Back in March 2020, we were caught in India’s unpredictable total lockdown. My boyfriend and I arrived in India from Laos on the first week of February thinking we’ve avoided the new virus back then that was slowly spreading in China and Thailand. Everything was normal throughout India until news that a foreign couple got infected in March.
Then there was what they call a “Janta curfew” which was said to be an experimental curfew for one day. However, events happened so fast without any warning from there. The following morning, the entire country of India was officially on lockdown. Without any announcement, they canceled public transportation and domestic flights. We were lucky to get on the last domestic flight to Delhi from Udaipur.
It was scary as no one knows what was happening that time. Well, I’m here to say that we’ve survived and with non-essential outbound travel now allowed for Filipinos, it’s good to know what to do if you’re faced with a similar event – although I hope it does not happen as we have more knowledge of the virus. So here’s a combination of lessons and tips I learned from being stranded in India for one and a half months.
1) In any crisis when abroad, contact your embassy ASAP
And in a country as huge as subcontinent India, get to the nearest embassy if possible. There were those who were stranded in far away states and due to logistics, the embassy could not get to them to send help. India would not give exemptions even to diplomats during the early stage of their total lockdown.
The advantage of being near the embassy is that you can physically receive help. We received unexpected food and supplies which only a few embassies provided, we also got some surprise food deliveries from the generous Filipino community! Other nationalities in our hostel were surprised by what the Philippine embassy did as they say their embassies don’t care, I realized compassion is so innate for us Filipinos. However, this was not possible for other Filipinos stranded thousands of kilometers away due to India’s total lockdown.
If there is no immediate repatriation flight yet, go to the next tip. India closed international borders and there were no flights at all going back to the Philippines.
2) Search for your fellow countrymen through social media
When traveling, the last thing I would think of is to search for a fellow Filipino as I travel to meet locals and new people. However, in a crisis like this it was best to stick together as every country has their own solution to to their stranded citizens. I met 3 other Filipino tourists in Delhi through a Facebook group called Backpackers and Travelers of India (BATI). I’m not a fan of social media but I must give this credit for finding my way to the right place.
3) Stay with other foreigners who are waiting for a repatriation
In a pandemic like this, people are advised to isolate. However, this may be an exception for India’s situation that time. Most hostels in India weren’t accepting foreigners and worse, some even kicked out foreigners due to fear of the virus. Through the same Facebook group, I found a hostel and a local who was rescuing foreigners.
Staying with other fellow travelers for a month meant a lot of cultural exchanges! We cooked different cuisines from all over the world and learned so much from each other.
4) Make sure your visa remains valid
Due to the novelty of the situation, each country implemented their own extension policy. As for India, I had to file for an extension online (e-FRRO). Make sure to file for an extension ahead of your visa expiry as you wouldn’t have any issues in your future travel plans.
5) See the good in people
I mentioned there was discrimination against foreigners, however, don’t let that affect your view of the rest of the country. This crisis brought out the worst but also the BEST in people, not only in India. All of us foreign travelers stuck together safely in one hostel through the help of locals too.
6) Remember, This too shall pass
Those one and a half months felt like forever as there was no end in sight. A lot in the hostel are getting frustrated, some to the point of depression as no one know what’s gonna happen. India was extending the lockdown every 15 days which means there are no flights out.
We were lucky that we were all together in a hostel. There were health protocols in place but we still managed to have activities that uplift us. The guests volunteered to teach yoga or host a game event. We helped out in the kitchen, almost everyone had a task from cutting vegetables to cooking a meal.
We kept ourselves busy and we tried to be productive until it was to say goodbye.
I believe these sort of mundane activities kept us sane despite the uncertainty of our situation. We eventually formed bonds that it was sad every time a group of nationality was about to be repatriated. As for us, a group of 4 stranded Filipinos, there was a lot of tears when we had to say goodbye to the remaining stranded foreigners and hostel staff.
I arrived in the Philippines on the 12th of June through the Philippine Navy, and through the help of the Philippine Embassy in Delhi. It was another 1.5 months in a military ship, a once in a lifetime adventure.
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