It’s perhaps time to look at some of the ancient land routes which travellers took before sea and air travel became commonplace. After all, personal vehicles or even shared ones with well-screened co-passengers are the safest mode of transport in these pandemic times. (Illustration by Suneesh K.)
With Omicron threatening to disrupt travel as countries rush to impose bans on flights and send travellers into quarantine, what is the intrepid traveller to do?
New variants of the coronavirus, it is now clear, will keep appearing from time to time. The impact they will have and the panic they cause is beyond the control of governments and even scientists, which is why there are no clear projections of the numbers. What is certain is that normalcy isn’t happening any time soon.
Also read: COVID-19 | Omicron: Shutting borders will not stop ‘invisible enemy’, need to analyse data, says Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw
Among the various activities that are seriously interrupted by these recurring threats is international travel. While travel related to business and work can be substituted by video calling, technology has yet to come up with any real solution for wanderlust. No amount of virtual tours, no matter how brilliantly they are rendered, can provide the real experience. Which leaves the millions of people across the world, too restless to stay put for long and too adventurous to be able to avoid the lure of an idyllic fishing village or an island, in the lurch.
With international air travel suspended for most of the last two years and looking equally dicey in the near future, their flying options are severely constrained. The sea routes are also out of bounds for all but freight. Even though the no-sail orders have been lifted, most cruise ships stay docked in ports, with passengers wary of boarding them in the light of what happened at the start of the pandemic when on-board Covid outbreaks turned deadly.
Also read: Nearly 3,000 confined to cabins after COVID-19 case on Singapore cruise
Time perhaps to look at some of the ancient land routes which travellers took before sea and air travel became commonplace. After all, personal vehicles or even shared ones with well-screened co-passengers are the safest mode of transport in these pandemic times. All that is needed are well-organized routes, and travellers will take care of the rest.
Also read: New COVID-19 variant | Govt postpones resumption of scheduled international flights; air bubbles to continue
For choice there are the great caravan routes of the 13th century extending from southern Russia, north of the Caspian and Aral seas and north of the Tien Shan (Tien Mountains), all the way to Karakorum. Long before that there was the historic Silk Route stretching from Asia to the Mediterranean, through China, India, Persia, Arabia and Greece and also the hugely influential oasis route which passed along the north Indian plains and the Himalayas to connect East Asia to Rome.
While reviving these ancient routes might be onerous, a start can be made by identifying their modern equivalents. Already there are many such scenic routes out of India, including the one through the Jaigaon-Phuentsholing border in West Bengal all the way to Paro and Thimphu in Bhutan or the longer 3,000 kilometer drive down the India-Myanmar highway into Thailand. For the more daring, there is a wild trip-in-the-waiting all the way to Istanbul. Since it will entail traversing through Tibet, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and finally Iran, it isn’t for the faint of heart. Or how the about 8,000 kilometer stretch to Italy. After all, the beauty of the Amalfi Coast is best savoured while driving through the colourful villages en route.
Going forward, road travel might turn out to be the saving grace for destinations and tourists alike. Already a bus voyage between New Delhi and London, traversing 18 countries in 70 days, is in the offing. The problem with going on these kinds of trips is that they restrict one’s options. Sharing an off-roader with a bunch of like-minded travellers is a better option.
Before that, several issues need to be resolved. Beside obvious ones like visas and permits, there is the question of whether a country gives permission to drive on an Indian licence or necessitates having an international one. Currently several countries like Turkey, Iran and Turkmenistan accept a valid Indian licence. Vitally, countries will need to provide guarantees of safe passage.
Tourism is the backbone of many nations and is vital to their economic revival, so reassuring tourists, especially those coming by land, of their safety and smooth passage, will be critical.
Do that, and the road warriors will follow.Internet Explorer Channel Network