After an entire year spent in various states of limitation over where we can go, whom we can meet – and as a result, how we can possibly find new experiences when our day-to-day is confined to the bare essentials of life – another lockdown has arrived. So far, all of us have managed to learn a new skill during our confinement, if only how to survive a pandemic and a lockdown with no end in sight. Suddenly, those of us who can work from home have become seasoned professionals at hunkering down and waiting.
But another approach that many have perfected is to flee the claustrophobic metropolitan cities and make a break for greener pastures. Already, the lucky owners of farmhouses and villas have packed their bags to ride out the second lockdown in the comfort of their spacious holiday homes, and many have not left since the first one. Why bother with the hot, dusty, and crowded inconveniences of Mumbai and Delhi when the trade-off of urban attractions no longer exist? With no restaurants, pubs, shopping, and stand-up shows to enjoy, isolation is better spent away from the hustle and bustle that city-dwellers usually endure.
For the rest of us, however, getting away from burnout and boredom is just as necessary, even if we don’t have an escape plan already laid. Maybe that’s why I’ve found myself planning trips that aren’t too far away from home, but far enough to leave the COVID-19 restrictions of Mumbai behind. Whether it’s a peaceful farmhouse weekend or the ubiquitous lockdown hill station trip, socially distancing from the grim realities of our ghost cities is a welcome respite.
I’m not alone in my desire to leave it all behind, if only temporarily. Domestic trips have shot up across the country, doubling since 2019. And they show no signs of slowing down, with travel associations asking the government that 2021 be pegged as the “Year of Domestic Tourism”. Whether their request is granted or not, it doesn’t seem like we will have much of a choice as we wait for the slow trickle of vaccine rollouts to restore some sense of normalcy.
Besides the practicality of travelling within our borders, there’s also the delightful, if late, realisation that India has upped its hospitality game.
As usual, the lessons of the coronavirus are wide-reaching. Around the world, people in confinement are rediscovering their own homes and countries, exploring what their own backyard has to offer. In the past year, I’ve travelled more in India than ever before: a ski trip to Kashmir with friends who would normally rush to Europe; a couple of Goa holidays, complete with city dwellers who have turned beach bum; a family vacation to the Nilgiris to celebrate our reunion after a tough year that kept everyone part. Where before I would save up to travel abroad, now a kitty of all the money I would ordinarily spend on going out can easily fund a local flight and a few days at an swank Airbnb.
Besides the practicality of travelling within our borders, there’s also the delightful, if late, realisation that India has upped its hospitality game. In which expensive Swiss ski resort could I have found the warm welcomes and generous helpings of mutton that abound in Kashmir? What Kenyan safari can compare with the majesty of our own elephants, tigers, panthers and bison, or the colourful birds that flit through the Nilgiri tea plantations? Are the cherry blossom festivals in colourful Shillong any less than the ones in Japan? And where is the magic of a beach in the Maldives when you don’t have a plate of Goan masala prawns to munch with your beer?
Now that we are dealing with more coronavirus cases than ever, travelling out of the state has become tough as well. So I’ve realised that the humble Maharashtra ghats, so often treated as the background scenery of drives out of the city to party in Lonavala or Alibaug, are underappreciated for their rustic beauty. The sweeping valleys of Panchgani, a mere five hours from Mumbai by road, are a fairytale haven of crisp, chilly air and mountain vistas. These are the places that we have relegated to long weekend status, inferior to a “proper” trip to Sri Lanka or Thailand.
Soon enough, the world will open back up and we will once again be able to backpack from hotel to hostel in Germany, and drink the vicariously googled soju in the pubs of South Korea – travel plans that will no doubt be richly rewarding and worthwhile. But I hope our collective, newly discovered passion for local travel doesn’t wane. There’s a special satisfaction in knowing that a treasure trove is yours to discover, just around the next corner. Without any visa to fret over.