Buses and cars queuing up on hill stations. People milling around the popular tourist places without a care in the world. The pandemic remains but it seems a different epidemic has infected the minds of some people who feel that vaccination is the ultimate passport to satisfying their wanderlust. Is that really the case or are we again courting danger? Shailaza Singh investigates.

In the past year, I have gained tremendous knowledge and insight…into my house. I know every nook and corner of my house including the walls, the doors and windows. Infact, I have even made friends with the lizard and spiders in those dark corners. You will be glad to know that I have finally acquired enough knowledge to apply for a Ph.D. (if there exists one) in Home Knowledge. And this newly found insight has been a by-product of the pandemic and the lockdown where all one could do was to either wash clothes or cook food or like me stare at the walls and windows of the house (washing and cooking don’t take much time in today’s era). Moreover, I have been very inspired by the famous poem ‘Leisure’ which says ‘What is this life if full of care. We have no time to stand and stare.’ So, I did precisely that!

However, this has not been an easy journey. After all, how long can one stare at a lizard that seems to be sleeping on the wall? Then, there is that matter about the spiders and their cobwebs. The design may be fascinating to look at but it doesn’t talk or travel anywhere. Staring at the sky in the day is a dangerous occupation, especially in places where sky scrapers exist because people feel as if you are staring at them and they start staring back which makes you wonder if they have been afflicted by a pandemic of another kind. Yet, all said and done, staring is an art which not many people would understand.

One day, when I was on my usual round of staring, I got a call from a friend named Prashant Gupta. He works in Delhi and is not a starer like me. He told me that he has decided to travel to Manali. The moment he mentioned this, I warned him to stay away from the likes of Manali, Shimla and other such popular hill stations. He laughed and said, ‘No, I am not going to the crowded part of Manali. Rather, a couple of friends and me have decided to take a road trip to a cottage situated on the outskirts of Manali. It is a homestay located next to a flowing river and mountains. All I will do is just sit and stare at the scenery.’
I must confess that I was taken aback when he said that he would just sit and stare! I had never thought that he would be a starer like me! Then why couldn’t he stay at home and stare at his walls? Prashant was candid. ‘I have to get out. I understand that there is COVID but I am vaccinated and so are my friends. Besides, we aren’t going to any crowded places. We will be spending the days in wilderness and as far as I know, the company of animals and birds is quite safe.’

The conversation with Prashant got me thinking. Till now, I was wondering if the pandemic has literally killed the travel and tourism industry. To know the current scenario, I talked to Laveena Lalwani, a Jaipur based tour planner for ‘Make Our Holidays’, a company that deals in customized tour planning. “ Ever since some of the restrictions have been lifted, people have started craving for the mountains. Most of them have this notion that the air in the mountains is fine and the cases are lower. Now, people are looking for offbeat destinations like Bhimtal or Pangot rather than Mussoorie and Nainital. Himachal Pradesh is full of people taking ‘workcation’ where a group of four to six people hires a villa. They work from home and spend a month in the wilderness. North East is another destination of interest for people. Now, people are waiting for rains to stop so that they can travel to places like Meghalaya, Cherapunji, Shillong, Guwahati. In Rajasthan, there are places like Alsisar Haveli or Khem Pratap Garh near Churu that are unexplored and offer a holiday and staycation.’
So, have there been any advance bookings? ‘There are advance bookings for the North East. However, earlier we used to take fifty percent of the amount for a booking in advance but these days since it is so uncertain, we prefer taking a smaller amount since we may have to return the money in case the lockdown is imposed again.’

Aditya Chaudhary and his wife Shivani Chaudhary live in Delhi and love travelling. They have travelled to many places in India and abroad. However, since the last two years they have been staying in their house. Don’t they feel the need to travel? ‘What is the point of travelling and endangering yourself?’ says Aditya. ‘People often say that they feel claustrophobic but I don’t see how you can be claustrophobic at your own home? Of course, if you are feeling stifled, you can always go for a walk or cycling. I bought my cycle in the first pandemic. Since the last two years, I have cycled and walked for my recreation and I am happy. So, what about people visiting the unexplored destinations? ‘The idea good looks in theory,’ says Aditya. ‘But the kind of population density India has, you are bound to meet people even in the rural areas or the most isolated of the places. So, the problem is still there.’
Sudhir Ghuse, a professional working in a multinational firm in Pune had recently visited Jaipur on an assignment with a colleague. ‘In the evening, the two of us decided to visit Amber fort. When we reached there, we found crowds milling around the fort. The only people who were wearing masks were the girls who had taken pains to match their masks with their outfits. The rest of the crowds were oblivious to anything except having a good time. I had worn my face shield and gloves but people were staring at me as if I was an alien. Looking at the crowd, we decided to go back to our hotel. I wonder why people don’t understand the danger or perhaps they have somehow forgotten the past!’

Shivani Chaudhary feels that the problem is a lot more complex. ‘Its not as easy as it sounds. Every one cannot be judged from a single perspective. There are people who might be literally losing their sanity being bound in their homes. Alternatives have to be developed. I love travelling but then I decided to visit my parents and in-laws rather than go and mix with strangers in an unknown destination. But then, that is also not a feasible idea for the long term. So, to keep myself busy, I have enrolled into a new course online. At least, this will help me to upgrade my skills in the long run.’
Shweta Singh, a home maker believes that instead of focussing on the restricted travel in the pandemic, one should focus on creating a happy home. ‘In these two years, I have learnt pottery and interior designing. I have applied all my learnings to create a beautiful home. My children have enjoyed this transition and are happy being at home.’
Sudha Chandran, a psychologist feels that the focus needs to change. ‘It is true that man has been used to wandering and traveling. However, during these times, when travel literally means endangering your family and loved ones, one can think of different alternatives. A lot of people have learnt new languages, developed new hobbies and have upgraded their skills. As an investment, this is sure to pay them in the future.’

When he was asked what really is revenge travel, well known media personality Vikram Chandra replied, ‘Revenge travel is when you take revenge on COVID by getting COVID! That’s by travelling in hordes without taking any precautions.’ The question is since when has travel become so important that it surpasses the need to survive the pandemic itself? Why cannot we use this time to better ourselves as professionals and people?

This article was published in Rashtradoot Newspaper’s Arbit section on August 14, 2021


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