Published: 21st April 2018
Through IndiTrippers, this blind man promotes inclusive travel and guides tours
Shailesh Kulal is just back from his trip to Coorg, which was the first tour organised by IndiTrippers
Did someone say long weekend? It's the beginning of the month and you have enough money in your wallet. So what's the harm in heading to a place like Kodagu (Coorg). Stay in a beautiful coffee estate, watch the sunrise quietly, head to a few tourist spots including Nisargadhama and the Dubare Elephant Camp and then have fun at the campfire in the evening.
If you thought this sounded like an ad for a travel company, you're not wrong. Because we are, in fact, talking about one particular travel company named IndiTrippers. But what sets it apart is the fact that all their travel guides are blind. This agency is an inclusive platform for people with and without disabilities to travel together.
Now, let us meet the brain behind this idea. His name is Shailesh Kulal, a 23-year-old Bengalurean. With 15 per cent vision, this Cisco employee is an avid traveller and explorer. "I started this company to bring those disabled and others together through travel. The main purpose is to allow people to travel and have fun," says Shailesh. Shailesh conducted the first trip on April 14 and 23 people turned up. Of them, 9 were blind. "For Rs 3,000, you get a guided tour of Coorg. The extra expenses are just food," says Shailesh, who was the guide at the trip.
Not every tourist spot is blind-friendly. But I want more disabled people to travel so that it becomes a very normal thing and then the authorities will be forced to make the places better for the blind
Shailesh Kulal, founder, IndiTrippers
But is it really possible for a visually-impaired individual to guide others? Yes, says Shailesh emphatically. "You just need a basic understanding of the place and you should know how to explain things to others. I worked as a trainer in an NGO, Enable India, for a while. The experience that place gave me was good enough for me to guide a tour," he says, adding, "It's not always about seeing things. You can touch and feel things and hear the sounds. For instance, if you're near a waterfall, you'll definitely want to take a shower under it. Does that really require eyesight?"
Since Shailesh was very much into travelling, he wanted to do something to make it as inclusive as possible. Born blind, he was restricted to travelling alone. Meeting social worker Vishnu Soman and joining Enable India was what changed his life, he claims. "I'd give it all to Vishnu Sir for encouraging me. I was not this person a few years ago. He'd always ask me to start something creative that involves the things I like. When I pitched in the idea of Inditrippers, he was happy and supported me to make it a reality. A month later, here I am, taking the first batch for the trip," he says. Currently, Shailesh is the only tour guide, but he is reaching out to more people like him with similar interests.
On top of everything, he is exhilarated by the response that he's been receiving. Within a week of him putting the poster out, 15 people confirmed. "Everyone loved it! The trip was a success. Now, I need to look at the calendar and plan the next trip," he says.