Isha’s bizarre travel itinerary got underway on Tuesday when she flew from Kolkata to Mumbai, where she stayed the night before boarding a flight to Male in the wee hours of Thursday. Five others students from the same university who have been similarly stranded in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru are travelling with her. On reaching Male, they will stay for 14 days in a hotel approved for quarantine before taking a flight to Dubai on August 19. There, the students will stay a week before finally boarding a flight to Hong Kong on August 26.
So what should have been a 4.5-hour flight to the east across Myanmar has been stretched into a 528-hour itinerary with four flights criss-crossing west, south, north and then east again across a domestic and three international legs to finally reach Hong Kong.
Isha’s family will be spending over Rs 3.5 lakh on the trip against Rs 35,000, the fare for a direct flight from Kolkata to Hong Kong. “When the pandemic was declared last March and the Indian government announced that all international flights would be suspended, our daughter flew back in a hurry. Since then, she has been trying to return to the university but in vain. There has hardly been any flights between the two countries and matters got complicated further with India entering the red list from where travel is banned by several countries. Since the university is now insisting that students return to campus, Isha has no option but undertake this arduous journey,” said father Ravi B, a resident of Alipore.
Travel agent Anil Punjabi, who helped the family connect with a counterpart in Mumbai to chalk out the elaborate travel plan, said the stayover in Maldives was necessary to overcome the entry barrier to Dubai and then stay there for seven days to meet the entry regulation to Hong Kong.
“Since India is on the red list, the 14-day stay in Male will ensure they can then travel to Dubai from a country on the green list. To enter Hong Kong though, a person has to spend the past 21 days in one or more countries on the green list. Also, an RT-PCR test has to be done from a particular category of laboratory with international accreditation. Since this facility is available in Dubai, hence the seven day layover in Dubai before travelling onward to Hong Kong,” explained Punjabi.
“We will be spending sleepless nights over the next three weeks, anxious about the safety of our children. There are several hundred students still stranded here with their future uncertain,” said Isha’s father.