As we made plans for the road trip, we had a formidable array of COVID defences.

Vidya and Navin Sigamany traveling from Hyderabad to Hampi in a red carNavin Sigamany
Features Travel Friday, October 23, 2020 - 16:27

Ever since the first lockdown was announced by the government at the end of March, we have been homebound, with minimal trips for groceries and essentials. It wasn’t until five different stages of unlock were announced that we plucked up the courage to venture out for non-essential activities. A quick trip to a restaurant. A visit to the spa. An exploration of our favourite mall. All the while fully masked, gloved, sanitised and maintaining physical distance. And then we planned a trip - we can’t remember the last time we let an 8-month period pass without a trip! We were encouraged to do this by the fact that we did not have significant COVID panic when we ventured out of home, and had confidence in the safety protocols we followed.

We decided to take a driving holiday — we were uncomfortable with the unavoidable contact with multiple people that would be inevitable in any other mode of travel. This was a huge step for us for two reasons — I haven’t driven long distances, and my wife is not fond of driving long distances. We were pushing ourselves well outside our comfort zones.

Once this was decided, we set about looking for a destination that was within driving distance, and also had a place to stay which we were confident would adhere to COVID protocols. We settled on Hampi; it was a drivable distance, and there was a Club Mahindra property there, which we were confident would have strict COVID protocols in place. This was confirmed by a couple of phone conversations we had with them, and we were satisfied that we would be safe and comfortable in our stay there.

Club Mahindra in Hampi

As we made plans for the trip, we had a formidable array of COVID defences — surface disinfectant sprays, sanitisers for our hands, disposable as well as reusable masks and disposable gloves. Since the car was a safe zone, all entries were preceded by a thorough sanitisation. We also packed what we called a “toilet bag” — a small backpack with gloves, sprays and sanitisers that could be carried handsfree into any strange toilets we may need to use.

The drive itself was quite a learning journey for us, pun very much intended! It was an 8.5-hour journey according to Google Maps, and we factored in about an hour for a couple of stops. However, on the way, we took a detour to a particular coffee shop — where we assumed, correctly, that we would find a usable toilet — but lost an entire hour. This made the last couple of hours of the journey the 10th and 11th hours, which also were the worst driving stretches. Between rain-damaged highways and interminable stretches with speed bumps every hundred metres, these last two hours were really terrible. It also made us irritable and we just couldn’t wait for the journey to end.

Once we reached the resort in the evening, things settled down very quickly. We got a comfortable room and were well-fed. The next day was spent just in the room, lazing around, reading, ordering room service — avoiding human contact as much as we could.

A driving holiday

The next couple of days, we explored different parts of Hampi at our own leisure. We drove everywhere, explored near-empty ruins on our own, took pictures — again, avoiding all human contact. One evening, we walked along the river to the spectacular ruins of the Achyutaraya temple and the bazaar in front of it. The setting sun, the beautiful views on the river and the isolated walk were one of the highlights of the trip!

Snapshots from Hampi

Most places we went to were empty or had very few people. We were able to be by ourselves and far away from any others. The Archaeological Survey of India has made all tickets available online -— which meant we didn’t have to stand in lines or wait at counters. Some of the staff at the monuments seemed quite lackadaisical with their mask-wearing, but usually a request seemed to work to make them wear one.

We mostly avoided eating in restaurants other than the place where we were staying. For lunch, we went to a restaurant at one of the bigger hotels in Hosapete, the nearest town to Hampi. We were the only people eating there, and we received excellent service, very tasty food, and most importantly, a fully COVID-safe experience.

For dinners, we returned to the resort, where we either did room service, or went to the in-house restaurant. There too the experience was good — personalised service — not too much to expect since we were usually the only patrons — good food and a totally shielded experience.

On the drive back, we put our learnings from the previous drive to good use. We avoided any detours and stuck to the route, and made it back in about 8.5 hours including a breakfast stop.

Overall, we found that sticking rigidly to a sanitisation protocol, not compromising on physical distancing, and unashamedly prioritising safety gave us a confidence that allowed us to travel without worry, both for our safety as well as for the safety of those around us.

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