A lot is being said about the novel Covid-19. Some say a vaccine is the only cure. So we need to stay put. Other experts claim the virus is likely to become endemic to the region even after a vaccine is found. So we need to learn to live with it.
In the midst of this uncertainty, the country has been re-opening in phases starting this June.
On the tourism front, Uttarakhand has currently opened its borders to inter-state travel. Himachal Pradesh has also lifted the ban on tourism. We think Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh and Sikkim are likely to follow suit in the months to come.
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Our lives, meanwhile, have been returning to a new kind of normal.
Over the last month, the Operations Team at Bikat Adventures has been pre-occupied with exploring all the precautions that can be taken to make trekking safer post lockdown.
A survey was conducted with our trekkers to get an idea of the apprehensions and expectations they may have. We have also been interacting with our staff and community in the mountains to get their perspectives on tourism resuming.
Based on the inputs received, our Operations Team has designed a list of precautions to be introduced on the trails.
Broadly speaking, the team has been working on three areas:
1. Keeping the local population unexposed to trekkers.
2. Social distancing between our staff and trekkers
3. Social Distancing between trekkers at campsites.
Keeping the local population unexposed to Trekkers:
People in the hills are divided about the idea of tourism now. Some want it to resume because of economic necessities. Others are scared, especially about the idea of tourists visiting from the high-load Covid-19 cities.
The good thing about treks is that we will be cut off from the local population for most parts. The beginning and end of a trek, which involves homestays in inhabited towns and villages, are when we need to be careful.
There are steps we can take from our end to be mindful of the fears of the locals.
1.The states that have currently opened their borders to tourists from other states have made a Covid-19 Test mandatory.
Uttarakhand, for instance, has stated that this report must not be older than 72 hours from the time of arrival and should be issued by an ICMR approved laboratory. We expect other states will be enforcing similar guidelines. So with regards to Covid-19 testing and quarantining, we will be following the mandates issued by the respective state governments at the time of operation.
2. We will be avoiding homestays located in remote areas on all our trails.
Some treks like the Rupin Pass have homestays two or three days into the trail. We have made adjustments to the routes and itineraries, wherever feasible, to skip these homestays.
This move has both an upside and a downside. On one hand, we leave the locals unexposed. It also helps maintain the bubble around our batch by reducing interactions with other trekkers/tourists.
But on the other hand, locals running these homestays will be deprived of some much needed income.
Making this decision wasn’t easy. But we felt it was best to stick to our original objective of leaving the local population unexposed. So we have made this swap on all our trails barring three campsites which do not host any suitable camping grounds near them.
3. As a trekker, you could help by trying to minimise your movement around towns and villages in the mountains. This means avoiding any kind of last minute shopping in the local markets.
Make a checklist of the items you will need for your trek. Try to finish your shopping and packing at least a week in advance so that you don’t miss out on any essentials.
4. Do not share toffees/food items with the lovely children you may meet on the trails.
As adorable as they are, it is important we keep their safety in mind first. If you find them approaching you for a conversation, gently let them know about social distancing and why it is important to stay away from trekkers.
5. Lastly avoid photography of the locals and any kind of interaction that places you in close quarters with the people living in the hills.
Social Distancing between our staff and trekkers:
While trekking, kitchen staff and porters take a different route or start at a later time. Most of the interaction with staff members takes place at campsites. Following are some precautions we will be practising at our campsites to maintain hygiene and social distancing.
1. Dining Tents
Our dining tents have hosted many UNO sessions, dumb charades and conversations over the years. For the first time now, we won’t be using dining tents on our trails to keep up with the social distancing norms.
We will be enjoying our meals in the open instead. And on days when the weather doesn’t permit this, food will be served in your individual tents. While the dining tents will be missed, we believe this will provide a unique experience of its own to our trekkers.
2. Our kitchen staff will be using clean masks and gloves while cooking and serving at every campsite.
3. Packing tents and sleeping bags
At Bikat Adventures, we don’t support fixed camping. We have practiced rolling camps on all our trails ever since we began operations.
This means packing and unpacking sleeping bags and tents every single day. While we have always encouraged our trekkers to handle these tasks by themselves, it was never mandatory.
Since this is one area our staff are likely to come into contact with trekkers, we will be tweaking these practices a little bit. Trekkers will be installing and packing their own sleeping bags and tents at every campsite. Once the bags and tents are packed, our porters will disinfect them with sodium hypochlorite solution before transporting them to the next camp.
4. Our staff on the trails will not be handling back to back batches.
One advantage of trekking in a rolling camp is that we go into the mountains as a bubble and return as one bubble.
All our staff members generally get a rest period of one week (three days in rare circumstances) after returning from a trek.
The rest period in between the batches allows us to monitor for symptoms in our staff members. This in turn prevents cross contamination between batches.
5. Testing of staff members
Currently, symptomatic patients and asymptomatic individuals who were in contact with a Covid-19 patient are prioritised for testing in hospitals.
So getting each staff member tested after every batch will be a long and cumbersome process.
What we will be doing instead is monitor temperature readings, cold/flu like symptoms and oxymeter readings of our staff members regularly (with more scrutiny during the rest days between batches).
We will also be in touch with trekkers and other people involved in the chain for a week after the trek to monitor for any symptoms.
In case a staff member satisfies one of the following criteria:
-High temperature readings
-Cold/flu like symptoms
-Oxymeter Readings less than 80
-Asymptomatic but was in contact with a Covid-19 positive individual
s/he will undergo Covid-19 tests along with other staff they were in contact with before resuming operations on the trail.
Social Distancing between trekkers at campsites:
Considering we trek in small groups of 15 (average: 9), it is safe while walking on the trails. Participants are spread out. Their faces are covered most of the time for protection from heat and cold. So the precautions listed below are ones we will be implementing at the campsites.
1. Sleeping bags, tents and trekking gear will be allotted to the trekkers at the beginning of the trek.
We will be numbering all of our trekking gear to ensure there is no mix up. The liners, as was practice earlier, will be distributed at the start and the trekkers will carry it in their backpacks.
2. A trekker can opt for a single tent accommodation at a minimal added cost during the time of booking.
We usually allocate two people per tent on all our treks. However, if you feel safer with a single tent accommodation, you can opt for it at a minimal added cost.
The additional cost for a single occupancy tent has been updated under the Add Ons section on our trek itinerary pages.
3. If you would like to bring your own tent/sleeping bag, you can do so and it will be carried free of cost during the trek.
Please notify us at least three days before the start date of the trek so that we can make arrangements for the same.
Also make sure that your sleeping bag and tent match the required temperature rating of the trek.
In case you aren’t sure of the grade of your gear, please call us at +91-85888-78499 and we will assist you with it.
4. All tents, sleeping bags and trekking gear will be sanitised and fumigated thoroughly at the end of every batch.
5. Travel by shared cab to the base camp will be carried out in accordance with the social distancing norms prevalent at the time of operation.
Our shared cab costs are generally calculated for 6 participants in one vehicle. In case government guidelines mandate less that 6 people per vehicle, the additional cost incurred will be split equally between the trekkers when traveling to the base camp.
6. If you would like to travel to the base camp by your own vehicle, feel free to do so.
We can also arrange for safe parking at the base camp through the duration of the trek.
Parking will mostly be free of cost except for commercial spots like Manali where a minimal fee might be charged. While booking your trek, you could always call us at +91-85888-78499 for details.
7. Our participants will be checked for Covid-19 symptoms on the first day during briefing.
We will be making note of your temperature, visible cold/flu symptoms and oxymeter readings in particular.
You will not be allowed to proceed on the trek if
- You are running a temperature
- Display Cold/flu like symptoms
- Oxymeter reading is less than 80.
A voucher of full value with a validity of two years will be refunded, after deducting any expense incurred by us until that point on an actual basis.
8. All our staff and trekkers in a batch will be checked for Covid-19 symptoms at the beginning, during and end of each trek.
We will also stay in touch for a week after the trek to ensure no one develops any symptoms. In the unfortunate circumstance that someone reports a Covid positive, we will notify everyone else involved in the chain immediately.
9. If a participant develops symptoms during the trek
In case, a participant develops symptoms during the trek, arrangements will be made for the safe return of the participant back to the base camp.
Following this, we will notify the nearest medical facility to decide upon the next course of action.
10. All participants will be required to carry sanitizers.
Keep a sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol content) handy on you at all times. Please ensure you sanitise at regular intervals, especially before consuming food.
Instead of buying multiple small bottles, consider carrying a big bottle in your backpack and a smaller one in your pocket that you can regularly refill. This would help minimise plastic consumption.
11. All participants will be required to carry their own cutlery and water bottles.
Please avoid sharing cutlery, water bottles, lip balms etc during the trek (even if you already know your fellow trek mates). Keep an extra lip balm handy in your backpack for times when you lose one you are using.
Avoid last minute packing and shopping to make sure you don’t leave any essentials behind.
If you forget to pack any of these items, try to arrange for an alternative from the city you land in. Please try and avoid shopping for them in the villages and towns of the mountains near your base camps.
12. And needless to say, we will be ensuring our guest houses and homestays follow the SOPs released by the respective state governments.
With this, we reach the end of our very long list.
The precautions we have listed above only make your treks safer.
They do not make them fool proof.
Please keep in mind that the onus of responsibility towards safety falls as much on you as it does on us.
So in case you feel sick or develop cold/flu like symptoms before a trek, please do not hesitate to cancel your travel plans. If you develop these symptoms during or after a trek do notify us so that we can alert everyone else involved in the chain.
If you have any queries, feel free to write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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