The View from India
We're fortunate to have passionate guides all over the world and we've been reaching out to check in and see how they've been managing during the pandemic. With every country handling things in their own way, they've been giving us an insight into how things are on the ground, how they've kept positive during this time and we find out what their hopes are for a return to travel. This week, we speak to the lovely Jonty from India.
The pandemic seems to have affected some countries in more severe ways than others, how has it been in India?
The first wave in India was almost like a holiday. Things started getting affected only around March which was towards the end of the tourist season and like many others, I saw the first lockdown as a good break after a busy season. I also foolishly believed that before the next season starts, things will more or less get back to normal! Looking back at that, it seems like I was living in a fool’s paradise!
Things escalated by July and by October, I knew that we would definitely miss out on the coming season. Unlike other sectors which started opening up around October with Diwali and other festivals, the tourism sector continued to have issues because of the rest of the world. By November, cases in India had dropped significantly and we all believed that we had bucked the trend and avoided the second wave. That belief lasted only a couple of months and by March 2021, it felt a lot more real, where it seemed like everyone I spoke to had been affected. The whole world seemed to be watching the situation in India with horror. Now, the situation in most states is much better.
Outside the lack of tourists, how has Covid had a significant impact on your daily life?
Being closeted in the house for someone like me has not been easy! While I do manage to go out for a walk most days, most of my shopping has now moved to the online mode. Being a social person, not being able to welcome people home or not being able to go out for a meal has been tough. On the plus side, with work going online for most people, connecting with people from across the world has become much easier and have I have managed to have zoom calls with friends who I had lost touch with as well.
How have you stayed positive during this time? Have you taken up any new hobbies or projects?
Like many others, I have taken this break as a chance to reset many aspects of my life. Career-wise, I have gone back to my core specialisation of HR and am doing some consulting work in that area. I am also working on an exciting food business which I had put on the back burner for quite some time now. I am also learning a new language and am really enjoying being a student again! I have also enjoyed doing some tours with the local expat community in Hyderabad. Each time I have done a tour, I have felt positive about the industry bouncing back soon!
What do you miss most about welcoming travellers to your country?
More than anything, the pandemic has revealed that a lot of our ancient Indian practices (which we had almost forgotten completely) are actually based on hygiene and health. Each time I hear of people rediscovering these practices, I am eager to share them with my guests.
Have you been vaccinated? Has most of your community?
Yes, but I did get infected after my first dose. That fortnight was not a fun one but I am relieved that I also have natural antibodies apart from the two doses of the vaccine! Most eligible people around me have got vaccinated. Also, most states are welcoming tourists who have been vaccinated completely so for avid travellers, getting vaccinated was a priority.
How do you see the pandemic changing the way you lead tours?
One of the highlights of our tours was walking around crowded markets and interacting with locals. Given the risks of the pandemic, we will have to avoid crowded places and interaction with many people may be something we will have to put on hold currently. We have always provided sanitisers etc in the car but I guess we will be using it more frequently now. Also, choosing a local restaurant to eat a meal in or a home for cooking demonstrations will have to take into account social distancing norms.
Where or who are you most excited to see again on your tours once things return to normal?
I just want to welcome travellers who are pining for India. I know people who, like me, have missed the sounds of a crowded airport, are waiting to experience the distinct difference in the scent on landing at a new location and are eager to feel that sense of excitement mixed with a little nervousness while trying a local dish for the first time. Any travel junkie who has been denied a fix of a holiday for almost two years will be a perfect guest!
Is there anything you’d like to see foreign travellers do when they return – wear masks, not shake hands, stay outside of your community?
I do hope travellers continue to exercise caution because I think this pandemic is something we will have to learn to live with. Not shaking hands and greeting each other with a Namaste is common in India. I don’t want them to fear any interaction with locals because I think that will dilute their experience of the country. In short, I want them to want to experience the same warmth that the country offers but with more respect for their own safety and for others around them.
When do you predict that foreign travellers - in any significant numbers - will be able to start returning to your country?
If things remain the way they are now (decreasing numbers and increasing vaccination), I am hopeful people will start planning at least for next summer for a winter visit to India.
If people want to help, are there any local projects that you're aware of - or perhaps work with - that you could recommend for people to support?
There are several NGOs on the ground that are working with people who have been affected by the pandemic, especially the migrant workers for who this pandemic has proved to be a struggle of epic proportions. One of them was started by the alumni association of the B-school that I graduated from. During the first wave, they helped supply basic food and necessities to several migrant communities stranded in the big cities and now, they have been trying to help improve medical infrastructure in the poorer districts.