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Beautiful backwaters close to the ashram
On 8 March, I arrived in India with my Albanian boyfriend. We planned to attend a course in Ayurveda, an ancient Indian method of healing, and yoga in an ashram in the village of Nedungalam (Kerala). The ashram - known as Maithrimandir or the ‘house of friendship’ - is located in stunning green and backwater surroundings.
As tourists, we were placed in quarantine as early as 10 March. The local authorities conducted regular inspections to check that the quarantine measures were being properly respected. We followed the news about the Belgian and global pandemic on the internet, as well as receiving updates from family and friends via Messenger and WhatsApp.
Yoga and meditation
During the first month, we simply followed our course together with a group of French people. Once they had left, just 3 tourists remained. The only local staff were Sarvatma, as centre manager, Rajee the cook and supervisor Jay. We did yoga and meditation, cared for the vegetable garden and distributed food to the villagers.
Despite the quarantine, I felt fantastic in the ashram. However, my boyfriend was far less at ease. He was really concerned that the situation could get worse. We therefore decided to return. The problem was that no (European) flights were available, and certainly not for my friend with his Albanian nationality, despite having a Greek resident's permit.
Distribution of food for the villagers
At the end of March, a friend in the ashram put us in touch with the Belgian consulate-general in Chennai. I registered on Travellers Online, the FPS Foreign Affairs database for Belgian travellers, and sent them a mail.
We were lucky to be in contact with the Belgian consulate-general! As my boyfriend received no assistance from the Albanian embassy and initially none from the Greek embassy either. My main contact was the consul-general himself, or “Monsieur Mark” as I called him. Although we never met, as everything was managed by mail and telephone.
Maryline and Vigjilent, just before departure to the airport
Flight from Bangalore
On 5 May, the consulate-general told us there was a flight from Bangalore to Paris on 8 May, organised by the French. However, to start with, the French embassy did not agree that the two of us should be allowed to board the plane. In the end, we managed anyway thanks to “Monsieur Mark”.
To reach Bangalore airport, we first had to travel 800 kilometres. Fortunately, we had the help of two wonderful drivers who were personally acquainted with the ashram manager. We were prepared for a long journey and departed at 6.30 am on 7 May.
There were many inspections along the way: our passports, but also our authorisation to leave the state of Kerala, our medical certificates, even our temperatures! We finally reached Bangalore at 8.30 pm, after a journey lasting 14 hours. Early enough for our flight at 1.30 am the next morning. Despite being an exhausting trip, the breathtaking views were a wonderful compensation!
Meanwhile, we remained in contact with the consul-general and we confirmed our arrival at the airport. The French embassy did nothing for us at the airport: everything was managed by the Belgian consulate-general.
Out and about with super sympathetic drivers
Waiting at Charles De Gaulle
Despite travelling in a land in lockdown, the ambiance at the airport in Bangalore was very serene. We were, however, required to respect the strict “social distancing” rules of 1.5m and wear a face mask. On the plane itself, all seats were occupied, so no distance was maintained between the passengers. Luckily, I had been able to reserve 2 seats for the two of us, so we managed to remain more or less separate. We personally took the initiative to keep our masks on and to regularly disinfect our hands.
Eventually, we reached Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris without a hitch and then went our separate ways. After all, my Albanian boyfriend had no right to enter Belgian territory and was forced to continue the long journey to Crete. He arrived there on 12 May, whereas I arrived in Zaventem on 9 May. From there I took a taxi home.
I remember my adventure as an exciting experience. And it was a real delight to work with “Monsieur Mark”. He gave our case his full attention. Our sincere congratulations to the consulate-general!!