Lancaster mum finally back in UK after being stranded in India for weeks
A Lancaster mum stranded in India due to the coronavirus lockdown has finally managed to get back to the UK.
As we reported last month, Samantha Smith was travelling in India when new directives were announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson for all holidaymakers to return to the UK.
But Sammy, 47, was in a remote part of northern India with no way of getting a flight home.
She said it was a "neverending circle" because she was unable to get to Delhi without permission, and she couldn't get permission without a flight, but there were no flights.
The government said it would help provide charter flights where commercial flights were no longer available.
At the time, Sammy said there could be up to 100,000 Brits stuck in India, many of them sleeping on the streets with no access to food or water after local hotels and shops were told to close.
During her stay, Sammy was left in tears after witnessing an American tourist being attacked by police as she tried to cross a bridge to get to her repatriation bus.
Last week the British Embassy announced the first flights for people stuck in India, but only for people who were in Delhi, Mumbai and Goa.
Sammy was in Rishikesh, around five hours from Delhi.
And she said the announcement led to more anxiety as people feared they would be left behind.
"There was absolute panic all over the Facebook groups," she said. "People trying to figure out any way possible to get to Delhi. Everyone was scared to death that these were the only flights and that if they were not in one of those cities they would be left behind."
Sammy decided to register for the flights anyway - having to borrow the £580 cost - to remind the Embassy there were people stranded in other parts of India.
And the risk paid off, with Sammy called by the Embassy and offered a seat on a flight on Easter Sunday.
All 16 other Brits still trapped in Rishikesh were later added to the same flight, and on Saturday morning a bus was sent to collect them.
But Sammy's ordeal was still not over. A police block prevented the bus from crossing the border to pick her up from her hotel, and while the other travellers had managed to reach the vehicle, Sammy was stranded three miles away with her bags.
After sitting at the roadside for several hours, fortune eventually arrived in the form of a helpful policeman, who offered to take her to the bus on the back of his motorbike.
"I couldn't believe it," she said. "What a lovely man, he could see how upset I was, and he told me not to worry, he would get me there.
"I drove out of Rishikesh on the back of an Enfield, rescued by the police, so grateful and totally overwhelmed."
Sammy said she felt "unbelievable relief" to meet the other British tourists on the bus - people she had been in contact with for several weeks as they helped each other through the ordeal, but had never met.
"We drove to Delhi on the deserted roads, it was so surreal, like an apocalyptic movie," she said.
Arriving at the airport in Delhi, the travellers had to queue up two metres apart, each wearing masks. They also had to have their temperature taken and their hands sanitised.
The flight home landed at Heathrow at 7am on Easter Sunday, where Sammy said no one was wearing a mask and there were no precautions being taken.
"We took a taxi through the deserted streets of London to Euston Station where I boarded a train to Manchester," she said.
"I sat alone, the only person in my carriage and broke down in tears at the journey I had just had.
"I am home but it's not the same place I left nine weeks ago."
Sammy is currently staying with a friend in Manchester until she returns home to Lancaster, where she has a painting and decorating company.
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman said: “We are doing all we can to get thousands of British travellers in India home.
"This is a huge and complex operation which also involves working with the Indian Government to enable people to move within India to get on these flights.”
They said that in the last week they have launched bookings for an additional 14 charter flights for around 3,000 British travellers currently stranded in India, taking the total number of people brought back to around 5,000.
Locations with the largest numbers of vulnerable British nationals have been prioritised, as well as locations where arrangements could be put in place more quickly.
The operation has been made more difficult due to no commercial routes being available and logistical constraints on the ground due to the nationwide lockdown.