel) by visiting 863 of 995 sites listed as MTP locations. He was the first Asian to plant the Indian flag at the North Pole in April 1985 and visited the South Pole in December 2011 at the Centenary Celebration of Amundsen reaching the South Pole in 1911. Dr. Van was gracious enough to spend some time with me during this Q&A session.

How did you get started on your journey of traveling?

Dr. Van: My father spent his career as a physician in the Indian Railways, and we received multiple free family passes to travel in First Class. I had traveled all over India by the time I finished medical school. My first trip outside of India was to Singapore and Malaysia to take the ECGMG Exam in 1974. Arriving in the United States in 1977 was my passport to extensive travels. By the time I finished residency, I had visited six continents and circumnavigated the world twice. In 1986, I quit my job and traveled the world for a year, hiking to Mount Everest Base Camp and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, in addition to also visiting many countries. I have literally circumnavigated the world nine times. Nowadays my focus is on remote islands and missing regions in countries on my list.

What is your favorite place that you have visited?

Dr. Van: Every place has its own charm – be it culture, people, scenery, or arts. I love mountains and oceans. The glaciers, icebergs, and wildlife of Antarctica, and the fact that a large continent can be visited by anyone, as it does not belong to one country and everyone helps each other, makes it the top choice for me. I fell in love with Antarctica when I first visited in 1985, as the youngest passenger on a cruise, and I have gone there three more times since, including the South Pole.

What is your favorite cuisine?

Dr. Van: I am a vegetarian, so my opinion may not apply to all. I like Indian, Greek, Italian, Ethiopian, Thai, Mexican, Middle Eastern, and Vietnamese food. I love French, Argentinian, and Chilean wines.

What are your scariest moments?

Dr. Van:  I was mugged in Gabon, West Africa and lost my passport, camera, and money. It was scary at that time, but with the help of the U.S. consulate, I received assistance and the culprits were arrested – unfortunately they did not recover my valuables. Spending a week waiting for a new passport and getting out of all obstacles was quite an experience to endure, but I can smile about the whole thing now. I made it a point to revisit the place to get over my fear and negative thoughts so I would not have ill feelings towards Gabon. It was an opportunistic crime, and I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. This could happen in any country, including ours.

What is a must in your bag?

Dr. Van: Passport, credit cards and money, camera, phone, and extra memory cards. I bring with me a few books, usually historic based fiction by famous authors and listen to all kinds of music.

What does your family say about your traveling?

Dr. Van:  My wife has visited more than 150 countries on the Travelers’ Century Club list and my younger son is also a member of the club. My older son has been to more than 95 countries. My wife is very supportive and accepts my passion, though sometimes she feels it has become an obsession. When the COVID-19 pandemic grounded me for 18 months, until I got the booster, I heard no comments from her! 

Have you visited any Psychiatric facilities in your travels?

Dr. Van:  I have visited many psychiatric facilities in India, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, Cuba, Russia, Armenia, Australia, Kiribati, Seychelles, Senegal, South Africa, and Eritrea. I have presented and lectured in nearly 35 countries. I have collaborated with psychiatrists from many countries and encouraged and mentored young psychiatrists.

How has traveling shaped your thinking and helped you in your work?

Dr. Van: I have learnt we have more in common among us than differences, irrespective of our countries of origin and native culture. All people want to live peacefully, prosper, and wish that their children have a better future than themselves. I have been impressed most by the poor people in developing countries who are willing to share what little they have. This open mind and my ability to say a few things about any place in the world helps my patients relate to me easily and discuss their issues with me, without any reservation.

Where are you planning on traveling to next?

Dr. Van: The most likely location for my next trip is to Nicobar Islands, which can be visited without a special permit. I will be assessing, based on the pandemic situation, where to be traveling in the next year, though I am very eager and enthusiastic about getting moving.

Will you be traveling in space?  

Dr. Van: I was registered for space travel on a private shuttle to fly in October 1992. However, when The Challenger crashed in 1986, all private shuttle programs were cancelled. It is quite expensive now, but I certainly am looking for an opportunity to fulfill my dream!

Thank you, Dr. Van, for your time and for sharing important information.

 

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Categories: PRMS Blog, Psychiatrist