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Apeksha Bagchi

IWB Blogger

Sending Visually-Impaired People On Crazy Adventures Is The Mission Of Ritu And Divya’s Life

  • IWB Post
  •  September 22, 2018

Count the number of trips and vacations you have been on. Done? Now tell me how many visually-impaired people have you seen, enjoying such trips just like you were? The number is either very small or, for some of you, zero, right? It is not like these people don’t have the desire to travel, they are just discouraged by how society defines them – individuals not allowed to live their life, to be independent or make decisions because of their disabilities.

It was this injustice that spurred two friends, Ritu Sinha and Divya Saxena, to ditch their jobs and give visually-impaired people the chance to break stereotypes and embark on adventures. Former advertising professionals, Ritu and Divya started Bat Travels under which they ‘custom’ design tours for the visually-impaired.

Visually-Impaired

Photo by Oinam Anand.

As trips and tours, around the world, are focused primarily on sightseeing, these two ladies make sure that the destinations on their tours are more about feeling the surroundings than just seeing it. And these magical trips also include paragliding and other adventure sports as well! Now that’s what I call awesome.

Amazed and touched by their work, I caught up with these two besties to know more about these amazing tours they arrange and the forever memories the ones who join take away with them.

Excerpts:

I was going through your website and found that your trips have a mixed group of both visually-impaired and sighted people.

Divya: Yep, people with sight become the ‘travel pal’ of the visually-impaired. These ‘travel pals’ help the visually-impaired experience the trip by giving a verbal description of what they see when required and guiding them if needed.

Visually-Impaired

Bat Travels at Temi Tea Garden are by Aratrika Bhattacharya

But, often, the ones with sight are so dependent on their eyes that they just limit themselves to view their surroundings rather than actually feel it with their other senses too. Like, feeling the wind on their skin, smell the fragrance in the air, hear the sounds that get lost in the images we see. So, these visually-impaired people, in turn, tell the sighted what ‘truly experiencing’ feels like, they tell them what their well-functioning eyes can’t see.

Tell me about the first trip Bat Travels arranged for this unique group? Were there any challenges you faced?

Divya: It was a paragliding and trekking adventure tour in Kamshet, Mumbai, and happened in December last year. We were a bunch of 14 people out of which six were visually-impaired. All of them were in good spirits, cracking jokes, interacting with each other.

Visually-Impaired

A group selfie on the Kamshet trip. Photo by Siddhesh Kulkarni

Although, some of them were initially hesitant about how to speak to the visually-impaired, conscious about what they say may end up hurting them but the visually-impaired themselves struck up conversations with them and the hesitation just disappeared. They all engaged in the activities together, not separated because of the presence of visually-impaired people among them but united because of it. We did face one challenge.

And what was that?

Ritu: Well, the bus won’t start. So, 14 of us, with the imaginary power of Hulk (Divya laughs in the background) decided to disembark and push the bus to our destination. Thank God, it didn’t come to that and it started on its own!

Haha! Thank God, indeed. You bring together people whom society has differentiated with its biased definitions. But were they just travel buddies or did you see a forever friendship blossom or ahm… maybe a love story?

Ritu: Well, a love story hasn’t happened but we have our fingers crossed. Who knows maybe we become the reason one day for two soulmates to find each other.

Visually-Impaired

Photo by Oinam Anand.

Divya: But our tours have seen the most beautiful friendships blossom. People leave after exchanging phone numbers and connecting on social media, talking over the phone as they really connected with each other during the trip. They keep in touch even now, asking each other to come for the next trip, planning in advance.

So, tell me what goes into preparing these wonderful trips?

Divya: Okay, so where we arrange for their stay, we make sure that the property doesn’t have many stairs and is easily accessible, also the food is served rather than a buffet system, as that would only be an unnecessary trouble for the visually-impaired. We also take permission from vendors like the paragliding vendors about the visually-impaired taking part in the adventure and also sensitize them about it.

Visually-Impaired

Photo by Oinam Anand.

The sighted people are also taught about how to be a travel pal, like how not to drag or pull your partner in the name of guiding them, rather ask them how they want to be guided. Leave it up to them, don’t impose your help. Also, convincing the visually-impaired and their families to trust us and join our trip, that’s a toughy! It’s not that they don’t have the desire to travel, it’s just that their inherent desires have been suppressed by the prejudice the society shows them. And their families, governed by the same societal mentality and, of course, concerned for their well-being need some pretty good convincing from us.

But, as your website says, how do you make them indulge other senses other than sight in your trips?

Divya: Like on our Banaras trip, which is famous for its boat rides and sunrises, we arranged for a santoor player and a tabla player on our boat ride. As the sun was rising, they played the morning raga, suitable for the time and accompanied by the background sound of the water, the birds, it allowed the visually-impaired to truly experience the sunrise.

Visually-Impaired

Photo by Oinam Anand.

Ritu: Also, as you must know, that Banarsi sarees are so famous and thus we visited the weavers’ colony. The weavers welcomed us into their homes and allowed to touch us the different kind of weaves like cotton, silk, gold thread, etc.

Visually-Impaired

Photo by Oinam Anand.

The work you are doing is really remarkable. But how do you prepare the visually-impaired for adventure sports like paragliding?

Ritu: Prepare? They are like born daredevils! Ziplining, paragliding, rafting- you name and they are ready in a jiffy.

Visually-Impaired

Photo by Oinam Anand.

You see, unlike people with sight who get scared by the fast flowing water, or the steep heights they see, the visually-impaired, aware of the dangers, still tend to take up the risk. It is them who comfort the sighted people to calm down and not get scared.

Visually-Impaired

Photo by Bat Travels

Many of them are getting the chance to be free because of you. Has anyone ever said anything in gratitude that you’ll always remember?

Divya: That they feel confident and independent now. They are well-educated individuals, earning and everything, but thanks to society’s structure, they are always made to feel inadequate and have to rely on family and friends to make the smallest decisions. After going on our trips, they become so confident that they can travel anywhere on their own. They tell us how they are more than comfortable to take a flight or a train. Those are our success stories.

They truly are. So, any upcoming trips where I can join the Bat Travels group?

Divya: You are more than welcome to join. And well, we are coming to your Rajasthan, Apeksha! We have arranged a trip for a girls-only group for Jodhpur and Ajmer from 27th November to 1st December. So, for this, we will be approaching their families to allow them to join us on this trip. As parents, they will be concerned for the safety of their girls and we are hoping that we’ll be able to convince them.

Feature Image by Oinam Anand.

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