My Escape From India
Let me set the scene for you, I have not been on holiday contrary to popular belief, I’ve been living in India. It’s a phenomenal place to reside in, but the sensory overload and the unknown daily chaos of the country do mount against you over time to wear you down. As I neared the end of my allocated 180-day block on my visa and its expiry date. I knew my time with the country had come to an end for now, well that and the fact I needed to get the hell out of there so as not to be considered an illegal tourist or catch COVID-19 from the staggering number of cases that were rapidly rising throughout the country.
Having extended my time in India back in March 2020, I had a flight booked to return to the UK in mid-August with Qatar Airways. Well before COVID-19 struck the world, banishing people into isolation, and countries into lockdown. However, as June and July approached, the world began to open up but India’s federal policy did not. It refused any international flights to enter the country until the 31st of July. Except for the Air India repatriation flights. (Which rumour has it; the Indian government is using it to prevent the airline from going bankrupt. Absolutely genius!)
As the end of July came and went, India remained in slightly relaxed international lockdown. Some flights were being allowed to fly in and continue operating on a reduced schedule. But lady luck was in no mood to let me go home, Qatar Airways was still banned. The most ludicrous aspect of this all was not the restriction of flights rather, Qatar had moved my original date for the flight to early September without informing me, and were willing to let me buy a new plane ticket not knowing if they were even able to fly yet.
The cheek of it!
As my visa deadline approached, I began to get nervous, the fear of being illegal in a country where you don't fully understand the language and being thrown in an Indian jail cell was weighing on my conscience. I would wake sweating in the night, a gut feeling warning me something was wrong.
Thankfully my papa recognised the severity of the situation, deciding to call in the big guns, contacting his workplace to get us a flight out. From the first email being sent to us flying was a period of 5 days.
Oh, how the power of a multinational corporation can be helpful!
We were able to clean our apartment and pack everything within two days, I guess you could say we were a tad eager to get out of there, nevertheless, nothing was certain, India showed the world it could send over a billion people into lockdown overnight. If they had done it once they sure as hell could do it again.
I can honestly say the taxi ride to the airport felt like one of the longest drives of my life. As I watched Bangalore descend into the night through the window I could only think that we had no place to return back to, over 100kgs in luggage, all of our valuables strapped to us and one plane ticket each. It felt as if we were on the run for our lives, the feeling of butterflies in my stomach growing ever stronger with each minute that passed. If you’ve ever watched the film ARGO, the final scene where the passengers are waiting in the security room, fearful, scared, visibly anxious. Well, that was us.
Upon arriving at the airport we were directed into a ‘socially-distanced’ queue and asked to wait until the passengers of our flight were allowed to enter the airport. At least that’s what I made out from the muffles of sound behind the security attendants mask. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, the queue began to move. When we finally reached the doors of the airport we had our temperatures checked and logged. Having been anxious for the past two hours I was sure I would have an elevated temperature and be asked to come to one side by the hazmat suited medical officer... Luckily that wasn’t the case.
Once inside the airport terminal and checked in we had to pass through my least favourite part of any flight journey.
A man with a thick, jet black moustache and piercing, almost threatening brown eyes called me forward, another agent gestured for my dad to come forward. I produced my documentation, proceeding to wait as he thumbed in the credentials. Although I’m sure he wanted to find a reason to not let me through, after a passive-aggressive discussion in broken English and Hindi, he begrudgingly did and I gave him a cheeky toothy smile to show my appreciation on the way through.
Now through the gates, I turn round to see my dad still at his booth, intensely swiping his phone as if he was looking for an email or photo. Unsure what to do, I waited and waited… And waited. Finally, the glass doors swung open and he passed through! I was able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that we were still in this together.
But, unbeknown to us our flight had been delayed and we had to wait to find out if our journey home was going to be cut short. Thankfully it wasn’t, and we were wheels up at 3.00 am.
Having bought the flight on such short notice, with the idea to get out of India as quickly as possible so as not to catch COVID-19, we had to settle for an 8-hour stop-over in Paris. All I can say is that being back in Europe was one mammoth shock to my system. I felt happy I was closer to the UK but at the same time concerned, it seemed there was a serious lack of interest in the fact that there was an ongoing worldwide pandemic. We did our best to keep to ourselves with our face masks and shields on but the concept of a social distancing was nowhere to be seen or being policed. I’m certain, everyone was more excited to be going on holiday or roaming around duty-free, shopping at the discounted luxury brands (in fairness they had a 50% discount on YSL).
When we finally did make it aboard our connecting flight, I made the mistake of thinking that we’re on the home straight and nothing could derail us from touching down in the UK within the next hour. Lady luck, however, always has other plans. As the doors to the plane shut and locked a small tussle broke out between 2 French passengers. I sank into my seat, imagining all the possibilities of how to get back to the UK if the flight was cancelled, the butterflies kicked in again but by the time I opened my eyes, I could see the view over Paris.
From touching down in London Heathrow to picking up our bags was all of 10 minutes. I was expecting a more rigorous arrival process with health checks and hazmat suits. But England was exactly like Paris, no one seemed to care.
My journey home is one of those experiences that I’ll remember for a lifetime, but never want to experience again. The stress and anxiety of not knowing if being arrested in India or getting stranded in Paris in the middle of a pandemic would be my fate is a feeling I would not wish upon anyone. The sensation of throwing up one feels in the pit of their stomach is horrid, but to have that for almost 24 hours is excruciating.
That said, now that I’ve finished my 2 weeks of quarantine in the UK, I'm ready for another adventure.
Have you been on a crazy journey? Let me know in the comments or drop me a message on any of the following social networks. I would love to hear from you! — Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok, Youtube.