Over the past week, our inboxes and social media have been barraged with just ONE question – When will we resume our treks?
I’m addressing exactly that today — when are we planning to resume our treks, how we are going about it, and what we expect of trekkers.
│When will trekking resume after COVID-19?
September. That’s the earliest we think treks can resume.
I want you to follow me on this logic for sometime. The resumption of trekking is dependent on two factors, which unfortunately, are not totally in our hands.
- For treks to resume, air travel needs to return to as normal as possible. It does not have to be exactly pre-March times, but near enough. I’ll explain this in detail below.
- COVID-19 cases in our country need to come down to less than 250 a day (for the whole country). Or least 15 a day (or less) for each of the ten metros in our country.
Why air travel? Not many people know this, but 90% of our trekkers arrive at our treks by air. Naturally, anything that affects air travel directly affects trekking.
To restart treks, we’ll need regular availability of flights, at the same costs as earlier, without too many baggage and quarantine restrictions. But most importantly people must get on an aircraft without fear of contracting the virus.
We are not talking of emergency air travel or air travel for business. We are talking about air travel where people are free to fly without any restrictions. You go to a website, buy a ticket and get on a plane.
For the fear to subside, this is where the number of COVID-19 infections in a day matters so much.
Which brings me to the number of COVID-19 cases in our country. Going by the rise of COVID-19 cases in our country, we expect it to take at least until September to reduce to a level where trekking can resume.
From March to this day, COVID-19 cases have been on the rise. We have already hit the grim mark of 1,50,000 cases as of yesterday. It has taken us almost two and a half months to get to this figure. We believe it will take a similar amount of time for it to reduce to the figure I mentioned earlier (250 a day for the entire country, or 15 or less for the major metros). It could even take a bit longer.
Assuming our two conditions are met, trekking could see a resumption around mid September. But it will not be the same — which I have explained a bit later.
│Should you register for treks from September onwards?
The answer is a straightforward yes. We have opened up batches for most of our treks.
You’ll find dates available between September and December. We’ve specifically opened up only the best treks in these months. We have shut down a few treks to avoid spreading trekkers across slopes.
If you have signed up for treks in July / August, I would strongly recommend you wait it out. We haven’t yet called off our treks for these months. If there is a possibility of running these treks safely, we will do it.
We have also reduced the cancellation period for our July/August treks to 10 days before the start of the trek. So whether you cancel now or 10 days prior to the start of the trek, the cancellation policy remains the same.
Here are the treks we have opened post mid September:
│How will treks be different from September? What are the precautions Indiahikes will take for treks from September onwards?
This is something everyone wants to hear about — how will treks be in future? Are we going to be sleeping one in a tent or two? Are we going to be maintaining social distance as we trek? How are we going to ensure safety from COVID-19 on our treks.
I’ll be frank with you. Trekking is a social sport. It’s much like watching a movie in a cinema hall, where social distancing is not a practical possibility. You cannot have one person in one row and another in the next. Either cinemas start as they were or they don’t.
Trekkers are going to travel to the base camp together in shared vehicles, briefings are going to be held together, trekkers will eat together and share tents as well. The moment we try to isolate trekkers, not only will the joys of trekking disappear, the cost of trekking will shoot up exponentially.
On another note, getting every trekker to test for COVID-19 before they leave or after they arrive is not a possibility either. A COVID -19test is extremely cumbersome and expensive.
What we can focus on, however, is changing the sanitation standard in the trekking industry.
Here are some of the things that you can expect (don’t take these as final yet, but are our initial thoughts).
› BYOG (Bring Your Own Gear) could become a reality. Trekkers could be asked to bring their own bed sheets (to use at the base camp lodge) and cutlery (we won’t allow sharing of cutlery). They may even be asked to buy fresh liners from us (but not anything else).
› Rentals of gears may be paused for sometime.
› Trekkers are likely to be assigned their own sanitised sleeping bags from Day 1 to the last day of the trek so that they don’t sleep in others bags.
› Our equipment (sleeping bags, tents, dining tents, kitchen equipment) will undergo thorough sanitisation after every group leaves camp.
› Trekkers will be given access to ample sanitization facilities to sanitize their own cutlery before and after every use.
› Trekkers will have to bring in medical certificates from doctors before they come on the trek (this is already in place, anyway).
› Any trekker whose temperature is above normal / oxygen is low at the base camp will not be allowed on the trek.
Having said this, our decisions depend entirely on the situation closer to September. Our COVID-19 safety policies will depend on the number of COVID-19 cases and government regulations for the travel industry at that point in time.
We will have to wait and watch to make further regulations, but this is where we stand at the moment.
│What trekking will look like from September onwards
“Even if trekking resumes in September, we expect it to be a small trickle. The whole country is not likely to begin trekking at the same time. Bangalore may start first given that there are fewer cases. Mumbai and Delhi may start trekking only much later,” says Arjun Majumdar, our founder and CEO.
Almost 75% of our trekkers come from the metro cities of our country. These have been the worst affected by Coronavirus. As and when we start treks, the least affected cities are likely to start trekking first.
Here’s something that trekkers don’t want to hear.
While I am bombarded with questions about when we are likely to start our treks, most of this interest will not translate into action. Here’s why.
Our country will take sometime to come out of the grip of the Coronavirus crisis. Businesses have been hit drastically. It is the deepest crisis we have seen in our lifetimes. Businesses will want to recover. For this all productive hands must be on the decks. They must be spending their energies in rebuilding their organisation. Getting 10 days leave from work for a trek will be laughable for most companies.
Professional students who comprise a sizable chunk of our trekkers will now resume regular studies. It may still take some time for them to get back to their institutes. Taking time off once classes start will be extremely difficult.
“Knowing this, at Indiahikes, we have slotted only a total of 104 batches from September until December. This covers all our treks spread over these months. These groups are already open on our website,” says Sandhya UC, our co-founder and COO.
Sabina Chopra predicted that the travel industry could see around 35% of its normal user base travelling in Q2, and it could increase to 55% in Q3.
“If these are numbers we assume for regular travel, we can easily cut these numbers by 10-15% for trekking,” says Sandhya.
Which means even if treks start in September it will not resume the whole hog. It will start slowly, as a trickle, building itself up towards the year end. At the end of the year we expect treks to return to 50% of our previous capacity.
It’s safe to plan treks from September onwards.
We are noticing a global trend that is returning towards normalcy. Spain, Italy, Germany, France, the Scandenevian countries and even the US are slowly turning the corner. The world is limping back to normal, India too will follow suit. We started later than other countries so our infections will also ebb later.
I hope this email answered a lot of your nagging questions.
I hope to see you in the mountains soon.