Features Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
Monalisa Das | The News Minute | December 25, 2014 | 10:12 am IST  Parvinder Chawla was in school when the first symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, a painful disease that attacks the joints in the body, began to appear on her. In the next few years, Parvinder’s disease would leave her wheel-chair bound. Cut to a few decades later, today Parvinder, who is lovingly called Pammu by family and friends, is a woman raring to go. The disease still exists, but she has learnt to defy it. For 46-year-old Mumbai-based Parvinder, travelling is the passion that drives her in life. A reviewer for Holiday IQ, a travel and holiday information portal, she is on a quest to not just travel, but to evaluate places on the basis of how accessible they are to differently-abled people like her. “I had always been an active child. I took part in all kinds of sports, I swam, I went trekking and on bike rides with friends. I was always on the go”, says Parvinder. The disease, did try to pull her down, but she never let it get to her. Parvinder’s first trip abroad was in 2001. It was after that particular trip that she decided what she wanted to do in life. ( 'I am always itching to travel. There is so much to see. Travelling has helped me get better'. ) By then she had become a regular user of a wheel-chair. She could stand and walk, but only for a few steps. “It took me around ten years to come to terms with it”. The premise of the trip however, started on a very different note. Parvinder, over the internet, had made friends with a guy from the UK who claimed to be a doctor. They grew close and the man even told her that her condition was treatable. Next she decided to go to London to meet the guy. “But then I had an inkling that he could be a fraud and honestly though it was nothing serious, I wanted to make sure I was safe when I went there”, she says. Parvinder made another acquaintance in the UK, a guy who hailed from Punjab, and the two would end up becoming very good friends in the future. The doctor guy eventually turned out to be a fraud, but her trip was a fantastic one- courtesy her acquaintance who took her around the place. ('Everything is possible. One needs to be open to that idea and also let others help them.') The experience in a way had ignited her passion for travelling. It had left her wanting for more. Since then Parvinder has travelled to 11 countries including the USA, Australia, Malayasia and New Zealand. In India, she says she has travelled to 18 out of the 29 states. “My dream is to travel the world, and get a stamp of every country on my passport”, Parvinder proudly states. Over the years, Parvinder has moved on from a manual wheel chair, to hiring a help during her trips, to finally getting an automatic chair, which she says has done a world of difference to her. ('When I travel, I know I have my limitations, and only stick to what I can do. Like in Mauritius, an underwater activity was planned for our group. I had to stay back, which was totally okay'.) However, she feels that an automatic wheelchair can only be of limited help if the infrastructure in the area is not friendly to those differently-abled. “In terms of accessibility, India is not very helpful for the differently-abled. Basic infrastructure details like slopes on the sides of the pavements are missing. Some international outlets like Starbucks do not have slopes”, she asserts adding that it is one reason she prefers travelling abroad. “We differently-abled people are also tax payers. Then why should our needs be ignored?” she asks. This however does not stop her from hitting the road at every given opportunity. ('I want to die travelling.') For Parvinder, one of her most memorable travel experiences was when she went to Kedarnath and Badrinath, two of the most popular pilgrimage centres in India. For someone who plans out her journey in full detail in advance, this was not any different. Though at that point, Uttarakhand was witnessing several landslides, Parvinder was adamant about her decision. She took a helicopter to the top of Ukhimath, and managed to walk inside the temple. Soon after, her legs started to give way. “The priests in the temple carried me to the outside of the temple. They wouldn’t even let me climb down the stairs by myself. They wouldn’t take no for an answer. The priests carried me like Ganpati down the flight of stairs”, she says. “I felt guilty, but at the same time I was so touched and indebted to them. It was a humbling experience.” ('My aim for every year is one trip abroad and one in India'.) For Parvinder is someone who looks at the brighter side of things. The only close-to-unpleasant experience she had was when she went to Hong Kong, and the battery of her wheel chair fell out on the street. She called out for help, and usually people always come to her rescue, but two people who saw her walked past her. She grew tense for a while, but soon after two other people helped her fix the battery. “For all you know, it could have been a language issue”, she states brushing aside that incident. “Besides I have realized if one person doesn’t help you, there will be ten others who will”. ('The world is not a bad place. We need to have faith in others.') The woman with the infectious laughter has a zest for life, the life many of us take for granted. For not once does Parvinder give the vibe of person to whom life seems to have been unfair. If anything, she says, she has been very lucky and blessed, with most of her trips being 'a piece of cake'. ('Sometimes I know that people stare at me, and children even try to copy me. It is sad. The only thing you need to do is fight it in your mind'.) “I know I have certain limits, but I’ll take part in whatever is possible”. From a ride on a motor boat in Mauritius, to a helicopter ride to a temple, there are a very few things Parvinder Chawla seems to be incapable of. The next destination on her list is Egypt and while she carries on her research and draws out a plan, she might just hop on to a flight to Dubai before the year ends. “The thing is my family is sponsoring the trip”, says Parvinder, roaring with laughter. Tweet Also read: Loss of a leg couldn't dampen Arunima's ambition to conquer peaks