A New World With New Possibilities
Adventure lover and cricket fan, Sagar Baheti could not resist when London came calling. This is his story of flying solo for the first time!
My story goes back in time to when I was a little boy. I used to stroll in the markets with my mother. She would take me to the shopping complex near our home in Jayanagar, Bangalore. Along the way, there was one particular board that caught my eyes, “I complained I had no shoes till I saw a man with no legs”. Little did I know that this message will have a big impact in my life in the years to come.
Like every Indian, my religion is deeply rooted in cricket. Not only am I mighty fond of the sport, I also pursued it seriously until a few years ago. My adolescent years were filled with cricket. I represented my university and was affiliated to the Karnataka State Cricket Association.
My days of glory continued till one day, I was unable to spot the ball. This occurred in the course of my batting and bowling session. I knew at once that it was not because of my game. I then decided to visit an eye- specialist. Visiting these specialists began a new chapter in my life.
I visited an eye-specialist near my home, followed by a series of tests in Mumbai, Chennai, and other metro cities in India and overseas. The verdict was out. Unfortunately I was diagnosed with a condition called Stargardt – a condition that leads to the progressive loss of central vision, and has no cure.
Over the next 3 years, I lost my vision rapidly and it became difficult for me to perform daily activities. Sadly my condition isn’t getting any better. Needless to say, my life changed a great deal in a short span of time. Daily chores became increasingly difficult. It was hard and frustrating at the same time, but I was determined to not to let it stop me from doing what I wanted to.
Among all the things that I now wanted was travel the world to explore places, experience diverse cultures and learn different ways of life, as my time to absorb these is only limited.
As you know, I loved cricket and it was my dream to watch the great Ashes. In 2015, I got my chance as the Ashes series that year was to be played in England. I got a dear friend to work around the tickets and come watch the game with me. I was ready for the game.
Flying solo with my vision impairment was something that was new to me and I had to figure it out for myself. Here are some of the things I did that worked for me, and could also help out others who have a vision disability:
Visa application– It’s important that you be cautious when filling you visa application. My brother helped me out with this. Many travel agents also offer this service. However if you are unable do it yourself I strongly recommend that you get assistance.
Ticketing– Again it was hard for me to figure out the options as I avoid using my phone and laptop due to the stress it causes. I used help of a local ticketing agent to do this for me. I suggest taking a direct flight, as it is easier, and saves one the hassle of finding transit gates at airports and other procedures.
Hotels– I always pick a hotel closest to a train or metro station. A hotel on the main road with good visibility. For my condition it’s very helpful to do this and ensure accessibility. I picked a hotel which was a 2 minute walk from the Earls Court metro station on the main road.
Local transport– Although cabs are the most convenient, they are also expensive. I had my research in place about the London metro and already had the timetable and maps on my phone. I could zoom it on my phone to be able to find the timings and the stations. I always ask at stations and platforms to reconfirm and count the stops to be sure. I also make it a point to arrive well before time, as I know I cannot find platforms as quickly by looking at signboards.
Assistance at the airports– The only assistance that most airlines offer is of a wheelchair. I did not opt for this as I do not require a wheel chair but just need assistance to get to my gate and the counters. Unfortunately, there’s nothing of this sort yet. I always ask for help, even if I have to approach a stranger. It works almost every time. I get my immigration form filled up by the airline staff at the counter, which they oblige in most cases. I have even started asking for assistance at airports where I am in transit these days, even if it is on a wheelchair, as it ensures that someone guides me to the gate that I have to reach. It can get very stressful in an airport that is unfamiliar, especially when you have connections with short lay over times. I recommend this to anyone who might face similar challenges.
Even though I planned so much, I still did encounter a couple of problems like getting into the wrong immigration line at London Airport. I also struggled with identifying my bags. I have learnt from experience to have a distinct bright coloured ribbon tied to my bag to make it easier for me.
Catch me, when I arrive at London in the Part 2 of my article.
About The Author
I was born and brought up in Bangalore. I run a business of my own which is to do with import and export of natural stones. I was a club cricketer until a few years back when I was diagnosed with stargardts which is a condition leading to progressive loss of vision. I still follow cricket very enthusiastically and have now taken a liking towards running and cycling as a sport. I also work with an NGO called CEGR (Centre For eye genetics and research) to support and motivate visually impaired people.