Sunday, December 2, 2012

TravelAbility: Inaccessible Sim's Park, Ooty

Crossing the hurdles for the sake of beauty

I love venturing into the Nature and travel places to explore the natural beauty scattered throughout our beautiful country. My love of lakes leads me to Ooty this year and I also climbed the highest point of Ooty with the help of my crutches-my better half in quest of all my adventures. While coming back I stopped at Coonoor. The picturesque Ooty and Coonoor are talukas in the Nilgiris District, Tamil Nadu. No visit in the Nilgiris is complete without a trip to the very famous Sim’s park of Coonoor.

The park is maintained by the Nilgiris district’s Department of Horticulture, Government of Tamil Nadu. Sim’s Park is an unusual park-cum-botanical garden that was developed way back in 1874 by the secretary of the Madras Club Mr. J.D. Sims and Major Murray.

Naturally occurring trees, shrubs and creepers, are in the park as are many unusual species of plants that have been brought in from a variety of places around the world. The park is situated in a deep ravine on the northern side of Coonoor and covers twelve acres of undulating land. This botanical park is located at a height of 1780 meters above mean sea level. The key attraction of the park is the annual fruit and vegetable show held in May.

This park has resulted by the introduction of many rare species including Rudraksh and Cinnamomum. Most of the plants here are exotic and introduced from almost all the countries. There are graceful trees like Araucaria, Quercus, Phoenix, Magnolia, Pine, Turpentine, Tree ferns, Camellia Eucalyptus, Acacia, Pinus, Cinnamomum etc.

There is a glass house housing different ornamental plants and flowers. On the other side of the park rose garden are maintained. This park can take legitimate pride in having secured more than 1000 species of 255 genera’s belonging to 85 families widely covering almost all the different group of the plant kingdom.

The park is a natural garden and divided into 8 major sections (terraces). Each downward terrace have colorful flower beds, lawns and rockeries carefully laid out to give a symmetric look to the park. You will have to walk down the hill lined with exotic and old majestic trees Shola forests are left undisturbed and they add mystery to the park.

Owing to the unique tropical mountain climate, the garden receives ideal climatic conditions. Uniform rain distribution and less temperature variation enable a long flowering season. This tourist place is situated in Coonoor at a height of 1780 meters above mean sea level. Here the maximum temperature goes up to 30 degree Celsius and the minimum falls to 5°C. The average rain fall of this garden is 150 cm. It extends over an area of 12 hectares of undulating land and possesses a number of natural advantages.

Further down one can see the island garden, where boating is also allowed. The Lily ponds add beauty to this serene place and fishes in the pond add extra delight to kids. The botanical garden is partly developed in the Japanese style and is a favorite destination of tourists.
So far so good. Unfortunately I have to pay heavily for this whole description. Not in turns of money but inaccessibility. If you happen to be a person with disability then this whole pleasure becomes a torture. I have physical impairment and use caliper in my right leg. With this I perform most of the daily activities without much problem.

When I entered the Sim’s Park my first experience was that of delight. I climbed down few stairs and it was then I realized that the whole Park is designed on a downhill. The real problem was that subsequent terraces were having stairs but without any side support or hand railing. There was nothing by which you can take support on your either sides. I had two options. One, cursing the authorities and leave the park; and second to fulfill my desire see the whole park albeit with assistance. I opted for the second.

I called my taxi driver and requested him to send my crutches. Braced with my new armory, I explored every corner of the park.The winding footpaths all over the higher slopes of the park may look the most distinctive and picturesque feature of this park but they tease PwD’s as if saying, “You are not welcome.” I also was destined to take up the challenge and despite shedding lot’s of my electrolytes, I conquered the inaccessibility.

As you move down you see great variety and colour which are great feasts to the eyes. But the sight of a disabled or as a matter of fact an elderly struggling at uneven steps, small kids falling due to lack of support, pregnant females giving this park amiss are not hypothetical sights but a harsh reality which the administration needs to address. Why your accessibility should be different as mine? Why can’t we envisage a place which is accessible to ALL- not only to PwD but also to elderly, pregnant females, small kids and even extra-terrestrials?

The theme of the International Day of PwD’s this year is – ‘Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all.’ For people living with disabilities, the situation of inaccessible parks is an illegal denial of our Human Rights. I hope Government of Tamil Nadu will take an access audit of this historical venue at the earliest and come up with an appropriate strategy to make the Sim’s park experience a memory to cherish rather than ruing it as another torture for PwD’s.

(This article was written by me for the inaugural edition of quarterly e-magazine of Cross the Hurdles. Abha Khetarpal launched this magazine on the eve of IDPwD. The complete December 2012 issue is available here.)

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