Travel in the time of Coronavirus

Travel in the time of Coronavirus

People are venturing out, boldly, setting aside Covid fears. Though containment zones and social distancing are still in place, folks are determined to free themselves of the paranoia surrounding a virus that came like a blast from an ill wind that held the entire world in its stranglehold. 

So it is to mountains, hill stations and beaches that people are heading, to let go of frayed nerves or worse still, a slow and silent depression that’s been eating into their mental wellbeing. Travel in the time of Corona is proving to be the best antidote to brain boredom. 

Italy saw its worst times in recent history last December when the Corona swept the southern regions of the country taking a heavy toll of life and mental health. However, even in those worst of times, Italians took off to small destinations, to regain their sanity. Some considered it an escape from reality. But the fact is that one needs to keep one’s sanity at any cost. 

The Covid forced folks to stay indoors, shunning social life and human contact. As schools, shops and workplaces stayed shut, the fizz went out of human joy. And those who wanted to get away from it all had nowhere to go. 

With almost a year gone by now, the sting of the virus is no longer as painful as it was. People are now moving around, discovering destinations closer to their homes, places hitherto not ventured into. 

Even a 24-hour trip to Vagamon was refreshing, said a joy-seeker. So here we are once again, chasing our blues away, shaking off thoughts of deep gloom as travel prospects and tourist destinations open up. 

One needs to classify travel freaks. There are those diehard revellers, for whom travel is a passion, an obsession. Yet others jet out whenever possible with friends and family. For them, it’s an occasion to chill out. And there are the executives for whom travel translates to business. But then the Corona swept in and blew things up.

Here are a few sheets from the travel diary of those who chose to brave it out, refusing to be pulled down into a bog of depression.

To the abode of Neelakoduveli

To begin with, here’s Robin who was cured of Covid. An avid traveller, he took off on a trip into a misty mountain in search of his Holy Grail, a mystic flower named “Neelakoduveli”. 

The quest for the Neelakoduveli, an inflorescent flower of South African origin, as famous for its rich blue colour as it is for its mythical properties, has been the subject of folklore. Stories say the wonder plant assures one of perennial prosperity, unimaginable physical prowess and eternal health if one is successful enough to collect its leaves as they flow down the river Meenachil once every year. 

The Meenachil is said to have its origin from the fog-clad Illikkal Kallu, a monolith, atop the Illikkal Mala in Kottayam district. Several rivulets and streams flow down the hill, to form the wider basin of the river. 

The trip to Illikkal Mala was not a pre-planned one. As it was intended as a trip for a few photo-ops, Robin invited his friend Nizar to join him. Their initial plan was to click pictures of the bronze-winged Jacana (thamara kozhi) that would swarm around paddy fields in large numbers at this time of the year. En route to the photo feature, Nizar popped the question: Why not take off to someplace else? So off they set out on their Royal Enfield heading for Illikkal Kallu.

Totally ill-prepared for a journey up the cold and foggy mountain, the duo found themselves clad in clothes unfit for the arduous trip. Cold and shivering to the bones, they reached the foothills of the mountain by 9 the next morning. The place, as usual, was a beehive of activity with two-wheelers all set to go onward. But the ride up to the summit was restricted as some sort of construction was going on. Paying an entry fee of Rs 20, the duo started their ride up.

As vehicles were barred from going right up, they had to trek for about a kilometre to touch base at the viewpoint. The way up had a surreal feel. A constant cold breeze against the bright sun helped them to trek up a path choking on tall, wild grass right up to their waist. Bliss indeed it was to touch the top and look around the lush greenery.

Illikkal Kallu is the highest mountain summit in Kottayam district. Standing at a height of 4000 ft above sea level, the monolith near Erattupettah, is made of three rock formations. Unlike at other summits, sunrise and sunset offer spectacular sights here. There’s a small strip, half a metre wide, atop the mountain called “Narakapalam”. It’s believed that this is where the Neelakoduveli blooms. The dangerously narrow strip will remind you of Kodaikanal’s Pillar Rocks. 

This was Robin’s first post-Covid journey. And quite a one at that! 

Mubashira Vakayil’s cool trip

“Never did I think working from home could be so stressful and claustrophobic”, says Mubashira Vakayil. This was reason enough to keep counting the days before a scheduled journey. As the times demanded that full Covid protocol needed to be maintained, all precautions were taken before the journey. It was pretty longwinded too via Palakkad, Pollachi, Udumalpetta and Marayoor to Munnar. Cold and foggy, the early morning trip was followed by heavy rains too.

It was a relaxed trip with lots of time spent drinking in the beauty of the drive. While all previous trips meant hurrying up to the respective destinations, this time around, there was no hurry to reach Munnar. Every moment was savoured with delight. The Covid has assured travellers of this luxury … an unhurried journey. 

Mridul George sees beauty all around 

Reflecting on the days gone by, scriptwriter Mridul George feels he’s had more of several planned holidays during the pandemic than before. As travel was a constant need as part of his job, they were more or less of mundane value. But the Covid changed all that. Travel for the sake of it became a much-valued proposition.

The first time he set out with family after months of Covid exile was for short one h our drives around their place on Sunday evenings. Some of the places the family went to include Indranchira, the eco-friendly lakeside park near Kolencherry and the Malankara dam beyond Thodupuzha.

Moving forward to Thrissur, his wife’s home, the family had a great time at the picturesque Pullu farm spread, Poringalkuthu dam, Ezhattumugham and Perinjanam beach. Apart from Pullu and Ezhattumugham, almost all the other places were deserted.

From then on, they were emboldened to go for overnight stays and headed for Kumarakom, Vagamon, and Munnar. They, however, stayed put in the homestays and refrained from going up to viewpoints. The homestays were run keeping in mind all Covid protocols. Only 50 % of the total capacity was rented out. However, as he drove around, crowds of merrymakers could be seen hanging around with scant respect to health concerns. 

More than the joy of seeing places, the compelling factor behind the drive out was the intense sense of freedom of being out in the open, a change from the confines of home. 

Divya Geetha’s great day in Munnar

This social activist decided to have a grip on herself rather than give in to depression. So she chose to step out and that, on a working day. She availed of a day’s leave, had her breakfast and was off on a drive. The Thattekad bird sanctuary was on her mind when a signboard in Kothamangalam said Munnar was only 70 km away. Why not to Munnar, asked her husband. Temptation won and off to Munnar they drove. Though the sun was high up by the time they reached Munnar, a walk through the mushroomy tea plantations was balm enough for cross-wired moods. A walk up the winding slopes in the company of mist, cool winds and hot piping tea from a wayside shop lend a divine feel to the day.

The town did not wear its usual busy look. There was hardly anyone around. Hydel Park was no different. The couple seemed to be the only visitors around. But they had the time of their lives, talking, trolling each other and clicking selfies aplenty. A walk once again through the plantations took them to a small shop from where they had their fill of banana fries, sukhiyan and hot tea. Though they had decided on an early afternoon drive back home, it was almost sunset when they finally got to head back. 

Sreeja Praveen sees light at the end of the tunnel

Sreeja remembers ushering in 2020 with great expectations. By March things had changed. She would step out only for provisions. No trips at all with kids in tow. Folks stayed shut inside their apartments. As she would look down on the Sharjah-Dubai main road, from the height of her 10th-floor apartment, Sreeja could feel herself choking on her emotions. The grand road was deserted. Not even a mirage in sight. When would all this end? 

Things started looking up by September. Then came the thought. Why not go to the Khor Fakkan seashore? A major tourist attraction in the UAE, facing the Gulf of Oman, the place is known for its beautiful beach. 

The family got ready armed with loads of bottles of sanitizers and food to have on the way. No stops for food. It was one long drive of more than an hour and a half. The place appeared to be the safest bet as it was way away. But travel rules were in place and strict too. Masks were compulsory. Not more than three members from different families could be found in one vehicle. In short, things were quite claustrophobic. But a day out was any day better than endless days cooped up in an apartment. 

Sreeja recalls how her younger daughter would chicken out on seeing cops along the way. The roads were not choking on traffic, which meant the beach would be bereft of crowds. This meant a few hours of breathing in the fresh air of the sea without masks. This particular thought was comforting. Contrary to what they thought, there were small shops and eateries all along doing good business, which looked like a positive turn of affairs. The sight was mood-elevating.

Their euphoria was, however, short-lived. As they neared the beach, the road on either side was lined up with vehicles. The view ahead was unbelievable. The beach was flooded by countless visitors. It looked like tourists from all over the world had landed on the sandy shore. Could this be real? Was the Corona scare no more? As more and more people kept descending on the beach, it looked like a scene from a Christopher Nolan movie. In short, the place was choking on moving space and it was no fun at all.  

The small benches by the beach were secured by red ribbons which meant people were not allowed to sit. There were long queues to buy tickets for a boat ride. On the whole, people were enjoying themselves. Paragliders were jumping into the sea, folks on banana boats and sea scooters were skimming the waves unmindful of the pandemic. Small crowds were gathered under tiny patches of shade wherever possible, while all others were left hanging around. 

The thought of getting back without even a selfie seemed preposterous. What! No pics for Instagram? Impossible! But the sea of humanity blocked all chances of a glorious selfie set against the ocean expanse. A while later, the family managed a nook by the beach from where they clicked selfie after selfie in all poses imaginable! This done, they jumped into their vehicle, had their grub and drove back home.

The trip left Sreeja on a trail of reflection. This must have been how people survived two world wars, the Plague and the Flu. Adversities teach survival lessons. It’s not just the body alone that needs pampering. Mind matters. Years and centuries ago, those who survived the ills of the age must have turned to their small means of saving their minds. Nature is the healer, not concrete walls. 

Sreeja nurses the hope that the new year will open up travel opportunities with friends and family. As their vehicle entered the darkness of a tunnel, she could see a spot of brightness at the far end. Yes, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. Hence, travel, we must. That’s the only way to beat the pandemic with.  

So, tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new, Covid or no Covid! 

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