Parvinder Chawla Of Mumbai Has Travelled 23 Countries In Her Wheelchair
- IWB Post
- February 1, 2019
For Mumbai-based Parvinder Chawla, getting her passport stamped from all the countries is her ultimate dream. What is so different about this? It’s her wish of travelling solo in her wheelchair.
The 48-year-old adventurous globetrotter, who has rheumatoid arthritis, has travelled solo to 23 countries across six continents. Another example of her adventurous side is her latest trip, which was a solo backpacking trip across Europe with no planned itinerary or advance booked accommodations.
Ludhiana-born Parvinder shifted to Mumbai when she was in class six. Her late hotelier father’s legacy of restaurants runs in Vashi and Bandra in the city.
The youngest of four siblings, Parvinder recalled the first instance when her mother sensed trouble with her growth with The Better India. She said, “I was really pampered. So I would love for my mother to feed me. She would keep yelling that I couldn’t open my mouth fully. And I kept reiterating that it was all I could open. She took me to an aged homeopath who told her that as I grew older, the condition would worsen and it could even reach my heart.”
In the following years, Parvinder got better and became carefree. She took the tiny bottles of medications the man gave her but eventually stopped when she thought she was better. And, the gravity of her condition only hit her until she started going to college.
“I refused to take medications for the following years. The first instance of my worsening condition was in Class 12 when there was an inflammatory pain in my wrists and knees. I even went to an acupuncturist, because I did not want to pop painkillers. During my exams when the pain got unbearable, I went to a doctor who injected me with steroids. I wasn’t aware of it then. But the last straw was in my final year when I wanted to dance for my sister’s wedding in our ancestral home in Punjab,” she recalled.
There was a step in the song where she had to squat but she couldn’t. She shared, “I couldn’t squat. That was the time, I knew, this was serious. Being the party lover that I am, when I would call everyone home for gatherings, they would all dance. But I would be sitting in a corner, steaming my wrists. I would sometimes think if I had stuck to the medications, instead of relying on alternative therapies, maybe my limbs wouldn’t be deformed. But what has to happen, happens I guess.”
For almost two years, she was then bedridden. She continued to share, “I knew life wasn’t all rosy. It has its share of ups and downs. So I would tell myself, this was my not-so-good time. I would tell God, ‘Take as much time as you want. Maybe you can heal me, but keep one of my fingers different to remember my struggles. But with time, I slowly learned to accept my condition. It helped lighten the emotional baggage.”
Her health never came in between Parvinder’s desire of living an independent life. She kept working. From working at a call-centre to babysitting to running a catering service to putting a room up for Airbnb, Parvinder has saved money for trips from her various jobs.
The travel bug bit her when she travelled with her friends to Gulmarg, in Jammu & Kashmir. To avoid troubling her friends, she hired a local to help her with her automated wheelchair in the snow. “We had reached the highest point when the man put my chair into the snow. It was paradise I was witnessing in all its beauty. The connection I had formed with nature told me, the world is beautiful and I have to see it. That’s how my journey began,” she shared.
When she called up travel agents and tried to fix solo trips, she was refused. They told her they could arrange for her only if she has a companion. But that didn’t dishearten her.
“I told myself – just because there is nobody to take me, doesn’t mean I can’t travel. When I travelled to Malaysia with my friends, I decided to take two days off for a solo-trip. I travelled with the low lying airline AirAsia with the least baggage. Staying in low-budget hotels with no room-service or intercom and taking public transport helped me build the confidence that I could travel alone,” she shared.
And, then, the journey of travelling solo began for her. Parvinder, since then, has done everything from paragliding in Taiwan to zip-lining in Ecuador. But these trips haven’t been without some challenges.
Sharing one such experience in China, where she travelled with a travel company, she said, “The language was a barrier, and much like our own country, I felt China wasn’t as accessible for persons on a wheelchair. I decided not to take a tour package, because I couldn’t afford it.”
When she reached the location of her booked hotel in a cab, she realised the hotel had been demolished. It was 11 PM at night at the time. But a local turned into her saviour and asked the cab to follow him to a modest hotel. The weather change had caused a fever. But she couldn’t communicate with the receptionist as Google is banned there. So she went to sleep.
“My condition kept worsening, and I had to return home. But there was a transit in between, and the flight was delayed. When I tried to use my stick (which transforms into a chair tripod when I get tired) to walk a few steps, I fell down and had a concussion. That trip could have stopped me from travelling, but it didn’t,” she shared.
She was once also robbed of 400 euros in Rome by her dorm partner but couldn’t do anything.
But Parvinder loves the bad share of experiences too. They have taken up her confidence level and made her stronger. What keeps her going? Her faith in God. “You just have to throw yourself in! Have faith and God or whatever is the higher power you believe in. It will help you through. We will all die one day, so why let fears hold us back from living our lives from the fullest? If you are scared, start off with a few friends, travel to wheelchair-friendly locations like Australia or Dubai. Once you are confident, start alone,” shared Parvinder.
She also shared some tips for people travelling solo. She said, “Travelling solo in a foreign country with a language barrier? Buy a matrix sim card of the country with unlimited data connection and calling. Download translation apps, apps that give you information on public transport and keep emergency contacts handy including the contacts of wheelchair repair persons in the locations you are in. Carry a power bank at all times. Carry cards, than cash. Last but certainly not the least, enjoy yourself.”
To help travellers, differently-abled or not, Parvinder is now in the process of starting a travel blog named wheelchairandeye.
H/T: The Better India