Travel and tourism has been one of most badly hit sectors due to the coronavirus pandemic. Among the many things that have been impacted is the way we travel. And more importantly, why we travel. The idea of taking exotic summer vacations has taken a backseat ever since a series of lockdowns were imposed across the world to prevent the spread of the virus. Industry experts opine that while domestic travel will eventually pick up pace in a few months, international travel still looks like a far-off dream.
People, however, don't always travel to take a break from their mundane lives. They also travel for work and to be with their loved ones. With the lifting of restrictions as part of Unlock 1, life seems to be getting back on track, quite literally. Rail and air sectors are gradually resuming operations with the required compliance, safety and sanitisation measures and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in place. People are now using trains, cars and flights for essential intercity and interstate travelling.
Somi Das took a train from West Bengal’s Hijli to New Delhi. The journalist was with her family during the lockdown but when work called, she had no choice but to return. Das first travelled from Medinipur to Hijli station to catch her train. She would have taken a flight from Kolkata but that would mean taking another long train journey to the city “I was travelling first class and it was decently clean,” she says remembering her experience. Speaking about the safety measures at the Hijli Railway Station, she says that the process was quite simple. “The thermal screening and everything went smoothly,” she says.
“I didn’t remove my face mask even for a second and kept sprinkling myself with a hand sanitiser during the entire journey. I was also carrying a bottle of disinfectant with me and I used it throughout the sojourn to clean my seat and other surfaces that I knowingly or unknowingly touched,” says Das, when asked about the precautions she took during her rail journey. The highlight of her trip however, was a mouse eating her cake, an incident that will forever mark her pandemic journey.
While Das was compelled to take the long route, things were much easier for Debajyoti Chakraborty. The Bengaluru-based banker had been yearning to be with his parents after being in isolation for over 75 days. He booked a flight for Kolkata when the government announced the resumption of domestic flights. The 31-year-old says that he was pretty impressed with the security and safety arrangements at the Kempegowda International Airport.
“Flying during the pandemic brought along a lot of anxiety, but the perfect arrangements at the airport were comforting,” he says. Chakraborty wore a full-sleeve shirt along with the usual gloves and mask. “The airlines had also provided flyers with a kit that had a face mask, sanitiser pouches, and face shield which made us feel comfortable and safe about the journey."
Not everything was perfect though. While the lack of food and beverages made the journey a bit arduous, an ignorant co-passenger irritated him no end. “I believe he wasn't aware of the present situation as he did not take all of the recommended precautions. His negligence annoyed me. I wish people would behave more responsibly during these testing times,” he says. But Chakraborty forgot everything when the flight touched base in Kolkata. “The announcement was music to my ears, and filled my heart with joy and happiness. I was finally going to be with my loved ones."
Some people have travelled in their own cars during the pandemic, just to be with their family. Rachit Nandwana, a Mumbai-based techie embarked on the most challenging road trip of his life when he drove all the way up to Kota in Rajasthan. The biggest challenge was getting a permit issued in Mumbai, which is the worst affected city. “When the lockdown was extended for the third time, my parents got really anxious and sent my brother from Kota to pick me up,” says Nandwana.
It took his parents more than a week to get permission from the Rajasthan government though. And Nandwana had to visit the concerned police station twice and struggle through endless queues to get his permit issued. “No one really knew what the exact procedure to obtain a permit was. But after getting one from the Rajasthan government, I got a permit from the officials in Mumbai too,” he says. Nandwana’s brother reached Mumbai and the two left for Kota with home-cooked food, a camper of water, and loads of sanitiser.
The long journey wasn’t easy. “It was really sad to see countless migrant labourers walk all along the highway while we drove in our comfortable SUV. Also, all the dhabas and everything was closed. What could have been a beautiful long drive, now just seemed to be an escape route,” he says. They drove through the picturesque hill station of Igatpuri (and it even rained) but they had no choice but to keep driving.
“We only stopped twice to have our meals during the almost 20-hour journey. Driving on deserted roads in the middle of the night was scary and we even had to take a detour in Indore. The usual route was blocked because the area was a containment zone."
On reaching the Rajasthan border, Nandwana and his brother were thermal screened and had to fill their details in a record book. The police asked them to self quarantine on reaching home. They drove all night and reached Kota at eight in the morning. “I was finally home after taking the most memorable and daunting journey of my life. But the moment I met my mom, nothing else mattered,” Nandwana says.