The coronavirus made us all stay home, and all the places we love, including airports, wore a deserted look. Amidst closed borders, annulled flights, travel came to a near standstill. While we still fight the pandemic, things are slowly looking up, and international travel is not a distant dream anymore, albeit a slower one, though. Let me first address the main question — Where can Indian tourists holiday in the current scenario? Countries are establishing air bubble flights, and by the time this piece went to print, India has established the same with 16 countries — The United States of America, France, The United Arab Emirates, Germany, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, and Iraq. However, air bubble flights and visas for most of these countries are meant for work, business, or study purposes only, and not tourism.
Experts weigh in, and Riaz Munshi, Managing Director, N Chirag Travels, and President, Outbound Tour Operators Association of India, explains, “The Ministry of Civil Aviation has announced that India is negotiating with 13 other countries to resume international flight operations. These countries include Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Israel, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand.” Holiday destinations that Indians can travel to for tourism, are Dubai, Maldives, Kenya, and Tanzania. Bhutan is opening up for tourism too. Mauritius is welcoming tourists for a longer stay, and one needs to quarantine for 14 days before they can explore the destination. I decide to go to two destinations — Maldives, and Dubai. Here’s a lowdown on everything from the pandemic lens of travel.
Maldives is a one-island, one-resort country, and all resorts that are open have no active Covid cases. It is mandatory to have a Covid Negative report from any ICMRlisted lab to enter the country. There is no mandatory quarantine, and there’s visa on arrival. Selecting a resort was comparatively easier. I upload my scanned Negative PCR report, my picture, and other details on the Maldives immigration website, and I fly Air India via Trivandrum from Delhi.
Needless to add, at the airport and on the flight, everybody is wearing a mask and face shields. I have already declared my wellbeing on the Haalubelun portal for Maldives. So, immigration is smooth. When I arrive in Kandima at Dhaalu Atoll by a seaplane and a boat ride, I’m suddenly in a non-Covid world, and it feels oddly settling. Once the temperature check is done and the negative reports are checked, I settle in to enjoy Kandima. Kandima is the place to live it up. It’s gorgeously designed, has spacious rooms, and all the amenities I am looking for. The water is an astonishing shade of aquamarine due to the island’s location on one of the Maldives’ largest lagoons, and it is tranquil and safe for kids. For parents of little ones, the fact that the kids’ club has activities enough to keep them engaged, is worth ordering another champagne for.
Just the feeling of being an open space like this — free — is bliss. In a supplementary effort to distinguish itself from the rest of the island, Kandima offers an extensive variety of activities, and I make a beautiful painting at the art studio, a memory that will forever be cherished. There’s also cinema screenings on the beach and of course, there are the adventure sports. Downtime and detox is at the spa, with ocean waves playing music to my ears. Despite its party image, Kandima is not to be underestimated. It brings on high energy genius and gets rooms, service, and food pitch perfect. My next stop is Heritance Aarah at Raa Atoll, which is also the only one in all of the Maldives to have a ‘traditional Maldivian Sri Lankan’ restaurant. I am treated to the whole Maldivian experience for one of my lunches with a cooking class. Both resorts are quite different from each other, but what is common is the warm hospitality, a much missed factor in months of being in a DIY state of affairs.
I devote my days trying not to burn myself on the beach, catching up on my reading, downing lots of prosecco, and retiring for a movie. Life on the island is easy. In the resort bubble, I didn’t have to stress about getting around, meals, or what to do. The convivial open water and blue skies transport me to another world. For my return journey, I get myself retested at the resort before leaving, and fill in a declaration form on the government portal before boarding a flight to India. I am back home, happy and healthy. While I continue to take all necessary precautions, I have already carefully planned my next escape.
Dubai is one of the world’s first cities to get the Safe Travel stamp from the World Travel and Tourism Council, which has permitted the country’s complete and active procedures to safeguard guest well-being and safety. I am travelling with my daughter, and I am booked on IndiGo. By now I know the drill — I have my Covid Negative report in place 96 hours prior to arriving (which starts from the day the swab test is taken). We check in, print our boarding pass and baggage tags. I download my Covid 19 DXB app, which is similar to our Aarogya Setu. Upon arrival at the Dubai airport, we submit the health declaration form, and we need to get another RT-PCR test. No institutional quarantine is necessary, although we need to isolate in the hotel till we get our reports. Luckily, we have an early check-in at The Address Downtown and after breakfast, and a nap, we wake up to our Covid negative reports.
From contemporary architecture to sleek beaches and high-end restaurants and hotels, Dubai is a chic amalgam of a city and a beach break. We are in Dubai to shop, dine, and stay at some of the best hotels in the world, which has been a possibility to save up for, given the lack of travel this year. I have booked us at different hotels for two nights each, so we can enjoy the dinners at these hotels, as each are top notch. Also, I love the fact that we just have to catch an elevator to the room and crash, and it just seems more practical during these times. Our first dinner is at Zeta, at the Address Downtown. You get view of the Dubai Fountain at Zeta, which looks more mystic when it dances at night. Then, there’s Ce La Vi, at the brand new Address Sky View, which also serves the best high tea in the whole of Dubai. The view is amazing, and the menu satisfies every craving, a perfect recipe for success.
Armani too, for a meal at the best Indian restaurant in town — Armani Amal. Most dishes served have an evenness of savour and texture, simplicity, and a modest sensuality with well-paired spirits and wines. On the menu here is the best of kebabs, curries, and breads. My stay at the Palazzo Versace is another feather to my comfortable travel hat, as their afternoon tea served on Versace tableware at the Mosaico lobby lounge, with violin recitals in the backdrop, is all the comfort one needs. La Piscina, the Mediterranean restaurant at the eastern pool with a flower capped swim-up bar and epicurean picnic menu, is another highlight, as is the Amalfi bar serving the western pool. My favourite bit is waking up to the creek view from the balcony of my Grand suite room. We spend our last two nights at Atlantis, and stay at the imperial club, which comes with premium benefits at the resort, including some dolphin-watching at the Aquaventure. With sights of the Dubai Skyline and the coasts of the Palm Island, I spend my last evening at White Beach, which has the Mediterranean premium qualities of a beach club.
All hotels offer us a revised experience, but one still soaked in a warm welcome, even if the smiles are hidden by masks. Thanks to the early, moderately strict movement directives, disinfecting measures, and cluster congregation bounds applied by UAE authorities, Dubai is back to somewhat forthcoming normalcy. We felt safe, if occasionally surreal, but it does not take too long to captivate this ‘new normal’ into holiday routines — counting purchasing masks, which are reasonable and available in every pharmacy. We have our Covid negative reports in place for our return journey too, and fill in the Air Suvidha form for exemption from institutional quarantine on our return. I am more confident than ever as IndiGo ensures the necessary safety protections at every touchpoint throughout the journey, from the baggage drop counter, all the way till baggage claim, and makes the complete travel experience contactless and hassle-free. I can tell that I will reminisce about both my trips for a long, long time.