As a little girl, I was always fascinated by Arabian Night stories and recently was inspired by the Netflix series Ottoman Empire. My husband and I made up our minds to visit Istanbul in Turkey, a land of fascinating history and culture. Planning this trip was exciting and thrilling as well.
We booked our tickets for 14 March and were all set to go when WHO declared COVID-19 as a pandemic. Worried, I called the Turkish Embassy in Delhi and they assured me that tourists were very much welcome.
Our fears were put to rest. We boarded the flight and arrived at our dream destination. Everything went as planned the first week of our stay. When we arrived in Istanbul there was only one active case. From the second week, however, things began to change rapidly. Museums, monuments and other places of interest started shutting down.
Slowly roads grew deserted, shops started closing and we got news that all flights were cancelled. Our biggest challenge was that hotels started closing down, so we had to keep shifting. In a span of 50 days, we have shifted 8 times.
Since we had our visas for 15 days only, we got worried and approached the Indian Embassy in person. They assured us that there was no cause for worry and told us there were around 120 stranded Indians in Istanbul in the same predicament as us.
We were then added to a WhatsApp group with fellow Indians stranded in Turkey.
All this while we were worried about our family back home but we were in constant touch with them. We used to video-call often to tell them that we were okay and doing fine.
Most of the conversations were comparisons between the coronavirus situation here in Turkey and back home. Turkey is testing way more, at 30,000 each day. They have greater healthcare capacity and have already helped 55 countries around the world with PPEs, masks and ventilators. India should ramp up their testing as we have 1,300 million people, whereas Turkey has 85 million people.
Lockdown in Istanbul
Our stay in different hotels were great to say the least. The staff went out of their way to help us with all that we needed and were considerate enough to upgrade us to a better suite for the same amount as a deluxe room. I became friends with a hotel’s food and beverage manager, Arzu. She would go out of her way to incorporate some Indian food into our menu as we missed home.
Lockdown was a bit different in Istanbul. On weekends, a curfew is imposed for 48 hours or even 72 hours sometimes. If caught loitering on the streets, police impose fines up to 500 dollars. We were working from the hotel most days, watching the local news, some Netflix.
The other small joys we got were the long walks we would take along the Bosphorus strait. We even saw dolphins swimming in the sea and thought ourselves blessed.
Repatriation at Last
We have been in constant touch with the Embassy and they have assured us that evacuation flights are being planned in a phased manner. On 8 May, we got to know that we will be repatriated from Istanbul in the second phase between 21 and 27 May. We have been told that we will have to pay for our flights and quarantine too.
The quarantine bit worries us, even though we have kept ourselves safe here but the flight home as well as the measures to be taken for quarantine, we worry about being infected. Luckily, we have been assured by the Embassy that testing will be done and then we will be put on the flight.
We were also told we will be tested here in Istanbul for COVID-19 and get a certificate as clearance to board the flight.
We are keeping our fingers crossed and hope to come home safe and sound to Delhi and my family.
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