Think hard. On your last big holiday, did you spot anyone with a disability share the same space as you at any of the sites you visited, or on any mode of transport? No?
Does this mean those with disabilities detest travelling? Turns out, much as they would like to explore the world, various barriers keep them from doing so.
A new initiative, Enable Travel, powered by Cox & Kings, aims to make travel across India barrier-free for those who are wheelchair-bound, or vision, hearing, or speech-impaired. Currently, the website lists destinations like Goa, Coorg, Kochi, and Jaipur, among 10 others. All of these have been researched and recommended by experts, who themselves are disabled. This means every aspect, from trained guides and specialised staff (care-givers, sign language interpreters) to equipment (hiking chairs to visit forts, amphibian wheelchairs to take a dip in the sea) has been thought of.
Among these experts are Mumbai-based filmmaker and writer Rustom Irani, who has been wheelchair-bound since age nine, and Divyanshu Ganatra, a clinical psychologist from Pune, who is visually impaired. Both are avid travellers, with Irani having explored four continents, and Ganatra having gone tandem cycling from Manali to Khardung La.
Point A to B
It's common knowledge that India has a long way to go before it becomes completely disabled-friendly, but, according to both Irani and Ganatra, there is some improvement.
"In India, travelling by bus or train is near impossible, because the toilets are not fully accessible, and buses stop wherever they please. Air travel, on the other hand, has become easier," says Ganatra.
Echoing his views, Irani says that today, several airlines have dedicated sections on their websites to help passengers with disabilities. "That said, it's still a task. IâÂ€Âˆam 6'2" tall and weigh a lot, so it's not easy for assistants provided by the airline to help me onto the plane and into my seat. I've had my shoulders pop several times, and also suffered a few injuries," he laments.
The duo adds that it is important to take the type of disability into account while curating a trip. Ganatra shares that he enjoyed a visit to a spice garden as he could soak in his surroundings using his sense of smell and touch.
But it's not just about zeroing in on the right itinerary. Once you arrive at your destination, there are more challenges to be dealt with. Ganatra says that even if a hotel has accessibility, it can be found lacking in other areas. "Most don't have Braille menus. So, I have to call and ask, 'Khaane mein kya hai?', which is met with the standard response — one paneer dish, or one chicken dish. This, when the actual menu is larger," he shares. Irani, meanwhile, highlights how for the disabled, fringe benefits like spas, gyms and pools are the last priority while booking a room due to their inaccessibility.
He adds that at monuments and heritage sites under the purview of the central government, the situation is slightly better, although Braille signage and audio announcements are still missing at several places. Ganatra sums up, "Things will get better but, in the meantime, we have to keep adapting."
LOG ON TO: enabletravel.com
How to plan your trip
- To begin with, chart a thorough itinerary from start to end, from picking your airline to your transport and accommodation.
- Call each of these to check if they are equipped to cater to a person with disabilities, and whether they have had similar guests in the past. Also enquire about accessibility — shower, doors, elevators et al.
- Explain your disability in detail, so arrangements can be made to suit your needs. Also specify the kind of assisted devices you use (crutches or hearing aids, for instance) and inform the hotel if you need care-givers.
- Be aware of your limitations and convey the same clearly. This includes information on whether you prefer travelling by car or by air, and how many hours you can spend outdoors, among other things.
- Do your homework. For instance, if you are wheelchair-bound, check whether the hotel has technicians to help you out in case your wheelchair breaks down.
- If you’re travelling solo, connect with someone (could be a community, too) at your destination to help you out in case you’re stranded in any way.
- Lastly, it would also be helpful to find out if others with your disability have been to that particular destination, and ask them how they planned their trip.
Also check out these websites
Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation, started by Divyanshu Ganatra, engages persons with disabilities and able-bodied people to participate together in adventure sports.
Planet Abled conducts trips to several destinations in northern and central India, including Jodhpur, Khajuraho, Bandhavgarh, Nainital, and Rishikesh.
Umoja helps you find accessible accommodation. Fill out information on your preference while moving around and interaction with a space, and the website finds hotels to meet your needs.
BONUS: PARADISE BEACH
The locals have another name for this beach situated on the Maharashtra-Goa border, but it is called Paradise Beach by the foreign tourists who frequent it. It seems like a typical beach at first, but ride your bike along the shore for 2km and you'll find a lake surrounded by hills, where you can go skinny-dipping without any fear. — Eshna Kutty, dancer
MANDVI BEACH, GUJARAT
I enjoyed my trip to this quaint beach in Gujarat simply because not too many tourists venture here. If you're looking for a typical beach holiday, this place is certainly not it. There aren't any shacks or fantastic eateries around, nor are there too many places where you would consider crashing for the night. However, this also makes it the perfect place if you're looking for serenity. Back in the day, Mandvi also used to be a shipbuilding hub. Although a few yards are still operational and you can visit them, several lie abandoned. You will end up with beautiful photographs of the majestic wooden vessels.
Vinobha Nathan, travel photographer
GALGIBAGA BEACH, GOA
While Goa has many beaches to pick from, I would always advise going to Galgibaga in South Goa for three reasons. Firstly, it's so removed from civilisation that the number of people that frequent it is minimal, leaving the beach virtually unoccupied. Secondly, if you're here at the right time of year, you could be fortunate enough to witness the hatching of Olive Ridley Turtles. Lastly, there are no shacks on this beach, with the exception of Surya Beach Café, just off the coast (with a sign that says it's recommended by Gordon Ramsay, though it isn't). The food is to die for, and is the only place in Goa where I'd recommend having oysters on the half shell.
Fernando Monte da Silva, food and travel writer
Pic courtesy/Ajit Karkera
DELTA BEACH, KARNATAKA
Not too far away from Udupi's Kodi Bengre Beach is the pristine Delta Beach. You might think that the best backwaters are in Kerala, but you can have that experience right here. The fishing community residing here may not be very forthcoming at first, but if you're lucky, they will lead you to a boatman who can give you a tour of the tiny islets that float on the waters. Nearby, there's a toddy shop where you can tuck into local fare like chicken sukka.
Sachin Bhandary, founder of eccentrips.com
MUZHAPPILANGAD BEACH, KERALA
This beach is the only drive-in beach in the country. You can pay an entry fee, which is not over R20, and take your car in to zip along the shore. There are also some small local eateries off the beach that serve simple yet delicious seafood. The other reason IâÂÂ€ÂÂˆlike going here is because you can find some stellar quality mussels in the area, which a few locals will catch and sell to you. Whenever I'm cooking for an event in Mumbai, I make sure to source my mussels from here.
Sandeep Sreedharan, chef
Blue Button Pics Courtesy/Abhishek Jamalabad, Pradip Patade
If someone said you could spot pink sea anemones, vibrant corals and sponges, and colourful little sea slugs along the coast of Mumbai, you'd probably laugh, call them delusional and walk away. However, you're the one who would end up looking foolish.
Turns out our shores are, in fact, home to these and more marine species, and a month-old initiative, Marine Life Of Mumbai (MLOM), hopes to draw attention to the unusual creatures that reside on the beaches we avoid stepping on.
The turning tide
"It's not that people don't know about the marine life that exists here. Mumbai, after all, has a large community of fisherfolk. But, at the same time, we don't like going into the sea because it's dirty," says MLOM co-founder Siddharth Chakravarty, an academic researcher who is currently studying labour supply chains on industrial fishing vessels.
The other two co-founders are also marine enthusiasts. Abhishek Jamalabad is a marine biologist, while Pradip Patade, a self-taught marine expert, has been exploring and conducting walks along the city's intertidal zones for over two decades.
One look at MLOM's Facebook and Instagram feeds is enough to make you question your knowledge of the city's marine life. Creatures in all shapes and sizes, painted in emerald greens and aquamarine blues, peek out at you.
The group has also conducted a walk along Girgaum Chowpatty. "We got there just in time for low tide, and suddenly, everything under our feet came to life and started crawling. That's when people realised that all hope is not lost; that there is still life under Mumbai's polluted waters," says Chakravarty.
A sponge garden off Marine Drive. Pic Courtesy/Sarang Naik
Before conducting this walk, the trio had undertaken a few exploratory walks of their own to document as many creatures as they could. "We found that each shore has different species residing on it. Moreover, we were amazed by how unique some of them were. At Marine Drive, we found sea anemones, which most people associate with pristine dive sites overseas. The same goes for the corals we've seen," says Jamalabad.
The community's aim, Chakravarty says, is to serve as an open and public repository of information regarding the coastal biodiversity of Mumbai. "We also hope to initiate public dialogue. With the coastal road project and the Chhatrapati Shivaji statue in the Arabian Sea being given the green light, these creatures are in danger. We want people to become better participants in the community and dwell on the fallout. Right now, these projects are getting clearance because there is little citizen involvement."
He hopes that with these walks, they can encourage attendees to take pictures and add to the collection that already exists on the community's social media pages. MLOM has plans to conduct a walk every month, with the next one planned for May 27. "We haven't finalised the location for it yet, but it is likely to happen at Haji Ali," says Jamalabad. He explains that the trio wants to, at some point, take a step back and allow the members of MLOM to helm the community.
He adds, "It's not our page. We want it to become a community-driven initiative by getting more people to claim ownership of it."
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Merchandise will be on sale
For millennials, Game of Thrones and Harry Potter are not merely books, movies or TV shows. Over time, they have snowballed into a phenomenon. The youth of today may not remember a chemical formula, but they certainly know the magic spell required to open a locked door. To celebrate pop culture, the Rotaract Club of HR College is back with another edition of PopCon, a cultural convention that aims to bring fans together at one place.
A poster displaying the Harry Potter book titles
The festival started off as Pottermania, featuring just Harry Potter-related activities, in 2013, but has since been expanded to include other fandoms around shows such as Game of Thrones and Friends. Last year, Star Wars was part of the line-up, too.
"In the last couple of years, we have had a staggering footfall of over 1,000 fans coming to this convention and being a part of a fandom," shares Lokesh Sambhwani, president of the club. The festival will be like a Cosplay event, and is open to collegians from across the city. "You can dress as Hagrid, attend the Game of Thrones-themed Model United Nations (MUN), and even win a Harry Potter T-shirt," adds Sambhwani.
Participants in costume at the festival
The fest also includes a quiz on the tale of The Boy Who Lived, a game of Ground Quidditch, and an exciting Horcrux Hunt. The Valar Morghulis (GoT Fandom) includes the MUNâÂ€Âˆevent and a game of Capture the Throne, which compels you to think like one of the houses of Westeros that you’ll be representing. You can also try your hand at playing board games based on the TV show Friends.
Merchandise from all the shows and movies will be sold at the venue. From bookmarks and badges to wands and swords, the goodies will, just for some time, let you escape to a world of fantasy.
ON: May 14, 10.30 am to 5.30 pm
AT: HR College, Dinshaw Wachha Road, Churchgate.
FORâÂ€ÂˆPASSES, CALL: 9323238815
ENTRY: Rs 200