This post is the second in the series of travel with disability blog by Peter Gibson. He prefers to take his wife and son for road trips.
Starts and Unexpected Stops
We set off on the road from Vadodara at 4:30 and within a very short time we were in a traffic jam on NE 1 Vadodara-Ahmedabad Expressway. A bus was parked in the fast lane with a burst tyre!
Just as we were passing Ahmedabad we saw the sun setting like a huge orange ball. Slightly unreal looking like a typical tourist destination poster for sun-starved North Europeans.
We stopped early at 7pm to top-up the windscreen wiper water. The windscreen was splattered with insects and as the last of the water sputtered to nothing our windscreen became smeared. I couldn’t see clearly through the glare of un-dipped headlight beams of oncoming vehicles.
I found a water fountain of filtered and chilled water in the fuel station! Very smart. When the windscreen bottle was full I got some old newspaper and cleaned the smeared glass until it was crystal clear again. We then had a least another two hours of driving to do before we reached the area where we needed to find a hotel (near the way into the Little Rann of Kutch – a “small” desert)
First Food Stop – One Small Step
As we were pulling out of the fuel station, where we got the water, we saw Jyot Hotel which looked like a clean and simple road-side restaurant. It had only one small step up and a large door so getting in was easy. The tables were a good height and reasonably clean by roadside standards. Luckily there was no among crossbar across the leg of the table so Jagu could get her wheelchair under the table top without banging her footrests.
The food was well presented but had suicidal level of salt and oil. I made a mental note to request less oil/salt as we head further west.
After this we moved ahead to a secluded area for a quick road side toilet stop. We carry a folding toilet chair and sadly have to use the open-toilet (i.e. wherever you can find space as there is no disabled accessible toilets within 100km).
We have only ever seen one accessible toilet which was on National Expressway 1. At all other places we have to use a folding chair. We find a secluded spot and open both doors offside passenger doors and place it between them. It gives a little privacy but it is difficult and undignified for all involved.
Seeing Scary Steps but Saved by Semi-Lift
Then we moved on looking for a hotel. It was getting unlikely that we would find a place as we had our turn off to the Little Rann of Kutch coming up but fortuitously the Highway took an unexpected turn towards Rajkot and although we were now on the wrong road we soon came across a half decent looking hotel. Aptly named Cross Roads.
I viewed the horrendous 30 odd steps of the metal staircase upto the hotel entrance which was on the 1st floor from the car. It gave me a horrible shiver of expectation because the place didn’t look like it had a lift. Carrying Jagu up 30 steps even with help is a dangerous and undignified process for her and us carers. Lack of accessibility at the hotel was evident.
However, when I went to scout the place it was surprisingly clean. Basic but clean and yes it had a lift of sorts! Get this. There were no doors on the Lift and there were no doors on each floor (the manager muttered something about “Karab ho gaya” – it went bad). No Kidding!!
The Lift was too small for a wheelchair, so we put Jagu in a lotus position in her chair and dosed the foot rests. We named it – The Yoga Lift.
Basic Bedroom with Bathroom Barriers
The room was spacious enough but the usual small bathroom door with a step up. It was not at all suitable for wheelchairs or people with disabilities.
The room was clean and simple and at ₹1000 for a three-bed room it was ₹8000 cheaper than the rough and ready Jogad Eco Camp which we saw is nearby (Rs 2200 per person per night with full board and a desert tour).
Day 2 Desert – Little Rann of Kutch
We drove about 40 Km to the beginning of the desert to look for the famous the Wild Ass of Kutch. The Wild Ass is something between a donkey and a horse and is indigenous to the Little Rann of Kutch desert.
Here we found several herds of Wild Ass grazing on what looked like the most bare sand with a very few tufts of grass. It is surprising that they can survive and even thrive on such barren landscape.
We drove careful avoiding the damp patches. Parts of the desert are flooded for part of the year and this is why there is salt industry in this area. This is the perfect way for a person who cannot walk to enjoy nature without having to get into a wheelchair. We have done many safaris in our Four-Wheel Drive Mahindra Scorpio. Freedom from the hugely expensive safari tours is a great boon. I have a lot of experience driving in the desert of Qatar so I know the dangers of getting stuck and how to avoid this.
As we were off road and there was no danger of hitting anything I let my son drive. The car is automatic so it’s easy to drive. We enjoyed few hours looking at the scenery and the birds and then set off out of the desert looking for a place to have lunch before heading West to Mandvi.
Cracks, Crannies and Condiments – Textures of the desert.
Jagu is an artist and she uses a lot of abstract textures she finds in nature. The desert with its salt-pan flats covered in cracks and crevices is a perfect place to collect texture samples. Jagu tells me what she want photos of and the angles and so on. She then imports this into her artworks which she creates using her iPad.
Long and Winding Road Passes Windmills
Soon into our second day on the road we past the famous port of Navlaki. As the sun was setting we were presented with the silhouettes of towering turning wind-turbines. We went offroad again to take a closer look. It was surreal standing next to these massive machines which make no sound other than a gentle swishing sound.
The Destination is the Journey… scary incidents or
– The Importance of Using of Seat-belts
Our trips are not well planned. We don’t generally book hotels in advance as we find the important information about accessibility is usually lacking. However we use google maps and Tripadvisor and LastMinuteDotCom extensively. So with these tools we headed towards Mandvi. We hadn’t planned to stop there but it looked good in TA. Zack was checking out places as I drove the last 50Km in the dark.
Just before we entered Mandvi district we had heavy traffic on a normal single-track road. All of a sudden, a bull was running across the road narrowly being missed by the heavy traffic. I had to swerve violently to avoid it and it’s horn came into contact with my mirror. I always keep an eye on motorbikes in my mirrors and so I managed to avoid hitting one on our passenger side.
Jagu cannot support her upper body and can easily fall over so the seat-belt is a great support and in incidents like this it can save a disabled person from striking their heads against the door or window. Everyone has to wear seatbelt in my car whether we are in city doing 20 kph or on the highway doing 120 kph.
Shaken we drive on into Mandvi and look at a few hotels. Some are charging exorbitant amounts for very second-rate facilities but we found a budget hotel with ground floor rooms.
Day 3 – Maiden Voyage to Mandvi
It’s our first time in this famous ancient shipbuilding port. It was much better than we expected. In the morning we drove into town and stopped to look at the wooden skeletons of amazing ships being built.
Having the car is a great boon. I could position it on the roadside so she could get a good look while Zack and I explored the shipbuilding site. It is on the riverbank running though the centre of town.
Rough and Rubbish Strewn Sea-Front but Delightful Town Centre
On our first night in Mandvi we explored a bit by driving around. We found the popular touristy sea-front in the centre of town which was noisy, dirty and generally unattractive. We carried on exploring the very narrow street and came to the town centre where, in a small Chowk (square), there were several roadside laris (shiny and well-lit food carts). All of these were selling freshly prepared local specialities like Kutchi Dabeli. This is a sweet and savoury mix of peanuts and crushed vegetables stuffed in a bread roll which is heated up on a metal plate with butter. The stall opposite the Dabeli Lari sold fantastic Limbu Pani (fresh squeezed lemon juice).
We had a several snacks and then lemon juice. Again travelling by car on road is a way a disabled person can enjoy these things without too much hassle of using wheelchair chairs in potholed and narrow roads. In our car Jagu is nearly at the height of us as we stand next to the door. This way we enjoy together on the same level.
During the day we checked out the town some more, looking at the old buildings and exploring the nearby beaches. We found a beach that we liked and decide to go swimming the next morning. We decide to splurge a bit and changed our accommodation. We found a resort on the East edge of the town that had a swimming pool, individual huts and very nice restaurant and an amazing private beach front.
It had slopes to a couple of the “Tented” rooms but they were too steep and the 40mm high door threshold was a problem for the wheelchair. The rooms were not accessible. Not even the room “allocated” for disabled but they were reasonably spacious.
There were slopes to the restaurant and the poolside. Both were too steep and both had no hand-rails. There were no accessible toilets anywhere on the site. Despite this we enjoyed our night there and went to the beach in the evening.
We carried Jagu over the small gate to the beach as it was too narrow for the wheelchair and then took her in a plastic chair down to the beach. Zack and I swam for an hour enjoying the clean and warm water.
Day 4 – Safe Swimming – Tetraplegian Style and Heading Back East
The following morning, we took Jagu for a swim in the pool. It was very clean and not too cold.
We have devised a good technique for getting Jagu into the pool. First of all, before we go out we put on her swimming clothes while she is lying on the bed in the room. Then when we get to the pool we need three people. Zack is in the pool to guide her once she is on the pool-edge. I lift her from the back and our assistant lifts her beneath her knees and we transfer her from the chair to a wheelchair cushion we have put not the pools edge. Then I lower put on the floatation ring and lower her into the pool while Zack makes sure she doesn’t roll over. It’s a bit complicated but once she is in it is very nice for her to feel “weightless”.
We really enjoyed Mandvi but we wanted to see more of the desert so we decided to start our journey home and come via the north side of the Rann of Kutch. On the way we stopped to look at an ancient fort. We could drive all the way up inside the perimeter wall. There I found some interesting sandstone walls that had stones that were worn in a strange way that looked like 3D writing. Jagu loves this type of textures so I took some pics for her.
It was nice for Jagu to see this all fairly closely as most forts are totally inaccessible to wheelchairs.
That day we arrived late at night in a hotel north of the Rann of Kutch. It was a typical low level roadside hotel. So no lift and a lot of stairs. The management and staff were very helpful and kind. The room was clean and large so despite the difficulties we managed a good night’s rest.
Day 5 – Arriving at Rann Riders Ranch
The next day we set off late morning and arrived at a Safari lodge where they offer riding and jeep safaris. It is a beautiful place with interesting and comfortable rooms in a garden full of small ponds with lotus and fish. They even had a very small swimming pool which was nice for cooling off.
Jagu really enjoyed all the plants which she had me taking lots of pictures. We had really nice food and enjoyed meeting the many domestic animals including geese, cats, dogs and best of all …horses
Day 6 – Safari and Homeward Bound
Early in the morning safari and saw more Wild Ass and birds in the desert. Also, we saw an amazing gateway from an old trading town. In the afternoon some local tribals came to sell their beadwork.
It was difficult to bath Jagu because the bathroom was so inaccessible but we managed to give her a sponge wash.
On our way home we stopped on the National Expressway 1 where there are “Accessible” Toilets. They aren’t correctly arranged or equipped but they have a good slope and adequate space. It is an attended toilet, so it is clean.
It was a really enjoyable trip for the nice surprises. The best way to travel is to let it just happen as you go along. Too much planning leads to disappointments. Flexibility is the best but for the disabled this has extra challenges. Having our own car and own equipment helps us adapt. Also, we always travel with a helper.
Things that help for paraplegic travellers: a helper to lift the person in and out of the car, for bathing, toilet help etc. A folding toilet seat. Wet wipes. An ample supply of “Sense of Humour” and a lot of patience.
We plan to go to Kutch again… we feel there is much more to enjoy there.
Peter Gibson is an avid traveller and also the founder of Enable Me Access promoting Barrier Free Access for People with disabilities in India. This post is the second one in his series of travelogues which he would be writing regularly to inspire more and more people with disabilities to travel and explore the planet.