- By: Deepa Misra Harris
There has never been a time so poised to change travel as now. When I reflect about my travels so far, the one thing that strikes me the most is that the freedom to imagine and make it happen has been taken away from us.
Fortunately, after months of lockdown and confusion, people are gradually beginning to feel comfortable taking small steps. They are learning to travel again while managing the uncertainties of protocols, air bubbles, limited connections, precautionary measures and the like. The world has changed and travellers are now keen to experience the precious and the familiar once again.
The silver lining is that it is devoid of the usual problems of too much choice and planning pressures! Of course, even though India extended its embargo on international flights, “air bubbles” or “air bridges” have become the only medium through which commercial international travel can happen. So where should you be going next if you can’t wing your way across many parts of the world?
Here are the top 10 destinations you can book a date with. These are old favourites that have always hit the sweet spot for those with a travel bug. What makes them all the more attractive now is that they are COVID-ready as well.
No surprises here. An all-time favourite, it is the flavour of the season with its one-hotel-one island proposition, world-class diving, crystal white beaches and some of the best collection of upmarket resorts. It cues privacy, safety and security which only a pristine environment like the Maldives can provide. The islands leave you spellbound and in love.
There are many reasons to go to the Maldives but the one that should strike you if it has not, is the democratisation of luxury that it offers, albeit for a very short window till tourists and season hit the destination.
Uber luxury hotels like Soneva Jani, Cheval Blanc, Waldorf Astoria, North Island etc. have the most astounding offers that can drive away your lockdown blues. Island hopping comes with some challenges so my advice will be to choose your spot in the sun and stay with it.
COVID Status: Whilst the Maldives offers visa on arrival, all travellers are required to present a negative PCR Covid-19 test 72 hours before travel. Small effort for big gains.
Gone are the days when you could be spending Valentine’s Day at St Kitts or jet-setting for a day or two of sunshine to the Swiss Alps. But you can do something better: you can fly the world’s favourite airline, Emirates, for breakfast at the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. Dubai is a wonderland that offers an amazing potpourri of top restaurants, over-the-edge hotels, labyrinthine souks and concept stores. With equally fascinating Abu Dhabi with its own Louvre in driving distance, it’s a complete yes. Despite its size, the UAE packs in everything for gourmands, culture vultures, dialled-in shoppers and luxury chasers.
COVID Status: Major beaches and parks have reopened as have 70 percent of malls, entertainment activities, restaurants and cafes while maintaining strict social distancing protocols. All passengers can get visa on arrival or can apply beforehand but will require to furnish a printed negative Covid-19 PCR test certificate.
It is the Mecca for Indian travellers as we know it, providing the backstory of travel and its future. Beyond its bright lights and frenetic energy, London is a city of backstreets, unifying architecture and lush parks, thus making it a compelling narrative for a new playbook on travel. One that includes everyday discoveries, heritage walks, the usual marquee attractions, nature immersions at St. James Park or the proverbial picnic at Hyde Park. Walk around the block and find a new counterculture blossoming. Shoreditch, for instance, is a place where grubby streets have turned beautiful with endless street art.
New neighbourhoods have been revived such as Peckham, Dalston, Brixton for their arty vibes or East End for its canals. Everywhere you look, there is an abundance of museums, galleries and restaurants that are open but before heading out, it would be worth checking visitor timing and social distancing guidelines.
COVID Status: Anyone entering England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from somewhere not on that nation’s list of exempt ”travel corridors” must go into self-isolation for two weeks.
“Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today…I want to wake up in a city that doesn’t sleep,” is on a perpetual loop in my head every time I take the 16-hour flight into JFK. New York has been fighting to win the hearts and minds of world travellers since time immemorial. Having gone through an unimaginable outbreak crisis and cross-cultural introspection, it is slowly opening up with caution. Whilst Broadway shows, concerts and nightclubs are not operational, there is a quieter side to New York which visitors will enjoy. Imagine the 4 Carnegeis, MOMA and the Met without crowds, using timed reservations to keep capacities below 25 per cent so that you can enjoy cultural treasures of over 5000 years of human history!
With drive-in outdoor screenings of the 58th NY Film Festival and over 5000 restaurant venues where one can eat outside, and shopping malls having reopened this week, it’s finally show-time. With tourism historically being a driver of economic prosperity for New York City, its small wonder that international visitors are welcome but will need to strictly comply with the new norms. One doesn’t go to New York for itself but all those that have made the city so inspiring including its people.
COVID Status: New York State has implemented a 14-day quarantine on anyone arriving from the state with a significant degree of community spread infection.
Having gone through its ups and downs in recent times, Goa has cleaned up its act and once again emerged as the destination to escape to for even the most exacting travel snobs. Villa rentals through companies like Isprava, Lohono and AMA Stays and Trails, work-cations at Postcard Hotels are ideal long-stay options as are hotels. There is a significant growth in travel providers re-thinking tourism models, providing local and authentic experiences fostering benefits for the local ecosystem. The presence of a significant creative community has given rise to interesting outlets whilst some of the favoured hangout places have reopened.
COVID Status: The state requires no testing or quarantine for travellers from other states
The land of clouds and gods. Uttarakhand is an extraordinary befuddling place, a whirl of stunning landscapes, the majestic Ganges, grassy hills, rivulets and cloud forests. Rishikesh has taken centre spot with the increasing presence of established hotel outposts, unravelling the mysteries of mindfulness juxtaposed with extreme sports.
Travelling responsibly means leaving the world a better place, even as we enjoy local cultures. More and more travellers are seeking responsible tourism, aimed at supporting the sustained development of local cultures and the protection of the environment. Nowhere is it more apparent than Uttarakhand. They would like you to leave it as you found it.
COVID Status: Travel restrictions were lifted from September 23.
This classic picture-book stunner has everything you would ever want around one lake. It is like the heavens opened up and dropped architectural marvels, all concentrated in one symphonic piece. It’s visual music to see, feel, taste and experience the city. There is much history to imbibe in a setting of absolute luxury. Walking around the City Palace through narrow lanes, stopping now and then to taste local fare or engage with descendants of warriors and artisans is an incomparable experience. The vibe is unreal. The arts and crafts are worth a haul …it’s the land of Pichwai and marble after all!
Trade schools are being mentored by designers to teach a new generation of design language, needed to preserve and re-create the elaborately carved woodwork, masonry and mosaics found in so many of the existing magnificent structures. It is no wonder that many celebrities in Hollywood have a piece of Udaipur in their homes.
COVID Statues: No home quarantine is required for domestic passengers. Symptomatic passengers will be isolated and taken to a health facility.
The appeal of Pondicherry as it is now called will always be for its rich French legacy which lives on in the city layout, the several heritage buildings-turned-boutique hotels and eateries, ateliers, cafes and stores. Many are attracted to this seaside resort for the remnants of what used to be a sleepy French-inspired town or for the life that the Aurobindo Ashram i.e. Auroville, the ideal township, represents. The food scene remains extraordinary with Indo French fusion, great bakeries and vegan fare.
COVID Status: The union territory does not have any health screenings or mandatory quarantine requirements.
It might not be the first destination you would think of, given its relegation to the back shelves due to over-tourism in the past. Today, it has regained some bit of what it used to be—a town brimming with natural beauty and nostalgia as the summer capital of British India. Like its neighbouring hill-station Kasauli, Shimla was used as a sanatorium.
Your all-day menu will kick off with a splendid breakfast with birdsong, to long invigorating treks in the hills, picture book cottages and warm suppers with family. Soak in the fresh air, walk around the town mingling with locals (albeit at a distance) and become one with nature again.
COVID Status: There is no requirement for registration of inter-state movement of persons. No separate permission/approval/prior testing required.
Kerala is one state that has been in the news for managing the epidemic somewhat better than some other states, living up to its perception or protective filter of God’s Own Country. The city, particularly the Fort Kochi enclave, has, in recent years, acquired somewhat of a cultural capital reputation, a melting pot of creativity ever since it started to host the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. It’s unlikely that an event of that size will be possible soon but everything else remains. The lushness of Kerala, the rich cuisine history, the backwaters, its spice plantations, tropical hotels and historic Jewish quarter with its hidden treasures are a joy to visit any time of the year.
COVID Status: Kerala has reopened its tourism sector for domestic travellers from September adhering to COVID -19 protocols.