Three dogs, a baby and a route map: how travel influencer Divya Dugar is planning self-driven holidays

How travel influencer Divya Dugar and her train-hopping family is now looking at self-driven holidays, charting familiar routes and remote locations

It has been over 100 days of staying at home in Delhi with three dogs, a newborn baby and a working-from-home husband who is data-crunching as a researcher. As someone who has travelled quite a lot — both for work, as a journalist, and as a lifestyle, train-hopping across the country with my pets — it has been tough staying indoors.

Travel is a way of life for us as a family. Something that Covid-19 and the lockdown has put a hard pause to recently. In the past, we were what you’d call impulsive travellers. During a month-long stay in Landour, Uttarakhand, last year, we hitch-hiked almost every day with our dogs, from market runs and discovering hiking trails to visiting the Jabarkhet Nature Reserve. We’d get rides from milkmen in their mini trucks or from a stranger driving a Maruti car (he let us all squeeze into the back seat). But in the current situation, I know such social interactions, and small generosities, will change.

52 and counting

  • When we finally go back to train-hopping, we’ll look for one boarding from a smaller station like Delhi Cantonment, to stay clear of the big crowds on the platform. The first class coupe is perfect for our family of six (pets are only allowed on Indian Railways’ first AC), though it is quite an art for all of us to fit into the tiny space.
  • But over the last 52 train journeys with our dogs, we’ve mastered it. On entering, Pari will climb the stairs and settle on the upper berth, while Marco-polo will grab the window seat. Tigress will settle down on her bed in the middle of the coupe, so she can watch everyone.
  • Now, with five-month-old Marius in hand, I imagine Tigress will snooze on his handmade mat next to his brother and me.

While I dare not dream too big, a simple train journey or road trip to a place with clean air and open spaces is what my mental health needs. Be it by rail or road, I’d pick a familiar route because with the level of uncertainty out there, exploring the unknown, as exciting as it used to be earlier, would be nerve-wracking now.

Rentals and routes

With most travel restricted to roads (the Indian Railways may resume normal operations only by mid-August), I will miss the little shared joys of enjoying a cup of chai at the railway station, chatting with co-passengers, and my dogs’ excitement when attenders drop by with extra packets of soup sticks or a cup of vanilla ice cream. Instead, we must hit the road, packing not only bags full of wipes and sanitisers, but also treats, home cooked meals, baby purees, flasks of hot water and packets of chips for the husband.

Road trips will be a new challenge because we don’t own a car and we haven’t got behind the wheel since the baby was born. However, there are plenty of rental services to pick from for a self-driven expedition. After my extensive research, we plan to toss a coin to choose between Avis India and Zoomcar (both have good sanitisation protocols in place, a large network, and a wide range of cars to suit our ‘large’ family). And for our first trip, the choice is between familiar routes such as Rajasthan, with its fantastic roadways (so, less motion sickness for the dogs and an easy initiation for my baby boy) and Madhya Pradesh (to my hometown in Shekhawati).

Check in and isolate

  • Stopovers, which we did without a care till just a few months back, will now be replaced with calculated choices and pre-bookings. Here are a few places that have made it to our list:
  • The White Peaks, Uttarakhand: A beautifully-appointed independent house in Gagar, it is by the edge of a forest. You can rent the entire house and there are no neighbours, just the Himalayas as your backdrop. Details:
  • Amraee Guest House, Madhya Pradesh: Set in a five-acre mango orchard in Pranpur, it has just three rooms — and hardly anyone visits. There’s lots of room for the dogs to run around and an old caretaker who will regale you with stories. Details:
  • RAAS, Rajasthan: A luxurious property in Jodhpur, we love its Garden Rooms. You don’t even have to step out; it is the perfect staycation. And admit it, we all could do with some room service! Details:
  • Dune Eco Village, Tamil Nadu: This is a massive property on Chennai’s East Coast Road. With standalone villas, with its own private garden, isolation is guaranteed. Details:
  • The Tree of Life Resort & Spa, Rajasthan: With its independent villas and proximity to Delhi, this is a no-brainer for us. Moreover, this Jaipur property welcomes dogs. On our last trip, Tigress fell in love with their mattress and room service. Details:

Conscious travel

As parents, the narrative of how we travel has evolved over time to make it inclusive, local and community driven. On our last trip to Pranpur, in Madhya Pradesh, I remember a village walk in the late afternoon, to meet the local weavers. At each house, the families welcomed us, offering us tea, showing off their family albums, and bringing out piles of handwoven Chanderi saris. Even the dogs were greeted with freshly-made roti and buttermilk. These simple interactions will be a thing of the past. Villagers (or people in general) may not look kindly at strangers coming into their midst. So we will have to adapt — a tough proposition because the whole meaning of travel for us is to have these unexpected adventures and encounters — and enjoy small walks instead, and stick close to our homestay/resort/hotel.

Travel goals will no longer be about ticking places off a list, but more about going slow and being sustainable, enjoying a patch of green and the proximity to nature. The future of travel is unmapped, but what is certain is that we will hit the road soon, hopefully as more responsible, conscious and mindful travellers.

The writer is on Instagram, @dugardd

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