Waking up in the woods to birds chirping or enjoying a cup of tea in a tent surrounded by mountains has become a lost dream for passionate travellers
It has now been almost six months we have been confined within the four walls of our home. Though the lockdown was lifted for the sake of economy, our life is yet to return to normal, with many restrictions still in place.
One such restriction – that on travel for purposes of pleasure – is grating on people from whom travelling around the country, or around the world, is a lifeline.
Waking up in the woods to birds chirping or enjoying a cup of tea in a tent surrounded by mountains has become like a utopian dream for frequent travellers of the pre-pandemic world.
However, the recent announcement of the government of opening up tourist spots on a limited scale with Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) should lift their mood somewhat.
But, how did they spend their quarantine? Is limited scale travel going to be the same as before? This correspondent talked to a few travellers to find out.
How the travellers are coping?
Tareq Onu, who has been travelling since he was 15 years old, is stuck at home in Rajshahi for the last few months.
"I left my home, my country, at the age of 18, after completing HSC examination. I went to Finland to complete my graduation which helped me pursue my passion for travelling," he said.
He travelled as a student and after completing his studies he would work during summer and travel the rest of the year throughout the world. He would return to Bangladesh every two years then travel inside the country.
This bohemian soul is now residing at home, cancelling his plans to travel the Himalayas and a few other wildlife adventures. But he is enduring this imprisonment for a better future.
"Initially, it was hard. However, eventually I adapted to the situation. I have not stopped travelling. Now that there is little scope to go anywhere, I am spending time with books and travelling in my imagination."
Tareq said he is spending his time studying nature. "At the same time, eagerly waiting for some cure that will let me resume my adventures again," said the traveller.
While Tareq Onu is waiting to resume his adventure, Muntaha Rumman Orthy, a female traveller, is waiting to resume her exploration to the remotest area inside the country.
She discovered the traveller in her in the year 2013 when she went on a field study trip to Mirershorai waterfall in Chattogram. Since then, she went on at least two trips each month, and set up a goal of travelling all the 64 districts of Bangladesh by 2020.
She has travelled 53 of them so far until her plans came to a halt. Above all, she had to cancel her long cherished Haor trip for the coronavirus outbreak.
Though many of the travellers have started taking trips again, she is still holding herself back.
"I cannot wait to go on a tour again but I have elderly family members at my home. Neither the rate of affected nor the death has reduced after five months. This is why I will have to wait for a long time to go on tour the next time," she said.
She often thinks about the people dependent on tourism for their livelihood and feels that all the tourist spots should be allowed to open for them. On the same note, she fears that travelling will never be the same again.
Why travelling is going to be different from now on
Mohammad Samsul Arefin and four of his friends have been exploring remote places in Bangladesh since 2006. They used to trek through the most difficult and unused trails.
They even created a group on Facebook "Group De Madventurers" where they invite people of similar mentality and go on adventure trips.
They used to go on at least three trips every month. During their trips, they used to stay at the locals' houses.
But now, doing such thing will increase the risk of transmitting coronavirus to the local people. Besides, if one in the group falls sick with fever, it may end up terrifying the other members.
This is why travelling will not be the same, according to many passionate travellers like Samsul Arefin.
Nevertheless, keeping all these possibilities in consideration, Arefin has decided to go on a trekking trip to Bilaichhori in Rangamati.
They have vowed to maintain SOP rules of wearing mask, sanitising vehicles, maintaining distance and keeping the group small. In addition, they have decided to keep away from locals especially.
Our tourism sector
Tours and Trips Bangladesh is an agency that arranges tours inside the country. After remaining closed for four months they too decided to arrange tours.
During regular times, tourist spots across the country remain overwhelmed during Eid vacation and the rainy season. Now, most people are afraid to go on tours. So, this agency has decided to cease large scale tourist activities.
"Now we will encourage people to go on family trips or with friends they know well. We will use smaller vehicles according to the size of the group. For example, for a family or group of 5-6 people, we will arrange a microbus" said Junaid Islam Zia, Managing Director of the agency.
Soon, they will offer trips to Bandarban and Cox's Bazar.
There are multiple groups like Travelers of Bangladesh, Travelettes of Bangladesh, Tour Group BD, on social media platform Facebook. Travel enthusiasts arrange events like "Ei jochona haorer kole" (Spending this full-moon in Haor).
Travel Ways Limited, an agency that plans overseas tours, explained how travelling has become complicated.
Sanjay, one of the officials of this agency said, "One needs to provide Covid-19 negative report and health certificate to travel overseas now. Anyone travelling to another country is required to spend 14 days in quarantine after reaching there. Tours are not possible that way."
Besides, no one is travelling abroad with family members these days.
He predicted overseas tours will not be normal until there is a cure to coronavirus.
Starting from tour operators, agencies, hotels, restaurants to small business; around 1.1 million people are employed in this sector, according to Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (Toab) tourism.
Considering the statistics of last year when Bangladesh received around 0.5-0.6 million foreign tourists and operated nine million local tours, Toab anticipates we will see a loss of Tk 57 billion in this sector in 2020.
Though tourist spots like Cox's Bazar and Bandarban are now open for visitors, international flights are not flexible yet.