Wednesday, December 3, 2014

This Woman Travelled The World On A Wheelchair

How This Woman Travelled The World On A Wheelchair

How This Woman Travelled The World On A Wheelchair

Parvinder's trip to USA
Parvinder's trip to USA
The first thing that strikes you about Parvinder Chawla is her effervescence. A contributor on, she is free-spirited and an optimist at heart. Her zest for life and desire to travel the world is infectious, and it’s only when she starts talking about being restricted to a wheelchair, that you begin to question yourself, who isn’t bound by things? In a candid conversation with, she shares how travel, and not her disability, has defined her.  

Born in Punjab and brought up in Mumbai, Parvinder Chawla (46) did not have any deformities or disabilities since birth. “My family moved to Mumbai when I was 12. My father was a proud owner of a restaurant and we moved to the city, hoping for a new life ahead. Soon, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which gradually started affecting me and eventually, made me immobile. Initially, it was extremely difficult - the pain and the exasperation of restricted to a bed. I became reclusive and embarrassed. But time is truly the best healer. At one point, I was lying on the bed and asked myself - why should this stop me from doing the things I’ve always wanted to do - be mobile, be free, be self-dependent and travel the world. And so I began. I embraced my wheelchair - my biggest travel companion. I realised that I wasn’t bound by it; it set me free."

Travel, Not The Wheelchair, Defines Me

Parvinder has worked at call centres for companies like Wipro. “My father has been my biggest inspiration. He taught me to me self-dependent and confident, which pushed me to take my first solo trip to London, 14 years ago,” she says. She had her strategy in place - travel to places where she had friends or family. Before setting out for London, she connected with a couple on the internet, who helped her explore the city. “That’s the power of internet and travel communities. It helps you connect with like-minded travellers,” she points out. Since then, Parvinder has travelled extensively across India and the world.  She adds, “The world is exactly how you see it. Till date, I have been blessed to meet supportive people, who have helped me and enriched my travel experiences."

Desire To Aspire For More

There are people who yearn for owning things in life. And then, there’s the other kind - people, who just to let go and embrace the world. Parvinder is the latter. She dreams of a passport brimming with her travel tales. Whether it is places where people love to go or lesser-known getaways that are untouched by a tout’s prying eyes, “for me, a destination does not matter,” she says. However, what drives her is nature. “Vaishno Devi in Kashmir is close to my heart. My friends from college did not hesitate to take me along. The climb to the top is believed to be difficult and enduring, but I wasn’t disheartened. I felt it is one of the easiest yet thrilling experiences in my life. I returned, more confident than ever,” she shares. “Another memorable experience was my trip to Kedarnath. I had hired  four people to carry me all the way up. At the entry point, I was in queue and the pandit requested everybody to make way for my darshan. Such experiences not just install my faith in God but people too,” she adds.
But it is Parvinder’s trip to Bali that has to be her most challenging yet emancipating experiences ever. "Bali is not a wheelchair-friendly destination. I tried planning the trip through several travel agencies, which didn’t help. So, I went ahead and planned it myself.” She adds, "Travel has helped me understand that I can push myself - it has made me believe that nothing is impossible."

Wheelchair Is My Travel Companion

The thought does not discourage her. Parvinder had a manual wheelchair initially, which made her dependent on friends and family while travelling. “Now, I have an automated wheelchair. I can travel on my own!” she says enthusiastically. But there are times when her disability has been an impediment to her travel plans abroad. “During my trip to Jakarta, I had to pay for my wheelchair to be carried in the baggage. The automated wheel chair is heavy and the airlines refused to take it on board without me paying for it. Since then, I always make it a point to read about the airline before I book my tickets. I plan my trips in a way that I can cover more than one place at a time,” says Parvinder.

India Isn't A Disabled-Friendly Destination

Her experiences in the country have been far from memorable. "While travelling in India, I always have to think twice and be sure of the place I choose to go. The Government has to make serious efforts towards accessibility of the physically challenged people at tourist places. For instance,  during a trip to Mysore, I wanted to visit the Mysore Palace. I went to the palace in my automated wheelchair and I was unhappy to see a flight of stairs but no ramp to help me access the palace. I had to hire a man, who carried me inside,” she rues.

Online Travel Communities Help You Connect With Travellers

“Ideas, advice and experiences shared by other travellers on online travel communities prove helpful when I plan my trips. Information on facilities at hotels and tourists spots for the differently-abled have always helped me zero in on the right places to stay and explore,” says Parvinder. “However, communities need to work towards helping and encouraging travel among the differently-abled."

An Inspiration To Disabled Travellers

"Take your first step and the rest will come its way. I am a sum of my experiences and I truly believe that travel is destiny; not my wheelchair.”
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