I’d been in Bhimtal, Uttarakhand for the entire Covid-19 lock-down period and then some. There were several reasons for staying there beyond the lockdown period but the main thing that stopped us was transport. We had our dog with us so trains were not an option, even if they had been running. We needed to hire a car but initially there were a lot of restrictions on interstate road travel for drivers as well as passengers.
By Unlock 3.0, the travel restrictions had eased a little though there was still a lot of confusion on whether or not an ePass was required and where to apply for it. Although the central government had said no ePasses were required, most states were following their own rules. For instance, Uttarakhand still required an ePass for travelers coming to the state. Even if you had ePass, you could also be asked to produce a Covid-negative report. A couple of friends coming to Uttarakhand, who had procured both ePasses and Covid-negative reports were still held up for 2-3 hours as they were asked to undergo thermal screening and fill up various forms and declarations.
Hearing all this, we were a bit scared to make the return journey. Who wants all the hassle? But other friends ensured us that things were easier in Uttar Pradesh (UP) than Uttarakhand. Apparently, no ePass was required in UP in Unlock 3.0. But this was not stated explicitly anywhere, not even on the UP website for ePasses. So we gave it a try. The first step was to feed in your mobile number and then enter the one-time password (OTP) you received. We did that and waited and waited. No OTP. We thought this was a temporary glitch and decided to try another day.
Meanwhile, we checked with a cab provider and booked a cab for the weekend. The next day we got the OTP on the second try, but when we proceeded to subsequent steps, they seemed to be all about traveling from UP and not to UP. This seemed weird, shouldn’t a state’s website be providing ePasses for travelling to the state? On a hunch, I checked the Uttarakhand web site. Sure enough, this one was much better managed, and clearly stated that though ePasses weren’t required, registration at the Web site was mandatory for both travelling to and from the state.
Sometime during the day, in a team meeting, some colleagues mentioned that UP had restarted weekend lockdowns from Friday night to Monday morning. The weekend lockdowns had been suspended during Rakhi and Id festivities and we had thought it hadn’t been resumed as in Uttarakhand. We frantically made inquiries about how strict this lockdown was and some relatives and friends said that they had been freely travelling on weekends, with some even crossing the UP-Delhi border. However, I didn’t want to risk it. In India, especially UP, encounters with the police are best avoided. So we changed our plans and decided to travel the next day itself, which was Friday.
We registered and applied for an ePass for travelling from Uttarakhand to UP on Friday. Thankfully, the ePass was approved within half an hour. We asked the driver to be ready the next day at 10 am. The ePass gave me a certain confidence that we were finally going and had the necessary documentation to make it happen. A separate news site had finally clarified that UP didn’t require ePasses so the Uttarakhand ePass would be sufficient.
On Friday, we were all ready and set to go by 9:30 am. The driver too arrived on time and we started at 10:05 am. We had to wait for some time at the Bhimtal Mallital market because the driver wanted to get FASTag so that we could pay at all the highway tolls online without having to wait in line to pay by cash or card. We finally departed from Bhimtal around 10:30 am.
Remarkably, the entire road trip was completely uneventful. Nobody stopped us anywhere on the highway. At the Uttarakhand-UP border, the focus was on traffic coming in to Uttarkhand and nobody minded us. We had all had a heavy breakfast so there would be no need to stop for lunch on the way. The driver too confirmed that he had binged on aloo parathas so that we could avoid stopping anywhere.
About 3-4 hours into the trip we stopped to buy water and some packaged refreshments and to refresh ourselves. The break was only for 10 minutes or so. After that, we traveled non-stop till we reached our home. There was very less traffic on the highway. For the first time, I had a clear, unobstructed view of the Hapur market and Garh Mukteshwar (Garh Ganga). Usually, we pass through these areas at a speed of 30 km/h because of the crowds. We reached our home in Noida by 5 pm, just six and a half hours after we started. Pretty good, I think.
It was really good to be back in the city. Our house was a mess, but that’s another story for another day!
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