Have wheelchair, will travel

At the age of 50, she is not just packing half a decade, she is packing for her 59th destination. Meet inspirational Parvinder Chawla, also known as ‘Wheelchair Wonder Woman’.

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Wheelchair Wonder Woman

It started as a dream to have visa stamps from every country of the world. By her 50th birthday, she had travelled to 59 countries across six continents, many of them of them solo – and all of them on a wheelchair.

Turning 50 is certainly momentous, and in Mumbai-based Pammu’s case, she views new horizons ahead with optimism and hope. It is this optimism that has been her constant companion in life’s journey, along with her trusted wheelchair. This innate positivity saw her snorkelling in Queensland, zip-lining in Ecuador, and paragliding in Taiwan.

She is a woman of rare courage and determination and is immensely likable. My first introduction to Pammu was at a wedding in Melbourne, where she surprised us all by getting out of her wheelchair briefly to perform a beautifully choreographed segment. She gave all the able-bodied dancers a run for their money!

Wheelchair Wonder Woman

We bumped into her more often as the wedding functions continued, finding her each time in a dazzling outfit, sporting a million-dollar smile and whizzing past on her wheelchair. Her enthusiasm was infectious.

When I got curious to know her story, it unfolded a tale of passion and adventure that very few of us would experience in our lifetime.

At the age of 15, Pammu was diagnosed with rheumatoid arteritis, and her condition slowly worsened till she became wheelchair bound. After a painful phase that she overcame with faith and determination, she accepted her condition and a future with limited physical ability. But there were no limits to her mental strength and zest for life.

She took up a job in a call centre and maintained her independence. It was a trip to Vaishno Devi and Jammu and Kashmir with friends that planted the travel bug in her system forever.

Her first tentative step into solo travelling was an enjoyable 2-day trip to Bali. She then travelled to London alone and the wanderlust settled in for keeps.  She came to enjoy her own company and explore destinations at her own pace.

“My wheelchair has been my most reliable companion along with my unflinching belief in god. My faith has helped me in many tricky situations and my wheelchair has taken me to places people only dream of. I have backpacked in Europe, been robbed in Rome, fell seriously ill in China, and found language difficulties in Korea, but my faith has kept me strong and going,” said the gutsy lady.

Wheelchair Wonder Woman

The intrepid traveller has conquered many miles including trips to Dubai, Rome, Galapagos Island, Switzerland, Niagra Falls, Scotland, and a lot of places in her birthplace India.

Pammu finds that India has a long way to go when it comes to wheelchair accessibility; however, it has a lot to offer when it comes to pristine beauty and attractions. With a sister based in Melbourne, she finds Australia to be the most wheelchair-friendly, and safest country to travel for women in the world.

“The most beautiful part of my journey is the friendships I have made around the world, the kindness of complete strangers and the endless opportunities to explore and experience that are present in the world. I want to keep travelling till I can,” she said, and knowing her strong will, we know she will find a way to do just that. 

Her travel is normally on a budget with an occasional splurge. It is funded by her AirBnB in Mumbai and other property investments. Although they had initial reservations about her safety, her family fully supports her. They also introduce her to friends in countries where she intends to travel so she has a point of contact.

Pammu runs her own travel blog #wheelchairandeye and contributes a lot of efforts in wheelchair accessibility and mobility, in India and abroad. Her mantra for ensuring a smooth journey is strong research and planning before every trip.

“It is crucial that you know where you are staying, how credible their reputation is, how far and available transport is, how accessible it is in a wheelchair, what the local language is, and other local amenities. I always carry more cards than cash and make sure I have mobile data and contacts,” Pammu advised.

She added: “Most importantly I make sure I have a blast wherever I go. Life is too short for regrets.”

The pandemic has only fuelled her desire to travel to new destinations. She cannot wait to book her next trip, though she is undecided where she wants to go first. The Atlantic and Antarctica are on the cards, even if it is going to pose more challenges than other destinations.

After celebrating her golden milestone, globetrotter Pammu wants to continue to traverse the world, seeking adventure, excitement and novelty on her trusted wheels.

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