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Escape from Rajasthan during Covid-19

Discussion in 'Asia' started by hollywood996, Apr 10, 2020.

  1. hollywood996

    hollywood996 Adventurer

    Joined:
    May 23, 2007
    Oddometer:
    65
    Location:
    San Francisco
    The border between Rajasthan and Haryana is less noticeable than crossing from California to Nevada or from Dorset into Devon. At least until that border becomes impenetrable during a pandemic lockdown.

    It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Rajasthan, arguably the most exotic of India’s 29 states has been a fixture on our expedition calendar from day one and it never, ever gets boring. Goats grazing on the roof of a bus, a cow roaming down the middle of a busy highway and a face full of colored powder during Holi keeps things interesting. It may also be that leaving Delhi during the rush hour heave and arriving in the open Thar Desert is the closest thing to teleportation available. One moment you are engulfed in the throng of microcars and Tata trucks and the next you’re gliding past camel carts guided by saffron-turbaned farmers. But all bets were off in the age of Corona Virus, as every human being on the planet is now painfully aware.

    The decision to proceed with the tour group of eight was made at a time when, with the exception of China, the world still seemed relatively virus free. India’s population of 1.3 billion had only a handful of confirmed cases and they were confined to the southern state of Kerala. The 22 infections being treated there where cause enough to cancel our Southern India ride, but the rest of the vast country was still untouched and so all systems were go. It only took two weeks for the world to change completely.

    Barreling down a dusty highway on a motorbike with seven of your new best friends while camels and goats stream by can provide the ultimate distraction from a world that seems to be melting down by the hour. As a group we made a pact to ignore news apps on our phones as much as possible. But since the new best friends were also clients, Josh and I had an obligation to remain on top of the situation and alter our plans as the situation necessitated. More challenging than keeping track of the deteriorating situation, however, seemed to be maintaining a buoyed mood in the group. This is a bucket list ride and our job is to deliver that experience. Despite our efforts, the sense of gradual emotional degradation was palpable, and we just had to give people the space they needed.

    It only took a face full of paint to kick the mood back into positive territory. Lunch and chai breaks during each day’s ride are a highpoint of every ride. We blow off some steam, exchange stories about all of the bizarre things we’ve witnessed, and the group dynamic strengthens. After the sweet chai was done and we were ready to blow the alarm to gear up, a posse of 20 somethings rolled up in full-on Holi face paint glory and it didn’t take more than a minute for our untainted group to become a target. After 15 minutes of colored-powder warfare and endless belly laughs, the stress levels were reset to zero and we were on our bikes again.

    DSC_1593.jpeg View attachment 2235836



    Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer were their gorgeous, exotic selves and the group could not be happier: Stunning surroundings, delectable cuisine, beautiful hotels, awesome biker friends from around the world..adventure motorcycling bliss. It wasn’t until we hit Bikaner in the far west of Rajasthan that things began to unravel. What started as a complaint to the bureaucratic front desk manager about the construction underway on our floor turned into an issue about a notice they had just received from the government of Rajasthan. The directive was that all citizens from a long list of countries were to leave the borders of Rajasthan by midnight, 6 hours hence, or be subjected to a mandatory 14-day quarantine in the hotel. One of the countries on the list, the UK, was the home of one of our guests. We broke the news to him and the rest of our crew calmly and with purpose: we had already started the process of booking him a taxi for the 9-hour ride to Delhi airport fearing that other states may soon follow suit. The frenzy that ensued to get him packed, loaded and on his way was surreal for all of us: after 10 days together, with one stroke of the government’s hand only 7 of us remained.

    We were two days’ ride from Delhi and, with the sense that the escape window was rapidly closing, we decided as a group to cut the remainder of the tour short and head to Mandawa the next morning. It was the right choice: the mood deteriorated as all the guests struggled with reservation agents to reschedule their departures. The Indian Government had ordered that all flights into and out of India would be suspended in a week’s time and flights were being cancelled in droves.

    Our last night on the road was arguably the best. Our favourite hotel in India was waiting for us in Mandawa, the bar was fully stocked, and the pool was ours alone. We had no idea how horrible the state of the world would be in only three weeks’ time, but our party vibe definitely had an ‘end of the world’ celebratory tone and rode a wave of music and Kingfisher Beer into the wee hours.

    The morning’s anticipated translucent haze mired the departure preparations only a bit. The team had internalized the daily ritual and knew we had a tough, long, chaotic ride back to Delhi. We were only 10 minutes into the ride when we hit the first roadblock. With Josh at the lead and me riding tail, he gave me the news via our intercom: the Rajasthan government was sealing the border with neighbouring Haryana and all traffic was being turned back. We kept calm and kept probing the periphery of the state, but we are denied exit repeatedly. We toyed with going back and waiting things out at our beautiful hotel – but we sensed this was not going to be a short-term event and pushed on. Taunts of ‘Corona’ accompanied our ride through densely packed town arteries, and I sensed an uncomfortable tension. India has a reputation for spreading malicious rumours like brushfire via WhatsApp and those frenzies have been known to turn violent. Ultimately Josh turned to his Malayali charm to tap local intel on the best ‘agricultural’ routes across the border. The circuitous track took us through the back alleys of villages, over wheat field cow paths and finally to a beautiful, treelined country lane that led us six hours later to the national highway and back to Delhi.

    DSC_2712.jpeg

    When everyone managed to depart India by the 19 March lockdown, the government stated the freeze would last 7 days. Of course, we know now that was excessively optimistic and tourists who decided, voluntarily or not, to remain likely find themselves sheltering in place in India to this day.

    We are hopeful that measures taken to stem the contagion will bear fruit in India. India is our home and the epicentre of the most exciting adventure touring on Earth. We count the days until we are back in the saddle, doing what we love.
    #1
  2. ADVer

    ADVer Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2006
    Oddometer:
    605
    Location:
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Sorry about how the timing worked out on this trip, but great job getting your group out in time. Especially, the ‘border’ crossing.
    As you said, there’s no telling when the mood may change in situations like this in India especially with the misinformation on WhatsApp these days (maybe all the the time!).
    Hope things stay under control in India and be safe.
    #2
    hollywood996 likes this.