Sunday, 22 May 2011

Travel to India part one

Pict: of Indian Rooftop and coconut trees - looks like it has been raining

Where is our summer? It’s May and we should be having some decent weather by now. The last time I can remember being truly warm out doors is when we went to India In 2008. I had gone with Christine and some friends, one of whom Mark is also blind. The year previously I recall hesitating before booking the holiday and wondering if India really would be a good destination for someone who is blind to visit. 

The descriptions from other sighted friends had left me confused as they had described the congested, frenetic, bustle of the cities and towns, people taking their lives in their hands to cross the busy roads and of being surrounded by beggars and hawkers desperate to sell their wares just to survive another day.  

However, they also assured me that the country is host to smells, flavours and atmosphere in abundance, an exotic country, which would be a challenging place to visit.  What finally convinced me, was that we were to stay with a mutual friend who had moved from the UK and opened a small eight bedroom hotel in Kerala, at the southern most tip of India. This would bring a stable base to travel from and invaluable local knowledge. 
So getting there! Airplanes are boring enough when you can see, but imagine wearing a bag over your head, with a set of headphones which are playing white noise and you will start to appreciate  what it’s like for me. As for the on board entertainment, forget it! that’s normally inaccessible and requires me to continually dig Christine’s ribs to find a film with dialog I can follow.   So a 14 hour flight to India was going to be mind numbing.  My experience of flying as a blind person, divides into two categories. First: I get treated like an item of lost luggage being passed from one bored member of staff to the next. Or secondly:  I’m treated like a sickly child, overly pampered and slightly patronised. 
I’m pleased to say this wasn’t the case with Emirates Airlines. At every step of the trip I was met and assisted in a professional and adult manner. During the first part of the trip from Glasgow to Dubai, the Cabin crew took the time to explain the extensive on board entertainment console, with its buttons and touch screens. In all my experience of many years of flying, this was the first time that anyone had ever attempted to show the workings of the in-flight entertainment to me. The technology still wasn’t totally accessible, but I was able to scan through the radio and TV channels and bombard myself with vast quantities of comedy to take the edge off of my journey.   
Pict: of lots of green leaves in the sunshine
And…Just to put the icing on the cake, or Champagne on the ice, for my onward flight to India I was upgraded to first class!  I stretched out in comfort but oddly, the crew in first class were more bemused by a blind passenger than they were in Economy and kept looking to my partner for re-assurance as they found it difficult to communicate with me directly.  Does this say something about their training, or perhaps speaks volumes about how many blind people fly first class. Of course this is something I’m determined to rectify! This experiential India trip was looking good already and I hadn’t even landed!. 
When the aircraft cabin door opened and we stepped onto Indian soil, it was like being enveloped by a boiling wet blanket, as the sizzling humidity filled our lungs. The air was so wet and thick, I could have gathered up huge arm fulls of the stuff and posted it home. We were met by our friend Heather at the airport, whose unmistakable Sunderland accent rose above the cacophony of  Indian voices.  Shortly after getting into the car a silence descended, and I assumed that perhaps we were all a bit tired, but slowly, gasps, barely concealed screams of terror and car horns were filling my head. I couldn’t see what was happening, but I could hear trucks, buses and powered rickshaws driving all around us.  Welcome to India. Everything felt alive and we were being reminded of our imminent death!
Pict: busy Indian street by Steve
Pict: of Bus from car window by Steve

Mark and I agreed that we were lucky not to be able to see the potential carnage which surrounded us and the pair of us sunk down in our seats, and the let our senses soak everything in.

At the hotel, Heather had given her staff a mini disability awareness course. They were instructed; “Under no circumstances should you run to Mark and Ian’s assistance, as they like to be independent and find their own way. So even if you see them heading towards the swimming pool, or a table of glasses in the restaurant, don’t panic, just stand back they’ll be fine!.”   Aye-RIGHT! On a number of occasions I found myself teetering on the edge of the deep-end of the pool as I headed out for dinner.  Somehow, Mark and I were often strangely attracted to a table full of strangers who sat horrified unable to speak as we advanced slowly with our white canes… Only for us to via off at the last moment as we got closer to the clinking sounds of the bar.
Pict: Ian and Mark with their white canes making their way round the Pool, Sally behind

EXPERIENTIAL HOLIDAY! What was I thinking of, it was only the end of the first day and I was already exhausted. To be continued.. ….   

1 comment:

  1. Sounds really interesting. Its a place I'd love to go to as well but not sure about it, for the same reasons as you were. I'm looking forward to reading the rest!