Travelling is not only a source of relief from today's fast flowing routine life but it also enhances one's horizon. The tourism and traveling has been heavily struck by the corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic, and measures introduced to control its spread. Depending on the length of the pandemic, revised state indicate that a 60-80% decline is expected in the international tourism economy in 2020. Ahead of immediate actions to support the tourism sector, countries are also trying to develop recovery measures. These comprise considerations on lifting travel limitations, restoring traveler confidence and rethinking the tourism sector for the future.
Those who are regular travelers, know very well, how badly COVID-19 affected their voyages. Even before starting main journey, may it be rail, air, tram or even personnel vehicle, people faced much more complex situations. Every country announced restrictions starting right from moving out of the home, to marching up to the station. Getting COVID NEGATIVE certificates remained another obstacle which takes a lot of time.
Despite being a travel lover, I must admit that travel increases our probability of getting and spreading COVID-19 if we do not take steps to protect ourselves and others, such as wearing masks and staying 6 feet away from people we interact with during our long journeys. COVID check posts, airports (if travelling by air), bus stations, train stations, and rest stops are all places travelers can be exposed to the virus. These are also places where it can be hard to maintain social distance. Making stops along the way for gas, food, or rest-room breaks can put you and your traveling companions in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces, which must be avoided as much as possible.
Therefore, before planning a travel, we must consider few important things with an aim to keep ourselves and others safe:
- A firsthand knowledge of COVID - 19 at our planned destination.
- If not traveling alone, we should know the health condition of those traveling with us and who may be more prone to get sick during traveling.
- A detailed knowledge of restrictions and limitations applied by the authorities at the destination city or country, so that we can fully comply to them during the visits.
- When in knowledge of all the protocols, ensure full cooperation with local authorities.
- In case the COVID protocol at the destination city is strict enough, cancel or postpone your trip.
- We must be in possession of the necessary documents as per the destination country or city as per the law of land.
- Wearing of mask, avoiding unnecessary contacts, social distancing, refraining going to public places and washing hands regularly, must become our nature.
Being a regular traveler, it became incalculably difficult for me to restrict myself from my routine of travelling. Just before the spread of the pandemic, I had made all my plans to make a trip to one of the most beautiful lakes of my country, which emerged in the year 2010, as a result of a gigantic land slide blocking the Hunza River. The length of the lake is near 21 kilometers and its average depth is 109 meters. The lake submerged the old road and one complete village, also affected four other villages badly.
Beauty of the lake is its blue colour water, surrounded by barren rocky mountains which is further enhanced by the turning and twisting route to it. The journey required moving from Islamabad to Gilgit, a 650 kilometer travel, in two days in case I was not delayed at any COVID check posts en-route. Non availability of any other road link between these two cities, makes it very easy for the authorities to keep a constant watch over people travelling on the only existing route. I was bound to cross 9 to 10 such checking points where visible symptoms were observed, medical certificates were inspected and temperatures were taken. A medical certificate was also required for long travel to Gilgit, as a proof that I had been declared COVID NEGATIVE. I had already procured it from Islamabad, that too after a long struggle. Same routine was to follow ahead at each of the check points established.
The Wheel Turns
I was caught by surprise when I started my journey on morning of 7 May 2020, there were more than 30 vehicles ahead of me at the check post waiting to get the clearance. My fears doubled when a couple of vehicles were not given clearance to move further. But I was confident that I had got my medical certificate from an authentic Hospital of Islamabad. Finally when it came to my turn, things went smooth and I was through to start a memorable journey. But worst was still to come which I had no knowledge at that moment.
I was having one of my best road journeys, as it started from the plains and gradually ascended to lush green mountains of Abbotabad city. I encountered a couple of more check points till then, where I was conveniently allowed to move on. I had to stay a night at middle point in a town named Pattan which is nearly 350 kilometer from Gilgit. Here I missed the advance booking at some private / local guest room which I intended to do at arrival. To my horror, there was hardly anyone available, and a couple of rest houses which I found were also closed due to COVID-19. I was not only tired but also a little fuming at myself for the slip-up. It was 2100 hours when I started searching and requesting few people visible to guide me to some place, and now it was 2300 hours. I lost all my energies and finally decided to sleep for the night in my van.
Am I Late?
COVID had optimally started affecting my travel plan, however, joy of approaching the destination kept me inspired. In the early morning, a passer-by knocked at my window to inquire if I was well. It was around 9 O clock. Looking at my wrist watch, I got apprehensive as I had all my plans to commence my journey just at dawn. I just conducted basic inspection of my van, got assured of fuel for the upcoming journey and started the engine. The next three hours journey was the toughest drive I ever had as the road was under construction at most of the part and the remaining was badly damaged by the free falling rocks from the rocky mountain. Finally I hit the Karakoram highway which is one of the best roads to drive at in my country and especially in this region. I reached Gilgit by 1500 hours on 8 May where I had a local dish with a cup of tea and continued my travel to the mesmerizing lake. From Gilgit to Hunza (a city just short of Attabad Lake where I had already booked a room on call), I expected to reach there by 1700 hours. I was unaware of the COVID protocols being adopted in my host town.
Caught Unaware of Limitations By Local Authorities at Destination
When I crossed the final bridge to enter Hunza city, a policeman stopped me at the makeshift check point. I was sure to be given a signal to continue my journey as it happened on previous 4 to 5 check points, but here I was told that COMPLETE LOCK DOWN was ordered by the local government and I might have to return. That was a moment of distress and desperation. I would talk to any one to go ahead as planned, I told the policeman who was adamant to send me back, following his duty. I told him about all my efforts to reach the city and it took me about twenty minutes to finally convince him that I will adopt all the protocols set there by authorities. A sigh of relief it was when he told me to pass but he also warned me that the next check point might not allow my further journey. Next would be dealt with later, I thought and I started driving to my booked room in the town. I didn’t feel relieved more when I finally entered my room and had a warm bath. It was 1900 hours and sun had already set. I was to move to the lake site next morning.
A Lake, Worth Visiting
As told by the policeman, the previous day, the last check point was also not easy to pass through but I was allowed to move ahead on pretext of following all COVID protocols. All my efforts finally got paid when I drove out of the long tunnel and had a peek of the spellbinding lake. I never imagined that I would find such a beautiful place so deserted, but the pandemic had its effects. I could just see a few care takers of the boats and hardly a few more people sitting at the lake side and just a couple with their kids. I drove a few kilometers ahead and established rest place, where I had my meal and walked around for a couple of hours alone. The journey finally came to an end and I planned my next day hike on the Northern ridge following a goat track passing very close to a beautiful village across the lake.