Road trip sign on the road

In the Beginning – Early Adaptions to Disability

Jagu and I were married in ’92 after a very short and socially controversial courtship.  We were classmates; typical college love affair except she was a Brahmin and I, British, white and obviously non-Hindu.

Our first dates alone together were on my Enfield Bullet.  We would go to the Mahi River where I taught her how to swim.  At that time, there were regular riots in Baroda and so after the Fine Art Film Club viewings I took her home on the bike… stopping at what we thought was a safe distance from her parent’s house.  This was very naive as inevitably people saw us together and it got back to her parents and soon we realized we needed to get married or not see each other again.  What followed were a few weeks of social/cultural dilemmas for her family which eventually lead to our getting a Hindu marriage.  Our first trip together as a married couple was on the bike to The Dangs in south Gujarat.  It was great fun.  In the years after this, we found the best way to travel was by our own transport and this became more critical as Jagu’s paralysis progressed.

11 Years later we had a son, Zack.  Soon after he was born, Jagu was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  This is a progressive disease damaging the nerves and leading to paralysis.  Soon our adventurous trips became difficult as we learnt to deal with her being less able to walk.  At first, she was using a walking stick and if she needed help I would support her.  Horse-riding became out of the question but we could still manage swimming and boating with some extra care.  When she started using a walking frame it was more of challenge and getting to the water meant picking her up on my back and carrying her down to the water’s edge or to the edge of the pool.  With her wearing a lifejacket she was still able to enjoy our river and lake swims.

An old picture of Gibson and family when the travelling just started

An old picture of Gibson and family when the travelling just started

Our first road trip in India, after returning from our 5 year residence in Qatar, was in 2005.  We had just bought an old Scorpio.  Not having to rely on public transport meant we had more room for luggage and it was less difficult for me lugging all the bags.    Also, as we needed more assistive equipment a dedicated vehicle became critical.

We went to Ranakpur via Udaipur and stayed in a newly restored Haveli.  It was a very touristy trip with all the hotels pre-booked. We had to rush from place to place as the travel agent had a crazy itinerary of rushing from one place to another.  It was exhausting for me and uncomfortable for Jagu but we made the most of it.  It was way too hectic.  We subsequently learnt that slow and steady is much more satisfying.

Shot from one of the recent travel sojourns

Shot from one of the recent travel sojourns

From our first couple of road trips we learnt some basics.  Most of the places were not accessible and no advertising information to the contrary should be trusted.  We learnt that it was better to use our own vehicle and factor in time for finding suitable places to have food stops and search for suitable accommodation.  This became my method.  Find a restaurant, park bench or comfortable corner to “park” Jagu and Zack and then run around the hotels looking for a suitable room.  I became very good at quickly sizing up the pros and cons and making and resigning myself to the compromises.

We started to adapt our style.  We had to carry more equipment like special cushions, walkers, and sticks.  Wherever we could, we tried to keep doing the same things but adapt for Jagu so she was never left out.  We always like horse-riding and we used to go on proper three hour treks through the countryside.  This time at our regular stop at the Krishna Ranch, Udaipur we managed to adapt for Jagu.

They had a horse drawn buggy!  A bumpy ride but fun and it didn’t require much balance.  We jammed her in with cushions with someone sitting next to her to prevent her falling out.  She enjoyed being with us, looking somewhat regal, having an escort of handsome out-riders leading the way.  She got to enjoy every lane, view and bird call.  In those back lanes and dirt tracks around the fields we saw Mongoose, Kingfishers, Black Ibis, and the brilliant blue Indian Roller.  Bliss!

It was a bumpy start but we learnt that there was always a way…. and I had Zack as my trainee wingman from the start.  Helping with bags at 4 years old (ok mum’s handbag…).

….in my next blog there will be more photos… A Journey to the Sikkim and the Chinese border and how we escaped the rapids in our raft.

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 first 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.

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