Have you ever decided to travel solo, made plans and itineraries but backed out at the last moment due to reasons varying from parents not giving permission to your own fear of venturing out alone? Don’t worry, it has happened with many of us. So today, I’ve decided to tell you a story. A story of resilience, willpower, positivity, and courage. A story about a young girl with endless dreams in her eyes. A story about a woman who made sure those dreams were turned into reality. A story about Parvinder Chawla aka Pammu who is travelling the world on her wheelchair.
Read about our Instagram Live session with Vedangi Kulkarni, an Indian girl travelling the world on her cycle here!
Few weeks back, I invited Pammu on our Instagram Live session. At 10 pm, a vibrant personality joined us. She told us tales about far off places, and the people living there. She excitedly narrated her journey with an infectious smile that got all of us hooked. There is so much I want to say but I thought of writing all of it instead. So here it is:
Pammu was a happy and bubbly kid. As a teenager, she wanted to go out and have fun with her friends. Don’t we all want that? From swimming to skating to horse riding, she was doing everything. She loved the outdoors and one of her favourite travel memories is taking a morning train from Mumbai to Lonavala where she would go hiking and exploring different trails with her friends.
She was 15 when she started to develop rheumatoid arthritis. One day, her mother realized that Pammu was not opening her mouth fully while eating. A few visits to the doctors were made, medications were prescribed but the gravity of the situation was not discovered yet. Pammu went on to be the happy and carefree child. It was in college when she experienced inflammatory pain in her wrists and knees. She recalls an incident from her sister’s wedding. She had prepared a dance and was excited to perform it but on the stage she couldn’t do one step where she had to squat down while dancing.
Pammu was bedridden for a couple of years. The pain was excruciating. She remembers being so scared that even someone’s presence near her would make her scream fearing that they might touch her. From running around in the outdoors to be confined to one’s bed, this would crush anyone. But not Pammu! She used to pray to God “I know there are many ups and downs in life. I know you have given me the best time. I had an adventurous life. You can give me all the problems now but I want the later part of my life to be good.” It was her positivity and willpower that touched me the most. Instead of complaining, she accepted her deformities and never let them be her weakness.
With time and proper treatment, Pammu started to get a little better. She credits it to the doctors and her mother. She says it’s only with her mother’s prayers and blessings that she got better. I believe it was her perseverance too!
Her travel journey started from Jammu and Kashmir. She went to Vaishno Devi with her friends. At that time she was using a manual wheelchair and needed someone to push her. But that did not stop her to enjoy the place. She reminisces how the palki guys took her on the wheelchair like a roller coaster, how she was mesmerized by the beauty of Kashmir, how she was smiling throughout and how she realized that travelling is what gave her the maximum happiness.
Life took a 180 degree turn for Pammu when she received her first automated wheelchair. This meant that she did not have to be dependent on anyone. She had an absolute control over where she wanted to go, when she wanted to go without waiting for someone to push her wheelchair. This was such a liberating feeling. She tells how her wheelchair has been her true partner. “I feel like a queen” she remarks with a childlike gleam in her eyes. “Giving someone wings to fly” is something we are used to hear a lot, but it was so much more for Pammu. This automated wheelchair gave her “Wheels to Roll”.
Now that Pammu got her wheels, you’d think that she would have started rolling away immediately. But it was not as easy as it sounds. Pammu tried to contact a lot of travel and tour companies and told them about her dream of travelling. All of them replied saying that she would have to take a friend along as she would be needing help. This did not make any sense to Pammu as she didn’t want that. She knew that she could be on her own. She knew that there is a world to explore and she couldn’t wait for someone every time she wanted to venture out. So while visiting Malaysia with one of her friends, she decided to travel to Bali on her own. She stayed in a budget hotel, wandered the streets of Bali on her wheelchair and had an amazing time. Today, she has travelled to 59 countries across 6 continents and continuously dreams about visiting far off places. And while the only thing we worry about before travelling is getting the visa, Pammu had to think of many things. She has to see if the place is wheelchair friendly. She has to write to the hostels and the airlines telling them about herself. She has to make sure that there’s a backup plan. But all this planning is nothing compared to the memories she had made on the road. She has backpacked across Europe and Australia, has done paragliding in Taiwan and zip lining in Ecuador. She has a bag full of stories to tell and so many moments to share.
Talking about the challenges she had faced on the road, she tells us about her visit to China when she discovered that the hotel she booked was demolished and at 12 in the night she had nowhere to go. She also tells that China was not wheelchair friendly for most parts and not knowing the language didn’t help either. Most of the people couldn’t understand when she asked for help. But that did not stop her. She kept asking until someone understood her and pushed her up a steep ramp. Instances like this are not unusual. What stands out is her confidence and belief in humanity. “I’ll keep asking until I get the help” she quips. Pammu believes that people are beautiful everywhere and feels that she is blessed to meet some of the most amazing people while travelling. She calls them her “Angel of the day”.
In Ecuador, two boys lifted her and hiked for 2 km so that she could do zip lining. In Rome, a group of young boys and girls made sure she got off at the right place after realizing that the driver was unable to understand her language. She says that whenever she’s in need, an angel comes to her rescue. “How can I not want to travel more and more in this world” she adds. Her outlook towards life is so refreshing. She sees the best in people. Her stories are not just about the places that she’s been to. It’s more about her experiences from the road. She’s bringing stories of love, joy and positivity from all around the world.
Read about our Instagram Live session with Ravi Roth, a gay travel blogger, about love, Pride and acceptance around the world here!
She goes on to talk about Dubai and Australia, the two countries she found to be extremely wheelchair friendly. She also tells us how India is making progress in that department. On her visit to Ellora, she found that there were few caves which were made wheelchair friendly and she could explore them without any problem. Slowly but steadily, we’ll reach there and I hope Pammu can explore every corner of our beautiful country.
I ask her about her bucket list and she replies that she wants to see as many places as possible. She is still that teenage girl who loves the outdoors, especially the mountains. If possible, she would love to spend this lockdown in a pretty cottage on a hilltop with a river flowing on one side, sitting on a jhula, reading a book and sipping chai as two doggos play nearby. Okay, I admit this is more like my dream but I am sure if you ask her, she’ll say this is exactly what she wants.
Pammu wants to travel to Sikkim, Chhattisgarh, and all the Stan countries. She wants to explore Antarctica. I can imagine her excitement on seeing the cute penguins walk slowly and pompously.
Before leaving, she tells how important solo trips are. They make you confident and change your outlook towards the world. It’s your chance to know more about different cultures, make new friends and experience the wonderful world. Wheelchair or no wheelchair, it does not matter. As long as you have faith and confidence, you can do anything. Do you hear that? Pack your bags and book a trip with us 😉
There are some people who can brighten anyone’s day. Pammu is one such person. Her infectious smile, her spirit to want to travel, her outlook towards life, her positivity and her courage are commendable. I loved talking to her. So much so that even while writing this article, I had the biggest smile on my face. Pammu, I hope we meet soon and travel together to the mountains and the Stan countries like we planned. You are truly a Queen!
Do checkout Pammu’s YouTube channel wheelchairandeye where she regularly posts about her travel experiences!
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