Stranded German Tourists – Embassy Grounds

Coronavirus: What About the Foreigners Stranded in India?

To be clear: This includes Indian nationals who reside abroad.

Stay where you are. With the ban of all domestic flights, most trains, buses and taxis, it is most certainly already too late to try to leave. For the time being at least.

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As far as we (we = me, my German wife, Cristiane, and our son) are aware, foreigners are allowed to leave their current residence (hostels, etc.) only to go home. Amidst all the confusion and panic, it’s best to adhere to only and only this (official) advice…unless you have a better and concrete knowledge (of some information) from a reliable source.

The Repatriation

Here’s an account of how we were repatriated by the German government.

After our original return flight out on March 18th was cancelled by our airline, and subsequently the EU banning entry of all foreigners into the bloc, we watched closely as the world went into panic mode. India first banned entry of all foreigners into the country. All international carriers were barred from landing in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi requested the people of India to observe a ‘Janata Curfew’ (Public Curfew) one Sunday. In the same weekend the first COVID-19 case was registered in Varanasi.

Come Monday, Varanasi went into a virtual lockdown. Meanwhile Germany had launched its Rückholaktion (Repatriation Programme). Daily updates were being uploaded by the German Ambassador Mr. Lindner on the embassy’s website, and Cristiane was following closely. India had now decided to ban all domestic flights starting Wednesday, March the 25th. This was also the day when the Embassy of Germany announced the first repatriation flight to fly out of Delhi.

After many emails and phone calls already made, on Tuesday afternoon around 2 pm Cristiane made one more phone call which confirmed that the “evacuation” will indeed take place. Tuesday evening 18:30 was also the last flight out of Varanasi for Delhi. So we skipped our lunch, panic-packed all of our luggage, said the goodbyes and left for the airport. Taxis were banned, so we had to take our private vehicle and leave it behind to be picked up by our driver later on. Breezing through the near-empty streets of Varanasi, and after a couple of stops at police checkpoints asking us ‘Where are you going?’, we reached the airport in just about enough time. Not certain whether the police would let us pass through, we didn’t book the tickets online (after already having a substantial amount of money stuck on two international flight tickets). Our plan was to buy the tickets at the IndiGo Airlines counter at Varanasi Airport. Fortunately there were enough seats available…

After nearly 2 hours of delay we finally departed Varanasi at around 20:15. This means that we didn’t arrive in Delhi at the scheduled arrival time of before 8 pm. So, while we were in the air, the PM went on-air again on national TV and announced that the whole nation will go into a lockdown starting Tuesday midnight. This was breaking news which we didn’t learn until our late arrival in Delhi just before 10 pm. We now had about 2 hours before India went into a complete lockdown. We called our hotel which was arranged by the German Embassy only to learn that they were no longer accepting new check-ins since after the PM’s address; but they also told us that another hotel was now accepting the Germans.

Previously the embassy told us to get to Delhi somehow. Astonishingly, there was no representative from the German embassy available for assistance at the airport.

After about 2.5 hours of waiting at Delhi Airport’s T1 without any possibility of any transportation, we now felt screwed. The new hotel we were suggested told us that they’d be sending a pick-up. It seemed to not want to arrive. The possibility of potentially sleeping at the airport terminal now couldn’t have been denied.

Going back to Varanasi was no longer an option. Going anywhere else wasn’t either. We were literally stuck…almost.

Thankfully though their driver did arrive. He was prepared to pick up 4 persons. The only problem was that there were 12 stranded Germans waiting at the airport. We needed two more vehicles. After a bit of calling the hotel back & forth and after about 20 nerve-wrecking minutes, just before midnight more vehicles magically arrived and all 12 of us were rescued…

  • Stranded German Tourists – Hyatt Regency New Delhi
  • Stranded German Tourists – Hyatt Regency New Delhi
  • Stranded German Tourists – Embassy Transfer
  • Stranded German Tourists – Embassy Grounds
  • Stranded German Tourists – Embassy Grounds

Finally we reached the hotel and checked-in by 1:30 am. There were many-many more people who had arrived shortly before us and many who arrived after us. Everybody seemed panicked and confused. At this point we were just happy to be at a hotel, ready to go to our room for the night.

Delhi Road Traffic Conditions During the Lockdown
German Repatriation Group in the Hotel Lobby

The next day, i.e. the whole of Wednesday, we spent at the hotel. On Thursday morning we checked out of the hotel shortly before 10:00 am to be shuttled to the German Embassy. We finally left the hotel at 11:34 and reached the embassy a few minutes before midday. We had to spend until 20:45 in the embassy garden, when we were eventually taken to the airport by a convoy of embassy busses escorted by the police.

German Repatriation Group Waiting for the Evacuation at the Embassy Grounds
Convoy of Buses Escorted by Delhi Police Enroute to IGI Airport
German Repatriation Group Deboarding the Buses at Delhi Airport

We (about 500 of us) were finally evacuated Thursday night, out of a shut-down airport, which was only opened for our purpose.

We know of British, French, Italian and Romanian citizens to have been on the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. We also know that the Israelis conducted a repatriation flight the same night as well; and there were talks of an Alitalia flight to Rome scheduled minutes away from our 2:30 am departure, but we can’t confirm the accuracy of this information.

What About You?

Stay where you are unless your country categorically tells you that they will indeed come down and pick you up from wherever you are; or unless your life is in danger. The truth is that no one really knows what they are doing. Everybody is panicked, and your embassy probably only has limited control over the situation.


Disclaimer

None of the above is official or legal advice. Please consult your embassy or a relevant governmental department to figure out your options.

This post may be updated over the next few days. Check again later.

An organic product of the world’s oldest living city: #Varanasi. Founder of @ith_hostels and @etherstudio
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