Paul Holroyd with the children in Kodaikanal

Already making plans to return to India…

Paul Holroyd with the children in Kodaikanal

I first travelled to India in January 2012, a friend who I have known for many years and lived locally was a native of Tamil Nadu. She ran a charity called “Curry Aid” which supports orphaned children in a home near Kodaikanal.

It was a roller coaster of a trip full of excitement and emotion and it was then that I fell in love with India and its people.

In February 2016 I was involved in serious accident whilst working as a traffic officer, an accident which would leave me paralysed from the chest down. Upon leaving hospital I was determined to continue travelling and in particular I wanted to return to India.

This was something which having travelled there before I thought given the difficulty in getting around in a wheelchair and what I believed would be the lack of disabled facilities was only a pipe dream.

I then discovered the wonderful “Neha” at “Planet abled” and with specific requirements an itinerary was drawn up.

Neha asked every possible question about my condition and limitations, she personally checked out all of the accommodation and employed a driver who would stay with us throughout what turned out to be a road trip covering almost five hundred miles across southern India.

Upon landing at Cochin we were met by our driver “Kaleesh” he would very soon become a great friend and asset to our trip. We transferred to a CGH earth property “Brunton boatyard” in cochin to start our adventure. We were immediately impressed by the facilities at Brunton Boatyard and the staff could not do more to make sure our stay was perfect.

The following day we had a guided tour around this part of Cochin taking in the Chinese fishing nets and other wonderful sights brought to life by our very knowledgeable guide and of course Kaleesh!

Our next stop was only a couple of hours away at “Coconut Lagoon” where although I didn’t think it was possible the staff manged to transfer me on to a house boat for a day cruising the back waters of Kerela. My wife and I had a wonderful day with excellent food cooked by our onboard chef.

From there we drove to “Spice village” taking in the sights along the way accompanied by Kaleesh pointing out all aspects of Indian life. Rest stops were frequent and the places were always clean and we were welcomed with drinks, I love the Indian coffee.

We visited a spice farm and stocked up on spices for home cooking once back in the UK.

Driving through towns and country we passed tea plantations on our way to the hill station of Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu, so far the trip had been wonderful and the three CGH earth properties chosen by Neha had been some of the best places that we had stayed anywhere in the world.

We spent almost a week with friends in Kodaikanal always accompanied by Kaleesh for who nothing was to much trouble, he really became part of the family.

Group picnic at Kodaikanal

We visited local landmarks, had picnics in the park, went shopping and had lovely meals at the Carlton hotel where we were staying.

Having left the “family of our hearts” in Kodaikanal it was time to head back toward Cochin, first revisiting “Spice Village” before heading the another and in my opinion the best CGH earth property on our trip “Marari beach”

Set on the coast the sunsets are wonderful and as with all of the places we stayed for the staff nothing is to much trouble and as a wheelchair user there is always someone to help if needed.

It must be stated that India is not the easiest place to get around in a wheelchair and in the grounds of some of the properties it can be a bit challenging. But, help is always at hand both from the staff in the resorts and even complete strangers if out and about, this is one reason that I love India so much.

Paul enjoying some quiet time in a quaint Kerala beachside

Neha and the team at “Planet abled” made my dream of returning to India a reality, their attention to detail and commitment to our wellbeing and enjoyment could not have been better.

I would thoroughly recommend them to anybody and we are already making plans to return again.


– Lord P. Holroyd

Paul Holroyd was a Highways England traffic officer who was victim to a near-fatal motor accident in 2016 on an expressway while at work. It rendered him paralysed chest down. But didn’t deter him from travelling the world like he used to earlier. He travelled to India in early 2020 with his wife, for the first time after becoming a wheelchair user. The trip was curated by Planet Abled.

Following is a newspaper article that was published in ‘The Herald’ in UK dated 15/02/2020.

Newspaper article about Paul Holroyd's trip to India

Travel to the Edge with Planet Abled

The travel story of an aircraft engineer who designs fighter planes for a living

This time I would like to tell you a story. A story about friendship, faith in oneself, travel and breaking barriers. A story of an aircraft engineer Sergio who designs fighter planes for a living. Who has a deep interest in spirituality and wanted to travel to India to explore what each of its religions offers. But was not sure if he would be able to do it and if it was possible for him to venture all alone across the country. The fear of the unknown on the very first trip outside his country and on the first holiday of his life struck him. Also, English not being his spoken language made things tougher. He kept thinking about it for a couple of years.

Then his guardian angel came disguised as his best friend. She knew him for years and realised she had to do something about it as he was getting restless and anxious about it.

Somewhere the stars aligned on the world wide web, she located us and reached out and we started talking. And then she sent me a long list of places her friend wanted to visit. After an exchange of I don’t know how many mails, it all got fixed. And then it happened. A trip that raised the bar of Planet Abled being the longest, biggest and most widespread trip we did. And I would not say that we were not apprehensive, it was a first time for us too. This August we celebrated the first anniversary of the historic tour that broke all barriers of accessible travel in India. A solo tour that spanned across India and Nepal, across 5 states and 13 cities in India. Something never done before. And it went so wonderful that now Sergio is looking forward to come to India again next year to cover the rest of the states. How cool is that?

Ohh and did I tell you that Sergio happens to be a wheelchair user.

Often a traveller with disability has a lot of apprehensions and doubts about travelling but I guess it works both ways. We were equally apprehensive about our biggest tour till then and had our own doubts and fears, if we would be able to pull it off seamlessly and do justice to the trust Sergio and his best friend has put in us. But somewhere that fear only gave us the strength to prepare the tour to the minutest of detail and make it successful and create history. He came, he saw, he conquered, we conquered.

Now you must be thinking why we never talked about it all through the past one year. Well because we were busy doing more and more of such trips and breaking more and more barriers in travel.

It makes me feel really proud that at Planet Abled we have been able to raise the bar of accessible travel in India. Celebrating the first anniversary of such a landmark moment is really special indeed and we wanted to share it with all the beautiful people who make us what we are today. Each such threshold places more and more responsibility on our shoulders and we are all geared up for the long road ahead. Stay with us 🙂

– Neha Arora

Neha Arora is the founder of Planet Abled who left her corporate career to build the ecosystem for accessible travel in India. Her inspiration came from the not so good travel experiences of travelling with her parents both of whom are persons with different disabilities.



The team of four poses on a balcony with hills and waterfalls behind their back

The Incredible India Tour to promote travelling with disabilities

A lot of work is being done by NGOs, individuals & activists on education, employment, rights and entitlements, empowerment, travel, transport and many such crucial issues regarding people with disabilities. There have been breakthroughs on some front and we are yet struggling on others. So why the struggle? What are the obstacles?

There are barriers like attitudes, infrastructure, law & policies which  impact our day to day life.

Travel & Tourism for people with disabilities is one such aspect which is only a dream for many in our country. While on one hand we agree that People with Disabilities (PwDs) have equal right to travel with dignity and access to all tourism infrastructures & yet it is an irony that senior citizens and disabled people have NOT been considered as potential customers for majority tourist destinations. Inaccessibility to transportation, accommodation and tourist sights discourages us to venture out.

On 5th March 2005, my co member Sunita Sancheti & me (both wheelchair users), visited Taj Mahal at Agra for a project. This was after Prof. Stephen Hawking’s visit to India. On the highway from Delhi to Agra we realized there was not a single disabled friendly toilet.

With quite a few of us on wheelchairs it was a huge challenge.  Much later to our relief when we were nearing Agra via NH2 we found a McDonalds outlet, which had an accessible toilet. But this was not the end of the ordeal. After travelling this far and facing so many difficulties it was disappointing that only 2-3 of us could go right up to the tomb which is the significant part of this monument.

Sunita being helped by three men to take the ramp to the monument

Steep ramps at monuments

There were countless steps & few steep ramps. After this disappointing experience we realized that there was a lot of work to be done in this area.

Later in 2011 we got the opportunity to work on tourism when two of our friends Arvind Prabhoo & Nishant Khade both trustees of Access for all foundation invited us to join them for All India Tour, by road. The project was taken under Vijay Merchant Rehabilitation Centre for Disabled titled Beyond Barriers- Incredible India Tour.

On 28th of Sep 2011, we began our adventurous journey with a purpose. A purpose which we believed would make our beautiful country, barrier free, a tourist destination for all. We set out to travel across the country by road, covering 19500 kms in 84 days. We visited 28 state capitals and 40 cities. Each one of us had our stories & reasons which is why we came together.

Says Sunita “Travel is very important aspect of each persons life. It can be for work, recreation, social visits or religious ceremonies. I am born and brought up in Mumbai and my extended family & cousins stay in different states of the country, it is challenging and expensive for me to travel when I want to visit them. A nature freak basically, I love travelling to beautiful places which has always been a dream. I have travelled  a lot before my spine injury at the age of 16 . Hence when the opportunity to explore the accessibility level in our country for people with disabilities, knocked on my door I grabbed it .My family was concerned as I had two major surgeries just in a span of one year before this travel, but at the same time they felt that it was a life time opportunity for me to fulfill my dream of working on accessible tourism”.

Nishant Khade one of our adventurous four comments “I have always been adventurous and loved to travel a lot. Unfortunately, after the accident it couldn’t be continued.  One day while chatting with my friend Arvind, who also uses a wheelchair, a thought came to our minds, Let’s do something adventurous!, and we decided to tour whole of India by road. Thus the old enthusiasm got refreshed. I was excited, fully charged. Seen from a wheelchair, India looks incredible! I loved the monuments, the roads, the authentic food, & the NortheastLuckily for me there were no discouragements. Thanks to my family & friends for supporting me

He continues “Post this memorable life changing tour we published a coffee table book for ‘life time remembrance’. It’s designed by me, it will captivate readers. People should know what ‘accessibility’ means. The central and the state governments could allot 3 per cent of the budget for making places disabled-friendly, it’s a one-time investment. “How can incredible India be for “we people” unless it’s barrier-free?”

The third traveler Arvind shares “Travelling has always been my first love” he continues, “to travel all over the country by road has been my dream since I was in college. This tour was a tour of self belief & resolve. That I could plan, execute & come back safe & healthy was proof to my ability and therefore, the successful completion of the tour was a stamp on my abilities. Planning had to be meticulous. Along with proper accommodation, choosing tourist destinations was important. No matter what, the journey would be completed, and should any of us need to withdraw, the others would carry on.

The journey was arduous, the challenges enormous, but we completed the tour,” Arvind said. The coffee table book has pictures speaking of the adventures. Inspiring more people with limitations was the main objective. We completed the journey without a whiff of illness, which is a standing testimony to our planning and pre-tour preparation.”

The fourth among this fearless four team was me. This tour was a dream come true. I always wanted to explore our country, places which my family visited, but due to lack of infrastructure and facilities I never could. This tour came as a lifetime opportunity. My family thought it was a crazy idea. Initially I got a bit discouraged due to my family’s concern but when my friends and mentors encouraged us, we were motivated and went ahead. We got a warm welcome from everyone we met during our journey and it has been very overwhelming experience for me”.

Besides the tourist places, some of the main universities were also on our agenda, because we believe that students with disabilities should be able to pursue higher education easily. We visited a few like universities of Mizoram, Tezpur, Kashmir, Patna, Itanagar , Pondicherry and so on.

Its a collage of pictures. The four posing in front university building, Arvind going inside via ramp and the accessible auditorium

Accessible University Campus

It was impressive to find that Tejpur University campus in Assam was accessible upto 80% with disabled friendly rooms in hostel too.

Jadavpur University has a special cell which works on facilities for students with disabilities. Some of the buildingin campus are accessible with a disabled friendly toilet. They also provide audio cassettes and cds for the visual impaired students who enroll for higher studies.

Mizoram University- The hilly terrain of Aizwal has not stopped them from making the university accessible. They have gradual ramps all over the university. This is a true example of where there is a will there is a way.

Pondicherry University is worth special mention because in 2007 it received an award for being the most disabled friendly university.

In Ladakh, we trekked to a height of 18,000 feet and touched the snow. It was a dream come true. Leh, where there is less electricity, no infrastructure, mountainous topography, snowfall most of the times, less technology, extreme climatic conditions, even in such a scenario they are fantastic host when it comes to tourism.

Sunita at Khardungla Pass on her wheelchair with snow mountains behind her and a direction board to Leh

Sunita at Khardungla Pass

Sunita posing triumphantly at highest peak of Khardungla

Chennai- Vallurvar Kottam – One of the heritage structures in Chennai. The auditorium at Valluvar Kottam is said to be the largest in Asia and can accommodate about 4000 people. Post access audit by our team during our tour, Sukriti Foundation a local NGO, followed up persistently with the Valluvarkottam authorities and a permanent ramp was constructed. Hats off to Sukriti’s efforts.

Jagannath Puri/ Tirupati & Jyotiba Kolhapur- Visiting religious places in some states was not a pleasant experience. Like when we visited the famous Jagannath Puri and Tirupati temples we were not allowed to enter on our wheelchairs. Infact we were standing outside Jagannath Puri temple for more than 2 hours trying to convince the authorities to let us in. But it was a big letdown.

Neenu and Sunita stranded outside Jagannath Puri Temple office with a priest praying on the side and policeman standing, not allowed to go inside

Stranded outside Jagannath temple

On other hand we were welcomed and allowed to enter the temple with dignity at Jyotiba  & Mahalaxmi temples Kolhapur. Friends point to be noted here is that even these temples are not accessible but the authorities were very cooperative and helpful.

The roads in Lucknow impressed us with their perfectly leveled pavements, ramps and railings in place.

In Veli Village, Trivandrum, we took a boat ride. The boats were not disabled-friendly, but we had a staff of 17 to help us.

Sunita and Neenu inside the boat in water

Boating in Trivandrum

While we even dipped our feet in the sea at Pondicherry  thanks to the ramp leading right till the water, on the other hand we watched the sunrise in Kanyakumari.

But the most adventurous incident took place in Majuli, Assam. To cross the Brahmaputra, one must take a boat that also transports your car. We crossed the river with our Innova on board. Owing to the size of the boat, the Innova was parked perpendicular to the length of the boat. While alighting, our driver panicked, and our car could have fallen into the river. After much efforts & spine chilling hours of labour, we were pulled to safety.

The major challenge while travelling by road is absence of disabled friendly toilets on highways. As an exception we found Ghar Outlet, which  is a Bharat Petroleum Corp initiative towards making road travel more comfortable across sections of the society. Their outlets have clean restaurants, accommodations & restrooms which are accessible. We should have more such outlets on inter state and intra state highways. With facilities such as these road transport would become easier for all.

Transport (Metro Train)- its not only the tourist destinations or hotels but also important to have the accessible transport. None of the trains or railway platforms are disabled friendly, hence travelling by trains is a big challenge for disabled people. We were happy to travel by train in Bangalore by metro rail at MG Rd station. It was a different kind of independence that we felt and that too which was so economical.

Though traveling by air is most suitable but an expensive option, there is lack of communication between Aviation Ministry, Airlines & Airports Authority. Most of them are clueless about the guidelines & facilities provided to passengers with disabilities.

Besides the infrastructural facilities we also felt that all the information related to disabled friendly facilities should be put on the respective websites. Whether it is trains, universities, colleges, tourist destinations, hotels etc. Some of the accessible features that we found in these places had no such mention on their websites. We have emphasized about the same to all those concerned.

We travelled to show the world that just because we use wheelchair,it doesn’t mean one cannot travel and see beautiful places.

With a few positive changes on the roll we are happy to see seeds of our efforts sprouting slowly.

Together let us make our country, India, a tourist destination that is accessible and BARRIER FREE  for ALL.


Please Note: The accessibility status of the places mentioned in the blog are a few year old when the road trip happened. We hope the status of accessibility at these places have improved for the better.