My India trip 2021, in equal measure frustration and fascination

by Anshul
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a building with colorful tiles on it

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India 2021 – List of Posts

Introduction: India 2021, equal measure of frustration and fascination

Review: Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, Montreal International YUL

Review: Air Canada Signature Class, Montreal to New Delhi

Review: Vistara Business Class, New Delhi to Mumbai

10 Pics – An ode to Mum’s cooking, India

Review: Grand Hyatt Goa, India

COVID Testing in New Delhi, and airport sleeping pods

Review: Plaza Premium Lounge, New Delhi International

Review: Air Canada Signature Class, New Delhi to Toronto

My India trip 2021, an introduction

It had been 23 months since I had last seen my parents, who live in Mumbai, India. I moved to Canada in 2003, and had travelled to India at least once every year, if not more. Needless to say this pandemic related hiatus had been challenging for more reasons than one – Facetime and Zoom can only do so much.  This trip was also intentionally timed to celebrate Diwali with family, a festival that I had last celebrated in India, in 2002. My trip to India was checking off several milestones – celebrate mum’s 60th, reconnect with extended family over Diwali, and spend some much needed time in a city I love, adore, and call home, Mumbai.

India trip 2021 – Flight booking

Travelling to India, from Canada, comes with unique challenges (this information is true at the time of writing this article);

    • Under international flight restrictions in India, few flights are scheduled, and only at designated gateways in the country.
    • For passengers travelling to Canada on direct flights from India, Canada accepts PCR tests results only from ONE lab (in the entire country!) in New Delhi, and tests must be taken 18 hours before departure (not 48, or 72, as is the norm).
    • Passengers travelling to Canada, from India, via third country, must submit a valid PCR test completed within 48 hours of departure from the transit country.
    • Direct flights between Canada and India are currently scheduled only between Montreal (YUL)/Toronto (YYZ)/Vancouver (YVR) to New Delhi. Direct flights between YYZ and Mumbai (BOM) have not resumed during the pandemic.

In trying to maximize my time in India, with family, I was looking for flight options that were either direct to Mumbai, or did not include long layovers. Well, I tried;

    • Attempt #1: For my onward journey, I managed to book YUL-ZRH-BOM on Swiss, using Aeroplan points. Within a week of booking my tickets, Swiss cancelled their flight on ZRH-BOM segment, thus cancelling my ticket altogether.
    • Attempt #2: This time, I managed to book YYZ-AUH-BOM on Etihad, again using Aeroplan points. AUH-BOM was cancelled by Etihad within 48 hours of my booking.

It became increasingly clear that under flight restrictions to India, New Delhi would be a safer bet, as flights to Mumbai were being cancelled due to operational reasons, regularly. All this while, my return journey was uninterrupted, BOM-DEL-YYZ on Vistara/Air Canada combination,.

    • Attempt #3: I booked my self on Air Canada’s inaugural direct flight from YUL-DEL, and used the Vistara-Aeroplan partnership for the DEL-BOM segment. The YUL-DEL-BOM was eventually the routing I flew to India.
India trip 2021

Air Canada Signature Class, Boeing 787-9


India trip 2021 – Domestic travel

In addition to visiting my parents in Mumbai, I also travelled within India to see extended family, and managed to squeeze a few days in Grand Hyatt Goa, to simply relax and take in the sea breeze. I managed to eat all my favourite local foods, mum’s cooking, access to tropical fruits and vegetables I don’t normally get in Canada. I managed to do things I had craved for the last two years.

India trip 2021

Local fruits – Sugar Apple (green) and Sapodilla (brown)

As I travelled locally, it also required a lot of social adjustments at my end, especially when it came to COVID protocols (or lack thereof) on mask wearing. It seemed like the father away I went from Mumbai, the lower the masks were worn under noses. And in many places, simply non-existent. What was fascinating was that airports, flights, hotels, public transport, were incessant on mask mandates, and yet merely steps away from these establishments were millions, without masks. So, if you are planning to be in India any time soon, make sure you are mentally prepared to adjust your personal expectations around COVID precautions.

India trip 2021 – Return to Canada

While the booking of my return journey was seamless, the actual execution in India had layers of bureaucracy (and frustration) – be it the testing facility at New Delhi International airport (T3), the forced overnight layover in ‘airport pods’ (that were not even in the airport), or producing five separate documents to prove that I was eligible to travel back to Canada. Let’s just say I was reminded of the fact that my travel was a privilege, and that we were still in a pandemic. Nothing about my return trip seemed ‘back to normal’.

India trip 2021

COVID-19 Testing Centre: New Delhi T3

Next Two weeks – Views, Reviews, and more, on India

Now that I have teased this out, over the next two weeks I will share a series of reviews detailing my fascinating trip, and frustrations that it came with. Here is what’s coming on the blog;

    • Review: Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, Montreal International YUL
    • Review: Air Canada Montreal to New Delhi, Boeing 789 Signature Class
    • Review: Vistara New Delhi to Mumbai, A320 Neo Business Class
    • 10 Pics – An ode to Mum’s cooking, India
    • Review: Grand Hyatt Goa, India
    • COVID Testing in New Delhi, and airport sleeping pods
    • Review: Plaza Premium Lounge, New Delhi International
    • Review: Air Canada New Delhi to Toronto, Boeing 789 Signature Class

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