These differently-abled travel buffs are scooting beyond limits

The 'Kombans' during one of their trip. Photo: Special Arrangement

'We have to sit on wheelchairs to move, anyway. In that case, why not move them longer distances?' According to Sadique Kunjani, it is this question that urged him and his wheelchair-bound friends to undertake their first trip to Gundelpet. After around 50 such trips to destinations including Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and various destinations in Kerala, they have traversed more than 70,000 kilometres and are gearing up for more. Sadique, who was confined to a wheelchair after being affected by muscular dystrophy in childhood, met many like him at the 'Santhwanam' camp organised by the Perinthalmanna Municipality, years ago. Sadique's friend Rahul's movements were restricted following a spine injury. He also became friends with Bhadarusaman, his wife Muneera, Sujeev, Vivek, Nishad, Saji, Jaffer, Abubaker, Shaji and Salim, who all have similar stories to tell.

A new bond
The wheelchairs, the motorbikes and their stories fuelled bondage among them that stood the test of time. The camp took them to many enthralling destinations, especially on buses. As they were not in a position to stretch themselves while sitting on bus seats, they missed many breathtaking vistas. When Sadique and his friends tried to soak in the wonderful sights with the help of volunteers, they were haunted by the thought that they were invalid. Finally, the travel buffs decided to travel sans volunteers. “We decided to travel on scooters attached with extra wheels, which were used for local transportation, for our first trip to Gundlupet. On May 12, 2016, we reached Gundlupet after riding our scooters via Nadukaanichuram and Bandipur after traversing the Muthumalai Reserve Forest. And we reached home via Wayanad,” he recollects.

‘Vijrambitha Yatra’ and ‘Komban’
When the travel group started riding the scooters, the members realized the mesmerizing vistas they missed while they travelled on buses. “We took a break when someone was sapped of energy or after riding continuously for 15 to 20km. We will get down from the scooters and talk to the local people. The wheelchairs that are strapped behind the scooters will be used to move around in the area and enjoy the wonderful views,” Sadique adds. The first group, named ‘Vijrambitha Yatra’, was created just to share the photos clicked during the maiden trip. As a matter of fact, the stupendous success of the first tour was a great surprise to the members of the group. “The majestic look of the wild elephants is still fresh in our minds. The society sees us as people with physical disabilities. The problem arises when we also think along similar lines. Fortitude and perseverance are in our minds,” he notes. Within days, the group’s appellation was changed to ‘Komban Riders’.

When the travel group started riding the scooters, the members realized the mesmerizing vistas they missed while they travelled on buses. Photo: Special Arrangement

Something extraordinary
Whoever came to know about the travel grouping’s first expedition, only tried to dissuade them. “We know that they trying to stop us from travelling out of love. But our desire has no boundaries. We have to lead an extraordinary life to survive in this world. Everyone thought that those who lived with the help of others were coming together to embark on a journey. People raised many issues like, what if an elephant charged at you?” Sadique says. To prove their naysayers wrong, the group members will flash a tiger photo that was clicked in close proximity to the wild cat at the Bandipur Wildlife Sanctuary. “A driver kept his car as a shield when the tiger came near us. We are grateful to the driver not only for protecting us but also for providing an opportunity to see the beauty of the wild animal in close quarters,” he adds.

A night at Aanakuzhi
Once, the group was travelling to Mulli near Attapadi with the guidance of the Google map, and both sides of the road were covered in verdant forest. “Up ahead we saw a canal as we reached Aanakuzhi and the road continued beyond that water body. It was getting dark and one of the vehicles got stuck in the canal. We all got down and pushed the scooter out of the canal but the engine was dead as water had seeped into it. Later, the scooter was towed to a nearby village. The villagers were quite surprised that we travelled through the road at that time of the day. The danger was lurking as the canal was the drinking water source of the wild elephants,” Sadique says.

The group usually travels to destinations that are wheelchair-friendly. Photo: Special Arrangement

‘Enter on foot’
The group usually travels to destinations that are wheelchair-friendly. The members longed to visit the Vagamon Adventure Park and the viewpoint. But when they reached there, they were told that they could enter the park only on foot and not in wheelchairs. “We decided not to enter the park if wheelchairs are not allowed inside. The park officials were obdurate as for them wheelchairs were nothing but vehicles. A similar incident happened when we visited the Sholayar dam. The good part is that we were allowed inside wheelchairs at both these places. But unfortunately, we were barred from entering Vagamon viewpoint and the museum in Thiruvananthapuram,” he adds.

Music on wheels
Sadique and his travel buddies were sitting in a circle and singing songs at the Ooty Botanical Garden. Later, a motley crowd stood around the travel buffs and started singing and dancing along with them. A band by the name of ‘Music on Wheels’ took shape after that memorable incident. “We joined hands with differently-abled people of Malappuram to form the music band. To date, we have conducted more than 250 musical programmes,” Sadique notes. Most of the members of the ‘Komban Riders’ are working in ‘Freedom’, which is a startup company incorporated with the technical assistance of ‘Santhwanam’, to manufacture wheelchairs. “We embark on a journey with our hard-earned money. This shows one thing – we don’t want anyone’s sympathy. Allow us to do something. We are also human beings with lots of desire,” Sadique concludes.  

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