My travel goal going forward is that I only want go to places I would be okay being stranded in
A day before “Local Ke Liye Vocal" replaced Achhe Din over a too-long televised speech, travel writer and author Shunali Khullar Shroff asked me where I would rather be if I could be anywhere right now.
The idea of travel, especially international travel, is so precious at the moment that I was conservative even in my fantasy. Assuming real world concerns were addressed and family and work connectivity continued on WhatsApp and Zoom, I was keen to pick a place I had already been to, where I was assured of a fabulous time—even if I ended up stranded there like that honeymooning couple stuck in a resort in the Maldives who became the subjects of a New York Times feature. This is my travel goal going forward: I only want to go to places I would be okay being stranded in.
For Shroff, I picked the island of Hydra in Greece. I was there two years ago this time of the year, reading by the water through the day and eating delicious meals of lobster and octopus in the evening. It is a port village small enough that you start to recognize people dining on adjoining tables in restaurants by the harbour but large enough that you can have a new walking trail every day as you try to look for Leonard Cohen’s house. There are no cars on the island, so you can tromp around without a care, your only worry being stepping into warm donkey shit. But more realistically, Shroff says, she would rather be in Goa or Alibaug or in the mountains in Uttarakhand right now given the waythe contagion is spreading in Mumbai while people are “chilling fearlessly" elsewhere. “The whole idea is to be in a natural surrounding with clean air. Best way to survive the peak that’s approaching is hunker down or hide," she says.
Local Ke Liye Vocal might not feature in my personal fantasies but it’s a sensible mantra for travel for a long time to come. As India prepares for Lockdown 4.0, the government is likely to allow airline companies to resume operation of domestic flights by 18 May. But as Mint reported earlier this week, permissions to operate international flights will take far longer because issues of logistics, security and health are more sensitive in that scenario.
What will airports look like in a post-lockdown era? “The airport experience will be very reflective of our post-lockdown world. You could start by walking through a thermal detector that will decide if you are fit to fly. Then through a disinfection tunnel to cleanse your clothes and bags. Post which, check-in will involve dropping off your bags at a desk where the masked executive is sitting behind a transparent shield," says Prasad Ramamurthy, a seasoned travel writer and editor, and former features director of Condé Nast Traveller.
Ramamurthy, who has had detailed exchanges with industry insiders, paints an elaborate scenario of UV-based sanitization of baggage trolleys and CCTVs that will show contactless cleaning of bags. “All major airports are drawing up comprehensive plans to deal with the imminent resumption of air travel," he tells me. We can bid farewell to in-flight meals, which not many people might miss, but I certainly will (I feel curiously hungry on aeroplanes).
The thinking among travel industry folk is that as and when people are allowed to travel—and people actually begin to travel—trips will be within their areas of trust and safety. The most valuable keyword is “high mental comfort". For now, though, you might have to live your travel fantasy via a book or movie in the safe confines of your own home. Few things can be more comfortable than that.