To many, Dubai-based Malcolm Gregory, osteopath, is just that - an osteopath. But get to know him better and you will realise that he loves mountain climbing (has been to the Everest base camp), has cycled the length of India, has raised money for charity... Vasanti Sundaram finds out how he does all this

When you meet Malcolm Gregory for the first time, you would know him as an osteopath, meticulously 'manipulating' your bones with his assuring hands. Ask him anything about a physical problem and he will be at his amiable best.

But ask him about the other side of 'Dr Greg', and you would be lucky if you manage to get a word out of him, because if there is anything that he dislikes, it is talking about himself.

But don't give up, prod on, skirt around the subject of mountain climbing, trekking, cycling, and then watch him slowly transcend his world of bones and backaches, and enter that realm of his life that few know about.

One of the six osteopaths in Dubai, Greg makes his point clear at the very beginning. "Osteopathy is something that I do, it isn't who I am." Remarking that a lot of people in this city tend to get classified by what they do and not necessarily by who they are, he says he has always striven to maintain a distinction between the two.

"They are connected but they are not the same thing. So, whereas somebody would want to describe me as an osteopath or a physiotherapist or whatever, I say that it is clearly something I do, although it is the 'why' I do what I am doing which is more important.

"So, in terms of my purpose, I would say that it is to be loving, compassionate and to remain free. And, from within that free place in myself, I am then able to do whatever I do - whether it's osteopathy, carrying bricks or riding a bike across India or climbing a mountain, it's the same thing."

Tryst with the Middle East

Greg's tryst with the Middle East began way back in 1976, when he came to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the medical person for the Saudi soccer team. He stayed on until 1979. It was while the team was playing in Baghdad that he met the coach of the UAE national team, the legendary Don Revie, former coach of the England football team, who told him about Dubai.

Back in the UK the same year, he spent a year and a half there, before he got a call from Revie inviting him to Dubai. So, it was Dubai for Greg until 1983 where he was working as an osteopath with Al Nasr Sports Club.

He returned to the UK in 1984 but four years later, Dubai beckoned him yet again, this time to look after a private clinic for an eminent family. And it has been Dubai since then.

Ask him what impelled him to study osteopathy, a method of treatment that was not recognised in the UK as a branch of medicine for a very long time, and he has an interesting story to tell.

"As a teenager, I injured my sciatic nerve playing football. I underwent various forms of treatment until I was introduced to an osteopath who set my problem right.

"Interestingly, between the time that I was injured and the time that I was introduced to this osteopath, I had already begun to look at what it was that made people healthy.... and osteopathy interested me in the holistic manner that it helped my problem."

Gaining momentum

Already a popular form of alternative healing worldwide, Greg sees the osteopathic form of therapy gaining momentum in Dubai too. While earlier he would have patients coming to him after failing to find relief from other forms of treatment, he now receives patients seeking osteopathy as their first choice.

"It is probably true to say that 90 per cent of people will experience back pain sometime during their life, because of the type of lives we tend to lead. This will continue and increase, so it's a question of how to deal with that.

"Obviously, if you look at the medical model of dealing with such problems, it will be through chemicals, or if chemicals don't work, it could be surgery.

"And so, in a way, osteopaths try and help people find solutions other than surgery. I usually tell my patients that only when they reach the stage of wanting to put a gun to their heads should they settle for surgery.

"Osteopaths offer an alternative way of dealing with problems and that is through bio-mechanical therapies and exercise."

Even while aiding people to find solace through osteopathic solutions, there is a facet to his personality where he enjoys being just himself.

"I have always been interested in the outdoors, with a love for the mountains. I suppose that was because I spent summers in North Wales as a child but missed many opportunities to do as much as I would have liked when I was a teenager because of distractions like football and teenage life! And, as I am able to do that now, I am taking every opportunity that comes my way."

Opportunities that have taken him to remote and unspoilt places in Pakistan, Iran, Nepal and India.

Details of his adventures over the last ten years would leave anyone in awe of his yen to embark upon such expeditions: three treks through Karakoram Passes in Pakistan; trips to the Everest and Annapurna base camps in Nepal; Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa; Mount Damavand, the highest point in the Middle East; and, more recently, Mont Blanc, the highest point in western Europe; plus one cycling trip across the entire length of India.

"Forty years ago, I had read about a place called Hunza Valley, an area on the Karakoram highway between Islamabad and China and wished I could visit it then. Thirty years later, on my 50th birthday, 10 years ago, I managed to visit the place. Since that trip, I have been there twice with a pilot friend of mine."

It was in 1997 that yet another friend of Greg asked him if he would like to cycle across India. "Coincidentally, this was also one of my wishes as a student and I remember telling my friends that I would walk across India at some point in my life.

"We were at that stage into everything Indian - the food, caftans, Ravi Shankar's music and yoga! So, when this friend suggested this trip, I discussed it with my 91-year-old mother, and she said, 'Why don't you wait until I die to do that?' Thinking that she probably preferred me to wait, we put off our plans.

"She died in 1998. During that period, my friend adopted a child from Ashraya, an orphanage in Bangalore, and he suggested that we do some fundraising for Ashraya through this cycling trip. In the year 2000, we covered 3,600 kms, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in about 40 days, and raised enough money for the orphanage to contribute towards building a school."

Doing what he set out to do

How was the feeling at the end of the 40 days? "Well, it felt good that in spite of not being a cyclist, I managed to do what I set out to do, because I wanted to do it. However, personally for me, I don't feel cycling is about anything special.

"I have a lot of friends who cycle every day and, to them, it means something, like it does to Lance Armstrong who has just won the Tour de France for the sixth time - incredible. To me, it was just a way to get through India and raise money for charity. I don't have a passion for cycling in the same way that I have for mountains, or walking and trekking."

But there is something about the trip that Greg likes to recount. "While travelling in the U.S. about 16 years ago, I bought a bike saddle.