7-Step Guide to Make Sure Your Vacation Is Safe and Enjoyable

Nutrition coach Sangeeta Khanna shares her experience of holidaying in Mussoorie during COVID-19.

Sangeeta Khanna

The thought of traveling after four long months was so exhilarating that I had forgotten travel won’t be the same. Yes, we need to get tests done and e-passes made before the travel date and it can be a bit of a killjoy. But the prospect of good food, leisurely walks and most importantly room service – after months of slogging it out with household chores during home quarantine – was so alluring that we (my husband and I) jumped at the opportunity to spend a weekend at JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort.

 

1. Mentally preparing for travel

Aspirational as our goal might have been, the scepticism around travel and our safety was still looming large. While the measures taken by the hotel did serve as reassurance, what I was most hesitant about was how responsible (or not) other travellers were going to be. Not to mention the threat of the virus spreading across state through travellers and what it could do to the Coronavirus curve in India. Government guidelines, mandatory tests and checkpoints at state borders and between cities have been put in place. We should trust the process, but how do I trust people who have been visibly irresponsible all through the pandemic?

Even so, after gentle reassurances from the hotel management about safety measures they had taken, I decided to take the leap of faith, while circumventing all mid-journey stops to avoid any human contact for further security. It seemed practical, given that we were going for a holiday to a location that is already secluded; and sprawling enough with open spaces to allow minimal human contact.



2. Packing for the pandemic

That travel – as we know it – has changed, first struck me as I started packing for essentials. What was earlier, a quick 15-minute exercise of shoving in chargers, moisturisers, a few comfortable clothes and a water bottle into my handbag, had now become a daunting chore, which not only required me to make space for additional essentials like sanitisers and masks. But also, called for a mental mapping of all possible situations, where we would need the sanitiser, while keeping in mind and positioning it in a manner so that I could reach for it without touching too many spots on my own handbag and its other contents. At one point, I realised my long-time travel companion – my handbag, will not cut it. I would perhaps need a light jacket with multiple pockets to fit in all the safety gear I needed now. Needless to say, this only added to the paranoia, which I have to admit was not easy to calm down.


3. Ensuring contactless stay

A day prior to our short, weekend getaway, I got a mail from JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort., requesting me to fill up forms that would help facilitate contactless check-in. The entire package was planned to be contactless so that management could execute facilities through cellphones and other devices, using QR codes. Even the menus and in-house services had been made digital. I found myself giving thanks to technology and feeing reassured, given that I was grappling with immense guilt for being an irresponsible child, yearning for a candy, despite knowing that it’s bad for my teeth.


4. Taking precautions during road travel and at check-posts

On the day of our departure from Dehradun, the hotel management confirmed that the pick-up car would be sanitised. The driver, too, was duly masked and had his gloves on, but most importantly was well-trained and cognisant of protocols. Because the weather permitted it, we chose to keep the windows down since closed spaces are fertile for infection. Once we reached the check-post at Mussoorie, we joined a small queue, where you have to show the Aarogya Setu App and e-pass to the stationed policemen, who without touching your device, let you pass if everything checks out.


The most pleasant part of the drive was the verdant greenery we flashed through, all of which helped sooth your eyes and calm the nerves considerably. A slight and intermittent drizzle – common in the region all year round and responsible for its lushness – added to the charm. Another check post, and we were inside Kempty village, where the magnificent JW property is located.



5. A stay where social distancing came naturally

Our welcome into the impressive lobby overlooking snow-capped mountains was warm, despite the masked faces that greeted us. It felt strange at first, but we soon eased in, thanks to the efficient team at JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort., who ushered us in with a welcome drink of warm orange juice infused with spices. It is important to note here, that team had paid careful attention to immunity-boosting condiments in the knick-knacks they served us.


6. Eat local and seasonal during the pandemic

After refreshing ourselves, we ambled around the property, watching birds perched on old walnut trees, before we could proceed for lunch at Wisteria Deck, an open-air restaurant helmed by chef Simranjeet Singh. The hallmark of the menu at Wisteria Deck is local and seasonal produce and they have collaborated with a brand called Bakri Chhap for it, too. Chef Singh uses interesting millet blends to create thin-crust pizzas and raviolis brimming with the freshness of the produce and herbs grown in their vegetable garden and greenhouse, which also double up as a beautiful spot to spend some time admiring exotic flora.



I particularly enjoyed the Pahadi thali curated brilliantly by Chef Ranvir Singh, who hails from Uttarakhand and takes great pride in serving its rare delicacies. Most of the ingredients used for the thali are either foraged, grown in-house or come from Bakri Chhap initiative, that I mention again, because as consumers, I feel, it’s important to give credit where it’s due, and especially for conscientious collaborations that promote local culture and economy.


 

In fact, while talking to chef Singh, I found out that when the government eased the lockdown and allowed the hospitality industry to open, many hotels and properties were struggling to procure fresh produce, given the restrictions on transport. The team at JW Mussoorie, then, propitiously reached out to neighbouring villages, which served as a viable market, considering that local farmers were also struggling to sell their produce during the pandemic. A win-win for everyone and perhaps a lesson we should carry into the new normal – this is a model of produce procurement, that will not only work for hotels and F&B properties, but also help change our food and travel-scape for the better.



7. Forks out, but masks on

I must add that the waiters were wearing masks and face shields at all times, provided us with hand sanitizers whenever we went down for a walk or meal and social distancing was practiced with perfect ease, even during the evening chai time sessions in the lawns. I personally found their tiffin-box-inspired in-room dining experience, devised for guests’ safety, the most impressive. Beautiful copper lunch boxes come with multiple containers, filled with hot and comforting homely food, perfect to forget the conundrum we left outside before embarking on this escapade.



While it will take a lot of research and fact-checking, before we plan another holiday during these times, it is good to know the hospitality industry is gearing up with workable solutions for everything that has changed. We, as travellers, however, need to be more cautious to ensure that these endeavours are not in vain. Until then, stay safe and travel safer. 




Banner image: Shutterstock
Inside images courtesy: Sangeet Khanna

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