Travelling to India during the pandemic

The three-month wedding trip

Who would want to travel during a pandemic, right? Well, I certainly did amidst the chaos. I was travelling to India, where the outbreak of Covid was at its peak. I had a pretty solid reason to travel—I was getting married! As much as I had been postponing it, trust me when I say it couldn’t be postponed any further. I was excited about this adventure back home but equally nervous about air travel during Covid.

Photo Credit: Mohnish Landge

Being at one of the busiest airports in North America, Toronto Pearson International, the check-in experience was effortless despite all safety measures in place. The staff were very helpful and constantly checking that safety measures were being enforced (i.e. maintaining safe distancing, masks are being worn correctly). I was momentarily relieved to see the precautions being taken until I reached the boarding gate. It was unbelievable to see the long queues where the passengers were not following social distancing at all. The sheer size of the crowd gave me goosebumps just thinking about how the rest of my journey would be. The flight was almost fully booked, and my own internal anxiety levels of sitting so close to a stranger were not helping. However, I was fortunate enough that the seat next to me was empty, but as much as I was relieved, I still had to wear two masks & a face shield for the entire flight duration of 15 hours!

Upon arrival at the Delhi airport, although the chaos was inevitable, I was glad to see the safety measures in place and the airport staff being very helpful. Definitely beyond my expectations during these surreal times.

As India has been one of the worst-hit countries by the Covid-19 pandemic and the second wave was spreading exponentially, my timing couldn’t have been any worse. The government had already decided to initiate a complete lockdown and declared a partial state of emergency from the day of my arrival in Pune City, my hometown. A curfew was imposed throughout the day except for essential services & emergency travel. Government authorities were eager to slow the outbreak before the country's 1.3 billion population was at risk of even greater infection and catastrophe.

Having a wedding during lockdown was extremely challenging because of the constant last-minute changes to the guidelines: our venue was no longer available, only a limited number of guests were allowed, the duration of the ceremony was restricted to two hours, and many more. A well-planned marriage just like we had wished for was no longer possible. Instead, we opted for a simple ceremony in the presence of no more than 20 friends and family where we could conclude our wedding rituals together. My partner and I feel that this is one of our greatest accomplishments, beating the odds.

It has been two months since I arrived in India, and unfortunately, several countries still have flights from India on their blacklist or red zone country. A new COVID-19 variant, the delta variant, has made travel back to Canada nearly impossible. Although I have been fortunate to receive both vaccine doses in India, it’s frustrating that the ‘Covaxin’ vaccine, manufactured indigenously by Bharat Biotech, is yet to receive the World Health Organization's approval. This delay is hampering travel plans for many individuals. Amidst all this, it’s commendable to see the nationwide vaccination drive carried out in India, where a million people can be vaccinated daily. The numbers of new cases are slowly declining, but as more new Covid variants are detected, the state-wide lockdowns will be re-imposed frequently.

Like me, there are many travellers worldwide cannot return home until the travel ban is lifted again. Hopefully, my partner and I can return home to Toronto just in time to enjoy the summer!

— Hiker Harsh

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