When we hear the word ‘travel,’ we usually think of visually stimulating trips, gazing at a beautiful sunset, or at the massive walls of an old fort. And, when someone says ‘tourist,’ we picture camera-toting tourists, reading guides,and figuring out maps.
What about the visually impaired. What does travel mean to them? Is travelling more than just sight-seeing?
In Bat Travel’s opinion, travelling should involve the active engagement of all the senses. Only then is it a holistic experience.
Divya and Ritu, both good friends, come from an advertising background. Divya is an art-director, and Ritu is a copywriter.
After working together in a leading advertising agency in Mumbai, they both switched to different companies, but still kept in touch. As friends often do, they decided to go on a trip together, to Europe in 2017.
It was their last day in Europe, and the friends were seated at a restaurant table in Rome, eating lunch. It is then that two visually impaired persons came into the restaurant. The women realised that that was the first time they had seen visually impaired people at a tourist spot, during the duration of their entire trip.
The duo returned to India, where they began looking for, and researching initiatives that would help the visually impaired travel. They realised that there wasn’t a single organisation dedicated to helping the visually impaired experience the rest of the world.
Thus, Bat Travels was born, purely out of a necessity to provide great travel experiences to the visually impaired.
Entrepreneurship is all about solving a problem. After a lot of brainstorming, both partners decided to launch the company website. Everything was up and running at that time, and the site started gaining traction.
The concept is simple. The initiative takes a bunch of travellers—a mix of the sighted, and the visually impaired, and gives them a customised travel experience. The sighted people work as ‘travel buddies’ for the visually impaired travellers, leading the way, and explaining things to them.
The concept quickly gained popularity. According to Ritu, a majority of sighted people had not interacted with a visually impaired person and were eager to see how the travel experience would be. The duo then planned their first trip to Kamshet, which is 180 km from Mumbai. They were scheduled to leave on December 3, 2017.
They contacted a professor in St Xavier’s College in Mumbai for help. As he is visually impaired, they believed that he could put the friends through, to other visually impaired people, who were eager to travel.
From putting the word out to departing for the trip, everything went smoothly. A total of 14 people—8 sighted, and 6 visually impaired—went on the trip, and it was a grand success, with paragliding and trekking being a part of the proceedings!
We are just ready to take off. #blindawarenessmonth #accessibility (Image description) A boomerang video of one of our friends , with his paragliding gear. He is standing at the edge of a cliff. It’s a beautiful place at the top of a mountain. Amazing view surrounds us. Hopefully, you all will like it as much as we do. #battravels #paragliding #mountains #view #india #incredibleindia #trek #accessibletravel #travel #getready #adventure #adventurebegins #instatravel #travelgram www.battravelsonline.com
As explained earlier, each visually impaired person is partnered with a sighted person, and they become travel pals and are always together. This helps, as the sighted person acts as a lead for the visually impaired. The latter usually holds on to the sighted person’s elbow, while being led on the trail.
Bat Travels organised two more trips, after the success of the Kamshet trip. A beer tasting session was conducted at the Doolally Taproom in Mumbai. Doolaly is a brewery, and the travellers interacted with the brewmasters, learnt about different kinds of brews, how they were made, and were even given a glass of their favourite brew.
After this, they planned a musical night by the riverside, in Karjat. A group of 25 was entertained by a Sufi musician and his group, and also got to live in floating tents and tents hanging from trees!
Woohoo! It was a super delight to have you @seth_kanishk Thank you for the soulful music. Cool people hang out with cool people ? #Repost @seth_kanishk (@get_repost) ・・・ Hands down to the best venue ever with even better people! #kanishksethtrio had a wonderful time performing for both the visually impaired and sighted people at this special trip organised by @bat_travels at Moonstone Hammock, Karjat. ? – @karthik_shriram . . . . . . . #kanishkseth #sufimusic #electronicmusic #instamusic #trancesufinight #trancemusic #indie #IndieMusic #moonstonehammock #karjat #travelmusic #battravels #sufielectronic #amirkhusrow #sufipoetry #battravels
Bat Travels is organising another trip in ten days. If you would like to visit Benaras, for two night and three days, do visit their website here, and register! In Benaras, as with other tours, Bat Travels aims to provide a holistic travel experience, including but not limited to street food, a visit to the weaver’s colony and an early morning boat ride on the Ganges, with a sitar player strumming soothing tunes.
While each trip is different, Ritu and Divya say that due to the sustained interaction and proximity, the ‘travel pals’ usually end up getting along like a house on fire! They have come across several such heart-warming moments during each trip, and some of them even exchanged numbers, promising to stay in touch with each other.
Sighted people are usually given literature, to sensitise them, and make them aware of the intricacies of interacting with the visually impaired. Calling it a small induction, Ritu says it helps break the ice, and dispel the awkwardness that usually stems from lack of awareness. Breaking the ice is of paramount importance, and it often happens in a couple of minutes.
Sighted people are taught how to lead the visually impaired, interpret and give them vocal cues, and interact with them effectively. Bat Travels just wants to keep providing the visually impaired with unique travel experiences, says Divya.
With no formal blueprint in hand, plans for Bat Travels include providing a complete sensorial experience for the visually impaired. All Bat Travels wishes for is the trips to get longer, and the group to get bigger, and more diverse.