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Peter Marchand
Aum Gang Ganapataye Namah Aum
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Traveling to India in a Wheelchair


 
 
 

Pierrot - click for a larger viewPierrot had been a student of Harish Johari for many years, but he never could visit India because of a rather severe physical disability. Due to a limb-girdle muscular dystrophy disease, he needs an electric wheelchair to move around with and rather continuous breathing aid.

Fortunately, due to the support of the Johari family in Hardwar and some friends within Sanatan Society, Pierrot could realize this dream. In the spring of 2003 he made a 3-week trip to Hardwar, one of the four holy cities along the Ganges in India.

This short report of that trip was made by one of the people who helped him on the way. It is mostly a nice memory, but also a clear call to anybody else with plans or hopes to travel India in a wheelchair. To put it in the words of Pierrot "You kind of have to accept that you might die along the way, but it is certainly worth it !".

visiting a temple near HardwarIn retrospect, it wasn't very difficult at all. We had some heavy worries at the start, especially when it came to medical care, Pierrot being generally very sensitive to infections of the respiratory tract. However, stuffed with some potent gem powders, the great food prepared at the Johari House and an incredible sense of optimism, Pierrot suffered no illness whatsoever. Of course we had been very careful as to what to drink and eat along the way, as any westener should. And overall, hygiene has greatly improved in India, as has air pollution. All in all however, a sense of divine protection could hardly be ignored...

Our Tata SumoTransportation proved to be somewhat more difficult. To cover the 5 hour trip from New Delhi to Hardwar, we had to rent a rather expensive ambulance. It was the only vehicle we could find in which Pierrot could remain in the wheelchair while traveling. Other cars were simply not high enough, because India favours 4-wheeldrive jeeps to vans. Sitting in a car chair is only possible for Pierrot for a short period of time, especially taking into account conditions on the indian roads. Once in Hardwar, we frequently rented a Tata Sumo. It could take the wheelchair with Pierrot sitting in front of the car, so we only used it for short trips in and around Hardwar and once we also visited the nearby town of Rishikesh. But that had been the idea from the start, so apart from the problem of getting a 150 Kg wheelchair in and out of that high-wheeled vehicle, it was great (We used metal telescopic ramps which we brought from Belgium for that purpose).

Pierrot at Ganga in HarkipuriSightseeing in Hardwar proved to be a lot easier than expected. Since there are no pavements and since the roads are kept drivable for small carts, rikshas, etc.. Pierrot's wheelchair could basically go anywhere. It was a lot easier to move around compared to most western cities. In New-Delhi for example, pavements have been installed everywhere and are heavily guarded from those same carts and rikshas, so moving around in Delhi was extremely slow. In Rishikesh it was the same as in Hardwar. We could actually cross the river on one bridge, walk/drive all the way down to another bridge and pass it back to the car. Another worry - that of dangerously chaotic traffic - proved no problem at all. People were so astonished seeing the electric wheelchair driving around "all by itself", that we were continuously shielded from the traffic by a big crowd. Likewise, drivers also stopped or at least slowed down when they spotted us.

Pierrot's wheel chair at teh center of all attentionIn India disabled people can be seen everywhere and especially in the most frequently places where many have to beg for a living. The rather massive attention that we got had little to do with the curiosity disabled people seem to attract in the West, but everything with the electric wheelchair. The pumps and tubes of the breathing machine even added to the suspense. As Pierrot rather enjoys wearing saddhu-garbs, some people thought he made the chair drive around by pure will power. Explaining that it simply used car batteries as a power source made sense to most. Disabled people begging on Harkipuri in the centre of Hardwar would cheer as Pierrot drove by, clearly seeing him as a champion of their "kind". Elder people would come to us with tears in their eyes, saying that now they had seen this wheelchair, they had less fear for becoming disabled when getting older. We do expect seeing some maybe more simple electric wheelchairs appearing in Hardwar in the coming years and certainly hope so.

Charging the wheelchair batteries and some other medical equipment every night was no real problem, though we blew the fuses at the start. The house had an electricity generator in case the electricity supply would be cut off, but miraculously this happened only once in those 3 weeks. We had a handpump in case the breathing machine would stop and many hands around. That is really all there is to say about technical problems and solutions. They were really not much off a problem and certainly could not keep Pierrot and all of us from having a really good and inspiring time.

Walking with MatajiIn Hardwar, we visited the local shops and Harkipuri, the central ghat where a beautiful Aarti celebration took place at dusk. We also visited many temples around Hardwar and followed the Ganges river. Of course we made many visits to Mataji in the Santosh Puri ashram, where we also took part in a Homa worship ceremony.

During the festival of Holi, Pierrot could celebrate the typical Holi ceremony together with the Johari family. The Johari house also proved to be a warmly welcoming place where one could also find some peace and fun. The high-up roof provided an incredible view over the Hardwar valley.

Last but not least we like to thank everybody that helped us along the way and in the Johari house. And not in the least we like to give special thanks to the General Manager of Swiss Air in New Delhi, who did a fantastic job in getting us into India and back home again without much trouble or extra costs.

Following are some more pictures of this trip (click for a larger view) :

 
 
 
 
Peter Marchand
 
 
   
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Aum Gang Ganapataye Namah Aum