"As a female solo traveller it was quite terrifying"
A medical student revealed her terror of being under lockdown in India.
Chandni Mistry, aged 16, of Leicester, had been in India on her first solo trip away when COVID-19 led the country into lockdown and left her stranded.
She had been spending her weekends helping different charities and local communities while volunteering at an orphanage.
On March 24, 2020, Indian authorities announced a four-hour time limit for people to get home and spend a day in isolation.
Chandni could not get to her accommodation fast enough so she sought refuge in a nearby village with an unknown family who allowed her to stay the night.
However, it was later announced that lockdown would continue for three weeks.
Chandni stayed with the family while she spent a few weeks trying to arrange travel home to the UK.
Fortunately, Chandni was able to get on one of the first flights back.
While she was stranded, she started to reach out to others in the same position as her. She soon co-founded ‘COVID-19 Committee for UK nationals in India’ which started as a way to network with those in a similar situation.
Chandni exclusively told Leicester Mercury:
“As a female solo traveller it was quite terrifying and while I was travelling around I didn’t carry many clothes and supplies with me which made the lockdown more challenging.
“I never expected this to happen, especially with such short notice.”
The medical student had never been to India before, she was unfamiliar with a lot of cultural customs and struggled with the language barrier, meaning she was left in a difficult position when looking for somewhere to stay.
“I had managed to pick up a few traditional customs on my travels but I realised there would still be a lot of people there now who will find it more difficult to understand which can be mentally exhausting.
“The family that had allowed me to stay with them were understanding and knew I had no choice but to stay longer.”
She stayed on the outskirts of Gujarat. During lockdown, the villages had less access to supplies, leaving Chandni with the bare minimum while stranded.
She said: “I heard that there are about 3,000 people stuck in Gujarat alone, that is just one state in India so you can imagine how many more people will be trying to get home.”
Indian authorities were far stricter, not allowing anyone to travel.
“I didn’t leave just to be safe – I know that some drivers were getting fined and families were being sent back.”
Chandni used a temporary SIM card, however, limited contact to home made her feel even more isolated. She used the contacts she had and the help of the local police to reach others.
Despite being on her own, Chandni thought about other people who could have been in worse positions.
Arranging travel back was “stressful and confusing” due to the different pieces of information she was receiving at the time.
The medical student revealed: “Arranging travel was a big issue because I was staying in a village and there were not many drivers or taxi services running.”
Chandni was helped by the Indian authorities and she was able to travel to Ahmedabad.
Now back home, she has continued to run the ‘COVID-19 Committee for UK nationals in India’, aiming to unite those who are still stranded and help them to get home.
Chandni has been working with other medical students, colleagues and friends. Together, they have set up a 24-hour service that allows UK nationals who are stuck in India to get in contact with a volunteer who can offer medical or dental advice, translation services and regular community calls for people feeling isolated or scared.
In one case, the committee helped a diabetic person who was in need of insulin.
They were able to find and provide inner-city transport to the person.
Depending on their availability, the number of volunteers helping varies each day.
Chandni added: “It’s quite humbling to see volunteers come forward from medical professions to help as well as helping people in the UK.”