Accessible India: Latifa's travel adventures

About a year ago I decided to take a leap of faith and journey ‘home’ to India. Being in a wheelchair, this thought had always terrified me. But being in my mid-20s, born and raised in Aotearoa and having my only image of the homeland from pictures and stories, I figured if not now, then when?

In my initial research about accessible travel in India, I came across a company called Planet Abled. They organise customised travel plans for tourists with any access need, including accessible accommodation, a driver, tour guide, local sign language interpreter or travel buddy – just a few examples!

By this point I had already decided to leave my electric freedom behind and take my manual chair with me instead. Everyone told me there are steps everywhere and I should try to keep my movements as flexible as possible. I realise this is a privilege I have, but for me, being able to sit in any car with my collapsible chair and having my chair lifted into shops was the safest and most logical decision.

When we arrived in Mumbai, our driver was waiting at the airport to take us to our hotel, which we had no issues with. Over the next four days, we went on our various adventures to historical monuments and shopping spots. The first thing I noticed was that even though the built environment was almost entirely inaccessible, the people made it accessible for me. In a city where a huge part of population lives below the poverty line, I found the people to be very accepting about everyone’s differences and therefore willing to help when they noticed the need.

Ramped access in ancient fortFew people looked twice at my wheelchair, but when I needed help, at least five people would come to help before disappearing back into the chaos without me having a chance to express my gratitude. Considering all the social and economic issues India is currently dealing with, I was beautiful to see how the people make things work under such circumstances, both for themselves and for others.

Following Mumbai, we spent 10 days in our village in Gujarat before flying up to New Delhi. Here we spent a lot of time in famous tourist sites, such as the 700-year-old Qutub Minar and Raj Ghat (Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial site). Ramps had been built in and were therefore easy to navigate.

Latifa in front of the Taj Mahal in IndiaIt was the same situation in Agra, the city of the beautiful Taj Mahal. At the entrance of the historic sites of Agra Fort and Taj Mahal, there are a line of people whose job it is to assist people with access needs. When they see you coming, they flip a coin to decide who will assist you should you choose to accept, for a fee of 400 rupees ($9). We accepted this service in both sites, and both times the gentlemen knew exactly where to go, where the best spots were, and took great photos.

My time in India showed me what can happen when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, and let our common humanity take over. It’s a team effort, but the outcome filled me with hope.