Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai
Finally, I was able to travel to Madurai

Hope you and your family are safe in this pandemic situation of COVID-19. A couple of weeks back I had a trip to Madurai to vacate my apartment which was pending since May. In this blog, I have shared my experiences of travel during the pandemic. It is going to be a little longer, so grab some coffee and enjoy the live experience.

NOTE: During my whole trip I made sure to wear a mask all the time, cleaned my hands as frequently as possible, and maintained social distancing for my own and others' safety.

How it happened

I came home from Madurai in Feb 2019 to spend a couple of weeks with family while I worked in the EST hours. As the Holi was coming, I decided to extend my stay until Holi and leave after that. I rescheduled my flight to March 15th, 2019. During this period, I had a lesser workload and I got permission to extend my work from home for a couple of more weeks. 

On March 24th, 2019, our honorable Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi announced the lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Luckily, I didn't travel and stayed at home. Since I was already working from home, I was able to manage it for a long period. Unfortunately, in April our client decided to shut down the project which had affected my job and I was asked to look somewhere else. After giving multiple interviews without any feedback, slow processes, or no jobs during the pandemic, I successfully landed a job and started working for a company in Hyderabad. Well, it was not the end for me with my Madurai adventures. I still had to visit there to vacate my apartment and get my stuff back home. I could not travel in the lockdown period and had to pay rent for more than six months without staying there. At least, my stuff was safe and the rent wasn't that much. 

I kept monitoring the pandemic situation and was trying to fit in my (maybe) the last travel to Madurai. After the government had started lifting up the lockdowns in June 2020,  I started planning to travel to Madurai. But the situation was still out of hands, the cases were rising at a higher rate than earlier and I figured it wasn't the right time to travel. Also, the rules for visiting Tamil Nadu were very strict. One had to go through the self / government-aided 14 days mandatory quarantine. I didn't have that much time and it wasn't safe as well. I waited for some more time and booked my flight tickets for September 12th, 2020. As September was arriving, the COVID-19 situation wasn't getting better and the restrictions were getting stricter to prevent the virus from spreading, I decided to re-schedule my flight to October 11th, 2020.

In the meantime, I was taking continuous updates from my friends in Madurai.  Initially, I was a little scared to travel there due to the huge number of cases, but making a few trips to Delhi for some personal work helped me to calm down. 

My day of first flight during the pandemic

On the day of my trip, October 11th, my flight was scheduled at 11:50 am from New Delhi IGI Terminal 2. I was residing in Greater Noida and planned to leave around 8:30 am so that I can be at the airport by 9:30 am. I booked an Uber cab from my home. 

My conversation about the cab sanitization and COVID-19 tests for the drivers

I boarded my cab at around 8:35 am. Again, I was a little curious about the cabs sanitization and how it was taken care of by the taxi companies like Uber or Ola. Here is what happened after boarding the cab.

As soon as I entered, I could smell the sanitizer with some floral scent. The driver first offered a quick spray of sanitizer to clean my hands. We started after that. Since I was curious so I didn't hesitate to ask my questions to the driver about the COVID measures taken by them.

Here is what he had to say - "Firstly, the cabs are sanitized by a supervisor thoroughly every morning. Also, after every cab ride, the driver has to sanitize the cab and upload a photo in the app. During the whole drive, the driver must be wearing a mask. The Uber app can randomly ask to take a selfie at any time and gives about 30 seconds to complete this task. If the driver is not wearing the mask, then the license of the driver is canceled. Every driver has to go through a mandatory COVID-19 test every week to make sure the health is fine and the driver is fit for the service."

I was very much satisfied with his answers and then we had a little chat on the current situation while he dropped me at the airport. 

The situation at the Delhi airport 

As soon as we reached the airport, the first thing I noticed that there was plenty of space to park our cab. Only a few people were traveling, maybe only those who had any important work. It was mandatory to web-check-in your flight and bring a printed copy of the boarding pass. If you had any check-in bags, then it was also mandatory to bring a printed copy of the bag tags which could be generated online. I had booked my flight with Indigo. There was a small Indigo counter outside the terminal to help those who were in need. The CISF guard who checks your ID and ticket before entering the terminal was standing behind a glass screen. You had to place your ticket and ID over the glass so that the guard could check it. My body temperature was also checked before entering the Airport terminal.

The whole Airport seemed like a Hospital

The scenario inside the airport was very sad. I literally had a few tears after seeing the current situation. To take precautionary measures, passengers were maintaining the social distancing, there were already a few people, all of them wearing masks, hand gloves, PPEs, and a little bit scared like we feel in the hospital if we have any family member admitted. There was a smell of sanitizer everywhere.

The situation at the Airport
The situation at the Airport

There were specific baggage drop counters for the check-in bags for different flight careers. I didn't have any check-in bag and went straight ahead for the security. Nobody was touching anything! The CISF security was handling bags with long wooden rods. There was no stamping done on the boarding pass. It was scanned while entering the security. Many of the security personnel were also wearing PPEs. Right after the security, hand sanitizer dispensers were installed to make sure of the clean hands and stuff. 

After the security, I was feeling a little hungry and had a sandwich from Subway. It was delicious. After reaching the departure gate, we were provided a "safety kit" by Indigo, which contained - A transparent Plastic Face shield, a surgical mask, and a few sachets of Chik hand sanitizers. We were also asked to keep our face shields put on during the whole flight. I had a very long flight of 3.5 hours and trust me, the face shield was very uncomfortable. I felt very sad due to all these forces but I could not repel them and had to make sure of my own health and safety. 

Safety kit by Indigo
Safety kit by Indigo

The COVID-19 protection
The COVID-19 protection

The flight experience - I was shocked after entering inside!

As the boarding started at 11:15 am, we were asked to make a queue while maintaining the social distancing. An Indigo employee was making sure that all the passengers had their face shields, and masks on. Again to avoid touching stuff, our boarding passes were not scanned at the gate. The airport buses were carrying a limited number of passengers to avoid the grouping situation. 

All seemed pretty well handled till there, but as soon as I entered inside the aircraft, the scenario was totally different! I didn't expect that from Indigo. At the terminal, they were announcing loudly to maintain social distancing but they forget to follow the same in the flight itself! Yes, the flight was super packed and people were sitting next to each other. I guess, making money was more important for them than a person's safety. There was no social distancing maintained inside the aircraft. We were told that the cabin was sanitized before we entered inside. We were asked to keep our face shields put on during the whole flight. As a safety measure, the flight attendants were not touching any of the passenger's bags and asking them to put or adjust them in the overhead bins. 

There were no in-flight food or beverage services as well. Only, the pre-booked orders were served. The flight was pretty good except for the pain in my head due to the face-shield elastic, which was kind of necessary for my own safety, the rest was good. 

The arrival at the Madurai Airport 

At the Delhi airport, we were asked to show our e-passes to enter inside Tamil Nadu state as it was mandated by the state government. Previously I applied for the e-pass for the September travel. This time I decided to get one after reaching Madurai Airport. 

After coming out of the flight, I headed directly towards the exit gate where my friend would be picking me up but before that, I needed to get an e-pass. I have a friend who worked at the Airport, so he promised me to help me getting an e-pass. I called him, and he asked me to go to the health officer at the gate to get one and mention his name if needed. But there was no need! Nobody was checking for any e-passes at the Madurai Airport. A person was standing before the exit gate and checking the body temperatures of the passengers who were exiting the airport. That's it! Nothing at all! I was in a bit of relief because as per the terms of an e-pass, one must home quarantine himself/herself for a couple of weeks, and I had to return in a couple days. Everything went well and I came out of the airport safely. 

The weather was amazing outside the airport. I felt like I was back home! It was an awesome feeling as I was coming back after the whole nine months. While I was waiting for my friend to pick me up, I took a couple of photos of the beautiful greenery and the amazing blue sky at the airport. 

Madurai Airport from outside
Madurai Airport from outside

My two days well spent in Madurai

While traveling from Airport to home, I noticed that life was back on track in Madurai. It was as normal as it was before the pandemic. Obviously, most of the people were wearing masks. I reached home at around 4:30 pm. The house was in bad condition. I could see spider webs everywhere! Even on the TV screen. Immediately, I grabbed a broom and made my way to enter inside. I was a little tired, so I cleaned a small space to put my bags and headed outside for the tea. It felt very nice having Madurai tea after so many months. I spent the rest of the day very well, listing down what all items were needed to be packed and what all things were needed to be sold or left.

The next morning, I started my day with a cup of tea and vada before starting packing my stuff. I started the actual shifting by filling the carton boxes and separating all trash. It took around 4-5 hours to pack most of my stuff properly. In the evening one guy came from the Packers and Movers service and sealed all the boxes very carefully. He tightened the boxes with a strap, put a whole small bubble wrap over them, laminated, and then stuck a big address label on each. It was a very professional packing. I used Gati Courier Services to bring my stuff from Madurai to Greater Noida. For lunch, I went to the famous Kumar Mess at Bypass road with a couple of my friends and enjoyed a delicious Chettinad meal. I met with all my office buddies in the evening at the office and had a small party with them. We enjoyed every moment of it, danced and talked a lot. 

A delicious Chettinad meal at Kumar Mess
A delicious Chettinad meal at Kumar Mess

A mesmerizing visit to the Meenakshi Amman temple

On my final day in Madurai, I planned to visit the world-famous Meenakshi Amman temple of Madurai for the last time (I will try to go back again). I had already confirmed that the temple was open for the worshippers. I reached the temple at 8 am in morning. I deposited my mobile phone in the locker which cost me INR 5. The footwear stand was now self-serving. No-one was touching your footwear except you. Just go inside, find an empty rack, take the token placed on it, and put your footwear there. One thing I didn't like that I was asked to purchase the special darshan ticket for INR 100 even though by seeing the number of people, I didn't even need it. But they said you would have to purchase it. I entered the temple from the South Tower. 

The inside was very calm since there were only a few people. I could literally count all of them. On a normal day, if you visit the temple, it would take some time to reach the main Bhavan and you will get only a few seconds for the darshan. But due to a much lesser crowd, I was able to do darshan for more than five minutes. It was very peaceful and spiritual. I spent around 30 minutes in the temple, visiting Lord Shiva Bhavan, and all the other sections of the temple.

Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai
Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai

After returning from the temple, the courier guy came to pick up the boxes. I paid around INR 7000 for 70 kgs of load including one TV. I felt like I paid a little higher amount due to the middleman. I would have saved at least 2500 bucks if I had talked to the courier services by myself. But due to lack of time, I accepted whatever they asked and paid for it. I got some time to buy snacks to bring back home. My favorite was the Banana Chips. I also got delicious coconut sweets. My friend invited me to his house for lunch where they served delicious Vegetable Briyani (Pulao), Salaan, Onion Raita, White rice, and Suji ki kheer. I enjoyed every bite of that meal with a touch of local spices and love. I am a big fan of Madurai food and never miss a chance to have it. 

My experience at Madurai Airport

My return Indigo flight was scheduled for 4:30 pm from Madurai airport. I had reached the airport at around 2:45 pm. This time I had a check-in bag, a laptop bag, and a small carry on trolley bag. Luckily, I booked my flight between June 2020 to September 2020, so I was allowed to carry up to 20 kgs in the check-in luggage. Normally they allow up to only 15 kgs. This helped me a lot to carry all the clothes in the bag instead of sending them in the boxes via courier. I had already printed my boarding pass and check-in luggage tag, which they never asked though, and then I went for security. I was carrying a LED bulb in my cabin bag. I didn't know that it wasn't allowed in the cabin bag and I had to remove it. CISF security mentioned that it could burst inside the cabin which could cause serious trouble. Luckily, they found it and took it out of my bag. 

The flight was normal. Obviously, we were wearing face masks again! During the web check-in, I chose a seat to the west side so that could enjoy the amazing sunset from the sky. Unfortunately, there were a lot of clouds during my whole journey and I could not enjoy the sunset as I wanted. Well, that's pending for the next time 😉.  But I got a chance to capture a take-off video on my new Go Pro Hero 8 showing beautiful Madurai from the sky!

Sanitizing the cab at the Delhi Airport

I reached the Delhi Airport at 7:30 pm and booked an Ola cab to Greater Noida. As soon as the cab reached the Ola pick up point, one guy from Ola sprayed the sanitizer in the whole back seat of the car to make sure that it was sanitized before I boarded it. I was impressed by this. Later after having a long day, I reached back home at 9:30 pm and had a good night's sleep.

Overall, I had a great short, and safe trip with a few more memories of Madurai. I am a big fan of this place and will go back whenever get a chance. 

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you enjoyed reading it. Stay safe! 


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