Welcome to another ‘Passage to India’ episode as the author of Cleanse Your Body, Reveal Your Soul tries to get to India for a wedding, just as the Omicron variant is making pandemic travel an even greater challenge

This winter, I was invited to attend an Indian wedding hosted by my good friends, the Joshis, in Nagpur, India. It had been planned to be at Christmas time for at least a year. No one thought there still would be a pandemic to have to maneuver but here we are. 

I made the decision to go a long time ago. Despite the ongoing challenges—and the new complication of the Omicron variant—I knew I still wanted to go. 

My plan was to take three weeks of panchakarma including a rejuvenation phase once all the festivities were over. That is the eight-day cleanse that is featured in my book, Cleanse Your Body, Reveal Your Soul. I knew it would rejuvenate and restore me, no matter what happened in my travels. My destination was Nagpur, India, first for the wedding and later, for panchakarma at the clinic of Dr. Sunil Joshi. 

The Omicron variant made the planning for this trip like no other. And just to make things complicated, I got a puppy.

I had been on a waitlist to get Sage for about eight months. So I had to step back and think about her needs. My granddaughter offered to stay with her in my home so we had to prepare for when I would be gone.

An ounce of prevention

For preventive measures, I bought N-95 masks and KN-95 masks. I created a vitamin kit of zinc 15 mg, Vitamin C 1 gm, Vitamin D 5000 IU, and quercetin 1 gm, (and 5 mg of melatonin at night) for travel and when in confined areas. 

I assembled all my paperwork. First, a declaration of health with PCR testing results, then other paperwork generated by the Indian government. I had to fill out all the forms and print them out so I could hand them over as I traveled. All of this needed to be addressed in the 72-hour window before departure. 

And then, there was Mumbai…

The four-hour maze at Mumbai airport: Transition from international to domestic terminal

The last four hours of my two-day journey, I encountered one obstacle after another. There was one health-related line about the paperwork that I had to get certified. Once checked, I moved toward the immigration hall. 

Entering the immigration line in India after disembarking from uneventful flights on Qatar airlines, I was struck at how long the lines were and how they did not seem to move. Having to show all the health paperwork and completing the biometrics of face and fingerprints takes time. 

Lots of time. 

Yet, I thought four hours would have been sufficient to clear all areas to get to my domestic flight.

Two hours later, I was one of the last ones to go through immigration. I had to ask about my e-visa as it was only for 30 days, and my return ticket was six days after the visa expired. It does not matter that I have a valid ten-year tourist visa which doesn’t expire until 2026. All foreign visas have been suspended during the COVID health crisis that has gripped the world since I last visited India.

My last time in India was December 2019-January 2020, when the news broke about the novel coronavirus. The fear it created and has continued to create for us worldwide comes at great expense to all of us. Fear is an illness in and of itself that needs to be addressed. Coming from a place of fear is not the way to live one’s life in community.  The mental health challenges impact us all.

As I have watched the unfolding of the health crisis, new layers keep emerging so that it is quite hard for us to stay ahead of the problem, both as government entities and as individuals.

Yet, I wonder if there is a need for another approach. I am not arguing about the need to be vaccinated. But what troubles me is that it is the ONLY approach that is being touted as the cure of all problems related to the expression of these viruses in this world. More about this another time.

Back to my immigration line issue! The immigration office took my paperwork and passport, completed my biometrics, which needed to be done twice as the first efforts were not going into the system. After giving me the approval stamp of entry, he shared he could not answer my question so off to his supervisor we went. His supervisor said that he could not do anything but that maybe my e-visa could be extended. 

This would require me to seek out the online Indian immigration office. With COVID protocols, much of the visa process is all online now in India. Which is truly a gift! 

Realizing no easy answer was to happen, I wandered into the customs area. In looking for my luggage, I learned that all suitcases had been pulled off already. I searched for my bags, finding them in two different areas. 

I was out of luck on a luggage cart. The first one I could grab had wheels that wouldn’t turn. It turned out to be the only one. Now I would have to find a way to move my luggage without a cart— and hope there weren’t bumpy transition points on the journey through customs.

When I turned to get in line for customs clearance, I saw another huge snaking line for the exit. I push by to one line that is not so long. I ask the young man next to me in line, “Is this the ‘nothing to declare’ line for transfer flights?” He shook his head to indicate he didn’t know. I kept moving along with him as this line was moving.  

I countered another health checkpoint and had to produce my paperwork again. But I made it through to an airport security officer. I asked him where to drop off bags for a domestic flight.

He informed me that all people had to take their luggage to the domestic terminal on their own for drop off.

In the past and if on one ticket from an international flight, your bag is transferred to the domestic flight in that same terminal but not now, with all the health-related checkpoints.

At this point, I did wish I had a luggage cart, but none were in sight. Off to the elevators to get to the domestic terminal I go. Another line awaited me. More confusion ensued as to what level to go to. Security officers were contradicting each other. Finally, a young lady informed me which floor to go to. We all juggled for a space in the elevator. At each transition point, I prayed that my luggage and I would arrive without tumbling forward.

I made it!

Off the elevator, I see more lines for security checkpoints, but it is unclear which is the best door to go through for Air India. The signage appears to be only in Hindi. Asking for an Air India entry point, a few people point down to the next line. I made it there. All the health-related paperwork and boarding pass are reviewed again by security.

As I walked into the domestic terminal, I saw Air India. My heart drops. The lines to each Air India counter are very long! I have not checked the time. There are no clocks to be seen. I look for the Nagpur gate on the boarding signage. It was not up on the board. I asked an Air India employee about the Nagpur flight. He shared that it was in the boarding mode and arranged for me to go in the shortest line they had. It still took over twenty minutes. With my bags finally checked, I turned to go to security.

Last security checkpoint

In India, there are specific lines for women and men through security. The women’s line was short but there were no bins. I seek out a bin in the men’s line after I see a woman do so. With all electronics removed from my carry-on bag except my cell phone (which I had dropped into my purse), I went through, only to realize this.  An exasperated security person handed me my bag to unpack the cellphone. 

That was not all. I pack a tiffin for food that I bring along. They needed to inspect that, as well as a charging bank. 

Once again, I emptied out what I thought they wanted to see. Finally, the two officers were satisfied. I repacked my carry-on as quickly as I could.

Then, I sprinted.

With my mask, my new constant companion! 

To gate 48! 

It was 4:50 a.m. in India. Please remember that it’s been more than thirty hours that I have been traveling. I did sleep about five hours in the first phase but not since.

I made it as the doors were closing. I breathed a sigh of relief. I was so happy to be on the last flight of the journey, knowing that my home away from home awaits me. I have been to this clinic now for many weeks over the years. My favorite room will be available. I will arrive in time for breakfast by Neetu. Along with fresh chai and a touch of jaggery (sugar cane juice reduced and boiled). 

My next blog will be about the wedding festivities! There were three days of events to attend with attire determined by the specific event. I learned of this upon my arrival to the first event! More to come soon!

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