“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move,” Robert Louis Stevenson wrote in Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. Sadly, in the past few months the virus has jinxed our ability to move. Not all itineraries are lost, though. India has created air bubbles with a few countries to continue our ‘great affair to move’.
Before moving, pay heed to wisdom. Check the latest COVID-19 updates of the destination country. Countries are adjusting travel restrictions/permissions according to the status of the contagion. Listen to Ministry of Civil Aviation’s suggestion that before making flight reservations to air-bubble countries, the passengers must confirm that they would be allowed entry into the destination country.
Here’s a quick look at countries that Indians can travel to as per the current official air transport bubble. If you want to stay within the country, Sikkim, and Andaman and Nicobar Islands are picturesque not-so-explored options.
Nepal: After more than six months of lockdown, Nepal is opening its doors to international travellers from October 17, 2020. Other than regular sight-seeing trips, trekking and mountaineering in groups has also been permitted by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If Nepal is on your must-go list, hurry. Because during the initial resumption of tourism, the number of tourists entering the country will be restricted to 3,000.
Who is allowed: Any Indian national carrying a RT-PCR negative test result done no more than 72 hours before departure.
Flight: Delhi-Kathmandu return flight ticket costs roughly Rs 13,000
Packages: Per person 3-night package including meals, transfer, flights, accommodation, sight-seeing: Hotel Fairfield By Marriott (Rs 8,499), Hotel Radisson (non-casino, Rs 13, 899), Shangri La (non-casino Rs 10,599)
Tip: Indian currency (denomination of Rs 100 and less) is valid in Nepal. In larger cities like Kathmandu and Pokhra, Indian currency is widely acceptable but if you are plan to trek to remote areas, carry Nepalese Rupee.
Maldives: Maldives, a pretty archipelago sitting smug in the Indian Ocean, reopened its borders on July 15 after a hiatus of 110 days. According to the country’s Ministry of Tourism directive, all tourists and short-term visitors will have to present a Negative PCR certificate on arrival. Movement within the islands have also been eased a little – tourists can now split their holidays between two resorts which was not allowed earlier.
Who is allowed: Any Indian national with a mandatory COVID-19 negative certificate. Flights: Delhi-Male economy flights start at Rs 15,500.
Packages: Hello Maldives (Starting at Rs.39,990 per person on twin sharing; includes return fare, 3-night stay in a Deluxe room, airport transfers); Elegant stay in Coco Bodu Hithi (Starting at Rs.74,990 per person on double sharing; includes 3 nights in Island villa, breakfast/dinner, return airport transfers)
Tip: Indian nationals are granted free visa on arrival with 30-day validity.
The United States of America:
Before booking, the official website of Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/from-other-countries.html) for latest entry directives.
Who is allowed: Any Indian national holding any type of valid US visa.
Flights: Delhi-New York cheapest return flight starts at Rs 59,000; fastest flights start at Rs 96,000. Delhi-San Francisco cheapest return flight starts at Rs 66,519, fastest flight costs Rs 98,918
Packages: USA East Coast with Chicago (6 nights, Rs 205,000); USA West Coast (Rs 220,805), USA East Coast & West Coast (12 nights, Rs 320,670). Various other packages are available on www.kesari.in
For entry permissions, check www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/coronavirus-covid19/travel-restrictions-exemptions.html
Who is allowed: Indian nationals with valid visas eligible to enter Canada. Seamen holding Indian passports would be allowed subject to clearance from the Ministry of Shipping
Flights: Delhi-Toronto cheapest flight starts at Rs 98,636
Packages: Best of Canada (13 nights, Rs 384,070). You can also combine Canada + US East Coast trip for 11 nights at Rs 302,603. Various other packages are available on www.kesari.in
The United Kingdom:
Before planning a sojourn, check https://www.gov.uk/uk-border-control for details on entry permissions. There are different entry rules and regulations depending on whether you are travelling to England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
Who is allowed: Any Indian national holding any type of valid UK visa and destined for the UK only.
Flights: Delhi-London cheapest flight starts at Rs 54,000.
Packages: Per person rates including meals, accommodation, sight-seeing transfer: Simply London (3 nights, Rs 41,990), Best of UK and Ireland (7 nights, Rs 56,990), Gems of Scotland (5 nights, Rs 64,490).
For details on entry permissions, visit www.gco.gov.qa/en/travel/
Who is allowed: Any Indian national holding any type of valid Qatar visa and destined for Qatar only
Flight: Non-stop Qatar Airways New Delhi-Doha flight starts at Rs 38,585. Passengers travelling with Qatar Airways up to December 31, 2020, can now change their travel plans free of charge by altering their booking dates or opting to receive a travel voucher up to three days prior to departure.
Packages: Including meal, transfer, accommodation, sight-seeing: Qatar Explorer (3 nights, Rs 26,096), Amazing Qatar (4 nights, Rs 33,745), Qatar Retail Therapy (3 nights, Rs 34,545), Romantic Holiday in Qatar (5 nights, Rs 45,840)
Sikkim: If you are looking for a getaway within India, Sikkim is an ideal option. According to an official communique, the country’s second-smallest state is scheduled to open its doors to interstate travellers on October 10 and no pre-registration will be required. From October 1, the Sikkim border with West Bengal will also open for unrestricted road travel and the odd-even road rationing rule will also be lifted.
Flight: The nearest airport to Gangtok is Bagdogra Airport (125 kms). Taxi fare from Bagdogra to Gangtok would be around Rs 2,800. Delhi-Bagdogra economy return flight costs roughly Rs 7,500
Packages: Per person 3 night packages including meals, transfer, flights, accommodation, sight-seeing are: Alluring Gangtok (Rs 14,499), Delightful Darjeeling & Gangtok (4 nights Rs 27,999), Shangri La (non-casino Rs 10,599)
Andaman & Nicobar Islands: According to www.yatra.com, tourists are allowed in Andaman & Nicobar Islands but inter-island transfers are restricted as ferries are not operating. Covid-19 negative certificate is required.
Flight: Delhi-Port Blair economy return flight costs roughly Rs 25,000 per person.
Packages: Per person holiday packages including flights, hotel, sight-seeing, meals: Andaman Crazy Deal (4n/5d, Rs 28,799), Andaman Youth Special Backpackers (5n/6d, Rs 41,999), Exotic Anadman (5n/6d, Rs 45,999).
Good to know:
Air bubbles: Check the official website of the Ministry of Civil Aviation
Packages: Flight/accommodation packages can be found at www.yatra.com, www.makemytrip.com, www.sotc.in, www.kesari.in
Preeti Verma Lal is a Goa-based freelance writer/photographer.