January – Rishikesh
We ushered in 2020 in Rishikesh. We had come here a few days earlier and stayed at GMVN’s Ganga Resort. Then on 31st December 2019, we joined our friends at Parmarth Ashram. They were celebrating their 25th anniversary and had invited a few close friends and relatives. Apart from the famous aarti at Parmarth, which is now televised and broadcast every day, we enjoyed the peace of the bathing ghats at Rishikesh.
We returned to Delhi on the evening of 2nd Jan as our son had to fly back to Chennai the next day to start a new semester.
After this auspicious start to the year, we thought we would be making plenty of trips this year. Our Australian visa was valid for another six months, so I was hoping we might be able to go there in May, and maybe visit a different set of cities this time. While this plan was just tentative because of the expenses involved, we did make a few other definite plans and book our tickets accordingly. One was a trip in early March to Chennai to our son’s campus. As he would not be able to come back home till May, we thought it would be good to go and visit him around this time. We also planned a trip to my hometown in Kerala in April.
At the end of January, the first cases of Covid 19 surfaced in India in Kerala itself, but were soon controlled. Feb was relatively uneventful, but as March dawned, cases started emerging again.
March – Chennai
As there were no reported Covid 19 cases in Chennai till now, we decided to go ahead with our planned trip on the first weekend in March. To be honest, I wasn’t too concerned about Covid-19 at this time. A disease that could be kept at bay by simply wearing a mask and washing hands frequently did not really seem dangerous. So we flew to Chennai, following all government-issued guidelines.
It was a short weekend trip – we just wanted to meet our son and relax so we had booked rooms in a hotel almost adjacent to his campus. We didn’t do anything else, except taking short walks in and around his campus.
March to August – Locked down in Bhimtal
Just three days after we returned to Delhi from Chennai, Covid 19 was declared a pandemic by WHO. Still, there were less than 20 cases in all of India. My husband was comfortable enough with this statistic to go on his regular trip to Bhimtal next Sunday, leaving me behind. But things were set in motion just a few hours after he reached Bhimtal. The same night my son’s college in Chennai decided to stop classes as a lot of its foreign students wanted to return to their countries. International flights were being called off by several countries. The college declared a 20-day break. My son flew back the next day. On the same day, my office too decided that we should all work from home for the next two weeks. Office was expected to be resumed by end of March. In retrospect, of course, that was too optimistic an estimate.
Anyway, rumors started flying around that a lockdown was imminent, that state borders may get closed soon. The government kept denying it but the rumors kept getting strong. My son was with me in Delhi but my husband was at Bhimtal. We all wanted to be together in case the lockdown happened. The advantage of his returning was that Delhi has much better medical facilities in case one of us got Covid. The advantage of our joining him in Bhimtal was that it was a much better place to isolate ourselves and not get it in the first place. Agreeing that prevention is better than cure, my son and I left for Bhimtal the next Saturday, along with our dog Cheeku.
We were just in time! The next day, March 22 (Sunday) had already been declared as a national Janta (Public) Curfew day. A day later, on the evening of March 23, the PM announced a nationwide lockdown for 21 days from March 24th. We realized that we didn’t have enough cash in hand. Bhimtal had not yet gone digital, and cash payments were the norm in stores. My husband and I walked to the nearest ATM (about 1.5 km away). Thankfully, we got the cash. On the way back, we were stopped by a policeman in a Gypsy, enquiring why we were up and about at night (around 7 pm). We explained the situation, and they let us go but not without warnings.
The lockdown eventually extended till end of May. It was quite strictly enforced in Bhimtal, with night patrolling by the police and loudspeaker announcements during the day asking everyone to stay at homes. Grocery stores were allowed to open for a couple of hours, from 9 to 11, in the morning. We mostly stayed indoors and walked around our terrace in the evenings for exercise. One of us would walk our dog twice or thrice a day. Going downhill to the main road was not an option, so these walks were mainly uphill, where houses were further apart and we could easily maintain social distancing.
Although the nation was ‘unlocked’ in June, it was not possible for us to return to Delhi. Interstate travel was allowed, but there was no public transport. We had hired a car to come to Bhimtal, and it wouldn’t b easy to get one in these times to take us to Delhi. Also cases in Delhi were rising and it was the peak of summer there, so we extended our stay in Bhimtal till almost the end of August.
We were in Bhimtal for exactly five months, but because of the pandemic this stay was completely unlike our previous stays here. In all, I went down to the Bhimtal lake just two times, and one of these was while on the way to the Bhimtal market for some stuff that was not available in the nearby stores. Even uphill walks (apart from the hurried walks with Cheeku) were few, I think not more that five in all. We didn’t visit any of the places we usually visited when in Bhimtal. Internet was spotty, so working from home was a bit frustrating especially during video calls. But the weather was wonderful most of the time, and we were together. So all in all, it was a good stay.
November – Corbett
Unlock was more or less complete by this time, and life was slowly limping back to normal. Many offices had opened, but ours was still in work-from-home mode. Some friends of ours who had been confined to Delhi for the entire period were eager to go on a short weekend getaway. They were members of some timeshare type of arrangement and wanted to use up their permitted Nights for the year, now that travel had resumed. They asked us along, and we happily joined them for a trip to Banyan Retreat, Corbett. A short and sweet trip!
November – Bangalore
My mom had gone to Bangalore to stay with my sister, exactly a year before. We had all earlier planned to meet in April in Kerala but that was not to be.
My mom had remained indoors, almost entirely from March to November. Though she did some Yoga in the mornings, the lack of exercise had slowed her down, and even affected her walk a little. She started feeling restless and asked us to come and fetch her. Medical facilities are much closer near our home than in the part of Bangalore in which my sister stays. I was also eager for Mom to come and stay with us.
This was a mostly-indoor trip, but I had good fun with my nieces and sister.
Having mom at home felt so good. The last time she had come, my son had been in college and I would be in office during the day time. This time, around we would all be at home with her as our office was not expected to open till January, next year!
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