Back in late January of 2020, everything appeared to be okay in the world. Yes, there was a COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China, but that sounded far away, and well-contained, right?
I flew to India at the end of January. My destination is Mysore, India. I would stay there for two months, learning Ashtanga Yoga from a good teacher.
Just 2 weeks before my planned return date, the yoga school was told to close, together with many many other schools in Mysore. Suddenly the situation started to develop quickly.
A couple days later, all restaurants were closed. Then there was a lockdown "drill" for one day. Then the lockdown became real, for 3 weeks. Then all international flights were suspended.
The authority started to play the game of wait and see. As the foreigners rescheduled their return flights, The flight suspension was renewed over and over, only after one suspension expired. Up to now, four of my flight tickets were cancelled. It had been a time-consuming work to track the news and rebook flights. Also very depressing. The payments were already made, and the airlines were not glad to refund immediately. I spent dozens of hours calling Air India, still cannot get my 4000 bucks back up to now.
The Canadian High Commission in India has been doing quite a good job. They sent email updates almost daily. The first batch of repatriation flights was organized from big hubs like New Delhi and Mumbai. From the news, we learned that people were complaining about the logistics and prices.
Luckily, when the repatriation flight came to happen in my area, they were already experienced. The Consulate General in Bangalore is actually doing a very good job. I was able to fill a survey form online to let them know my intention to take the flight, and made the purchase when it became comfirmed a couple days later. The price is still very high, at $2600, and the route is not ideal. It's to Montreal instead of Vancouver, but at least I was able to leave the locked-down India and get back to Canada.
The ground transportation is a big thing in a locked down India. The Consulate General organized free shuttle services. This is a complicated mission if you consider the extent of the catchment area.
By the time I received the confirmation email regarding shuttle service, it was within 24 hours of the departure time. The pick up point is at the city's central bus terminal. Interestingly, in Mysore, it's called the "bus stand". This caused a bit confusion before I realized that there is only one such "bus stand" in the city. I was worrying about how could I found the shuttle bus in such a big terminal. It turned out to be a non-issue. By the time I arrived, it was totally empty. Then the only minibus arrived.
The are four Canadians leaving from Mysore. The bus departed when all four boarded. It had to go around a number of road blocks in the city. Such road blocks don't really block the traffic, there are only there to make things more complicated, like many other measures implemented in India.
The bus was stopped several times by police on the main roads. Thanks again Canadian Consulate General. The paperwork did well.
There were few vehicles on the roads. However, the trip was still slow and bumpy, thanks to the numerous speed bumps. That's a feature you can't avoid in India. I've been to many many countries, developed and undeveloped. But only in India did I see that bumps are so extensively used on roads and streets. Did I forget to say that Indian motorists like honking? Even during the lockdown, you can still hear honking!
The flight was scheduled at 3:30am of Monday. We had to arrive at a hotel just outside the airport for health screening. I was really surprised that a big hall was used to host the passengers. Chairs were arranged with a good distance from each other, with a package of food on each one. Besides the food, we were able to get tea and coffee for free. I waited in the hotel for about 5 hours, before leaving for the airport building by shuttle bus.
(All these buses were hired for repatriation shuttle service.)
At the entrance of the departure hall, we waited in a long line. Everyone was checked for temperature. The check itself takes a couple seconds, however, each time the worker spent several minutes to find the passenger's name in a printed list and marked it. As a result, it took me almost an hour to finish the waiting!
The whole airport was in a shutdown mode. They didn't even turn on the HVAC system. There is only one flight that night. And this flight was completely full!
When the plane finally took off, I felt a kind of relief.